Respect

the-queenMy mother, Verse, is 93. She came to Oregon to visit for the last time when she was 88. I remember pushing her to the counter of the airlines ticket desk in a wheel-chair, while she dug in her oversized purse to find her passport. She was always smiling and eager to visit. She loved telling the adventure stories that lived behind each passport stamp gathered from around the world.

My mother is an amazing woman, so bright she skipped two grades in high school, graduating at age fifteen. She was academically gifted, but suffered from a painful childhood. As a girl, her mother explained that there was no such thing as love, and demonstrated by abandoning her in every way possible. She learned love from her father, but he left both the marriage and his daughter at an early age.

She sang in a big band before she met my dad, then left to manage a successful restaurant and motel. No, she did not manage it; she owned, lived and breathed it every moment of our growing up years, putting her dreams of studying law or medicine aside. My mother gave birth to three girls and two boys. All, without exception, worked in the restaurant below. It was a thriving business full of constant coming and going. It was the place to watch the World Series on the small screen television angled above the bar. It was a businessman’s lunch table, and the destination for every club and civic organization in town. The restaurant had the elegance to house wedding receptions and the warmth to invite family diners to return on a weekly basis. The travel-weary were given a warm welcome and the factory crowd brought their brotherhood to the bar. The romantic played the jukebox and danced, while teens drank cherry cokes and competed on the bowling machine.

I was her middle child, with a sister and brother older, and a sister and brother younger. I worked in the restaurant for years before going off to a Vermont Boarding School. During that time, I watched my mother make sure the meats being delivered were of the highest quality, the breads taken to the table were freshly baked, and the portions were plentiful and appealing. After a long day of work, she and I would sit at a small out-of-the-way table, her tiny shoes trailing built-up oven grease from the kitchen floor, her hands clutching volumes of receipts to be counted, her face drained of vitality and charm.

I don’t want this life for you, she would tell me. Go away from this place. Be more than this.

When she was finally freed of obligation to family, business, marriage and striving, she found her wings and began to explore. At eighty years of age, her gypsy blood bubbled to the surface.  With nothing to lose she decided to give herself as many adventures as possible. She tore across raging water on a jet ski in California, rode camels in Egypt, visited the Great Wall of China, flew across Antarctica, soared in a hot air balloon, took a safari in Africa, floated the Amazon river, and was the oldest woman ever to go hand gliding in New Zealand.  When we crossed the British channel, she was in the ballroom dancing in her new prom dress, while I stayed below, blue in the face from motion sickness. I think your mother is stronger than you are, the maid volunteered.

She waits in the airport wheelchair, beautifully dressed, her attitude full of determination and intention, but the clerk will not look at her. She addresses me instead. My mother does not exist for her. She is just an old woman to be patronized and called, Honey and Sweetie. Her passport is handed back quickly without a glance in her direction, its wealth of stories left untold. I watch my mother’s face fall as her existence is publically diminished.

Low Point

cliff-with-girlLife piled too high on my shoulders in Seattle. I could not make ends meet and felt doomed to poverty, exhaustion and a life of struggle. In desperation, I made an appointment with a psychic I had never met. Surely a kindred spirit could help me align with my future in a new and authentic way.

At the allotted hour, I opened the door to a small house on a back street that had the word psychic flashing in neon lights. I was welcomed by a small Romanian woman and ushered into a dark house with religious pictures on every wall. These were not the gentle pictures of Mary draped in pastel blue robes, or of Jesus delivering his teaching on the mountain. No, these were the angry Greek orthodox guys. They scowled in disapproval as if to say, you’re a sinner. Hell is at hand!

We passed through a living room where an inert man in a sweaty tee shirt lay drinking beer, and watching television. I smiled in his direction and he ignored me. The woman led me to a small closet size room, with even more pictures of angry religious guys hovering near a giant cross. A long table filled with flickering candles lit the room. A rosary sat on a small table between us, as she held out her hand to receive payment. So why have you come to see me today?

I can’t seem to find my way in the world, I said, sounding more vulnerable than I intended. I feel pulled in different directions. I have no career focus, and can’t seem to get out of my financial hole. I could really use some guidance. I seem not to be hearing the voice of spirit for myself.  Tears spilled down my cheeks and made wet marks on my dress as I grabbed a tissue and cried out all the frustration and tension I’d been holding in. I’m sorry I’m crying, I said, I just need some guidance.

The woman laid out some cards and began to read.  I see that you have been married before. What happened?

I pick men who are wrong for me. That has been a great wound in my life.

How exactly have they been wrong for you?

They were emotionally distant, often cold, and incompatible. I have not been wise in that regard.

No, she said, You have not been. I am seeing that there was nothing wrong with the men that you chose. They were good men. The problem was with yourself. You think marriage is going to be perfect. You expect too much. You should find your last husband and go back to him. Make it work. God is punishing you for leaving him. There is cause and effect in this world, now you are getting the effect of what you caused.

I was stunned! I had opened myself to her guidance, and she’d delivered a bomb that was going straight in. All my defenses were down.

You are estranged from your family too, aren’t you? she continued in an accusatory voice.

My childhood was difficult, I said, defending myself. They are on one coast, I am on another. I needed distance. I needed to get away.

I have little hope for you, she continued like an overzealous truant officer. You have a curse on your life and it will never get better.

I was paralyzed in her presence. Never get better! What are you talking about?

Your life is cursed, child, but I can help you. I can stay up all night and pray over special candles. Give me one hundred dollars so I can buy these special candles and I will fix your life. The money is not for me, you understand, it’s for the candles.

I glanced at the candles on her table and saw grocery store price tags adhered to the side.

If you have the money now, she continued, that would be best. If you don’t, I will wait while you  get it.

One hundred dollars was half my rent payment. What did she take me for? Feelings of anger and devastation swirled through my being. She was the wicked witch, and I had taken a bite of her poison apple. I bolted for the door.

It was dark when I stepped outside and my mood matched the night. I had seen people back away from the word, psychic, with fear in their eyes, and now I understood why. The disrespect of this experience was alarming. I was embarrassed to share the same title. A deep lonely depression settled in me as I waited for the bus. I had taken her words inside my body and they were circulating through every cell like poison. I was matching her consciousness.

tree tops

 When I look into the tops of the trees I feel possibility, freedom and expanse. The space is open and without restriction. 

I am familiar with tree tops, sky and scope. My spirit, more bird than human. I look longingly at flight, angry that my feet are attached so heavily to earth. I try not to gaze too high or too long, because that is not my work. My work is to be acquainted with the tree’s roots and solid trunk. The gypsy in me does not understand roots, and the dancer in me does not understand immobility, but my lessons are there, at the base, in the earth, in being here and not above.

I took my daughter parasailing in Mexico. We rose into the sky, above the trees, mountains and ocean. I never felt so at home. My whole body said, YES! This is me soaring free like an eagle, while my daughter was terrified. We had a serious talk after that. Mom, this is it! All of my life I’ve followed you on your crazy adventures. Now I’m old enough to say, no more!

written 10-16-08