Memoir; Reflection

I have been spending a couple hours each morning working on my memoir.  After much reflection, I came to the realization- I had known all along.  It was almost as if it was waiting for me to be ready. I shared this with my family and ensured their blessing as it is an emotional topic for each of us.  In order to allow myself the vulnerability necessary to be true to myself and to my loved ones, It was imperative that they be involved in this decision.

I am writing about my experiences as a young child and the development of my capacity for love, compassion and hope in relation to my eldest brother. He is 13 years my senior and was diagnosed with a mental illness (paranoid schizophrenia) when I was in grammar school.  There simply are no words that exist that could relate to you what he means to me and what I have learned from him.  As daunting as it is to express, I am going to do my absolute best to share it through the memories and reflections in my memoir.

I have shared my humble beginnings on this labor of love and in my mind’s eye, I know where I want to go with this story.  I know the message I want this memoir to give to the world, but it is very much still in its infancy.  This will be a labor of love and as a novice writer, I know there will be countless roadblocks in this process.

I only hope to be a voice, one that will break the deafening silence and the stigma of mental illness.  I know his story will show the hope and love that he represents.  He may have schizophrenia, but schizophrenia does not have him.

Because  it is imperative to this message that I give in fully to this story,  I cannot continue to share its development. The message may be lost in the earlier chapters and for peace of mind, I need to develop it completely before I share its origins.

If you have stumbled on this post and are not familiar with my writing, please visit my site.  “The Little Sister” is the introduction presently to my memoir and will provide you a glimpse into my style.  If it interest you, my hope is that if , better yet when, you see my name next to a memoir in the future, you will join me on this adventure and embrace this inspiring story of family, love and hope.

Thank you, BZ (Mary) Green

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Our Staircase

 A long and intricate staircase resided over our foyer.  As a child, I would dare to slide down the railing or let my bottom bump down the many steps. The creaks in the steps and the fine scratches in the antique wood became akin to the palm of my own hand. I embraced the tranquility in the first landing, resting my chin on the windowsill and watching the world outside; my internal world dozing. 

Those stairs rose to meet the familiar; the comfort of my own bed and the secret hiding places of our beloved Victorian home. Our home became a cherished member of our family and we delighted in her presence. 

Deeply rooted memories would surround this staircase, countless family gatherings and the occasional family drama that would undeniably occur.  Like the staircase itself, these events would become the bedrock of my life in this home. 

 My twin and I spent many winter nights by the fire sharing popcorn, P.J. content between us. Of course, there were countless days of playing throughout her spacious rooms, the staircase always in the periphery.  

On Christmas morning, I would very deliberately take the first turn down these steps and linger.  Slowly, I would descend with my eyes transfixed on the wrapped gifts as if I where floating in a dream. 

It was not possible that I could have ever anticipated the security this staircase was about to provide me, beyond the amusement and the familiarity I had grown to regard with sustained affection.

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Darkness surrounded me as I lay asleep in my flannel nightgown, my Tom Cat resting by my leg. I was roused from my dreams by muffled voices. Unfazed, I lay and waited for my sleep to resume.

My older siblings would often arrive home long after I was asleep.  Perhaps, I reassured myself, those were the voices that I was registering.

Tom’s  presence always consoled me.  It did not matter he was merely a feline.  It was only a short time ago, I would have the reassurance of my twin in the bunk above me.  Somehow, though, I would rise to wake with him right beside me, blankets askew.  I never did need a teddy bear to comfort me.

However, this night, the tone of the voices that were emitting from below became more and more peppered with angst.  I was unaware of the scene that had been unfolding since the earlier hours of the evening.

As the youngest of six, even to my twin by five minutes, I was more often than not shielded from most of the painful details of our family’s story.  It would be much later in life that my appreciation for my parents’ and my older siblings’ desire to protect me would amplify.

Easing my comforter to one side, I sat up in my bed doing my best not to disturb my furry companion.  As curiosity overcame me, I tiptoed to my partially closed door and stood motionless by the light that reflected on it from the small upstairs hallway.

Unfamiliar voices became suddenly apparent causing my ears to ring in tune to my aroused heartbeat.  I wiped my palms against my side, swallowed and reached to open the door just enough that I could exit.

At the top of the stairs, my head angled around the railing, my eyes slowly began to account for what my ears had already been decoding.

Emotional Roadblock

Today I felt extreme uneasiness, anxiety and uncertainty about my memoir.

‘You are not a good enough writer to be an author.’

‘What are you trying to prove and at what expense?’

‘What if you hurt your family in the process? Sharing this part of your family’s history, if it hurts them, it does not matter if it will help others.’

‘Please, give me a sign that this leap of faith is worth it in the end.’

I responded to my brother’s email that I was unable to decode.  This discouraged me. I  tried so hard to find the meaning but I felt a sudden wave of guilt that I was putting him at risk.

“I have hit a roadblock. I cannot do this alone.  I need input from others but I do not think everyone is ready to share this.”  xoxox BZ

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I placed my phone on the kitchen counter and escaped to my front steps, my mind racing with accusations.  Certainly, I cannot be the first writer to experience this, but I have not been tested.  My writing is in its infancy, even though I have utilized it most of my life.  I am not ready to play with the big boys.  I might actually be delusional myself.

I let the racing thoughts form a freeway in my mind, but I know well enough not to let them create a track.  They are speeding cars with somewhere else to go, far away from me. I knew they would pass and I had to allow their crossing but that did not stop them from hitting me in my gut on route.

I focused on my breathing.  I lifted my eyes to the sky.  I witnessed the trees sway in the warm summer breeze, felt its gentle touch on my shoulders and on my loose strands of hair.  I listened to the birds chirping.  I felt the stillness, wavering as if in the breeze, but I know it is a permanent piece of my landscape regardless.

I waited for a sign.  I did not get one, but my mind did still within a reasonable amount of time.

I am aware enough that I hit an emotional roadblock in my memoir.  I recognized the young child in me searching for help, validation, praise.  ‘I need help. I cannot do this alone.’  My achilles heel, especially because I know I am at a precipice in my memoir.

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I immediately was able to comfort myself.  ‘I will journal about this. This is part of the process.  I need to articulate it, empower myself.  The only way out is through.’

I still have uncertainty about where this memoir will take me, how many more roadblocks I will have to navigate or even if it will ever be completed.  I do know that every step I take in this process is enabling me to continue to grow and challenge myself.  For now, these are the tracks I will focus on laying down.

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And, as if on cue, I open to this response, “we have something to talk about i hope…coming up with an additional work of short form…”

For now, this is sign enough to further ease my mind and continue to have faith in this labor of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Piano

Chapter Two

My fingers humored me as they stroked the keys on the grand piano that occupied the front sitting room in our home.  It was a regal piano that would taunt me throughout my childhood, after all I never did learn to play.

My wool tights sagged around my ankles as my legs dangled carelessly.  I slid my body back and forth from end to end on the bench, my favorite hand me down skirt tucked under my bony knees.

Despite my failed attempts at creating music, my body compensated by swaying to an imaginary rhythm in my head.  The morning sun streamed in through the bay windows, illuminating the faded oriental rug and warming my back.

Beside me, the wooden doll cradle with painted flowers decorating each side was empty.  It was the perfect size for my baby, “my Tom Cat.”

Tom was white with black markings between his ears and on his back like a hat and a cloak. There was nothing special in his appearance, but we all agreed he was one of the coolest cats we owned. There was no debate either that he was all mine.

Today, he would be spared the humiliation of being swaddled like a baby and rocked in the cradle.  He was free to roam the neighborhood and hunt his next prey. He certainly lived a doubt life.

I still smile when I envision him being held in my vice like grip wearing a baby doll dress, his tail hopelessly hanging from the ruffled edges.

In the adjoining room sat my eldest brother, one of three I was blessed with.  Being a twin and the youngest of six children, I was given endless opportunities for interaction with any one of them.

I, however, was incredibly fond of quietly observing the activities that surrounded me. It is intriguing to me that I am now compelled to recount a meaningful part of our family’s history, one that may reveal me as a quite the passive participant.

Oddly, there was little activity in our home this Saturday morning except for the cacophony of sound I was creating.

As I spun my body around on the bench, I came to the realization that my  brother sat unmoving the entire time I played at the piano. I scanned my memory of the past twelve hours.

He had not moved his position in the time since I had gone to bed the night before. 

Curious and uncertain, I moved closer to him.  His eyes did not register my presence.  My chest, mind and stomach felt numb as I slid past him into the kitchen.

Hushed voices subsided; I unknowingly interrupted a conversation between my mother and my step-father.  They sat around our large round kitchen table, empty cereal bowls in front of each of them.

My mother acknowledged my presence with a smile while my step-father greeted me, “Hi little honey.”  His deep, steady voice was comforting and my mother’s smile reassured me that everything was okay.

If they were worried about my unmoving brother in the next room, they allowed no traces of it to touch me in that moment.

It was just weeks ago, he was living at college.  He was undeniably handsome, intelligent and kind; he had the world at his feet.  Today, his feet refused to move from under him.

I did not understand the illness that now held him in its grip. No one did.

I did not know what questions to asks and I certainly did not know the answers.

I did not know if he needed help.

I did not know the indescribable fears that now paralyzed him. 

I did not know how our family would be forever changed.

I continued to skid through our kitchen, my tights providing me with just the right momentum, “Hi. Bye!” I replied nonchalantly.

With conviction, I called for my twin, “Pat, where are you?”

I ran up the winding wooden staircase and was relieved to find my constant companion coming to meet me.

We spent the afternoon together, playing make believe schoolhouse on our front porch.  One of  her walls served as a make shift chalk board with a green painted surface.

It never mattered that the he liked trucks, dirt, bugs and sports.  We were sympatico, bonded by not only our birthday but by our genuine and unwavering love for one another.

As young children we may not have been able to remotely express it, but it was always there wrapping us in an invisible security blanket.

No matter what was happening around us, we had our constant…each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Sister

Chapter One

The water felt cool and refreshing on my tan skin. I dove under and reached for the bottom of the pool’s surface, my fingers reaching out in front of me with unbridled anticipation.

Our pool rested under the shade of a depressed crab apple tree. If only you could behold this tree, you would have no choice but to agree with this description.

The gloomy tree and our scruffy tan dog, P.J., stepped in as my faithful audience for this under water showcase.  Yes, I was the one who proudly named him after a sandwich that was a staple in our historic Victorian home.  P.J. lay on the deck unamused, perhaps wondering if I knew when I proclaimed his name that “he” was in fact a female.

Lifting  my legs gracefully above me, the warm summer air greeted them.  I held my body as long as my seven year old lungs would allow.  The ballet dancer that I was becoming most notable in my long pointed feet.

I delighted in releasing air through my nose as I  flipped over under water onto my feet. A delicate bubble necklace trailed behind me.  If a girl could feel blissful, it was happening for me in the quiet sanctuary of my pool, as it had countless times before.

I emerged from the water like a dancer steadying herself from a turn, slightly off balance but beautiful nonetheless.  As my hands reached to wipe the remnants of water on my face, extending back over my long dark hair, my attention was unexpectedly drawn to something beyond me.

Chlorine stung my dark brown eyes and I squinted to make out a figure that was slowly walking down our private street.

A moment or two passed, P.J. shifted his position and the water stilled around me. Yes, there was a man walking down our street, but I struggled to make out his features. His face was not only obscured by chlorine and the bright afternoon sun, but by his nearly shoulder length hair and spotty beard.

Without fully processing my situation, I lept out of the pool dripping wet and hurriedly climbed down the wooden deck.  P.J. remained in his spot, only his eyes moving from my sudden and unanticipated exit.

Seconds later, I found myself dripping pool water onto my wooden bedroom floor.  I closed the door behind me and sat on the edge of my bed in disbelief.

Decades later, I could recognize this instinct to run for cover anytime my emotions overcame me as my all to common response to emotional pain.

I felt for the soft fur of my beloved cat, who was asleep beside me, and stroked it. My eyes were still fixed beyond on what seemed to be, in that moment, a mirage.

My heart pounded in my chest like a caged bird meant for flight.

It was only when I heard the front door open that guilt and shame overcame me.

Not to Whine;

“So, in reviewing your risks factors it calculates a 40+% chance of reoccurrence.”  I sigh audibly as my new oncologist enters data, my data, into a computer keyboard. My mind is reluctant to register the exact number he uttered.

Each follow- up visit has come to be its own separate reality, a safe distance from the flow of my every day life. I am not certain who this Mary is that sits facing her handsome new doctor, straightening her shirt and crossing her ankles.  She is so composed and articulate.  Ah, yes, this is nurse Mary not Mary the mom, wife, friend and daughter.  This is the Mary that I spent years training to be as a nurse; logical, reasonable and purposeful.

It is as if I am working and we are discussing a patient’s record.  Yes, that is exactly how I cope with these potentially stressful visits.  I nod, lean in and watch his fingers continue to press the keyboard like a composer.

As my doctor thoroughly reviews my questionnaire, which includes lifestyle habits and past medical history, I cannot help but admire his perfectly combed hair or his designer outfit, especially the strategically angled bow tie.

He looks like a character out of a medical drama. ‘Is this man for real?’ His appearance does serve both as a pleasant distraction from this uncomfortable topic and as a reminder that I am not getting any younger.  ‘Is he a decade younger than me? He might be almost…wow.’

“So, I see you had no radiation.  Is that true?”  I sense disappointment. I nod, my last doctor was low key and I admired her for that.  This doctor, I could immediately sense, was on the other end of the continuum.  I have worked long enough in this field to know a type A, cross your t’s and dot your i’s physician and he was definitely one of them.

“It also states you have an allergy to Tamoxifen?” This comment surprises me.  I do not.  I had tried it and it stressed me out given the potential risk of taking it so I stopped.  My prior physician was unimpressed with the possible benefits it would give me.  ‘Did she document it as an allergy?’

“Is it necessary for me to make that decision right now?  It was caught so early and…” my eyes dart side to side as I repeat my go to mantra to ease my nerves when I feel the anxiety begin to nudge in.  I know the deal.  I know the gamble.  “Honestly, I feel like taking it is like a life insurance policy.  How valuable is it truly and at what cost to my well being?”

He has heard this all before, “Yes, that is exactly what it is.  You don’t have to decide this moment.  You do know the statistics….” muffled pronunciations ensue and I find comfort in appreciating the window behind him that allows the sunlight to beam into the examination room.  It illuminates the side of his face. I consider this more than the rehearsed dialogue he is repeating.

‘Soon, I will be out of here and be able to enjoy this beautiful day’, I counter in my mind.

‘Note to self: review the most current research findings as soon as possible.’ In the days ahead, when I find a quiet moment, I do just that.

“So, as far as lifestyle risks. Wine. How much do you typically drink?”

Ahhh, yes the generous pour of my favorite dry rose or pinot in my my chilled stemless glass after a long, stressful day.  Often enough I have found this as my go to stress reliever as well as a staple when socializing.  I drink responsibly but more often than not in these circumstances, wine is consumed.

I scrunch my face and look down at my fingers, “One to three nights a week and when I am out on the weekends.  A glass, generally one to three depending on…” I trail off.  I blush.

He proceeds to sternly warn me of this all to common habit, this socially acceptable and more often than not, reasonable habit.  How many pictures populate your social media stream of a much appreciated drink?  Countless.

He stares me straight in the eye, there is no chance I can avert my gaze to the window now, “The research is clear on this.  More than one or at most two glasses of alcohol a week could increase further your chance of reoccurrence by double digits.  I know it seems safe enough but the argument that wine is good for you does  NOT apply now.  Heart disease won’t be what gets you, breast cancer is…if you continue this habit.”

It seems harsh, but there is a small part of me that is grateful for his unabashed honesty. “There really is no compromise here,” he adds.

He allows a few moments of silence, when a voice comes from somewhere, deep within me, “I understand. O.K.”  And, this time I do and I know in that moment I am answering to both myself and him.

I leave his office grateful that he cared enough to scare sense into me.

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A lifestyle change can certainly bring with it unexpected obstacles and emotions.  In these few months since this visit, I have had more than I can count. I made a commitment to myself and to those that care for me, but it did not not come with instructions.  I have been navigating this lifestyle choice blindly, although to my core I know this is as it should be.

I am still awkward when ordering a plain iced tea while at a bar (more a question than a statement) or when I regard blankly the leftover wine bottle in my fridge that has not been moved since this visit. Should I just throw it out?  Save it for company? I am so awkward for valid reason. I am relearning how to socialize and decompress without my favorite glass of wine.

Just recently, I was casually scrolling my Facebook feed and I discovered a posting by “Sexy Sobriety”.  ‘Hmmm, you got my attention.’ I read the post and it resonated within me.  It included a reference for a book, “A Happier Hour,”  one woman’s recount of making the same lifestyle change for her own reasons. I quickly searched amazon and purchased the book.  It could not come fast enough.

I read her book in one day on a long ride to our family’s vacation destination.  I am still in awe that life brought this book into my life just when I needed it.  Her honestly, sincerity and vulnerability inspired me to remain steadfast in my journey.  While I continue to question more than answer at this stage, I discover myself less and less daunted by the nature of the questions and more and more encouraged by the answers.

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TBC….

Tales of Shopping Carts

Warm blood rushed to my chest, filling it uncomfortably; my eyes began to burn.  I was compelled to take a deep breath, or two or three.  Standing in line, watching my groceries pass before my eyes with the accompanying “beep”, I leaned against the small beige counter.  For some reason, it felt as though it was holding me up as I gulped and forcefully blinked the unexpected tears from my eyes. I had to wipe a persistent one away, reaching under my glasses as discreetly as possible.  “Beeeeppppp!”

The sweet baby could not be more than a year and a half.  She sat attentive in the seat of the shopping cart, the cold metal not able to diminish how simply adorable she was.  She wore a cute yellow romper and sandals with ankle socks.  She delighted in every move her weary mother made loading the groceries onto the conveyer belt.

“Yes, the nights are the longest!”

“Yes, EVERY 2 to 3 hours!”

“And then I have to go deal with all the people at work, absolutely exhausted!”

Her mother chatted with a sympathetic mother the next aisle over, seemingly relieved to have the opportunity to vent.  She was a beautiful woman, yet it was hard to miss the exhaustion she surely felt.  Her pale complexion, the dark circles and her monotone voice; the badge of  a new mom. Yet, I knew just by looking at the sheer joy of her child, she was an amazing mom.  Tired, yes , but still amazing. It was not that long ago, I would often repeat similar blanket statements (pardon the pun).

“The complete exhaustion is the hardest part.”

“You don’t realize how truly tired you were until normal sleeping patterns gloriously return.”

It was in that moment that a memory interrupted me so vividly, so all encompassing.  She sat so content and amused in the the shopping cart. I had carefully coordinated her outfit and ensured she had her sippy cup.  I had gently brushed her soft wisps of brown hair and carefully brushed her budding teeth. She looked like such a big girl sitting upright and engaged in her elevated perch.  Her bright, dark eyes relished in every move I made loading groceries in the cart. Her tiny feet playfully dangling and swinging, adding to her amusement. She giggled and smiled authentically.

When we where done, I could not help but snap a picture of her, my love for her causing me to stop ( this was before cellphone cameras).  I, too, was exhausted and most likely frazzled by my to do list.  I am so grateful that I captured this moment.

A part of me wanted to interrupt and share this memory with the mom that stood dutifully loading her groceries, totally oblivious to my bulging emotion. I stopped myself.  I just marveled at her little one, completely and utterly enjoying whatever time she got to spend with her mother.

My teen daughter recently commented with a playful smirk, “Mom, you just sit there so quiet and watch everything.”  It is true.  I discover myself simply marveling in my children all the time.  I am certain half the time they are rolling their eyes on the inside, but that does not in the least deter me from appreciating the gifts I have been given.

I arrive now to this revelation, there was a time that I was their world, causing it to spin and rotate with every move I made and every consonant I uttered in their presence.  Now, it just so happens…they are and forever will be, mine.