The Laundry Room

I was chatting with a friend the other day, when we veered into childhood anxiety—of which we both suffered from—and I remembered that I was claustrophobic for like five years as a kid. I had forgotten about it, because it’s something that I grew out of. In fact, nowadays I feel safest when any door I am behind is closed and locked, but when I was in elementary school I couldn’t deal with a closed door, let alone a locked one.

It started when my nephew, Little Scottie, and I were playing as kids. Little Scottie was my brother’s son. My brother and his girlfriend had Little Scottie when they were teenagers, and because my brother is 14 years older than me, I ended up being two years older than my nephew, which meant we were more like brother and sister, and we treated each other like that too. Mainly teasing and taunting, always picking at each other.

One day, when I was in kindergarten, which would have made Little Scottie about four, we were playing hide-and-seek and I ran into the laundry room to hide. He saw me hiding behind the dryer (I wasn’t a good hider) and when I jumped out to scare him, he grabbed the door knob and slammed the door closed before I could get him. I heard him go running down the hall screaming waiting for me to chase him, the only problem was that when he had slammed the old wooden door shut, it jammed. And just like that I was stuck in a small room.

I immediately panicked. That’s my gut reaction to all situations. I screamed for Little Scottie, but he was no doubt hiding somewhere far away. I looked around frantically trying to figure out what my options were. There was a small window in the laundry room that overlooked the front porch where the adults were all sitting. So I ran to the window, too small to see out of it, and screamed as loud as I could for as long as I could until I heard the commotion of people coming inside wondering what was wrong.

My mom got to the door first and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. “Missy,” her voice came through the door, “Unlock the door!” I explained through sobs at this point, that the door wasn’t locked. I heard someone say it was jammed then, and she tried the door again but this time used some muscle. Nothing.

Someone, maybe my brother, maybe my nephew’s step-dad, got the idea to come to the window and try to reach in and pull me out. They got the screen off, but I couldn’t get myself far enough up to them, and they were too big to fit far enough in to grab me. It occurred to me then, that this was my life. I’d have to live in the laundry room for the rest of my life. My mom would come bring my food through the window, and I’d spend my days listening to the neighbor kids play on my swing set in the front yard. The sobs came louder and quicker.

“Hold on now, Missy,” my mom’s voice came from the other side of the door, “I’m gonna pull these panels out.” Turns out it was one of those old, wooden doors that had slats in it. So with a little help from whomever that man was, and a hammer, my mom was able to pull the slats from the door until there was a hole large enough to pull me out. Whew! I was free. But that’s when the claustrophobia first started. For years afterward I would cry if I was left in a room with a closed door. Even when I was playing with friends. I’d always eye the door, ask them to keep it slightly ajar.

Eventually my fear subsided, and so did my friendship with my nephew. We grew apart. And three years ago he was murdered in cold blood by a monster of a man, and I never got to tell him that I know he didn’t jam the door on purpose. That I know he was just as scared as I was that day. That I still remember his little red face, matching his bright red hair, and the way he ran up to give me a hug when I was free that day. I can still see and feel it all. The warm sunshine of the day outside, pulsing down on my arms. And I hope he can too.

❤️

M.

August

August always catches me by surprise. It’s a busy month. It’s my husband’s birthday month. Then some last-minute fun before back-to-school. Then back-to-school, which always comes with some sort of challenge. New school, not the teacher we wanted, refusal to change underwear on the first day, you know, normal boy stuff. Then once we get into the swing of things, I finally feel a routine coming back. I have time to write again, I have time to breath again, then BAM! It hits me. This profound sadness. And it’s always around the middle of the month. And it always confuses me, like what the actual hell Missy?! Why are you sad, so much is going well right now. Then, at three am, during a night I’ve been unable to fall asleep, it hits me. It’s August again.

August 2011, was the worst month of my life. I remember back to my husband’s 29th birthday. Back to the weeks that followed. Back to the test results and the nights in the hospital. I start to remember my daughter. I start to subconsciously say her name. I talk more about her without even realizing. Jackson starts to ask questions, play what-ifs. Mommy, do you think Lydia would like cars like I do? I assure him that she would. I assure him that being her big brother he would have been able to teach her all about cars, and trucks, and technology. They would have been able to play soccer and basketball together. He could have taught her how to swim, and cheered her on at her swim meets. They could have secrets and inside jokes, certainly be each other’s best friend. He smiles, tells me that he doesn’t mind being an only child, but that sometimes it would be nice to have her around.

I lose sight of all the good I have in my life during the month of August. I have more bad days than good ones. And every year I wait for these feelings not to come. I hope they won’t. I push them back down, thinking certainly this year it won’t hurt so much. Certainly this year I will get a break from these emotions. But I’m wrong. They come back. And even though I am surprised when they come, and upset with myself, I am learning how to show myself a little more grace. To not beat myself up for having a bad day here or there. It’s just work. I’m always working on it.

Grieving takes time, I know this. And here I am at year eight, and I am waiting for a time for the grieving to stop. And what scares me, what really gets to me, is the idea that it may never stop. That this is my life now. That every August this profound sadness will creep up into my chest. And I will cough and cough trying to rid myself of it, but I won’t be able to. It will just be something I will have to live with. Forever. I think that is what makes me the most sad now. I think I have properly dealt with the feelings of loss. The actual pain that losing my baby caused me. But I think too, that this feeling of lingering sadness will never be dealt with. Will never go away.

That’s a dramatic, albeit true thought that I live with. That it isn’t the loss of my daughter that I will eventually succumb to, rather the grief that surfaces every, single, year. Month. Week. Day. The grief that won’t allow me to breathe. The grief that won’t allow me to move on. If there is anything to move on to.

I have nothing new to say today. Just to love those who you love. Love those who need love. Love those you know, those you don’t. Spread the love and light out in the world today. For people like me, who can’t muster it. For people like Lydia who will never feel it. For people who will never feel whole again. Because it does make a difference.

M.

Grief

I’m in my bed at half past midnight thinking about grief. I’m not just thinking about grief, I’m trying to somehow quantify it. I’m comparing my grief to other’s. I’m trying, in the strictest sense, to make myself feel bad for grieving. To make myself believe that my grief is silly. My grief doesn’t count. I know this does more harm than good. I know grieving is a process. A journey. With steep mountains and robust valleys. I know you take a couple steps, then you stumble. I know you can stand there, on the side of that mountain for a long time. I know you can wonder, and wish, and hope for an answer. For something to keep you from walking over the edge. I know that grief makes you do crazy things and think crazy thoughts. I know grief can wreck you from the bottom up. From the inside out. But here I am, standing on that mountain, wondering what it would feel like to take the step off. I’ll fall back to sleep soon. I’ll fall back to sleep, then tomorrow I will be okay. Sometimes it’s just the darkness that gets to me. I’m learning. I’m coping. I hope you are okay, friends. I’m wishing you reprieve from the darkness. Your grief is real.

Give yourself time.

Give yourself grace.

Tomorrow is a new day.

M.

Pulling Out My Hair

All morning I have been putting my hands on my keyboard in an attempt to will myself to write something, but nothing comes out. This has been happening for about two weeks. I don’t mean with this silly, little blog. I have a million topics for this place. Climbing out of this blue spot I have been in. My recent gastro-intestinal upset. Our house-hunting trip to Atlanta. Jackson’s ongoing obsession with Harry Potter. Those are all easy topics for me to slap down here for our mutual reading pleasure. What I’m having a really hard time with is writing other things. Things I need to be writing. Short stories, and flash fiction, and creative non-fiction. Things that I write to send out for consideration. Things that, you know, a writer should care about.

A couple of weeks ago I started an essay about mental health. It’s morphed into more of a lyric essay. I talk about my penchant for weeding, then I talk about the unnerving condition I was diagnosed with shortly after the loss of my daughter. It’s called trichotillomania, which is a really long, crazy-sounding word that means at times of high stress I pull my hair out. Literally. I subconsciously run my fingers through my hair, often times when I am asleep, and I pull strands of hair out. I do it over and over again, in the same spot, until finally I have a little bald patch on my scalp and I have to part my hair to cover it. It sorta sucks. But also, I guess it sort of helps too.

It doesn’t always happen when I am asleep. Sometimes I am fully-awake, but I am distracted. When I first noticed it I was sitting on the couch with my husband. We were watching tv, toddler Jackson was asleep, and I was actually engrossed in whatever was happening in that episode of, probably, The Office. Before I knew what was happening I had taken my pony tail out and began running my fingers through my hair. At some point my husband looked over at me and asked what was wrong. I told him nothing was wrong. Because nothing was wrong. Weirdo. Then after the episode he looked at the spot next to me and asked again what was wrong. I looked over too, and there was a massive pile of my hair sitting next to me. We didn’t really know what to say. Over the next few weeks it got worse. I was waking up in the middle of the night to clumps of hair all around me, and my hand resting on my head. It was exhausting. So I finally asked the doctor and she explained this all to me. I felt relieved, but you know, not really.

So here I am, reliving all of this to write it out on the page, in hopes that I will actually finish this essay, submit it to a publication, they won’t think I’m too weird, and they will publish it, so that maybe, maybe, someone who pulls their hair out realizes, perhaps for the first time, that it is a mental health problem. Realizes they are not alone. Realizes they need to seek help. But until then, I am stuck, you see. Stuck. Unable to think. Unable to write. Unable to help. Stuck with idle hands, wanting to pull out my hair.

M.

Showmars

One day a few months ago I was out and about, having a hectic day. My lunch date had cancelled, my doctor visit had not gone as planned, my husband was having a bad day at work, I was confused about some choices I had, and I had spent about two hours in Jackson’s classroom, reading and working math problems with a couple of kids who needed the extra help. It was a chaotic morning and by the time I realized I hadn’t eaten all morning, I was already hangry. I was on my way home to see what Sir Duke had destroyed in my absence, when I decided I would stop by the nearest restaurant and have lunch. It seemed like what I needed to do at that moment, so I quickly pulled into the nearest lunch spot which happened to be a Showmars in Midtown, right near the hospital.

I like Showmars. It is fast and clean, the staff is friendly and efficient, and they have a variety of choices. In fact, Jerimiah and I will often meet there for our “weekly lunch dates” when we just don’t know what the hell we want. This day I was feeling out of sorts, so I knew exactly what I wanted, comfort food, which for me means fried food. I walked up to the counter and ordered the chicken fingers. I paid, got my number and drink, and walked to a booth by the windows. It was a nice day, mid October I believe, and there were people sitting inside and outside. I sat my items down on the table, making eye contact with the woman behind me who was alone, though there were two plates on the table. I smiled at her and she reciprocated, though she looked preoccupied.

I walked into the bathroom. There were only two stalls and one was occupied at the time, so I went into the empty one. While I was in the bathroom stall, the occupied door opened and the woman went to the sink to wash her hands. I was in such a weird head space, that I didn’t pay much attention to the noises. I assume she unlocked the door, I assume her heels clicked toward the sink. I assume she pushed the soap dispenser and the water shot on. I didn’t really hear any of that though. I was so frustrated at myself for saying the wrong thing to the doctor, for sending an email out of frustration, and for not giving the kids my undivided attention, that I was berating myself as I finished up. In fact, it wasn’t until I flushed that I stopped and actually listened to what was happening.

The woman who had come out of the occupied stall was crying. At first I wasn’t sure what I had heard. I waited for the toilet to finish up its water cycle, then I tried not to move, tried not to breathe, and I put my ear to the crack at the door. That is when I heard the unmistakable sound.

If you have ever cried in public before, you know the sound. Your body, full of fear or grief or anger, is forcing this reaction on to you and you are not ready for it. Or more likely the people you are around are not ready for it, and you know this. So you try to make yourself stop. You try to look up and bat your eyelashes, you sniff hard, trying to stop your nose from giving you away. You dab paper towels at your eyes so you don’t smear your makeup. You wave your hands in front of your eyes. You close them, praying to whomever, whatever, to be rescued from these emotions. From this moment or this memory.

She was doing all of those things, I assume. I was still nervously hiding in the bathroom stall, wondering what to do. My first instinct was to open the door and take the woman into my arms. Just stand there and let her cry. But, I had recently been trying to stifle these emotional reactions with people, particularly strangers, because I don’t want people to be put off by me, and I am afraid I have put people off. So instead I stood silently, and listened. I listened as she pulled more paper from the machine, as she blew her nose, as she splashed water on her face. With each moment I grew more and more upset with myself, until I couldn’t take it anymore and I opened the door.

There, standing next to the trash can, her hands steadying her small frame on the sink, was a woman in a neat pantsuit, hair pinned back, make-up running down her face. When we made eye contact she immediately apologized. I took a couple of steps toward the sink and she stepped back to let me get closer. She grabbed more paper towels, and dabbed her eyes. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just washed my hands and kept my face down. Then as I reached for the paper towels the words just sort of came out of my mouth.

“Are you okay?” I asked her, meeting her eyes.

“No,” she said. In that moment I didn’t want to push, so I didn’t. I dried my hands. I should have made a step toward the door, but I didn’t. Instead I put my hand on top of hers.

Her name was Mary. Her husband of 42 years had just, that morning, passed away in the hospital a couple of blocks away. Heart attack. There was nothing they could do. Her daughter was waiting for her in the restaurant. I didn’t know what to say. She didn’t look at me to say anything. In that moment, I just had to listen.

They’d met in high school.

They had three kids and a lot of grandkids.

She doesn’t know who she will talk to when she has a bad day. She doesn’t know who will tell her it will all be okay. They had plans and he didn’t uphold his end of the bargain. Her daughter is busy. Her son is gone. So many years, so many miles, so many separations.

I just nodded and gripped her hands tighter.

I told her that I didn’t understand her grief.

She told me that was good, and that she hoped I never did.

She said she had to go. She said her daughter would be worried.

I watched as she wiped her face one last time. Then she grabbed my hands, tried to smile, and she walked out the door.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how long I had been in there, but I stood there for a bit longer. I didn’t want to go out into the restaurant. I didn’t want to see her daughter again. I didn’t want to see her. I was sad. I was sad for her and I was suddenly sad for all the people in the world like her. I was afraid. I never want to be in her shoes, but it is an inevitability. Inevitably, we all lose someone.

Eventually I made my way back to my table. My chicken fingers were there, but Mary and her daughter were gone. I sat down at the table and called my husband. He answered. I wanted to burst into tears, but instead I just told him that I loved him. That his day was bound to get better and that this low spot we were in, these changes we find ourselves fighting, they would all work out. I told him it would all be okay.

Then over the next hour I sat quietly, watching people walk in and out of the restaurant. I overheard conversations about hurricanes and hydrangeas. I watched an old man flirt with a young server. I smiled as a mother struggled with a child on her hip and a newborn in a stroller. I thought about this life, and how we live it. I thought about death, and how it scares us. I wished good thoughts for Mary. I realized, maybe for the first time, that we aren’t just here for one reason, with one talent or one gift, but that we are all here for a lot of reasons, buttloads of them in fact, but rescuing each other might be the most important.

As always, be kind.

M.


Two Years

This past Election Day my friends and I sat in the cool autumn air of their screened in porch, in the quaint little town of Davidson, North Carolina. Our children were inside watching a movie, our husbands were mixing drinks and waxing political. We were fawning over Beto and discussing all the amazing women who were stepping up to change our world. I was content. I was at optimistic. Yet, I was sad.

The next morning I woke up remembering November 9, 2016. I didn’t remember the shock of realizing Trump had won. I didn’t remember the fighting on Facebook, or the chaos that swept through our country in the coming days. I remembered the call I received from my sister. The one where she told me that my nephew, my brother’s oldest child, the little-red-haired brat who pestered me when we were kids, Little Scottie, was missing.

Election Day will never be the same for me ever again. But even worse, my family, my brother, my mother, my sisters, my great-nephews, will never be the same again. That was the beginning of a week-long search for Little Scottie, a week spent in agony by my brother, his wife, Little Scottie’s mom, sister, children, and friends. A week of waiting. A week of searching. A week of me, a thousand miles away, helping as best I could. Getting the word out, calling in favors from people in Kansas, searching news sites, filtering the press requests, keeping everyone informed. And waiting. Hoping for good news from Flint Hills.

Then the news came. And it wasn’t good. Then the real pain began.

Jerimiah and Jackson and I went to Wichita. We hugged my brother. We hugged my mother. We transported Little Scottie’s remains, in a wooden box resting on my mother’s lap, from Wichita to his own mother in Leavenworth. We read the news reports. We read the coroner report. We read the arrest records of those involved. We wept.

It’s been two years. Two long years for my brother. Two years of ups and downs. The grief of knowing what his son went through. The grief of never being able to say goodbye. Of never having closure. And then this week, on the day we were all headed to the polls to cast our ballots relying, we hoped, on love trumping hate. On sending a message to the world that we are still here in one piece, ready to move forward in love and optimism for the future. On the day the country tried to suture the wounds of our bleeding hearts, my brother sat in a courtroom and heard the sentencing of the two most evil people he has ever known.

They were sentenced to 171 years between the two of them. A sentence to ensure that they will die in prison. A sentence to ensure that my brother gets the only closure he can. A sentence to give some reparation for a loss that is unfathomable. Unthinkable. Unknowable. Sentences in my opinion, that were too short.

Grief comes in waves. It surprises you, pulls you under, holds you there for more than you would like. Some days are better than others. Some days you can paddle and kick your feet and stay afloat, other days you let the tide pull you down. Way down. And that’s okay. That’s okay, brother. Because when you get strong enough to stand back up, we will all be here.

We miss you Little Scottie. We miss your sweet nature, your kind heart. Your love of the Chiefs and your love of family. I’m sorry I ran away from you that day in sixth grade when you just wanted a hug, but I was too cool to give you one. I’m sorry I told you to stay out of my room because “boys aren’t allowed”. I forgive you for locking me in the laundry room that time, because you thought it would be funny. I forgive you for breaking my favorite Barbie doll’s arm. It was an accident, I know. I’m sorry for getting mad. I’m sorry I didn’t say it then. I am sorry I wasn’t there more.

I love you.

Aunt Missy

Bentley

On April 25th of this year, I sat with my professors in a small conference room in the English Department at UNC Charlotte to defend my thesis. It’s an important step to graduation, though it sounds scarier than it is. It’s really just going over a year’s worth of work. Reading a bit, talking about why you chose that particular point-of-view, why you chose that subject, how you put all this love and sweat into these 60 pages. I was nervous, sure. But less about the conversation. Less about whether or not I would “pass”. I already knew I did what I was supposed to do to graduate. I already knew that my professors liked my thesis. I already knew this would end well. I was nervous instead that at any moment I would burst into tears and look like a fool. Not because of the very emotional subject matter of my three essays, but because I had just lost my best friend.

It’s almost humorous now, but I remember one of my professors walking in just before the meeting and I was just standing there, my items scattered all over the table. I remember looking up at her smiling face and wanting to burst into tears and tell her all about my Bentley-girl. And she would have listened. And hugged me. And told me that it would all be okay. But I felt so stupid. How do you explain to someone, anyone, how the death of a dog, a very mature, lived-longer-than-she-should-have-lived dog, was the second worst thing that you have ever lived through? How dumb would that sound? So instead, I nervously shuffled papers around, told her I was nervous about reading my work, and pretended to be the same, old hot-mess I always was.

I “passed”, as I knew I would, even with Bentley on my mind. I made it through that day and the next few days. I even made it to an awards ceremony where I was recognized for being a good student. Then, I hopped on a plane, flew to Arizona with my family and celebrated another best friend on her wedding day. All along, I held it together. In fact, I held it together through the next month. I held it together through my graduation, through a house full of guests. I held it together through a stay in the hospital, through a surgery, and a recovery. I held it together until the first time I found myself completely alone in my house, in nearly 14 years.

It was the first week of June. My mother had just flown back to Kansas from having spent three weeks with us while I recovered. Jackson was in school. Jerimiah was at work. I was up and mobile and feeling pretty good, physically. I went to sit down at my computer, I wanted to try to put words to the whirlwind that had been the last six weeks, and instead I sat on the rug next to my desk, and I cried.

It had been a long time since I cried like that. A long time since I had been under the grip of that kind of grief. Seven years, actually. And it hurt a lot more than I remember. I forgot how much you physically hurt from grief. How your body heaves up and down with each breath, until your stomach feels like you’ve done a million sit-ups. How your eyes burn from the rubbing, and the salt, and the strain. How at times you feel like you can’t control any of it. The emotions, the images floating in and out of your mind, the feeling that the walls are closing in on you. That the floor will open you up and suck you under. It’s how I imagine it must feel to be drowning.

I’m not even sure what sparked it. I suspect it was the pure silence of the house. Having a constant being near you at all times becomes comforting. After I lost Lydia I remember always having Bentley to talk to, to complain to when toddler Jackson was being unreasonable. But here I was, in so much emotional pain, and Bentley was not there to lay her head on my lap. Her brown eyes were not looking up at me in concern and love. I had always felt safe and protected with her around. I had always felt loved, even when I was at the very bottom and felt all alone. But here I was. Literally all alone, at the bottom, in another hour of dark grief, and it didn’t feel like there was a way out.

Of course I could have called a friend. I could have logged onto Facebook and shared, I could have had a thousand virtual hugs. I could have checked Jackson out of school. I could have called Jerimiah to come home. But I didn’t do any of that. I knew I needed to do this. I knew I needed to lie there on the floor, feel the feelings, remember her. All the years, the sadness, the happiness, all the moments, each one of them. I needed to do it to make it final. And so I did.

I realized then that I shouldn’t be ashamed. I shouldn’t have to defend this grief to anyone. Especially not to myself. It didn’t matter if it sounded stupid. If my grief was “normal” or even made sense. It’s when I realized that all of this, all this emotion that was flowing out of me, was very real.

In the months that have passed since Bentley’s last day with us, we have cried, we have laughed, we have shared memories, spread her ashes in Missouri, even adopted a new pup. But in all this time, the three of us still occasionally look at each other and smile. We linger at the spot on the floor by the front door, at the flowering bush outside Zada Janes Corner Cafe, at the parking lot of Dairy Queen, and at the bridge at Freedom Park. Remembering her short time with us.

Zada Jane's
Last Ride
McDonalds
J, Me, B
Daddy
Bridge
Ducks
Me and B Good
Pond
Picnic
Pic of three
Ducks 2
Bebe
Big Girl
Last Walk
Jackson and B
Zada Floor
Ordering
B eating ice cream
Ice cream
B Eating
vet 2
Vet 1
vet 3
cropped-family1.jpg
Smiling

RIP Bentley-Girl. You were always there when it mattered. In the important moments. You were my first baby, my second loss, my very best friend. You were all a girl could ask for, and you are missed every day. 

Mommy