About a year ago, I finally pounded out the last pages of the first draft. A project that began in 1995. The early chapters are covered with the splatters of someone in the midst of an attack. The blood was boiling as the words hit the page. Twenty-plus years later, I can tell you this much: distance gives perspective. And through the years, as the story continues to write itself, the narrative shifts, changes. It — if you’re doing it right — becomes reflective and wise. I am reflective now, and wiser than I was then. So it’s stunning and a little uncomfortable to look back at the initial writing and see how unwise, how in pain, ‘the writer’ was.
I thought I wanted people to know the truth, as I knew it. Writing it down was a form of therapy; I wrote during the divorce process, sometimes all day through the night and into the next morning. I still have those pages, written on an old IBM Selectric. I haven’t read them in awhile, largely because I can’t bear it. That young woman was so broken, and — because she had no place else to put it — she poured her brokenness onto those pages. Maybe that’s how she was able to keep breathing. To put one foot in front of the other. To get from there to here.
It’s been twenty-four years since I started the book. The woman writing this now is not the same woman who wrote the first one hundred sixty five pages. Yes, all those things happened. But wasn’t it another lifetime? The scars are there, they show that wars were braved, but that’s okay. Everybody has their tragedies, losses, betrayals. Love is the ticket to all of them. There is no love with out them.
Think about that for a minute.
Loving someone is the bravest thing a person can do. To truly love means you’ve cracked your heart open and said “yes” to the utter bliss of it, and to the deepest emotional pain possible-while-still-breathing. A surrender to that depth of caring, of vulnerability, invites it. Invites it all.
My parents were the first example of what a marriage, and love, looks like. Theirs was filled with laughter, and dancing, and alcohol, and drama. It all swilled in the chalice of the Holy Catholic church. Daddy was an usher, Mama was fragile and beautiful. Our family, which topped out at six kids, sat in the front row every Sunday, “those stair step Myers kids.” In our chaotic house Mass, and the prayers we prayed there, were the two things that I could always count on. They became my lifeline.
When I say Mama was fragile, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t strong. It means she was different after she had the breakdown. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember the priest coming to the house. I was young, and confused. My brother Bob was about two, and we were farmed out to family members each day. I went to Uncle John and Aunt Mabel’s. Bobby went to Nanny’s. Daddy dropped us off every morning on his way to work. When I got to Uncle John’s house, it was still dark. But the front door was unlocked. I climbed out of the car, shut the car door, walked up the driveway to the porch, opened the front door, went inside, shut the door, sat on the couch in the dark, and waited for someone to wake up. I was five years old.
Now, sitting here knowing that in March I’ll hit seventy one years of age, it’s a strange feeling; I think back on that little girl. I am she. She is I. We are us.
In a way, it’s like looking at an old movie of someone else.
But I guess if I had to do it again, and was delivered to my aunt and uncle’s home in the dark, I’d still open the door, go inside, shut the door, sit on the couch in the dark, wait for somebody to wake up and turn on a light.
That was a long time ago. Now, I have five beautiful grandchildren, each one a gift from my son Chris and his wife Shanna. On days when I’m not sure what I’m doing still here, I tell myself that they’re the reason I’m upright and taking nourishment. I know that’s a bit dramatic, but I really am determined to keep myself healthy so I can dance at their weddings. And I’ll foster their creative energy, their sense of humor, and their musical prowess till the day I die.
My mother has ten grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren. Daddy passed away in 2014, and mother lives in the moment, from day to day. She’s sweeter than she’s ever been, partly because she doesn’t have a clue who anyone is, other than Karen. Karen, the youngest of her children, watches over her and makes sure she’s well cared for.
Last time I saw my mother was when I went home to bury my Daddy. We visited, and I probably told her who I was ten times in fifteen minutes. Her response was always, “Well, I’d love to get to know you.” I looked into her eyes, and thought to myself, Mother, you’ve never known me. And for so many years, I couldn’t find you in there. Now, you’re gone completely. I’m trying to learn to be okay with that.
It’s awkward. I’ve worked hard to make peace with the fractures in my family, and with the ones who caused them. I know I’ve built an invisible wall of protection around myself, a sort of PTSD response to family drama and the heartbreak it caused. I wish I didn’t need it, but I do. And so, there it is. But I no longer have the time, the energy for, or the interest in keeping track of who, how, and how often family members have done me wrong. Seriously. Let’s stop.
It’s funny what life does to a person. You start out as a little squirt, being exactly who you are. You can’t really be anyone else, because you haven’t discovered there’s a choice, so you’re just you. Then, with all its pre-conceived judgments, life gets in. You start questioning everything about you. Maybe you were wrong. Maybe you aren’t who you thought you were. So, for the next several decades, you start jumping and adjusting in time to everything that’s said to you about who you are. It’s exhausting; just when you think you’re making progress, just when you think you’ve left that original, ‘unacceptable’ you behind, the bottom falls out. And you’re back to square one … face to face with yourself. But the truth is, that’s the best gift of all. If the world didn’t need ‘you,’ you wouldn’t have shown up in the first place.
I’m still who I thought I was, way back at the beginning of things, and while I’m a little more careful as I navigate, I have not really slowed down. On the scale of “women types,” I’d say I’m a square shouldered work horse with a great attitude. I can clean myself up and be in groups with the best of them, but given the choice I’ll hit the drive through in my pajamas.
As far as what the future holds, I’m planning to write … songs, essays, articles, books of any sort, fiction or non-fiction. My grandson wants me to write children’s books — a “NannyBoo” series which, I must admit, sounds fun and funny. NannyBoo’s their name for me, once I was christened by three-year-old Chloe’. But whether or not I write the “NannyBoo” series, I plan to write whatever comes out; I’ll write it all down as long as I can. And I’ll finish that book. If it doesn’t get published, at least I’ll be able to leave it for my children to read when I’m gone. They can gain a deeper understanding, if they’re interested, of who their mother really was, and why she was that way. They’ll get to know me better and, by extension, themselves. That’s the best gift I can give them, after all.
Knowing the “me-of-me” is, I believe, the lesson at the center of all the lessons we can ever be faced with. I’m here as me, you’re here as you, and we’ve got us. Let’s give authenticity a shot.
Connections. They’re so interesting. Commitments. Promises.
All my life, I thought those things meant the same to everyone else as they did to me. The ties of attachment are strong, invincible, able to weather any storm. Right?
I guess the only way that holds true is when the heart is an intrinsic part of the threads that weave together. When it defines the bindings that pull us in, hold us close. That compels us to dig in, to see things through.
There are some people who make commitments, make promises, but they don’t seal them with the heart. The ties they bind with are paper thin, easily broken. Often by design.
I don’t know, but it seems like they leave that crucial thread out as a way to – eventually – turn away. To break. To run. They were never fully ‘there’ in the first place.
For the heart-driven, it often looks in retrospect like a fool’s journey. Were we played? Were we taken for a ride? Probably so. But for our part of the experience the love, the promise, the commitment was there … even if it only came from us.
This world is full of two types of people: Dreamers, and Cynics. The Dreamers are heart-binders. The Cynics are … not. I know this because, as a Dreamer myself, I have a history of binding-by-heart to Cynics who bind-until-the-going-gets-rough. I’m not complaining, just observing from a place of weary wisdom. From a place where, by now, I know to pause, to observe, to wait … as long as it takes for someone to show their true selves. Sometimes that means waiting a lifetime.
These days we’re like a two way mirror.
Or through a glass, darkly.
At the grade school on Grandparents’ Day, if he shows up he is brittle and distant. He wears a starched smile, the kind that never reaches the eyes. When he looks at me, he doesn’t. Perhaps he can’t bear the reflection of himself that he sees there. Or perhaps I’m making too much of it, and he’s forgotten who I am. Like that time at the Film Festival when I saw him and called out to him. He looked at me, quizzically, then moved toward me, head shaking slowly, hand extended, with the words,
“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to help me.”
I did not take his hand. I looked at him in disbelief, and said,
“Cece.” He was embarrassed that he didn’t know who I was that day. But I realize now that he never really did.
Looking back at the years we were together, I recognize the holes he crawled through to go from our life together into his other life. I couldn’t see it at the time. The camouflage of home and family clouded my vision. But distance brings clarity. And friends who were there then have come to me from time to time since; as an act of confession? To clear their conscience as accomplices? I can’t honestly say.
While I don’t know every detail about what was going on then, I know more than I ever wanted to. Sometimes information serves no good purpose. Except, you know … it helps me realize that I was in a completely different relationship than he was. And it’s confirmed for me that he had no clue of the goodness that was present and waiting for him there. Loving him there. Knowing this is a different kind of heartbreak all by itself.
When someone becomes addicted to dancing with the dark, the light is just an irritation.
People always ask me when I started to write. Especially songwriting.
I can think of points along my childhood and teen years, when I wrote to process feelings or moments; heartbreak. Confusion. Boys. But the truth is I’ve always, as long as I can remember, written it down.
I say that, and it strikes me quite odd that a tiny girl, not exposed to literary pursuits, would even think of writing.
I was a post war baby; my mother and daddy were young, beautiful, hard working. My daddy was a Navy man, and knew how to do just about everything. They were musical, and funny, but they were not the type to bury themselves in Tolstoy or Hemmingway. They had better things to do: roll up the rug in the dining room on Saturday afternoon and dance to Benny Goodman and Kay Starr records. Or sit on the front stoop at sunset, leaning into each other, beer in hand, and watch the kids ride their trikes in the driveway.
So how did I end up here, at this keyboard? Or way back there, at that Big Chief tablet with my Dixon Laddie #304?
I remember a moment when I was five. I was sitting on the swing in the back yard at 1563 North Marion. The sky was so blue, and I was so happy, I wanted to write a song about how I felt. I threw my head back, and instead of words coming out, I cried. My happy went heartbroken in that moment; I wept, because I knew I was too little to write a song that sounded like the ones on the radio.
And it’s interesting, isn’t it? How I remember that moment so clearly. How even as I think about it, I am “back there,” under that blue sky. In that back yard on that swing. My stomach even grabs for a second as the feelings I had then are here with me now.
So I guess you could say the writing thing has always been part of what I am. I remember in first grade, Sister Dianna was teaching us a song, and I was saying the words with her. She stopped, looked at me, and said,
“Mary Cecelia, do you know this song already?” No, I didn’t. I’d never heard it before. But somehow, I knew what would come next in the lyrics. Didn’t everybody? No, it turns out. They didn’t.
In third grade, Sister Mary Damien announced that the Highschool newspaper class was asking for poems from the grade school. They were going to publish one poem in the next edition of their paper. We were to turn our poems in the next day. My hear jumped, and my head started spinning with the tomes I would write.
That night at home, I took out my Big Chief tablet and my Laddie pencil, and I wrote. I wrote at least a half dozen one-stanza poems. I gave each stanza a name, and its own sheet of lined paper. I made the pages as neat as my third grade southpaw printing could get.
The next morning, I shuffled into the classroom with my classmates, laid my stack of poems on the corner of Sister’s desk, and took my seat. I watched her eagerly, hoping she would be proud of me.
Finally, Sister Damien walked over to her desk and picked up my pages. She leafed through them, then ripped them in half and threw them in the waste basket. As she did so she looked up at me briefly and stated,
“You were not to copy out of a book.”
My stomach lurched. My face turned hot. My eyes welled up. I was horrified, for several reasons:
First, it would never have crossed my mind to turn in someone else’s work; the fact that she thought I would do such a thing made me want to cry.
Second, even at seven years of age, I was in a panic: those were the only copies I had. I learned an important lesson that day: always make duplicates.
Third, though my classmates were laughing at me, I was more concerned with people thinking I had such a flawed moral compass. They clearly didn’t know me at all.
On another level, buried deep beneath my chaotic feelings, was a little voice that whispered,
“Hmmm. They must have been good. REALLY good. She thought you copied them out of a book.”
A backhanded compliment from a nun, saying my work was so good I could not have done it. I’ve lived a lifetime of twisted victories like that.
In fourth grade, we had music class two mornings a week. One morning the music teacher announced that there would be a music program, and that we would be in it. She then said to the class,
“We will need someone to sing the solo. Are there any solo singers in here?”
The entire class turned, without a sound, and pointed at me. All I’d ever done was sing with everyone else. I was completely unaware of my own voice. With all those fingers and eyes directed at me, I buried my face in my arms and cried.
Eventually I did sing the solo in the program that year. And I kept writing. There were times, big stretches in fact, when I was writing for my life. And music is the silver thread that’s always kept me tethered here.
In fact, writing and music have laced the pieces of my life together, helped me make sense of myself, this world, and the path I’m on. They still do.
I used to think maybe these things were pieces of generations past, pulling me back. But I’m starting to believe maybe they’re pieces of the future, pulling me forward.
Either way, I’ll take it. And I’ll write and sing the pieces of my life together, for as long as I’m here.
There are some things I’ve had noodling around in my brain lately. Mostly when I’m doing random things; driving to the bank, or cleaning the bathroom sink, or walking down the driveway from the mailbox.
I think about growing up, and how excited I felt−even in my earliest memories−to be here. I mean, here, on this earth, experiencing life. Every morning I woke up, it was like Christmas, just to see the sun shining. Or the rain, or snow. I was ready, I was eager, and loved everything and everyone so big, I often wonder … is it possible that I’ve always been too much?
I was in one of the counseling sessions after divorcing my husband, when my counselor stopped and looked at me.
“Cece, I believe you’ve spent your entire life, and certainly your marriage, thinking you’re not enough. Am I right?” His statement made me think a minute, and I came to the realization that yes.
“Yes. I guess so. I think that’s correct.” I could think of thousands of times when it felt like in some way I hadn’t measured up.
“Well, let me make something clear to you right now: it’s never been that you’re not enough. It’s that you’re too much.” Oh. Okay, I’d gotten it wrong, but not in the way I thought.
He saw the look on my face, and said, “What I mean is, the people you’re trying to please, you’ll never satisfy. Not because you’re not up to par. It’s because you’re so far above what they’re capable of, that they are jealous of you. Why do you think they’ve always taken the opportunities to tear you down? Trust me, if you were of marginal stuff, there would be no need to do that. But you’re not.”
He sat back in his chair, and said, “Cece, you are more connected to the Creator than most; you are far more Spiritual than you realize.” I dropped my head. I had worked for so long to find and glue all the pieces of myself back together; I was tired. And this sounded like a whole other kind of work.
“Okay. What does that mean? What do I need to do?” He laughed and shook his head.
“No! No work; it’s who you are! It means that, when you enter a room, you bring the Light with you. That makes people in darkness very uncomfortable. Now, think about things that don’t like the light.” He stopped.
“Let me ask you a question. Throughout your life, do you remember dealing with people who were jealous of you?” I felt my face flush as memories flooded my brain and fought for attention. Yes. Yes, I had.
“When we moved to Nashville, I made myself a promise. I decided I would let people know of one thing I could do, but not all the things I do.”
“What does that mean? And why did you do that?”
“I mean, I’m a writer, and a singer. I design and make clothes. I design spaces. I paint portraits. I’ve won awards for pretty much all of that, at different points in my life.”
“Okay. So, you decided to keep all that a secret?”
“Yes. Most of it. All but one. Or two.”
“Which ones did you choose to take public?”
The writing. And singing.”
“And why did you decide to hide the other things?” I paused a moment.
“Because. I wanted friends.”
When I said that, it was like a tidal wave washed over me. It was then I realized what I’d been doing for the past twenty years. I had put the girl I was born to be in a locked room. I let her out in private, but she was my little secret. I had made myself “small enough” so that I would fit into the lives of those who claimed to love me. That day, that session, changed my perspective. And my life.
But now, back to what’s been noodling in my brain lately. I get up every day fully present, almost as eager as when I was that little girl. I thank God for the days, and the nights, and all the things in them. My Light is turned on fully, and I’m not shy about showing the world who I am, in every way.
But one of my thoughts is, I wonder how many others are playing “small enough.” How many others are waiting for that magic moment when they can finally shine like a klieg light? Are they like I was, thinking that one special moment will arrive, and be more magical than this moment they’re in? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any more magical than right now.
I’m still figuring all this out, but I want everyone to know this: all it takes is for us to say “YES” to our own magic; the yearning in our hearts to be our very own hysterical, outrageous, tender, heartbroken, furious, authentic, vulnerable, brilliant, frustrating selves. And, you know, the list goes on. The awesome thing is, we get to wake up every day and say “YES” to it all over again.
And I don’t have the friends I used to think I wanted, but I’m good with that. The people who show up in my life now are the ones who are happy with the Light. In fact, they bring their own.
So, if I had one word of advice to offer anyone, it would be: “SHINE!”