Desert Blooms

Grandmother KingLoretto Ione: Loretto means laurel, an evergreen shrub, also can mean crown; Ione means violet flower. So. My granny’s name means purple flower crown. She deserves one.

I am lying on a vinyl-covered, two-person contour lounger. It is smooth and tan. It is firm, but comfortable. It feels strange to be lying down in my grandmother’s living room and I find it hard to relax. I haven’t had a cigarette in 4 days. I am only just now beginning to accept the deprivation.

My mother doesn’t know I smoke. My father just passed away 3 months ago from lung cancer after smoking for over 40 years and I don’t feel like having a conversation about the dangers of smoking. I have been on the road with my mother, trapped in a car. Unwillingly, but necessarily, giving up cigarettes for 4 days. Up at 6 AM, on the road by 7, we wind our way from Kansas City to Green Valley, Arizona. We drive through the densest part of the Rocky Mountains and from the first mountain pass to the last, we spiral up and down the mountains. But I am spiraling only down into a depression so deep that I fear our car trip might never end.

We pass gas station after gas station, sign after sign of cheaply-priced Marlboros. I make plans upon plans of how to buy those cheap cigarettes. Where to smoke them. Hiding out in gas station bathrooms and chain-smoking during our brief rest stops. What would I do about my breath, the smell of my clothes? What if she walked in to use the bathroom? I should just tell her. I should just tell her that I smoke and then buy a carton of cigarettes and then smoke them all the way to Arizona. I begin to feel that we will never reach Arizona. That Arizona doesn’t exist anymore. That our home in Kansas City doesn’t exist anymore. That I don’t exist anymore. That the only things in existence are these endless mountains, rocks and road. And infinite packs of unsmokeable cigarettes.

So. It’s nice to be lying down, but this lounger might as well be on another planet. I close my eyes and listen to the light music from the radio and to the sizzling from the kitchen. I enjoy these few moments that I have to myself. I don’t have to look into my mother’s mournful eyes. I don’t have to surrender to my grandmother’s attention. I can inwardly focus for just a few moments before I resume the constant emotional care of those around me. I begin to relax. That feeling is brief. I sense that someone is standing near me. Over me. The shuffling of feet, the sounds of breath, the change in light even when your eyes are closed. The warmth of another person’s body even when you are not touched. I open my eyes and my grandmother is standing over me. Her eyes are wide and expectant and staring into mine. They are my father’s eyes. The ones I dared to memorize just 3 months ago. They have those deep dark circles that have always been there. They are red and wrinkled around the edges. The pain in her eyes is so deep and intense, unknowable, unnamable. The pain has simmered into relentless fear and settled in her eyes. I wait to be chastised for sitting. Lying. Relaxing. “You look like a movie star.”

The tears come, swell and pause. I have no make-up, my hair pulled tight in a low-slung bun, I am wearing blue long johns and a blue sweatshirt, faded and snagged. I have no trace of redeeming feminine qualities and this wonderful woman just told me I look like a movie star when I thought she was about to correct me. She’s close enough that I can whisper. “I love you.”

This brought a smile to her scared, desperate face. I do love her. I love her instantly, in this moment. And not just because she tells me these beautiful things. And not just because she is the one person who does not tell me how to look, talk, act or dress. I love her because we are the same. We are the same terrified woman clinging to life. We both have been terrorized by the men who claimed us. I couldn’t know her until this moment because she escaped to Arizona 10 years before I was born. I couldn’t love her until this moment because she was only known through the heart of my father. We play scrabble day and night. I eat asparagus and crisp bread for the first time. I take showers in a bathroom with a skylight. I sun myself on an ant-filled patio. I cling to her stories and words. I see her for the first time. I find her in the desert 40 miles from the Mexican border.

She blooms for me. A bloom that may only raise its unique and precious face every 40 years. A rare cactus flower in the spring after the mountaintops of snow have melted into the valley.

The floods of emotion wash away the isolating wilderness and refresh us, the Languishing Residents of Green Valley, AZ. We might as well be on another planet.

Kite Fest 2016

That’s how I would have described my day before 4:27 pm. After 4:27 pm, on April 16, 2016, it could be described as hell.
My family has been through quite a bit over the last 4 years. I went into the hospital on Aug. 10, 2012 for heart failure and it’s been a list of bad things since that day. Heart failure, house foreclosure, bankruptcy from medical and credit card debt, moving, second hospitalization for heart failure, thyroid cancer, thyroidectomy, collections for medical debt and moving again.
We ended up on our feet in a really nice apartment, one car and I’m still alive. What more could I ask for? I even found a job that I love. Today was a wonderful outing with my family to the annual kite fest, Flights of Fancy, at Longview College.
First, we had lunch at a local coffee shop, Gusto! We lingered there, playing of all games, Bibleopoly. Never played it. Super fun. With a Bible-Christian theme that was surprising to find in a local coffee shop. They have games there for patrons to enjoy while they chat and drink and eat. There were two pictures where we plopped down just over our heads.
A plaque about the fruits of the Spirit. Something my family has been trying to get a handle on for a while and also, the Lord’s prayer. Those two mounted frames of wisdom seemed to punctuate our delightful lunch and gameplay. It was really rounding out to be a perfect day for our weary family. We suffered through so much: misfortune, family turmoil, personal demons and financial struggles. A day, like today, was what our family always hoped for; a care-free day, out and about, enjoying and connecting with one another. Not worrying over debt, house repairs and illness. We looked at each other several times and relished the joy of it. The peace of it. The sheer perfection of the moment and I know…I was so very thankful for my family and the beautiful time we were having. Then, after we finished a game of Bibleopoly, (Monopoly, but nicer) we headed over to the Flights of Fancy at Longview.
We laughed and talked on our blankets and pillows in the grass. We loved all the elaborate kites being flown, there was a huge yellow whale, a cute (and large) brown puppy, a white horse and, I think a personal family favorite, Rainbow Squid. Not a care in the world. True, happy, family connection on a blanket, in the grass on a perfect cool and windy day. The clouds, crisp and plentiful, kept the day from being too sunny or warm. I love days like this. The wind makes me happy and clean. It sweeps all my troubles away. It’s like the breath of God, dusting off all the dirty bits and putting a shine on my heart.
4:26 pm. Love, laughter and joy.
4:27 pm. “Hey, you! Lazy! What do you think of all this?”
As soon as we got to Longview, we found a nice grassy area to lay our blankets down and watch the kites. We stayed there for at least and hour and a half. There was a man at a table just to our left. He was part of the KC Kite Club, helping kite-flyers repair their broken kites. He was also schmoozing the crowd with little tidbits and facts about the kites that were being flown. The big ones anyway.
“Yeah, see that yellow whale? 120 feet long!” “Hey! Your shoe’s untied! Made ya look!” “Oh, I got two smiles that time!” He seemed to be a friendly fellow who liked to tease passers-by. I remarked to my husband at one point. “Gosh, he’s sure alot like my dad. When he was being seemingly friendly.” I made it clear to my husband, there were two sides to my dad. Nice, teasing jokester or emotionally abusive tyrant. I preferred jokester.
At 4:27 pm, Cigarette-smoking, Sunglass-wearing Grampa said to me:
“Hey, you! Lazy! What do you think of all this?”
My head whipped around like a kite in the breeze to see if anyone was standing behind me because this jerk could not possibly be talking to me. Yes. Yes, he was.
Like Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, I said, “You talking to me???”
“Yeah! Lazy! What do you think about all this?”
I turned to my husband and said, “I would like to go now, please.”
Before I could make it back to our parking spot, I was crying ugly tears of shame behind my dime-store aviators. No. My old man is not going to ruin this perfect day. My guilt and shame from the past is not going to overwhelm me now. Not here. Not now. But I couldn’t fight it. You see, I probably have PTSD from the 19 years of emotional abuse I suffered at the words of my father. Lazy was his go-to. I remember him saying to me on the day we were moving back in after having to move out because he went crazy again, “Are you just going to sit there? Aren’t you going to help? You’re so lazy.” In front of the movers who were paid to carry our stuff from the truck to the house.
Instead of standing up for myself, I swallowed my pride and went inside the truck to find very little to carry. An embarrassed mover handed me a box and said, “There’s not much left.”
Lazy was what he called me as he threatened to have someone physically hurt me if I didn’t go out and find a job as I was leaving the house one day to put in an application for a job the summer after I graduated high school. Lazy is what he called my mom 10 feet outside my bedroom door. Only he was screaming at the top of his lungs and also calling her a fat pig while pushing her onto the couch and hissing through clenched teeth. Lazy was his weapon of choice. And this man, at Longview, was stabbing me in the heart with it.
So. I left. I let an unkind person ruin my day with my loved ones. I took my daughter to The Dollar Store to buy her some supplies she needed for a class project. And on my way back home, I stopped back by Longview. I just couldn’t let it go. I always tell myself. “Next time.”
Like, the very next time someone calls me: lazy, fat, gross, ugly, whatever…I’m going to stand up for myself. So I couldn’t let it go. This was the next time.
I let the girl with Down’s syndrome, who called my belly too big, I let her go. I let the toddler who was standing outside the bathroom stall at McDonald’s, who called me fat, I let her go. I let my old man go for years because I honestly thought he would shove me into a window, like my brother, if I didn’t. I thought he might take the shotgun under his bed and unload it into my skull if I didn’t let him go. I thought he might slap me across the face. He actually did, when I didn’t let it go.
But this guy. This old man. It was like my father standing up in his grave and calling me Lazy.
So I pulled into Longview parking lot. Walked down to Old Man.
“Can I speak with you a minute, sir??”
First though, when I walked away, after we left Longview, before The Dollar Store. I sat down in the driver’s seat of our vehicle and I looked up. I saw a bright red t-shirt with a white heart. Jesus’ Love, in red, inside the heart.
I’m supposed to love this guy. I’m supposed to love my old man. I’m supposed to love those that hurt me and that t-shirt broke me.
It was like God calling out to me. “Love this man. This is my commandment for you.”
Ok. Yes, sir.
So. I went down to Old Man. Confronted him. With love.
He denied saying it. We had a long, drawn-out conversation but I left with this. I said, “You said this in front of my husband and daughter. They heard you too. I have PTSD and was abused by my father most of my life. I had thyroid cancer just over a year ago. I work hard all week doing my job (coaching kids) and taking care of my family. I’m not lazy, sir. Watch what you say. I love you. God bless you. I hope you have a good rest of the day because I will not.” Mic drop.
And I walked away having confronted my brother in love and in tears as Christ has called us to do.
Longview, I hope you keep doing the kite thing. We loved it. Until about 4:27 pm.

The Death Throes of Food Addiction

Death throes: a violent reaction of the body as its dying. The shakes and tremors as life is escaping and death is overwhelming. The last of the blood that passes through the mind; a raging river that comes to a trickling stop. Final traces of oxygen whispering out of the mouth. The rattle that lingers on the lips.

The horrific serial killer in a slasher movie that just won’t die. You think he’s dead, only for his mutilated corpse to reanimate at the last possible second, trying to take you with him to hell. My Michael Myers is FOOD.

Try as I might, I just can’t seem to get my keys out and the door unlocked to stash myself safely away from the murderous grasp of my stalker. FOOD.

I want to run. But I can’t. Food is always on my heels, breathing heavy in my ear and running the knife along my throat. And all I can do is lie in a Jamie-Lee-Curtis heap of tears on the bedroom closet floor, screaming for help, hoping that the big-old, mean food baddie will give up and go away.

I swear to diet. I swear by the heavens and earth to walk away from food. I beg God for help. I twist in a fit of feverish conviction to never touch sweets again. Or bread. Or pizza. Or chocolate. Or caloric beverages. And after I’ve listed those favorite foods that I will never have again, I can only sit and dream about my lovers who’ve gone. I’m high in a tower and one day they’ll rescue me. Until they’re breathing down my neck again.

I’m trying. I’m trying to diet. Lifestyle. Eat on a plan. Whatever you wanna call it to get through the hate of it. I’m trying my darnedest. I’m restricting. I’m eating less. I’m trying to walk more. Move more. But I am hopelessly stuck. I can’t say that I’ve been an angel, but I’ve been pretty darned good. I’m at 441 this morning. I’ve kept 14 lbs off. But I was down to 436. Whatever.

My main concern though is, I can’t get a handle on food. No matter what I weigh, the feeling that I’m addicted to food outweighs any thoughts of vanity or dreams of a better wardrobe. I just want to shoot this feeling full of bullets and have it go down in flames. I DO NOT WANT TO BE CONTROLLED BY FOOD ANY LONGER! I want to live a normal, peaceful life where I don’t have to look over my shoulder for CREEPER (FOOD). I want to save the day, be the hero and kill my food addiction. But this killer won’t die.

I am in the death throes of food addiction. I’ve reached my breaking point. Several times. We’re into multiple sequels and no one’s tuning in any more. Seen it, done that, read the book, it was better. How do you kill something that just won’t die? I’m the stupid girl who just won’t fight back. Who won’t stop walking alone at night. Who strolls down the dark alley with food tempting me from the darkness.

WISE UP! Food wants to take your life, instead of giving it to you. Twinkies are the devil. And bread is Leatherface with a chainsaw. You are writing this movie and the ending is cliched but true. You win. Not all your friends will make it. Candy, pastry and cheese might get killed off in the second act. But you’ll make it, Martha. You might be bloody and beaten by the end, but you’re gonna make it.

Goodbye, Treats. *gunshot through the skull*