Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Trigger Warning: discussion of violence and sexual assault.

I was already down, violated and incapacitated when I felt it. The searing pain to my left jaw. My mouth filling with blood. Gagging. Dislodged teeth sliding down my throat, suffocating me to death while being pinned to the ground. It was at this moment that my psyche split and my I left my body behind to suffer the rest of it while I checked out.

I never could remember the details of the assault and rape. That moment when I thought I was going to literally choke to death was the line between being there fighting and then detaching, giving up, and seeing the onslaught as if I were floating above it.  An observer. My mind would never even let me question that I had a bridge of fake teeth or why my left foot was always so painful or why my cervix was so scarred that I could never have children.  Then years of therapy brought it all back.  

Long time readers of this blog have followed my therapy journey and my struggle to regain my mental health. But still I stumble.

A few weeks ago I was at the dentist for a new crown that required substantial work. I knew I was in trouble when I began to taste blood, I began to flail at the dentist and then he dropped the crown in my mouth. Panic.  Flashback.  I don’t remember much after that.

Triggers are strange and powerful  things. And while I now understand them much better, I still have to work myself back through stages of recovery.

- Shock. Triggers wipe me out physically and emotionally. I am able to put one foot in front of the other, but I am not at all present. I go through the motions of life but I’m so detached I have little memory of this stage which can last only minutes for mild triggers or, in this case, weeks.

- Awareness. Therapy has helped me be able to distinguish that the flashback memories happened in the past and are not happening again. It takes a lot of effort to calm the anxiety that triggers cause but I know I have many tools to help me through it once I am ready to use them.

- Self loathing.  It really bothers me that after all this time, and especially after so much therapy, that some triggers can still knock me on my ass.  It makes me feel very weak and powerless. I often beat myself up for still being a victim.

- Anger. Self loathing turns outward and I go through a short period of anger that this still has so much power over me.  It is an stage I have long ignored and am now exploring in therapy.

- Healing. After a period of isolation, I slowly force myself to reconnect - to nature, to people, to life. This is very difficult for me at first, but I also recognize it as so important to healing.

- Strength. I get very indignant and vow that I will get stronger and do better next time.

This last episode put a serious dent in my confidence to handle triggers as they inevitably come along. I am extremely fortunate to have Martha in my life as she allows me space to go through those early stages and then knows how to kick my butt when the time for healing comes.  And a best friend who gently sits with me in the calm and healing energy of nature.

I didn’t realize how long I have been absent from this space which is an important component of my journey. I am trying to reconnect and catch up on emails and blogs. I am back in therapy, full time. I am tending my gardens. And myself.

I am getting myself stronger.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Full of Grace - Color My World

  • My local university basketball team will not start their season by going to play the Duke blue devils because of North Carolina’s draconian discrimination laws. This was an annual game that brought national recognition to our small college program and I am proud that they will forgo the prestige to support the rainbow of genders and sexuality.

  • I have green beans! I plant a lot of beans in successive rows, but last year, every single row I planted was eaten by some critters as soon as the plants were an inch tall. Every single bean plant disappeared as if it had never been planted. This year, every row is producing beautifully.  

  • Peachie went deep sea fishing and brought me home a filet of blue fish she had caught. It is one of my favorite fishes, but has become unavailable as commercial over-fishing depleted their population. I cut it into small portions and have been savoring it nightly, broiled with a lemon garlic aioli. Yum.

She also caught this and I am equally grateful that she didn’t bring this one home.

  • This is now blooming in my memory garden. It came from my former therapist’s garden and I look forward to it’s purple plumage every year. I'd like to think that Lauren knows how thankful I am for all she did for me.

  • Another absolutely stunning sky at the lake. Even the old timers have been commenting that they can’t remember a year with such beautiful sunsets as we have had this year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Full of Grace - Repairing our House

On the 4th of July weekend we went to the lake and first thing I noticed was the picnic table was broken. The girls had just had their annual party weekend and I assumed the table got broken during a fierce game of beer pong.  Then I got out the Adirondack chairs and one fell apart in my hands. A bolt had been totally shorn off. When I turned it on its side to replace the bolt, one wooden  armrest split and flopped off. I put the chair in my chair to take home since it was now a job that needed rebuilt constructed parts. Finally, I went to put the hammock out and the frame was all crooked. The lag bolts had been bent, almost to right angles. I was going to ask the girls about what had happened but decided I probably didn’t want to know.

Some of you may remember a couple of years ago when Martha’s boat died, and then the trailer broke trying to tow it home. Well, she actually paid a lot of money to have it fixed, put it in the water last year, and never got it to start. At the end of the year she took it out of the water and put it back in the camp garage. But I told her it could not stay there and to tow it home and either get it fixed enough to sell it, or take it straight to the dump. Unfortunately, the pneumatic jack that lifts the motor also broke. It took a few friends and a couple of hours to lift the engine enough to tow it home. “I hate this effing boat” may have escaped my lips. It may have escaped my lips quite a few times.

We got home only to notice that there was a large pool of water on the garage floor. It hadn’t rained in weeks so we were puzzled. After moving a load of crap in our hunt, we eventually traced the flooding to a broken water line in the back of the refrigerator. We turned the water off, pulled the frig out (which now blocked most access in the kitchen) and realized we needed parts.  But it was still the holiday so that would have to wait to the next day.

I had thought our well ran dry because we had no rain for weeks but Martha discovered it was a broken switch. (We are on public water but use the well for watering the lawn and plants) She said she would fix it on Tuesday but that I had to move the table where I do my winter seedlings.  So dressed and ready to leave for a meeting I had in 10 minutes I went to move the table, hit the well pipes with a table leg which caused a geyser in the basement and totally drenched me. I apologized that I had to leave, quickly changed my clothes, dried my hair, and ran to work while Martha sucked up all the water. When I returned four hours later, she said she had cleaned up the mess and replaced the pipe and was about to turn the water back on. But when she did, something else broke and we once again had a flood and she was dripping wet. Much cursing was heard. Rinse and repeat.

On Wednesday she went to take the boat into the repair shop only to find the trailers lights weren’t working and the problem was with the hitch on my car. I brought that into our mechanic who told me it was an U-Haul hitch and I should bring it there. But U-Haul couldn’t look at it until the next day.  Of course.  So I followed her boat over to that shop, (about 30 minutes) only to be told that they had no room and to come back. Home again, home again, muttering all the way.

We dropped the boat in the front yard and put the cars in the garage but when I went out again to walk the dog the garage door got stuck midway up. It would not go up further and it would not come down which left both cars hostage inside. Martha tried to manually move it and pulled so hard the handle came off in her hand.  Finally called a repairman, who couldn’t come until the next day. Of course.

We decided we both needed to take a break and went to sit out by the pool only to find out the filter was leaking. At least that explained why we had been losing so much water.  At this point we were starting to think we had some "everything is falling apart" curse on us but it only made us more determined conquer anything that came our way. Bring It. Fortunately that was an easy repair.

The next day we went to take the boat, again, but as we were pulling out, the piece of wood that had wedged the engine up fell out and the propeller was dragging on the street sending out sparks. That took another couple of hours of struggle to work out, and we finally got the boat safely transported.

But as we were sitting, extremely tired but proud that we powered through it, our nation’s strained racial seams began to split wide open. And so, since this is usually the day I post what I am grateful for during the week (and it has been a tough week to feel much gratitude) I will center on this:

  • That we have the talent and tools to repair most of what breaks.
  • That when needed, we have the financial luxury of hiring experts to help us.
  • That to date, everything has been taken care of - including the boat which she will finally sell to somebody for parts.  I hope.

And I am most especially grateful:

  • That Martha retired from being a police officer years ago. I would not want to live with the worry and strain of watching her go out the door every day in today’s climate.
  • That I don’t have a black son, because I can't imagine the worry and strain of a mother watching her son go out the door every day in today’s climate.

A lot of things are broken in our nation, but I have to believe they can be fixed. Everybody has something they can help with. We have the talent and the tools. We will power through this. That is my prayer.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The New Neighbors

Although we have a full neighborhood behind us, our house is on a short street of 6 houses. Martha grew up in this house and knew the surrounding neighbors since childhood. When I first moved in, all the homes were occupied with the older folks she grew up with. Over the years many have died or moved in with children and we have experienced a full turnover of neighbors.

Directly across the street there was an elderly woman who we took care of - mowed her lawn, cleared her driveway of snow, etc. When she moved a 30ish couple moved in but the man (who was always outside smoking) would never say hello or wave. Cold, but we were relieved not to have double the yard work to do. The woman eventually divorced him and a new man moved in who was very friendly.  It was nice to have folks to wave to and greet at the mailbox. But recently they put the house up for sale to be closer to his work. We kept hoping that a young family might buy it and that we’d have some kids around for hire as we get older. But then we heard that an elderly lady with a walker bought it. Damn. But then it got worse.

Long time readers may remember back to when I was a church goer and received a letter from the church elders that I was no longer welcome at the church. Although they never gave me an opportunity to speak with them directly, I did hear rumored the problem was because the temporary female minister told them I was in love with her, or stalking her, or something like that.  A little delusional and gay panicky I know, but they gave me no opportunity to defend myself and so that ended that.

I see the wife of one of those elders often - walking her dogs, at the supermarket, etc. Every time she avoids me - changes directions, stares somewhere else, anything to avoid eye contact.  I see her often enough that it is obvious the cold shoulder is intentional.  

So, of course, it is her mother who moved in.

The first couple of days I watched as she made many trips with her van, unloading her mom’s stuff. Each time I tried to make eye contact because I hate to have negativity in my life and this was just juvenile.  And then one day I simply walked up to her and forced her to acknowledge me.

Surprisingly, she turned and hugged me as if we had been old friends for decades, just being reunited. She asked about Martha, she asked about the kids, she talked about having my girls in Sunday School (they thought she was a whack job). I helped carry in some boxes and she invited me to meet her mother. It was all very strange and very phony feeling.

But, it turns out her mom is a lovely person. She broke her neck and is in a brace and needs the walker. I gave her my phone number in case she needs anything and the other day I accompanied her on her  daily exercise walk around the block. I almost gagged when she went on about how great her son-in-law was. I wanted to ask, “oh the one who said I couldn’t even sit in the church sanctuary, alone,  during off hours for prayer?”  Last I remember a church was supposed to be God’s house, not an elder’s personal property.  Oh yeah, so very Christian of him.

So I have a new neighbor. Her children live close by so I don’t expect to have to do the yard work, but I will keep an eye out for her. She moved from a different area of the state and told me she doesn’t know her way around so I will try to invite her to go shopping or perhaps go on a Town tour. I will check up on her and walk with her, when I can,  on her excursions through the neighborhood for although I no longer consider myself a Christian, I do agree with the basic tenets of kindness and compassionate for all, something I see less and less of in organized religions.

And now I see the house behind me has sold and a new car is in the driveway. Time to go introduce myself. Would it be wrong to hope the new neighbor is a world class baker or chef?  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Full of Grace

Nutella French Toast

First fruit from my newly planted cherry tree. Actually it was the ONLY cherry this year which made it all the more sweet
I tried to make this, but mine looked more like the trees barely survived a hurricane. Still everyone enjoyed. 
That my days at the lake start like this

And end like this.
Life's simple pleasures brought to me by nature (and Nutella)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Deck

I call the deck “done” but of course, it is never really done. There is still a checklist of small nuisance items that need to be addressed - tighten bolts on new furniture, we have not decided on the skirting, cabinet doors need a latch, the steps up to the deck need to be replaced, one additional light needs to be installed, etc. etc. etc.  But it is done enough to use it and for now it is enough.

This is the pergola that Martha wanted because she had seen this idea of hanging windows on it. At first I couldn’t visualize it and it was a real pain to build, but now that’s it done I really like it. It definitely defines the space.  And the bars chairs and cafe table make a beautiful place for me to sit and sip my morning coffee.

The railings look fancy but they were pre-builts from Home Depot. I just had to cut them to size and screw them in. Then I added a top rail to hold my flower boxes. I collect the seeds and start new plants every year in the basement.

 I also cut down a small section of railing behind the grill because I was afraid of heat build up behind there. Definitely don’t want any fire hazards.

This is the sitting area of the deck. At first we made the deck bigger to accommodate more seating area around a dining table but then decided to move the table off the deck and make it just for sitting/conversation. On nights when it’s just me and Martha for dinner we sit at the cafe table for dinner or sit side by side on the glider with plates on our laps.

And I got my chaise lounge chair because all I wanted was a comfortable place to read. And indeed it is.

The kitchen area held us up for a long time, for which I was grateful because, wow, I was so physically tired from building this monster, I needed the break. First I built cabinets to accommodate a dorm frig one of the girls brought home. But it wound up being way too high. So we dug through the shed that has become a storage unit of college crap and found a second, smaller frig. Then I had to rebuild the cabinets to hold it. We will have to store it in the off season.

But the countertop is what really stymied us. First we wanted granite but the cost was going to be between $1500 and $2000. Uhhhh, no. Then every other idea we came up with - tile, cement, marble, stone, etc. - got nixed because all reports were that with our temperatures ranging from minus 20 to high 90s, almost everything would crack. Then a friend, who was also building a deck, had some leftover Trex boards, so we used that. We don’t particularly like it but it will serve as a temporary counter until we can come up with something better. Plus we have a little left over so I can make a matching bench and end tables.

Martha took care of the lighting which at first I didn’t want - ambient light interfering with my view of the stars - but I have to admit, I do like it.

And finally, my marshmallow station.

We started this project in April. It took significantly longer than I planned but, except for the furniture, it came in under budget. The best, and hardest of the work is all underneath and will never be seen, but I know. And now Martha sits out there making lists of more projects. But first I am resting my body.

And toasting marshmallows.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Real Home

Sunday night I watched the Broadway Tony award show because I love the diversity that is New York theater. The first time I saw Camelot, Guinevere was played by a black woman. And this was in the 70s. Nobody cared.  Five minutes into the play no one even noticed. I was thinking about that when I was reading about an outrage that a black woman who was cast to play Nina Simone in a movie was not black enough. Not black enough? I don’t even know what that means. And that is the difference between Hollywood and Broadway. Broadway just doesn’t seem to notice the labels. Good acting transcends the color, the sexuality, or the ethnicity of the actor. Just look at the cast of Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton is played by a man of Puerto Rican descent, George Washington by a black man, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson by black men. In fact the only lead role played by a white person is King George III.  The show won 11 Tonys and is sold out into 2017.

We live in an amazing world of diversity but for some reason people want to live in a world of  “they” rather than “we” and so they label others. And once those labels are in place, judgements are made.  “Elite athlete” conjures one set of values, while “Muslim” triggers something else. “Gay” certainly gives rise to many different feelings depending on where you stand while fundamentalist Christian does something else. Or perhaps the same.  Oh yes, there are opinions about everyone. As someone I knew used to say “opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one.”

But today it's not enough just to have a personal  opinion. People feel compelled to share their opinions with anyone and everyone on the internet.  Oy.  Some people enjoy going on social media and calling the labels names. “Those Republicans are a bunch of assholes”. Some people just outright discriminate against some labels. “I will not bake a cake for a gay person”.  Some labels give the person immunity from equal punishment of crimes. And some people massacre other people of a certain label, be they Christians or gays or westerners or whatever label they hate today.  I knew someone who argued that we need labels for survival.  I would argue that labels are threatening our very survival.

What bothers me most is that these reactions are rarely against an individual, they are mostly against only the label.  Not a person, but an adjective.  And not really the label itself but their OPINION about the label. So much violence because of an opinion about a label.  I can only shake my head.

“Maybe there’s a lesson from all this, a lesson in tolerance. We need to support each other’s differences and worry less about our own opinions.”  Jimmy Fallon

I couldn’t agree more. I don’t want to live in a world of labels. I want to live in a world of individuals. Just like in my own home. In my own family. In my own community. All of us. Together.