You changed my life, Part 4

>> Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries:

March 12 - Timothy Loyd

I don't generally have a lot of good things to say about my first husband. On the whole, my first marriage was not a good time, and, at least toward the end, the relationship was very much not a healthy one.

But as psychologically messed up as I was when I met and married Tim, I was not a total idiot, and I wouldn't spend upwards of ten years living with someone unless there was something at some point that attracted me, appealed to me.

Truthfully, hopefully, there were far more moments than I recall, lost in the later ugliness. But there were moments I recall where the potential I had once seen, the person he COULD HAVE BEEN, peeped through.

He had some good points. He always had a good work ethic and was willing and able to work. He was a loyal friend and would back up said friends. He liked helping people. He was affectionate when drunk (and I never knew him to drive in that state) but was never a heavy drinker or even vaguely alcoholic. He was a maudlin sap for animals and was not afraid to cry at movies that touched him. He had a good belly laugh (and hopefully still does).

There are two moments of the same sort that I remember, that likely bought him enough mileage for our marriage to last long enough to produce Stephanie, and that's certainly changed my life for the better. Both were kind of firsts for me.

You see, I'm not the sort of person who generally gets defended much. I'm more someone who defends herself and/or others or is given someone else's battles to fight. But, like at least all the strong people I know, I have my vulnerabilities. One of them was that my relationship with my family, particularly the splitting with my siblings and attitude of my father, was very painful and left me traumatized by guilt for years.

After I'd married and was spending my last year of college away at school with my (then) husband, I came back "home" to pick up items that belonged to me. My father had the music blaring and didn't bother turning it down when we arrived. I was pointed to a box which contained about 10% of the items that should have been mine. Not a word was spoken. I was absolutely crushed and cringed out of there, my body wracked with sobs, desperately hurt, wanting to leave even the dregs of my belongs. Unbidden, Tim turned back (according to a sibling who witnessed it) came back into my family's home, wrenched down the volume himself (with curses) and proceeded to curse out my father, telling him he was an ungrateful father who didn't care about his own daughter and didn't deserve to have me and more of that ilk. (Cursing out people is one of his, um, strengths).

To the best of my recollection, I had never been defended when I needed it before that time.

Not long after we moved in the area I live now, Tim's parents came to visit and his mother was very very angry about something (not sure I remember what for). She slammed around and was vicious and nasty in general for about half an hour or so, but Tim let it slide over him and I tried to do the same. Then, as she was bringing in the last of her stuff for the visit, she turned on me and said something very very cutting to me (I don't remember exactly what) right in front of Tim who said, "No one talks to my wife like that. If you don't like it, you can leave."

His mother, left in a huff, Tim's father in tow and spent the night at a hotel before it was smoothed over, but, again, particularly knowing how close Tim was to his own parents, I was quite impressed that he would defend me like that.

Admittedly, I don't recall it ever happening again, even when we were in agreement on some stance or another, but I do recall those events and do appreciate that they were part of what made me stick around long enough to introduce Stephanie to both our lives.

So, thanks for that.

March 13 - Lee Barr

My second marriage was far easier in some ways and much more difficult in others. On the one hand, my second husband, for all his issues, was nowhere near as overtly antagonistic and destructive, at least deliberately. On the other, I loved him desperately (which, unfortunately is not true of my first husband) so I was far more emotionally fragile and desperate not to be deserted. And, as one would expect, that's eventually what happened.

I do have two beautiful and personable children from this marriage and there is the rather important distinction in that we managed to have the amicable divorce I really wanted with my first husband. And we're still friends.

But I have never cried as copiously, as often and as hysterically as I did while married to Lee. And there are times I wonder if I'll ever be brave enough to love again.

I never ever expected to hook up with Lee in many ways. He was far far younger than I, for one thing, just barely over the age of consent, and he was the son of a good friend. You could, in fact, say he was entirely off my radar and might very well have stayed that way if not for one incident.

In this incident, I was exposed to something that scared me to the core for the first time. To the core.

This was in the middle of my three year divorce to my first husband. There were a number of people looking out for me during this time, but their focus and mine was on my young daughter's well-being (for a very good reason since she was used mercilessly during this period of time). I went to mediation during the summer when Stephanie was staying with her father for a month.

Suffice it to say it did not go well and both the mediating lawyer ended up scared to death by Tim, my lawyer had gotten his gun out and was talking about taking a shot, and Tim was, at the time, waiting in his car for me to leave. Tension was high but it wasn't really touching me because, hey, I've never been afraid of death.

I was talking to a friend on the phone about the situation and she goes, "If he's that mad, what is he going to do to little Stephanie?" And that's when I got it, the full blown panic attack complete with near hysteria and hyperventilation (I've had a few since but that was my first). My fear, because my estranged husband was seriously unhinged at the time and my imagination had run away with me as well, was a scenario like Arthur Morgan. And I'll be forever grateful that never happened.

I was sent to stay with Cheryl Barr again, for my own safety as both the Barr family and my lawyer thought I was in immediate physical danger, but I couldn't calm down, couldn't shake my dread. I started thinking all kinds of ridiculous things, not the least of which was going to confront Tim so he could beat the crap out of me instead of Stephanie.

I'm not saying anything about my plans to anyone, mind you, but that's what I was on the verge of doing when this seventeen-year-old kid took me aside and said, "You need to calm down. The absolutely worst thing you can do is let Tim hurt you because then Stephanie will lose both parents at the same time. You have to take care of yourself, for her sake and for yours."

It was EXACTLY what I needed to hear to calm down and stop the stupid thinking. And I was so impressed. What was so much wisdom doing in this kid? I couldn't look at him the same way and, when he showed concern for me separate and regardless of Stephanie, I realized I couldn't remember when anyone else had cared about me, first and foremost. Even if it turned out not to be true.

And that's how I spent the next eleven or so years and got two fantastic kids.

So thanks. That definitely had an impact on my life.

March 14 - My second roommate in college whose name (again) I can't remember - Cindy maybe?

Up until Nancy Hodson, I did not have good luck with roommates. Up until college, I had almost never had sleepovers or had any but the most brief interaction with my non-family peers. And living with me wasn't necessarily easy. I'm an odd duck, not, I think demanding, but can be off-putting for people who like "normalcy".

My first roommate didn't know what to do with me and ended up moving down the hall to someone she clicked with better early in our first semester. Soon after, I got a new roommate (same semester).

My second roommate (I'll call her Cindy) and I got along, personality-wise, quite well. She had come down with her childhood bff from her beloved Chicago because OU's out-of-state was cheaper than many in-state tuitions. Bffs, rooming together, sharing everything, turned into an ugly ugly situation that left Cindy fairly devastated when she moved in with me. Since they'd taken turns (parking sticker, etc), my new roommate spent most of the remainder of that semester trying to beg and plead her former best friend/roomate into paying some $400 in parking tickets she racked up that were in Cindy's name.

Cindy, apart from being estranged from her former best friend and dunned for parking tickets from someone else's car, also missed her hometown and family desperately (and ran up over a thousand dollars in phone charges during that semester). And she was a chain smoker which, since I don't smoke at all, wasn't always comfortable. I could handle a little smoke (though I'm allergic) but there were days she was particularly stressed when I came back to the room and could not see the far wall.

In the end, she just didn't want to be at OU (I don't think it was me personally) and returned to Chicago at the end of the semester.

But, before she did, she did something that had a profound effect on me.

Unlike many of the students I knew in college, I had pretty good study and work habits. Since I was always self-driven, rather than directed by others, going to college didn't change that. I wanted to excel and I did the work required to do so. However, like most of the students in college, my sleeping habits turned to crap and, as a natural nightowl, I became chronically short on sleep (and skipped classes for the first time).

I had always had "perfect" grades throughout my school career and, somehow, I developed a ridiculous level of perfectionism that made me very hard on myself when I made even small mistakes. It could easily have become quite unhealthily neurotic.

I was good in a crisis (thanks to years of being in charge of younger siblings), but I was not good at dealing with my own mistakes and was frequently racked with fury and guilt when I erred. And that tendency might have continued, even worsened.

If not for Cindy.

One day, with great cleverness, I not only slept through a class, I slept through a test (first time EVER - sadly not the last). And I completely freaked out. Cindy's not there when I first lose my ever frickin' mind, freaking out and imagining all kinds of horrible impossible-to-recover-from repercussions (and facile imagination can have it's down side). But she came in not long after my rationality had effectively left the building.

Wordlessly, she reached into her nightstand and took out a huge bottle of aspirin, one of those Sams-sized ones that had, like, 500 tablets. She handed them to me. When I paused in my hysterics to look at her quizzically, she said, "Take 'em. Take 'em all."

Now that might sound irresponsible, but I got her point immediately, even laughed and snapped out of it. She was telling me this wasn't something to kill myself over ("Put your bosom away!" - 10 points for whoever gets the reference) and I needed to get a grip.

So I did and I got some perspective, regrouped and talked the teacher into letting me take a retest (physics teachers are pretty laid back). But that recalibration made it so I managed the time I missed my FINAL EXAM the next year without completely losing my mind or doing something stupid (or at least more stupid than mistaking the time of the exam). [I ended up with my first C, but I was so relieved I'd passed, I greeted it with joy.]

Perhaps as a result, I've generally been able to function even when I've made a pretty serious mistake and, after the first shock wears off, concentrate on fixing and working around the new situation. I think it also allows me to look back on my many mistakes, miscalculations and poor decisions and, rather than wallow in remorse, regard them objectively and try to learn, even use that in novels.

So, Cindy (or whatever your name really was), you really made a difference in my life, even though we didn't know each other long. Thank you for your quick and effective lesson in perspective. It has certainly served me well.

March 15 - Joan

I said earlier that I never really had good luck with roommates until Nancy Hodson, and that's true, but, except for the first one, I generally got along well with them. Other circumstances meant that it just didn't work out.

Joan was an overachieving student in high school: National Merit Scholar, Physics major (mine was Engineering Physics), had the same top general academic scholarship I did.

Like me, she'd gone away from home to college. I can't remember if she had her crap together her freshman year and won the Lottinville Prize (like I did) for the top Freshmen, but I'm thinking she didn't. But she hadn't tanked her grades in such a way her academic scholarship was gone.

That changed that semester. Joan was friendly and good company, but outside my own experience base. She was part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (which I still don't get) crowd (who are frequently nice people but often a little odd). RHPS ran at midnight every night and Joan frequently crawled into the room in the wee hours, shed her clothes and then crawled into bed. Or so I surmise because her wake-up routine was to have a friend call her and she slide off the top bunk and ran across to get the phone naked.

As the year progressed, either her friend or herself couldn't manage the wake-up routine and it ceased, but she ended up skipping a lot of classes. A lot. Drinking parties didn't occur in the room when I was there, but they did happen elsewhere in the middle of the week, which generally isn't conducive to good grades. Once I came home one weekend and found a huge, nearly empty bottle labeled as burgundy but with a bright pink liquid inside (dregs). I asked and she said they were running out so they mixed it with koolaid.

She was quite interesting, actually. And, as I mentioned, quite nice and a good conversationalist.

I have two items for Joan, both completely different. The first was while we were still roommates. I went home for my birthday (November) and had managed to juggle my boyfriend and my family in a way that made me feel I'd done good. A week later, I received a letter from my mother on how I had made them all miserable because of my boyfriend, that I was an ungrateful hateful girl, etc. aud nauseum. I was crushed.

Joan read the letter and then told me my parents were idiots. "You are a parent's wet dream," she said. "You don't drink. You don't smoke. You don't fool around. You get good grades. My mom would bust a gut and give up a kidney to get me to act like you do in college."

I desperately needed that. Although away at college, I was still routinely manipulated by guilt (as I'd been conditioned to be all my life) and I still did not appreciate my own worth. This didn't do it (that has taken many many years and I may not be there yet), but it STARTED ME ON THE PATH to do so, to realize I really wasn't the disappointment I was told I was. Or, if I was to them, there was something desperately wrong with their yardstick.

Joan, unfortunately, flunked out that semester (GPA 1.2) and lost her scholarship(s) so we only had that one semester. Once again, I don't think I had another roommate the second semester. I was starting to feel there was something wrong with me, but I was in luck: Next year, I had Nancy.

The second thing, totally unrelated to the first, or maybe not, Joan managed to make it back to the university my senior year (when I was already married). She stumbled across me at the Physics office where I was working part time (over the summer) and told me it was MY fault she flunked out. I was too good. She couldn't compete.

Now, as I had mentioned, I'd done more than my share of years as designated whipping girl (not physically, but emotionally). I'm primed to take responsibility for things outside of my control. But, for some reason, I balked here and said, "Bullshit. That was your own damn fault." It's a small thing, but it was important. Like the appreciating myself, backing off from taking responsibility for the actions and failures of others took years to stop completely. But this was a start, a spark, a beginning that I desperately needed.

I never saw Joan after that. She may have forgotten me, may even dislike me which is a pity because I enjoyed her company. And I'm grateful for the bit of push she gave me on addressing two of my biggest mental issues.

So, thanks.

March 16 - Nancy Ternes Hodson

Nancy, like many on the list, has a whole phalanx of wonderful memories attached to her and has been a wonderful friend and influence as long as I've known her, which is more years than either of us probably care to mention.

I met her the same year I roomed with Joan (briefly) and she was an incredibly powerful persona in a petite frame with a pixie face and a husky voice. And she became one of my best friends ever. She had a very rigid set of beliefs but an incredibly flexible and non-judgmental way of dealing with others that is both unusual and appealing to someone like me.

There are a thousand big ways she had a happy influence on my life, including putting her life and her tiny car on the line to teach me to drive (at the ridiculous age of 19), her easy acceptance of me and all my quirks, the fact that we were together almost until the day I got married (and was a bridesmaid there too) and made me feel better that it wasn't just some weird curse on me that kept me from keeping roommates.

She was a joy to hang with and I'm grateful she stumbled into my life. But, this whole exercise is about one thing, so here's hers: She sent one of my poems (without telling me) to a Catholic periodical where it was published (I can't remember if they accidentally put it under her name or mine, but it was published and that was cool. Nancy herself never tried to take credit).

I wasn't angry. I appreciated that it was done because SHE BELIEVED IN MY WORK and that, my friends, is very powerful for anyone involved in creative endeavors. I needed those little shots in the arm and, even today, nothing motivates me quite like an enthusiastic reader. I might add that, for several years, if not still today, she used some of my unpublished work in the English classes she taught and that's pretty damned affirming too.

I never did write out in calligraphy that book of poems I meant to writer her (Bad, Stephanie!), but I always think of her fondly. And, in her honor, I'm including the poem she sent to be published because, hey, I can.

(For those of you Heinlein fans who have read "Stranger in a Strange Land," by the way, this poem was spawned by a short story described by Jubal with the same setup and same first line, which sets the meter for the whole thing.)

The Other Manger

Snow had been falling since the middle of November,
But now it was a blizzard for the end of cold December.
People scurried through the snow with bags of Christmas cheer
While others sat in humid bars with mugs of Christmas beer.
Every person had a someplace they could go this Christmas Eve;
Warm and cozy, every person felt the holiday reprieve.

The chapel doors were firmly locked by Father Kevin's hands,
Who hurried home to sing about three kings from foreign lands,
Yet, through the drafty chapel wall, between two fallen stones,
A tiny kitten peeked its head, then stretched its weary bones.
It dragged across the chilly floor, its movements pained and slow,
But thankful for the respite from the frozen wind and snow.

It's mottled coat was matted, frozen stiff or dripping wet,
And the kitten's ribs were showing, poor neglected little pet!
Its hunger was the driving force for many a day and night
But cold had forced the kitten in, enticed by candlelight.
Lost and homeless, cold and starving, limping on three feet,
The kitten wandered in and curled upon a wooden seat.

In the middle of the night, the cat woke with a start
And felt a certain burning in its frozen friendless heart.
"Come, my friend." It heard a voice and slowly looked around
And saw a blaze of lights inside this haven it had found.
"Come, my friend," the warm voice coaxed. "You do not rest alone;
You have wandered in and I bid welcome to my home."

A radiant Man stood by its bench and reached a gentle hand.
"Come and feel my healing, poor mistreated little friend."
Then He picked the kitten up and held it to His breast.
"Friend, if you feel weary, then, with Me, feel free to rest.
I'll be there to protect you from the storm and other harm.
Now, just cuddle closer; let Me show you love is warm."

So, the kitten snuggled in its shelter from the cold
And a warming flooded through it as its hunger grew less bold.
Soothing, and more soothing, it was whispered back to sleep,
But its sleep, at last, was comfort as it slumbered, long and deep.
Its hunger softly vanished and its foot felt no more pain.
It purred within its slumber as He stroked the fur again. . .

In the morning, Father Kevin opened up the chapel doors,
And the neighbor's son, Roberto, ran across the icy floors.
Today, he wished to be the first to see the blessed King,
And he looked into the manger, brown eyes huge and wondering.
A kitten, maybe sleeping, snuggled in the Savior's light
For the tiny soul had come to him in the cold and frigid night.

Thanks for everything, Nancy Hodson. You have certainly changed my life.


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