betrayal

::Two Way Mirror::

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cece-and-tim-hog-posterized

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.

::The Dance::

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DANCING SHADOW

He had no choice but to betray me. Did he? Did he have a choice? No. I don’t see how he could have avoided it. I was too much. I was every single thing he both loved and hated.

I am a dreamer. I was born singing, and madly in love with life. My arms are flung wide, embracing all of it.

I’ve never stopped being that person. Detours? Yes, of course. I’ve gone off on a fool’s errand more times than I can count. But I’m always guided back by the lighthouse of my heart, and the musical joy that lives there.

The perspective at my center is maddening to someone who can’t see it. Generally that’s a cynic; someone who finds their own center unloveable. They define everyone else by their  lack of personal acceptance. Cynicism runs deep, denial is creed, because if they lose a handle on the lie they’re living, if the mask slips the slightest bit, who they claim to be falls apart. It’s come to me gradually over the years that yes, he was one of those. I take no pleasure in knowing it. But it explains a lot.

Okay, so the die was cast; we were young, beautiful, and almost immediately became caught up in the dangerous dance dreamers and cynics love. Maybe that’s it.  We each fell in love with the dance itself. I’ve never really seen it that way before. It must be time.

After a few years it started to dawn on me that about half the time I was dancing alone. He partnered with me when he needed an injection of the mad love, the joy, the dream I brought to bear. Once he was filled, I depleted, he was off again, climbing his ‘success ladder’ on the energy I gave. This act of transfusion happened repeatedly, and became central to the dance itself.

Some started saying I was too open, too forgiving. Too willing to glue the shards of us back together again and again.  There were those who called me stupid; co-dependent. I was neither. I knew what I was doing. I was holding in place a life that represented everything I was born loving so madly. I did it for my children. I did it for myself. Hell, I did it for him. And no, he still doesn’t have a clue.

Three pregnancies – one miscarriage and two healthy children – were born of that union. If nothing else came of it, that is a gracious plenty. My children are beautiful, and they have at least a portion of my madness flowing through them; my eager love, my spiritual center, my excited fascination with life. The music, which always came through me, pulses in them. They are music makers because, well, I’m their Mama.

Eventually his betrayals of ‘us’ became a routine part of his dance. But my dance steps had started changing too. I was no longer able – or even willing – to hold together the shattered pieces of who we’d become. I would like to say, simply, “I walked out.” But it was more like, “My life exploded, his final betrayal was so outrageous; there was nothing left that could be saved. He made it his mission to destroy everything.”

So. There’s that. But the interesting thing is, I’ll never regret the dance. And through the years I found my way back where I started; a dreamer, madly in love with life, arms outstretched. The lighthouse of my heart guided me home. My faith, and my music, and my beautiful children keep me here.

::Every Little Piece::

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Raindrop

 

 

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.

 

 

::Oxygen::

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Oxygen

::Love/Not Love::

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Love Betrayed

::THE BOY IN THE BAND::

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Broken Heart Guitar Pic

I was a child of the sixties, and grew up in a household centered around the Holy Catholic Church and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. My parents were children of the Great Depression; they learned that life means do without, stretch a dollar, work hard, drink harder, and show up at Mass every Sunday. I was their first child, born to them when they were young, tragically beautiful, and very much in love.

When I was a little girl I would study my mother’s face … her hazel eyes, long eyelashes, full red lips. She was clearly a movie star. I wondered what she was doing in that two bedroom house on North Marion Street, with its linoleum kitchen floor and parched sapling in the front yard. Even at four-and-a-half, I knew she’d been miscast. Through the years, five more babies, and alcoholic chaos, it became an undeniable fact: my mother belonged in a different movie.

As the oldest daughter, my job was laugh inducing peacemaker. Lots of oldest daughters have that role. My brother, two years younger, was mother’s tenderhearted caretaker. We spent our childhood together in the family foxhole. Nothing will bond siblings like friendly fire. It’s a sort of hellish, heartbreaking love that no one else knows. But at the time, it was our family’s brand of ‘normal;’ imagine my surprise when, years later, I learned that some families had no foxhole at all.

I grew up and, with what I’d learned of how life works, and my place in it, I went out into the world. Within short order, I said “I do” to the boy in the band.

The boy and I were a textbook example of symbiotic dysfunction. Our fractured parts fit together perfectly. Through twenty five years and two children, we cut ourselves and each other on those jagged edges. Part of his brokenness included repeated indiscretions. Part of my brokenness included denying they were happening, while blaming myself that they were.

It was his final, spectacular betrayal with my sister that made me sit up and say, “No. There is no amount of glue that can put us back together this time.” I gathered up the pieces of my heart; I left the boy in the band.

The next eighteen months were like a slow motion train wreck. All I could do was hang on, and wait for it to stop.

I remember the date. May 10, 1991. That morning the phone woke me up. My attorney, calling to tell me the divorce was final. She’d used the word, “Congratulations.” I think I said, “Thank you,” but I wasn’t grateful for any of it. I hung up, and laid in bed, waiting. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought I would surely feel … relief? Excitement, maybe? No. Just silence.

I threw off the covers, walked into the bathroom, and stared at the face in the mirror. Who will I be now? I whispered at her. A sincere question. I’d lurched through the decades, constantly reinventing myself, determined to be whoever those claiming to love me told me I was. Now I had no one to tell me. I was at a loss.

The next months and years were like being born, over and over again. I was the mother giving birth;  I was the baby shooting out of the canal into what I prayed would be a gymnast landing. I wanted a 10 from the judges.

But it wasn’t working anymore, as if it ever really had. I finally raised the white flag of surrender. I’d run out of things to try, people to be. I was exhausted. All I had left was me. When I finally gave into myself, it felt like declaring bankruptcy.

For months, going out in public unvarnished was really frightening; but there was also an undercurrent of excitement. And eventually, slowly, what I’d feared most became easier, partly because it was natural. And I’d have to say the surprise for me was that while life is always full of challenges, showing up in it doesn’t have to be hard. Sometimes there are still glitches, but every day I’m moving closer to the center of someone I’ve always known; the person God put here and breathed life into. There’s a peace in connecting with what’s true in me; authentic perspective gives a clarity like nothing else.

During those years, I was living in Toluca Lake. On my walk one morning I glanced at a flower growing up through a crack in the asphalt. I went past it, then stopped, backed up, and studied it. That little flower was blooming and reaching for the sun, in spite of the considerable efforts made to stop it. “Wow,” I thought. “That’s me.”

Ever since I was a tiny girl, I’ve felt a check in my spirit … like a tiny thread of light, deep inside. Piled over with years of Catholic school, alcoholic parents, sweet babies, abusive marriage, broken dreams … you’d think that thread would have snapped, or caught fire, or disintegrated. It never did. And that’s what I’m back in touch with now.

These days, I know where home is. I’ve discovered that I was right here all the time.

And I have to smile because the truth is, I’ll always love the boy in the band.

::SAFE HARBOR::

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SAND AND SEA

I got back from the beach last night. On my morning walks by the shore I harvested a few beautiful shells. Now I stand at the kitchen sink with my coffee, lower them into the basin of water.
And my mind drifts …

“Come out of your shell.” Or, “She needs to come out of her shell.” I’ve heard it said about others, I’ve heard it said about me−both sincerely and sarcastically, as in , “Umm, girlie, you need to climb back into your shell; you’re a little ‘too far out’.”

But the shell thing−like sea urchins or snails−what a Divine idea. To carry your protection on your back; to be able at a moment’s notice to dodge any bullet simply by “climbing in.”

If I could have, I would have. Especially in the nineties. Those were ‘the paranoid years’. The time when my hair fell out in clumps. I knew people were whispering about me through the soup cans at the grocery store. One of the things Tim did was he copied my journal, rewrote it, then showed it to everyone he could think of. Hell yes, I wanted a shell. One that could hold a woman in her forties, protect her from the man who’d claimed to love her; one where she could cry every tear until they made an ocean she could float away on.

I run the water till it’s a little warm, and begin massaging each of the small, ridged shapes with my fingertips until their pearly surfaces become visible.

Some say time heals wounds. But it never says anything about what you’re supposed to do while the healing happens. Sit on the floor, back corner of the closet? That was a favorite spot. Fall asleep on the couch, with the TV on? That happened more times than I can count. Get home from your therapist, pace for twenty four hours, watching the clock til it’s time to get in the car and head back to her office? For months I did that. She saved my life.

Those experiences−the closet floor, the couch, Dr. High’s office−they never felt like healing at all. They felt like one big gyroscopic attempt to hang on. I thought the spinning would never level out, that I would never find solid ground. But the truth is, I did. And healing happened.

When I think about the woman I was then, I am moved by her pain; by her need to hide away. I want to reach back and hold her. I want to tell her it will be okay. Tell her that, believe it or not, she’ll survive. And she’ll be glad she did.

I swish the water gently and choose a shell, think of the moment I picked it from the sand. I turn this delicate vessel over in my hand. It is a profound reminder of protection and release.

Where have the creatures gone? Perhaps they found other shells for safe harbor. Perhaps their time came to transition, becoming one with the flotsam and jetsam. Or perhaps they are braving this world like I am−out of my shell, ready to move forward into whatever this day and this life will bring.