Family · Health · Memory · Nature · Personal · reading · School

Broken Hearted in Grade School

Reading very quickly became my favorite thing.  By sixth grade, I was reading at twelfth grade level.  I often spent recess or other free time in the school library.  I was reading from one side to the other of the shelves in our small library.  When I got through fiction, I read biography and history.  Best of all, I found mythology.

Once I found mythology, I looked for stories everywhere.  Meanwhile, I experienced all the common childhood illnesses, including measles, mumps and chicken pox. I usually had bronchitis at least once each winter. I had walking pneumonia and a couple concussions. I didn’t break any bones, but I stepped on bees, sprained ankles and tumbled off bikes. Reading saved me during all the down time. I loved ordering Scholastic books at school and visiting the library.

After my open heart surgery at age three, I was followed pretty closely until released at age six. Because of the heart issues, my baby teeth needed dental work. My body was not my friend. I didn’t like failing and I didn’t like sports. I was competitive and felt that I couldn’t compete. Instead, I found solitary activities. I collected frogs from the garden and released them again. I rode my bike up and down hills in nearby grassy lots. I took books and snacks to make nests in tall summer grass. I liked badminton, swings and climbing trees.

I especially liked reading books and having them turn into movies in my head and feeling like I was living them. I had adventures and experiences. I was competitive intellectually and academically. I could plot and I could plan. All this was so good in so many ways, but helped set up the disconnect between ME and my body which was always disappointing or failing me.

Family · Memory · Personal · relationships · Story · Uncategorized · Writing


I will probably have to make this the introduction to any memoir I write.

As I go about the process of living, I turn my life into stories. Individuals in these stories tend to be recognizable and some of them dislike that, even though I try to show all their facets, not just the bad and not just the good. Consequently, I will probably have published under a pseudonym. They will still be able to recognize one another, but they’ll likely remain anonymous to the rest of the world.

Family · Memory · Personal · School

Living Bigger

Living big, taking chances, trying new things is hard when staying small and quiet is a comfortable habit.  Watching and evaluating feels much safer.

Few children lived near me growing up and few who did were girls.  My parents were also very protective for the times.  I skipped kindergarten and was my teacher’s favorite in first grade.  Fortunately, I found a best friend and a couple of casual friends who saw me through grade school.  I read voraciously, rode my bike, played with my younger sister and spent a lot of time with family.  My grandpa retired young for health reasons, so I had three adults doting on me even before my dad got home from work and made it four.

The transition from grade school to junior high school (7th to 9th grades) was traumatic.  My best friend’s parents divorced and I felt very isolated without her.  For a long time, at home after school, I could actually replay the day to myself like a movie that happened to someone else while I watched from above.

Eventually, two of my casual friends stepped forward and were company at school, but I remained contained by family at home.  I was quiet and studious during the school day.  I got excellent grades and was rewarded for it with a boost to my allowance.  At home, I was talkative and energetic (when not reading), but I found joining in difficult in class.

Things might have continued in the same way right through high school, but I realized part of my unhappiness was within my control.  In my junior year, I decided to make changes.  I joined the National Honor Society and the pep club.  I attended football games, both home and away. I was a student aide in a couple classes. I got my driver’s license the following summer and it all helped.

Mt Saint Helens erupted shortly before the end of my senior year. I graduated in the top 10% of my class and left for college at the end of the summer.

My small life was getting bigger. I broke ground for my sister by fighting for my independence at home. I still felt as though something was missing, but I also had hope.

Family · gender · Memory · Personal · relationships

The Habit of Sorry

From childhood, we start apologizing. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Teacher. Sorry, World. At some point though, boys get a pass and girls just get habituated.

This conspiracy is built on a lie. The lie is that staying small (apologizing, not taking up too much space) will keep girls safe. In reality, this makes girls less safe because they don’t learn how to fight for themselves without also taking steps to ensure everyone else has had their needs met. That everyone else stays happy. Their power is muted. They try to keep the peace and minimize the danger. Staying small and saying “sorry” becomes a dangerous habit.

I find the current idiom of “sorry, not sorry” a useful transition. The recipient is disarmed. On the other hand, passive aggressive isn’t the best coping skill. I’ve learned to use disengagement. In a few memorable instances, I’ve said, “I’d only have this argument if I cared about your (fill in the blank). And I don’t.”

When my marriage was ending, criticism and control was so common that I slipped back into the automatic “sorry” habit to avoid constant conflict. The incident that made me realize it was:

My spouse was on overnight duty one summer weekend. Our duplex had no air conditioning and retained heat. We used fans to create air currents by pulling from the coolest side. We commonly left windows and doors open with screens only. I left the front door open and double locked the security screen door. I went to bed.

I was awakened early the next morning by banging and shouting. He was waiting at the door with a bunch of military gear. He wasn’t happy. He wanted to know why I’d locked up when I knew he’d have all his stuff with him. Still groggy, I started with “sorry” and began to explain. Then I stopped myself and asked, “Would you want to sleep alone in a house way out here with unlocked doors?” I got only an,”Oh, yeah.” I realized I’d been making myself smaller and letting him take up more and more space.

Habits are hard to break, especially when they are being reinforced. Trying to replace them with something else, like a question, helps.

Family · Health · Memory · Personal

Broken Heart

I was born with a broken heart and everyone knew it. I was too small for surgery. I had to wait. While I was waiting, I had to be quiet and careful. I had to be small when I wanted to be big.

I wanted to do everything. I wanted to feel everything. I wanted to know everything. I also wanted love. I also wanted approval. I tried to do as I was told and, when I did, I got love and approval. Doing what other people wanted, gave me love and approval. This was experience not reasoning. Call it conditioning.

My world was small, but I had my imagination and then I learned to read and I HAD BOOKS. And my heart was mended. But quiet and careful were already habits for me as expected by everyone.

Family · Memory · Personal · relationships

The End In The Beginning

How do you know when a relationship has ended?  There are obvious moments: When one of you asks for a divorce.  When you realize that you are happier when you arrive home to an empty house.  When you stop caring about his opinion because it is always so negative, or critical, or judgemental.

But a hundred tiny moments come before those big moments. Some are identifiable landmarks.  Others are cumulative.

In my case, I began by putting the other person first.  Every time I chose myself instead, the relationship developed a crack.  Those small cracks waited for the bigger events to fissure and spread.

The first cracks and the first landmark evolved together.  While he was away at basic training, he wrote and sent a “Dear Jane” letter which he followed with a request to destroy it without reading it.  I did. A few months later, he proposed by phone.  I planned the wedding.  When he got home, he visited a childhood friend and cancelled the wedding – also by phone.  At the time, I was unaware of any connection.  I called it cold feet and panic. We were young.

A few days passed. Driving home with my parents, I simply knew he was at the house waiting.  I told them and, when we got there, he was.  My grandfather had refused to talk to him, so he was napping in his car.  I talked to him. I was 21 years old. I agreed to wear his ring and to keep talking. All this resulted in the wedding he planned and I flew to Louisiana for. He forgot a bouquet and none of my family or friends could attend.

He shaped the circumstances, but I was always the one who chose and acted. I wound up with the responsibility.

I didn’t have to forgive. I didn’t have to say, “Yes.” I didn’t have to leave home.

Family · Memory · Pets

Why a Fold? Beginning

During the pandemic I moved myself and my parrot Erin in with my mom. I teleworked from her location, 80 miles from my actual work. We joined her and her two Yorkies, Bear and Suzy.

We adjusted to circumscribed living and enjoyed their company, but Suzy had a heart condition and a tumor. She passed. We all missed her, but I began to think of getting a cat.

I’ve had three kittens in my life. My other cats were rescues or adoptions. Since Bear is older, I thought he’d find it easier to adjust to a kitten and might even bond with a baby. At first, I searched for adoptable kittens. I wanted kittens within 12-16 weeks and found none.

While I looked, I pulled out my books about cats and reread THE CAT WHO WENT TO PARIS series. I loved Norton the Scottish Fold then and now. I decided to look for breeders. The sticker shock was gigantic, but I found one who had kittens. Mom and I originally wanted two, but finally decided on one to be my focus while Bear remained hers.

Bernie, the mildly disgruntled (after Bernie Sanders), was a hard sell. He was the next thing to indifferent to what I wanted, but he was also very mellow. He was unconcerned to be loaded into his soft carrier for an hour drive. He got a little noisy about half way and we stopped for a few minutes of reassurance.

I brought him home to his tent where had a small litter box, food, water, toys, a shag bed, toys and some blankets waiting. Bear was very interested and Bernie was simply mellow. Much of this behavior is typical of a Scottish Fold.

He is independent, curious determined, companionable but only sometimes cuddly. He chases and explores but doesn’t really climb much. He’s fastidious. He chose his litter robot over his litter box because it was cleaner. We have pee pads down for Bear and, if Bernie finds a used one, he carefully ruffles or folds it to cover and hide the spot. He finds it rude.

When he couldn’t convince Bear to be his friend, he settled for grumpy uncle and made friends with parrot Erin instead. Sleeping on top of her cage remains one of his favorite spots, but he quickly learned respect after she stripped the fur and some skin on half of one side of his kitten tail.

While I know this is cliche:. Bernie is the most dog like cat I’ve ever known. Moreover, he actually thinks about and orders his time. If the first try fails, he tries it another way. If he really wants something he will get it or do it eventually.

Family · History & Mission · Memory · Personal

Memory – A Story Interlude #1

How does a midlife crisis and a spiritual crisis tie together? In my case, they were sequential.

Huddled in my waterbed alone in a Fairbanks winter, I realized that I hated my job and had wound up where I’d vowed never to be. I’d done none of the things I’d planned to do and most of the ones that I’d sworn not to. I was married before 30. I was putting my husband’s needs and accomplishments first. I’d stopped writing. I hadn’t finished my college degree.

We were supposed to be living in Anchorage. We came to Fairbanks as a last minute change to my husband’s Army assignment. I brought my Pomeranian puppy, Corry, and a short work history with me. I felt uneasy spending money I didn’t earn and unable to put my own needs first, so I needed to work. We shared a single car, so we did a lot of coordinating and solo spontenaity was negligible. I was, essentially, dependent.

Being dependent was one of the biggest reasons that I’d sworn off marriage. To this day, I stand by this. If the Army hadn’t made it nearly impossible to be together unless married, we’d have stayed partners not spouses. My mom was 13 years old when she met my dad and his parents became her surrogates because hers were alcoholics. They married when she graduated from high school. She was 20 when I was born and 22 when my sister was born. She never got her driver’s license or worked after marriage.

Technically, that isn’t completely true. She got her license with me when I took driver’s training. She went to work at Montgomery Wards once my sister and I were both in our teens, but someone drove her to and from the Triangle Mall. Did I forget to mention? We lived next to my grandparents, Dad’s parents, and they joined us in our home after dinner just about every evening.

I loved it as a child. I had four adults available at all times. Mom got up each morning to see Dad off to work and then I went back o bed with her. We normally got up after we heard the school bus leave. The stop was right outside our house on the corner. If you discount my health issues, I had a picture perfect childhood. We were a little rural, so I played outside. My grandpa planted a garden. My grandma taught me how to crochet and knit. My dad taught me embroidery. I became the shared household baker. My mom taught me how to sew and was always trying new things with me. We always had pets, especially cats. My grandpa had chickens when I was young. He even caught and released a mama o’possum and her babies because I couldn’t let them be killed. He taught me to drive because Dad and I made one another too nervous.

As I got older, I saw how uneven these relationships were for my mom. Three other adults were always vetting her actions. Without money of her own, every purchase had to be approved. Dad paid all the bills, signing them after she wrote the checks. We all went grocery shopping together. Whenever she started acting too independent, she was brought up short. She was questioned about every moment she spend outside the house. She was discouraged from having friends beyond other couples, including spending too much time with any independent wives. More than once, I saw Dad reduce her to tears in social settings by belittling her, sometimes subtly and sometimes not.

As the oldest child and a girl, I fought for my freedoms and independence. As an adult, I intend to keep them.

History & Mission · Memory · Personal

Memory – The Facts

What is memory really? Is it a recording and recounting of events? I don’t think so. Personal history is rewritten every day.  It is the story we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives.  Memory, like our personal history is fluid.

I had my midlife crisis at 25, bought my first house at 30, got my first tattoo at 35, divorced and got a nose piercing at 40. I spent the next three years adjusting, socializing and dating. I had a heart attack, which was diagnosed as acute pericarditis, at 45. I had a hole in my heart patched at 50 and broke my arm at 55.  My life is defined by crisis and remembered by location.  I grew up in Kelso, Washington, graduating from Kelso Senior High School in 1980 and attending Washington State University as a freshman. I moved into a condo with my mother when my parents separated and then divorced.

I married at 21 and had that midlife crisis while living in Fairbanks, Alaska.  At 30, I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona. At 35, in Augusta, Georgia.  At 40, in Spanaway, Washington. I spent the next 21 years working as an IT Specialist at Stone Education Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. When the COVID-19 lockdown hit, I moved in with my mom in Longview, Washington. I teleworked and later spent the occassional work day back onsite. Rather than returning fulltime to JBLM, I retired.

Those are the facts. They are not the story.