Wrecked by Grief and Restored by God

This year’s blessings have propelled me to heights of happiness which could be no more welcome after the pits of despair in 2014. Last October I was still reeling from the sudden loss of my father earlier in the year. Almost overnight a suspected rare heart cancer took a healthy man on no medication off the tennis courts and out of our lives forever. In those awful last days I missed an important audition so I could sit at my father’s bedside despite the contrary urging of my sister and mother. My response was simple, “If I’m meant to be on that stage, God will give me the opportunity later.” Everything in life stopped when Dad was gone except comforting my mother and teaching her to live in a world she had never navigated on her own. Fish photThere was little time to work and less time to write, so I watched my bank account plummet. In the meantime amidst the grief, I received constant messages from my tenants leading to one expensive repair after another on my home which they were renting. I continued to live between my mother’s home and that of a friend. I cried more tears than I thought possible holding onto that day when I knew happiness and peace would return. That’s the thing about faith. It’s the life preserver which saves those who have it and the one missing for those I’ve seen drown in the troubled waters of this world. There was a Bible verse posted on my vision board last year which I read almost every day. Jeremiah 29:11-13 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Earlier this year I experienced a series of events which I call miracles, precious pearls of the proof of His promise. As each gift came I felt God’s wish for me, as if he was declaring, “I have not forgotten you. This gift is for you and you are worthy.” A play I had written was accepted for a staged reading by a local playwright’s group. My house sold after one day listed on the market. A small, affordable newly renovated condo with a river view appeared on the market. It has become my urban haven and is more “me” than anything I could have conjured up on my own. The theater I was eyeing posted their upcoming season. It included a non-musical comedy which is rarely done; featuring a favorite role I had previously played at the only other theater in town to have ever produced it. Coincidence, some might say, but I think not. In fact, I did not consider what followed as an audition. I went over there and CLAIMED my part. See, it didn’t matter if more talented people showed up or that I didn’t know anyone. It didn’t matter if I had minimal experience or how many people read for the role. I knew this was arranged by God especially for me. All of these above mentioned things flowed into my life as if ordained, consecutively with relative ease. As long as I received them (which I did, of course) I believed it would be impossible to mess it up. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go play in traffic or anything, but you know what I’m saying. In Peter 5:10 it says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ Himself will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Sign me up for the latter half of that.  I’m ready.  We can count on the fact that we will have pain in this life and there will always be things outside of our control. We have a choice, however, how we view, face, and manage these things.

sunriseIt’s amazing how quickly things have changed form me in such a short time.  Today I witness my mother, because of her faith, blossoming into a different person as her life transforms into something still unknown but wonderful. She is independent and confident with new friendships. She displays aspects of her personality I’ve never seen. It’s like watching a child play in the ocean for the first time as she discovers the woman she is without my father. My bank account is fairly restored. I sit on my terrace drinking coffee as I watch the rising sun turn the sky and river beautifully pink and purple, thinking about the show opening this week. I never stop feeling gratitude these days for every sweet experience. I’ve dedicated my upcoming performances to the memory of my father who greatly enjoyed me in this role three years ago. My earthly father, this wonderfully smart, dependable and loving man I thought we could not survive without is certainly still with us in spirit. We are, however, not only surviving without him here, we are thriving in the hands of our heavenly Father.

Posted in Faith, God, Grief, Inspiration | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

One Week Stand Without Remorse

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I fled snowy Cincinnati for my lover two thousand miles away at a pace still faster than the laziest cheetah. Slowed only by the annoying airline connections characteristic of the budget traveler I have become, I cursed every barrier between us while distracting myself with imagined visions of our reunion. We would have only seven days together, but I would relish every precious second. The plane landed in Phoenix at night forcing me to wait (a few hours less thanks to the time change) until morning to see him.

I couldn’t dress fast enough the next day in my recently neglected shorts and tank knowing that he was waiting just outside my door. Would it feel as good as I remembered? With a shiver of anticipation I stepped out to greet my lover, the Sun, who did not disappoint. He bathed my body from head to toe in a luscious, familiar warmth which filled my being with the nostalgia of previous rendezvouses – a houseboat on the lake, a riverboat in New Orleans, a beach in the Bahamas, and a terrace in Greece were just a few flashing through my mind at warp speed.blazing_hot_sun_0515-0909-2912-5042_SMU

Tears of joy sprung instantly to my eyes and the cold months of our separation fell away. It only mattered that we were together in this moment. He was more attractive than when I last saw him in Cincinnati. Here he shined big and beautiful amongst white wisps of cloud and vivid blue sky framed by mountains. I closed my eyes to shut out the tears and to better feel his hot kisses covering my pale limbs. What a hottie, my lover the sun! I was ready to give myself quickly and wholly to him without reservation, but I pledged restraint. I must go slowly and I should use protection. He means no harm with his strong rays and can’t help himself.

I have fond memories of several other long distance relationships in my life. They offer love with a different flavor which is sweet to savor. Unlike an everyday relationship, there is a longing during absences, a sweet building of anticipation in the travel planning, and an exhilarating thrill at reuniting before the sad goodbye. We all know what that famous English dude said about parting. Then the cycle wonderfully repeats itself. Long distance lovers appreciate and celebrate all that they love about one another when together. It likens relationship to a vacation, an experience untainted by the boring details and restrictive routines of regular life. Such couplings are usually a challenge to sustain and more fantasy than reality. Every time mine ended, I need only wait. Like a boomerang each man came back to me. And, I let them for a while. After all, neither party wants to let go of a fantasy though the love inevitably dies.

Tomorrow I will bid adieu to the sun and go home to a foot of snow. Unlike other lovers, the sun will always return to me. As long as I live in the Midwest, we will maintain that thrill ride relationship of which I will never tire. I will dutifully mourn his absence, daydream of his return, never take him for granted, and welcome him back with my mind, body and soul each and every time. Ah, nature erotica.

 

 

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Contradictions in Character

traci2 lo resContradictions in character make for interesting people in real life and stories. I sometimes feel like a walking paradox. This struck me the most scrolling through my Twitter feed to see multiple tweets by Eminem and Joel Osteen, one on top of the other. No one is more confused than the people at Twitter who have no idea who to recommend that I follow. I mean, do they suggest the latest religious gurus or gangster rappers? Ha Twitter! In the lyrics of Eminem, “they’ll never figure me out” while Joel would say that God knows everything about me and still loves me.???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

The thoughts, preferences and beliefs of deep people are seldom black or white. In an effort to understand others we strive to classify people into a type so we know how to relate to them; democrat or republican, stingy or generous, straight-laced or promiscuous, neat or sloppy. There is almost a pressure from society to declare what you are, one way or another. I remember John Cougar (Mellencamp, at the time) singing that you have to stand for something or you will fall for anything. It rings like a warning for us all to think hard and choose wisely. But for goodness sakes, pick a side. Those who don’t are often viewed as weak, impressionable, or not knowing their own mind.???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I think this mindset is way too easy and severely limiting. While there are times when we do commit ourselves with strength and fervor to something our soul holds true, there are other things that do well in the land of shades of gray. Living there can make us more compassionate, flexible and balanced.

My inconsistencies? Here’s a few. I support abortion laws, but would never have had one myself. My IQ appears wildly different depending on my mood and whether you meet me at a party or a professional lecture. I used to regularly run for exercise and sometimes smoke. No, not at the same time. Duh! I would run ten miles, drink a lot of water, then sit down and have a cigarette. Yep, I did. I hid it because the world said I was whacked. At the time though, I enjoyed both and didn’t think I should be forced to quit one for the other. I have long since given up both addictions, one for my lungs and the other for my knees. I didn’t quit either, however, because others said I should.

We’re all on a journey to figure out the world and ourselves in the process. Our incongruent traits are what make us richly unique. This paradox personality syndrome, as I call it, is especially useful when creating fictional characters. What is it about you that doesn’t make sense? What things about you would cause quizzical looks from people if they only knew? Author Walt Whitman is quoted as saying, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large… I contain multitudes.”

Posted in character, Contradictions, paradox, personality, self image, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Why Not Choose Happiness?

TT-5885-(ZF-2557-58274-1-018)I recently attended an all-day conference on happiness entitled ‘The Habits of Happy People’. It was sponsored by the Institute for Brain Potential and the speaker was Dennis Marikis, Ph.D. The beauty of the social work profession is that you earn education credits for your license and improve your personal life at the same time. This pleases me because I am the mother of multi-tasking. I recite lines from my plays while driving in the car, rehearse songs in the shower, and eat at my computer. This could be hazardous to my happiness as you will learn. I do not text and drive, nor do I walk and chew gum. One has to draw the line somewhere.
With almost 200 people in attendance, I’m obviously not the only one interested in happiness. Even the forefathers of our country made sure to enlist protection in the constitution for our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit? Why not say the right to life, liberty and happiness? It’s as if happiness is a mysterious and elusive concept, something to chase but not possess. It poses the question of ‘who’ or ‘what’ we believe is responsible for our happiness. Is it the government, our spouse, our job, our church, or our children? Is it dependent on our wealth, our health, or our circumstances? If so, then happiness will always be out of our grasp, a mirage that appears in front of us only to vanish before our eyes when it seems we have reached it. If happiness is something outside of us, then it will always be in the control of others or subject to the whims of the world.
What if happiness were ours to have at will? Happiness is a choice and much more within our control than most realize. That’s not to say we aren’t challenged by genetics, other people, and circumstances beyond our control. We often, however, fall into the traps of the primitive brain; fear, insecurity, and anger. These things trigger chemical responses in the body that separate us from good health and a sense of peace. Those who don’t know happiness is largely a choice, are just plain miserable. Because, let’s face it. Society offers us plenty of reasons to feel bad about life.  We innately hold the tools for happiness and they’re free! Practicing gratitude and mindfulness are two of the biggest ones for me. We can do this through meditation, prayer, forgiveness, or a multitude of other exercises every day if we become intentional about it.photo - Copy (7)
I was walking with a friend recently on a beautiful fall day being very mindful of the moment. I was admiring the big, billowy white clouds overlapping the vivid blue of the sky. I was feeling the breeze in my hair and the sun warming my cheeks. I then spotted three deer in a side yard about 300 feet away. I stopped my friend and the conversation to watch them eating and looking around. I was in heaven until my friend interrupted my bliss. “Don’t stare”, she said. “We’d better go or they might charge us.” Really?! In the cognitive business we call these ANTS or Automatic Negative Thoughts. We need to banish these little buggers or they will ruin the picnic every time. I asked her if she had ever been charged by a deer. No. Had she ever known anyone charged by a deer? No. How many times in her life had she seen deer nearby? Hundreds. So I asked her the origin of her thought. “I don’t know. I think I heard or read something somewhere that it could happen” was her reply. As ludicrous or irrational as this may sound, we all do it…every day. Our brains are so wired to protect ourselves we routinely become paranoid. Are there deer who charge people? I guess so, but we have to use common sense.deerx
The numbers on meditation have been in for years. The research clearly supports the benefits of meditation over any medication. We westerners just don’t want to hear it. Mmmm. Maybe it’s because it would call us to stop blaming others.
At the end of the seminar I had to wait in a very long line for my certificate. I exited to a horribly congested parking lot leading to a backed up side street. Ultimately, I was funneled onto the interstate into rush hour traffic. Grrrr! Is this a test? Sitting in my car, I speculated what our world would look like if we learned the practice of meditation, mindfulness and gratitude as children. What if it was a mandatory class in our school systems?
I’m sure our crime, suicide and divorce rates would be much less. I bet our family relationships and our medical health would be significantly better. If it were practiced globally, I doubt we would hear much about war, famine and genocide. If we want to start solving the major woes and crises in this world, we need to start by tending to the soul at the earliest age possible. If you are hearing these concepts for the first time as an adult, I’m sorry. Start today, though! Google the terms. Find the books and articles. Read the research. Develop a plan. Change your own thoughts and your own life and we can transform the world, one soul at a time.

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You Got An Ear To Go With That Mouth?

earRecent experiences have reminded me that there are many people who don’t take the time to listen to those around them. I’m torn about whether this is a social flaw or something that speaks to the core of one’s character. I suspect it depends on the person. It’s particularly frustrating, however, if it’s your date.

My date, better known as the Red Scare

The first time I meet this guy is for a coffee, (let’s call him ‘Guy”, in fact). Guy speaks extensively about his job, salary, education, real estate and cars. I realize afterwards I had little opportunity to share about me, yet learned quite a bit about Guy who has been in my life all of 45 minutes.  I decide not to rush to judgment.   After all, some people over-talk when they’re nervous. Besides, Guy seems nice enough and he’s easy on the eyes. My shallow side emerges again. Or, is it desperation? Let’s hope not. Maybe it’s hope. Yeah, that’s it, hope and optimism. I decide the red flag is really just a pale shade of pink.

The next occasion we converse (if you call it that) is over drinks and food at a local bar. I learn more about Guy’s current and past real estate deals and the way he has manipulated them to his advantage. I hear how Guy has cleverly edged himself into his current job, as well as his plan to proudly use the company before moving on to bigger things. He tosses out more numbers; percentages, dollar amounts, and test scores. Now some people (including Guy, I’m sure) might call this good business.   I am, however, getting a creepy, crawly feeling on my skin. Don’t ever annoy the creepy, crawly feeling, by the way. It’s usually a sign, not an allergy. I’m now convinced Guy is more than just cluelessly (I know it’s not a word, spellcheck, but I like it) self-involved. Guy is a pompous, selfish ass!   For all I know he is a sociopath, but some things are better left a mystery. The flag before my eyes is now such a bright, frightening, blazing red that I call it my own personal Red Scare. red flag

I give up even trying to break into the conversation (I mean, monologue) at this point. What a bummer! I had felt a strong physical attraction, but this has vanished. I assume, however, this tendency toward one sided discourse would transfer in bed to one sided intercourse, so I’m really not missing anything. So……. I let the crushing wave of disappointment fade into pure fascination. Can Guy really not hear how he sounds?! I wish I am filming this and think briefly about whether I can activate the recording app on my phone without his knowledge. Instead, I eventually make excuses, to his disappointment, and end the evening. He tells me how much he loves hanging out with me.   I choke back a laugh and my mind screams, “Of course you do.   I listened to you talk about yourself all night long (okay, it was only an hour. It just felt like a long night)”. I let him pay the check, by the way, instead of my usual offer to split the tab. It still came to less than I used to charge for an hour of therapy. He’ll never know what a great deal he got. Or maybe he does, and he’s bragging about it right now to another girl (poor thing). I wish I had ordered a bigger meal or some wine. I know how much money he makes, don’t forget, and I am a starving artist now.

Before you judge me for bashing Guy and writing about him, I should say that I will be politely honest when he calls to schedule his next therapy session. It still blows me away that Guy never once asked me anything substantial about my interests or my life.

A different encounter: Conversation Interuptus

A recent networking event with other creative types has me sitting at the end of a long table next to a new face. I pleasantly ask this gentleman what drew him to the group. Forty five minutes later, I am still trying to extricate myself from a one way conversation. Every time he asks me a question, he immediately interrupts my answer when it triggers another thought as to how the subject applies to him. He is probably a great guy. All those who monopolize conversations are not selfish and uncaring like Guy. When I was younger, I was a big offender of this (so says my ex-husband) and am probably still guilty from time to time. Sometimes people are just very excited about what is going on in their lives. Maybe they have never learned to stop and listen. One of my very best friends carries this trait. She will ring me up (oops, I went all British there), share her entire day, and then say goodbye. Sometimes I call her out and she will apologize. She claims she is “a poor listener” which she inherited from her Dad who “has untreated ADD”. Mmmmm. “Well, since you’re aware”, I tell her, “get yourself some Ritalin and quit it.” That said, she is a deeply caring and sensitive human being who would do anything in the world for me. I just have to tell her to shut up sometimes, and then specifically direct her to listen.   I still love her and wouldn’t trade her for the world. She is a blessing in my life.

What does it all mean? I need to hear from you!

I do sometimes wonder if it’s just me.   Is my previous life as a mental health therapist working against me? Do people sense something in my presence and subconsciously think, ‘here’s someone to whom I can tell all my shit.’?   I mean, does my genuine concern and innate ability to listen radiate from my pores like cheap perfume (or my healthy sense of self-esteem)?  Or, is all of this the consequence of a more egocentric, ‘me’ mentality which is present in today’s world? Please, someone tell me your thoughts. I’d love to hear your experience (yes, I really would listen).

The older I get, I am more drawn to the mutual aspects of communication and less interested in fighting for air time. If you want to know about me, you will ask. And if you really care, you’ll wait to hear my answer. I am increasingly grateful for people I encounter who do both. Okay, your turn……….

 

Posted in Caring, Communication, Dating, friendship, humor, Listening | Leave a comment

ABC’s ‘The Bachelor’ AKA ‘Looking for Love in the All the Wrong Places’

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I have always been fascinated by reality (beware of loose terminology) television because of my profession in the field of psychology.  The show most perplexing and disturbing by far is ‘The Bachelor’.   The official show descriptions says, “twenty-four women are given the unique opportunity to find love” Mmmm. Find love? (or make an ass of yourself or lose the little self-esteem that you have).  I think the majority of the viewing public see it as a form of entertainment and most know there is nothing ‘real’ about it.  I often wonder how the women contestants missed that memo and why (for the love of God) someone doesn’t tell them?!   

Oh, duh (light bulb)!   That would ruin the fun if you’re idea of entertainment is watching a train careening into the side of a mountain.  Holy matrimony, Batman.  Maybe there’s some part of this pathetic display that makes the rest of us feel superior.  It’s kind of like a Hunger Games where the bloodied bodies of teenagers are replaced with drunken, blubbering beauties with mascara streaked faces who can’t stop saying things like, “I thought we really connected,” and “I’ve got so much more to offer than her.”

I have only seen random episodes over the years, but am not immune to the magnetic pull.  I have had to live with the sick shame the morning after when I awake to the memory of watching a full episode and at times (gasp), liking it!!!  I have yelled at the television and laughed at the empty and ridiculous conversations between the women and Prince Bachelor Charming which seem to never change.

Am I the only one who has found myself rooting for one of these women to say something like, “You seem like a very nice person, but I’m not sure you’re the right one for me.  Goodbye and good luck.”?  I guess, again, it could be envy because many of my friends and I have dated hundreds (well, okay thousands) and not found Mr. Right.  I know these men are quite the package, but is ABC so good that they find the perfect match for thirty women every season?   Math is not my strong suit, but even I know that doesn’t add up right.  I suppose the question above is rhetorical because we all know that it’s really about the chase, not the prize.th

I would love ABC to select a nerdy and non-worldly bachelor once and see what happens, maybe someone like Gomer Pyle.  “Well golleee, Jessica, sequins sure do look good on you.”  The outcome probably wouldn’t change.  I can hear the camera interview now.  “He’s just so sweet.  I just love how when given the choice between caviar and bologna, he felt comfortable enough to pick the bologna.  We really connected.  I see a future with him.”  The psychology which allows these women to get sucked in is twofold; their hope for love and a need to win.  Truth be told, these are common human qualities which make us all vulnerable to manipulation.  We all feel worthy and validated when we are chosen above others.  Maybe the show should be named ‘Battle for the Bachelor’.

The creators and production staff, not unlike the hunger gamekeepers from The Capitol in Panem, are forever switching up the circumstances and controlling things behind the scene.  Their tools are innocent things such as roses, hot tubs, exotic locales, and wine.  But when mixed with cameras, competition, clever editing and young women desperate for love (or attention), it becomes a wicked elixir sure to lead to heartbreak and embarrassment (oh, and ratings) or at least a good cry on the bathroom floor.thPDURHRAM  

As far as alcohol, I thought it was widely known not to operate heavy machinery when under its influence.  Only that doesn’t apply to all brains, now does it?  (Woops.  That sounded like the statement of a ‘mean girl’ which I am not, so scratch that.)   I feel sad for them more than anything because I remember myself at that age, vulnerable and somewhat clueless about so much.  It’s one of Erickson’s life stages of psychosocial development, right?  No?!  Well, right between Identity vs. Role Confusion and Intimacy vs. Isolation, it should say Blindly Unaware vs. Aha! I See the Light.  Hopefully, most of us master this conflict (or at least see a flicker or a dim glow at some point).

So, if you hate the show’s misleading premise, ruthless tactics, and overall unethical style, I completely understand you.  If you love the chance to escape reality in this show’s drama, suspense and mesmerizing interactions, I completely understand you.   ABC will never be able to flash the program message ‘No hopeful, young, and single women were harmed in the filming of this show’, but I‘m sure they have plenty of signed consents to keep them honest.  In the end, I hope none of these women walk away too emotionally scarred.  I also hope they eventually find the happiness of a true, deep and meaningful love.  In fact, I wish that for us all!

 

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Posted in humor, love, women | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

New Year, New Moon, and Old Sadness

world moonI am just as energized and optimistic about the coming year as many of you. I intended to start the year with an uplifting message in my usual inspirational manner. I cannot do that, because above all I must be real and true. The truth is that January the 1st was a mixed bag of feelings and reflections following my encounter with a man I’ll call John.

THE BACKSTORY:
Johnny is a thirty something year old man who, as a child, was a client on my caseload. I rarely think of the children with whom I worked as a foster care and adoption case manager in the eighties. Johnny, however, is the one who has crossed my mind most frequently throughout the years. From the time he was 11 to 15 years of age, I was the worker who saw him through foster placements, a failed adoption, a psychiatric hospitalization and a group home placement. We logged hundreds of miles together in my car as I drove him to therapy appointments, sibling visits, and once to meet his estranged birth father in prison.

A few weeks ago he found me on Facebook and sent me a message. After a few brief and cryptic contacts, I suggested we meet. It just so happened to fall on the first day of the year. I never hesitated to see him, probably wanting it as much as he did, both of us curious. I always suspected the worse for Johnny as his fate seemed somehow pre-destined and beyond the control of anyone, most of all him. I expected him to be alcohol/drug dependent with a criminal record and a series of failed or dysfunctional relationships.

disconnected handsTHE PAST:
I didn’t expect the worse because he was a bad kid. He wasn’t a troublemaker or mean spirited person. He was quiet and somewhat closed off, but could be kind and caring. (Damn it! Here come the tears again.) As his worker, I acted with the belief that his aloof demeanor was a form of protection from all the hurt he had experienced. He was never hard or angry. Johnny was so unlike his cute, but severely disturbed younger brother who suffered from an attachment disorder. Johnny didn’t get kicked out homes, schools and programs requiring multiple hospitalizations like his brother.

Johnny came with his share of problems, but he could feel for, connect to and reason with people. I liked Johnny and cared about what happened to him. It may sound harsh, but this is not always a given in my field. The child welfare system, unfortunately, moved too slow to save him and there was some bad luck along the way. Before long Johnny was teenager. A large male teen with troubles is a risky and unappealing choice for most families. Everyone who cared for and provided for Johnny, though well meaning, had limitations, including myself. And while there is no intended blame, the reality is there was no one willing to commit to Johnny unconditionally and for the long haul, something he no doubt felt. He was going to age out of the system and choose to return to his birth family. I didn’t witness this because I left the job for graduate school, but I knew it nonetheless.

moon manTHE PRESENT:
I walk into the diner, but don’t see him in the lobby. I answer ‘yes’ when the hostess asks if I am meeting someone. She says, “He told me to look for someone really pretty. He’s sitting in a booth in the back. I’ll take you to him.” I feel suddenly very nervous and emotional as I walk through the dining room. After all, it has been twenty years since we last saw each other. Was I right or wrong about the direction his life had taken? Did it matter? I wish I could say the answer was a surprise and that he’s doing well. It turned out to be worse than I imagined as I was soon to find out.

A disheveled and poorly dressed man turns when I approach. His eyes grow big and his smile reveals neglected teeth. There is an airy, vacant quality to his look. I can tell he is high, but the face is unmistakably Johnny. I lean down without reservation to hug him and am overcome instantly by the stale smell of cigarettes, then the aroma of alcohol. My heart sinks, but I am no less interested in spending this time with him.

His words are somewhat slurred and his mental status clearly altered (geez, I write like a clinician), but we are able to carry on a decent conversation. He thanks me for coming and says I am more beautiful than my pictures, so I know he has read about me on the internet. I order food for us and encourage him to drink his water, then ask how heavily he has been drinking. He informs me he only drank today because he is nervous to see me, but we both know which part of that statement is a lie. We soon fall comfortably into the roles we had previously played and I start to learn the latest in his life.

The short story is that he drinks and smokes pot every day, stays with many family members in a small apartment from which he is soon to be kicked out, has spent a total of 12 of his adult years in prison (that’s right, not jail), cannot get a job and is on the verge of homelessness. He reports that he refuses to speak with his brother whom he terms a pedophile responsible for sexually abusing a handful of children (again, no surprise). Johnny’s relationship with the steadiest foster parents was destroyed by his lifestyle. His descriptions of the remaining family involve violence, drug addiction, crime and prostitution.

Johnny doesn’t ask me for anything and I don’t offer to help solve his problems. We both know better, as it’s not that simple. He tells me he remembers me because “you were really hot.” The same wry humor and sarcasm I remember still crops up as we speak. I say, “Really? That’s what you remember about me? All of my effort and schooling….” I should be creeped out by his comments, but I’m not. It’s just Johnny, after all. He laughs, “It’s true. But I also remember that you were always nice to me no matter what. You never lied to me and that’s a big deal. That’s really rare, you know. Everybody is a liar. No matter what I’ve done, I don’t lie.”

After lunch I somewhat tentatively let him in my car when he asks for a ride. The strangeness of it all is not lost on me as we coincidentally ride down streets we had traveled together before, me as the driver and him in the passenger seat. Neither of us speak when we pass the old, now abandoned building that had housed the children’s services office where we both spent so much time. I let him out on a corner and we hug one last time. He holds onto me for a long minute and seems slow to get out of the car. Whether it is his intoxicated state or a hesitancy to leave, I’ll never know. I notice that I feel anxious for him to go, so I can make the left turn that will take me back into my life, my plans for the day. I don’t want to see any more.

I take one last look as he stumbles away, a broken man with huge barriers before him. When others look at him they see a strung out, pathetic, alcoholic felon, no different than the men I see frequently at the hospital. They arrive at the emergency room after being found down on the street, drunk, homeless, with chronic medical issues and no one left to care about them. We give them resource sheets with addresses for shelters and alcohol programs we assume they will never use. We don’t see the child, the abusive history or the lost chances. When I last look at Johnny, I suddenly see only the 11 year old boy I had known. I swallow hard and turn away, saying a prayer for God to watch over him, to save him when I, and everyone else, had not.

I go straight to the gym for my workout, then on to my parents’ home where I planned to visit and spend the night. Catching up with them, I only briefly mention my lunch, then head to the shower. I stand under the hot water in their wonderful home, thinking about the delicious dinner that awaits me, the strong support of their unconditional love, and my endless blessings. I didn’t do anything to deserve any of it. I was just born, that’s all. I was born into the best situation one could ever want.

Johnny was born into his situation, too. And like me, he did nothing to earn what he was dealt. I stand in the shower and sob. I cry for him, the unfairness of it all and others in this unjust world who suffer so much. I try to stop and get a hold of myself, but the tears keep flowing from some place deep inside of me as if they have a mind of their own and will never end.
Dalai Lama quoteTHE FUTURE:
There is nothing to write in this space right now. I don’t know if there will be, or not. I am not sure if I will see him again, nor do I know that he would want it. Johnny is going to have to be ready and determined in order to save himself now, even if help is available. I do know that I will look into the faces of all the adults with whom I now work and wonder a little more about the child inside.

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