It wasn’t that I was ungrateful, but a small part of me resented that man coming into our lives could make it so much better.
When I was a kid, I watched my Mom work her ass off, sewing puppets and banners as a trade-off to get us into Catholic School that she couldn’t afford. She had a vision of her girls in uniforms, and she made it happen. I still can hear the hum of her sewing machine in the middle of the night; it’s stored in my memory forever. There was something so comforting about hearing her moving around in the other room while I laid there in the dark. It was like she was standing guard against anything the night would bring. Her footsteps, running water, even the clank of dishes distracted me from visions of the Boogey Man and Chucky coming for me.
I remember hearing a needle break on my Mom’s machine once. Peeking in, I saw her shiny black hair hanging down as she carefully replaced the needle. Then I watched her lick the thread and get right back to work. She was putting the finishing touches on her masterpieces, which were piled nearby in beautiful colors.
I stared at her hair as it shined, and touched mine to see if it felt as glossy as hers looked. She was magical. During those years she even managed to make us Barbie clothes (we still have them today). How the hell did she manage all of that? She’d work all night and then sleep on the couch in the “sewing room”, so we girls could have a bedroom of our own. Our house was part of a du-plex, and very tight, but somehow she made us feel like it was huge.
We all shared a futon, and it was so much fun giggling all night and sneaking out of bed to steal cheese from the fridge. The kitchen closed at 7 p.m., (that was the rule), which made it all the more fun to be disobedient behind her back. We’d take turns tip-toeing in there at 8, 9, 10 p.m., and when we’d get caught we’d laugh hysterically under the sheets, trying not to pee our pants. (My Mom recently admitted that she’d always act mad, then leave the room so she could laugh her ass off in secret).
There were many memories of just my mom and us. The sound of water boiling inside the iron and the hiss of the steam still rings in my ears. She ironed our school uniforms for us and had breakfast made every morning. Then she’d exercise on the living room floor (a.k.a. her sewing room and bedroom), while we whined about getting ready for school. She was a straight-up Super Woman.
She even developed a star chart of daily chores we had to help with. When we completed a task, we’d get a shiny gold, green or red star. If we complained or whined, she’d give us a black mark and tears would stream like Niagara Falls. No one wanted that black mark: if we got three of those bad boys, we’d miss out on the weekly prize under our pillow (usually water balloons or something else from the dollar store).
As small as the prize was, it felt very special because we had earned it. I remember getting a black mark once and falling to my knees dramatically - grabbing my mom’s arms pleading for her to give me another chance. She’d normally let things slide, but sometimes when she knew it wouldn’t help us in the long run, she’d stand firm. That lesson of working for things carried on throughout my life.
My mom taught us many lessons, some from nightly readings of Little Golden Books, The Berenstain Bears, Dr, Seuss, and Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. We’d always ask for the stories of someone being bad and then getting caught and punished. We’d snicker, biting our sheets or holding our stuffed animals, listening carefully to her voice and her little sips of coffee. We’d always beg her to take another sip mid-story, because for some reason, those little slurps of coffee made us laugh.
We loved when she gave into our begging, even over something so little. She knew exactly how to balance three wild animals like us. If she didn’t give in a little, she’d find us on the roof egging each other on to jump off onto an old mattress we’d found, or catch us stealing matches to start a very innocent fire in the backyard. How she didn’t wind up in the nut house is beyond me. If I had been her, I’d probably be locked away for a lifetime in a straightjacket and padded room.
She even figured out a way to keep an eye on us while she worked her day job. She couldn’t afford daycare, so she somehow managed to talk her boss into letting us come to work with her.
We were hellions, and how she kept her job I’ll never know. We’d whine while she worked, sneak into the break room to eat all the sugar cubes, and run around like wild banshees. Finally, she decided to teach us office work: filing and stuffing envelopes. Smart move.
When my dad moved in, we were moved to a bigger room that was below the house. It was like our own little apartment. We didn’t even know we needed a change, but we were growing up. I remember walking in and seeing three new pink beds with golden headboards. I ran as fast as I could to claim the bed by the window. In that moment, as I rolled around on my new comforter, I felt the shift in our lives.
We would no longer be sharing a futon, and now had both parents living under the same roof. We eventually hung sheets from the ceiling around our beds, creating dividers and independence from each other. Our family dynamic was changing.
One day we were told Santa Claus left us something in the backyard. We tore out of the house to the yard, and sitting near the grass were three new bikes. They were decorated with pink streamers and white baskets. I knew mine was the smallest one with training wheels on it, and I ran toward it with a smile on my face. My parents must have had so much fun watching that.
We had family Disneyland trips, yearly Yosemite vacations, Easter egg hunts, and church on Sunday’s. We had developed into a traditional family, like on the T.V. shows we had seen. Even though I enjoyed those family shows, I never dreamed of having the perfect family. My parents always made sure we felt safe and happy, and that’s all I ever needed.
My Dad taught us how to throw a punch, but grounded us when we’d fight each other. He taught us how to ride a bike, dream big and to never stop. My Mom encouraged us every day with anything we told her about. If I told her how fast I ran outside, and she’d draw pictures of me running with my hair blowing back. If I colored in a coloring book, she’d act like I was Picasso. She let us be wild and free, but showed us we had to work for things too. Together, they became a dream team.
We eventually moved out of that house into a bigger one, and a few years later to the city of Redondo Beach, CA, where my parents started their own business. There I was again, lying in my bed listening to sounds of hard work. The printers and mumbling voices comforted me like the sewing machine had done years before. I still felt safe, after all those years, and learned that working hard and never giving up really pays off.
In the blink of an eye, I had gone from a single mom to a wife. I was struggling with the transition into the “family life” and the traditional husband and wife roles. I no longer had to run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to fill voids for my son. But I felt sort of…lost. I began trying to find ways to get back into my comfort zone, because I was downright uncomfortable. I’d had enough. I puffed out my chest like a wolf, stood tall, and began barking and howling into the wind with all my might.
Before I met my husband, I used to see families on the beach laughing and playing, and wondered what that kind of a life was like. The grass is always greener, right? I envied housewives, thinking the stay-at-home mom life was basically relaxation. Ha! Boy, was I wrong. I was only a part-time stay at home Mom, yet I could barely stand it.
This was supposed to be “livin’ the American dream.” House, car, husband. Dogs and white picket fence. Christmas stockings lining a mantel next to an Evergreen tree, and a shiny ring on my finger? A white wedding dress and then what? I was suddenly at a standstill.
I started noticing I was eager for my husband to get home each day, like a dog waiting by the window for its owner. I’d check out the window every 20 minutes, hoping to see his car pull up, and that bothered the sh*t out of me. I had a job, but also got home earlier than him. So the duties of laundry, cooking, cleaning and taking care of two dogs fell in my lap. I’d text him daily asking when he’d be home, simply because I was SO overwhelmed.
I was angry that I needed him, and angry I needed help, too. But I never, ever wanted to ask for help. All I could think about was how I traded in my life as a single mom, but for something that felt harder.
I complained that my life was easier before, that I was free before, but here’s the reality: family life is just different. I had trouble accepting that the same way I struggled accepting motherhood. I wanted to run away many times, and I started to become a nagging woman, listing off the many things I did each day in paragraphs of texts (and then even more when he got home). “Au-au-awoooooo” went the wolf.
I felt underappreciated, overworked, and alone. This was just the beginning…
I lived in a vicious cycle of self-sabotage, trying to prove that all my complaints made sense. I didn’t want solutions. He’d offer help, he’d feed dogs, do the dishes, and even clean, (a.k.a. dream husband).
But I would just watch him doing those things thinking, “I shouldn’t have had to tell him what I need help with. I’m tired of making him help me. Why do I have to cry to get him to do more? Those flowers he bought me are just going to rot, creating more work for me. Why can’t he just figure it out himself… “Blah, blah, blah, bow-wow-wow-woof-woof-woof: you know that mind chatter that never shuts off, the kind that just feeds your rage even more.
I wanted to be proven right at all costs. It was the one thing in my life I had control of, that gave me some identity. I had no new goals set, so I just picked apart my life instead. I knew I did laundry to my standards (big whoop, right?). I knew I kept the dogs up to date with their shots and baths, I was the one who helped our son do his homework, I was the one who kept allergies under control by cleaning the air purifiers and window screens.
I did the grocery shopping, I organized the fridge…I, I, I, me, me me. I worshiped the Holy Trinity of me, myself, and I. My list of duties were my ammo, ready to fire off at any given moment.
Once in a while my husband would bark back. Then I’d start peeling back fingers, listing off each and everything I did. My words were like venom. I said it all so often that I had it memorized in order. And I added more to it every time. My list was like one of those damn CVS receipts, 8 feet long. My ammo, my sadness, and my self-pity was all rolled into this little ball of fury and rage that I kept in my pocket.
It reminded me of a story my mom wrote:
I STARVED MY BEST FRIEND – By Evelyn
It was November in Maryland. I lay awake in the dark, listening to the approaching storm. The thunder rattled the windows in our mobile home. I could hear my mother moving in the back where the bed was, trying to get comfortable. She was always alert. We were connected in our nightly ritual, waiting for the sound.
My bed was next to the fold-down table in front of the trailer, a fogged-over window faced the street. I could look under the table and see my sister on the other seat, sound asleep. She was three, and I was almost six. I slept fully dressed, with shoes and coat on, an extra coat used as a blanket, and an army blanket on top of the coat. Our heater was not working, and my face was cold, but I dared not cover my head. I needed to listen.
Every night, we would hear the sound we were waiting for: a muffled “thump” outside. My mother would rise up awkwardly. She was eight months pregnant. I knew to get up quickly and follow her. My father would be there, lying face down on the ground, passed out after a night of drinking with his boss. We would struggle to drag him up the metal step, then he would throw up in the white pot next to the bed, and pass out. Mother was so patient, but I felt a hard feeling come over me as I watched this ritual night after night. I felt mean inside.
This freezing November night, the tapping of rain on our metal roof sounded like handfuls of seeds being thrown. We heard something outside, and both of us met at the doorway, facing each other hesitantly. We knew we had to leave the shelter of our trailer and check outside. My mother opened the door, and the wind slammed the heavy door hard against the trailer with a loud bang. A sheet of freezing rain slapped us and we were instantly drenched.
Gasping from the shock, we peered out and saw my father, sodden and face-down as usual. His clothes and black hair gleamed with tiny sparkles, like diamonds. The grass was like a fairyland of tiny lights from the moon. It was hailing! My mother whispered, “hurry up, he might freeze to death.” I said, “Let’s leave him outside.” She turned on me angrily, and said “He’s your FATHER. Show some respect.” I tried to help her, sullen and silent, then. She stumbled with her long dress almost tripping her, and her curly red hair came loose from the prayer veil. I rarely saw her beautiful hair any more since she joined the Mennonite Church. I blamed that church for my father getting drunk.
As we helped him stumble to the door, I heard a whimpering sound under the trailer. Sick with dread, I worried that some small creature might be suffering. My only feelings of affection and love were saved for animals. I knew I had to go back outside as soon as possible to rescue it.
Soon, I heard my father snoring fitfully. I sneaked to the door, easing it open. Wind tried to tear it from my skinny arm. I struggled to control it, knowing if the door slammed against the trailer, my scheme would end with a violent whipping from my mother, and a report to my father in the morning. I was hardened to my mother using a metal fly swatter handle on my legs and was proud of my ability to “take a licking” without crying. It would be worth it if I could have a pet, even if I was caught. I wanted something wild of my own that no one else could tame.
Every surface was covered with a thin layer of ice. The leafless trees swayed in the wind, and big black clouds scudded across the moon. I ducked down and looked under the trailer and saw it! A small mewling thing was there, barely visible, eyes glowing gold. It stared at me, pleading. I reached out, hoping it wouldn’t bite. This creature seemed to want to be picked up, as it crawled toward me. It was almost like a turtle with no shell, leathery skin, about the size of a kitten. I quickly held it against my wet coat, and crept inside, slipping on the icy step, then lying stiffly on my side to hold the creature, pretending to sleep.
Suddenly, my covers were whipped off! My mother stood over me, glaring down. She screamed when she saw the creature. It stared boldly at her, and the eyes seem to change to a deep red. “Oh, My GOD!” She cried out, “Get RID of that thing NOW!” Her voice shook with fear and anger. “It’s a GRUDGE. It will need nursing to keep it alive. It will be a terrible burden. Get it out of this house IMMEDIATELY!”
Tears streaming down my face, I went back outside. The yard still sparkled, but it seemed sad, like tears, now. The moon shone coldly. I looked at the creature’s mournful eyes staring into mine. I had a feeling of “knowing”, and kinship with it. This was my friend, now. I hid it under the trailer, and found a rag to cover it. I knew this creature would change my life. I was right.
The grudge became invisible to anyone but me. It would ride on my shoulder, my secret companion. Sometimes my mother would say “stand up straight,” and my father would ask, “Is she talking to herself? What’s wrong with her?”
As I grew older, the thing began to gain weight. I realized it actually fed off my anger and resentment. I had plenty of nourishment for the grudge. My father’s drinking, my mother’s religious obsession, combined with their violent punishments. Kids at school teasing me because I wore dirty long skirts the boys liked to pull up. I was forced to keep my long hair in pigtails. Children liked to hang on my hair. My mother would grab me by my pigtails and slam my head against the wall when she was angry. Every incident caused the grudge to get heavier. What I once thought was my loyal friend became an overwhelming and invasive burden.
If I made an attempt to befriend children at school, the grudge would whisper to me and tell me things to mock and torment them. I often bullied other children, and the grudge would laugh hysterically. We were best friends. No one could take its place. It comforted me, and was loyal only to me. Any outside contact created an episode of insane jealousy, so I stayed alone, reading or drawing.
Thirty years passed. I moved away. I left Maryland and moved to California. The grudge was now an unbearable size, but I dared not abandon it. I was actually afraid of it, now.
One day I met a woman at work and confided in her. Amazingly, she said she knew about grudges and had even harbored one herself! I was shocked. She invited me to a meeting. She said it was called a 12-step group. I heard women at the meeting admitting to carrying grudges, and some told how they found a way to get rid of them. Mine went with me, refusing to be left alone, and whispered constantly to me during the meetings about the faults of the other people in the group, saying it was a stupid and foolish waste of time. It thought of things to mock the others, and begged me to stop going and stay home. Something made me stay for the coffee break, and a few women gave me their phone numbers. The first woman I met told me she could be my “sponsor”, and I agreed.
One day, she suggested I stop feeding the grudge so much.
With her direction, I began to work to get to the source of my rage and resentment through writing and sharing at the meetings. I realized my anger began around age five, when I took on the position of caretaker. My entire life was spent feeling responsible for my mother’s sadness, my father’s drinking and my brothers’ and sisters’ welfare. I had moved them all in with me at various times, and it made no difference, except to help my grudge get larger and more demanding.
As I stopped feeding it, the grudge began to lose weight. It complained bitterly, but I called my sponsor for encouragement. Sometimes I’d have a sudden attack of rage, and the grudge would gain weight again... One day I realized it was so weak, it could not hold onto me. It fell awkwardly to the grass, and disappeared, like melting snow.
I had starved my best friend to death.
One night I came home from a meeting and saw something on my porch. My old behavior took over. I was hoping to see a wild animal I could capture and try to tame. I spotted a small furry creature near my front door. It looked like a kitten, but had large ears like a desert fox. It came up to me, and I took it inside to feed it. It seemed affectionate and willing to stay with me.
I called my sponsor to tell her I found a pet. She said, “Oh, be sure to keep it! I have one myself. It’s called a little gratitude.”
My mom was right, I needed to be more appreciative. But life just kept slapping me in the face, and I rather enjoyed my pity party for the time being. I had lost myself when I got married, and I was clinging to all the wrong things to try to feel like myself again. I began to slip back into the heartbreak and sheet-cake days. I didn’t want to soften and open my heart anymore, because that had led me to heartbreak before. My mind began to spin and I felt all my self-work, healing and happiness slowly slipping away.
I was now a lone wolf because I isolated myself. I was overworked, and convinced myself no one cared because like my mom’s story, I too owned a grudge. I invited a little guard to stand in front of heart, because although my heart had melted, I was now afraid the future could hurt it again. I needed protection. I felt weak, and now I was a bitter working housewife too. The truth was, my husband did care, and he just needed help too. He had gone from being a boyfriend to an instant father and husband. The family dynamic was a hard balance for all of us. I needed to have gratitude.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then for us, came a miscarriage. As a couple, we had many experiences together, but our first shared heartbreak together of a miscarriage, led me down a different path than him. When a woman experiences a miscarriage, it’s heartbreaking – no matter what. People like to ask how far along you were when you have a miscarriage. As if it was easier early on in the pregnancy? It’s not easier, and no one should ever ask a woman who miscarries how far along she was.
The minute you find out you’re pregnant, life changes, and your heart beats differently, whether you’re 2 weeks along, 8 weeks, or 9 months. I believe when you share a heartbeat with another soul, you are connected forever. Sometimes that little soul decides it’s not the right time, but they come back again later in some type of form.
Just before week 9 of my pregnancy, I had an ultrasound, and was told I needed emergency surgery for internal bleeding. I had an ectopic miscarriage. I felt the actual pain of this in my pelvis, and in my heart. I doubled over in the Doctor’s office, and put my head in my hands.
When I was out of surgery, it hit me. Not only the miscarriage: everything. My break-up during pregnancy years ago, my days as a single mom, all my fears, and all the emotions I had gone through. The mind has a funny way to tricking you sometimes. Just when you think you have it all together, it throws you for a loop to remind you whose boss.
(Mount Sophia’s most famous eruption occurred in 2014, when a sudden explosion of emotions and hot tears, covered the surrounding areas… her husband’s shoulder included).
I looked at my husband, sitting by the bed in his work suit. His tie looked crooked, and his eyelashes looked damp. I had never stopped to think that maybe he was grieving, too. I started to cry and my husband immediately hugged me. The texture of his suit jacket on my cheek felt strong and supportive. I needed that. I cried into his shoulder and felt the heat of his arm comfort me. The smell of his cologne surrounded me and made me want to hug him forever. The love he had for me made my tears boiling hot as they poured out me.
Marriage is a funny thing. It can absolutely work, but if one person is stuck in obsessing over their past, it usually ends in heartbreak. I expected this to happen eventually, I wanted to be proven right like always…but my husband never gave up on me. He stood there the same guy that “stalked” me in the gym, and continued to be there day in and day out until I finally let him in time and time again. It took a long time, him taking the brunt of my heartbreak in various forms. But there he stood, stoic, like an oak tree, branches reaching out in every direction that my personality went. No wind, rain or even a hurricane like me could even rustle his leaves, let alone break him. He was rooted deeply for the sake of his new family.
He was exactly what I needed, and even more so, what my son needed. Together we grew, and his branches held us up as we went through many seasons of change…and one day the little guard that I had invited back when I was unsure of the future, slowly packed his bags and walked away.