I’m attempting a shift. A new idea. Focusing on problems will not get me far. I’m focusing on the relationships.
I learned this from Black people.
(How can I say, I learned this from Black people? I mean the whole of Black civilization did not appear to me and me alone and deliver me from my afflictions. And there is NO website for middle aged white women to ask Black people how to get over my problems. Yet, I have often wondered how do Black women show up again and again with this beautiful strong attitude. How do individual Black women walk the Earth with pride and solace and wisdom and humor while the Man has tried to beat them down for centuries and generations day after fucking day. How? Us white women can’t admit white privilege when it would mean admitting that those of us who have been given more can’t cope as well as those who have been given less.)
I’m attempting to shift.
I want to channel Black women’s energy and power.
I joined a support group that is striving to be a “Beloved Community” as imagined by Martin Luther King Jr.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke often of beloved community as a way of transforming people and relationships and creating communities grounded in reconciliation, friendship and human dignity.” Remembering Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beloved Community by Dionardo Pizana
The word transforming held me captive. I needed transforming. My shift. My looking for a change within to cocoon my fat furry black caterpillar depression and change it into a butterfly.
The people in the Beloved Community Thursday evening group are powerful and mesmerizing in their ownership of their own story and their reactions to their story- embracing trauma and speaking with clarity and force. Head up. Eyes glued to that Zoom screen. No apologies. No shame. No tears. These people are battling stomach tumors, a spouse’s cancer, unemployment, life after homelessness, the trauma of rape, child abuse, abandonment, domestic abuse, true poverty. These women have experienced suffering. They have lived through the deepest hurts and today- live in light.
And little old me felt sad.
Deep sadness. At one of our zoom calls, I could barely speak or form
answers to questions because I was battling negative self thoughts. Here in this virtual space in this online bubble, I couldn’t cope. Others were experiencing far worse and surviving and thriving. And I was crying.
I watched these Black women in the group and I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. I had a job, my health and a loving family. How do some people who have experienced great hardship have resiliency? How do they survive?
And I find myself in small moments when the dark settles over the condo earlier and earlier, unable to deal with my sweet precious life.
I recognize that I have experienced my own personal traumas. Addy’s eating disorder, Divorce after 19 years. Unknown Infidelity for 7 years of the 19. But those aren’t the things getting me. What is getting me is my lack of reserves (given these past traumas) in the face of a pandemic and current political climate. I’m going along being mindful and taking photos of flowers and puppies and then Trump acts like a fool on a debate. Or Pence is condescending to Kamala and the moderator. Or I need to make a decision about Mim returning to school during a pandemic. Or I worry about my children who are just barely adults navigating all this mess while wondering what to do with their lives. And I fall apart.
And Mim keeps fucking with my stuff. Like all the time.
I’m attempting to actually cook dinner. I’m trying to next a baby step toward sanity. Cook a good dinner. Feed my children. Get my ducks in a row. I’m preparing to cut tomatoes. Mim says she wants to cut the “potatoes”. She gets the first cherry tomato out of the plastic probably non-recyclable container and she lifts the knife and puts it back down.
“Where you going?”
“I gotta get something.”
I know what she is looking for because she did the same thing yesterday.
Socks for her hands.
Like mittens but remarkably less functional.
Yesterday I told her to do her One chore. It is basically the only chore she does independently. Putting the clean silverware in their containers. She lifted the first spoon. Put it back down. Left the table. Came back with socks on her hands. I’ve seen this unusual adaptive non-skill before in Mim. She is afraid of something hurting her hand so she wears the mittens to protect herself only to be forced to reckon with the truth- Socks are not functional. Her hands are rendered fairly useless once she dons that socks.
I asked why she was wearing the socks during the silverware chore and she explained that she needed to move a candle over and didn’t want to burn herself- which is absolutely absurd because she has ruined numerous candles by screwing with the hot wax. But now she actually believes that socks are the answer to her candle problem while doing her silverware separation. She believes this because she has a cognitive impairment.
Lots of people don’t quite understand how that effects her life. I’m not just talking about a low IQ score on a bunch of tests. Or difficulties at school.
Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior, which covers a range of everyday social and practical skills.
In addition to not being able to think and learn like most of us, people with intellectual disabilities have other defecits.
Conceptual skills—language and literacy; money, time, and number concepts; and self-direction
Social skills—interpersonal skills, social responsibility, self-esteem, gullibility, naïveté (i.e., wariness), social problem solving, and the ability to follow rules, obey laws, and avoid being victimized.
Practical skills—activities of daily living (personal care), occupational skills, healthcare, travel/transportation, schedules/routines, safety, use of money, use of the telephone
I didn’t need to ask why she was wearing socks while cutting tomatoes because I knew. I knew she was afraid she would cut herself
And she imagined that the socks would protect her. One can’t hold a knife and cut while holding a small tomato in the other socked hand. She ran into this basic truth and tossed tomatoes, cutting board and knives aside aggressively and stomped out of the room. I can admit, I did not correct her. Or yell. I let her walk away when she yelled “you aren’t my real mom anyway.” When she first learned to insult people, she called me fat. The second insult she hurled was you are old. Now it is “you aren’t my real mom.” Lovely. Just lovely. I can’t correct her when she is angry. No one can learn when they are angry. So I wait as she slams doors, knocks over the clean laundry that I can refold later, and throws herself on our bed. I will process and redirect her when the anger has subsided. In less than ten minutes she will be climbing in my lap asking for forgiveness, begging me to always love her and wondering if I will always love her. I will reassure and promise for the millionth time -wondering where the disconnect is. Is this fear of abandonment because she is adopted? Is this fear because of anxiety? Is this begging a twisted coping mechanism so that we forget her poor behavior? Does she fully understand that I will always be her mama? No matter what she does, I will always love her unconditionally.
I cut the tomatoes and mozzarella, alone.
Dolly is doing online homework and BeBe is at work. She is a nanny helping four kids do their online school and extra curricular activities. My three girls who live at home are not doing chores. BeBe is 20 and home form UGA because UGA was awful with the quarantine and all her classes were in person labs. Dolly is 16 and she is busy with academics because junior year things get more real. Mim is almost 12 and she helps when she is in the right mood but she is not independent and like I said she just fucks with my stuff. I am resentful sometimes. And other times, I feel guilty for not keeping a cleaner house. I’m not crying in my fresh bowl of Caprese. Yet. I sense the wet blanket inching over my soul. I could blame the extensive amount of sugar I ate today or the news of Walt’s girlfriend. But it feels more internal- in between my soul and my bones. Surrounding every organ. Seeping into every cell. The grayness forces the skin on my cheeks to sink inward and downward. My cheek bones cave and I notice my dull sinus headache which is weighing on my clenched jaw which is connected to the knot at the base of my neck. I believe the correct term is depression.
I ate most of the bottom two layers of Hello Dollies- voila the sugar. The coconut melted and glued together with condensed milk and graham cracker crumbs congealed with melted butter. I pick off the chocolate chips and pecans which I actually really like but the bottom layers are just so smooth and soothing.
- 2 cups crushed graham crackers
- 1 stick butter (melted)
- 1 – 1/4 cups chocolate chips
- 1 cup pecans (chopped)
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 – 14. oz. can sweetened condensed milk
- Preheat oven to 325-degrees.
- Line a 9″ x 9″ casserole dish with tin foil. Spray the tin foil with non stick spray.
- Crush the graham crackers in a bag and add the 2 cups to a bowl.
- Add the melted butter and mix well.
- Pour the graham crackers and butter mixture into the casserole dish and press down with your hand.
- Sprinkle the coconut on top.
- Next, sprinkle the pecans on top.
- Finally, sprinkle the chocolate chips on top.
- Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk over all of the ingredients.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are golden.
- Allow to cool for one hour before serving. (I do not recommend cooling. Spoon out the gooey goodness and enjoy,)
Walt’s news of Cynthia was announced by Mim through screaming tears- voila Walt’s girlfriend. He had been helping Mim with online school while I taught online. Three o’clock on the dot. The Jeep Wrangler pulls up. The emblem of midlife crisis is studded with mud from his weekend away four wheeling- because that is a thing that 48 year old men do when they get divorced and almost never have their children on the weekends. She jumps out of the passenger side before it is in park. She rushes down our hallway in panic mode. I go to her and we hug through the screaming. She buries her head into my chest and her springy curls that had sweated out of their french braids brush my chin. Walt was following using his loud cheerful voice attempting to override the true emotions of the moment. Mim walked away from him into our bedroom and I followed as Walt walked into my sacred space, too. (Ugh- I was so determined to hold boundaries tightly and tell him to get out of my sacred space but now I’m attempting to manage Mim’s temporarily intense anguish, Walt’s gregarious demeanor, and the unmade bed.
My dryer is broken. It has been broken for months- since the beginning of the pandemic. Originally the washer and dryer were broken. I bought a new washer. I thought the dryer just needed a cleaning out of the lines where all the fluff gets stuck. I saved money. A couple months later guys came and cleaned out the ducts. They found mold. My mom loaned me money to have these guys clean out all the mold and add some kind of strange blue uv light to keep away mold. The dryer didn’t start working again like I thought it would. I saved money. Another guy came and said the heating element in the dryer needed replacing. An overdue property tax bill arrived in the mail. I saved again. I paid the tax bill in person after waiting in a line for hours at the County office with other people afraid of words like collections and liens. A day later, I learned that Trump had paid 750$ in taxes. I am a public school teacher and a mom of 6. In a six month time period, I managed to owe 2,200$ in property tax. I have a small condo that I bought for 100,000$ in 2015. How is this reality? So my dryer is still broken.
Mim wets our bed almost every night. I wash the sheets and blankets almost every day. Because I do not have a working dryer, there are no sheets on my bed when Walt enters my personal sanctuary. My mattress has a year of stained pee rings diluted by cleaners and bleach and vinegar and essential oils and baking soda and a small stain from a unexpected period leak when I thought I was firmly menopausal but was wrong. The new vibrator is hidden under this mattress but luckily that was not showing when Walt smiled and walked into my tiny bedroom. * I throw a half dry freshly washed sheet over the wet with bleach mattress and pretend my room is none of his business. We can definitely assume that the bed would have been made if the dryer had been fixed if I had any money and if Trump had never been elected. Through Mim’s screaming, I lead us back out of the bedroom into the tight hall to the main room passing outstretched clothes and blankets and towels drying on open doorways and every available surface. We are a train with the conductor striving to be all calm and businesslike, the second car is screaming and hissing and the caboose is still chugging away in jovial oblivion. He knows the steam he put in the engine and that the whistle is blowing, but Walt would never admit he stokes the fires. Mim is shrill. As we pass Dolly’s bedroom, Dolly demands we close her door to her room so she can avoid any talk of her father’s life outside of our small unit. Mim stops to see why Dolly is yelling and Dolly yells to leaver her alone.
I interpret from what I hear from Mim and Walt. I extrapolate some meaning. Mim heard her Dad’s voice outside his house while she was waiting for him inside. She peered out and saw him holding hands with the woman now identified as Cynthia (name changed to protect the guilty, I mean innocent.) When Mim saw this sign of affection, she asked “Is that your girlfriend?” Walt being always helpful explained the semantics of the words girlfriend, boyfriend, and dating. Mim screamed right then and there. Bursting into tears on the balcony of her dad’s above garage apartment, overlooking Walt and, my guess is, the unsuspecting Cynthia. And she continued crying. (I enjoy picturing this scene).
Walt reassured me, he had no intention of Mim meeting her. Cynthia had come by to look at his trailer bed that he is constructing a tiny house on. And Mim just overheard. Well, that is a relief.
This whole situation and the dance I did to navigate Mim’s reaction sounds like this is a rare occurrence. But it isn’t. Just the week before, she came home from a day of online school with Walt in an utter tizzy because she doesn’t want to have a step mom. l was entertained when Mim explained how she was watching Youtube on her dad’s phone during online school and she noticed his Tender app. (Youtube had already taught her what Tender is.) She got on his Tender and said that she saw “lots of nice pretty girls”. Daddy was swiping and he texted “Let’s meet for dinner tonight.” Mim was not happy and said she told Daddy and “he got mad because he had privacies.”
Coincidentally, Walt unaware of Mim’s reveal to me, cancelled dinner with the kids and reminded me that I had messed up the dinner schedule.
“But, I know you had the kids tonight because I know I have group therapy tonight and so it worked out nicely that you had Mim.”
He contorted his face into empathy. “I didn’t know you were doing therapy. Next week I will change my days and have dinner with the kids on Thursdays so you can go to therapy.”
Right back into my sacred space. His ironically helpful tone running rough shod over my private space for group therapy.
Is nothing sacred? Not a woman’s stained mattress. Not a therapy session.
And it really isn’t the end of the world that Mim is home during therapy sessions. And I don’t care if she pees in her bed. She can’t help it and I replace the mattress once a year. Or after I get the dryer fixed.
I blame Trump and a late night Twitter binge for breaking down my logic and resolve. Instead of being the gray rock that is the suggested tactic with narcissism, I texted Walt.
Me: I know you are gaslighting me when you said you had not planned to have the kids on Thursday.
Walt: You are so eager to feed your self pitying narrative that you’ve lost sight of who I am.
I have been searching for a shift. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I could use a change.
My depression has been sinking my ship. I can’t get much lower and I have been wishing for a lift of any kind. In the last three months I have tried Biofield tuning, a new diet of sugar and caffeine, daily naps, an increase in lexapro.
I bought a vibrator. I’ve never even used a vibrator. I’m willing to try anything to make me feel better. I read probably a hundred reviews of vibrators. I don’t know if y’all know this but there are a lot of kinds. My knowledge of vibrators comes from Grace and Frankie Season 3 which isn’t their best season. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin invent a vibrator easy to use for older women. I ended up buying the one that is most readily available at Target. I couldn’t imagine buying it through the mail. What would our mailman think? I know that they have packaging that does not announce in Large red letters- Open for a good time. I’m a vibrator. But our mailman is older and he has been a mailman for over a decade. This isn’t his first rodeo. He can recognize a vibrator in a nondescript cardboard box easily. I couldn’t risk Dolly or one of the other kids opening my private box because they mistook it for their latest order form Urban Outfitters. So I strolled Target and found the vibrator section next to the condoms- in full view of the pharmacists. When they were helping a customer, I grabbed the box. I knew what the box would look like because I had seen it on my computer when I had read the reviews. All these years, I had never thought Target carried vibrators. I bought the twenty dollar version. I put it in the cart hidden underneath a twenty dollar dress. I figured I would have beginners luck and I didn’t need the one hundred dollar version of vibrators.
A clerk tried to usher me over to a man cashier. There was a long line and Covid precautions and tape set up to separate people the recommended 6 feet. I veered out of that line quick as a jackrabbit and pretended to look at some crop tops, until the self check out line died down. Dodged a bullet. What would that male cashier have thought of this middle aged women with two ponytail buns buying a vibrator on a Saturday afternoon? (I know- Nothing. He would have thought nothing. He would have thought the exact same thing as my mailman.)
I’d say it was a fine purchase. I haven’t broken it or anything. The dress does already have a hole in it. So I should write a review on that frock. I’m not sure the world needs any more vibrator reviews.
Honestly, the Hello Dollies are more easily accessible and more family friendly. I see the benefit of my new purchase, and as a lovely friend advised me when I texted her in a panic from the Target parking lot on my way into the store, it is a great self care tool to have in our arsenal. I buy candles and lemon verbena lotion. A vibrator is no different. I wiped off the tear running down my cheek and wiped down a red cart with a disinfecting wipe.
Last week I spent a whole evening watching YouTube videos
of semi-healthcare professionals removing ear wax from aghast patients. I had already tried pimple poppers and it made me edgy. I don’t like how they make those tiny slices into the skin. I decoupaged and glittered Christmas ornaments in late September.
You can’t say I’m not trying. But I have remained depressed.
Gradually and repeatedly, I show up for the Beloved Community and listen as Black women who have experienced life’s greatest hurts share wisdom and hope. They live with optimism. Often claiming they have survived by and through the grace of God. I feel immediately disqualified when I hear God is the answer. I lack faith. I lack grace. I have beliefs in things bigger than myself. I believe in angels and my Aunt appearing to me as the owl in my back woods and my dad turning on and off my fire alarm when there is not one single puff of smoke. I’m not sure why I think God is off limits for me. I don’t want any of the Catholicism that I grew up with except Christmas carols and kitsch statues of The Virgin Mary. The original God I learned about as a child failed me. Science and my commitment to compassion negated so much of those teachings and Addy’s disease stripped all my faith in a superceding goodness. I am the age old doubter. How can bad things happen to good people? And the Trump followers being the exact same people as the Jesus followers revolts me.
(Did I tell you that BeBe got a puppy? Yep. That is three dogs in our condo.)
Believing these Black women and not believing in God has to co-exist within me because I’m in need of their enlightenment. When I wade through these muddy waters and I crawl upon their shores as the Indigo Girls would say, I hear a new truth. The truth of the Beloved Community. There will always be upheaval. The rollercoaster will go up and down and flip us in circles. There will be debates. There will be injustice. There will be pain and disease. There will be wet beds. But it is about the relationships. The people there with you during the upheaval. The person strapped in next to you on the roller coaster. The other democrat voters. The protester standing next to you, offering a bottle of water or sharing their sign. The other mama crying over her daughter’s struggle. The cold narrow foot searching under the covers for my warmth.
The answer. The strength. The beauty of life lies in the people. The relationships we have with each other. The love of the Beloved Community.
I see it. I can picture the transformation within myself.
The sock mittens are aggravating and maladaptive but the girl. The girl, she is a dream.
Black women in a Thursday night zoom support group restored me. But again, I fall. The darkness creeps. I don’t understand it all. I need practice focusing on the people and the relationships. Not the events and traumas. Hmmm- The people? I have questions and doubts. What about when the people do me wrong? What if Addy stays sick?
For today, I exist in this in between. With an inkling of the wisdom, these women imparted. Writing toward another day. Allowing light to fall on my face and allowing the grayness to retreat. Focus on the relationships. Build the Beloved Community. Transforming within.
*If this was a tv show, I would have definitely had the vibrator fall out from under the mattress when I hurriedly arranged a sheet over the bed. The neon pink vibrator would have buzzed and thumped against the hardwood floors. Cue the laugh track.
(Written in October 2020. Debated over and posted February 2021)