How Grief Helps Us Grow. #bloglikecrazy

“Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed.” ~ Wikipedia

Grief is a truth teller when we like to believe the lies.

Grief slays us from our easy chair and smiles at our idea of control.

I thought her evil, pointing out my deficiencies, even stealing joy and freedom.

Grief speaks the loudest at funerals, but that’s not the only place her voice is heard.

She whispers throughout our lives and we resist her presence repeatedly.

She says: He’s got another woman (when he does). Your mom has cancer and will likely die. (Sometimes grief sounds like a doctor.) Your parents are divorcing. You hate this job. You’re going to lose the house. The doctors had to cut off his foot. He’s unresponsive.

We think grief is the b*tch, but she’s more like my new stepmom when I was a teenager: introducing rules which felt restrictive, but showed me what it meant to be a family.

Grief is strong and no doubt she can be harsh, but she’s loving.

She’s like the junior high school teacher who made my brother read in front of the class. Except Bill couldn’t read; so he slapped her.

That teacher revealed a truth my brother had been denying.

That’s the kind of teacher grief is—willing to be hated, even abused, in order to remove the mask.

A friend of mine told me he was sexually abused, by more than one person, starting at age five. He told me he doesn’t feel sad or angry. He says it didn’t affect him. In fact, he’s fine.

I recognize that mask. It’s the I’m okay mask.

I wore it for almost a decade after I was raped. I not only denied the pain, but avoided it entirely (actually how denial works).

I thought I was brave. I thought I was strong. I thought I was fine.

Actually, I didn’t think much about that night at all.

It wasn’t a #metoo campaign that made me face my pain.

A qualified therapist knew it takes more than just listening to a client like me paint pretty pictures so she feels better.

This therapist encouraged me to take off my I’m fine mask, look at the truth, and allow the tears to break where my trust had been violated.

She helped me face what I hadn’t known how to. And to move past it.

It’s not only the experiences we want to avoid; it’s the grief.

Grief says, “Yes, you were raped.”

What a b*tch. What a truth teller.

It takes courage to face our pain. That’s why so many women don’t come forward until years later, if at all. It’s easier to deny.

Our ego convinces us to be “strong” and in doing so, we often end up lying to ourselves through minimizing.

I have friends whose fathers left them or never showed up when they were kids. For years I’ve watched them dismiss the impact of an event like that.

Then, as adults when they get conscious and courageous, they can cry in the arms of grief. It’s the beginning of releasing that mask they all but glued on their beautiful faces.

When they finally take off the mask and let the grief in, the light comes. too.

When we face people’s (including our own) imperfections, manipulations, and violations, at first we’re hit with grief. But then, we’re set free.

We’re no longer captive to the actions of others. That’s why society applauds so many women and men coming out of the shadows and saying #metoo.

We’re witnessing their individual healing and society’s collective awakening.

We minimize our pain not because we’re strong or brave, but because on some level, we believe the grief could devour us.

She won’t. She waits like a patient parent or teacher. She helps us remove our I’m fine mask and the illusion of being in control.

Grief invites us to lay our hurt and humanity at her feet.

She holds us in our raw pain.

Then, like my stepmother and my brother’s teacher, grief helps us grow into more conscious and compassionate human beings.

 

How We Can Allow Life to be Easy #bloglikecrazy

“Someone who has more information than we do about the nature of reality is worthy of respect.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa, Smile at Fear

My yoga teacher started class with the intention: “Let it be easy.”

She wasn’t just talking about yoga. She was talking about life.

Let it be easy. Let it be. Easy.

But, “Life is hard.” And, “No one said it would be easy.”

Sometimes we take the grains of truth and tattoo them on our minds like chosen mantras.

My stepmom once said, “We have to learn everything the hard way.” But, do we?

Could we stop making everything hard and let it be easy?

Sometimes, life is hard.

But, Addie, the yoga teacher I so admire, suggested I could let it be easy.

As if I could stop trying so damn hard.

Wow. What if I’ve been the resistance in my life? That’s not easy to admit.

I’ve taken challenges and made them struggles. I’ve made miscommunications reasons for refusal. I’ve forced financial situations into avalanches. I’ve owned life’s difficulties.

Could we really just let it be easy? It sounds so easy it seems absurd.

“Easy for you to say.”

Does everything have to be difficult to be worthy?

I used to live by the words:” “What doesn’t destroy me makes me strong.” But, at a certain point I was attracting circumstances to prove my strength. I stopped doing that (intentionally).

The Question Book asks: If you could have a consistently good life or one filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows, which would you choose?

I’m certain I chose the peaks and valleys before I arrived in this world.

Even so, can I let it be easy? The idea attracts me like a handsome man I’m not sure I can have.

Easy sounds sweet and seductive, so much so my instinct is to dismiss.

However, when I took the easy intention to my yoga mat, I had one of my best practices. I was strong, focused and flexible—with ease.

Yoga is the master teacher. What we learn on the mat follows us into life.

Come on, ease!

What if I can let it be easy…

To regain my health, energy and vitality? I could stop searching for answers and diagnosis and allow my body to rebalance itself.

What if I let my writing be easy? Writing is easy for me. That doesn’t mean it’s not work.

But, I can return to flow, where my soul resides and my desire to be of benefit unfolds.

What if I let my relationships be easy? I could stop putting them under the microscope, judging and determining their worth. I could be present, with ease.

Could I let building a blog, attracting an audience, landing a publisher and contract be easy? Why not?! I’ve tried to make it hard. I’ve tried to suffer for my art. Enough so that I’m willing to try a new way.

Could I let my grief be easy? A year ago this would’ve been larger than leaping the Grand Canyon. But today, I let my tears fall easy, my memories land lightly and the signs arrive as they will.

It’s better than trying to make myself get over it and move on or demand the kind of communication that only arrives divinely.

The more I think about it—letting life be easy is about letting the divine unfold—rather than ordering and dismissing miracles.

I doubt the flowers sprouting through sidewalks or cardinals finding my feeders fought their way there. Isn’t nature easy?

Maybe it’s only human nature that makes life hard. Why do we do that?

It’s a protection mechanism. Like if we accept or prepare for how hard life is, it will be less so. Unfortunately, the mechanism is faulty.

Listen, I don’t believe in positive denial. I’m a stickler for truth—although a friend recently pointed out I’m not perfect in this area either. That’s true.

I’m not seeking perfection and I refuse to affirm, “I’m happy! I’m happy! I’m happy!” or even, “It’s easy.”

However, we don’t have to make things hard or assume they are.

We can just let life be as easy as it is. We can allow for the ease.

Sometimes we take grains of truth and tattoo them on our minds like chosen mantras.

My new mantra: I let it be easy.

How a Political Refuge from Chilé gave me much to be Thankful for. #bloglikecrazy

How a Political Refuge from Chilé gave me much to be Thankful for. #bloglikecrazy

 

“I urge you to celebrate the extraordinary courage and contributions of refugees past and present.” ~ Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General

It was the day after Thanksgiving last year. My best friend Andrea was out of town. I called her father, Mr. Mena to see if I might stop by and visit.

I said, “Hola, it’s Alice.”

Papi said, “Oh, mi otro hija!” (my other daughter).

When I arrived, he wanted to cook for me. I didn’t let him, but I said yes to his Chilean wine and pride. We sat at the kitchen counter talking about life, family and politics.

Although I’ve known this man since high school and he once introduced himself to my mother as, “Hello. I’m Alice’s father,” it’s never been just the two of us. Usually, I was in his home visiting Andrea.

You know how sometimes you drop by just to say a polite hello, and somehow time opens up to make space for words never considered?

Mrs. Mena was in the back bedroom sleeping. She hasn’t been the same since her stroke 20 years ago.

Although I never considered this question before, I asked how they met—some 50 years ago. Papi told me when he was a teenager he was friends with Mrs. Mena’s sister. Then, he saw Andree with her long hair, but he said, “I wasn’t thinking anything. I was 16.”

Later, he got free tickets for a concert because he’d pounded a dent out of a bus and the owners gave him the tickets. He fell asleep on the bus ride to the concert and awoke to Andree kissing him on the cheek.

His eyes lit up as he recalled their young love. They used to go out dancing and he’d buy her Coca Colas.

Even back when he was a teenager, Mr. Mena worked on cars. He built a car that was in a three-country race: Chilé, Peru and Argentina. Then, he got hired by the university and earned a paycheck! Mr. Mena told me he never had trouble making money.

Later, Andree wanted to get married. He was 19. She was 17.

Both their fathers approved and went with them to get married. Both moms were opposed, especially his because he was the family breadwinner.

Then, Mr. Mena told me about the coup and Pinochet coming in as dictator of Chile. That’s when Mr. Mena became a part of the resistance.

Because now Pinochet was in charge of all the companies, Mr. Mena and his coworkers would do things like leaving the lights and water on all night to wreak havoc. In the shop where he worked, they made sharp objects to throw in the road to stop the military and secret police.

He also took people to the French Embassy to escape.

Papi described helping one mom and her three girls go out the back of their house and in the front and out the back of three houses to escape the military police, who, he claimed were “so mad!”

“Why were they after her?” I asked. “Because her husband was part of the resistance.”

Mr. Mena drove the woman and her girls to a farm. Those were just the things they did. Yes, it was dangerous.

In fact, the military police captured and tortured Mr. Mena, but he “never told them anything because then they’d have no use for me.”

Then, they’d kill him. Mr. Mena’s sister and many of his friends were killed.

While he was held and tortured, Mrs. Mena searched and did everything she could to find her husband. By this time, they had three small children.

Mrs. Mena pleaded with the French Embassy and told everyone she could that her husband had been captured. She made a lot of noise and with the help of the French Embassy, Mr. Mena was released and the family fled the country.

Mr. Mena showed me some old black and white pictures of one man who came to Santa Fe, NM to visit and thank Mr. Mena for saving his life. He showed me a letter the guy had written him. Of course, it was in Spanish.

Somehow, our conversation wound to God. Papi said he doesn’t believe in God. But he said, “How easy to find him in this,” as he picked up an apple, “or a flower or ants building things.”

He told me he gets mad, all those people dying. ”Why does God do this?”

His wife, Mrs. Mena was healthy, fine, until a doctor prescribed Premarin which caused a blood clot and then she had the stroke.

I listened as this strong, masculine man, my father figure, praised his wife for getting him out of Chile, encouraged him to buy the land the house we sat in was built on and to work hard. She always supported him, and the kids in all their sporting events.

Papi said he talks to his son Ish, now grown with his own kids, about what it means to be strong.

“I say to him, ‘You can’t go to Albertsons, give them money, and say you want to buy time.’”

Mr. Mena emphasized the importance of being strong, deciding what you want and going for it.

Then, he told me—the girl who used to enter road races under the name Alice Mena because I wanted to belong to his family—how proud he is of me, how strong I am, how he sees me as having done everything on my own. (Not quite true, but I ate up his compliments the way I used to devour Mrs. Mena’s langostino empanadas.)

Papi kept preaching about how proud he is of me for finishing school. (Oh, yeah, I completed my bachelor’s degree at age 37!)

He told me what a great example I’ve been and that his daughter, (my best friend) Andrea looks up to me. The feeling is mutual.

Mr. Mena and I continued our conversation, now onto marriage and divorce.

It makes him mad when people say how much they respect him for still being with and taking care of Mrs. Mena.

“Where else would I be? She’s my wife. She’s my life.”

Mr. Mena has always been a proud man. It felt different on this day.

More than in the past, I took in his kindness. How respectful and full of admiration he was for the woman who welcomed me into their home, cooked for me and often restaurants where she was dealt the blows of conflict between her Chilean Spanish heritage and the New Mexican Spanish culture I grew up around.

Mrs. Mena slept for most of my visit. Papi and I went into the back bedroom and woke her up. She looked at me with a mother’s adoration. Tears of joy leaked from her eyes.
I held her, hugged her, kissed her, looked into her soul and told her I wished I could take her pain away. She shook her head no.

Mami pointed to my diamond circle pendant necklace, diamond earrings and rings and her eyes lit up like I’d landed some rich man. I reminded her I worked in a jewelry store for many years. She always loved jewelry. She still loves it and shopping.

Mrs. Mena eyed for (since spoken language is no longer her friend) Mr. Mena to give me a big bag of Lindt chocolates.

Papi told me about the foot surgery she had to fix her foot that wasn’t quite right since the stroke. Now, it’s even worse. She can hardly walk. He drives her in a van and she has a scooter.

Mr. Mena’s doctor told him he better take care of himself or he’ll die before her. “I try, he said.” But, he has diabetes, is overweight and his health doesn’t look like it’s rooting for him.

He showed me a new Mercedes he’s working on making into a truck. He’d sold his old prized Mercedes sedan. “What do I need with a car I can only drive once or twice a month?” He also sold his apartment in Chile. “Andree can’t travel.” It seems not too many years ago he was insisting otherwise.

His priorities have shifted. His purpose is caring for his wife and watching his grandkids grow up.

Mr. Mena told me he spoke in Washington, DC at the UN years ago. His talk was called “The Ismael Menas of the World.”

I considered the multitudes of people like papi who came from harsh circumstances to build their American dream.

The Ismael Menas of the world: people to be thankful for.

How to Be a Successful Rebel. #bloglikecrazy

What’s reflective and adaptive in the short run may carry the highest price tag over time. ~ Harriet Goldhor Lerner, PhD

Dear Young Rebel, I see you.

I see you with my old woman eyes. I know the lies you tell because I was once young and told them, too.

I was old enough to do what I wanted and fool the fools.

I didn’t realize the one I was ripping off was me.

I skipped much of high school or found myself sick with the flu, and even though it was true, I missed out on a slice of life I can never get back.

I barely graduated high school, not because I was dumb, but because I thought I was too smart to play by the rules.

Kids who went to class, did homework, or listened to their parents’ advice seemed weak.

Not me, I was strong.

I do what I want! was my motto.

The truth is I was lost and scared. I didn’t know what I wanted or who I was.

I was (and still am) a rebel.

When we’re young, it seems everyone is running the same race. As the years pass, the trajectory of actions and consequences spreads wider.

It’s revealed in careers, homes, travel, marriages, and a myriad of things that require time and attention.

Maybe you’re so smart you won’t listen to me or let this be anything other than some dumb adult thinking she can tell you anything when you’re an adult yourself and you already know, right?

The only reason I’m saying anything is because I wish somebody would’ve pulled me aside, realized I was just trying to make my way, and helped me make better choices. Nobody did.

Or, at least I didn’t hear them, like you might not hear this. And, that’s ok.

And yet, when I look back, I wish someone would’ve said: You can do this.

See, I thought everyone was saying I had to and that alone made me not want to. I thought the hard work and school stuff was for them.

I doubted anyone’s sincerity that anything good was meant for me. Nobody understood what I was going through. Or, so I thought.

I’m not telling you I totally get you. I’m saying I care and you can do this.

You can stop fighting against what could benefit you.

You deserve a good life.

But no, you spoiled little brat, it won’t be handed to you.

Ooh, right there, I bet that pissed you off. Now, do you want to be all self-righteous, like Who the hell does she think she is?

Here’s who I am: a grown woman who was once a spoiled brat.

Now, I’m old enough to admit it. I admit it wasn’t the world or my father who were so hard on me; I made things hard by trying to get away with doing things the easy way.

This is not a condemnation of you. It’s the concern I wish somebody would’ve shown me.
I see you. Can you see yourself?

Can you see what I couldn’t when I was your age, but is so clear now?

Can you look at how you’re living and imagine the kind of life you might be creating?

I know how smart you are and what a rebel you can be. It’s awesome!

However, combine that with misused freedom and you might just run yourself off a cliff.
Can you see how you could be hurting yourself? You know when you move out of your parents’ house, they won’t go with you, but you will?

Your thoughts and ideas. Your money habits. Your work habits. Your ways of getting along with others (or not). It all moves with you.

You create it. Then, you own it. It’s your life.

I’m asking: Do you like the one you’re crafting?

Well, I’m not really asking because I see you and I know.

I see you avoiding life and responsibility because it seems so hard.

It’s difficult to imagine, but it’s actually easier to go to class, do the work, study for the test, and go to the job than it is to avoid and fib (especially to yourself).

Gosh, if I could give you that one truth and you believed it, it would be a springboard in your life. It could save you years.

But, maybe you’re like me; you’ve got years to waste.

If so, keep at it. You’re on track.

If you want to follow in my footsteps, please, at all costs, refuse to invest yourself in anything that will actually matter 5-10 years from now.

That’s how I didn’t truly become a student until I was 37 years old, when the pain of not having a degree caught up to me—financially, sure, but more the screaming in my soul.

See, I only had excuses while other people lived with real reasons for not finishing school. They couldn’t afford it, were working two jobs, got pregnant, or just weren’t smart like us.

Actually, back then, I thought I was dumb. Nope. I just didn’t go to class.

I later learned: attendance changes everything.

I didn’t know that then, like you don’t now.

Like you, my parents paid for almost everything in the early days and I blew it all. I blew the money and I trashed the time.

Of course, you won’t blow it like I did. Yeah, that’s what I said.

For three years, I played at college, majored in partying, skipping classes and collecting my dad’s checks as if he owed me and I was getting back at him for his lack of achieving my standards of the kind of father he should be.

I missed the examples around me of people my age building successes, despite having harsher disadvantages and fewer opportunities.

I spent money on pizzas, margaritas and good times. I threw money around like confetti while wiser students juggled jobs, attended classes, clubs and sporting events, and still made time for fun.

I fumbled everything. Don’t be me.

I know, you say you won’t (because you’re smart). That’s what I said—when I dropped out of college “for a semester” three years in.

I chose the easy route and it was anything but easy later on.

I couldn’t see how fast the years would stack up.

I see you, young rebel, calling yourself an adult while doing childish things.

I hear you saying you’re smart, but acting otherwise.

I see you dancing and crafting manipulations, but more importantly, I see you miscalculating the consequences you’re setting yourself up for.

It’s not trouble from your father you should worry about. I know, like me, that doesn’t worry you at all.

The worst kind of trouble is that of your soul when you let the gifts and opportunities you’ve been given slide.

All the blame in the world won’t make your life belong to someone else.

Our souls know the truth even if it takes decades to catch up.

I traded too many years for cheap thrills while other gals and guys gathered degrees and built lives of purpose.

I told myself I didn’t care. I told myself it was just a piece of paper.

Occasionally, I even chanted the victim’s cry, “It’s not fair!”

No, it wasn’t fair that I didn’t show up for class or work or life and expected the same rewards as those who did.

See, life is fair in its unfairness and sometimes the things we get away with today we pay for in the long run.

It wasn’t my father’s actions or attitude which shaped my life. It was my mine.

As time passes, the stories that matter most are the ones we tell ourselves.

When we hold back, we’re paving a path we might not like walking later.

In our teens and 20s, it’s ok to have little money or work retail and restaurant jobs. But trust me; it’s not a thrill in your 30s.

Choosing jobs like that is fine. However, some folks just get lost, and then get stuck.

I see you, young rebel and I hope you don’t get stuck.

I hope you’re not like the guy who says he won’t run out of gas, even though the gage says empty and the light flashes. He keeps driving until what he denies becomes reality.

I was that guy. Well, that young girl playing at life and pushing the limits for the sake of proving something, maybe that no one could control me.

The thing is I didn’t control myself. I didn’t take responsibility. I didn’t go to class. I didn’t plan, study, and prepare for a better life.

I wasted money because I could. I wasted years of my life.

Somehow, I thought I’d be missing out if I did the responsible things and I was too cool for rules and damn if I’d let anyone tell me what to do.

When I look back, I wish I could grab my young hand the first time I didn’t go to class and went to a movie in the middle of the afternoon with a friend and no one said a word.

I wish I could make my young eyes see that friend didn’t have a father like mine paying the bills, so she worked that day and every other. The movie was a treat she gave herself for acing a test, not a way of life like the one I was living.

I wish the young rebel I was knew that when I lied and told my boyfriend my math class was cancelled at 8:00 am every Friday, he still went to class, loved me, had fun, and did his homework. So, he earned a degree.

I see her now, the young rebel I was, having fun. She’s a little sad.

I see the woman I am now and I’m happy with my life.

I don’t have regrets, so maybe you won’t either.

You’ll find your way, as I did.

You might find, like I did, the shortcuts aren’t.

Young rebel, I see you. You’ve got this. You’re smart.

In fact, you’re smarter than me, aren’t you?

 

 

How my Sister & I Grew up in Different Families. #bloglikecrazy

“There is space within sisterhood for likeness and difference, for the subtle differences that challenge and delight; there is space for disappointment—and surprise.” ~ Christine Downing

My sister once told me one reason siblings are different is they’re not born into the same family.

Jayne—the one and only first born—was welcomed into the world with hope during a stage my mom and dad had been told the world was tough, but maybe they didn’t quite believe it yet.

Our brother—Mr. Middle Child—arrived on the scene into Hey, maybe we can make it.

Then, just five years after my sister’s arrival, I was born into the heart of challenge.

I swam in my mom’s frustration for nine months. I ate her Oh God, what have I gotten myself into? for nourishment.

Maybe that’s why I spent too many years wishing to leave this world.

Or what I was doing at the age of eight weeks, returning to the hospital with pneumonia, checking into an oxygen tent, and keeping human touch at a distance.

My mother said the doctors told her, “Go home and take care of your other children.”

Five days later, when my parents picked me up from the hospital, a nurse said, “This time, take care of her.”

My mom hardly had room for me in her arms with all that pressure.

Besides, my independent streak and fighting inclinations had already taken root in that tent. I won my first battle and was ready for more.

However, as a toddler, I quickly learned my mother was not somebody you wanted to do battle with.

The lessons my sister learned—baking, measuring, and Winnie the Pooh seemed spent before I arrived.

We all learned about Mama Bear and that saying: If mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy. Yeah, totally true.

My mom wasn’t happy.

My dad worked. If I said all the time, it might seem like an exaggeration, but if I said he was a workaholic, that might be underplaying it.

My father appears as a visitor in my young memories.

Then, right at that crux, where my parents parted and my sister did her final years at home, the families my sister and I lived in shifted again.

By the time I was a teenager, I knew parents were just playing at righteousness and big sisters were really the difference makers.

After all, who explained divorce and that love that goes on, anyway? Who took care of me when I was sick or let me tag along on dates? Who worried when I stayed out late?
My big sister parented me when my parents were busy doing other things—like trying to get their sh*t together.

Ok, are you with me so far?
1) Parents fall in love.
2) Get pregnant.
3) Get married.
4) Have my sister.
5) Have my brother.
6) Have me.
7) Struggle.
8) Make a new decision.

My formative years were filled with my parents arguing, cutting up credit cards, building bookshelves, road trips to therapists, and me being left alone. Well, often in the care of my brother and sister.

This was the 1970s. These things were done. My parents tried for traditional, but that’s one thing neither of them could adhere to.

The thing is they tried—really hard. They wore us all out with the struggle.

What a different world develops in five short years—both the years since my sister was born and the ones after my parents divorced.

Jayne found love and leaped into it. She moved to the other side of the country.

I was unprepared for life without her. She built a family with her husband and sons, as she should.

I found myself a part of a new family with my stepmom, stepbrother and stepsister. We did family stuff like vacations, dinners, and playing canasta.

I was getting the love I needed. So was my sister—in another world.

In the beginning—her beginning—my sister was served hope with a side of parental presence. I arrived for leftovers.

I never saw the full meal in my original home, so I didn’t miss not getting dessert.

Jayne knew something had been left off the table. She took off to find something sweet.

I stayed home and was introduced to peace. Plus, I got my turn to be the big sister! I poured love and protection into my stepsister’s atmosphere.

See, my sister showed me how, having arrived first in the world. And those five years, they made all the difference.

 

 

How Kansas City Johnny Rekindled my Soul. #bloglikecrazy

 

One cool thing about people dying is it invites you to cherish the living.

Johnny said, “Is this really happening? Are we really going to see each other?”

It’s surreal. He was my boyfriend after I left my first husband and fled to Tucson 27 years ago. Then, I left Johnny and broke his heart—because he was a bit broken at the time and patience wasn’t my forte. I was in a hurry to get to success.

So much has happened since then—for both of us.

On a recent road trip from Columbus, OH to Santa Fe, NM, I met Johnny in Kansas City in front of the Hilton Hotel, where I stayed with my Black Lab, Phoenix. The three of us walked around the back of the hotel and sat on a bench. Johnny and I drank beer as Phoenix played greeter to guests entering and exiting the doors.

I stared at Johnny—full beard and long dreadlocks, everything on him heavier with the years. I searched his eyes for the young man who decades ago ravished my body day after day as if we were trying out for the sex Olympics.

Before arriving in Kansas City, I worried I might leap into bed with him as I’d done the night I picked him up in a bar and took him back to my Tucson apartment.

Instead, I now studied the man. I said, “Did you always walk like that?” I missed his youthful bravado. I wanted it to summon mine.

“No,” Johnny said. “I’m a man beaten down.” Disappointment found its way to the place where my white woman’s heart witnesses the emotional scars a black man carries by living. Of course, he didn’t say it was about that.

I remembered a day before either of us cracked 30, when Johnny sat on the edge of my bed crying. He said, “You don’t know.”

Back then, he was a clean-shaven, suit-wearing, bright-eyed young man. But, that day a woman crossed to the other side of the street when she saw him coming. Most days, trivialities like that stood undiscussed. That day, Johnny cried.

I held him. I loved his tears as much as his laughter and the jazz he introduced me to. He had deeper reasons for the sadness, but sometimes a stranger could hit his hot button and awaken me to my ignorance.

All these years later, we talked about what happened the time Johnny visited me in Louisville, KY in the early 90s.

I travelled for work and had gone with a co-worker to a bar that was several under one roof: country, rock, jazz, big, winding, crowded and loud.

As I led us through the people, Johnny said he wanted to leave, but I couldn’t hear him. He grabbed my arm, no more forceful than the moment warranted, but in the snap of a finger, five cowboys surrounded us, apparently prepared to fight for my protection.

Johnny turned and left. I followed, trying to grasp what had happened.

In the parking lot, he screamed, “Are you trying to get me killed?”

I said something like, “You can’t love me because I don’t consider race and be mad at me for it, too.”

I was new to the nuances that are a part of a black person’s normal. I was unaware because I walk in the world as a white woman. I didn’t know my privilege; I simply relished it.

On that same trip, I took Johnny on a dinner cruise I’d gone on earlier in the week with my (white) coworker. I wanted to share my cool experiences with Johnny.

Instead, I got a taste of his. We were seated in a corner right next to the kitchen, then ignored. I’d never been so brushed off by a wait staff. We did get food, finally.

Who knows if the less-than-stellar service had anything to do with the color of Johnny’s skin, or the contrast to mine? I only know how it felt.

I remember Johnny telling me I could escape racism just by breaking up with him, but he didn’t have that option.

I did break up with him—not because of his blackness. I was desperate to get somewhere and young enough to believe love like ours lived on every corner.

Now, Kansas City Johnny—the man beat down by life—seemed to revive as we reminisced about old times and how I got him addicted to raspberry coffee.

I heard his deep masculine voice, his undeniable pride for his children, and his refreshing laughter.

We talked late into the night, hugged, and said goodbye like we needed to part to process these precious moments.

I saw him again the next day. I played him a mixed cassette tape he once made me. I don’t know what’s more amazing—that I still have it or that I have a cassette player in my 2007 Nissan Murano.

That mixed tape used to play on my boom box while we got ready to go out on the town. Now, Toni Toni Toni takes us back to Tucson and our 20s, watching Johnny shave and dancing in my undies.

I glance at Johnny sitting in my passenger seat smiling the kind of smile that bubbles up from within and paints a man’s face with light. It was one of those moments where goodness wins.

Nothing else matters and I remember how much I love this man, still.

It wasn’t the sexual ecstasy I imagined before we saw each other or the unrequited feelings he might’ve feared. I didn’t have that power over him anymore.

Listening to the music seemed to remind Johnny that nothing has the power to take him down and encourage him to stand tall again.

I’m standing stronger myself. An enduring friendship, a long-awaited visit, cool conversation, and some old songs made my soul sing. My mind reawakened.

My path rolls out on the road before me. I’m grateful Johnny reconnected with me in the wake of my boyfriend Kevin’s passing in 2016, and all the 2 am phone calls he took where I told him I just didn’t give a f*ck because it hurt too damn much. He acknowledged my pain and said, “I know Alice, but you’re going to be ok.”

Now I am, mostly. As I continue on my trip, another lesson from my deceased boyfriend echoes: “I know good people and I make time for them.”

 

How I Broke up with the Self-help Empire and Became my Own Guru. #bloglikecrazy

“Fall madly in love with your humanity.” ~ Danielle LaPorte

Even in bad experiences, like the final years of my second marriage, there’s some beauty—my freedom, for one, not just breaking away, but breaking through to a better me, my more authentic self.

Out of that tough transition, I gave birth to a book, and began a new chapter in life.

There’s no way I could’ve seen that words I wrote—concerning what I could no longer tolerate and would so appreciate in a man—would manifest a crazy, sexy, cool relationship with a man I called Fire, who called me Ice and melted my edges, allowing me to flow like water.

While every day with him felt like a vacation and the ordinary became extraordinary, I couldn’t have known the curtain would fall on his life, leaving me in a dark theatre on an empty stage.

Of course, back in my 20s and 30s, I knew it all, right?

I knew how great my life would be; I’d read Life is Tremendous. The Greatest Salesman in the World was my bible. I learned How to Win Friends and Influence People. I thought I’d grow rich by awakening the giant within me. I even mastered The Magic of Thinking Big.

If any of this sounds familiar, you’ve attended the self-improvement camp.

Hey, the self-help industry undeniably assisted my younger, less secure self.

However, when I recently cleaned out my shelves, I held few of those books dear—because, as Danielle LaPorte says: I’m my own guru.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop learning, dreaming, thinking optimistically, or even saying affirmations. I simply trust life and myself more than I used to.

Ideally, I’ll maintain the flow, like the river where I walk daily. Sometimes, it runs dry and I stand in the middle of what we New Mexicans call an arroyo. Other times, the water covers the rocks I occasionally use to cross.

Life flows—sometimes with fury. Other times, it appears to stop completely, but nature always reasserts herself. I am nature.

There’s a certain beauty, even in winter, and spring has followed as long as I’ve been paying attention. I trust I too will blossom again.

When I think of Kevin, aka The Fire!, I think of the striking lessons among the blessings—things I always wanted to learn, but needed to experience.

Since we met in our EB (Encyclopaedia Britannica) selling days, I held the memory of being a better salesperson than Kevin, after beating him at the first Illinois State Fair where we competed.

I’d earned the $500 prize and imprinted my winner status on my mind with all my affirmations.

However, when I stood in his office in 2014 and stared at his numerous salesman of the month plaques—the ones I lacked—I laughed.

Kevin wasn’t into positive thinking. He was into realistic—even though, yes, he’d attended Zig Ziglar’s seminar and knew the theory of stinkin’ thinkin’.

That didn’t stop Kevin from complaining about leads, how far he had to drive, or idiot sales managers—back in my selling days and up to the end of his sales career. He made a damn fine living and it only ended because dead men don’t go to work.

Up until then, Kevin worked and sold consistently. He got it done. He set goals and accomplished them—not idealistically, but realistically. He spent more time working than affirming.

Even with all that grumbling, he was one of the happiest guys I knew.

No pretending. No puffery. And, he didn’t allow it from me. He didn’t need me to tell him I was happy, happy, happy or sugar-coat anything.

Kevin embodied emotional courage by owning his feelings and welcoming those around him to be themselves. I found it refreshing.

I’ve loved plenty of positive thinkers over the years and I don’t dig drama queens.

However, some of the people I respect the most—Kevin, my sister, stepmom, and best friend—live more authentically.

They don’t dismiss their emotions, as I spent decades doing, especially encouraged by my second husband who wanted me to always be HAPPY.

Hey, nobody relishes feeling mad or sad, just like few people enjoy lifting weights, but emotional biceps form from facing the varying facets of life—not pretending flawlessness.

My stepmom used to say, “Alice, feelings aren’t right or wrong; they’re signposts.” I wanted all green lights. That’s ridiculous.

I don’t want to be the one broadcasting fake news, certainly not to myself.

No, I want the juice of life, to own my feelings, tell my truth and live it full, knowing even in bad experiences, there’s some beauty and exquisite experiences aren’t without their downsides.