Today appeared to be a good day. After paying the monthly bills, I settled down, thankful that life was going my way – finally. I looked up to the blue skies, whispering a silent prayer to God, thankful that I could pay the monthly bills and still have a bit left over, just in the event some emergency occurred. The sun was shining bright now. Glittering colors of sky blue, radiant shadows from the sunlight kissed the trees. I sighed, so thankful for the beauty of earth. No more thick black clouds of self-doubt…Pain…Hurt…Depression. This will be a good day, I whispered. That is, until I opened the laundry room door. Sorting the clothing, I stashed the first load of colorfast in the washer, placing other stacks in the hamper so I could accomplish the laundry. I punched the button of the Kenmore front loading machine. No power. Nothing. Checking the fuse box, I flipped switches. Nothing. I phoned Garrett, feeling totally helpless – again. Depending on others is something extremely hard for me. Garrett listened to me and when I started to cry, he reassured me he would get the washer to work.
“Don’t worry, babe. It’s nothing to cry about.”
How could I expect him to understand? Garrett was an uncompromising, capricious demeanor of a man. A Vietnam Veteran who saw the scars, pain, blood and agony of war. He knew the smell of death, decaying bodies lying along the roads. Vultures flying overhead, landing on the fading, deteriorating bodies, attacking, probing and eating away at the decomposing bodies while the sounds of mortars rang overhead. “It don’t mean nothing,” Garrett said repeatedly, reminding him that war is hell and nothing can change it. “It don’t MEAN NOTHING!’ Rarely did something affect him. When his father died, never did he shed a tear. When our son cried, Garrett scolded him. “Real men don’t cry,” he said. Perhaps his attitude was due to his military and combat training. Crying for Garrett was a weakness. Every time I cried around him he rolled his eyes upward, shaking his head, whispering, “It don’t mean nothing!”
Hot tears spilled down my face. I inhaled. Exhaled. Why am I so teary eyed today? What is wrong with me? Opening my appointment calendar I realized in less than ten days would be the anniversary of the loss of my dad.
Dad died July 6, 1999. “The grief should be gone,” I said, tapping my face to wipe the tears away. The memory of his passing was rooted forever inside my brain. I shouldn’t need him so much, but I do. I should be adjusted to his loss. I miss my dad. I miss his laughter and harmonizing gospel songs with him. I missed his hugs, and his reassuring voice. “Make it a good day,” his voice chimed rhythmically when I was nearby. His smile was contagious. I rubbed my neck. Inhaled. Exhaled. My dad made his life completely different after my parents’ divorce. Peaceful. No hostility. No temper tantrums. No one who knew him before his illness could imagine that once he was physically cruel to my mother, knocking her to the ground during a fight. I was amazed at his change, and so proud to call him, Dad.
There was much to do around the house. Depression left me so exhausted, when I made the attempt to clean the house; I forgot to wash the baseboards and the corners of the floors. That can wait until later, I thought. I’m too tired today.
Glancing at the corners of the bathroom floors I promised myself I would scrub them later. After all, no one sees the house, with exception of the dogs.
As hard as I tried to understand my depression, I couldn’t, until I glanced at the calendar. In exactly ten days I would reminisce about the death of my dad. Still, it seemed like yesterday. How long does one grieve, I asked myself, wiping fresh tears from my face.
Gathering my mop and cleaning materials, I scrubbed the corners of the bathroom floors and the base boards. I suddenly realized I wasn’t cleaning the dirt away. I was struggling to scrub away depression. Grief. Sadness. Heart-breaking wretchedness.
Just how long does one grieve over such a loss? I had no answers, but today was a day I could not fight it, so I gave in to it while cleaning and scrubbing the floors.
Grief was introduced to me as a young, innocent girl. During my junior year of high school, I received a nice letter from someone named Benjamin. I read his letter with interest. He seemed to be so charming. Intelligent. Funny. His letter made me laugh. He was stationed in California, in the Navy. My cousin, Donald, was his best buddy. One night while drinking, Donald showed Benjamin my photograph, giving him my address. Donald knew I loved to write letters, so he thought we could become pen pals. Benjamin’s letter was filled with compliments about me, leaving me to be ever so curious about his sincerity. I wrote him a letter, mailing it the next morning on my way to school, hopeful he would write again. What began as an innocent pen pal relationship developed quickly. That summer, Benjamin flew to Columbus to meet me. My heart danced inside my chest, in anticipation of meeting Benjamin. Doubts gnawed inside my stomach. What would happen if he didn’t like me, or think I was pretty? Was I deserving? A young, unsophisticated girl from a textile mill village, without any future plans? All I possessed were the dreams I cherished inside my heart. Dreams about singing and acting and becoming famous. I wrote about these dreams in my journals. When my mother found them underneath my mattress, she read them and laughed, telling me I’d never amount to anything.
My fears subsided when he arrived. I recognized him immediately and rushed into his arms. He lifted me tightly, spinning me around like I was a feather and I laughed with delight. Then, his lips met mine in our first kiss. The warmth of his mouth searching and probing inside of my mouth tasted delicious. This was Love. Finally, I had found someone to love me. Finally I could tell my mother she was mistaken. I was a lovable person. I was more than my mother’s piece of trash. I was someone warm, exciting and deserving of love.
During my senior year of high school, I was filled with happiness. Letters from Benjamin arrived almost daily. Every Sunday evening we talked on the phone. We were engaged, planning for our future together as husband and wife. My new life, filled with love and happiness, was about to begin.
I met Benjamin’s parents at Christmastime. His mother embraced me with love and acceptance. We discussed our wedding and marriage. That Christmas in New England was the most commemorative holiday I had ever experienced in my young lifetime. We were scheduled to ring in the New Year together in New England. Early one morning, my mother changed our plans and we left, without an explanation. My mother was in one of her moods. When I inquired as to why we were leaving now, she balled a fist at me. Her demeanor was malicious. She belittled Benjamin and his family, telling me I did not belong with them. I kissed Benjamin goodbye, praying that my mother’s behavior would not influence our future. Leaving New England, I cried on the plane, and when I arrived home, I cried into my pillows. Something was different. Something was missing, so I cried…and cried…and cried…just like I was crying now – over grief. One month later, I received a letter from Benjamin, ending our relationship. The distance between us was a deciding factor, he wrote. I read the letter over and over again, realizing my mother’s words of my not deserving of Benjamin’s love were so true. We were from different worlds – a naïve mill kid and a sophisticated, handsome military guy did not mix. Like oil and water, we could not make a life together.
Funny. I hadn’t really thought about Benjamin in years. Life had a way of keeping me so busy I didn’t have the time to allow emotions to crawl and brew inside of me, but today was different. Tears were pouring down my face, like an endless waterfall.
Once I had loved Benjamin so much I thought I could not breathe without him. Yet, after we broke up, I realized life still existed. Every morning, I awoke to a new day, only this was another day without my future – Benjamin. My mother laughed at me, telling me I was such a fool for loving a man. “No one should give her heart to a man like you did. It’s no wonder he stomped all over you and broke your heart. You’re such a foolish, insecure and stupid girl. Stupid girls don’t deserve love, and you are one STUPID GIRL,” she shouted, laughing from the depth of her obese stomach at me.
I struggled to stop the tears, but they rushed inside of me, deep from my heart and soul. “I hate crying. Please God, let me stop crying.” The tears continued to spill down my face as I realized my mother was correct. I was a stupid girl who never deserved love. I missed several days of school because my eyes were swollen and red. I was ashamed for anyone to see me.
Much to my surprise, during this time, Benjamin’s mother phoned me. Faith wanted to know how I was feeling. How was I coping? She wanted me to keep in touch with Benjamin, so he would awaken and realize he loved me.
I listened to her, wanting to scream. “Benjamin doesn’t love me. He broke my heart. No one loves me. I’m not worthy of love.”
Faith listened to me, encouraging me to continue the fight, if I really loved Benjamin.
Just how is it someone can grieve so painfully when grief was for the lost…those who have died and we will never see again? I asked myself that question over and over again, wishing to find the answer while the grief rushed over me.
Returning to school, I thrust myself into plans for graduation and my future. When friends asked me about the wedding plans with Benjamin, I pushed them away. I could not talk about the pain I felt. All I could do was burst into another sea of endless tears.
After graduation, I found love again in the arms of another military man, Garrett. He was stationed at Fort Benning, in preparation for his deployment to Vietnam. Charming and handsome, Garrett and I married a bit too quickly. Three months later, he went to Vietnam.
During Christmas of that year, I received a package in the mail. I opened it, discovering a card from Faith, along with a beautiful pair of slippers. She signed the card in her handwriting, wishing me a loving and happy journey in my new life as a married woman. She wrote about lost love and how new love would take me along the trials and tribulations of life. She was confident that I would take on this challenge with the new slippers. The colorful satin slippers would carry me along the paths of life, to areas I had never dreamed about. She wished me well, telling me that she would miss me along the way, but she was hopeful that I would keep in touch with her. Faith gave me new inspiration and hope.
Faith and I kept in touch over the years. During Christmas holidays, we spoke on the phone, catching up like two close friends would do, laughing and crying over life, the birth of children, aging, disappointments and dreams we shared. She consoled me when I cut the cords with my mother. And when I asked her why couldn’t I cry, after my mother passed, she soothed me with her words, reminding me I cut the cords earlier in my life to become a better person since my mother was a bitter woman who was unable and afraid to love. In 2010, I lost contact with Faith. Her phone was disconnected and I knew something was wrong with her. Researching on the computer I discovered Faith had passed away. And so, I cried.
Benjamin was my foundation, teaching me about love. Faith was my inspiration. She believed in me when no one else would. Garrett was my bridge, accepting and loving me for who I was. But — would he still love me as I grew older, stronger from the wisdom and character I planned to develop with self-growth and self-worth.
My brain continued to race with grief. Although I felt grief when my mother died, never did I cry. Those tears were disbursed in 1988, when we said our final goodbyes after an emotional war. She threatened to slap me if I didn’t give her some money. I stood my ground, refusing to allow her manipulative intimidations to weaken me. Garrett was playing golf when we fought. When he arrived at my mother’s house, he looked into my eyes, noticing my vacant stare along with my shaking hands. He saw the suitcases sitting by the doorway.
Garrett nodded for me to go outside on the porch. I opened the tattered doorway, closing it tightly. “What’s the matter? Are you two fighting again?”
“We’re leaving,” I said, glancing down at my chipped manicured nails.
“What happened?” Garrett insisted, his voice firm. He placed his arm on my shoulder and I flinched. “Why are your fingernails chipped?”
Garrett knew me a bit too well at times.
“Let’s go. Let’s get the suitcases and leave. Now!” I whispered, picking at my fingernails.
Garrett opened the door.
My mother stood by the suitcases. “You’re not leaving!” Her arms were crossed. She stood by the suitcases, ready for a battle.
Garrett stood his ground. “You need to move.”
My mother placed her hands on the suitcases.
“If you don’t allow us to take our belongings, I will call the cops,” I said. “We’re leaving and there isn’t anything you can do to keep us here!”
“I want money.”
“I don’t have any money,” I said.
My mother smirked. “You lying bitch! You got cash in your wallet. I seen it. I want it!”
I rolled my eyes at her, reached down and grabbed the suitcases.
“Goodbye Mother,” I said.
I cried all the way home. Garrett touched my hand while he drove. His actions told me I would be OK. Garrett never liked seeing me cry. His demeanor was one of strength. “It don’t mean nothing,” he would say, during and after a fight. “It don’t mean nothing,” and then, he would walk away.
I was the weakling in our family, at least, according to Garrett. In 1992, after another emotional war where Garrett’s jealousy raged into me, shouting accusations that were not true, thrusting his finger at me while he belittled me, I fell completely apart. Sitting on the corner of the couch, I cried. And cried. And cried. Garrett kept pushing me, wanting to know why I was crying. As hard as I tried to turn the water works off, I could not. Watching the cruel, snappish actions of Garrett, he reminded me of my mother and I cringed. Why wasn’t I worthy of love?
That night was a turning point for me as I opened my mouth to share a horrific childhood story with Garrett. “I’d like to tell you something I’ve never shared with anyone before. You must promise to listen to me and not say anything until I finish. Promise?”
Garrett nodded. Glancing at my fingernails, I pulled at the cuticles and my nail polish, a nervous habit I always performed when threatened. I inhaled. Exhaled and said a silent prayer for God to give me strength. I licked my lips and began, unable to stop as I described my mother’s probing hands. Wrinkled, leathered hands that touched me in forbidden places, searching, rushing hands that left me feeling cheap. Garrett listened, occasionally wiping the flood of tears rushing down my face. One hour later, in the darkness of midnight, Garrett held me tight.
“Now, I understand why you apologize so much. Why your beat yourself in the head at times and always say you are not worthy of love. Now I know why your body jumps when you are sleeping and it is lightning outside. Your mother was wrong to touch you.”
“But…she was my mother…She only wanted to protect me.”
Garrett kissed my forehead. “You deserve happiness and love, just the way I love you. Let me love you. Maybe now I can understand why you always hurt yourself, and why you fight me so much when I want to shelter you.”
“Don’t you see, Garrett? I don’t need sheltering. I’m independent. I’ve always liked doing things on my own. All I’ve ever wanted from you is for you to give me wings to fly.”
Our relationship began a new journey on that night.