My Last Thanksgiving at Mom’s

“The weak fall, but the strong will remain and never go under!” ~ Anne Frank

Even though I was in my own home, sitting in my own bedroom, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t like the atmosphere that was in the air, the tone that was suddenly being set. It was dirty and I could hear it and it made me feel uneasy.

My bedroom didn’t have a door. It seemed like every bedroom I had in all the apartments growing up on Magnolia Avenue, it was always my bedroom that never had the door. The only privacy I ever had came from a makeshift sheet that was usually tacked up with a bunch of nails. This was always my bedroom door. There was never any way to block out the noise from the other rooms. There was never any knocking to announce that someone wanted to come in. Instead of twisting a doorknob to enter, it was always a sweep of the arm to push the curtain aside. There was never any privacy. My bedroom appeared to have been built as an afterthought, as drywall was slapped up into the main living room to try and create another room – my bedroom. However, the wall was never completed. At the end of the wall there was a small area of approximately four feet tall by one foot wide that wasn’t drywalled, as if they had plans to tuck something within the space. Not wanting to have a gaping hole looking into my room, I took a very large board and placed it up against the hole. I drew the “Love Is” characters on it so that it didn’t look unfinished. The board didn’t cover the hole completely, but it worked enough. Once again, my privacy as a young teenager was sacrificed.

Thanksgiving was upon us and my mother was at the grocery store buying food for Thanksgiving Day dinner. Mom had received her welfare check and she was buying groceries to fill the cabinets and fridge for the holiday. This usually meant we would have a treat of chocolate chip cookies or Neapolitan ice cream. We would also have a fat turkey for Thanksgiving, with all the trimmings, canned cranberry sauce, breaded stuffing that would be made from scratch and, eventually, shoved up the turkey’s tush to cook all day. Mom would make real mashed potatoes and not instant like we normally ate. Corn from the can that tasted more like tin than corn, salad, which consisted of only lettuce, drenched in Miracle Whip salad dressing. Dinner would end with a store-bought pumpkin pie with a dollop of cool whip. This menu was a yearly traditional meal that we all looked forward to having. Mom took her grocery list and food stamps and was off to the store to buy all the holiday fixings.

Mom asked me to stay home. She asked me to wash the dishes that were in the kitchen sink while she was at the store. I hated washing the dishes, mostly, because mom never bought normal dish washing soap. Trying to save her pennies, we washed our dishes with laundry detergent. The soap would never dissolve properly and I felt as if I was washing the dishes with pellets of sand. My brothers weren’t at home. Most likely, they were with their friends playing a game of tag football at Truman College, which we lived almost directly behind. I was left at home with Melvin and a man named Butch. Butch was a family friend, who we met and knew while living in another building years before on Sheridan Avenue. I remember Butch having two daughters, Maria and Sonia, both which seemed to have been slightly off not only in the looks department, but in the personality department as well. Maria and Sonia were mentally challenged to a degree and both lived in a home that offered assistance to their kind. On occasion, they would come to visit their father, spending the weekend with him. They were larger women and they always sat outside on the building’s front stoop. Maria, the redhead, was mean and feisty, while Sonia, the brunette, was more easy-going. Her personality was much softer. She would sit there and play barbies with me. Once, Maria picked me up and literally tossed me into the air and across the sidewalk. I fell into the dirt and landed on my knees. She said I was in her way, therefore, she decided to toss me like a ragdoll so she can get down the front steps. Their father, Butch was short and chubby himself, looked like he had no teeth when he talked and always wore his hair short, like a crew cut. He seemed to have a stuttering problem, where his words took forever to say. His wardrobe consisted of only white T-shirts and Dago T’s. I always found Butch to be on the feminine side, especially by the way he talked and presented himself. He was very flamboyant and liked to dance around the room to his radio. It was hard for me to picture him as a father. I would listen in on conversations between mom and Melvin, where they would comment that Butch was a queer and would suck a dick a mile long. I was old enough to understand what that meant. He liked men. However, it was obvious that he had a relationship with a woman at one point in time because he had two daughters. Butch also had a brother named John. He seemed to be the normal one of the family, that is until I woke up one morning when I was younger and saw him boinkin’ my mother on the side of the bed. Waking up from sleeping on the floor in our one-room apartment, I asked her what was she doing. She told me to lie down and go back to sleep, which is exactly what I did and I never mentioned it again. It seemed like this family, John, the girls and, in particular, Butch, had followed us from neighborhood to neighborhood and somehow was always in our lives from the time we lived on Sheridan throughout the time we lived on Magnolia. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now. Now that I was older, I knew exactly what was going on, especially between Butch and Melvin.

I had finished up washing the dishes. I wanted to get back to my room and not be around Melvin whatsoever. The utter sight of him made my skin crawl. Him sitting there in his recliner chair, smoking, polluting the air that I breathe, wearing his creepy little shorts. I even noticed that they were hiked up more than usual that day. Melvin and Butch were watching TV. They were eerily quiet and said little to me. Leaving the kitchen, I crossed their path, walking back into my room. Even though I had no bedroom door to shut me out of their existence, I felt relieved to know I was in my own space. Standing in my room, I was in front of my own TV, flipping channels and trying to pass the time until mom got home. She had just left for the store and I wished that she were back home already. Melvin and Butch were in the living room. The living room consisted of two twin beds, which was sort of set up as a bedroom, with the beds up against the walls. It seems like we never had a formal living room either. Most likely, because mom and Melvin could only afford a one-bedroom apartment and my brothers always got the bedroom… and the door! As Melvin sat in his recliner chair, Butch was sitting on the edge of one of the beds, the one closest to Melvin. I could hear both of them starting to talk, their voices low, almost whispering, as if they were trying to hide what they were saying. I started to get that uncomfortable feeling again, that same feeling as when I knew Melvin was about to touch me, my breasts and, eventually, my vagina. I felt like I was in the middle of something that was wrong, something that shouldn’t be happening. As I stood in front of my TV, I turned down the volume slightly so I could hear what was going on in the other room. I was hesitant with my thoughts. I was hoping I didn’t hear what I thought I did. In between the whispers, there were noises coming from their room. They were sexual. I started to make noise of my own in my room, moving things around my dresser, banging books, trying to remind them both that I was still in the house and only a few steps away. I was hoping that they would stop whatever they had started. Did it work, I thought? Unfortunately not. They both ignored me, as if I was the Wizard of Oz himself… “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Moments later, they continued with their groping one another. By this time, I was so uneasy with them being there that I yelled from my bedroom, “You two better stop because I can hear everything that you’re doing!” Silence filled the living room once again. When is mom getting home, I thought. For some reason I knew that they would stop once she got home, as I knew what they were doing was behind her back. They probably couldn’t wait for her to leave. On the other hand, did mom know what they were doing and, most likely have been doing, for years? Is this why she asked me to stay home with them, in hopes that they wouldn’t do anything with each other while I was in the apartment? I had a strong feeling that mom knew many of the inappropriate and crude things Melvin was doing, but just kept them all to herself.

I heard them start-up again. I could hear the wet noises coming from their privates, the slapping of skin back and forth. I could hear their whispers. By their conversation, I was under the impression that Butch couldn’t get it up, as Melvin kept asking him, “Are you sure you don’t have to go to the bathroom? Well, let me try again.” With that comment, I had heard enough. Swinging open my curtain, I stepped out into the living room. Melvin and Butch did some shuffling with a jacket that lay over Butch’s lap. I told them that they were both sick fucks and didn’t they realize that I was just in the other room? I also told them that I was going to find mom and tell her what was going on and what they were doing. With that, I stormed out of the apartment and headed to the grocery store up on Sheridan and Montrose, where I knew mom was shopping. Was Melvin nervous that his dirty little secret would be exposed? Did he even care?

As I ran to the grocery store in late November, I realized that I should have worn a jacket, as it was quite chilly outside. However, I left the apartment so quickly that I didn’t even think. I just knew that I needed to get out of there. As I was racing to reach the grocery store, my mind was having a race all its own, thinking of what I had just witnessed back at the apartment. Why can’t I have a normal life? Why do I have to live the way I do? Why do I have to run looking for my mother and report to her what I had just witnessed? Would she believe me? I never ever shared with mom the sexual abuse that Melvin did to me. Not only did Melvin like little girls, he also liked older men. Would this open up something that I knew was going to be just awful? I didn’t want her to know what Melvin had done to me. I didn’t want to disrupt our already dysfunctional life any more than it was. I didn’t want to be in trouble. I rehearsed in my mind how I was going to tell mom once I found her in the store, that Melvin was having sex with another man and while I was only in the other room.

I felt like I was running a marathon, as I ran down Montrose Avenue, past Racine, Clifton, then underneath the El tracks and then finally past Kenmore. Just up ahead there was the Jewel grocery store on Sheridan Avenue where mom was picking out a turkey for a family dinner. A dinner where we were all to sit down and be thankful that we were together, a family that doesn’t harm or fault one another, a family that doesn’t allow sexual abuse in their lives, even though I knew it was all lies.

As I walked around the store, I took a look down each of the aisles looking for mom. One after another, I knew she had to still be in the store somewhere. Finally, I found her. By the look on her face, I could tell that she was surprised to see me there, especially since she left me at home. She could tell from my own face that I was upset. I began to get angry, which made me start to cry. All my emotions were trying to spill out all at once. I tried to keep my voice down and explain to her what was happening back at home. The more I talked, the more upset I got. I told her that Melvin and Butch were doing things to each other in the living room and that they knew I was in the bedroom. She told me to stay with her, as we went to check out and buy the cart of groceries.

Mom hailed a yellow taxi, where we put all the groceries into his trunk. I remember sitting inside the cab, with its huge bench seat from window to window, looking out the window, trying to anticipate what was going to happen once we got home. Instructing the driver where to go, mom and I didn’t say a word all the way home. The palm of my hands were sweaty, as I rubbed them against my pants. My heart began to pound faster, as we pulled up in front of our building. We unloaded the groceries from the trunk and made our way up the stairs and into the apartment. Once inside, we both realized that Butch was gone. He left, leaving Melvin sleeping in one of the beds in the living room. Mom instructed me to put the groceries away, while she sat on the other bed, lighting up a cigarette. I could see her sitting there, puffing away madly, as she watched Melvin sleep and half-undressed, her head sagging low. I went into my room shortly after I was done putting all the groceries away. The silence was nerving, so I turned on my TV. I never heard another word again about the incident that happened that one holiday afternoon. I don’t know if mom ever confronted Melvin about the situation or if she kept everything to herself. Most likely, if she had brought it up to him, he would have denied it, calling me a lying whore. However, if I knew my mother, she didn’t open her mouth whatsoever. She didn’t like to confront Melvin, as he was abusive and violent. Surely, this was one of her own secret tortures within. Oh, how that asshole controlled her.

That year, Thanksgiving had come and gone, without a word being said of what had happened just days before. We continued on with our holiday meal as if we were the perfect family, smiling, laughing and joking. As we sat at the table pretending as if nothing was wrong, I would try to make my brothers giggle during grace. Grace consisted of just a few generic words. We never said grace at any other meal except for Thanksgiving. “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” Done. As my brothers would recite the grace, I would extend my legs underneath the table, so my naked toes would reach their side of the table. As their heads were bowed low and praying, my toes would creep up from underneath the table, where they would be just inches away from their faces. Their eyes closed, my toes danced directly under their noses, wiggling them back and forth, slightly skimming the tip of their noses. We tried not to laugh out loud because the atheist in the room would have gotten pissed off because we were giggling during grace.

Melvin had sexually abused me when I was younger and it was a dirty little secret that only he and I knew. However, that day with Butch, I learned of Melvin’s other dirty little secret; that he liked to fuck men, too. Sadly, it appeared that mom had her own secrets of Melvin already scared deep within her mind that she kept there until one afternoon where she no longer could.

I found mom sitting on the back porch one summer afternoon. I came home and, as I always did, I asked my usual question… “Where is Melvin?” It was a pleasure when he wasn’t around. The atmosphere was more at ease, my brothers and I were more at ease, comfortable, as we didn’t have to whisper or walk on eggshells, tiptoe around an abusive drunk. We didn’t have to watch what we said, especially in front of Melvin, where it would trigger an argument or an ass beating. “Where is Melvin?” I asked again. “He’s sleeping in the garage.” My mother responded. I could tell mom was hiding more information than Melvin just sleeping in the garage. I questioned why he was in the garage sleeping when he had a bed in the house. “He’s in the garage sleeping and has locked the side door. I couldn’t get in, but I looked through the window. Melvin is sleeping with his pants half down, next to another man.” She quietly confessed. I thought to myself, was it Butch? But, it wasn’t. Then, she proceeded to half-ass show me a set of pictures that she found of Melvin, where he had taken at one of those photo booths in Woolworth’s. Melvin had pulled his pants down and took pictures of his genitals. I could tell that she was upset, but I wasn’t sure if it was more over the found photos or of Melvin being in the garage sexually with another man… again. Surely, it had to be both.

I wonder what mom would have thought if she knew I was on Melvin’s long list of weird sexual antics. Would that put her over the edge? Would she have cared? Did she already know? Did mom just accept Melvin’s sexual preferences? Would she finally kick him out, I thought? Being sexually abused was my own little secret and I had no intention of releasing it from my frightened mind. I was so afraid that the family we did have together, my brothers and I, would disappear, just like the little girl, Judith, who we knew growing up in our apartment building. The Department of Child Protective Services came and took her because her parents were unfit, or so they said. This had always been in the back of my mind that they would come and take my brothers and me away, never to see each other again. We were young enough to be tossed into the system, but not old enough to be on our own. Therefore, I always kept my mouth shut. My brothers and I lived at home until we were old enough to make our own decisions and move on.

It was years later when I finally had my own studio apartment, I announced that I would cook my first Thanksgiving Day dinner for everyone. I invited my brother, Jeff and my mother over to spend the day with me. Mom knew enough not to ask about Melvin’s invite. My brother, Steve, was living in Michigan at the time and unable to attend. I wanted to have all the trimmings to my dinner just like mom always made. I lived in a one-room studio apartment that consisted of a small kitchenette, bathroom and walk in closet. The appliances were small, particularly the stove. It was one of those small apartment stoves and was half the size of a normal one. It was difficult to cook a regular meal on, let alone a ten pound turkey in the oven! However, I still tried.

“On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.” ~William Jennings Bryan

Following my mother’s tradition, I set my alarm for 4:30 in the morning to prepare the turkey so that it can be popped into the oven by 5:00. Mom shared with me on how to make the stuffing and prepare the turkey, step-by-pain-in-the-ass-step! Getting up this early in the morning to prepare a turkey wasn’t exactly my ideal way of starting my day. I was so tired that I prepared the stuffing between yawns. The onions weren’t diced to perfection, they were more like chopped into chunks. The bread looked as if it was hacked by a hatchet than torn into bite size pieces. As for the celery… let’s just say that they would have looked better in a tall glass of Bloody Mary’s!

The stuffing was finally prepared, with its seasoning of sage that seemed to permeate my hands, along with the onions. Shoving the stuffing into the turkey’s cavity between slitted eyes, I packed it as much as I could. As I tied the legs up with twine, as to make sure the stuffing didn’t’ have a chance to escape, I maneuvered the pan into the small oven at 350 degrees. The turkey was in the oven to roast by 5:00 a.m. It was shortly thereafter, that I popped myself back into bed to continue my dreams!

Hours later, I woke to the smell of turkey wafting in the air. It seemed more pungent than ever, most likely due to my small apartment. Cracking open a window, I began to prepare the rest of the meal; potatoes, corn and, of course, that overly drench Miracle Whip salad. Jeff and Mom arrived a few hours later, where we sat, chatted and waited for the turkey to be done. I checked the turkey and basted several times throughout the morning. By 1:00 p.m., we were all getting hungry. Mom commented that the bird was in that oven for almost eight hours now and surely it would have to be done. She was the expert, I thought. Turning off the stove, I pulled the turkey out and oven to make its grand debut.

What an entertaining disaster, I thought! The turkey that had been bathing in its own juices for almost eight hours wasn’t even near done! It was so rubbery that it could have bounced its way back to the farmland from where it came! Mom and I came to the conclusion that it was due to my “Easy Bake Oven” of a stove. Because it was so small, the oven must have not been able to accommodate the size of the turkey. My first Thanksgiving dinner was a flippin’ flop! Laughing our way through the rest of the meal that we could eat, I had to make the best of the moment, so I took pictures of my first attempt at cooking Thanksgiving.

My attempt at cooking a turkey!

My first attempt at cooking a turkey! Circa – Early 80’s

It may not have been the traditional meal that we were use to having, but we made the best of what we had. In the end, it’s not about the meal and what you cooked or how much effort you put into it, nor is it about what went right or even what went wrong. It’s all about being thankful. My last Thanksgiving at my mom’s house with Melvin’s behavior is a memory that will always be in my mind, but I believe it’s an experience that made me stronger, not only in values, but in beliefs. My life growing up was full of challenges, but it showed me how important family is and to let nothing stand in the way of relationships. Family doesn’t hurt family, family is love and, when you have love, hurt should never exist. Simple.

Thanksgiving and the holidays are all about being together, together with family and friends and the ones you truly love. Sharing time with one another, laughing, joking and experiencing a joyful moment that will all too soon be a part of the past. We need to seize all the memories we can, holding each one of them close to our heart because as our years move on into the past, the making of memories become less and less.

Although my first turkey was a failure, I would like to think the moment of being together was a memorable success.

“As we pause to thank Him for the blessings of the past year, we must not forget to thank Him for the lessons we have learned through our difficult times. We are not to be thankful for just the pleasant, easy things, but ALL things.” ~ Millie Stamm

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A Soul’s Connection: A Special Friendship

Jack and Donatta in 8th Grade - 1977.

Jack and Donatta in 8th Grade – 1977.

“A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.”  ~Lois Wyse

It was the seventh grade. It was a brand new school. It was a time that would change my life forever.

I went to a grade school called, Stockton, on Montrose and Beacon in Chicago; the same school where my teacher would let me out early to run home so that I wouldn’t get my ass kicked after school.  I was happy that I wouldn’t be going to that school any longer. I made not one friend there. At the time, Stockton School only went up to grade six, therefore, I was being transferred to a brand new school, Joan F. Arai Middle School, which was down on Wilson Avenue and Hazel Street. Here is where I met my best friend, my kindred spirit, my soul’s infinite connection, Donatta Erzic.

We both had an immediate connection with one another, sitting together in class, laughing, joking, creating a friendship. I remember when Donatta would go into one of her laughing spurts, she would laugh so hard that she would fall off her chair, sliding herself down the wall and onto the floor, while her legs continued to rest on her chair. Giggling with her, I would try and help her up off the floor, as the teacher, Ms. Gold, would instruct us to get back into our seats.

The hot show at the time was a cop show, Starsky and Hutch.  Donatta and I would pretend to be these television characters, passing notes in class and solving crimes, with her being Starsky and me being Hutch. Donatta would wear the big sweaters like Starsky use to wear, too. What a great time we used to have in class.

Starsky & Hutch

Starsky & Hutch

Our seventh grade school year was soon to be over and summer vacation was on its way.  Every summer, my brother and I would go to Wisconsin to stay the summer with my grandparents on their farm and I knew that I was going to miss my new found friend.  Before the school year ended, Donatta wrote me a sweet note, letting me know how much fun she had, committing to a friendship between us.

Donatta's Letter

Donatta’s Letter

I wrote to Donatta every week and, as promised, she replied back. We had a ritual with our letters however. Because my granny was nosy and wanted to know what I wrote about, I wrote one general very vague letter, which was the one that granny always read. But, on the side, I wrote my “real” letter, sharing with Donatta more personal writings and things I wanted to share with Donatta only, not my grandmother. Walking to the end of the driveway to mail my letter to Donatta, I would quickly place my secret letter inside the envelope so that granny wouldn’t see. Sealing and tucking my letter inside, I closed the lid to the mailbox.  Raising the red flag, signifying that there’s a letter to be picked up, I waited for the mailman to take my letter that was soon to be on a journey to Chicago. Days would pass, as I watched for the mailman.  I couldn’t wait to get a return letter from Donatta.

Day after day, I would wait for the mailman to bring the mail.  Once he drove off, I would grab the mail, looking to see if I received a letter and, soon enough, there within the other envelopes, was a letter for me! Upon receiving my mail from Donatta, I would immediately open the envelope, sneaking one of the letters into my pocket.  I shared with Donatta that my granny read all our letters back and forth to each other, so I asked her to write two… one for granny’s eyes and another for me.  We continued this correspondence throughout the summer until we could see each other again when school started.

Eighth grade had arrived, where Donatta and I shared, once again, the same classes and homeroom, where we became closer as friends and sharing secrets, as young girls would often do. This was the year that I met her family and she met mine, accepting where and the way I lived, the way I was being raised, accepting the horrors that I lived every single day of my life.  I was able to share anything with Donatta.  She was a person that I knew I could trust and she was the only one in my life who knew my deepest and darkest secret… that I was being sexually abused by the man who was labeled as my step father. I have always felt that Donatta was meant to come into my life for a reason, to be there with me, for me, to protect me. Her arrival couldn’t have been any more precise.

“Friends are kisses blown to us by angels.”  ~Author Unknown

 Donatta was true to her words, “Once I meet a friend I like staying pals for a long time.” The year was 1976 and, 38 years later, we are still friends, best friends and even more.

Donatta wasn’t only my friend, she was my teacher. She taught me many things that my own mother could not.  She took me to the next steps of feminine hygiene, where she showed me how to use a tampon. “Girls don’t wear pads anymore, they wear tampons,” she said.  Buying my first box, she demonstrated with a tampon and her fingers, showing me how to insert and use them.  Later that evening, Donatta gave me a call, asking how I was coming along wearing tampons, making sure that I had no questions and that everything was working out okay.  Proudly, I told her that it was going great and how much easier it was to use tampons… except for one thing.  “What’s that, she asked?”  I shared with her that it’s nice using tampons, but I have gone through a whole box already and that I’m almost out. “How can that be?” There’s like 24 of them in the box?” Donatta said.  I told her that I pee a lot and that whenever I went to the bathroom, I’d pull the tampon out so I could pee. “Oh my God! You don’t have to pull the tampon out every time you go to the bathroom. Don’t you know you have two holes down there?!” Embarrassed, I told her no, I didn’t know that and every time I went to the bathroom, I’m pull it out. I thought the tampon was like a plug… how can the pee come out if I’m all plugged up? Once again, Donatta was my teacher. This has been our little joke between us for the past 38 years.

I remember the time when Donatta said she would take me to go and see my grandmother.  My grandfather had recently passed away and Donatta was gracious enough to drive up to Madison, Wisconsin so that I can spend the weekend with granny.  It was also the day that Donatta found out she was going to have a baby, her first. Here we are both sitting in the car, driving the highway, while my best friend had morning sickness – a severe case of morning sickness.  Between dry heaves and several cans of Sprite, we finally made it to granny’s place. There, Donatta sat recovering from her three hour ordeal in the car. We decided to get comfortable for the evening and snapped a few pictures while granny sat watching her television shows.

Granny had bunny knick knacks and behind her back, we tied a lace around the bunnies neck.  This was Donatta’s way of telling the world that the “rabbit had died!”

The Rabbit Died!

The Rabbit Died!

The next morning, I decided to make breakfast for us all.  While Donatta was in the bathroom, dealing with her morning sickness no doubt, I started cooking.  The moment that Donatta walked out of the bathroom, she said, “You made bacon?!” Surely, it was the last thing she wanted to smell as she tried to settle her queasy pregnant belly, but always a memory for me whenever I cook bacon today.  She did all of this for me so that I could be with my grandmother.

Donatta and I had decided to take another trip to granny’s after Emily was born. Emily was just a couple months old at the time.  Granny was excited to meet baby Emily and we thought granny would get a kick out of meeting the little one who was inside Donatta’s belly, making her nauseous just several months before.

Donatta knew how eccentric my grandmother was and that she was in a world all her own at times.  I’m not sure if granny didn’t think about her actions or she just didn’t care what others thought. Such as, whenever granny would go to the bathroom at home, she would always pee with the bathroom door open, holding a conversation with you every tinkle of the way; something that I even catch myself doing to this day.  I don’t know why she never closed the door for privacy.  Perhaps, it’s the same reason why I leave the door open myself; comfortableness with the person you’re with.

As we settled in for the evening, Donatta prepared Emily for bedtime, hushing and lying her down in the portable crib that we brought with us. As if on cue, granny strolls to the bathroom to do her business, while leaving the door open the whole time.  Granny lived in a small apartment that consisted of only a living room, bedroom and a small kitchenette.  The bathroom was in direct contact with all three of these rooms, so no matter what room you were in, you were able to see and hold a conversation on with granny while she sat on the “pot” as she called it.  Sitting in the living room with a direct eyeshot of granny in the bathroom, Donatta listened to every squirt, plop, and splashdown that granny was creating, as well as every sound effect that granny chimed.  It was at this precise moment that Donatta spun her head around and looked at me, whispering underneath her breath, “Your grandmother is taking a major shit with the bathroom door open!” Giggling to myself, I shared with Donatta that granny must have felt very comfortable with her if she didn’t close the bathroom door, making it sound as if it was some sort of honor or privilege!  Once granny was done with her chat on the pot, she strolled back into the living room, into her chair, where she restfully took a nap.  I immediately went to the bathroom and tried to mask the smell, looking for the bathroom deodorizer.  Unfortunately for us, there wasn’t any.  The only thing I could find to spray down the bathroom with was granny’s FDS spray, which stood for Feminine Deodorant Spray. Now, we were sitting in a room that smelled like someone who took a crap in a baby power factory! To say the least, between granny’s dumps and chronic cough throughout the night that kept waking up baby Emily, it was an unforgettable visit!  Memories in the making.

Jack and Donatta Young

A couple years later, I went with Donatta and her parents to Cancun, Mexico, along with that precious little baby girl Emily.  To sit on the darkened beach by moonlight, drinking Tequila Spritzer shots with my best friend, who was constantly asking for “another” was a memorable vacation of a lifetime! We shared bread, we drank and we talked about our past, our present and our future.

Emily in Cancun

Emily in Cancun

Jack and Donatta in Cancun

Jack and Donatta in Cancun

Beachin' It!

Beachin’ It!

Donatta has not only been my best friend and angel, but she has been my nurturer. When being in the hospital from my motorcycle accident and unable to walk, she made sure that I was comfortable and content. While visiting me in the hospital, Donatta shaved my legs, which always makes a woman feel her best. She also made sure that my body was clean, helping me wash myself, when I hardly could not. In my eyes, this is a definition of love.

 “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”  ~John Leonard

Throughout the years, Donatta and I have shared many celebrations and experiences together, birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings, births of our children and, sadly enough, many deaths. Donatta has always been there for me through the good times, as well as the bad, as I have her. She laughs, I laugh and when she cries, I cry. We have always had this underlying connection between us, that without trust and respect, a friendship would not be there. My wish for all is to experience a friendship like I have with Donatta.

There are times when I think of Donatta and I can’t help but to cry, not tears of sadness, but tears of joy and blessings. I think of Donatta through hearing a song, through a movie, and even through special thoughts. I’m blessed to have such a wonderful person in my life, someone who accepts me for who I am, even though I can be a little eccentric myself at times, with tattoos, piercings or even with my candid openness.  I love her to death because she accepts me for who I am.

“A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked.” ~Author Unknown

Donatta and I may not share the same opinions or agree on a certain subject matter, but we love and respect each other enough to accept each other’s beliefs, without shedding insult or disapproval.  Donatta is an honest, faithful and devoted friend and this is why she has been a part of my life for almost forty years.  We have experienced and shared a life time together and I am honored to be a part of her life.

“The best kind of friend is the one you could sit on a porch with, never saying a word, and walk away feeling like that was the best conversation you’ve had.”  ~Author Unknown

Jack and Donatta

When we met back in grade school in 1976, we always said we wanted to have our own commune together, living off the land, while our babies ran around naked. What a dream that would have been, huh? Although a vision of the past, it doesn’t stop me from dreaming about the future, where we would live side by side on the same block, sharing food from our gardens in which we had planted just the spring before.  As for having our babies run around naked… well, they have gotten too big for that now, however, it is my hope and sincere dream that we are able to sit in the yard as the sun sets low, sharing a bottle of wine together, while we watch not our children, but our beautiful grandchildren run around naked instead…

I love you my dear friend. Although, I am fourteen days older than you, I will always look up to you.  I wish you a wonderful birthday and look forward to the many more we share together.

Always,

Jack

 “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.  The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”  ~Henri Nouwen

Spirits that Surround Me

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” ~ Brené Brown

I have always believed in spirits, ghosts, the afterlife, whatever you would like to call them, especially since I got older and had the opportunity to learn more about the subject. I believe in After Death Communication (ADC).  I have had many encounters, on what I like to believe, were the spirits of my deceased loved ones.   Whether it was a white mist, a talking doll or softly spoken words… these are just a few of the signs that I have experienced within the last twenty years and, most of them, within my own home, where I live today.

I have found myself to be a spiritual person, more so than a religious one, although I do believe in both wholeheartedly – the afterlife with God in his kingdom, as well as my own personal spiritual one that surround me and fills my world today. I believe it was important for me to accept the rights of baptism and confirmation. These two sacraments not only opened my eyes to how much I love God and how much He loves me, but it has also made me aware of what His world truly has to offer and all the spiritual beauty that He has created. Religiously, as a Catholic, I believe that there are certain rules and restrictions that are expected of me, requests that are asked of me, requirements that are set before me that I should live by and I hope that in every sense of the word I do.   Although, I respect the church and what my religion has to give, I believe that my spiritual side is stronger; it is more of personal one. My feelings as a spiritualist go deeper within my heart and soul and the connection that I have with my God. It is a strong one, a relationship that I truly respect and am blessed to have in my life. As I have expressed in the past, this relationship with God was not one that was taught through the education of a parent but, instead, one that was self taught and through personal discovery. Not only do I find a spiritual connection with God, Himself, but I also find a spiritual connection in the things he has created that surround me, such as the deepest magenta flower that blooms to perfection with beauty and grace. A tree that soars its branches toward the sky as it sways gently with the breeze as if it is waving hello. Or the swollen clouds that dance before me in the sky that embraces and reflects the perfect shades of crimson and payne’s gray, as the sun rests for the evening. These are just a few things that I connect with spiritually and, I do believe, that they were all at the expense of God’s hands.

Because of these spiritual feelings, I don’t believe in the thought that once we die our lives just end, hushing us into a complete darkness and a forever silence, where the life we once knew, the life we once lived and was so familiar with, is simply no more. No more thinking, communicating, no more touching, loving, feeling, no more existing, completely lights out.  There just has to be more once we pass on and I believe that there is, whether it is in God’s kingdom in the Heavens or spiritually through the wings of a butterfly.

As I lay in bed at the end of my day, I have a ritual where I go over my day’s events, things that went right… things that, perhaps, didn’t. As I lay there, I tick off in my head the tasks that I had completed and tick off what yet still needs to be done, trying to create a “pocket list” for the following day. This is my time to reflect on life in general and to assess everything. I then begin to think about who I have in my life, as well as those who I have lost and how much I am missing them.

My mind starts to wander to a dubious thought that I have had so many times before. I, once again, question how can we talk and walk, think and breathe without needing the aid of being plugged into an electrical current or connected to some sort of machine, where wires and cords give us the energy to work and perform, like when a television set is plugged in or a stove, computer, or even an electrical car!  All of these need some sort of energy source to perform.

I lay there and wonder in amazement… how am I capable of breathing on my own using a set of lungs that simply ask for clean, fresh air, but yet no requirement of wires?  How amazing it is to do my own thinking with an organ that does not need any “plug ins” to dream, to remember, to hold special thoughts and memories in my mind. My heart will beat a thousand times a day without the assistance of any electrical power. My heart loves and forgives, as well as learns about compassion. My heart is not only able to beat on its own, but is actually able to love and feel without an energy source spewing high voltage power directly into me, making all these vital organs work. I vision we should be like marionettes, where strings are connected to every part of our bodies, where a Master is now our energy source, instructing and pulling at our mind, heart and body strings, giving us the power, like electricity, to move, dance, talk and make our body’s operate.

electric

How can a heart, mind and soul function without the aid of cords zapping us with an electrical force, which seems to make everything work and function? How is it that we’re free to get up and move whenever we want, without unplugging ourselves from a pod of electrical current first?  I know that a person has to feed their body with traditional air, water and food in order to obtain that “power” of energy to keep moving forward, giving their body strength to do so, however, I still find it to be a miracle in itself. Think about it… my mind is thinking and writing its own thoughts and my heart is beating to every keystroke that my fingers type out and, all of this for “free of charge,”  no pun intended, of course.  I find it such a phenomenon that I’m able to accomplish all of this “wire free.” We are our own “energy.”  My body is one circuit of energy within itself. Each circuit of  energy within my body helps the other. These are just some of my odd thoughts that I have as I lay in my bed examining my day.

It’s these thoughts that now take me to a higher plane. Although I believe that our bodies need valued nutrition in order to be energized and function properly, I also believe that there’s a higher power that allows us to walk, talk, and move around so freely.  This power, I believe, is no other than God.  I believe that God is the one who supplies our “power” and that it’s a miracle in which my brain thinks, my lungs breathe and my heart beats and loves unconditionally all on their own. If God can do all of this while I’m alive here in my physical world, then I believe that he can create the same miracle of power, keeping our spirit and soul alive after we die.

 “I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living sprint from the dead, that the souls of the dead are in existence.” ~ Socrates

I don’t believe that once our physical bodies die that our spirits and souls die as well and that all of these miracles abruptly come to an end. I believe that our spirits and souls are set free, to continue on with our journey but now only in another measurement of time. Just because my loved ones have moved on to a different dimension, or because their physical body is no more, it doesn’t mean that their spirits don’t exist or that they don’t surround me. Their energy and wisdom will move forward to continue on with their path, where they will now share their life lessons that they have learned here on earth, with others in the next dimension so that they may teach others what they have learned and possibly what we have not. As I believe in the same power that God gives us in our physical lives, I believe that He continues to give us this same power for our spiritual world as well.  Our spirits, souls and knowledge, I believe, will continue on, whether it’s to be shared spiritually here on earth or high within the heavens.

As I often do, I extend an invitation to my deceased loved ones, letting them know they can come to me in my dreams to visit and to talk. I have only one rule with all my spiritual family and that is NOT to appear to me in their physical form. They are more than welcome to leave me a sign, move things, send me special memories or communicate with me through my dreams. Although I believe that they can appear to me, I simply request them not to. Seeing them in this form will surely scare the living turds right out of me! They know the rules, therefore, they communicate with me in the ways I have mentioned above. Reading many books on ADC, I have learned that there are twelve forms of after death communication from a deceased loved one and I have received about nine of these:

Sensing A Presence: This is the most common form of contact. But many people discount these experiences, thinking, “Oh, I’m just imagining this.” It’s a distinct feeling that your loved one is nearby, even though he or she can’t be seen or heard. Though most often felt during the days and weeks immediately after the death, you may sense his or her presence months and even years later.

Hearing A Voice: Some people state they hear an external voice, the same as when a living person is speaking to them. However, the majority of communications are by telepathy – you hear the voice of your relative or friend in your mind. When you have two-way communication, it is usually by telepathy. In fact, it’s possible to have an entire conversation this way.

Feeling A Touch: You may feel your loved one touch you with his or her hand, or place an arm around your shoulders or back, for comfort and reassurance. You may feel a tap, a pat, a caress, a stroke, a kiss, or even a hug. These are all forms of affection, nurturing, and love.

Smelling A Fragrance: You may smell your relative’s or friend’s favorite cologne, after-shave lotion, or perfume. Other common aromas are: flowers (especially roses), bath powders, tobacco products, favorite foods, and his or her personal scent.

Visual Experiences: There are a wide variety of visual experiences, which we have divided into two broad categories: partial visual and full visual ADCs. Appearances range from “a transparent mist” to “absolutely solid” with many gradations in between. You may see only the head and shoulders of your relative or friend, or someone you love may make a full appearance to you, and you will see the entire body as well, which will appear completely solid. Some visual ADCs occur in the bedroom, next to or at the foot of the bed. Others may happen anywhere – indoors or outdoors – even in a car or aboard a plane. Typically he or she will be expressing love and well-being with a radiant smile. Loved ones virtually always appear healed and whole regardless of their cause of death. Verbal communication may take place, but not always.

Visions: You may see an image of a deceased loved one in a “picture” that is either two-dimensional and flat or three-dimensional like a hologram. It’s like seeing a 35 mm slide or a movie suspended in the air. Visions are usually in radiant colors and may be seen externally with your eyes open or internally in your mind. Communication may occur, especially during meditation.

Twilight Experiences: These occur in the alpha state – as you’re falling asleep, waking up, meditating, or praying. You may have any or all of the above types of experiences while you are in this state of consciousness.

ADC Experiences While Asleep: Sleep-state ADCs are much more vivid, intense, colorful, and real than dreams. They are very common. Both one-way and two-way communications are typical. You usually feel your loved one is with you in person – that you’re having an actual visit together. These experiences are not jumbled, filled with symbols, or fragmented the way dreams are.  Sleep-state ADCs are similar to those that occur when you are wide awake. Your relative or friend can come to you more easily, however, when you are relaxed, open, and receptive, such as while you are in the alpha state or asleep.

Out-Of-Body ADCs: These may occur while you are asleep or in a meditative state. They are dramatic experiences during which you leave your body and often visit your loved one at the place or level where he or she exists. These are extremely vivid, intense, and real – some say, “more real than physical life.” The environments usually contain beautiful flowers and butterflies, colorful bushes and trees, radiant lighting, and other lovely aspects of nature – and are filled with happiness, love, and joy.

Telephone Calls: These ADCs may occur during sleep or when you are wide awake. You will hear a phone ringing, and if you answer it, your loved one will give you a short message. Two-way conversations are possible. His or her voice will usually be clear but may seem far away. If you are awake, you will probably not hear a disconnect sound or a dial tone when the call is completed.

Physical Phenomena: People who are bereaved often report receiving a wide variety of physical signs from their deceased relative or friend, such as: lights or lamps blinking on and off; lights, radios, televisions, stereos, and mechanical objects being turned on; photographs, pictures, and various other items being turned over or moved; and a long list of “things that go bump in the night.”

Symbolic ADCs: People frequently ask a Higher Power, the universe, or their deceased loved one for a sign that he or she still exists. Many receive such a sign, though it may take some time to arrive. Occasionally these signs are so subtle they may be missed, or they may be discounted as mere “coincidences.” Common signs include: butterflies, rainbows, many species of birds and animals, flowers, and a variety of inanimate objects such as coins and pictures. (1)

Just as I believe spiritually, I strongly believe in the spirit world as well. I believe that my loved one’s spirits come to visit me, surrounding me with their guidance, protection and love. I’ve had deceased loved ones offer me advice through a dream, thank me or just extending a hug.  I don’t call what has happened to me as coincidences, I believe that they all happened for a reason and that there’s a meaning and message behind each and every one of them.  I have always welcomed my family to communicate with me, via ADC, and with the stories I mention below, I believe, they have.

The Sweet Smell of Tar

One of my first encounters of spirits was by smell.  My grandfather, Raymond, was a roofer and he often would bring home his big red roofing truck, which smelled like tar and, of course, himself, too. It was one of those pleasant memories that when I smell tar today, I think fondly of my grandfather.  However, what’s strange is that whenever I smell tar, there would be no tar truck around nor were any buildings being worked on.

The smell literally appeared out of nowhere. Such as, when I was planning to go into the hospital to have Arla by cesarean, I smelled tar inside the car on the way to the hospital.  This same smell repeated itself when I was on my way to the hospital the second time to give birth by cesarean to Tanner. Again, there were no tar trucks or buildings around me that indicated work was being done.  When having Tanner, the anesthesiologist was having trouble inserting the needle into my back for my epidural. I was told that if they couldn’t get it by the third attempt, they would have to put me under. I have a fear of going under anesthesia, so I had prayed to my grandfather, “Grandpa, please guide the physician’s hands to help her insert the needle into my back so that I don’t have to go under. You know how much I fear going under…” No sooner when my prayer ended, the anesthesiologist, Dr. Childers, was able to complete the procedure and the needle slid directly into my spine with ease. “Thank you grandpa!”  Frank commented that when I was in the hospital to have Arla, that there was an elderly man working on the sink just outside the operating room.  Of course, Frank didn’t give it a second thought… until the next time when I went to the hospital to have Tanner.  Once again, I was the same operating room as the first time and there Frank said was the same elderly man, underneath the sink, working on it.  I personally didn’t recall this man, but Frank insisted that he was there both times of delivery, working on the same sink. I do know that I smelled roofing tar for no apparent reason on both of these occasions and, along with this elderly man, I believe that this could have been grandpa stopping by to make sure that I was okay and it was his way of saying that he was there with me, protecting and watching over me.  To this day, I still continue to smell roofing tar and, when I do, I peacefully say, “Hello grandpa, how are you?”

Coming to Say Hello

As I have shared in the past, my grandfather and I were very close, especially in the latter years when he was battling his final fight with cancer.

While visiting with him and my grandmother in Madison in the early 1980’s, I realized that his condition was deteriorating, making me realize that he may not be with us too much longer.  As I sat on the couch with grandpa, we started talking about this and that, catching up on lost time. It was moments later that grandpa stood up and, with the help of his cane, he walked slowly to his bedroom to collect something from his drawer.

Sitting back down beside me, he handed me a man’s gold diamond ring, sharing with me that he had found it in a car wash decades ago.  He asked me if I would like to keep it, so that when I held it, I would think of him.  Knowing that it was a part of him, I said, “Yes, I would love to have it as a keepsake.”  Grandpa commented that he had the ring for many years and that I should never give it away and to keep it always.  I distinctly remember the moment when sitting close beside him on the couch that warm summer afternoon, playing with the ring that he gave me, twirling it around my finger. There was reminiscence in the air, along with our conversation, as we started to talk about the farm in Stoughton and all the fun time we had while living there. I could tell that this was a fond memory in grandpa’s heart. It wasn’t long when he shared with me that he wished my mother would have named me Arlaraye, like he asked her to. But, he told me that she absolutely refused. I told him that I was sorry, as I knew how important this was to him. It was then that I made a vow to him and said, “Grandpa, if I ever have a daughter in the future, I promise that I will name her after you, for you, and call her Arlaraye.”  With that, he put his arms around me and gave me the strongest hug. The strength in his arms told me that I had just made him a very happy grandfather.

Grandpa’s death came just a couple years later and it saddened me to know that he would never be around to see my promise to him become a reality, naming my first daughter for him. Almost ten years later, when I realized that I was pregnant, I was ecstatic!   I was expecting to have my first child in April 1992.  From the moment that I found out I was going to have a baby, all I wished for that it was going to be a girl.  One evening during the night, I prayed my wishes to God, expressing how much I wanted to have a daughter so that I could honor my grandfather in the way that my mother would not.  After pleading my reasons, I felt something in my belly, twisting and turning, almost as if the baby did a complete 360 flip inside me.  The feeling that I experienced that night was different, almost bizarre, as if God was answering my prayers the moment they left my lips.

My daughter, Arlaraye Niccole, was born on Monday, April 6, 1992.

It wasn’t long before Frank and I got in the routine of nightly feedings, changing poopy diapers, with a side order of not enough sleep!  At the time, we always lived in the back room.  It was our main family room, where we watched TV and entertained guests and simply hung out.  Today, this room is considered the art room. But, when Arla was a baby, this was the room we utilized the most when first moving into the house.  This family room was an addition that was built onto the house decades prior to us moving in. It’s a nice size room and it overlooks the backyard, with many windows wrapping around. The main bedrooms were on the first floor, with Arla’s room being directly across from ours.  Because the back room was an add on, Arla’s bedroom had two doors; one that originally would have led outside to the backyard if the addition wasn’t there and the main bedroom door, which leads into the hallway by the bathroom and our bedroom.

One evening, Frank and I were sitting in the back family room, enjoying some quite time, as we had just laid Arla down in her crib for the night. As young parents often do, we made sure that the noise level was at a minimum so as to not wake up our new baby girl. We made sure that both doors were tightly closed so that our cats wouldn’t disturb Arla while she slept.  Settling in for an evening of TV, it wasn’t long before we heard the unexpected. I was sitting right outside Arla’s door and Frank was lounging on the couch. It was moments later that Arla’s main door to her room, the one that faced the hallway, opened and within a few seconds it closed again, slamming shut. Suddenly, Frank and I both looked at each other simultaneously, as we spun our heads toward Arla’s bedroom.  We both knew that we were the only ones in the house. As if on cue, both Frank and I said in harmony, “Grandpa Johnson!”  Frank went to Arla’s room and, there as it was, just the way we left it, her door was completely shut. We knew that Arla didn’t open the door, as she was just a newborn, not even able to roll over yet, let open a bedroom door.  Frank and I absolutely believed that grandpa had stopped by for a visit to say hello to his new great granddaughter, his namesake, the one I promised to name for him, in honor of him.

It was a couple years later, once we had our Golden Retriever, Kassy, that this room attracted additional attention. One evening, as Kassy laid quietly on the floor next to my feet in the family room, she suddenly poked her head up, looked toward Arla’s room, and started a low toned growl. She immediately got my attention as I, too, looked toward Arla’s room.  The lights were off and Arla’s back door was slightly opened. At the time, Arla was not in her room, but in her basinet beside me. Kassy is now standing on all fours and is directing her complete attention to the open door of Arla’s room, growling making her presence known. I began to ask Kassy what was the matter and asked her to go and investigate, with a quick “who’s there girl, watch ‘em!” command. Kassy slowly walked to the open door, as if she was on a cautious hunt, but she moved no further nor did she walk inside the room.  It was if she got spooked.  Immediately turning around, she shared a small whimper and came back to my side, hugging close to my legs, which is where she remained for the remainder of the evening.  It was apparent that there was something going on in Arla’s room and that Kassy was scared.  Animals can be such intuitive animals and I believe that there was something in the room that grabbed her attention.  Although I never did learn what stirred Kassy into such a frenzy, I can only believe that it was simply another visit from grandpa, looking to say hello to his Arlaraye.

The Light in the Window

One evening, I was home by myself and Frank was out with the Arla, who was a toddler at the time. It was a rarity that I was alone, not to mention with my own thoughts. I decided to call my friend Donatta to catch up on life. I was in our back family room at the time. Doing things between both rooms, running back and forth from the kitchen and family room, and instead of resting within the chair, I decided to sit and prop myself on the arm of the recliner chair. I faced the windows toward the backyard, with my back resting toward the kitchen. It was evening out and I could see the room’s reflection in the darken window. Midway through my conversation with Donatta, while starring toward the window, I saw a large white light that suddenly took over my attention. Like a mirror, this light was being reflected in the darkened window. My reaction was somewhat puzzling, but yet uneasy, as I couldn’t grasp at the moment where the light was coming from.   The light was noticeable and prominent for at least a good ten seconds. It appeared as if something was being opened and closed, as I saw the light slowly disappear.

I immediately went to the window to investigate, thinking it was the weather, perhaps lightening, but I soon realized it wasn’t. Turning back toward the kitchen, I stood there thinking maybe Frank and the kids were home, but they weren’t. The house was quiet. There were no other lights on in the kitchen except for the accent light underneath the stove, which wasn’t in the path of the window.  Still standing in the back room, my eyes then drifted through the kitchen to the fridge. As I expected it to be, the fridge door was closed. Walking only a few feet into the kitchen from where I was standing, I went directly to the fridge. Holding the phone in my left hand, I was still on the phone talking with Donatta, explaining to her what was happening. Placing my right hand onto the fridge door handle, I turn my head to the left, where I look directly toward the back family room, to the same window where I was just at moments before. The distance between the fridge and the back room window is approximately twenty feet.  Studying the layout and the path between both rooms, the fridge was in direct alignment with the darkened window. Clutching the handle, I slowly open the fridge door, as I watched what played out in the window.  Moments later, I gradually brought the fridge door to a close.

Opening and closing the fridge door several more times, it was then that I had the evidence I needed. I was convinced that this was the exact same light that I had witnessed just minutes before while sitting on the arm of the chair starring at the back room window.  This is when Donatta asked me if I was sure I was alone. Walking through the house, I made sure that nobody else was there with me. I was completely alone… or so I thought. The only explanation that came to mind was that, perhaps, it was my grandfather’s sprit, who was coming to visit me once again, just like the time when he came to visit Arla in her bedroom. But, this time, looking into the fridge for a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Everywhere a Sign

My grandfather’s favorite beer was Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) and whenever I see a PBR beer sign, I think of him. On the way home from the hospital, after taking my mother off of life support that one September afternoon, we parked on a side street so that Frank could run an errand into the corner convenient store. I decided to stay in the car with the kids. Looking out the window, my mind started drifting off and I was back in the hospital, where I was at only moments before.  Looking up to the sky, there I saw high above my head on the top side of the building was a PBR advertisement sign. It was then that I felt my grandfather was with me at the time of my mother’s death and going through the emotions with me.

Not only do I receive signs like the above, I also receive signs by smell, such as the tar smell I spoke of earlier.  One afternoon, while walking into my bedroom, I immediately smelled my grandfather’s aftershave, as if it was just freshly slapped onto his face. I knew it was him right away and I spent the next few minutes taking in the smell of his aftershave. Moments later, it dissipated.

A Word of Comfort

As my grandfather’s scent had permeated my bedroom, believing that he was there for a visit, there was another time recently that he stopped by again. I was upset and crying very hard to myself. Someone I knew hurt me very deeply. As I walked into the bedroom, I closed the door behind me. I wanted to be alone. Sitting on the edge of the bed on my side of the room with my back to the bedroom door, I sat there sobbing, where my emotions were simply uncontrollable. My deepest emotions were coming out and I was practically drowning in my own emotions. Through my tears, I heard a soft voice behind me, a voice that uttered a reassuring “Ssssshhhhh…” My eyes looked up and I hushed myself from crying. I quickly turned around toward the door and to the other side of the room. The door was still closed. I felt like I was no longer alone.  It was then that I knew my grandfather was there with me, asking me to shush my tears, consoling me.  I will never forget this spiritual contact. I heard this Ssssshhhhh as clear as could be. My spiritual family is with me always and hearing grandpa hush me to silence made me stop crying and wipe my tears. There is no doubt in my mind that my grandfather was there helping me get through this rough time.

I have received other signs, as well, such as when doing an online search or needing to complete an online form. On several occasions, there was already a name populated within the search field or the name field before I even began typing.  The name Johnson would automatically be within these fields prior to be starting the form.  Coincidently enough, Johnson was my grandparents’ last name.

I have also encountered flickering lights while sitting next to a lamp or the light bulb would suddenly blow out while touching to turn on a light switch or turn the knob of a lamp. There was a time when the bulbs were constantly being changed because every time I reached for them, they would blow out.   These times were during when I lost a loved one, where my feelings and emotions were at their highest level. Was it my own energy source that tapped these lights dry or was it someone else, my spiritual family, letting me know that they were with me?

When I began to write my memoirs, I knew that I wanted to share and express not only the hardships I have had in my life, but also the tremendous amount of love I have experienced as well.  The day that I finished writing about my Uncle Bob and expressing how much he meant to me in my life, that evening, he came to me in a dream. Uncle Bob stood there before me, just as I remembered him, with his face full of beard wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. He had a look that seemed to come right out of the 1970’s. Standing before me he said to me, “Thank you for individually thinking of me.”  I remember telling him that he was welcome and that I loved him. Uncle Bob started to cry and I started to cry even hard. Shortly after, I woke up and knew that Uncle Bob came to visit me.

I continue to ask for signs and welcome my spiritual family to visit me at any time during my dreams. I enjoy when they visit, except for the time when granny took her hug a bit too far or the time when she offered me words of “Peace” that she shared with me in my dream. I will share these moments with you next time, as well as when my mother who made an appearance but this time it wasn’t in my dreams, it was a physical manifestation right there in front of me while I was sitting in church…

 “Perhaps they are not stars but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pour through and shine down upon us to let us know they are happy.” ~ Eskimo Proverb

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Today, as I sat in my yard writing my blog, I had the company of two yellow butterflies playing with each other throughout the day. Bouncing from one flower to the next, they did so in unison, not once parting from each other’s side. I can’t help but to wonder… Could these two butterflies be my grandparents as they glided from one pollen pod to the other? Was it my mother and Uncle Bob, chasing each another around as they once did when they were little kids? Perhaps, it was Geno and his father, as they journeyed together catching up on life’s distant past.  Regardless of who these two butterflies may have been as they shared my whole day, I was happy to know that I was able to have this spiritual connection. I watched them both dance to the fragrance that my garden had to offer, as I listened to the birds sing in the breeze, the beautiful clouds that painted the sky and the air that carried a calmness. These are the moments that make me aware of how my body is energized; not through electrical energy, but by the power of God and my spiritual connections…

… Yes, I truly enjoyed my Spiritual Sunday.

References:

1. http://www.after-death.com/

http://www.adcrf.org/

Surviving… It Made Me Stronger

Jack Growing Up Circa 1972

Jack Growing Up
Circa 1972

Not only was I being sexually abused by Melvin, but both my mother and Melvin had decided to place me in the hands of another child molester.  Whether they knew that at the time, I couldn’t say.  It’s my hope that they didn’t. His name was Leroy and that’s all I knew about him.   He was somewhat tall, his hair was buzzed short, and he had a drifting eye. Thinking about it now, he looked like the lead singer from the band, Men at Work, Colin Hay.  I had never seen this man at our home before. The day that I was sent to Leroy’s apartment was the first time that I had seen or even met the man.

We lived in an apartment building on Sheridan Avenue, just off Irving Park Road in the early 1970’s, where I was around the age of 10 years old. I remember it being a warm summer afternoon and me, along with Steve, who was around 9 at the time, were outside behind our apartment building, playing.  We were suddenly called into the house to get ready, as it was decided that my brother, Steve, and I would spend the night at Leroy’s home, a strange man’s home that we had never seen before.  Steve and I were told that his wife would love to have two young children in the house for the weekend to help her cook and spend time with. I never understood why we were going over to this strange man’s apartment. Why was my mother sending us there? Not questioning my mother, we threw some clothes into a suitcase and off we went to Leroy’s apartment.

Leroy lived in a corner apartment building that was located in Uptown, an area that one day would be very familiar to my brother and me.  The same corner that Steve and I would, years later, drag two shopping carts of dirty clothes to, which was by the laundry mat that was located directly on the corner of Leland and Racine. However, it was also the same neighborhood where Leroy lived, the stranger, the man who would eventually try to rape me.

Leland & RacineChicago

Leland & Racine
Chicago

Arriving at Leroy’s apartment, which was located on the second floor, Steve and I hauled our suitcase that we were sharing up the back porch stairs and into his apartment. I immediately realized upon entering the kitchen that the apartment was not only small, but quite, empty.  Immediately, I questioned Leroy, asking where his wife was, as I didn’t see her in the apartment once we arrived.  He had told Steve and me that she was still at work and that she would be home very soon.  Feeling somewhat at ease by his words, I continued walking through the kitchen and into the living room, where Steve placed our suitcase.

Making small talk and getting us to settle in, it wasn’t long after we arrived at Leroy’s apartment that Leroy asked Steve to go to the store to get some ice cream, for later that evening, he said, for after dinner.  I knew then that I didn’t want Steve to leave the apartment.  I didn’t want to be left alone with a man that I didn’t know. I even said that I would go with Steve, but Leroy was reassuring that he would be right back. It was then that I tried another approach, saying that we didn’t need to have dessert; that it was okay, that Steve didn’t need to go to the store. However, Leroy was being adamant about Steve leaving to go and get ice cream, convincing me that the store was down the block and that Steve would be right back.  All I thought was… I lost; I had no more excuses to give Leroy. Handing Steve some money for the ice cream, Steve walked out the back door, heading to the store. As Steve leaves the apartment, Leroy immediately locked the door behind him and, with a twist of his hand, bolted the lock shut on the door.   Feeling uneasy, I made a comment that there was no reason to lock the door, as Steve would be right back, but Leroy said that he would unlock the door once Steve’s back from the store, letting him in. Instinctively, it was then that I started to feel uncomfortable, as I started to feel that something bad was going to happen. I still didn’t understand why we were there, with Leroy.

“Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.” ~Florence Scovel Shinn

Making my way back to the living room, I pulled out paper and pencil from the suitcase we brought and sat in the armchair and started to draw. Anxiously, I sat there listening for Steve to knock on the back door, waiting for him to come back from the store.  Leroy was now sitting on the couch across from me. Scribbling on my paper, Leroy asked if he could see what I was drawing. Holding up my pad of paper to show him, he wasn’t satisfied, and asked me to come to him so he could see it closer. Now standing before him, I showed him once again what I was drawing. Looking at it, he tells me that he would show me how to draw better.  Picking me up, he places me on his lap. I knew I didn’t like what he was having me do. It reminded me of Melvin. But, I was taught not to question adults, so I kept myself quiet. Taking the pencil from my hand, he begins to draw on my paper, creating little hearts.  Leroy settled me more into a cradle position across his legs and, it wasn’t long after that, that he placed his lips on mine, kissing me. I told him that I didn’t like that and asked him to stop and said that I wanted to go sit back in the chair. I didn’t want to be there! C’mon Steve, where are you?  I immediately left his lap and walked back over to the chair where I was previously sitting.  I felt safer there, as the arms of the chair protected me. I sat there with my legs crossed, tightly closed, a position that I knew all too well.  I continued sitting, waiting for Steve to come home from the store, wondering why it was taking him so long. I sat there, quiet and continued to draw. Something inside me told me that Leroy had other intensions. I was scared. Once more, I asked when his wife was coming home, knowing I would feel much better, safer if a woman was in the apartment with us, with me.  Leroy kept telling me, soon… soon.

Leroy noticed that the suitcase we brought was lying on the living room floor, just outside the bedroom door.  He asked me to pick it up and take it inside the bedroom so that it was out of the way.  Knowing that I didn’t want to step foot into that bedroom, let alone get out of my safety chair, I gave him an excuse. “Oh, Steve will probably want to get something out of it once he gets back from the store. I’ll move it to the bedroom then.”  Leroy was pressing though, as he kept insisting that I take the suitcase and place it inside the bedroom. Again, I was taught to listen to adults, so my mind started thinking fast. Something inside me told me that I should NOT go into that bedroom. Again, this time more demanding, Leroy tells me to move the suitcase.  I told myself that if I quickly pick up the suitcase, I can toss it inside the bedroom and I will be out of there in no time.  Hesitant, I said, “Okay.” Tucking my paper and pencil within the folds of the chair, I got up from the chair and walked directly to the suitcase.  Picking it up, I walked as swiftly as I could, taking the suitcase directly toward the bedroom, which was only a few feet from my chair.  Standing in the doorway of the bedroom, lights were off, it was dark, but I was able to see enough to know where I could place the suitcase.   I stepped a few feet inside and literally tossed the suitcase onto the floor. I was trying to make it a quick trip, within seconds, to put the suitcase down and get out, unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough because as I was about to turn around, Leroy had his right hand over my mouth, making sure that I couldn’t scream, along with his left hand around my waist.

“Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leroy pushed me further into his bedroom. My hands are now trying to pry his away from my face, my mouth. I definitely knew what his intentions were now and that was to rape me. I was struggling with him, as he tried to gain control of my body.  I stood at the foot of his bed, which had a vintage rod iron footboard, the kind that if you hit your head would surely leave a lasting impression.  Leroy managed to grab me tighter around the waist, lifting me, he throws me onto the bed, where I bounced a couple times, landing on my back.  The back of my calves hit hard against the iron frame, stinging with pain.  I use the same iron footboard to slide myself away from Leroy but, within seconds, he was making his way on top of me.  I felt like I was in a one of those dreams where you try to scream, but nothing comes out of your mouth, no noise whatsoever, just silence. I tried to catch my breath, so that I could let out a scream, a cry for help.  With my legs above me, I started kicking Leroy as hard as I could in his chest.  I wore shoes that looked like Oxfords, where the heal was thick; something that looked like a nun would wear. I kept kicking him to keep him off me.  It was at that moment that I felt something warm, something wet.  I had lost control of my bladder. I urinated all over myself, as well as his bed.  I was crying hysterically, screaming very loudly, still kicking his chest, fighting for my life.  In my mind, it appeared as if everything was happening in slow motion, but knew it was all taking place within seconds.  As I continued to scream at him, yelling, “No! Leave me alone!” it was at this point that I heard Steve at the backdoor, knocking, banging on the kitchen door to be let in.

Steve had heard my screams all the way from the bedroom.  He was home from the grocery store.  As Steve banging harder on the backdoor, the glass in the door was rattling, making his pounding sound louder.  Leroy stopped what he was doing to listen to the banging at the back door.  With one last kick into the chest, he rolled off me. I scooted as fast as I could to the end of the bed, where I made my way over the hard iron footboard, the same footboard where just moments before I was being flung onto the bed to be raped.   I made my way to the kitchen, running to the back door, trying to get the door open.  Crying hysterically, I can see Steve through the door window, holding a container of ice cream, watching me.  Steve’s frantically turning the doorknob, screaming back at me to unlock the door, to let him, but I wasn’t able to unlock the door. I see Steve’s eyes drifting away from mine, only to stare at what’s above me, behind me, which was Leroy.  He was now standing behind me. I take a step back and through numerous tears and sobs, I scream at him, demanding him to unlock the door.  Thinking back, this is why Leroy locked the door behind Steve as he left to go buy ice cream.  He wanted to make sure that Steve was locked out, incapable of entering the apartment while he raped me.  Leroy had it all planned.

“As we grew up, my brothers acted like they didn’t care,
but I always knew they looked out for me and were there!” ~Catherine Pulsifer

 Steve, who is still on the other side of the door looking in, is now as hysterical as I am. I scream again at Leroy to open the door.  Reaching past me, Leroy makes a few turns of the deadbolt, unlocking the door.  Steve taking only a few steps into the kitchen and asked me what had happened. As Leroy stood before us, I shared through my sobs that Leroy was trying to have sex with me in the bedroom and that he wouldn’t let me go.  All of a sudden, Leroy asked me what was the matter with me and why was I screaming like I was.  I told him that he knew what was going on and why I was screaming, reminding him that he had asked me to put the suitcase into the bedroom and, when I did, he was behind me, placing his hands over my mouth so that I couldn’t scream for help. As if protecting himself, Leroy commented that he was in the bedroom because he wanted to grab the radio from the shelf.  I asked him, “Why did you put your hands over my mouth then?” He said, “so that you wouldn’t scream.”  At this point, Steve instructed me to head toward the door so we can leave the apartment, so that we can find our way home.  As I was walking to the kitchen door to leave, the radio that Leroy was claiming to grab off the shelf in his bedroom was actually sitting underneath a utility shelf in the kitchen the whole time.  It never was in the bedroom.  Leroy lied.  His intention was to try to get me into the bedroom and he succeeded.  Steve and I left our suitcase behind and we literally ran all the way home from Leland and Racine all the way to Sheridan, where we lived. We rushed home, running for blocks as fast as we could.  My clothes were soaked from urine, from when I got so scared and peed all over myself.  I was hoping that nobody noticed the stain on the back of my dress.

Finally making it back to our building, we run up the front steps. As my mom stood in the doorway to our apartment, she was surprised to see us. I felt such a relief to see her, I now felt safe. Although, upon seeing mom standing there, I started to cry uncontrollably, where she couldn’t understand a word I was trying to say. It was one of those deep cries where you had trouble controlling your breath, as your lungs try to suck in as much air as possible between every frantic sob you let escape.  I tried to get closer to my mother, where I was hoping she would take me into her arms to console me, to make me feel safe, to reassure me that all will be well. However, instead, she got very angry with me, shaking me and then slapping me across my face, hard, where I felt the sting against my wet tears that rolled down my face.  It was then that I was commanded to be silent. Perhaps, the slap was mom’s way of getting me under control.  It worked. I stood there before her feeling as if I was the one who had done something wrong. Mom asked me why I was home and not with Leroy and his wife.  I told her the whole story, where Leroy’s wife was never there and that he tried to have sex with me in the bedroom.  Steve shared his side of the story, too, where Leroy made him go to the store to buy ice cream, leaving me alone with Leroy. Now standing inside my own living room, I explained everything in detail to now both mom and Melvin. I was still half hoping that mom was going to scoop me up into her arms, to embrace me, telling me that everything would be all right, but mom being herself, she never did. I was instructed to go wash up and change my clothes.

The next morning, I was told by Melvin that we were taking a ride, heading back over to Leroy’s apartment, where he could confront him about what had happened, as well as to pick up the suitcase that Steve and I had left behind. I told mom that I didn’t want to go back there, that I was afraid and to please don’t make me go.  I didn’t want to see the man again, face-to-face, who tried so hard to rape me. I asked, “Why do I have to go back there?”  Mom simply said, “Because Melvin said so.” What about what she thought? Did she not have any protective instincts for her children? Did Melvin want to prove my word over Leroy’s?

Driving back over to Leroy’s apartment, I felt myself getting nervous sitting in the backseat of Melvin’s car, as the images of just the day before were forcefully being replayed in my head.

As Melvin knocked on the kitchen door, we stood there waiting for Leroy to answer the door.  Peeking through the window, Leroy sees Melvin standing there, only to realize that I was falling directly behind. Leroy let us both in, where we walked into the living room. It was here that Melvin asked Leroy what had happened just the day before. Leroy tried to tell Melvin that when I went to put the suitcase in the bedroom I got scared when I realized that Leroy was standing behind me, therefore, he put his hands over my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. Melvin turned to me, asking me if that’s what had happened, as if to suggest that I could be lying. I said no! I told Melvin that Leroy made me put the suitcase in the bedroom and when I did, he was behind me, covering up my mouth and then throwing me onto the bed. He said that he was looking for a radio, which I pointed out, that was actually in the kitchen, sitting underneath a cart. If the radio was in the kitchen, then why was he looking for it in the bedroom?  Melvin confronted Leroy and asked what he was trying to do with “his daughter,” which left me somewhat confused. It was as if Melvin was protecting me, like an animal guarding their young.  However, why was Melvin getting so angry and interrogating a man for almost raping me when he was doing the same thing himself, molesting a young and innocent child?  Perhaps, Melvin thought that someone was going to steal his prey away.  I felt as if Melvin was scolding Leroy more than threatening him. Needless to say, conversation was short, no yelling, no fist throwing, no authorities being called, no police to file a report, absolutely nothing was done to protect me, the victim. Sadly, they let another child abuser escape, only leaving him to hurt and abuse others. We walked out the door never to see Leroy again. We went back home and, as history always repeated itself in the Lambert-Acker home, not another word was ever said about this unpleasant experience.

I never did find out what my mother’s intentions were by having my brother and I stay overnight at Leroy’s apartment, placing us both in the hands of a complete stranger.

It was later that I found out that Leroy’s wife had left him. There were never any expectations of a wife coming home that night after work, while Steve and I were to stay over that fateful night.  My thoughts stem back to what could have happened if we stayed the whole night… what I know would have happened. Instinctively, I knew enough to fight off my attacker. I didn’t want this man to hurt me, rape me. But, why couldn’t I fight off my primary attacker, share with my mother that Melvin was doing the same? What Leroy aimed to do, Melvin was already doing. Was it different; was it the same? Was I afraid of losing the only home life I knew, afraid of being taken away from my mother, my grandparents, never to see any of them again? Is this why authorities were never called so that our own dirty family secrets wouldn’t come seeping out of the cracks, out of me, if I was talked to enough? Perhaps, my mother was just as fearful as I was, of something like this happening, therefore, both of us keeping our mouths shut.

I have learned from my horrible past. I have become stronger through my weaknesses.

I have learned to speak up when something isn’t right. I have learned to voice my issues and concerns. I have learned that I will never allow anyone else to physically or mentally hurt me again. I have instilled this same belief in my children.

“If you always watch the demons behind you, then you will never see the angels ahead.” ~ Author Unknown

Being a parent today, it’s my own responsibility, my deepest inner instinct to protect the ones that I love, my family, especially the lives of my innocent children. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my children from the hands of another person or a complete stranger. We instill in our children that nobody, under any circumstances should ever touch them and if so, to tell, to divulge, to share with us that that they are being violated. Teach them how to protect themselves. We are their teachers and if we don’t teach by example, then how can we expect our children to carry on the tradition of being strong, courageous and open individuals? We need to educate our children that it’s okay to speak up, to question, to scream. It’s more important for our children to question an adult and to tell someone than to have our children end up being another victim on a crime list, another statistic.

Was this potential rape to be one of my “learning lessons” in life? Was it meant for me to experience in order to learn to become stronger, to fight, to protect what was mine, what I loved and cherished close to my heart so that I could be the best person, the best parent there is?  Did I suffer so that I was taught to pay attention to my intuitiveness, to believe in my inner instincts when they speak to me?  Yes, I do believe so. I believe this experience taught me all the latter and then some. I am proud to say that I broke the mold. I broke the mold of sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse. I broke the mold that was shaping me as I grew up in the unhealthy environment that I lived.

For those individuals who have also encountered such a tragic experience, the same as I, I’m sorry that you had to endure such violence, to go through such suffering.  My heart feels your pain.  But, please, know that it wasn’t at the fault of yourself, but from the fault of your attacker. We are never to blame ourselves for something that another was responsible for creating. We did not ask for it. As it can be devastating to our inner self, there must be something within you, me, all of us to learn to rise above, to conquer, to be stronger than our attacker. We must choose to be a survivor, to continue to exist in life and never succumb to defeat. Otherwise, our attackers, our abusers, are the ones that claim defeat and we can never allow that to happen, never giving them the satisfaction.  We must prove that we are capable of moving on, that we are stronger, that we are, indeed, survivors.  Because it’s up to us to teach and to share with others that they, too, will make it, that they, too, will get through it all, that they can and will survive, just as we have.

“Though I can’t change what happened, I can choose how to react. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being bitter and locked up.” ~Tori Amos

The Spiral Notebook…

Messages

Messages

 “Death is a debt we all must pay.”  ~Euripides

Death. Death has no discrimination; there’s no escaping it and each and every one of us will have the opportunity to experience it. Whether you are a person, an animal or a living flower, we will all at one point find death and, to be completely honest; it scares me. This was another reason why I decided to be baptized.  I wanted to make sure that I secured my place in heaven, right next to God and my family who are there now. I do believe with all my heart that there is a place for me in God’s Kingdom, but I am still afraid of the dying process and how I might get there. Surely, a common thought to most. In my dreams, I always die by electrocution; to the point where I feel my body vibrating, pulsating to every electrifying current, only to wake up before death finds me. Nobody ever wants to think of their own mortality. This is something that I have been trying to work within myself for many years.  I meditate, focusing on the heavens above me, the people and serenity that surround me. I watch God’s beauty, feeling comforted, safe and an indisputable believer of what waits for me. I believe in after death communication (ADC) and near death experiences (NDE) and have read many books on the subject. I believe that our loved ones can communicate with us after they have passed on. These are the beliefs that comfort me.  Still, there are times that I can’t help but to have some unpredicted fear about dying.

It was a Sunday evening on September 9, 2001, when I had received a phone call from the Chaplain at Weiss Memorial Hospital.  Hearing her introduce herself as the Chaplain brought immediate concern. The Chaplain was informing me that my mother was brought to the emergency room and placed in intensive care and was on a ventilator.  She shared with me that my mother wasn’t doing very well.  Not knowing exactly what she meant by “not doing very well,” I had asked her if this was a situation where I needed to contact other family members and the Chaplain said, yes, it was.

I was actually surprised that I received such a call from the hospital, as I knew my brother, Jeff, was listed as the next of kin in my mother’s medical chart. The second name listed in mom’s chart was my own. But, Jeff didn’t have my phone number to call me directly and, because of HIPAA laws, where a patient’s medical and private information is protected, the Chaplain legally could not give out any information that was detailed in my mother’s chart, my telephone number included. Therefore, the hospital had to call and tell me my mother was in the hospital.  Jeff didn’t have my phone number because we hadn’t spoken to one another since 1993, almost 8 years.

Upon hearing that mom was in ICU, I made a phone call to my brother, Steve.  As I was dialing, I remembered the last time I had informed him of a death; his own precious grandfather’s years before. Now, here I am again, notifying him that his mother isn’t doing well and that her chances for survival were basically hopeless. We chatted for a while about the seriousness of the situation and I told him that he may want to consider a trip to Chicago. We both came to the realization that this may be the time for our mother’s passing.  Steve and his family were making arrangements to drive to Chicago from Bay City, Michigan, and that we would see them most likely in the early morning hours, as it was approximately a six hour drive.

Frank and I also shared the news with our children.  At the time, Arlaraye was nine years old and Tanner was five.  Both old enough to realize what death was and what saying good-bye was all about, they were both sad to learn about their grandmother’s condition but, at the same time, they were vague with their emotions.  Mom never had a close relationship with either of my children for the fact that she never made an effort to bond or connect with them; a pattern that she had once shared with me.

Throughout the years, mom had been in and out of the hospital quite often; mostly brought on by her own health habits.  My mother wasn’t in the best physical condition. She didn’t eat properly and was overweight, needed the aid of an oxygen tank on a daily basis and was a chronic smoker. She was diabetic, had high cholesterol and also had high blood pressure.  In the past, mom was always being admitted to the hospital, as her immune system would be low, causing her to get lung infections.  She would stay a couple of days, get cleared up and then was released home.  This routine went on for many years.  Mom admitted that she would even feel better promising to work on her health, but always went back to her unhealthy behavior.

I had learned from the Chaplain that my mom wasn’t feeling well, so mom called my brother, Jeff, letting him know that she wasn’t feeling right and asked him to come over. It was apparent in her voice that she wasn’t herself, therefore, Jeff instructed mom to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital.  Once the ambulance arrived at her building, they found mom almost unresponsive.  This was when mom was rushed to the emergency room, where she laid in a sedated coma.

On Monday, September 10, while Steve and his family were on their way to Chicago, Frank and I went to the hospital that afternoon to see what information we could find out about mom’s condition.  I called into work that day, informing them of my situation and that I would not be into work.

Once at the hospital, Mom’s doctor met with Frank and me.  The doctor confirmed that while at home, mom had developed a blood clot in her leg. The doctors ran a battery of tests and it appeared that mom had a DVT, a Deep Vein Thrombosis.  A DVT is the formation of a blood clot in the deep vein and is a dangerous condition because the clot can travel up to the heart or lungs and block a vessel feeding those organs, causing cardiac or pulmonary ischemia, cardiac arrest and even death. Mom had one in her leg, which traveled directly to her heart; most likely caused by her sitting and inactivity for a prolonged period of time, her extreme weight and excessive smoking. Over the next couple of days, the doctors were going to perform additional tests on mom to find out the extent of her medical condition.

We met with the hospital Chaplain, who had originally informed me that mom was in the hospital.  She asked me if I had any other siblings and I told her yes, my brother, Steve, who was on his way from Michigan with his family. I also relayed that I had a brother, Jeff, but we weren’t on speaking terms. The Champlain shared with us that because of my mother’s serious condition, there was a possibility that a life or death decision may need to be made; the possible decision of taking her off of life support. I told the Chaplain that I didn’t want to make that decision on my own and that I would need to discuss this with my brothers and, if needed, obtain their consent.  I remember asking her for Jeff’s phone number so that I could speak with him regarding my mother.  But, she told me that she couldn’t give me his phone number, due to the HIPAA laws, the same reason she couldn’t give my number out to Jeff.  But, she was happy to make a call on my behalf.  I said thank you and asked her to have Jeff call me.

Frank and I arrived back home that Monday evening and we were mentally exhausted. The realization of my mother’s pending demise was weighing heavily on my mind, not to mention the fact that I would soon be in contact with Jeff, who I haven’t spoken to in over eight years. We left our relationship not on the best of terms and I couldn’t help but to wonder what it’s going to be like when we do speak again.  Not only did Jeff and I go our separate ways, but Jeff also severed all ties with Steve. It was almost as if Jeff fell off the face of the earth. I can understand where he and I had differences, but Jeff made the same effort in distancing himself from Steve, as well.

The last time that I had communication with Jeff was the evening when Jeff hung up on me during that one revealing evening back in 1993. It was a couple days after Jeff’s father, Melvin, died and mom called me, letting me know that Jeff would be contacting me, as he was going to ask me for two hundred dollars to help cremate his father.  I informed mom that I wasn’t about to give Jeff any money toward a cremation of a man who treated me like shit all my life and whose last words to me were calling me a whore. I believed my reasoning’s were justified. I could tell that mom didn’t want to discuss it, making her feel uncomfortable. My words and anger left my mother silent.  Mom knew how I felt about Melvin and just bringing up his name to me was a touchy subject.  I asked mom to have Jeff call me and I would be happy to explain to him why I wasn’t going to give him any money. It was at that moment that I made the decision to tell Jeff the true reason why I wasn’t going to hand him over any money. There was no way that I was going to give money to help lay to rest a fucking child molester.  Jeff could have cremated him in a garbage can with a can of lighter fluid and a book of matches for all I cared!

About an hour later, Jeff called me and the demeanor in his voice sounded as if he didn’t want to make any small talk whatsoever; he wanted to get down to business… money business.  As far as I knew, Jeff did not know that Melvin had sexually abused me as a child.  Nor, did I think he realized that Steve was also one of his victims.  If Jeff ever had any concept of us being abused, he never made it apparent to either Steve or me.  My thoughts were once I explain everything to Jeff, he would truly understand, if not respect, why I wouldn’t give him the money to help cremate his father.  Jeff immediately asked me for the two hundred dollars.  I told him that I wasn’t going to give him any money to help bury his father. Jeff couldn’t understand why I was being so adamant about the situation and he started debating with me.  It was at that point that I said to him, “Jeff, this is the reason why I’m not going to give you the money for Melvin.”  Just as I was about to spit out the words, “It’s because your father is a filthy child molester,” Jeff hung up on me, ending our conversation with an abrupt dial tone in my ear.  It was at that point that I became very livid, thinking, how Jeff dare hang up on me.  Frank was standing by my side and I told Frank that Jeff just hung up on me and he wouldn’t even let me explain to him why I’m not going to just hand over all that money. I started crying and, the more I cried, the more upset and pissed off I became.  I was outraged at the fact that he wouldn’t even give me the opportunity to let me explain why.  I dialed Jeff back and I was going to scream as loud as I could in his ear that his father liked to fuck little children and that he doesn’t need to be cremated because his ass is going directly to hell and the devil would do it for him!  But, my mother answered the phone instead. I shared with mom that Jeff hung up on me and I asked to speak with him.  He refused to come to the phone and talk to me, only making me angrier.  This is when I lost it and said to my mom, “You can tell your prick of a son that the reason that I won’t give him any money for his father is because Melvin was nothing but a child molester.  And if he doesn’t believe me, then he can call his brother in Michigan and ask him, too!”  It was then my turn to hang up the phone.  I immediately hung up on my mother and started crying all over again. It was done, finished, my horrible secret that I had been carrying around inside me for over thirty years had finally been revealed, not only to my brother, but to my mother as well. It wasn’t my intentions to blurt out to my mother that Melvin sexually abused me and my brother, Steve, ever since we were young children.  I had plans to never share that with my mother or any other family member. It was my own horrible little secret. I was so upset over the fact that Jeff didn’t give me enough respect to even try and listen to me. Everything was always about Jeff and his own world.

As one would imagine, my phone started ringing immediately, relentlessly, but I wouldn’t answer it.  It was my mother calling, surely trying to figure out what the hell just happened.  I was so upset that I just couldn’t even talk with her.  She tried calling all night, so much in fact, that I had to take the phone off of the hook.  Eventually, I knew that I would have to speak with her.  I did my best to avoid her phone calls all evening.  I went to work the next morning and this is where mom caught me.  She dialed the main number and asked to speak with me. I knew that it was something that I had to do.  I went behind a closed door in one of the offices and spoke with her privately.  Mom had asked me why I never told her what was going on between Melvin and me.  I shared with her that young children just don’t tell… they just don’t say anything to anyone, they are afraid to, it hides deep within them, never to be mentioned or revealed. During our whole conversation, not once did mom tell me that she was sorry; that she was sorry for what Melvin had done to two of her beautiful and innocent children and everything that we had went through. Not once did mom curse Melvin to hell. Not once did mom make an attempt to defend me or Steve. Not once did mom say she would have killed him if she knew. Not once did mom share one word of remorse with me.  Our conversation was as if she called to tell me that she had burnt dinner. As always, mom showed no emotion whatsoever.  I was hoping that at least now she would show some anger, some hatred toward Melvin, knowing that he had sexually abused her children throughout their young life. I would be screaming every obscenity there was; telling my child that I was so sorry for what they had to go through, shedding tears right along with them, but my mom not once shed a tear.  Instinctively, it was at that precise moment that I was absolutely convinced mom knew all along about the sexual abuse and what had happened to me and my brother so many years before, even knowing when it happened and where it happened.  Mom never worked, rarely left the house, and basically was always home.  Surely, she had to have her suspicions about Melvin always wanting to take us with him everywhere. All that my mind could think about is how could she not know? Her lack of response and her quietness about the situation truly led me to believe that she knew about all the abuse that Melvin forced on her two children. She had finally been relieved of her own torture that she had kept deep within her heart and soul. The guilt of not protecting her child, not one, but two children, from a sexual predator must have been an unspeakable torment in her own mind.  To spare us both further discomfort, I told mom that I don’t want to talk about it, it was all in the past, done and over with and there was absolutely no reason to relive it. We both never talked about Melvin sexually abusing me ever again.

Needless to say, Jeff never did get the money that he wanted to help cremate his father. I don’t even know if mom ever shared with him exactly why I wouldn’t give him any money. Knowing Jeff, he probably thought Steve and I made it all up. It didn’t matter because I didn’t want anything to do with Jeff from that moment on. He wasn’t a brother to me at that time, the time I needed him most.  We both stopped talking with one another. He led his life, I led mine and we both went our own separate ways.  I stopped acknowledging him as a brother, as a family member. Over the years, I learned from my mother that Jeff got his girlfriend pregnant, moved to Wisconsin with her and years later, after having more children, they eventually married.  Unfortunately, because of Jeff’s actions that evening, our relationship was never the same and this was the reason why that I did not see or talk with Jeff in over eight years.

It was shortly after Frank and I arrived home from the hospital that evening that I finally received that phone call from Jeff.  Hearing the phone ring, I was anxious, nervous, as I wasn’t sure how Jeff’s demeanor was going to be. To my surprise, Jeff was very compassionate and sensible. Our conversation between us was short, but very at ease.  I relayed to Jeff that Steve was on his way to Chicago.  I asked if we could all meet at the hospital the next morning to find out what else the doctors had found regarding mom’s condition. Jeff agreed and we left the conversation on a mutual and sensible tone.  Hanging up the phone, I shared with Frank that the conversation went a lot smoother than anticipated.  Even though Jeff was disrespectable to me eight years prior, I wasn’t going to demonstrate any anger or bitterness.  There wasn’t time for that.

I poured myself a well deserved glass of wine and worked up my courage as I realized that I now had the heartbreaking responsibility of contacting my grandmother who lived in Wisconsin.  Granny was now in an assisted nursing home in Portage. Granny had no idea that her second born, who is now on life support and fighting for her life, will most likely pass before her. The thought of telling granny that she may lose another child just broke my heart.  Her son, my uncle Bob, passed away in 1997, where he was having a heart attack, drove himself to the emergency room, only to pass days later. He was only 59 years old. I decided to contact the social worker at the nursing home instead of speaking with granny directly.  I was in fear that such news would jeopardize granny’s own health. I shared with the social worker what was happening and that I would contact them once I find out further information from the doctors and mom’s additional testing.

Waiting for Steve and his family’s arrival, Frank and I set up the basement where they could rest comfortably until the next day when we all headed to the hospital. I finally had a moment to myself, to reflect on what was going on and what could possibly happen.  I couldn’t believe what was put before me.  As a child, one never thinks about the time when a parent will pass away, how it will happen, or even when.  Sitting there, it all seemed so unreal to me, as if I was on the outside looking in, watching someone else’s family tragedy, but realizing that it was actually my own.

It was 1:00 in the morning when Steve arrived with his wife, Mary, and their three children, all exhausted from their long ride in.  We set the children up for bed in the basement and they fell quickly back asleep.  The adults headed to the living room, where we started to express our thoughts and feelings.  Like me, Steve couldn’t believe that this moment had finally arrived, where we would be making a life or death decision.  I told Steve that I spoke with Jeff and that we would all meet at the hospital the next morning around 11:00 a.m. After another hour of chat, we all headed to bed, as we knew that the morning would be fast approaching.

As suspected, the morning rolled in a lot faster than I wanted it to.  It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and in a bittersweet way, it was the most beautiful day outside.  I could see the sun shining through the bedroom windows and I couldn’t help but to think how I was admiring the summer morning when I suddenly remembered that mom was lying in the ICU hooked up to machines and tubes. It was around 8:30 a.m. and Frank was still sleeping so I decided to get out of bed and start my day.  I went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee for everyone, thinking that we were surely going to need it.  I laid out coffee cups, sugar and creamer, along with the breakfast goodies I bought the day before.  Knowing that I had to make a phone call, I headed to the living room to call work, letting them know that I would not be in again that day, as my family and I had plans to meet with my mother’s doctors.  I heard Nikki, our receptionist, pick up my call, greeting me as she always did.  I told her it was me and that I wouldn’t be in to work.  This is when Nikki asked me if I knew what was going on in New York.  I told her I didn’t and wasn’t sure what she was referring to.  Nikki advised me to turn on the television.   Turning it on, I suddenly became aware that the news station was showing live footage of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York. Smoke billowing out from the top floors of the building, along with flames that seemed to be licking the building on every floor.  I could see people hanging out of the windows, screaming for help, as they waved cloths to show their existence against the massive silver building. I could also hear the panic and distress in the reporter’s voice.  I knew that whatever was happening, it wasn’t good.  I was starting to become concerned and frightened and asked Nikki literally, “What the fuck was going on?!”  This is when she shared with me that an airplane had crashed directly into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  I could see the destruction that the airplane had left behind and knew that many lives were already lost.  I hung up the phone with Nikki and immediately went to wake up Frank.  I told him that something was happening in New York and that I felt it was best that he get up to watch, as something serious was going on.  It wasn’t shortly after Frank came into the living room that Steve and Mary followed behind.  All four of us stared helplessly, watching the TV with horrible blank stares on our faces.  It was only moments later that we saw on live TV another airplane flying into the World Trade Center, this time making a direct hit into the South Tower. All of us gasped at the same time, with all of us pretty much making the same comment, “OH SHIT!”  It was becoming apparent that this was not an accident.  We were later being informed that the planes that flew into the towers were hijacked and this was just the beginning.  Not knowing what other targets the hijackers had in mind, my concerns grew more and more through the morning, wondering if the kids were safe in school and if we should go and pick them up.  Frank made a phone call to the kids’ school and we were reassured that all was safe and that we didn’t need to be alarmed.

Like robots, we all huddled around the TV, as if we were watching a Bears-Packers football game.  With every update that we heard, we all shook our heads with disbelief.  As much as we wanted to stay home and watch the tragedy that was unfolding directly in front of our eyes, the tragedy of all these peoples’ lives, we were quickly reminded that we had a tragedy of our own; mom and her own life. We left for the hospital, where we met with the physicians, as well as Jeff for the first time in eight years.

Once at the hospital, we met with mom’s physicians. The news didn’t look good for mom.  The doctors performed multiple tests and we were informed that she had no brain activity whatsoever. There was no clinical evidence of brain function upon physical examination. She had no response to pain stimulation and no cranial nerve reflexes, including no eye movement or blinking and she had fixed pupils. Mom was completely brain dead and her condition was irreversible. Mom was at the total mercy of life support.  Machines were breathing for her, pumping air into her lungs, one breath at a time.  Not only did she look dead on the outside, sadly, you can see that there was nothing living on the inside either.

It was apparent that my brothers and I had to make one of the most important decisions of our lives, of our mother’s life.  It was evident that mom was not going to get any better.  It was then that we found out that mom had a DNR request in her chart – Do not Resuscitate. It was apparent that the decision has already been made for us.  My brothers and I, along with our significant others went back to my house and talked for the longest time, for hours, discussing mom’s fate.  I was actually surprised how well Jeff and I were getting along.  It was as if nothing happened between us eight years prior and we just picked up our relationship where it left off.  Perhaps, it was the moment, surely having a great deal to do with mom.  Everyone was being cordial and respectable toward each other and their feelings, regardless of how the person was feeling from the past.  It made me think that this is how we should have gotten along years ago. In the end, after discussing mom’s destiny, we all knew that this was the best decision that we could have made for her. Let mom’s mind, body and soul be at peace, let her be lifted up into God’s arms. It was now her turn to go home.

It was later learned that hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers that were no longer standing. Flight 77 was flown directly into the Pentagon building in Washington and Flight 93 went down into a field in Pennsylvania. Thousands of lives were taken that morning. I remember leaving to go and pick up Arla from school that afternoon and all the parents were around talking about what happened to our country that morning.  As I sat in the truck, waiting for the kids to get out of school, I noticed that the skies above me were an eerie quiet, where stillness filled the air. No planes whatsoever were being permitted to fly in the airspace.

During the last two days, the 9/11 tragedy was all over the television with news, special reports, and interviews. It was almost as if every American ate, slept and breathed 9/11. We couldn’t get enough of it. But, this day, my focus was now on my mother.  We all made our way back to the hospital, where it was time to take mom off of life support and say our final good-byes.  I never did like hospitals, even though I worked in one.  They have always represented bad news for me; making me feel uncomfortable, as if death is waiting around every single corner, sensing sickness on every floor and in every patient’s face.  It was rare that I walked into a hospital that I didn’t feel grief or sorrow. I felt it all around me.

Frank being in the medical field and working in a hospital for over twenty years, took initiative and helped us prepare for what was about to happen. Frank worked at Columbus Hospital, where he worked in the Emergency Room department and then eventually working with brain tumor patients on the neurosurgical floor.  Frank saw people die from their brain tumors, as well as seeing people survive, walking directly out of the hospital to continue their lives. Frank was wonderful talking with the physicians and even the hospital Chaplain.

Everyone met within the waiting room in ICU at Weiss Memorial. The Chaplain arrived just moments after we did, asking how we were all doing, letting us know that she was there for support and will guide us through this ordeal.  The kids were coloring in their coloring books, which kept them busy.  The TV was on in the waiting room, which was practically screaming 9/11 at you.  There was a lot of apprehension in the air, not only with what our country was going through, but what mom’s three children were going through and what they would have to do in only a few short moments.

The nurses were in mom’s room, preparing her for her final moments of life. The thought of knowing that you had control of someone’s life in the palm of your hand made my mind sick with regret.  Was there any turning back at that point? Not according to the physicians. Mom was entirely brain dead. She had no thoughts, feelings or acknowledgement that we were there, unless she felt us spiritually.  The nurses call us into mom’s room to say our final good-byes.  Steve, Jeff, Frank and I follow the Chaplain into mom’s room, all wrapping our way around her bed. We were quiet, as we listened to the machines in the room pumping, watching them breathe air into mom’s body.  Mom lay there, motionless, with tubes down her throat, completely oblivious that we were all there around her, for her. The nurse in the room was twisting cords and readjusting tubes, working with the machines that were obviously keeping her alive. My heart was racing as I stood at the end of mom’s bed. My palms were sweaty and my bottom lip started to quiver.  Nobody should be placed in the position that I was in, that my brothers were in, but, yet, death finds us all and there was no escaping it for mom.

Feeling it was important, I asked the hospital Chaplain to say a prayer for mom before they ended life support.  My two brothers, Frank and I, along with the Chaplain stood over mom while each of us held hands. With the Chaplain’s hand resting on mom’s shoulder, we recited the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,

The power, and the glory,

For ever and ever.

Amen.

Through broken words I managed to say good-bye to mom, asking her to say hello to grandpa for me and that I missed him.  It started to get emotional for me; especially when I knew mom was going to meet grandpa on the other side at any moment. For some reason, I didn’t feel comfortable crying openly in front of everyone, so I held back my tears as much as I could. Saying the Lord’s Prayer over my mother though was comforting to me. It felt like a completion; almost like a cleansing; a purification of her soul for all her torments in her life, for all her secrets that she held in her heart and mind for so many years.  Frank, I and the Chaplain were the only ones reciting the Lord’s Prayer, while Steve and Jeff remained silent.  I got the impression that they were lost in what to say, just as I had been so many years before, as I once stood not knowing how to pray or what it all meant. I held my rosary in the palm of my hand while praying, the same rosary that I was baptized with just the year before. I didn’t realize it, but I must have held onto Jeff’s hand so intensely that the rosary left indentation marks in the palm  of his hand. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was trying to send a message that he should be a better brother, a better listener and that family is worth holding onto.

I cannot say the Lord’s Prayer today without being touched, remembering this faithful memory; bringing me back to this one particular moment every single time, the day that we prayed over mom .  The Chaplain shared a few personal words, along with giving mom her last rites.  Chaplain asked God to prepare my mother’s soul for death, asking for forgiveness of all her sins and anointing her, preparing her for a safe journey, asking God to accept my mother into His loving kingdom.

After prayers and rituals were done, we were asked to leave the room while they prepared for my mother’s death.  They didn’t want us to watch them disconnecting mom from all the various machines; the heart monitor and breathing machine, eventually taking her final breath away.  We walked back to the waiting room. The television was on and was showing the latest news and updates with the 911 attack. They replayed the same scenes over and over like a bad sitcom, as we continuously watched the planes hit the World Trade Centers, exploding into huge fireballs or as we watched so many innocent and terrified people making the decision to jump to their own demise, where death waited for them once they made it to their final destination, the ground below. It was my only hope and prayer that God greeted them at the end of their journey with open arms, embracing each and every one of them with His tremendous love and light. It was only a few moments later that the Chaplain and nurse came to me and my family letting us know that mom, too, had passed, completing her own final journey. I didn’t realize how emotional I would get.  I never considered myself close to my mom, but I actually broke down when the nurse told us “she was gone.” As I had asked for the 9/11 victims, I was now praying for God to extend the same invitation to my mother.

“Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.”  ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

My brothers and I had made the difficult decision taking mom off of life support on September 14, 2001, where she passed at 10:53 a.m., just three days after the 9/11 attacks.  Mom was only 62 years old. I watched the people on the television and even made a comment that it didn’t help that I was not only grieving for all the lives lost on 9/11, but for my mother as well.  I had such mixed emotions about exactly what I was grieving for.  I didn’t know if I was more upset at the fact that my only mother had passed or if I was more upset and grieving for the mother that I never had, for the mother-daughter relationship that I should have had in my life, but never did. I felt in my heart that it was the latter. Sadly, my mother and I didn’t have a close relationship, something that she just wasn’t receptive to having in her life. But, now, death made everything so final.

After mom’s death that morning I, once again, went home to call my grandmother to let her know that her daughter had passed away. The hospital staff made sure that there was a priest there with her when I delivered the news.  “Granny, I’m calling to let you know that mom had passed away today.”  Speaking with granny, I can tell she was in shock, but the priest was making sure that she understood what was going on. Granny’s response was what any mother would say after losing a child, “Oh no, I lost another one.”  The priest sat with granny and they prayed together. I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes and an uncontrollable pain in my heart for my grandmother, as this was now the second child she had lost.  Framing a picture of mom when she was young, I sent it to granny so that she would have something to look at, possibly to talk to. The picture was taken in a sepia tone, which made mom’s face glow with radiance. Looking into her eyes, I could once see a happy, lively, vibrant young woman, who exuberated love and kindness.  This was the mother that I should have known, should have been best friends with, who I should have been able to tell my deepest darkest secrets to. This is the mom that my heart ached for, not the one who I had known during my life.

My mother, Elvera Lee - Circa Late 1950's.

My mother, Elvera Lee – Circa Late 1950’s.

Mom looked so happy in this picture and I couldn’t help but to think that this was a different time in her life, where she loved life, as there was nobody there to take it away from her, to beat her, nobody there to verbally humiliate her. It was a time before self inflicting alcohol abuse.  I don’t know the event in her life that inspired such a beautiful picture, but I knew that this is how granny would remember her.

My brothers and I decided to have mom cremated, which was done on September 16. These were mom’s final wishes.  Shortly after mom was cremated, we went through some of her things.  Jeff went to her apartment and grabbed whatever looked important, stuffed it in paper bags and took everything to his house in Wisconsin.  Steve and his family had since gone back home to Michigan, therefore, Jeff inviting my family to his home, Jeff and I went through everything to see what was important and what wasn’t. I truly felt that Jeff and I were making amends with our relationship. I know there were issues in the past between us, but we were both grown adults, with each of us having children of our own now.  I had looked deep within myself and decided to forgive and forget.  What had happened, I left it exactly where it should be… in the past.  It appeared that Jeff and I were moving forward… or so I thought.  Mom did have some important papers; papers that showed that she had a small life insurance policy, which if it was split evenly, between her three children, wouldn’t make us rich, but it could have help with a bill or two or something else we may have needed.  Jeff took it upon himself to initiate the process of the funds and getting the paperwork started. It was agreed between the three of us, my brothers and I, that we would split the insurance money, equally, between the three of us.  Unfortunately, it did not happen that way.  With Jeff being in total control of the assets, Jeff gave Steve and myself only a very small portion of the insurance money up front and told us that he would send more at a later date.  In the end, Jeff decided to keep the rest of the funds for himself. He went onto explain in an email to me that he lost money as he was not able to work at his construction job one weekend, due to all the running around he had to do because of our mother’s passing, therefore justifying to himself why he was going to keep the rest of the money.  Perhaps, Jeff didn’t take into consideration that I, too, ran errands, made numerous phone calls to funeral homes, meeting with the funeral home, as well as making arrangements to have my mother’s body transferred to a funeral home for cremation.  I also made arrangements for her obituary to be placed in the local newspaper, also paying for the services. Not once, did I bring that to anyone’s attention. But, once again, Jeff was thinking only of himself.  Jeff’s email was the last time I heard from my brother, as he never again contacted me or my brother, Steve.  Steve and I were completely astonished by Jeff’s actions. We both couldn’t believe that Jeff had cheated his own siblings out of thousands of dollars, only to gratify himself.  Jeff did not reflect on our feelings, as he only looked out for his own gain.  Not once did Jeff take into consideration how others may feel.  I found it quite sad actually. Jeff had every opportunity to make amends with his siblings, especially with me, but he had made the decision instead to leave and end our relationship, once again, over money.  He not only lost his sister for the second time in his life, but also his brother.  We were so close at one point in our early lives. Growing up, we all went through hardship together; we all had nothing to eat together, we didn’t have any money, we didn’t have lots of clothes, we were all deprived… together. When we had nothing, we knew we always had each other. Is money that important to someone where you would jeopardize a relationship?  Can greed be that strong? Money should, under no circumstances whatsoever, interfere with the price of a relationship, family, a loved one.  It only led me to believe that if a person could do something like this to their family then there’s a reason why; a reason they needed the money more and I just hoped that whatever Jeff needed it for, it helped him out tremendously. Having the extra money wouldn’t break me or make me rich in either way. Money is not worth destroying family relationships but, sadly, Jeff didn’t value these same opinions. Once again, Jeff was out of my life and I haven’t seen or spoken to him in twelve years, the same amount of time that my mother has been gone.

During the time I was with Jeff looking through my mom’s belongings, I found and kept a small picture of her from when she was approximately three or four years old. Blue eyed and curly blond hair, I saw my own resemblance within her.  I also found a notebook, which I immediately slipped into my bag, thinking that I would look at it closer, later, when I was alone. Completely forgetting about the notebook for a couple of weeks, I remembered and pulled it out of my bag. Flipping through the notebook, I felt my heart sink with every page I turned, completely astonished at what I was looking at. Mom had torn out articles that she found in newspapers and magazines. Some of the pieces were even in mom’s own handwriting.  I found articles on happiness and being respected and loved. I found one article she clipped from the newspaper titled, “Recipe for a Better Life.” I found clippings about togetherness, where it talked about death is nothing at all, as they have only slipped away into another room… I saw articles on hugging and a note titled, “What is a Friend.” Continuing on through the pages, I found Dear Abby articles that mom felt was important enough, clipping and saving them within her notebook. However, the articles that I found so significant were the ones titled, “Loneliness” and “A Parent’s Prayer.”  Reading these two pieces made me come to the realization that mom was hurting so much inside, aching to have any form of this contact with another human being. Every article that she taped neatly into her notebook was how she must have felt in her heart, mind and soul. Unfortunately, mom could not express these words openly to her children, therefore, she did it the only way she knew how and that was by taping her thoughts and feelings into a spiral notebook.

Mom's Messages

Mom’s Messages

Mom 2

Mom 5

Mom 8

Mom 7

Mom 8

As time went on and weeks went by, my mind started thinking about the mother I wished I could have had in my life while growing up, while getting married, while having children of my own, the mother who was taped within those pages of her notebook.  A part of me felt resentful and cheated; knowing that all mom had to do was open her heart, showing me that she cared. But, I knew that she was incapable of doing so.  Her life with Melvin throughout those many years had deteriorated her emotions, her happiness, and her passion for life, as well as for everything else that surrounded her. Melvin stripped her emotions away, just like he stripped away the sweet innocence of her two children.  Surely, she loved her children in her own unique way; she just had a very hard time expressing it to us. My heart ached for the mom that I could have had, should have had. I wished for my children to have the special grandma relationship that I was blessed with, with my own grandmother. What a special and amazing relationship that they were cheated out of; what my mother was cheated out of.  Although, do you miss something that you never had in your life to begin with?

I continue to believe that there’s a purpose, a reason why we are here on this earth.  We are here to receive learning lessons.  The values we learn on a daily basis, within our lives, we will take back home with us to share with others in God’s world, where we will then be the teacher. I have often wondered, questioning what my learning lessons are as I travel through my life. Is it through the sexual abuse by Melvin, learning how to be strong and overcome any obstacles that are set before me? Is it through the relationship with my mother, where I have learned to be open, expressive, to be the best parent I could be, or through my relationship with my grandparents, where I was shown that life is the most beautiful and precious gift that God has given us, therefore, living it with compassion and love? I have been through so much in my life and I have tried to make every effort to find the positive side of each and every situation… my learning lessons. I have learned to love with all my heart, unconditionally, always letting others know that I love them, sharing what I have gained and cherish life to the best of my ability, as I never know when it will all be taken away from me, when life will end, when death will find me…

If there’s ever a time where I questioned my mother’s love for me, I always know that I can return and read through her many messages that lie deep within the pages of her spiral notebook.

 

“Well, right now… I’m not dead.  But when I am, it’s like… I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading…. An old one. It’s up on a library shelf, so you’re safe and everything, but the book hasn’t been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody’ll pick it up and start reading.” 

~Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Hours after mom’s death, she, herself, sat waiting on a shelf, but she wasn’t a book, she was a doll; a ghost, a spirit.  Mom had one last thing she needed to say to me before leaving, therefore, she sat quietly, patiently, waiting for the right moment, until I picked her up and held her tight…

References:

http://www.adcrf.org/

http://www.after-death.com/

http://www.nderf.org/

http://www.near-death.com/

It Came to me in a Dream…

“Pay attention to your dreams – God’s angels often speak directly to our hearts when we are asleep.”  ~ Eileen Elias Freeman The date was set. May 5, 1990. Less than a year later, this was the day that Frank … Continue reading

Finding the Road Back…

Pic - Road Back

“Each day of human life contains joy and anger, pain and pleasure, darkness and light, growth and decay.  Each moment is etched with nature’s grand design – do not try to deny or oppose the cosmic order of things.”  ~ Morihei Ueshiba

A year quickly passed since my grandfather’s death.  Being a hard year for me, I kept my concentration on my new job, which was doing administration work for a bag manufacturing company in Evanston.  I had also graduated from Wilber Wright Junior College, earning myself an Associates Degree. By this time, Bill and I had been dating for a very long time and we were about to celebrate our ninth year together. Young sweethearts we were, dating since the seventh grade. Throughout our relationship, Bill and I became engaged, talking about marriage, kids and spending our lives together. After my grandfather’s passing, I had decided to continue living with Sophie, renting a bedroom from her, which allowed me to save some extra money for the future. My heart was healing and I finally felt that my life may be heading in a positive direction.  I had a pretty good job and great friends. I was extremely in love and I was very happy in my life, but as the old saying sometimes goes… “Don’t rock the boat.”  Well, my boat was about to be rocked!

One afternoon, Bill came over and said he wanted to go to the park, which wasn’t too far from Sophie’s house. Summer had started and there was warmth to the day. Bill said that he needed to talk to me about something. Driving over to Horner Park, Bill seemed quiet, almost lost within his thoughts, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.   Bill pulled into the Park’s parking lot, by the main baseball diamond just off of California Avenue. He turned off the car and this is when I realized that Bill was serious. Bill started to fumble for words, surely wanting to make sure that they were soft, gentle and not harsh.  But, regardless of what words he chose, I knew my heart was about to be chattered.  It was there at the park, the same park where I grieved every day over my grandfather’s death while walking to work, that my life would be, once again, forever changed.  Bill shared with me that after nine years of being together, he wasn’t happy anymore; he wanted to see other people.  His words stung as I sat there in the car trying to make reason for what he was saying. I thought we were happy. I thought he was happy. I had no indication whatsoever that Bill was feeling this way.  I truly felt our relationship was doing well and I couldn’t understand why he was telling me all of this.  My mind was swimming and then sinking at every word that Bill was throwing at me, along with my heart. I felt like I was drowning. We had been together for so long, through grade school, high school and even college. What Bill shared with me completely devastated me and no matter what I said, how much I pleaded with Bill, or how much I begged, he did not want to continue our relationship any longer.  Bill started the car up to take me back home, asking me if I was going to be okay, but I knew I wasn’t. I was numb from my mind to my heart. I absolutely never saw his words coming. At one point while talking with Bill, I was peacefully calm and, then the next thing I knew, I would get hysterically angry, pounding on the dashboard, the door, myself. Bill once again asked me if I was going to be okay, but all I could think of was getting away from him and out of his car as fast as I could. I felt as if my heart was going to explode!

Bill dropped me off back home, at Sophie’s house, and watched me as I went inside. If there was ever a time that I felt so relieved not to have Sophie at home, it was then. I knew that I would be alone and have the whole house to myself, allowing myself to justify what the hell just happened without having an audience around me.  Shutting and locking the front door behind me, I started walking toward my bedroom, but I only made it as far as the main hallway, as there I stood, with my hands now molded into tight fists, as I began to pound the walls around me, crying uncontrollably, screaming at the pain that was haunting my heart.  It was at that moment that I began my mental breakdown.  The man that I loved for so long, the young boy that I grew up with throughout our young years; sharing experiences with each other for the first time, the man who I depended on to always be there in my life, has now decided that he wanted to see other people. I wasn’t good enough for him anymore. The man that I loved and wanted to be with no longer wanted to be with me. I felt like my world was suddenly falling apart. My heart ached so much, as I now realized that I lost another important person in my life; first my grandfather and now my fiancé.

It didn’t take long for the news to spread through Bill’s family that he broke off our relationship. Living with Sophie started to make things a little uncomfortable, as there was a constant state of reminder of Bill. Sophie’s daughter, Josie, lived in the basement apartment, along with her husband, Tim, who was Bill’s older brother.  Sophie was the mother-in-law to Tim.  Everyone was related in one way or another to Bill; everyone except me. I started to feel like the outsider.  I was in such a state of depression that I had no desire to go anywhere, do anything, nor did I want to be with any friends. I stayed mostly in my bedroom behind closed doors.  Sophie would have barbeques in the backyard, begging me to come out and be with everyone, but I would just shut myself away in my room. The last thing I wanted to do was socialize, especially with the family that I knew I would never be a part of.  Finally realizing that my life would not be going back to the way it was I knew I had to make some important and immediate changes. I was tired of crying, I was tired of hurting, and I was tired of constantly having the reminders of Bill and his family all around me.

Months had passed and I felt it was time for me to move out of Sophie’s home.  I would see Bill’s brother and other family members and I was starting to feel very uncomfortable being there; it was almost as if they would look at me and ask themselves, why is she still here? In order to heal my heart, get on with my life, I had to move on. I started looking through the newspapers for an apartment of my own.  I knew that I didn’t want to share an apartment with anyone else nor did I want to have the responsibility of having a roommate. I knew I couldn’t afford much; therefore, I looked for the cheapest apartment I could find.  Looking through the neighborhood paper, I found a one room studio apartment on Leland just off of Western Avenue that sounded perfect. It wasn’t long after having a tour of the place that I decided to tell the manger I’d take it! It was a big building that consisted of three floors and I was on the top floor – penthouse level!  I loved my first apartment. It was all my own and I was very excited about decorating and fixing it up. When entering the apartment, which faced south, there was one main large room that greeted you, where the windows wrapped all the way around, bringing in a spectacular ray of light.  There was a small kitchenette to my left, along with a bathroom and a walk in closet on my right.  The apartment came unfurnished, so a new sofa sleeper was in my future, along with a kitchen table and many things to make it look homey and lived in.  I had begun my first steps of being on my own, my own independence and not depending on anyone.

Settling into my new apartment, I went on with my life, working and, on occasion, dating a few men here and there, but nothing that ended up to be a relationship or anything serious.  I was enjoying myself, having fun and it felt wonderful having other men show interest in me.  I even went on a trip of a lifetime with Donatta and her family, even sampling the Mexican pleasures that Cancun was offering. Once back home, I concentrated on my new apartment, settling in and getting to know the neighborhood. Getting ready to go out one evening, I decided to take a shower. Once done, I walked completely naked out into the main living area of my studio, totally forgetting that I forgot to close the blinds to the windows that completely wrapped around all three walls.  Standing butt naked, it dawned on me that somebody could be looking out their window at that moment, starring directly at me. The odds were probably slim, but to my mind and naked body, my instincts took over and I immediately doubled over as to suddenly hide what I was advertising to the neighborhood! I started backing up, crouching toward the other room, aiming to get my naked ass back into the bathroom.  It was then that I tripped over my shoe, losing my footing and falling backward, with my ass landing directly up against my apartment radiator that was hotter than the Devil himself! Snapping back up to attention, I screamed every profanity that my tongue could roll off. Feeling the sizzle, I realized that I had just given myself an ass branding from the radiator that left me with more bars than my current cell phone carrier! I had the marks of the radiator bars branded against my ass crack! My ass could have been known as 50 shades of red!   From that moment on, I had learned to make sure that all blinds were closed prior to me entering the shower and I stood far away from the radiator that not only heated my apartment, but was also capable of leaving a lasting impression… on my ass!

It was an early spring day, when I received a phone call from Bill. Although very unexpected, it was pleasant to hear his voice just the same. He asked if I had time to talk and asked if I wanted to meet up for a drink, which I kindly accepted. Bill and I went to an Irish pub called Paddy’s that was on Montrose Avenue, not too far from my apartment.  It was quaint, loud and full of energy. The thought of catching up with Bill seemed rather nice and I was excited to see him, as I haven’t seen or spoken to him in way over a year. I even had a few butterflies in my belly, as I was getting ready.  Spotting him at the bar, he looked good, put together but, mostly, he looked happy.  We grabbed a table and started sharing our updates with one another and what had been going on in our lives since we last saw each other. It felt strange being with him; like I had never dated him for nine years, almost as if he was someone new I had just met for the very first time while sitting in the bar.  After our updates were coming to an end, it was then that Bill asked me a question; obviously, the main reason why he asked me to have a drink with him.  Bill raises his voice over the deafening noise of the crowd, asking me his question… “Jack, have a baby with me.”  Bill must have seen the astonished look on my face, as my eyes widened more and more with every syllable that came sliding out of his mouth.  “…have-a-ba-by-with-me.”  Again, with a confident smile on his face, he repeated himself once more, “Jack, let’s have a baby together!”  Bill was so excited, standing there, as he was trying to convince me that it would be fun, exciting and a great idea, as if I just won a free trip to a far away land! Finding my words, I asked him why he wanted to have a baby so bad because I found it odd that a single man in his twenties suddenly wanted to have a baby and, of all things, with me, his ex girlfriend! Bill shared that he wanted to have a child in his life and he was asking me to share this with him, but still not completely understanding why.  I told Bill that I couldn’t have a baby unless I was married. It was at that point that Bill decided to throw in a marriage proposal and a round trip ticket to Las Vegas, offering to marry me over the weekend.  There was so much information to take in at the moment that I asked for another drink.  The thought of being with the man that I once loved sounded enticing, but yet I was cautious of the young man he obviously became over the past year.  The Bill that I knew growing up would never have wanted a baby and, when we were together, we made every cautious effort known to man to make sure that nothing like that ever happened.  Therefore, I didn’t know what to make of this new Bill standing before me.  Again, he said, “Let’s do it. Let’s fly to Vegas, get married and have a baby!”  Bill made it sound all so easy, as if we were going to run to the store for some milk and cookies. Bill had a way of making it sound thrilling; drawing you in with every pitch he made. Obviously, he was working the salesman that was within him; something I’ve seen his father do many times before.  Bill’s father, Jim, always had a way of making something sound exciting, always pulling you in and making you want to be a part of the action.  Exciting as Bill made it sound, I told him that I would have to think it over, as I wasn’t about to make any hasty decisions over a couple of cocktails while sitting in an Irish Pub that could affect my life forever.  He dropped me back off at my apartment, where I had the whole evening to think of his proposal. I had told Bill that I would call him the next day to share my decision with him.

Feeling reminiscent, I started listening to a Neil Young album while I enjoyed a few glasses of wine. Sitting on my sofa, I started thinking back to our nine year relationship; the good times we had, the love that we had once shared.  It’s amazing how quickly one forgets about all the bad and hurtful times.  My thoughts bring me back to the music, as I sat listening while Neil Young sang the words…

“Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.”

It was at that moment, while listening to the song Harvest Moon, that I had made my decision. Yes, Bill, I will marry you and have your baby!  I was content with my decision, very happy, but yet nervous, wondering if I was making the right decision.  My heart was telling me to say, yes, as I was thinking of the relationship we once shared, but it was my mind that was questioning.  The next morning, while at work, I kept rolling Bill’s proposal around in my head. I was thinking of how my life would change. Was I ready to be married, to be a wife? Was I ready to have a baby, to be a mother? Was I doing everything for the right reasons? Did Bill really want to be with me on that level or was I just the means for him to get what he really wanted, which was baby?  After some long hard soul searching, once the music had stopped, I knew deep within my heart and mind that I could not marry Bill or have his baby. I haven’t seen or been with Bill in over a year. Why now?  I had realized that there was nothing personal about his proposal whatsoever.  It felt like I was under a contractual agreement or as if I was ordering a nine month subscription to American Baby Magazine. That afternoon, I phoned Bill and broke the news to him that I wouldn’t’ be taking his offer, that I wouldn’t marry him, nor have his child.  I’m not sure how he took it personally, but I knew that it wasn’t the right time for me to make such a commitment in my life.  Although I still loved Bill, there was a difference… I loved Bill; I just wasn’t in love with him.  With saying no, it became apparent to me at that moment that I actually had survived my little breakdown from the year before, from when Bill and I broke up. I had recovered, matured and I had moved on with my life. I felt proud of myself knowing that I was, once again, a survivor.  Little did Bill know that I accepted his proposal just by listening and reminiscing over a love song by Neil Young; a song that we had made love to so many times before.  It was the song Harvest Moon that made me want to be with Bill once again, that convinced me that it would work, that our relationship could heal, recover and continue.  But I felt in my heart that Bill wanted a baby more than he wanted a wife, wanted me and, for this, I said no.

Months had passed and the summer was in full swing.   I had moved from my studio into a one bedroom apartment on Ainslie just off of Damen Avenue.  Baby, I was movin’ on up!  I was making more money at my job in Evanston, which allowed me to upgrade to a larger apartment that was actually on the first floor and no longer on the third. Walking in, the bathroom was on your left while the bedroom was on your right.  There was a very large living room that also shared a small separate sitting area toward the front windows and I thought it would make a beautiful spot to house a small studio, to paint and creating my art.  There was a non-working fireplace that had a mantle extending from one end of the living room to the other. The kitchen was a nice size; much bigger than the one in the studio, and it had the most unique china cabinet that was built into the wall.  The piece was lovely and added charm to the room and all the radiators were covered!  It was apparent that I was going to need more furniture, but until then, I settled comfortably into my new home.

The only thing I didn’t have in my new apartment building was a laundry facility but, there was a laundry mat just down the street and around the corner from me.  It was there that I once again bumped into Bill. Making small talk while doing laundry, Bill asked if he could come over and visit for a while to catch up, seeing that he was in the neighborhood. I told him where I lived and that it would be fine. Shortly thereafter, Bill knocked on my door and I had invited him in.  I asked Bill to take a seat in the chair, but he opted to sit on the floor instead.  It didn’t take long before my instincts kicked, as I felt something odd. I had the feeling of uneasiness as Bill walked into the room. He asked if I had any photo albums of us from when we were dating.  Handing them over, I let him go through the pages, as he commented on particular photos from our past. I felt his behavior was slightly unusual, almost odd and it made me feel very uncomfortable.  Sitting on the couch opposite of Bill, my intuitiveness suddenly kicked in and I got a weird impression that Bill had other intentions for his visit, but I wasn’t sure why.  We continued talking about our lives and, once again, catching up what we had been up to for the past year. I shared that I had met someone and was very happy, as well as still working in Evanston and Bill shared with me that he was working for a frame company.  We asked about each of our families and how everyone was doing.  I did miss Bill’s mother and father. They always treated me as if I belonged. Still having my bike at Bill’s house in the basement, I thought, perhaps, I could visit with them for a while picking up my bike.  Bill thought that would be a great idea and to just give his mother a call.  We continued our small talk and Bill’s visit ended less than an hour later. I couldn’t shake the uneasiness and guarded feelings that I had. Bill seemed so much different to me, especially from the last time we saw each other when he “baby proposed” to me.  Perhaps, he just needed to stroll down memory lane one last time.

Later that week, while at work, I decided to call Bill’s mom, Elaine, to make arrangements to pickup my bike. I figure I could at least ride it back and forth to work or even use it for errands.  Dialing her number, I anxiously waited for Elaine to answer the phone.  It had been such a long time, years actually, since I had spoken to her. I announced who was calling and asked her how she had been. I could tell that Elaine was rather reserved with our conversation, as if almost to say, “Why are you calling here?”  I mentioned that I had seen Bill just days before and I was wondering if I could pick up my bike over the weekend, as it was still in her basement. Elaine said that it wouldn’t be a problem and she would make sure that it was ready for me when I came. Hesitating, Elaine proceeded to ask me a question of her own; a question that was totally unexpected; a question that I will never forget. She asked, “You do know that Billy is married now, don’t you?” I sat there as if I just got the wind kicked out of me. Her words kept echoing in my ear, but I was quick to respond, “Oh, why yes, I do. I just wanted to get my bike out of your basement.” Elaine went on to tell me that they just got married and that they both were very happy. The only thing I could do was to agree with her. After hanging up, I sat back in my chair and my mind drifted back to days earlier when Bill was in my apartment taking his stroll down memory lane. It was at that moment that I felt as if I had literally been slapped in the face by deceit. Not once did Bill mention to me that he was married nor was he wearing a wedding ring that would have confirmed that. Perhaps, he slipped it into his pocket prior to coming over. During the whole time he was with me in my apartment, Bill did not bring up his wife at all or the fact that he recently got married. None of this was mentioned during our time of “catching up.” Bill never even shared with me that he was even in a relationship.  Bill wasn’t honest with me and it hurt. Looking back, I believe that this is the reason for Bill’s strange behavior while visiting with me.  After picking up my bike from Elaine’s house, I went home and had the sudden urge to tear up every photograph that I had of Bill. Taking all the photos from their albums, I begin ripping each picture of Bill in tiny little pieces. With every rip I made, satisfaction set in. I continued until the last picture was shredded. Placing them all into a manila envelope, I wrote a note that accompanied my jigsaw puzzle… “Do not ever attempt to contact me again!”

The last time that I ever saw Bill was back in the laundry mat about a year later.  Conversation was at a minimum, as I stood there folding my pants and blouses for the work week ahead and while Bill was folding nothing other than little baby clothes, piling them on top of the other, staking them ever so neatly.  He shared with me that he had a baby girl that he truly adored. Bill was simply elated. He couldn’t stop talking about his daughter and I could see the sparkle and love in his eyes whenever he spoke of her or mentioned her name.  It was at that moment that I was content with the decision that I had made for myself just years before, not taking him up on his baby and marriage proposal. But, most importantly, I was so very happy for Bill for he got what he wanted. He found the love, happiness and peace while looking into the eyes of his little girl.

 “Babies are bits of stardust, blown from the hand of God.” ~ Barretto

It was twenty years later that I heard from Bill.  He randomly sent out emails to all the Jackie Lamberts he found on the internet, in hopes to make a connection with me again.  His father, Jim, was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS, a ruthless and debilitating disease that leaves no mercy on its victims. I have fond memories of Jim, as we would all sit around the dining room table listening to the stories he would tell, each one with more excitement than the last. I still see his mannerisms, as Jim sat in his bathrobe, expressing himself with his giant hands, as he maneuvered his metal framed glasses by using the tips of his finger and thumb, one on each side of the frame, simultaneously pushing them back up on his nose.  I was always invited at their dining room table, whether it was for humble conversation, dinner or planning the next season’s strategy for the Chicago Bears to win the super bowl. I remember the season after Bill and I broke up in 1985, the year the Chicago Bears won the super bowl. Sitting in the arms of another man, watching all the excitement on TV that filled the stadium, I couldn’t help stepping back in time to the days when I had once been a part of it all.

Jim advised Bill that he should try and find me, to make amends, to make things right between us, and with the way he left our relationship so many years before. I have to admit that I was very taken aback when I saw in the subject line of an email that read something similar to “This is Bill Dooley, I’m looking for Jackie Lambert.”  I replied, letting Bill know that it was me and that he had found me.  It was very nice to hear from Bill after all these years and to learn that he was doing well.  He shared with me that Jim was slowly dying of this horrible disease and my heart was saddened to hear such news. We caught up with each other’s lives once again, learning that we both had children and that our families were doing well.  On occasion, we exchange emails to see how the other is doing, sending updates or if a certain memory comes into play. We both realized that we have matured since we last saw each other, moving on, with the harsh and painful feelings of the past faded away, but the special memories we shared staying strong.  I no longer look at the negative things of the past. What lies in the past stays in the past. In order to move forward, where one can cherish memories and a friendship, your heart must be cleansed and open to forgiveness.  I have forgiven. Now, with families of our own, we both cherish the people who we have in our lives today.  I believe that this was our destiny, the road that we were meant to take.  Innocent children we once were, exploring a love and a friendship that will remain in my heart always.

 “There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all”

~ John Lennon

Angels Among Me…

Jack & Donatta and Jack and Bill Circa - Both in the 1980's

Jack & Donatta and Jack and Bill
Circa – Both in the 1980’s

Even though I didn’t have too many immediate role models while growing up, my life at that time did consist of several very special and important people. I have known my best friend, Donatta, for almost forty years; over half my life. Donatta and I were school mates and I met her for the first time in 1974 while attending the brand new school, Joan F. Arai, which was located down on Wilson Avenue. This school was modern day, with its Olympic size swimming pool and teachings that provided homemaking and manual arts training for all students, along with a regular academic curriculum. I had a lot of fun attending Arai and met some great lifelong friends. A couple years later, in 1977, we were the first eighth grade graduating class of the school. We even made the news reflecting this. Donatta and I became immediate friends. Her personality and friendship was genuine, infectious and I admired her confidence. She had beautiful long flowing hair that had every shade of blond imaginable strung within it. Today, women would pay top dollar to have such great highlights. I would stand behind her in line at school and play with her hair, running my fingers through it like one does a harp, strumming it from one end to the other, watching it fall perfectly back into place, time and time again. Donatta had a sultry look to her, a natural beauty, and a smile that made you instantly feel comfortable. I thought it was effortless for her to be so beautiful. She had long manicured nails, polished. Her makeup was flawless, never overpowering, and just enough to bring out her natural beauty, bringing out her best qualities, such as those high cheekbones she was graced with. Not only was Donatta beautiful on the outside, but she was even more beautiful from within.

Growing up with Donatta since we were young children, she has been there for me when my own mother wasn’t. God knew exactly what he was doing when he sent her to be in my life. Donatta and I formed a close bond and relationship that to this day has never been broken. She was there for me and my family during difficult times and, almost forty years later, she’s still a significant part of my life. Words are limitless when it comes time to share my thoughts and feelings about Donatta. She is truly a kindred spirit and she was brought into my life for a reason, when I needed someone the most; someone to trust, a person to confide in. Although the same age, and only fourteen days apart in birthdays, Donatta always took me under her wing, making sure that I had a friend, but most importantly, that I was safe and felt loved. Donatta is the Godmother to my daughter, Arlaraye, and I am the Godmother to her daughter, Audrey. We may not be connected by blood, but just like her father, Dedac, we are surely connected by the strength of our love and the spirit of God. Sharing the utmost deepest respect for one other, Donatta is more than a sister, she is my soul mate and I love her with all my heart.

I also share a fond relationship with Donatta’s parents. We respectively call them Nana and Dedac. Dedac recently went home to be with God, but I know he is looking over us, protecting us and smiling every step of the way. Donatta’s sister, Gordana, is also a part of our life and would do anything in the world for you. These wonderful Croatians all are a significant part of my everyday family and consider them nothing short of being the loves of my life. While growing up and spending time with them, they always considered me a part of their family. To this day, they welcome me and my children with open arms, a kiss and a special greeting, “sunce” meaning sunshine. There were times where Nana and Dedac helped pay my rent and even helped me buy airline tickets to travel with them on a family trip to Mexico. We have spent many Christmas’ together, birthday parties, and other special events throughout the years. Every get together began with a question from Dedac, “You are fine, how am I?” a tradition that has yet to be unbroken until recently. Surely, Frank will carry on this fond ritual. Nana and Dedac are my children’s Croatian grandparents, Gordana is their Teta and Donatta is their Noo-Noo. They are and always will be a part of my life. Volim te!

Donatta and her family lived in Chicago, just off of Lawrence and Western. On the rare occasion when my mother would allow me, I would spend the night with Donatta and her family. We would have the best time giggling the night away. Donatta would always tell me not to laugh so loud so as to not wake up her sister who was sleeping just in the next bedroom across the hallway, but it never worked, as we both would have another spurt of laughter under the goose feather comforter. We did this for hours until we finally fell asleep. Oh, the comfort of that feather comforter. I had never felt anything so soft and fluffy and I remembered asking Donatta what kind of blanket it was. I remember cuddling the feather blanket deep underneath my chin, thinking to myself that I felt so safe and imagined that this was what a fluffy cloud must feel like. I slept so well that night. I felt free. I felt safe. I always felt such safety and comfort being with Donatta and her family. I knew that nobody was ever going to hurt me there. A favorite memory while staying with Donatta were the wonderful showers that I was able to take. At my home, we didn’t have a shower, only a bathtub. We also never had the luxury of so many beauty soaps like Donatta had. My mother would only buy one shampoo, which was called, Prell. The bath soap that we used was Lava, which is what Melvin requested to use because his hands would get so dirty. If one wasn’t drying out your hair, the other was stripping the shine off of your skin. While stepping into the shower in Donatta’s bathroom, I remember seeing every shampoo, conditioner and body wash imaginable. They had all kinds of body washes and shampoos, only for me try each and every one of them. I felt as if I stepped into a beauty salon, with the whole salon at my fingertips, using whatever I wanted! Whenever I was in Donatta’s home, I always felt like I was a part of their family and, to this day, I still do. When stepping into their home an immediate comfort sets in and I find myself looking around at every door way, every room, every picture frame that hangs on the wall, reminiscing back in time to the days when my presence was there as a young girl.

To Share with a Friend

My best friend and I, away we did fly, to swim in the sea of blue green,
To taste the salt and touch the sands was a feeling beyond supreme.

Sun setting low with its shade of fire, behind the islands afar,
We sat dreaming up at the sky, watching the Northern Star.

Late night swims in the nearby pool, sharing our feelings of hide,
To confide in my best friend was a feeling of trust inside.

To experience a land of such beauty and serene, in the late month of September,
To share this happiness with my best friend, will always be something I remember.

Jackie (Lambert) Morin
1/9/1988
Poem written for Donatta after we came back from Mexico with her family.

“What you need to know about the past is that no matter what has happened, it has all worked together to bring you to this very moment. And this is the moment you can choose to make everything new. Right now.” ~Author Unknown

I blossomed early within the dating scene and met a boy that I simply adored at the age of twelve. I met Bill Dooley in 1974, where he, too, attended Joan F. Arai. Bill was very tall, like his father, and had the biggest brown eyes. His smile reached from one cheek to the other and his lips were full and never disappointing. He had long dark curly hair that would always curl up just enough where it would wrap around the frame of his glasses. He wore football jerseys and enjoyed eating Twinkies for lunch.

Bill was the kid who was popular within his class, if not the whole entire school and all the girls liked and wanted to date him. For a year, Bill and I would tease each other silly, finally realizing that we truly did like each other. Finally, Bill asked me to go steady with him. I felt like I was the luckiest seventh grader around. Me, dating Bill Dooley! It seemed impossible. Of course, being as young as I was at the time, and being brought up in a very strict home, I wasn’t allowed to date. Therefore, Bill and I would sneak around to see one another and we did this for many, many years thereafter and kept our relationship a secret from my mother and Melvin. Of course, our friends knew that we were dating each other, along with Bill’s parents. Basically everyone knew except my side of the family. Without a doubt, they wouldn’t have approved and I would have been severely punished if they had. When I said I was going to visit my friend Janet on Saturday’s, I was actually taking two CTA buses to Bill’s home down at 3950 Lake Shore Drive. Every night, Bill would call me on the telephone and I would hurry up and answer so that my mother or Melvin didn’t know I was talking with a boy. I always said it was either Donatta or my friend, Janet, calling. I remember once performing a silly stunt, where I told mom that I would do jumping jacks until “Janet’ called and rung the phone. Of course, this allowed me to stand very close to the phone, where nobody else could answer it. After a while, I was running out of excuses as to why I would always stand so close to the phone every night. Well, finally, after fifty some jumping jacks later, the phone finally rang, allowing me to quickly pick it up. Surely, they wouldn’t have approved of me talking with Bill on a nightly basis or any time at all for that matter.

Knowing that Bill was an avid Bob Dylan fan I wanted to impress him so much and let him know that I liked Dylan, too, even though I knew nothing about Dylan, his songs or his history in music at the time. But, I really wanted Bill to like me and I wanted him to think that I had taste when it came to music, too. I would play my Bob Dylan 45 singles on my turn table in my bedroom while we talked on the phone, sitting very close to the speakers so that Bill could hear the music in the background… “The Times They Are a-Changin’, Stuck Inside a Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again and Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35.” The irony is that Dylan’s music truly influenced me and I enjoy his work and the meaning of his songs very much. My favorite Dylan song has always been “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” I always wondered if Bill knew that this was all a strategy to get closer to him. Did he really think that I was a cool chick for listening to Dylan music?

Bill’s parents were wonderful, accepting me into their home the moment they met me. They were both very easy going parents, open, free and truly accepting me as a part of their family and life. Family parties, “Skettie” dinners or weddings, I was a part of them all. They knew of my upbringing and home life, as I shared this side of my life with Bill. They knew the structure in which I lived. Perhaps, this is why they mothered me so. Spending time with Bill and his family, I was able to see how a real family should spend time with one another; sitting down to eat dinner together, watching television together and even expressing how much they loved one another, always hearing the words I love you. I even heard these words from Bill’s parents myself. I will always be thankful that they let me be a part of their lives for so many years.

These two extraordinary friends, Donatta and Bill, kept me out of my neighborhood as much as they could during my teenage years, as they both realized how I was being raised and the unhealthy environment in which I lived. They, along with their wonderful families, were my saving grace and, to this day, I credit their existence in my life for keeping me out of that neighborhood and out of trouble. I honestly feel in my heart that if I had hung out with the wrong crowd, especially with what the neighborhood was offering, I would have gotten pregnant and ended up on welfare myself, which appeared to be an epidemic on the block as I was growing up. With no love or structure from my home life, Donatta and Bill made this part of my life whole and complete, never leaving me asking for more. For this, I will forever be grateful to them, as well as their families.

Reminiscing

Lying here thinking of you,
Waiting patiently to be in your arms,
Watching the clock as it slowly passes away.

I remember back into the past,
To the days when our love was young,
We kissed, we hugged, we held hands,
As we walked together under the star lit sky.

Feeling a warm glowing sensation inside me,
I bring myself back to reality, satisfied to know
That nothing has changed between us.

Jackie (Lambert) Morin
11/12/1980

As relationships often do, Bill and I went our separate ways after college, so that we could both grow in areas that we wouldn’t have been allowed to do otherwise if we had stayed together. That was a bittersweet time for me, but looking back, I do believe now that it was all meant to be. As I have always said, “Everything happens in life for a reason.” It may not make us stronger at the time, but over time it will. It was over twenty years later that I, once again, heard from Bill. We have since reunited and renewed friendships, caught up on each other’s lives, the happy and the sad, as well as reminiscing about the days of old but, most importantly, we talked about forgiveness.

God places certain people into our life’s paths for a reason. Donatta and Bill were my own guardian angles. They were meant to be in my path, meant to be a part of my life, to be a significant and positive interception toward the intended life that was projected for me. Having no one else to trust or depend on, I would have relied on the resources that were around me, the ones that were negative and destructive; the ones that would have surely taken me down the wrong path. For this, I thank you…

“God not only sends special angels into our lives, but sometimes He even sends themback again if we forget to take notes the first time!” ~ Eileen Elias Freeman

Uptown Girl

Old pics from the neighborhood. Window to the right is the one I climbed out of getting away from Big John.

Old pics from the neighborhood. Window to the right is the one I climbed out of getting away from Big John.

While living in Chicago with mom and Melvin, we lived in the heart of Chicago Gaylord Nation; the Lords of Sunnyside and Magnolia. We had what you call a front row seat to all the action, misfortune and crime. The Gaylords are known as being one of the oldest white street gangs in the city of Chicago. It was a very rough neighborhood in the 1970’s and that’s putting it mildly. Shortly after moving into the neighborhood, while walking to the corner drugstore to buy mom a pack of cigarettes, someone was walking behind me throwing rocks at me, just barely missing me as they skidded past my feet. Thankfully, they missed. Scare tactic I’m sure. I never did turn around to see who it was. I was too afraid and in fear that I would get my ass kicked if I acknowledged them. Whoever it was, surely thought it was a welcoming to the neighborhood no doubt.

One late evening, I was being walked home from a date with my boyfriend, Bill. We were walking down Wilson Avenue and just made a right onto my street Magnolia. Bill lived on Hermitage off of Wilson and thought it would be a straight shot to walking me back home. We were about a half block away from my apartment building when suddenly a group of guys came out of nowhere, walking very close behind us. Taking a brief look behind me, I noticed they had boards and baseball bats, slapping them into the palm of their hands, hard and with intimidations, making sure we heard every loud crack of their threatening intentions. Neither Bill nor I reacted to their hostility which, for some reason, was obviously directed toward us. Surely, it was a few of the Lords protecting their territory as we just entered their home turf on Sunnyside and Magnolia. They were making their presence known. Bill was not known there, as he never hung around the neighborhood. The gang could tell that he didn’t belong and could have easily started things up. Luckily, the Lords never carried through with their threats. Perhaps, they recognized me, knowing that I was Steve’s sister and lived in the neighborhood, just doors away, therefore leaving us both alone. The next time Bill walked me home; we decided to walk down Montrose Avenue instead, stopping at Mr. Jazz for a shake. For Bill, chocolate chip mint and for me, a banana shake, with a real banana in it. There was even one time where the Guardian Angles themselves walked us home, making sure that we arrived safely to our destination. Yes, it was rough living on Magnolia and Sunnyside, a.k.a. Gaylord Territory, which is now the home of a CPD blue light camera watching every move that is made.

Being surrounded by gang members in the neighborhood, my brothers would hang out with some of the kids from the gang. Ironically, they never tried to recruit them. I guess after a while they realized that my brothers were more into school and sports than being initiated by a gang banger. Over time, my brothers were accepted into the neighborhood by the Gaylords and weren’t hassled, which meant the trouble makers left me alone as well. We were good kids; we weren’t looking for any trouble.

Not being able to travel too far from the neighborhood, we mainly stuck close to home. We would gather up a team and venture one block west to the empty sandlot behind Beacon Street, where we would play softball. As Steve tossed the bat, and as hand went over hand to see who would choose their first team member, I was always picked within the top three. Either I was that good or my brothers felt sorry for me. My brothers and I, along with a few neighborhood friends would absorb ourselves with a few games, playing until the sun was setting low enough, taking the light away from the game. I was a straight up Tomboy to say the least. There were really no girls to hang out with so I just hung out with my brothers and their friends. I had more boy in me than Rue Paul! If we weren’t playing softball, we were playing pinners up against the apartment stairs or fast pitch in the Stockton daycare schoolyard. We would also hang out at Truman College when it was first built and had many football games there behind the school. I did get into the occasional wrestling match. My brothers and I, along with our friends, would play tag team wrestling in our front yard. I remember losing a tooth that way once. One of the guys elbowed me directly in the mouth and out popped my tooth. Tossing my hair into a ponytail, I would wear tennies and gym clothes and wrestle with the best of them. Eventually, when I had enough of being a Tomboy, I’d go into the house and change my wardrobe, only to come strolling out all decked out wearing a short dress, pantyhose and four inch black platform shoes that women today would kill for! I wanted to show the boys that I was also a young lady, dainty, proper… with a missing tooth!

My neighborhood back in the seventies was mostly low income people; nothing short of being a bunch of hillbillies and some being low white trash. The kids were always playing in the streets, dirty, wearing no shoes, and climbing the wooden light poles just to see how high they could go. You either worked for daily pay or you were on welfare, mom and Melvin included. It seemed as if every southern soul from Arkansas to Mississippi, all the way from Tennessee to Kentucky were living on the same block as I was. I never heard so much southern twang; almost thought it was a prerequisite just to live in the neighborhood. It also seemed that every kid on the block had a combination of two first names; Roger Dale, George Lee, Brenda Gayle or Bubba Junior. They should have renamed the street that I lived on from Magnolia to Hillbilly Hell. The adults were tough and the kids were even tougher. It appeared as if there was always a fight breaking out between kids, gang bangers or someone getting their ass kicked, which, unfortunately, at times, involved me.

Nobody liked the quiet kid, especially in school and, because I kept my mouth shut, did the work and showed up every day for class, teachers would take it upon themselves to use me as an example, not realizing that they just stamped, “Kick My Ass” directly across my forehead! They would always ask me to do special tasks to help them out; erasing the board, passing out those wonderful smelling ditto sheets that everyone sniffed the moment they held them in their hands. I was always asked to help. This was known as Teacher’s Pet and nobody, absolutely nobody, liked the Teacher’s Pet. I couldn’t tell you how many times I got picked on at recess or got my ass kicked after school by big black burly girls. They enjoyed the extracurricular activity and I just happened to be their main hobby. I was getting bullied so much, that it was getting to the point where my teacher had to let me out of school five minutes early before the dismissal bell would ring, just so I could get a head start at getting home. Clearly feeling sorry for me, my teacher would stand on the school stairs at Stockton Elementary, just off of Montrose Avenue, yelling at me to, “Run Jackie Run!” I’d run down Montrose Avenue so fast that I felt my shoes slapping me in my rear end with every mad dash I took. Finally making it home, I felt safer. Little did my teacher know that the girls who would kick my ass lived on the same block, directly across the street from me. So, if they didn’t catch me after school, then they caught me while playing outside. I was never the type to fight back. I was submissive, as I stood there while they took their pokes at me. I think they were waiting for me to fight back, giving them the opportunity to really let me have it. But, I always stood there watching them, with their nostrils flaring up with every tormenting breath they took, and their eyes that were so big they looked like they were going to pop out of their skulls. Poke, poke, poke, they did until they had enough and decided to torment the next poor kid. I would tell mom that girls were bothering me, but all she would tell me to do is stay away from them. Yes, sure, that seemed easy enough. Eventually, as I got older, I hung out with my brothers and their friends, playing softball or fast pitch. It was then that I was finally left alone and not bothered anymore. Having friends in that neighborhood that liked you was tough!

Another current event that would always happen in my neighborhood was the fires. It seems that apartment buildings were always getting torched to the ground, including two of the buildings that I had lived in. I’d hear the fire trucks blaring down the street and wonder which building is burning now, hoping that it wasn’t my own. However, I always found it amazing that one building in particular on the block never had a fire. This was the tallest building on Magnolia toward Wilson Avenue. It was years later that I realized that the building was never torched because all the pyromaniacs who set all the fires to begin with lived there. Wouldn’t be wise to burn down your own building, now would it? In 1976, one late evening, one of the buildings we lived in on Magnolia was set ablaze. At the time, I was in seventh grade and getting ready for another summer vacation, waiting for the school year to end. I had dreamt of fire, only to wake up with smoke filling our apartment. I woke up my family, telling them that something was burning. Fortunately, we lived on the first floor and it was easy to get out of the building. Unfortunately, there were two other floors above us and others wouldn’t be as lucky. As I was leaving to run outside, I took a quick glance at the stairwell, only to see them engulfed in flames; almost memorizing as I stood there watching the orange flames lick the ceiling and staircase, making their way down to the main floor. My family made it out in front of our burning building and waited for the fire trucks to arrive. I see other family members coming out of the same door. Knowing that they lived on the upper floors, I couldn’t understand how they made it down to the first floor and out of the building. It was only moments later, after seeing them, I realized that they walked right through the flames to escape. Some tenants jumped from the second floor, ending up with broken bones, as they knew they couldn’t escape any other way. A mother was severely burned from her waste up. She ran out of her apartment with no shirt on and you can see her breasts starting to blister up and skin peeling away from her body. Her two young sons were badly burned, as well. Their hair was almost gone and the skin on their scalps had melted. We were all in shock. It was months later when we saw them again, their bodies healing and full of scars, trying to recover from this horrific ordeal that they went through just months before. The mother had scars all up and down her arms, breasts and back and, sadly, her sons reflected her image, wearing baseball caps to hide their head and faces. On the evening of the fire, there were news crews covering the story and Red Cross was handing out blankets to stay warm. Sitting in the Red Cross van, I was afraid, terrified, wondering where we were going to live. It was a three story brick building and the two top floors were badly damaged. It was reported by the news that the tenants on the second floor were having a late night party and certain individuals from the outside wanted to attend, but the tenant of the apartment declined their proposition. Therefore, these individuals threw a Molotov cocktail through their second story window, directly above us, causing the apartment to be instantly engulfed in flames and spreading through the whole second floor and eventually to the third. Many lives were scarred that night… literally and figuratively. I thought we would move, but it was decided that we would stay in the building. My mother and Melvin had nowhere else to go and had no money to do so. Eventually, the building was in the process of being renovated; surely, a health hazard, not to mention against the law, especially with three young children still living there. There was no electricity in the building and, eventually, it was being pumped into the building via the light poles in the alley. There was a lot of water damage and smoke damage to everything we owned and a lot of our things had to be thrown out. We had no gas for cooking. The smell of burnt wood was horrible and it permeated everything in the apartment. I was finalizing my days at school, wearing the same clothes that were in the fire and that had been permeated with smoke damage. We had no washer or dryer to wash our clothes. I would spray my clothes down with perfume from Avon so that my clothes wouldn’t have a stench. But, I know they still did, if not making my clothes smell worse. Surely, my classmates realized something was wrong. I did confide in my best friend, Donatta, that my building had a fire and we had no gas to cook nor did we have any clean clothes. Upon hearing this, Donatta and her mother, Nada, brought my family over shopping bags full of clean blankets, sheets, towels, and even an electric frying pan so that we could at least cook some meals. I’ll never forget looking out the window, watching as these two angels got out of their car, with bags full of items for us to use. What a beautiful and unselfish act of kindness. I will never forget this for the rest of my life. Because of Donatta’s kind gesture and concerns, my family and I were able to stay warm and at least have a couple of warm meals. As life always does, we managed to move forward with this tragedy and, eventually, the building was rehabbed, allowing us to continue to live in this apartment building for at least several more years thereafter. The neighborhood experienced many buildings that went up in flames, some from neglect or vandalism and others just for profit, leaving many families homeless if not dead.

Years later, we eventually moved from the building that was set on fire into another building just a few doors away. It seemed as if we always lived on Magnolia, on the east side of the street, never venturing to live anywhere else. Mom and Melvin agreed to manage the apartment building that we moved to for a reduction of rent.

There was a husband and wife tenant who lived on the second floor named Big John and Barbara. They called him Big John because he was well over six feet tall. He was a good looking man, gentle and somewhat on the quiet side. He reminded me of a greaser, with his black hair slicked back. His wife, Barbara, was petite and quite as well. We got to know them, as we would occasionally chat while sitting outside on the front stoop. One summer afternoon, mom and I were in our apartment when we heard a huge bang above us, followed up moments later with someone knocking on our door. Not knowing what to expect, I stood behind mom as she went to see who was at the door. There, standing before us, was Big John, who also happened to have a gun in his hand. Recognizing what it was, it scared me and I immediately took a step back. Very politely, he asked my mother to please call the police, as he said that he just shot his wife, Barbara. Suddenly, my body felt sick and numb and my instincts took over. I wanted to leave, but Big John was standing in our door way and with a gun in hand. There was no way out. I didn’t know what he was capable of or if he was going to continue shooting. I was beyond scared. Luckily, we lived on the first floor because it was at that point that I decided to climb out of the front window and slide down the building into the front yard, getting far away from Big John. I stood back, close to the curb, waiting for the police to arrive. Big John also made his way outside and stood in front of the building, as he, too, was waiting for the same visitors to arrive. It was then that I decided to cross the street, keeping my distance from him and his gun. Moments later, the police showed up and were entering our building to speak with mom. They didn’t realize that the man they were looking for was standing outside, right there in front of them, while still holding is gun. Once the police officers realized they walked past the man they were looking for, they went into action, drawing their guns, asking Big John to hand over his weapon. Within minutes, he was handcuffed and taken into custody. Meanwhile, his wife was still sitting on the second floor landing, bleeding all over the place from a gunshot wound that went through her right upper arm and directly into her side. An ambulance was called and they took Barbara to the hospital for emergency treatment.

I thought that that this was the end of the nightmare and that it would make a great story for everyone to share that evening while sitting on the stoop. But, I was wrong, as my mother instructed me to get a bucket of pine-sol and hot soapy water, along with a mop. At first, I didn’t understand why, but it soon became apparent that mom appointed me to be the cleanup crew and scrub the blood that was draped all over the stairs and carpet from when Barbara was sitting there earlier that day. I expressed to mom that I didn’t want to clean up the blood and that I wouldn’t know how, or what to do, but that didn’t seem to matter to her. Again, she commanded me to go get the bucket of water and clean up the stairs. I went to prepare the bucket and grabbed the mop and slowly made my way up to the second floor. The mop was huge and heavy; almost too big for a ten year old to handle. It was awkward and cumbersome to hang onto. I stood before the pool of blood that now resembled a bowl of firm Jell-O. Blood begins to coagulate once it hits the open air, thickening and becoming firm. Dipping my mop into the bucket of water, I rung the wetness out by hand and took my first swipe at wiping up the bloody mess that lay before me. It was like mopping up a large jar of red paint that broke open onto the floor, smearing from left to right, creating even a bigger mess. There was a lot of blood on those stairs and the mop just wasn’t able to absorb all the blood at once. Rinsing the mop out by hand several times, I watched as the blood ran through and over my fingers and back into the bucket. The strength of the pine-sol had burnt my nose, stinging my upper sinuses, and making my eyes water. Mom told me to make sure that it was all up from the stairs and, in particular, out of the carpet. I got sick to my stomach, along with having the dry heaves from the smell and the appearance of me smearing the blood from one end of the stair to the other. Eventually, I did manage to get enough of the blood up so that it wouldn’t stain and my mother was satisfied. I was very upset with mom and that she made me clean up what should have been an adult’s responsibility, her responsibility, anyone else’s responsibility except for her own young child. To this day, I can’t stand the smell of Pine-sol, as it takes me back to this moment in time where I was trying to scrub someone else’s blood from the floor.

I have gone back to the old neighborhood since these awful days and, with every trip I make, over forty years later; I find that it is always changing for the better or at least trying to anyway. The changes in appearance are tremendous, seeing how much it has transformed since we lived there so many years ago. Starbucks on the corner of Magnolia and Wilson, along with a gourmet bistro appropriately called, Magnolia Café. Buildings have been gutted and renovated, turning once cockroach and gang infested apartment buildings into beautiful, gorgeous condos, with their neatly manicured lawns and newly designed architectural structures that are going for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The last building we were burnt out, the same place where bloody Barbara sat waiting for help, has since been torn down and is now a beautiful park for the neighborhood and their families to play and spend time in. Today, as you hear the children’s laughter filling the air and as the parents push their young children in the swing or catch them as they come slithering down the slide, they will never know the horrors that this  particular spot once held for a young child back in the seventies, who not only endured, but survived being that Uptown Girl.

The Power Of Forgiveness…

God's Beautiful Gift

God’s Beautiful Gift

I look at a certain type of man walking down the street with their little daughter; a man who looks as if he’s guarded, distrustful, as if he’s holding onto the biggest and most darkest secret in the palm of his hand; the hand of a young and innocent child that he’s been sexually molesting. He holds her hand tightly and keeps her close to his side in hopes that she will not escape, so as to not shout out their horrible family secrets to the world. My thoughts start to wander back to the days when I was her age, questioning and wondering if she, too, is receiving the same sexual abuse as I had. If she’s being made to do the same disgusting acts as I had. I shake the thought from my mind and quietly say a silent prayer for the little girl’s safety and pray that I am mistaken; that I am completely wrong.

At the time that I was being sexually molested, I felt it was my own horrible nightmare; my own secret that was only between Melvin and me. I was a little girl, who was supposed to be free-spirited, worry free and innocent; all the makings of a sweet child. But, my childhood was being shattered, as images were forever burned into my mind. I was becoming the product of sexual abuse. I can’t call it incest, because he wasn’t married to my mother legally, he wasn’t my biological father, wasn’t even a relative. But, regardless of what you call it, it was still a horrible act of violence. Sexual molestation is not only full of destruction, it’s also degrading. I eventually learned to create a wall within myself, a wall of protection that mentally blocked Melvin out.

Not only was Melvin a hazard to society with his alcoholism and cruel temperament, but he also carried the label of child molester. His upbringing of my brothers and I was deplorable and despicable. I guess with him not being my real father, in his mind, he probably felt he was justified to touch me inappropriately; that it was okay because he wasn’t technically related to me. He had no guilt or shame doing what he did to me all those years and, as I found out many years later, once I was an adult, what he had done to my brother, as well.

All my years growing up, I always believed that I was the only one Melvin was molesting. In my brother’s mind, he believed that he was the only one being molested by Melvin. It wasn’t until our adult life, years later, when we were having dinner together, that we were both shocked to discover that it wasn’t just one of us, but both of us that Melvin had sexually abused for so many years. During dinner one evening, my conversation with my brother was starting to get very meaningful, while reminiscing about living on the farm with our grandparents. Every summer, my grandparents would drive from Stoughton to Chicago to come and get us so we can spend the summers with them on their farm. My brother and I both agreed that this time in our lives was glorious and held so many special memories for the both of us. Years later, my grandparents eventually had to move to Madison because my grandfather had cancer and wasn’t able to handle the farm any longer. He needed to be closer to the hospital and his physicians. After talking awhile about how special this time of our lives were, I had decided to share with Steve a love letter that our grandfather had written me years before, during his sickness, as he knew he was dying. The letter read in part… “I keep thinking of the time we went to the country. We sure did have a ball stealing sweet corn. Remember your pet chicken? That was some bird! I would give $10,000 to be back there and do it all over again.” He, too, reminisced about the good old summer days when we would all be together.

Later in life, I always wondered if my mother ever knew of my sexual abuse. Thinking back, how could she not know? My mother never worked, never went anywhere and was always around. It’s not like she left the house and this is when Melvin attacked. Sometimes, mom would be in the same area where the abuse was happening. Surely, she had to have seen some odd behavior, not only in Melvin, but in her own child. Did she not find it suspicious that Melvin always wanted to take me with him on errands or task, even if it was just next door, to the empty apartment or to check on something in the building we use to manage? Did she not question why I came back disheveled and silent? Deep in my heart I felt that she did know to some extent about me being sexually molested by the man that she shared her life with. For reasons of her own, my mother kept her silence. If she would have confronted Melvin, either he would have left and that would have meant that any source of money or dependency she received from him would have been gone, too. She was so fearful of him and didn’t want to stir up any trouble. Mom was in psychological trap of her own. Mom would just sit there, frozen, not daring to move or say anything that would piss Melvin off. Otherwise, his hand would swing back, palm side directed toward my mother’s head, hitting her directly in the face; her head snapping back, only to bounce forward, waiting to receive the next blow. I never once saw her fight back. I’ve seen Melvin beat my mother just because she spoke out of line or just refusing to hand him her last dollars so that he could go and buy his vodka. Melvin would drink excessively before going to bed. He had a habit of talking in his sleep and would unconsciously wake up and start an argument with my mother, insisting and accusing her of something she did wrong, threatening, calling her a bitch. We all tip toed around him as he slept, praying we wouldn’t wake him up. My mother was scared to death of Melvin, we all were and, like us, sadly, she was a victim, too.

Occasionally, I’ll see something that will trigger me back to the days of when Melvin was being abusive. It’s a rarity, but it does happen. If the molesting didn’t happen in an empty apartment while cleaning for the next tenant, it happened on the back of a dark Greyhound bus while traveling or in a park underneath a tree far away from others. My earliest memories of Melvin touching me and making me touch him were when I was around three years old until I was about eleven or twelve, just after puberty was starting.

As I got older, Melvin touched me less and less. I was resisting him more and more. I was becoming more vocal, a person of my own mind who had gotten stronger mentally throughout the years. He no longer could manipulate me like he wanted to and he knew it. He had lost control. There was a time when I was nineteen years old that Melvin had moved out of our apartment. Not only was Melvin arguing with my mother, he was also arguing with me. There was a lot of tension with him arguing, insulting me, directly in front of others. He hated the fact that I was now an adult and he had no control of my life. He was jealous and hated the fact that I wanted something better for myself, was going to college getting an education; that I worked and had a great relationship with my boyfriend, Bill. I was finally happy with my life and where it was going. I was moving on and making every attempt to better myself and my future. Melvin couldn’t stand it. He knew he had no more power over me, no more manipulation or threats, no more beatings, no more sexual abuse. My body was no longer in his jurisdiction. So, to make himself feel better, he would pick fights with me, insult and degrade me, working his evilness in every way that he could because he knew he could no longer do it sexually.

The surroundings we lived in were becoming unhealthy. I became a woman with my own voice and I wasn’t going to stand for his abusive unhealthy behavior anymore. I learned to speak my mind, I stood up for myself and Melvin hated it. The abuser could no longer abuse; therefore, he left and moved out.

With Melvin now out of the apartment, there was less tension in the air, no arguing or picking fights, no more watching him drink himself into unconsciousness every night. With Melvin gone, it made life more peaceful. But, I had decided that I had enough of living at home. I was old enough to be on my own and I held a job where I could afford a small rent fee. I knew I didn’t want to be in that environment any longer. I was tired of the lifestyle, the lack of love, the filth, the depression. I needed out! I had an opportunity to move out from my mother’s place and rent a bedroom from a mutual friend that my boyfriend, Bill, and I knew. It was the mother-in-law of one of Bill’s brothers. Her name was Sophie. I was given such a wonderful opportunity from Sophie that I jumped at the chance to get away from the way I was living; to escape hell and live somewhere other than where I was. I rented a bedroom for twenty dollars a week and I had full use of the house and yard. I felt that this was the right place for me. Sophie saved me from a home of destruction and my words can never express my gratitude for what she did for me. Sophie’s sincere act of kindness with letting me live there with her was the turning point for me to step out into the world and become the young independent woman that I wanted to be. I had made final arrangements and I started packing my belongings.

Although Melvin had moved out, he would still come over to visit and spend time with my mother, giving her any money that he may have made from daily pay that day. One afternoon, while I was visiting, Mom told me that Melvin was coming over. My timing was impeccable! She had asked me to stay in my old bedroom and not come out while he was there, as he didn’t have plans to stay long. She didn’t want any further confrontation between us, so I told her that I would. Shortly after, Melvin arrives and sits down by my mother I could easily hear their conversation, as my room was just off the living room and there was no door, only a curtain. I could hear him ask where the boys were, meaning my brothers. Mom told him that they were outside with friends. Pausing for a while, he then proceeded to ask her where her “whore daughter” was. I can hear mom’s hushed words, telling him that I was in my room and to keep his voice down. His comment about me being a whore didn’t go unnoticed; I heard it perfectly clear. Doing what mom asked, I continued to stay in the bedroom. But, not being satisfied with my mother’s response, Melvin stood up and addressed my mother once again. This time, he bellowed in a more commanding voice, making sure that I heard him. His goal was to provoke me out of the bedroom, like a hunter does his prey. “Where’s your “whore daughter?!” It took everything I had to stay in my bedroom, I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I had enough. If there was something I wasn’t, that was that I was NOT a whore! I wasn’t going to allow him to belittle me any longer. Melvin wanted a confrontation and I was going to give him what he wanted. I came storming out of the bedroom, tossing aside a chair that was in my way, which only pushed my adrenalin even higher. Mom was sitting down, watching me as I stood in front of the asshole who was calling me a whore. Mom knew enough not to say anything; not to even get in my way, as I was about to go face to face with the devil himself. I was about to do something that she probably wanted to do her whole life. I stood face to face with Melvin and he had hatred written all over his face. If the words were visible, they would probably read… You whore bitch, how dare you leave and escape the hell and tortured life that I created for you. Damn you!

Standing before him, it was my turn to scream, saying to him, “Call me a whore one more time!” He stood to his feet, looked directly into my eyes, and told me that I was nothing but a filthy whore. It was then that something inside me took over and I reacted, snapping, with every syllable he spoke. With everything I had, I punched Melvin as hard as I could with both of my fists, making a direct contact to his face, chest and shoulders. I hit him so hard that he had landed directly on his ass, between a chair and a table, just inches away from my mother’s feet. I heard him land hard. Mom was in such shock that I had hit him that I actually saw a smirk slowly appear on her face.

Melvin lay there on the floor in shock, staring up at me, but now with the words of holy shit written all over his face instead. He didn’t dare stand up and confront me, nor did the words “you’re a whore” ever come out of his mouth again. If he had, I would have hit him again. As I stood over him, watching him squirm on the floor, I said through gritted teeth, “Don’t you EVER call me a whore again! I am NOT a whore! I am a wonderful, kind-hearted loving person; something that you will never be! So, don’t you ever call me a whore again!” Melvin never spoke or acknowledged me again and these were the last words that I ever spoke to Melvin.

Years later, I learned that Melvin was diagnosed with liver cancer and was in the late stages of the disease. He eventually moved back in with my mom so that she could be his full-time care giver. As his health was deteriorating, mom took care of him more and more. She would feed and bathe him, even changing his pissy and shitty diapers, lifting his legs and changing him like one would do a baby. This is how thin and frail he had become. Mom stood by Melvin’s side until he took his last undeserving breath. I often wondered why she had made such a personal and dedicated commitment to take care of a man who would beat and abuse her, who belittled and treated her like shit on a daily basis. Once, Melvin kicked her out of our apartment, making her sit in the hallway for hours and hours, telling her that she didn’t have a home and that she didn’t live there anymore nor had anything to do with her children. I remember crying by her side and she told me that I better get back into the apartment before Melvin finds out that I was with her. He didn’t want anyone to be around her. Ironically, these were the same set of stairs that I was made to clean a pool of blood from when our neighbor shot his wife. Melvin had abandoned her, as she sat alone in the stairway. Many years later, as he was dying of cancer, why couldn’t she abandon him like he did to her so many years before? Did she feel that he shouldn’t die alone? After all, he was Jeff’s biological father. Could she have loved him that much after everything he had done to her, to her children?

I was at work one morning back in December of 1993, when I received a phone call from my mother. I can tell in her voice that something had happened. She said, “I know you probably don’t care, but just thought I’d let you know that Melvin passed away last night.” It was at that moment that I felt like someone squeezed the breath right out of me. I wasn’t prepared for that moment, although it was something I wanted all my young life… for him to die and go away. I couldn’t tell mom that I was sorry or that I felt bad for her. I couldn’t say any words of sympathy whatsoever. They just weren’t in me. All I said was okay and then hung up the phone. I stood and went directly to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. It was there that I cried my countless tears of liberation and rejoice; my tears of relief. I suddenly felt refreshed and cleansed with every breath of air I took. I was relieved to know that Melvin had finally stepped off the face of this earth forever and, hopefully, into the arms of the master devil himself. I was relieved to know that he will never have another opportunity to hurt another innocent child or woman again. His abuse had ended the moment his life did.

I have heard cases where an innocent child dies from their sexual and physical abuse, while another survived. For the survivors; their heart, mind and soul will have this memory of abuse with them for their entire lifetime. Some may be stronger than others, where thoughts can be placed on a top shelf like a book, collecting dust, where they will never be disturbed or influence their lives again, while others may have everlasting effects that will constantly challenge their lives forever. I find it heartbreaking that one individual can alter your trust, feelings and beliefs just by their words and actions alone.

Many times, my thoughts had questioned why my mother consoled a dying man in his last moments of life, especially knowing that he was the one that added unwanted chapters into her children’s lives, as well as her own. It wasn’t until I was sitting on my deck a couple of summers ago that I had my answers.

As I sat studying the sky, I watched the birds dancing above my head. The sun was a glowing orange that was setting for the evening. I watched as the last remaining sliver of sunset disappeared below the horizon. I sat with a glass of wine, sipping, as I wiped a stream of unhappy tears from my cheeks. I was having marriage troubles; the kind that left me hopeless and questioning myself where did I go wrong. I was sobbing and now directed all my questions go God. Why did my husband take his frustrations out on me? Why was I receiving such verbal abuse from him? What did I ever do to deserve such abuse in my life that started from the moment I was born to now and what seems to continue into my marriage? I pleaded with God to help me understand.

It was at that exact moment that my mother’s vision came into my mind. I was suddenly reminded of all the physical abuse she received, as well as the verbal. I was reminded of all the times that she sat there crying to herself, taking in all the horrible cruelty that Melvin was throwing her way. It was also at that moment that I understood exactly what my mother had gone through. I felt her every pain. I felt every ounce of hurt that she felt. I felt her shame, her empty heart. I felt her lack of love. My heart suddenly felt compassion for my mother, perhaps, the same compassion that she felt for Melvin as he was making his final descent into death. It was then that I completely understood. I told my mother that I was sorry. I was so sorry for everything that she had to endure in her life while being with Melvin. He had taken away so much from her. My tears are no longer about myself, but for my mother. My heart was full of empathy and it was at that moment that I forgave my mother for everything. I forgave her for the way she treated me, for her lack of emotion, for her lack of protection. I forgave her for the way she couldn’t love me.

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ~ Steve Maraboli