Age Twenty-five: The Turning Point

So we come to the end of the October Memoir and Backstory Blog ChallengeThanks to Jane Ann McLachlan for proposing this challenge that has taken me places in memory where I would never have gone otherwise. At times I believed I’d have nothing to write, but it seems memory begets memory.

The end of the challenge brings me to a strange place in my personal history. If you’ve been following these posts, you know that by the time I turned twenty-five, I had two little boys. I was a stay-at-home mom. I couldn’t imagine a different kind of life. I was happy. I thought we were happy.

Christmas

Our first Christmas in the little gray house, my husband and I decided to have a party. I cooked all the food, I cleaned, and I decorated, using lots of freshly cut evergreens and magnolia my parents brought the day before. They took both babies home with them, so we would have our party and the rest of the weekend to ourselves. It was a rare occasion. My husband was in his internship year by then, which meant more nights on call, more time away from home.

We had a great crowd, mostly medical school friends, good food, good wine. I wore a new dress, and I remember feeling pretty. After the last guests left, we stayed up late, picking up glasses, cleaning up spills, putting away food. I was excited and pleased at how well the party had gone, and I kept trying to get some kind of response out of him. I wanted to be told what a good job I’d done. I had done it for him, after all. But I got nothing. He had seemed withdrawn and sad for weeks. Every time I’d asked, he would say he was exhausted, which was true. His schedule was grueling. But I kept after him that night until he told me. Yes, there was something wrong. He wasn’t sure he loved me, he said. Maybe he loved somebody else. What? We had been married three years. We had two children.

I didn’t sleep that night. The next morning, he got up early and went hunting with friends–another surprise. He hadn’t told me he was going. I was left alone, distraught and uncertain. I missed my children. I called my parents, thinking I would just check on the kids, and my mother immediately knew something was wrong. I told her. I’ve always regretted that.

By the time my husband came home the following afternoon, the little boys were back, too. He had made his decision, he said. He wanted us. Just like that. That easily. And I believed him.

We would stay together for a long time after that Christmas. I gave birth to two more sons. Did I think that having more children would hold him? No. I’d wanted a house full of children, remember? It didn’t matter. He left anyway.

I blamed myself. He was the one who left, but it must have been my fault. All my fairy-tale notions of love and marriage? Destroyed. I hated myself for not knowing what I might have done differently. Oh, I knew all the self-talk and the psychology. I was a psych major, after all. I went for counseling. But still, it was a long time before I could look anybody in the eye and carry on a conversation.

I wasn’t writing back then, but I was getting ready. I believe the surprises, the unexpected turns, the complexities of relationships, the betrayals, the losses, the long years of trying to hold a marriage together, of getting up in the morning and putting on a fictional face to the world (“How are you?” “I’m fine, thank you!”), were the catalysts for stories to come.

I hope stories will surface out of this challenge. We shall see.

Thanks to all of you who have read and followed these little pieces of my past. I hope you’ll come back soon and see what else I have in store. Or in story.

If you participated in the challenge, what did you gain from it? If you were a reader and/or follower, what have these memories sparked for you?

Kasie Whitener: Can People in Heaven Read Facebook?

The Writerly Life welcomes Kasie Whitener, whose post delves into the impact of social media on our most personal—and sometimes most painful—moments. Kasie blogs at Life on Clemson Road, but she also teaches and is at work on several fiction projects. Learn more about her at the end of this post.

Can People in Heaven Read Facebook?

My Facebook newsfeed:

I ❤ POTUS! Leigh Johnson Reed changed her profile picture (and my cousin’s beautiful mug). Day 141 for my friend on assignment in Liberia: a picture of her dinner. A picture of Sarah Palin with a snide comment about John McCain picking her over Mitt Romney for vice president. And a ton of “TGIF!!!”

Then, “RIP, Kellye.”

And, “You’ll be missed, Kellye.”

We’ve become a culture that does everything publicly.

Our politics are online: we comment on blogs, share fair-and-balanced articles. Our humor is online: we re-post pithy phrases laid over 1950’s cartoons (“Not all women are moody. It’s just that some of us have had enough of your bullsh**”). We share YouTube videos, clips of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

Our business is online: we fan our employer, Like achievements and re-tweet specials and events to our customers. We’re LinkedIn to everyone we’ve ever met while wearing business casual dress and pretending to care.

We shop online, too: eagerly consuming hand-painted wineglasses, children’s clothing and anything and everything that’s been monogrammed (though that may just be a Southern thing).

Our families are online it’s the only way we’ve ever seen our cousin’s cute new baby. Our faith is online: we Like Bible passages and resurrection images and baptism photos.

So it is a natural progression, right? that we would mourn online? That our tribes, our communities, our families, our “friends” would experience with us the tragedy that has befallen us. After all, we went through theirs.

“I’m so sorry!”

“You’re in my prayers!”

“We love you all so much!”

Someone’s dog was euthanized. Someone’s cat went missing. Someone’s car was broken into, home burglarized, sister divorced, kid diagnosed with a terrible disease, father fighting prostate cancer, great-grandmother passed. People suffer and we suffer with them.

“Praying for you!”

Social Media Network
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At the same time this Facebook sharing is both disturbing and confirming. First, it disturbs me that these tragedies find their way into the same medium where we’ve posted Little League Baseball scores, kitten videos, and quotes from the Dalai Lama. How is “rest in peace” appropriate here when just yesterday I wrote, “Go Tigers!” in the same space?

Jewel Blitz wants to share my top score. Amazon wants to tell people I bought a new book. Target lets everyone know I Like it and Jiffy Lube wants to tell people Brando got his oil changed. All of this news goes into my Facebook status update.

So how is, “She will be missed!” appropriate in the same place my RunKeeper App just said, “Kasie finished a 3.75 mile run in 38:22.04”?

I tweet and Facebook repeats: leadership quotes, articles about editing, Clemson sports updates, book reviews and blog posts. I wouldn’t think to Tweet, “Kellye died.” So why would I put it on Facebook?

Are these wall posts meant to offer comfort? Her sister, Kerri, is reading messages from hundreds of people who knew Kellye, people Kerri may have never met. She’s reading how loved her twin was, how many lives she touched. Do those messages on Kellye’s page help Kerri heal? Shouldn’t they? Isn’t that why they are posted?

Or are they another example of our own over-inflated sense of self-importance? Those people who ignore the fact that yesterday this same status update said “I Hate Mondays” and use it today to share their sadness are stuck in their own moment. Facebook is nothing if not self-worship.

Still the sharing is somewhat comforting and I hope wherever Kellye’s faith took her she has access to Facebook. But really, I wish she knew while she was here what a tremendous impact she was having on all of us. I am inspired to tell the people I know how important they are and what good work they are doing.

The power of social media is in the sharing of this tumultuous experience called life. And part of that experience, tragically, is that one beautiful, wonderful, funny, determined girl is no longer with us. And we’re suffering. Together.

I don’t know that blogging about her is any better than Facebooking it, so there’s my disclaimer. What do you think? Are people abusing social media by broadcasting their pain? Or is it the necessary evolution of this new global world?

Kasie Whitener

Kasie Whitener is a freelance writer and professor of English at Strayer University and Midlands Technical College. She’s a member of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), the #amwriting.org community, and the Wordsmith Studio. She tweets @KasieWhitener and Facebooks. She blogs at Life on Clemson Road and is currently writing a collection of short stories to submit to literary journals during their acceptance window in the fall. She has several novel projects all of which deal with the moment the late David Foster Wallace described as when a fish recognizes what water is.

Monday Discovery: Esther Bradley-DeTally

Today’s Monday Discovery guest writer is Esther Bradley-DeTally, a dynamo-lady who hails from Pasadena, California. Visit her at Sorrygnat, World Citizen. Thanks, Esther, for sharing this excerpt from You Carry the Heavy Stuff.

The best way to describe Esther is to let her do it in her own words:

Esther Bradley-DeTally, spirit and writer extraordinaire, and Puggy
Esther Bradley-DeTally is a writing teacher, creative process coach, author, community activist. She has written two books, Without A Net: A Sojourn in Russia, and You Carry the Heavy Stuff Just out is The Courage to Write, An Anthology. She is editor of this book and writing teacher to those within its pages.  The Courage to Write is published by Falcon Creek Books and is a publication of the Pasadena Public Library, The La Pintoresca branch/Pasadena READS.

Her writing is whimsical, spiritual, serious, laugh out loud funny and offers themes with keen observance of what it means to be human. Someone once said her stuff was “A refreshing read that combines a depth dimension with the tragicomedy that is life.” She is a Baha’i with a passion for making oneness a social reality, fascinated by ordinary people transcending their own inadequacies and limitations in homage to a vision.

She jumps out of airplanes to visit pug dogs, and her best times are with Mr. Bill, her husband and pal extraordinaire, family, and her inner circle of 700 friends.

Being on Watch—Second Bout With Cancer (Spring 2007)

What day do I run to? Does my twin Elizabeth think of this? Her body is a mere cipher. She’s buying the farm. How do I run to her call, “Help me, help me, help me,” which starts just after dawn and carries through the day and night? I jolt out of bed at 5:30 and run into her room, a two-second trip. Early mornings and late evenings require me, her twin. No one else can help at the moment. Bill covers the ritual of medicine doses, and Lindsey and Matthew—her son and his wonderful wife—are going to start staying over.

Liz worries about my dying alone. “Who will you have?” I reassure her, and then I fantasize my demise. I would not realize this was a religious choice reference—that she feared my acceptance of Bahá’u’lláh would hold me back. At the time, I laughed and said, “I’ll be fine.”

An Essay: I Feel It in My Bones

I always said, “I want to go out lying on a huge bed with hundreds of pug dogs over me, as I feebly say, ‘Put the last one on that space over my nose above my lips.’” So under a snuff and snort, I’d end my days. Strange is this getting older. This is going to be an essay. I feel it in my bones. Tonight, my words slough off this day of sitting next to Liz, trying to get hourly liquids into her.

I sit in her kitchen at the computer which makes its “Urr urr” noises, like a new baby. It’s quiet in the kitchen as I reflect on our life as twins. Now, we are beyond the personalities of our twin selves. We are finally down to what really matters. Like Liz, I am waiting to return home, except it’s not my time, and I’m still on earth duty, in dirt city, on Planet Earth. I want to go home to Pasadena.

“What Day Do I Run To?”

Today someone in the writing group posted a question, “What day do I run to?” What does that mean? Then I thought, this is one of my middle-of-the-night questions when I get up and think, when does it end? I, always the frailer twin, have survived heart surgeries and other stuff. It helps at night to sit in her kitchen at the computer and play with writing prompts from our CHPerc site for writers. The basic question is, “Where do I run?” “When do I run out?”

Did I tread the mystical path on practical feet? Did I hoof hard? Was I a solace? Now, it’s  just enough to realize, parts of me are like a big old watch. On what day will I stop ticking? Will it be 2:00 in the afternoon or 2:00 at night? Where will the world be then? Meanwhile, I’m on watch, and I’m writing. Here in Liz’s kitchen on a quiet Idaho night, I think of us, Liz and me. We were the survivors. We’ve always had each other—like book ends. My brother John has been missing for years, and my older sister (Meb, for Mary Ellen Bradley) died at fifty. Liz and I were it.

A Dvorak Dissonance

Meb was a Girls Latin Scholar and later an unwed mother. “Go tell Dad, he’ll understand” backfired, and she was sent away. She had the baby by herself in Quincy Hospital, but then, as she turned eighteen, she took her baby out of foster care. She married her young love and had three more kids. Her husband left her, so she became a pianist in cocktail lounges. She drank too many drinks offered by grateful customers standing by her piano in a club lounge. Life unraveled, and she ended up on the streets, in housing tenements, dying in a hospital, the same Quincy Hospital where she gave birth. She was alone, poor, alcoholic, and had emphysema. When my twin and I were seventeen, our mom died. I remember Liz and I taking the trolley into downtown Boston and answering the sales lady’s query, “Why do you have to have black dresses?”

My twin is the essence of “don’t tell,” and she never discusses feelings about family. She would tell me during last year’s radiation treatments. When she was ten, standing in our long, graveled driveway, she said to herself, “I’m on my own now. I have to take care of myself.” My mother’s alcoholism had burst out. The Twelve Steps programs were newly emerging, and the doctors would send our mother to a private sanatorium, give her shock treatment. And what about us, Liz and me? She was the sturdy one, good at sports, tree climber par excellence, devotee of “Bobby and the B-Bar Ranch” radio show and “Sgt. Preston” and his dog King. And me—softy, wimp, reader, reader, reader, pathfinder of all the childhood diseases—feeling my mother’s pain. Our early lives had a Dvorak dissonance, later transiting to the spiritual sound of “Coming Home.”

It’s a Symphony, This Life

As I await my twin’s death, I want to tell you it’s a symphony, this life. First, the sacred wounds inflicted upon the soul, and time and twists and colors and sounds, cymbals, drums, some bells and whistles of the funky kind. And the colors—fuchsia, black, gray, stripes of every hue and finally the color blue, a Mediterranean blue—an embracing veil of silken color, obliterating memories of my twin’s despair of my believing in more than Jesus. Also fading are the memories of criticism’s early work. I hope when it comes my time to pass—come to a reckoning, a passage into a final exam, a leap of gladness, the warrior path almost finished—that I be worthy to meet my Creator. I think before I go, I’ll give a final glance at a world back from tilt and furor, and I’ll catch faint sounds of a new symphony, an oratorio, celebrating unity and splendor for the human race.

For thought and action: What day do you run to? Where is your solace?  Esther and Gerry would love to have your comments here!