Friday, May 22, 2009

When the Compulsion to Discard Descends...

Like many, many women, for most of my life I've agreed to participate in a few more things than I have time to manage.

In the trunk of my car I have a separate compartment or bag for every activity.

There's the "stuff" I need to attend the boys' sports -- a folded, bagged chair (the short kind in which my feet still reach the ground), a couple paperbacks, bottles for water, umbrellas, jackets, blankets...

I keep a box with supplies to help the weddings I coordinate go smoothly. There are copies of old programs in case a bride needs some ideas, music lists and suggestions, and notes about upcoming weddings. Tucked inside that box is an unwrinkled knit dress and pair of dress shoes stored with copies of instrumentals I like using at weddings. (Overkill? Not hardly! I once received a desperate call at 1:46 that the pianist hadn't appeared for a 2:00 wedding and could I play the piano? Arriving at 2:04, I found there was no sheet music, so I guess I composed most of my own that day; trust me, that's not a beautiful or even harmonic event. Worse, I walked from the back of the church to the piano through guests in fancy wedding attire. My attire? Blue jeans, sneakers, and my blue sweathshirt with the garrish yellow fish screaming, "Jamaican Me Crazy!" on the back. A proud moment it was not.)

There's a bag for each day of the week. Monday's bag is the smallest. I led a couple adult scripture studies this winter. I keep the bag in the trunk because if I empty it, I'll feel compelled to find something to fill it.

Wednesday's bag bulges with music for kids' choir, religion books, notes about things I want to teach my classes, two of my favorite Bibles, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Stuffed in the bag are some of my favorite homework assignments from my students. One packet contains the eighth grade prayers that sparked a conversation about praying for Churck Norris. Chuck is, after all, the spitting image of Jesus.

Of course, the entire trunk is littered with music. I keep thinking someday I'll file it. Inevitably, that thought most often occurs when I'm desperately seeking some scrap of music we need.

I noticed the state of my vehicle last night when I walked to my car with B to get her crock pot. Apparently, the trunk wasn't quite large enough to handle this spring's activities. The back seat of my car is heaped with nearly completed and developing projects. There's a box of files from work I need to organize, the two crock pots I used to prepare food for a recent SALT event, and a bag of craft supplies I need to donate. At the bottom of the heap are my replacement gym clothes.

The car is shocking really. I have a lot of Rules of Order in my life. I can't handle messy cupboards, cabinets, or closets. My spices have to be arranged in alphabetical order. My bowls and casserole dishes must be stored with their lids.

I'm sure there are all kinds of theories about my need for secret order. So what the heck happened to the car??

I feel the labor pains of a new compulsion: I'm itching to clean that car -- and not just to move the projects to the house or office. I feel compelled to chuck it all.

I'm left wondering: when I finally act on this compulsion to discard, who is the person who will stand atop the piles of trash and shout, "Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedom!!!!"?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dear Mom...

Why do you hate me?

I once thought that question grew from that oppressed feeling a child-becoming-a-woman has for the most dominant and important woman in her world.

It did not. You really hate me.

I've asked many people that question over the last fifteen months. "Why do YOU think my mom hates me?"

J was the first to answer. I'm not sure I ever expected an answer, so when I got one, my world sort of imploded.

"I don't know why she hates you, Kari. If I had a daughter like you I would be SO happy. We would do all kinds of things together! I never understood your mom."

Even after that answer, I didn't stop asking that question. B had a different notion: "Kari, you are everything your mom could never be."

Know what I heard in both answers? Not the affirming things people said to me about the kind of person I have become, but the agreement with my original premise: I am a despised daughter.

Some people couldn't -- wouldn't? -- answer.

There were other graces though.

I was so sad the night Grandpa Stuart died. Most of my grandpa-grief was the pure kind; it's right to be sad when someone you love dies and you experience those but-I-really-want-him-HERE-with-me moments.

A tiny part of my grief was born of losing daily contact with the Dad's family. For the forty days of Grandpa's journey from life to death, I rested in the bosom of that loving tribe, no longer feeling like a daughter cast away.

The night Grandpa died, Auntie I encircled me with her arms. "I just want you to know," she said, "that I would be proud to be your mom." I wept as other Auntie arms rested around me. "I think we might fight over you," Auntie Z whispered in a broken voice.

At home that night I ironed my tears into the last shirt Grandpa will ever wear. I sought perfection in that shirt; not a single wrinkle would mar the fabric draped over Grandpa's body. No one would ever see it under his suit jacket and closed in the coffin. Yet it mattered to me that it be perfect.

It's always mattered to me to smooth out every wrinkle. I did it so often and so well that it is my nature.

I found a paper I wrote about Stoicism while studying Ethics with Dr. Anne Maloney circa 1989. Near the bottom of page four, a single paragraph captured my attention. It was about Joe's 1987 graduation from high school.

I have no recollection of his graduation, but I wrote about it in that assignment. When you returned from the bar that night, I asked why you weren't there. Do you remember me asking you? Do you remember screaming that you had a "RIGHT to CELEBRATE with FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!!"? Do you remember using the telephone to hit me until I was curled in a ball at the top of the basement steps where our winter jackets spent the off-season? Did you know that I can't stand the slightly stale smell of no-longer-necessary winter jackets, but don't remember those blows on my body? My friend A was there that night and she remembers every blow. She remembers Grandma stopping you mid-blow. She remembers resting beside me and feeling my body tremble through that long night.

Grandma helped you many times when you were out of control. I remember calling her the night I found a butcher knife, a bottle of pills, and an empty bottle of wine. Can you hear my whispered plea to her: "Please. Help my mom, Grandma"? You were locked in your bedroom and wouldn't answer or open the door. Do you remember your rage when you stumbled out of your room to find Grandma there? If you could remember, would you understand why Grandma eventually wished for something so much better for Dad?

Dad suffered. Toward the end, before you disappeared, his skin was gray and he looked like an old man. He'd come to work in the morning with strange bruises and scrapes. One memorable morning he came with a fat lip. Do you remember how that happened? Do you remember him coming to get you from the bar and buckling you into your seatbelt? Do you remember sitting at the stoplights and him turning to check traffic to the left? Do you remember how you held your fist ready to hit him when he turned right? When you felt the contact with his face, were you satisfied?

When he called me from the Florida Keys during your last vacation together, I didn't know how to help. You were wandering the streets, playing hide-and-seek. You hid behind shrubbery and randomly appeared to scream at him. He called, asking me not to tell anyone else what was happening, but maybe just needing to hear a rational, sober voice. Do you remember your childish game? Do you remember the obscenities you screamed across the streets? Do you remember falling off the toilet in the bathroom and bruising your head so badly you had two black eyes for weeks? Do you remember telling me the truth and then telling your bar friends that Dad did it to you?

Other times it was different forms of... abuse, I guess. You'd lock him out of the house and I'd find him sleeping in the storage room at the office. I found notes taped to the windshield of his car or stabbed into the wood of the door with kitchen knives. One note you left on a folded sweater your friend gave you. The note said, "this is not mine" and was weighted to the sweater by another kitchen knife.

One night Dad and I returned from a meeting in the Cities and found you alone at a local bar with mounds of discarded pull tabs surrounding you. We brought you home where Joe would come get me. Dad and I sat watching the opening kick-off of Vikings pre-season.

Within minutes, I heard you slam your bedroom door. I heard muffled sounds of conversation and loud gasps. The door slammed open again and you stormed out to the living room, planting yourself in front of Dad. You were screaming and pulling your hair, your body bent and twisted with the force of your rage. You paced to your room and then repeated the scene a few times. You ran down the basement steps, throwing yourself into a tantrum worse than any I'd ever seen.

I asked Dad if we should do something and he shrugged.

"Is it like this often?" I asked.

"Every night."

You must have heard those mumbled words, the first I'd spoken. You flew up the steps and grabbed the chair cushion on both sides of my head and screamed, thick spit landing in gobs on my face. I have no idea what you said or why you were so angry. You went back in your room and locked the door again.

Noticing the score on the screen, I asked Dad what I missed.

He went away on business whenever he found a reason. One night he was getting a truck in Wisconsin and I stopped by your house to check on you. Eventually you let me in. You were ranting. You pushed me. I backed myself into the hall wall. The edge of your Precious Moments cupboard pressed against my cheek. I called my sister and you grabbed your cordless phone and started hitting yourself and screaming, "S, she's HURTING me! S, help me!" Remember looking at me with sly victory in your eyes, while I told my sister, "I'm nowhere near her..."?

I stopped letting my kids spend time at your house in the evening. One night Jake needed a place to stay while I played the piano, so Dad brought him to your house. I called Dad after performing at church. "Is Jake ready?" I asked.

"He's sleeping. Your mother called. Do you think you could pick her up at the American Legion on your way to get Jake?"

I did. Do you remember jumping out of the car at the stop sign and trying to race me home so you could get to Jakob first? Do you remember grabbing that poor, confused, half-asleep little boy and breathing your alcohol-laced breath on his face? Do you remember him wiping your saliva off his face after you slobbered wet kisses on him? Do you remember the look on his face?

You couldn't understand why I told my boys what was wrong with you: "I'm not keeping secrets. If you're doing something you don't want them to know, maybe you should stop."

You couldn't understand the boundaries I drew: "I don't want you calling my husband or I when you've been drinking. You can call if you need a ride, but we don't want to wake and listen to you ranting or screaming."

You couldn't understand why your disappearance a little more than a year ago didn't achieve the desired result or get you the attention you wanted.

I'm relieved to know Dad is free of the stress of his old life.

I'm thankful my boys still remember the "old grandma."

I'm free of constantly having to back away from your anger.

Your drunken rages still spill into my life. There are nights you call my boys in the middle of the night or during school to leave them drunken messages.

Other times you call me and whisper threats of some strange punishment waiting for me.

You lie about things I've done.

You lie about things I've not done.

You lie about the person I am.

And you know what?

I trust in the Word and hold fast to this promise: though a mother forsake her child, God will never, ever abandon me.

I give thanks every day for Joe and try to be the wife he deserves.

I mother my sons in every way you wouldn't mother me.

I cherish my friends and the depth of their love for me.

I encounter every person I meet with the belief that I have found a new friend.

I serve because I believe Jesus called us to be His hands and feet and not from any desire for praise or commendation.

I live in peace, free of the bitterness, envy, anger, and disappointment that fills your life.

I stand waiting with my arms outstretched, ready and willing to welcome you when you choose to be well.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.