Green Thumbs in The Garden

As the fourth anniversary of my mama’s passing approaches, I am filled with so many emotions, memories, thoughts and the relentless longing I now accept that I will always feel. I can post a trillion blogs about the very same sentiment and I will feel the exact same way on the trillionth that I felt on the first – and that is that I fucking miss her, I always will, I want her back and none of the above will ever be okay.

But that’s not what I wish to focus on as August 30th looms. I want to focus on a large piece of the beauty that was my mother and how she still exists for me, how as the late, great American poet, E.E. Cummings so elegantly wrote, “I carry (her) heart / I carry it in my heart.” *

My mama loved gardening – plants, vegetables, wildflowers, you name it – she had a green thumb to rival the greenest of thumbs. This morning, as I walked through my apartment watering my succulents, my rooting projects and my hanging devil’s ivy, I was filled with wonderful memories and the thought that my mama would be so proud of me.

When my mama was alive, I was hardly as enthusiastic as she probably would have liked for me to be when it came to receiving what she deemed, “the gardening tour” or just speaking garden speak in general. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a lack but that my enthusiasm just paled in comparison to my mother’s deep passion for plant life, for ending her days with the Earth lodged underneath her long fingernails. Upon arrival at my former home in Kansas City for a summer visit, she would be ever so anxious to show me the latest annual she planted surrounding the deck or the abundant growth of the wisteria I gifted her for her birthday when I was only eight.

A visit to nearby Family Tree Nursery was always in order and always fun. We would spend an hour or two perusing the green houses, smelling the heavenly scents of pretty flowers, shooing insects and traipsing through my mother’s nirvana. Often, we would leave empty handed as it was only an inspiration trip or simply, but profoundly a mother daughter bonding experience.

Mama posing in front of the bougainvillea, Los Angeles, 2010

Mama posing in front of the bougainvillea, Los Angeles, 2010

Her visits to Los Angeles would ignite that green spark in my mother’s thumb upon her realization that seasons don’t truly exist in southern California. Flowers that she could never imagine blooming in March in the Midwest were plentiful throughout “winter” here. She especially took a liking to the rich, colorful bougainvillea abound throughout the city, on every corner, every trellis and peaking over every fenced yard. During one of her visits in April of 2009, I took her to The Getty Museum’s spectacularly landscaped gardens – truly a work of art. This masterpiece oasis easily became one of her favorite places in Los Angeles.

Standing in front of the gardens at The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2009

Standing in front of the gardens at The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2009

Green thumbs are unfortunately not genetic so I do my best but I have found that the older I get, the more enthusiastic I have become. People often ask, “How did you know that” after I identify a specific flower on one of my hikes or I see a particular, unique tree in someone’s front yard. And the answer is inevitably, “my mama.”

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Mama doing what mama loves – gardening in front of her home in Shawnee, Kansas, 2009

* E.E. Cummings actually wrote, “I carry your heart / I carry it in my heart”  Words were parenthesized/altered for purposes of this blog.

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Cancer and My Psyche

When I answered the telephone call before 9am and my veterinarian identified herself, I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing as I waited for her to say the words, “I am sorry to inform you that Bambino’s blood work is showing that he has cancer.”

Instead, she informed me that Bambino’s blood work came back completely normal! My kitty does not have cancer! He must only have his right canine tooth extracted by a specialist as soon as possible. This was an enormous relief! All I could think after that telephone call was, “That’s my boy!” He’s so strong and so resilient and my single, steadfast constant comfort for the past ten years of my life. He has been with me through every single up and down since the summer of 2005 and I love him as I would love my human son.

My baby, Bambino, and I post vet visit.

My baby, Bambino, and I post vet visit.

Amongst my best attempts not to sound melodramatic, we have had quite the cancer scare in my household over the past few months. First, it was I and most recently, it was my oldest cat, Bambino. It’s difficult not to jump to the worst conclusions when I am feeling abnormal lumps in my right breast near my armpit and when the veterinarian states that she is fearful that the abscess in my baby’s tooth might not be dental related at all but an oral tumor.

Thankfully, I am happy to report that the palpable concerns in my self-examination were ruled in a mammogram and an ultrasound as swollen lymph nodes due, most likely, to my choice in deodorant. This is yet to be proven as the cause given that I have yet to find an aluminum-free, paraben-free, all natural deodorant I actually like. Tom’s sucks! The first sign of perspiration and I smell like a pubescent boy with a thyroid problem after gym class. And that’s my public service announcement for the evening. Nothing beats the freesia scented Lady Speed Stick I’ve used for probably fifteen years now. However, a new deodorant I must use. Any recommendations are welcomed and graciously appreciated.

Needless to say, the anxiety levels have been through the roof. The fact of the matter is that cancer is sort of a part of my psyche and even though I may be aware of this, there will never be a means for mental and/or emotional preparation no matter how hard I may try.

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Is That a Wrap?

People come and go from our lives to create what feels, at best, like a handful or two of completely separate lives lived – almost reincarnation like. Oftentimes, people come and go because people grow apart, they choose different paths that lead their lives further and further away from what once was. There’s a mutual understanding of why you are no longer characters in one another’s next act, or reincarnation, if you will.

And sometimes, people simply begin living their life apart from yours so that one day, you wake up and you don’t even think about that person for twenty-four hours and then the next day, forty-eight hours and the next, seventy-two and so forth. Until one day, when you’re looking back and unpacking some baggage, per se, you realize, there is no mutual understanding, no explanation, no sense and perhaps, most difficult of all, no closure.

So, how do we say, “That’s a wrap” and put the final cut on what feels like a past life? How do we insert a resolution after an incomplete falling action? Can these feats even be accomplished given that the desire to reach a denouement has the possibility of being mutually exclusive? Is a rewrite attainable when only half of the parties involved may have such desire? Or do these unfinished acts simply go to the vault never to be reopened?

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Alternate Realities

“If you get in that taxi, I swear to you, we are over!” I harshly spat with emphasis on the word, “over.”

The shouting and hushed cries echoed off the Alphabet City brick and mortars with a spine-tingling intensity as I slammed the taxi door with what physical strength I had left in me.

He hesitated as the cruel words continued to be exchanged and he opened the door again. The taxi driver became visibly impatient and David finally closed the door without entering. He took my threat seriously, I thought to myself. In hindsight, I’m not certain if I meant it or if I was simply threatening but I’ll never know. I probably didn’t mean it.

Cockroaches – the large, disgusting ones that are the size of an average human beings’ thumb, crawled around my sandaled feet. Typically, this would be of prioritized concern but my relationship was on the line, there was no grey area and it was do or die. The person I pictured myself spending the rest of my life with, albeit a mediocre life at best was swiftly fading.

The shouting continued as intoxicated passers-by gawked and shop owners exited their stores to figure out what all the commotion was about. It’s fascinating when mutual passion, alcohol and a serious relationship are combined, all societal proprieties fly out the window per se. That is to say, I didn’t give a fuck who heard me tell David that he was being completely ridiculous, that the Asian guy at the bar was flirting with my Asian friend and not I – besides Asian guys were rarely ever attracted to me.

He was upset that a guy had occupied his seat while he went to retrieve beverages and I was in shock at the strength of his reaction. I had actually done the appropriate thing and told the gentleman that he would have to move as soon as my boyfriend returned. Being the jealous and severely insecure person David was, however, this major detail didn’t seem to matter, especially to a drunk David. And being the rather insecure, actions speak louder than words, often jump to conclusions kind of woman that I was, his trying to leave me in the middle of alphabet city at 2:30 in the morning spoke volumes and those volumes couldn’t be anything but that he didn’t give a shit about what happened to me.

To this day, I often wonder to myself what would have happened if I had let him get into that taxi, let him leave? I imagine I meant the words “we are over” as he rode off in a yellow cab and I stood under fluorescent streetlights in gold, patent sandals, Manhattan cockroaches crawling all around. What if?

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What If

American writer and essayist, Flannery O’ Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I believe this is why I write and more so right now than ever.

Yesterday afternoon and again, this morning, I was presented with that ugly two-word question that’s usually followed by some sort of action I didn’t take. That question that no one enjoys asking oneself because if you’re asking it, it probably means you’re conjuring up the unrealistic possibility of an alternate reality that only could have come to be had you made a different decision or series of decisions in your past.

Cognitively, we’re all aware that “what if” only serves as a self-loathing mechanism, right? Because the truth is even if you had made another decision or series of decisions, you may still be sitting right there on the living room floor of your Toluca Lake apartment, in front of your computer screen, typing these words and enjoying the company of your two felines and the taste of your Trader Joe’s dark roast coffee.

I believe the problem with asking ourselves “what if” is that we’re implying that at the historical time of judgment, we must have made a poor decision that led to an undesirable outcome today. But maybe if we ask ourselves, instead, why we made the initial decision in the first place, we’d discover that it was a perfectly sound and sensible one given the circumstances of that time and in turn, we’d be being kinder to ourselves.

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Trusting the Universe or God or whatever guiding spirituality or lack thereof it is that you follow is not a simple task but once we do, asking ourselves “what if” kind of falls to the wayside. We’re more confident in our past and present decision-making because after all, being conscious and present leads to better, more informed decisions.

The belief that our souls are here to learn lessons has always resonated loudly with me and perhaps this is one lesson that my soul is to learn – I can ask myself “what if” and I’ll probably never have a good enough answer to justify any, even minute, amount of self-deprecation so why do it? Why make myself miserable in my now? I can only trust that I’m right where I’m supposed to be and better off having made the decisions that I made that delivered me to this now.

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Learnt Behaviors and Moral Codes

When my mother taught me the “golden rule,” which was very early on in my childhood, perhaps before I could even speak, I wish I had realized that it didn’t mean that just because you treat someone the way you wish to be treated, reciprocity would necessarily occur. However, that’s the way I took it and I ran with it and now, about twenty-some odd years later, I’m realizing that the golden rule is simply a way of saying take the high road – an ethical guide on how to conduct one’s character because the truth is most of those people will not treat you with the same mutual respect you may be showing him/her and those people will not share the same passions and fervor that you exhibit in their lives. I wish my mama were around so that I could ask her if she was aware of this reality when teaching her children this Universal moral code.

Witnessing my mother enact the golden rule and in turn, put everyone else before her began at a very young age and a very impressionable one, at that. This continued until her final days on this Earth when her greatest worry, even though every organ in her body was slowly, painfully malfunctioning and her independent mobility ceased to exist and when the machine connected to her body was serving as the much needed oxygen to her cancer ridden lungs – even then – her single greatest worry was still her children.

This is going to be hard,” She managed to utter through semi-chapped lips to my brother and I one afternoon. Her entire life, the short fifty-six years of it, was conducted selflessly. And this was the paradigm in which I seamlessly learned how to follow.

Imagine my awry sense of self worth four years later whilst sitting in my therapist’s office, wondering why I cannot stop caring about people who make it more than clear, through their actions or lack thereof, that they really don’t care about me. Cognitively, I get it – I understand that a person who is always “busy” typically means that he or she just doesn’t have time for me because let’s keep it real folks, we make time for the people and things that we want to make time for. So, like I said, on an intellectual level, I am fully aware.

Emotionally, however, not so easy breezy – I find myself saying or thinking things like, “But I care for this person” or “But he’s family” or “Maybe if I just make myself a little less available, she’ll understand” or “Everyone deserves a second chance” and so forth and so on. And so begins this tug of war between my head and my heart, which reminds me of a quote a dear friend of mine text me once, saying that it reminded her of me and it definitely hit home:

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A couple of years ago, I was in a hotel room with my brother during a road trip to Lake Tahoe. We were in a discussion about being selfish versus being selfless and he curtly looked at me and said, “You should try being more selfish, Linds.” This is something my brother has never had a problem with and I could never understand where he learned this type of behavior that was in stark contrast to my own.

My therapist pointed out to me during a Saturday afternoon session, shortly after our sibling road trip, that selfless means exactly that – self less with great emphasis on the less portion. It was one of those ah-ha moments!

I was always under the impression that being selfless was wholly a good thing, a healthy thing when, in fact, it meant I was more concerned with everyone else’s needs prior to my own. This was a dangerous line to walk. Over the next couple of years, I often would recall this conversation with my brother wondering if he wasn’t on to something. The problem, however, is that my learnt behavior of selflessness is basically innate so here I am, still in therapy, still trying to unlearn selflessness.

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With the Key of Imagination

My body was overcome with sweaty chills and I began convulsing as I rushed to the bathroom my mother had just finished remodeling months prior. I violently vomited into the pristine porcelain toilet bowl; mostly dry heaves, though thoughts of Panera’s artichoke soufflé were brought to my mind, as it was the single thing I had eaten in the past twenty-four hours; That, and a few undercooked tater tots.  These musings were quickly replaced by an irrational fear; one that screamed so loud, it had me wishing for an off-switch. “You are alone! Now and forever!” The peristalsis continued followed by unwelcome tears.

As a child, two of my greatest fears were falling ill with the flu and losing my mother. They oddly went hand in hand in that the one person, who is always there to provide comfort, after releasing one’s stomach contents, is mom.  She’s there to rub your head, fetch cold rags, offer soothing words and clean up after the mess.

There I was – twenty-six years old, kneeling on the cool, newly tiled bathroom floor, my limp arms wrapped around the wobbly basin, traumatized in the aftermath of my mother’s untimely death. My body waited about eighteen long hours, after the most important person in my life drew her last breath, to show any signs of physical effect. Before that, I was mechanical, silent, what many would describe as in a state of shock.

I never realized how much I depended upon my mama until I went to bed that night, the first time I ever laid my head on a pillow, bound for slumber, knowing that she no longer breathed, that her life was no longer more. And I’ve crudely been reminded of these realities several times thereafter. Losing my mother has forced me to figure out how to live my life completely differently, essentially relearning everything I knew to be for the first twenty-six years of my life. It has been exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

The following morning, I awoke to a multitude of text messages and voicemails from people I’ve known for years to people whose last names I could barely remember. The overwhelming support and kind gestures were nice but I just wanted to turn off my phone. I no longer felt physically ill but it was the first day of many that I awoke to remember, “Oh yea, my mother is dead.” To say it was such a slap in the face is an understatement. Every now and then, I still have the urge, “I gotta call my mama” and that is an uppercut to my right jaw and a simultaneous left hook to the gut.

Even today, I’m still refiguring things out, constantly asking myself, “what would mama do?” On occasion, and it’s been quite awhile since I’ve done this, I still pick up the phone and dial her number, with the hope, that she just might answer one day and this will have all just been a very bad dream. Or I’d like to walk up to the door of my childhood home in Shawnee, Kansas, knock and when the door opens, there she is, my mama, cancer free, standing there as if the last four years have all just been a nightmare or a cliché episode of The Twilight Zone – I’d take it.

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It’s Okay

I deeply envy those who still have their mother’s wisdom to consult, their mother’s hand to hold and her number to call. There is no consolation for the devastating void I have felt every single day of my life for the past 1,430 days. There is nothing and no one that will ever fill it – it is simply something one must learn to live with and that will never be okay.

I have recently begun reiterating that last line to myself after listening to a plethora of interviews with one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed. She said that in reference to the loss of her own mother and it has since stuck with me because I think in the days following the overwhelming loss of a loved one we’re constantly looking for ways to “make it okay” or waiting for it to at least “feel okay” when the reality is that it will never be okay and that is okay.

Not only do I envy, I feel angered at times – mostly when I witness young people taking their parents for granted or speaking as if they have all of the time in the world – this immature sense of invincibility. I recognize it because I used to be this way. We all think we’re going to live the “typical,” “normal” life where our parents will die when we’re in our fifties, at least. Unfortunately, one cannot teach experience or cast the agonizing pain he/she feels upon naïve beings, if only for a brief moment.

Yesterday evening, I had an interesting conversation with my eighty-five-year-old grandmother, my mama’s mother, about death. I asked her if death became easier to accept the more loss she experienced throughout her years. She replied that she believes that it does. We both agreed that if we are to look upon life with such endearment then we must learn to do the same with death because without life, there would be no such thing.

We agreed experience forces one’s perspective to change and influences one’s thoughts. I told her how I think about death on a daily basis whereas when I was, say twenty-two, I did not think of death quite as often. It was a lovely, candid conversation to have with someone who has an extra five and a half decades on me, who has lost four children, her husband, several siblings, and her own parents.

Focusing on one’s immortality can positively impact self-awareness, promote consciousness and produce immense amounts of anxiety. Daily, I face the pros and cons of this reality I was catapulted into four years ago. With self-awareness comes the ability to check myself when feeling envy – I am able to be genuinely happy for those who can consult their mother’s wisdom, hold her hand and hear her voice at the click of a button on their phone. The anxiety can become overwhelming at times though I am working intensely hard to manage it through therapy, through writing and other outlets.

I feel as if I am a sponge, soaking up all the experience I can handle until being squeezed dry and sharing with the world all that I have learned, hopefully inspiring and consoling others. I am on a constant self-improvement and growth regimen and my words are only a minute, but intentionally momentous piece of this journey. And, this is okay.

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Choices, Change, History and Tomorrow

Today marks exactly two year years since I decided to end my marriage and I’ve been so preoccupied with the joy that it is my only surviving grandparents’ 85th birthday that I didn’t remember this other significant date until just now as I type this.

Many would look upon such a day with sorrow and possibly some regret but I look upon this day as one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself – a difficult one, no less. As I retrospect on our life together, I do not for one second intend to play a victim as that time has long passed. When I dig a little deeper, I realize that if it weren’t for this decision, I have no clue where I might be today – desperately unhappy is the only certainty. Although, I can’t imagine my life getting much darker than it already was with David, I am sure that it was possible which is the whole reason we make choices toward change, right?

Making decisions to change an aspect of our lives that we find mundane, boring, unfulfilling, whatever it may be is difficult! Change is terrifying but if we don’t take that step or those steps to change whatever it is that is not serving our soul then we will remain in a perpetual cycle of displeasure and that’s an understatement. We have no one to point fingers at except ourselves if we do not work toward changing the part or parts of our lives that are unsatisfactory.

This past Sunday, I had the extreme honor of witnessing a ninety-one-year-old holocaust survivor deliver an inspiring speech on his extraordinary life during a visit to Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance.

Mr. William Harvey wasn’t even the scheduled speaker for that time slot. He happened to be visiting the museum just to say hello when the scheduled speaker could not make it due to illness. His compassionate response when asked if he could fill in: “I couldn’t let the public down.” Again, I hear you Universe.

This is the type of person our youth should be idolizing. This man is hero material,” I thought to myself. At the young age of twenty-two, Mr. Harvey was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp weighing a mere seventy-two pounds. His harrowing tale sincerely altered my perspective on life.

He spoke of his mother and how hard she worked raising six children, as the motivation behind his will not to give up during his imprisonment. In so many of his ideals, his values and his morals, I heard an echo of myself while gaining immense encouragement from his anecdotes of extreme struggle and heart wrenching survival.

This is a man with incredible experience, courage and tenacity – a man who was given a choice between remaining a victim or making something of the life that he fortunately still had unlike so many of his loved ones. He chooses to live in such a way that he looks forward to every single day that he awakens for it’s an opportunity to do something good in the world, to give back to someone else.

In no way am I comparing my struggles to his – I am simply drawing the valuable perspective that I gained. How could I possibly justify not manifesting the changes that I see necessary to fit my desires and accomplish my goals, to better my character and further my self-awareness? I left the museum that day wondering how any of us could justify remaining in a complacent state of being, of merely existing and not living! It’s as if we have forgotten history or perhaps, some of us are just turning a blind eye because we fear the change is far greater than any we could manifest alone. If only each of us could understand that true, necessary change begins with a single human being. I think the moment we all start waking up looking forward to each day with the knowledge and power to do something good is the moment that change will be enacted.

But what will that take?

Thank You, Mr. Harvey, for dedicating your time, your energy and for giving back to humanity and to your community. This world needs more individuals like you.

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