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Night

He comes by night when it is very dark –

but sometimes he does not come at all.

I am asleep.

He climbs into the bed quietly and touches me gently –

he puts his head on my shoulder and I smile.

He begins to purr.

A Tale of Two Souls

It has taken a very long time to come to terms with all of this and to be able to write about the profound effect it has had on my life. All of it is totally out of the natural order of things. I am certain that it influenced my decision to have a therapy dog that works with young people and also to be part of the youth leadership team at church. I am writing about two young men that I loved dearly and they loved me.

Meet Bill –

Bill was my younger brother, almost five years younger than me. He was my parents pride and joy, nice looking with a sharp wit, very smart, and he had many friends. We had a fairly normal childhood relationship, he loved to tease me, but we were pretty good friends. When we were little and Bill teased me, our mother would ask, “Why do you keep teasing your sister?” Bill would say, “I like that little dance that she does.” I might be sitting quietly, watching TV, and Bill would come and put his blanket across the screen. If my father was around he would say, “You are the oldest, you need to set the example.” l am afraid I was not always a very good example.

Whenever I had friends over, Bill wanted to hang around and be part of the action. When we were a little older and eating Sunday dinner one day, Bill announced to me, “I am always going to follow you everywhere, if you go somewhere, I will be there, too.” Of course I wasn’t too happy about that. At that time I just saw him as an annoying little brother, but I came to realize later that he wouldn’t have wanted to be around me and tease me so much if he didn’t love me.

How many teenagers would be able to convince the mother of a friend to let them set up a foosball table in their living room for two weeks and have the house filled with young people? Bill was one of the popular kids and friends were always hanging around.

I came home to stay with my parents during my first pregnancy so that my first husband could finish college with minimum distraction. Bill was about to turn fifteen and he was fascinated by girls, cars, and as it turned out, babies. He came to the hospital with my parents to see Bobby and me, but since he was under sixteen, he couldn’t come in. He sat out in the car listening to the radio and decided to play with the car. He managed to spring the driver’s side door and break his arm in the process. But at least he was at the hospital, right?

When we were discharged a couple of days later, Bill couldn’t leave Bobby alone. The baby was constantly disappearing as Bill took him out to show off to the neighbors. He was so proud of his nephew. I wasn’t thrilled because Bill had a cast on his arm. This period of time was the last that I spent with Bill because Bobby’s dad finished college and we moved to Richmond. Bill finished high school and went on to college.

One weekend Bill wanted to bring friends home to go to a Vietnam war protest in DC. He had to get our father and his friends to agree not to discuss the war. The weekend went off without a hitch, Bill could have been a diplomat. Our father had made his career with the Federal government and although I don’t believe he endorsed the war, he was definitely pro government.

Our father only wore white shirts with his suits for years. One Christmas Bill gave him a blue shirt and said to him, “I can keep you from looking like a square but I can’t keep you from being one.” From then on Dad wore shirts with color.

Bill only had a couple of serious girlfriends that I was aware of. He went with Cindy in high school and college and I saw her frequently on visits home. He started seeing Joan after college when he was back home working to save money for graduate school. We were visiting at Christmas of that year and Bill wanted to take all three of his nephews (my sons) over to Joan’s house. He really seemed to enjoy spending time with them. I was actually surprised at how good he was with them and protective of them.

Even though Bill was only twenty two, he seemed to have a premonition. During the holidays he told my mother, “If anything happens to me, I sure have lived a good life”. Three weeks later he was killed by a train during a hiking trip.

The day of the funeral we arrived early to find Cindy sitting alone in the front row of the chapel, next to Bill’s casket, sobbing. She had placed a single red rose on the casket that was later buried with Bill.

I never really got a chance to grieve Bill’s loss because I had a family to take care of and my marriage was breaking up. I sure missed him though, it was very hard to go home without him there. One thing that changed about me at that time was that I began to have an attitude of if not now, when? Those urges became destructive. I didn’t want to wait for anything.

Almost two years ago I reunited with Cindy and Joan on FB. They still had their own memories. I was in closer contact with Cindy and she told me Bill’s loss had left her with a deep sadness that had never gone away. She had finished college, become a correspondent for UPI, and was sent to Lebanon. She refused to come home when war broke out. She later married and had a daughter and a son. She seemed to be especially close to her son.

Cindy was living in WV and I was thinking of trying to go see her. One year ago she fell down the steps and suffered a brain bleed and died a couple of days later. Right after her death while I was making plans to attend her memorial service, I fell down my steps and broke my leg. Same fall, I broke my leg, she died. At the time of her service I was in surgery.

Joan lives in AZ now and has five grown children of her own. She reached out to me first on FB and we shared stories from the past forty years. I met the man she later married one time and I couldn’t believe how much he looked like Bill.

Bill definitely left his mark in the hearts of those who knew him.

Enter Nick –

Nick was the grandchild with a twinkle in his eye and mischief on his mind. When he was small there was always something going on. He was tall, with blond hair, blue eyes, smart as a whip, he could have been an outstanding writer/poet. I was always encouraging him to write. He was also a good athlete and we went to all the games that we could. I spent more time with him than with my other grandchildren and he even lived with us for awhile.

Nick couldn’t catch a break. He was always found out, no matter what he did. None of us were able to catch the signals, but Nick’s unhappiness began when his parents moved into another neighborhood and he lost his friends and sports teams. Then his parents decided to divorce and the downward spiral really began.

He kept getting into trouble and was ordered to perform community service. We started taking him with us when we volunteered for a parrot sanctuary. He loved animals and he was great with the parrots. A few years earlier I went with Nick to help him pick out a puppy when he was about eleven.

I remember one All Stars game when Nick was about sixteen when he was the only player that didn’t get to play. He was so devastated that he left crying. To this day his dad, my son, regrets that he didn’t have a word with the coach on Nick’s behalf. We all felt helpless. The coach called later to apologize but it was too little, too late.

Nick finally got kicked out of school for having drugs in his possession on school property and his parents sent him to a facility for boys where he could finish school and he got himself kicked out of there too.

That was when he came to stay with us. While he was with us he helped Gerry paint the inside of the house, put mesh over the porch screen, and many other odd jobs that were difficult for us to do. He and I talked often about the future and the consequences of bad choices, but many times he would shut down. It was clear though that he had a deep love for his family, especially his two younger sisters.

It is hard to paint an accurate picture of Nick because he was such an introvert. He didn’t understand the difference between introverts and extroverts and felt there was something wrong with him. After all the life of the party got the girl. We had many talks about this subject but I wasn’t able to get through to him. He became more and more withdrawn.

Over the time Nick was with us he took Gerry’s truck late at night and ran with his friends. Eventually Gerry got steering wheel locks for both vehicles. Other things happened that I would rather not talk about but Nick never took anything of mine. He always showed me respect. He had been with us about nine months when he stole one of Gerry’s small pistols and robbed a hair salon for drug money. He was arrested, charged, convicted and sent to prison. All of us visited him faithfully and tried to help him plan a productive future. Gerry felt betrayed, however, and was not able to make amends until Nick came home. But the first time they saw each other the past fell away.

When release time came near, Nick was frightened. He told me that he was afraid that he would get into trouble again. None of us had the right words. At dinner to celebrate his upcoming birthday I could see the depression was beginning to return. He told me that he felt so behind because his friends had jobs and were starting families and again I tried to encourage him, after all he was only twenty three. He wanted to go to the beach and we were planning to take him, he never made it.

Nick was only home for eleven days when the pull became too great and he began using again. The day after his twenty third birthday he was found dead from an accidental overdose on the bathroom floor. The theory is that he tried to use the same amount he had used in the past and his body couldn’t handle it. His final words to me were, “I love you.” When I visited him prior to cremation, I wanted to crawl into the box with him. I don’t think I have ever felt such pain.

This had been a difficult piece to write and bring to life. Maybe a little easier to write about Bill than about Nick because Bill died a long time ago, Nick’s death is still raw. I relived Bill’s death while I grieved for Nick, I also grieved for my son who lost his son.

I move ahead, putting one foot in front of the other, working with my dogs, and trying to appreciate each day. I have very special memories of two very dear souls trying to find their way in this crazy world gone long before their time.

All Figured Out?

When I went off to college I thought I was pretty sophisticated, after all I went into Washington DC on numerous occasions with friends, I knew how to navigate New York City, and I had spent the previous summer in Europe. My parents thought they were sending off a confident, secure young woman. The truth was that I was just a child playing grownup.

My parents allowed my boyfriend to take me to school in the mountains of southwest Virginia. His school was fifty miles west so it made sense. The only means of connection back in the day was a pay phone on the dorm wall. I felt lost pretty quickly, I didn’t have anything in common with my roommate ad my boyfriend didn’t call. There was a “Ladies Tea” for all the freshmen women on the first Sunday afternoon we were there and that is where we were give the women’s handbook with the “rules”. The “rules” were new to all of us and if I had known about them ahead of time, I would have run the other way. There were to be no dates with off campus men unless there was approval by a parent, all dates for the first six weeks had to be double dates. Curfew was early, strict and enforced. Punishment was meted out according to the severity of the “crime.” Punishment was called a “campus” and the least of the punishment was that a girl was not allowed to speak to a boy. Absolutely unbelievable. I had wanted so desperately to get away from home and now all I wanted was to go back.

What happened next was not my parents fault, although I blamed them for along time. I really hadn’t wanted to go to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I just wanted to be loved and accepted for who I really was and that didn’t translate to college. I did agree to try it for one year.

It was a Saturday about three weeks into the semester and I had just hung up the phone from trying to call my boyfriend one more time. I hadn’t spoken to him since he dropped me off and I was hurt and angry. One of the girls in the dorm came around the corner and asked me if I would be willing to go on a double date so that she could see her boyfriend that night. At that point I didn’t think I had anything to lose so I agreed.

We went out to a movie and it turned out that Paul, the boy I was with, was in my biology lab. He had an eye for me and he began to court me like I had never been courted. We began to spend all our free time together and he took me to meet his parents who also lived in southwest Virginia. Before too long he wanted me to marry him. It seemed like a good idea at the time, we got along well or so I thought. I couldn’t see the red flags through my rose colored glasses. In hindsight I realize how naïve I really was.

Paul went home with me at Thanksgiving. I could see right away that my parents were not impressed but they wisely did not say anything. They thought they would have time over Christmas break to talk me out of it.
Paul was going to spend Christmas with his family and then drive up to Springfield to take me back to school. One evening my father made his move by telling me that my parents had decided that if my grades were not good at the end of the semester they would bring me home. I knew my grades would not be good but they could never have expected what happened next, we eloped on the way back to school. This crushed my parents but they forgave me.

That was the beginning of the most misery and the quickest growing up ever. Paul was not the person he had been able to fool me into thinking he was. About six weeks into this marriage he told me that he had to “pet me along to get me to marry him but now he was going to show me who’s boss.” I was stunned. I had made such a huge mistake but my pride wouldn’t allow me to say how wrong I had bee. I was determined to make it work somehow.

Fifteen years and three sons later I finally saw my way out. My dad had supported me through this whole mess and he had also taken over paying for Paul’s college education when his parent’s were no longer able to do it. I think the only reason we stayed together as long as we did was because Paul was never home. He went to school at night to study for the C.P.A. exam and after that he started teaching at night so we hardly ever saw him. The boys and I suffered abuse from him when he was around and he drank heavily. Luckily for him his job at the time was never in jeopardy because he was well respected. He even began to move in political circles.

Paul didn’t want a divorce and I was so certain that that is where I was headed I would have left with the clothes on my back if I had to. Finally he agreed to leave and I thought maybe the boys and I could get our lives turned around but Paul was given an ultimatum where his job was concerned. He had taken on some outside real estate activities and his company told him either real estate or his job and he chose the real estate. That is when our world crashed.

I ended up in a huge financial mess because of Paul’s questionable dealings that I had known nothing about. I had to take bankruptcy and we lost our home because the title could not be cleared. My sons have all become successful adults but have some emotional difficulties to this day.

All of this unhappiness because I couldn’t figure it out.

The Building of Me – Part 3

My parents, little brother and I moved to Springfield the summer I turned nine. Springfield is a suburb of Washington, DC, only twelve miles away, but at that time, we were totally out in the country. Now it is home to the “Mixing Bowl”.

The happy/sad house in Springfield as it looks today

It seemed like we were all happy at first, my brother and I had lots of friends to play with and we even played together some. I remember one day, at the Sunday dinner table, he said “I am going to follow you everywhere you go forever”! I was practically in tears, ” No, no, you can’t! Mom, tell him he can’t”. He loved teasing me and I always rose to the bait. But maybe that day his words were providential. 

My parents entertained a lot and they had friends in the neighborhood and I got volunteered a lot to babysit. Maybe it was good practice because the spring before I turned twelve my mother had another baby boy.

I  always loved animals and I  dragged home every stray I  could find from the time I was old enough to catch them. When I was eleven I was finally allowed to have a dog but it was a dog my mother picked out at the shelter, not the one I wanted. However, I was thrilled to finally have a dog and I faithfully walked her and fed her. Lady was her name but she was no lady, and, in fact, not a very nice dog at all. She bit both of my brothers and she had to be kept away from little kids.

I’m not sure exactly sure when things started to break down. My dad progressed in his career at the Veterans Administration and was a member of the board of appeals. He was on a panel with two other lawyers and a psychiatrist, who he seemed to have no respect for, and this panel was the final review for a veteran’s benefits. The job became very stressful and when my father came home in the evening, he and my mother would sit in the kitchen and drink martinis while she fixed supper. Supper would get later and later if he had a bad day. My parents demanded that we eat supper as a family and I can remember my dad sitting at the table just staring at his food and twirling the martini glass with his fingers. 

I was going through puberty and becoming somewhat rebellious and argumentative. If I  said anything to annoy my father after he had a few martinis in him, he would slap me hard, right in my face, or he would try to turn me over his knee and I was too old for that and I would fight back. My mother never lifted a finger or said anything to help me. It was drilled into all of us, “what happens in this house stays in this house”. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to leave home.

I loved my dad so much when I was little. He sang songs to me, taught me to read and ride a bike, and he also taught me to drive a car with a stick shift without losing his patience. It was much later I realized that he always had my back.

My mother on the other hand, not so much. When I was an adult, after my father had died, she told me that when I was about six weeks old she found out that my father had wanted a boy. I had never felt that from him, only from her. She had a stillborn daughter when I was two and somehow I  felt responsible for the child’s death. She would say things like, ” this would have been your sister’s birthday”. Of course, I would feel guilty. My mother always favored my brothers.  I  couldn’t wait to get away.

Finally I was old enough to go away to college and I thought I was finished being built and was ready to join the world. Oh how wrong I was.
 

 
 
 

 
 

 

 

 

How I Got Built – Part 2

When I was about six months old we moved to an  apartment in Arlington, VA. My dad wanted to resume his career with the federal government where he had worked prior to joining the Navy. He worked for the Veterans Administration until his retirement in 1975. 

We lived in the apartment for about a year until my parents bought a house not too far away.

Our first house as it looks today.

A few years ago Gerry and I  were at a conference in Arlington and we decided to drive by this house. My heart was pounding because I didn’t even know if the house was still there. Well, it was there and I thought it was beautiful because it was so well maintained and it had been enlarged. I still had memories of some of the things about it that had not been changed. It was bittersweet  to see the house for the first time in many years and yet there is no one alive except for me who had even been in the house when we lived there. 

The house was small with two bedrooms and an adjoining bath so after my brother was born my parents began looking for a larger home.

Our second house in Arlington as it looks today.

I haven’t driven by this house and I don’t really remember much about our time there. One thing I do remember is the large pink dogwood tree in the back yard. I had a casement window and when I rolled it open in the spring before the screens were up, the dogwood branch would come right in my window. I loved letting the branch in when it was blooming. A very happy memory.

This house was on a corner lot and the driveway entered the street right at the corner and my brother liked to play at the foot of the driveway. My mother was just sure he would get killed by a car coming around the corner, so instead of keeping him away from the driveway, the search began for house number three.

The Dictionary (A Christmas Story)

The year was 1987, long before the start of the
digital age when everything was at our fingertips. My father decided everyone
O in the family needed a dictionary so he went out and bought a nice desk dictionary for everyone for Christmas, including one for himself.  This was a true act of love because my father did not go Christmas shopping ordinarily.

My youngest son, Jeff, was a senior in high school that year and he was pleased to get this big book. He put it in his backpack and carried it everywhere. As time went on, he was even happier with it. He could have chosen a smaller paperback version but he wanted the big heavy dictionary.

When he began college the following year, the dictionary became even more important to him. One day he told me he had to write a paper for his English class about a gift he had received that at the time it didn’t seem like much but that had become very valuable. He decided to write about his dictionary.

Education was very important to my father, he came from a long line of teachers. We told him about Jeff’s paper and he was so happy. My father was quite ill by this time and 1988 was to be his last Christmas. Every visitor who came to the house got to hear him proudly tell his Christmas Story about the dictionary. The story was even part of his eulogy several months later.

Following my father’s death my mother gave his dictionary to the minister who had given the eulogy who was also a personal friend. Several years later that minister was assigned to our congregation and he performed the marriage ceremony for Jeff and Mary, his high school sweetheart.

A few years later that same minister baptized Jeff and Mary’s first child, Collin. Following the service, the minister presented my father’s dictionary to Jeff to be given to Collin when he got older.  The circle of life and love.

How I Got Built

I guess thee only place to start is at the beginning. My dad was from South Carolina and he grew up on a tobacco farm. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma and got his law degree from George Washington Law school in DC.  My mother was from New Jersey and grew up in East Orange, not far from NYC. She graduated from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. Following college, she attended business school. Both of my parents joined the Navy as officers during WWII and met in NYC. 

When my mother found out she was pregnant with me, she left the Navy and moved back to East Orange until the war was over and my dad could come home. I was born in East Orange and spent the first six months of my life there. So I guess I really am a Jersey Girl.

My grandparent’s house as it is today.

Inspiration 

Oh inspiration where have you gone?

I thought I had plenty and now I have none.

Have you flown away? When will you return?

I want to say something, it’s words that I yearn.

I was filled to the brim with so much to say,

But all of a sudden my words went away.

Please come back inspiration, come back and stay,

I must get it out – you didn’t lead me astray.

I felt you there, deep in my soul, you gave me words, 

And something to say.