“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear-not absence of fear.” Mark Twain
Each seizure, my mother raced across the Golden Gate with me in the back seat of my dad’s coveted green ’67 corvette. Not a joy ride.
My dear mother was terrified. She feared my death. The neurologist on duty one seizure day converted her fears. She was crying, mortified from witnessing my brain’s unfortunate roll of the dice. She felt helpless. How could she keep me safe? The doctor I was graced to be treated by one day superseded his oath of ‘do no harm’. He instilled wellness with thoughts and words.
He placed his hand on her shoulder with a soft grip and told her to breathe. He told her to hold calmness in and exhale projected fears. As she breathed to his guidance, her fear diminished. He schooled her to the philosophy to not live by predicted doom.
As a doctor, he witnessed life continue or end. It seasoned him with acceptance and a reverence of the fragility of life. Acceptance is not apathy. It is courageous to accept what you cannot change. You adapt with quiet wisdom. He advised her to not vicariously teach me fear. He advised her to allow me to play, have fun, be treated no differently than any other kid. This man’s words, kind touch, and integral act liberated my mother’s choice of actions. This man’s actions have rippled beyond the human imagination.
That is how Love acts best…behind the scenes…being the unseen star that plays in obscure roles no one hears about.
Because of her new born fearlessness, she made sure I had a ‘normal’ life. In first grade, I was assigned in special ed because epilepsy was considered a handicap. I wasn’t intellectually challenged nor did the grand mal seizures happen often. When she found out I was put in a class for those with true learning challenges, she had the moxy to go straight to the principal and demand I be in a regular class.
He said no because epilepsy made me mentally challenged. (It was 1970) He referred to the current list of special ed classifications. Irate, she declared she would pull me out of school and go as high as she had to override him. She recalls him making weak justifications. But, she had stronger comebacks. She has me stand up and face him. She tells him to look me in the eye and declare me incapable of learning at the same pace of my same age peers. He couldn’t do it. I got reassigned to the first grade class. Obviously, I exceeded their outdated expectations.
God took care of me. I never had a seizure in the ocean I swam in. I never had a seizure while sitting on my 3 planks nailed to two limbs tree house, or when I was in school. My guardian angel made sure I was home when it was time for a synaptic misfire. Can’t quite say if it was God proving them wrong, my instinct or a combo.
I fearlessly played personal games of risk. I’d climb the tallest tree; skateboard down the highest hill; take the dare vs. the truth. I was the leader more than the follower. I followed rules with reason and walked around ones of unreasonable control. A rebel in search of a cause.
Seizures vanished by age 14. Nine years…not bad. Medication was eliminated and adolescence’s hormones took over. It was perfect timing.
As a child, I saw with eyes of a child. As an adult, I see this child’s persistence strengthened in challenges. Memories are a hindsight road map of the path to now. They help me understand the impact of deliberate choices and thoughtless reactions.
As a parent of a child, you pave their initial path. Choose wisely. Be fearless. Listen to your intuition. You don’t live this person’s life; but you point them in the best direction for the life. Trust your gut…it is gastrointelligence with no ego to dissuade what it feels. Doctors told her to tell me not to have children. The epilepsy’s return was statistically high. Had she filled my mind with this fear, I would not have the beautiful daughter who has touched so many hearts besides her daddy’s and mine.
Much love and gratitude to my mother’s courage and fearlessness. She has impacted lives without knowing who or how. That’s how it works. We all do. Trust the process.
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life has strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Walt Disney
My first, and toughest teacher, was my father. He didn’t waste time starting class.
I didn’t know at age eight, a chain of events would chisel a wedge in my emotional bedpost. Nor did I know my father’s anger with his life would push me to an edge of my own. Little did I expect to love the man I hated so long.
I live a life of no regrets as a result of my father’s life full of regrets.
All it took to make this conscious choice was one solid punch.
Memory bank rolls back to a large deposit made in 1975. Black and white television with rabbit ears perfecting reception for the NBC peacock symbolized nightly news. Olive green phone attached to the wall with a long curly cord. Dialing the rotary added to the adventure of calling.
A long hallway with two bedrooms on the right side were for my brother and me. The parent’s room was at the far end. Pictures of family members, dead and alive filled space on the wall. Vintage black and white photos of people who were from a dead era. The past is always the ‘good ole days’. I understand it now.
Happy as clam outside playing. Not so happy when time to come home. I didn’t dwell on it. Somewhere along the way, I mastered creating a world that worked for me. Imagination can be a kid’s best friend.
I still use it to this day. Imagination is an invisible hand pushing me forward if I stay in the same place too long. Ennui is a heavy energy.
The occasional arguments between parents transitioned to a habitual norm. The intensity permeated throughout the house. As my father’s drinking increased, so did his repressed emotions. The nights he made it through a bottle of liquor without saying much were good.
He’d drink himself into slumber to quiet his mental hurricanes. Most of the time, it worked.
One night, in one moment, I got hit with a mega dose of an altered reality.
Dinner was eaten at a square table of four covered with table cloth, napkins and those pale plastic salt and pepper shakers marked with an S and P. The three of us were eating the classic meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. Cherry Jello with whipped cream for dessert! Dad was drinking his favorite meal of Canadian Club on the rocks with a splash of water. He focused on the nightly news reporting the latest disaster. History is a master of re-runs. No wonder I don’t watch the news.
A conversation between him and our mother was taking place. I think she was trying to get him to occupy the empty chair for a change. Something she said changed his demeanor. The silent eye glance from Mom told me dinner was over. Scarfed the rest off the plate and went to my bedroom. My little brother, too young to feel the shift, copied my actions.
From my room, I heard Dad’s voice intensify. I peeked out and saw my mom covering her sobbing face as my father’s forward stance was one of a tiger about to pounce its prey. I couldn’t not do anything.
I sprinted down the hallway to wedge myself between them…crying for it to stop.
My tears evaporated the instant his angry eyes stared through mine. Sadness morphed into fear. It wasn’t the familiar snapping of the belt warning before he was going to crack me with it for being disobedient. No, this was different. I’d take the belt snap over this glare any day.
He clenched his fists so hard, the knuckles blanched. I ran into the laundry room.
My intention to protect my mother transformed into protecting myself. I wedged deep in a corner of the wall and dryer. He filled the room with his drunken rage. Our eyes locked in what it must feel like to be a predator’s target.
The loud, deep voice yelling earlier spoke in a methodical, low volume tone. Like whispering a dark secret only you can hear, he said, “Don’t you ever push me again…this is only a sample of what will happen next time.”
I froze. I could not move. I could not flee. There was no fighting back. My sympathetic nervous system of “fight or flight” malfunctioned.
Time stood still; but, not for long.
The white knuckled fist that never released its clench rose above the height of my eyes. I heard his white teeth gnash. As if in slow motion, his arm swung through and made direct, unrestrained contact with my stomach and knocked the wind out of me. I struggled to suck in air like someone sucking a milkshake through a coffee straw.
I clutched my chest to pull air back in. My heart pounded hard and little by little, air entered my lungs. I steadied my balance to get on my hands and knees. I sensed another presence.
I look up and see my mother standing inches from my father. Her eyes radiated a force stronger than the one I saw in his moments earlier. A large kitchen knife flickered in her trembling hand by her side.
With the same intensity as he spoke to me prior to the hit, she did the same for him. Without blinking an eye, she whispered, “I swear to God…if you ever touch her again…I will kill you. I promise you that.”
She meant it. A heavy force soaked this pale yellow room full dirty laundry.
My father looked at me and said nothing. But, I knew what he was thinking. I saw him with new eyes. He looked at my mother with resignation, turned around and walked out.
My mother rushed to hold me, crying, apologizing over and over…promising it won’t ever happen again.
And, it didn’t. But, this moment wedged itself in my mind and heart so deep, it didn’t matter. Life in the house resumed like nothing happened. But, I didn’t forget.
The illusion of family was replaced with a fantasy to escape. Like a prisoner, I marked my days. Each X marked one day closer to redemption. I had nine years to serve.
My father fought the war in his mind the best he could. He provided all a kid could ask for. Good education. Good home and nourishment. Good medical care. Even, a good work ethic. I just didn’t feel loved. It rocked my emotional boat for years.
A child of an alcoholic is often emotionally neglected because the parent doesn’t have the love to give. And, how could he? The once fearless flyer was loading his tank with the worst fuel.
But, we come here to learn and teach each other. His weaknesses became my strengths. His good qualities were integrated and polished. He was the first to hurt my heart and he was the first I learned to forgive. All ‘firsts’ are the most profound. Like your first breath of life is the hardest and an initiation to sole responsibility, so are your experiences.
But, here’s an unspoken secret. You can rewrite your past. It is a shift of perspective. What was once bad can become good. Or, vice versa. Memories are millions of snapshots. What pictures are worth storing in your life photo album? What pictures needs to be put in a box? It’s your life….your wall of the past.
Hang memories that mean something to you to look at. If you can nod your head with the corners of your mouth moving up in a small smile as you look at your images, you’ve hung the right pictures in the lane of memories.
It is forgiveness that takes down the ugly pictures. You’ve heard it before…doesn’t matter what religion or belief you have, forgiveness does set you free.