Thursday, June 18, 2015

Revisiting old wounds

*I wrote this on December 16th, 2014*

Yesterday marked six years since I was in the hospital with an ectopic pregnancy. My pregnancy was terminated on December 15, 2008 although not by my choice. And yet, it was my choice. This is part of the reason why I think it’s hard to put all of this into words. An ectopic pregnancy happens when the baby implants inside the fallopian tubes (in most cases) as opposed to the uterus (in case you are not familiar with this). The baby cannot remain in the fallopian tubes because as it grows, so will the tube, eventually causing it to rupture. There is simply not enough room (or resources) to accommodate a growing baby. If you want to be technical about it, I did make the decision to end my pregnancy; however, it was only because the pregnancy would NOT result in a live birth and because it was a risk to my life as well.
I will admit that this was much different than my first loss. With my first, I went to the doctor because I was in severe pain. It wasn’t until I went to the doctor that I learned I was pregnant and it didn’t take me long to realize that the pain I initially went in for was likely due to the miscarriage taking place. With my second pregnancy, I felt nauseous and that led me to take a pregnancy test, which was positive. I had many of your typical pregnancy symptoms, although I will admit now that I did feel something wasn’t quite right. I brushed it off because I had never been this far into the pregnancy before and I assumed I didn’t know what pregnancy should feel like. There was this one day I remember so vividly with that pregnancy. I went to the bathroom and was feeling slightly dizzy. I began to feel this intense pain in my lower abdomen and it was so severe that I curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor for a good fifteen minutes. To me, that pain indicated something was wrong so I made a call to my doctor’s office. I had an appointment in a couple of days and since I wasn’t bleeding, I was told that it was probably the uterus stretching and I shouldn’t worry too much. I felt uneasy about ignoring that pain, but I definitely wasn’t bleeding so I figured they knew better than I did. The day before my first appointment, I was taking a shower and noticed some blood. Having had that previous miscarriage, I immediately wanted to go to the ER and check on my baby. Inside, I was riddled with worry and fear, but I just had to know what was going on. After checking in and having a sonogram, I was told that I was likely having an ectopic. My baby was alive, but in the wrong place and wasn’t going to survive. I was insensitively told that if I didn’t “take care of” this “problem,” I had a chance of losing my own life as well. It was a devastating decision that haunts me to this day. It was the right decision and pretty much the ONLY decision to be made, but I was the one who made it. I allowed the hospital to inject me with a drug that killed my baby. For many years, I have lived with guilt from this decision. My rational self tells me that I did what I had to do and it wasn’t worth risking my life for something that scientifically wouldn’t come to be. Try telling that to the heart of a mom; it’s a completely different story on the other side. To me, I felt as though I couldn’t protect my child. My body failed me and as such, I failed my baby. You could probably tell me over and over again that this wasn’t my fault and my mind would agree with you. My heart, however, is the one that fights that rationale every time. Some people might think this loss wasn’t such a big deal. I mean, come on…it’s not like I lost a living child or had a stillbirth. It was much too early for me to be attached and I probably shouldn’t have gotten so emotional over “tissue.” This is not how I saw it at all. My baby had a heartbeat; he/she was alive inside me. Terminating that pregnancy wasn’t just about expelling tissue. It was about the death of all the hopes, dreams and possibilities that child would bring me and my husband.
Even though I know God has a plan for me, I hated thinking that His plan included losing two precious babies and living with the guilt that I chose to essentially abort one. It was a monumental loss to me. I cried for days on end, I scarcely ate and I questioned everything. That baby was a reality for me from the day I saw two lines on the pregnancy test. And now, I don’t even have a sonogram picture to remember my baby by. All I have are memories, many of which are difficult to revisit. And although I do have two precious miracles, it doesn’t change the hurt from that day. Every child is unique and even when you have more than one, you love them all just the same. This isn’t any different for me just because I never got to meet them or even see them on a sonogram screen. Those babies lived inside me and were a part of me. They will always be a part of me and I can take a small measure of comfort in the hopes of seeing them one day. To any woman that has ever had to wade through the gamut of emotions (including ones you didn’t even know you were capable of feeling), my heart goes out to you. It is one of the hardest things to mother a child that you cannot hold in your arms. We love them, care for them and miss them from afar. Knowing my babies still live inside my heart is not a consolation at all, but since it is all I have, I cling to it fiercely. Please be kind to any mother who has lost her child. Be gentle and even though you may not understand, please don’t judge her feelings. It is something that is indescribable until you’ve gone through it and it’s not something I would wish on anyone. To my sweet and precious child that I lost on that December day: you are loved, cherished and never, ever forgotten.

Don't call me strong

I never anticipated this would happen to me
Most days I am so blinded by tears
That I can scarcely see
You call me strong
And I’m not sure why
If you saw the face underneath the mask
It would uncover the lie
I don’t know what I’m doing
Nor do I have a plan
Sometimes I honestly wonder
How I’m able to even stand
That smile you see
That face you know
It’s been plastered on
It’s now just for show
Inside, I’m shattered
Broken into a million pieces
I still feel a gnawing pain
Even with time, it never ceases
You say I’m strong
And I still don’t know why
I never chose for my baby to die
Life continues for me
The world didn’t close up shop
But I remember the day quite clearly
When time (for me) literally stopped
I’m not strong because I carry on
Inside, I’m still torn in two
I keep moving forward
Because that’s what I have to do

The Responsibility of Driving

*I wrote this in response to an accident that occurred in Arlington, Texas some time back. A father was pushing his young son in a stroller to cross an intersection when a car failed to yield the right of way and caused an accident that took the life of the little boy.*

When I first saw this headline, I was outraged! Like many other readers (I’m guessing), the only thing I could think about was the tiny little life that was taken away. Although there is nothing that can be done to bring the little boy back, there is still an empty feeling that lingers. There is no sense of ‘justice’ and in a case like this, I’m not sure there’ll ever be. Unfortunately, there are some things in life that just simply…suck; really suck. Unimaginable things happen where no one is really at ‘fault,’ at least not in the sense that we’re used to. When you’re younger, this concept is simple; you do something wrong, you get into trouble. There is this image of good versus evil and you hope that good triumphs and evil suffers the consequences. But what happens when there isn’t a clear picture of this? What happens when there isn’t some inherently evil person who commits a bad deed? This is where the moral dilemma comes into play. There are many other instances where there is a gray area for ethics and I’ll admit that it’s difficult to wrap your head around. For example, we can all agree that theft is wrong, morally and legally. However, what if you were starving and you stole food to feed your family? Are you still legally in the wrong? How about morally? To me, it’s a gray area. We wouldn’t deny food to someone in need of it, so we’d morally excuse them (even if they were legally found guilty). How about this one: you’re working in the military and you’re ordered to be part of an air strike that will obliterate your entire hometown. Would you accept your orders or would you defy them? What if you found yourself in a situation where you must choose to end the lives of a few to save even more? Life isn’t always black and white; as I’ve said, there are gray areas. I don’t think we, as human beings, deal with these types of situations well. It disrupts the normal balance of right and wrong. Yet, these types of situations occur daily. Sometimes we simply have to accept the fact that accidents happen. Now, I’m not saying that the lady who caused this accident was right. Obviously, she was not; she failed to yield the right of way and because of her carelessness, a baby died. However, carelessness does not necessarily equal callousness. That’s what makes this particular incident difficult to accept. Legally, the only consequence of this action is a ticket. She did something we’ve all likely done at least once in our lives, whether it was intentional or not. When you’re trying to turn against traffic, it’s difficult to see what is coming. And perhaps sometimes we misjudge if we’re clear to make that turn. We might even have a line of cars behind us, honking and encouraging us to pull out into traffic when we cannot clearly see. I know this has happened to me and although I won’t give in and turn unless I know I am clear, not everyone reacts the same. I hate that this accident happened. I hate that an innocent little boy paid the price for a careless mistake. I’m even sorry that this woman will have to live with this for the rest of her life. There are no winners in this case, no triumphant party emerging. It is absolutely heartbreaking, but maybe we can all take something from this tragedy. We need to be looking out for everyone on the road, whether on foot or some type of vehicle. We need to make our roads safe for anyone who travels down it. Please be aware of your surroundings and always have your eyes on the road. The things we get distracted by are never important enough to make a colossal mistake such as this. Driving is a great responsibility that many fail to take seriously. It shouldn’t take a dead child to make us realize this. When you’re behind the wheel, make sure you’re watching for pedestrians, traveling the speed limit and obeying traffic laws. And please, try and plan your trip in advance, allowing for possible accidents, road construction and traffic in general. It is so much better to arrive at your destination fifteen minutes early than to have to endure the guilt of taking a person’s life for the rest of yours.

My response to the Ethan Couch tragedy

I consider myself to be a pretty compassionate person. I am the kind of person who believes in second chances, that rehabilitation is possible and that people who’ve failed can turn their lives around. However, I am also a big believer in personal accountability. You must own up to your mistakes, not simply try to bury them. I also believe that while leniency and common sense should prevail, there are consequences to our actions. The case of this young 16-year old that drove recklessly and killed four people does not live up to any measure of justice or personal responsibility. This teenager was sentenced to serve out x-amount of time in a rehabilitation facility in California, which his father (rightfully so) is paying for (in addition to ten-or-so years of probation). This young man has apparently had prior “incidents” where drinking and driving were involved. While I certainly believe that an intervention and rehab are important (and necessary) for this young man, I do not think justice was served to the families of the victims this boy killed. It’s true that no sentence for this young man would bring back any of the deceased. However, what does this say about the consequences for drinking and driving? What kind of example/precedent are we trying to set here? Why isn’t this young man being held accountable for his choice to drink and drive? If he had been an adult male, they would’ve thrown the book at him. This young man believed himself to be an adult. He made a conscious choice to drink and another choice to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
My position is this: if you choose to engage in an “adult” activity, you are responsible for the consequences of said decision. There was a tragic loss of life in this instance and it’s a real shame. Undoubtedly, sending this teen to prison would be yet another loss of life as well. However, the victims no longer have a chance at life, period. Perhaps this young man’s life wouldn’t have been as fulfilling if he had to serve jail time. But, it was HIS choice and as such, he should be responsible for the fallout. It really gets under my skin that because this boy’s father can buy his son out of trouble, he is given a slap on the wrist for something that many of us would’ve been shown no mercy for. Had he been from the “other side of the tracks” (i.e. poor or a minority), he would be behind bars as we speak. I feel somewhat torn over this particular case. On one hand, I’ve had to stop myself numerous times from referring to him as a “boy.” In fact, I concede that I have used the term “young man” throughout. As someone who studied psychology in college, I do know that teenager’s minds are not fully developed at this age. Discernment has yet to be fully shaped and teenagers also have this invincibility illusion where they truly believe that nothing bad can happen to them. This type of thinking is exactly the reason why teenagers shouldn’t engage in drinking at all, much less attempting to drive somewhere while under the influence of alcohol. It’s not that they don’t understand the concept of right and wrong; it’s simply that they don’t believe that negative consequences will directly affect them and their lives. That is, until after it does. Such is the case here.
Having said all of that, I still believe that the punishment was too light and had a lot to do with money. Where do we draw the line with these young people? How much bad behavior do we write off as normal teenage thinking and reasoning before we start applying adult consequences to their actions? Is the act of plowing down 4 innocent people on a sidewalk enough to elicit a harsher sentence? I think so, I really do. As much as I understand about the way the mind works, there HAS to be a reaction on our part. Actually, we should really be proactive and try to keep things like this from happening, period. But once we reach this place, we have no choice but to react. And it has to be enough to make other teenagers think twice before committing this same act with tragic results. If we stand by and do nothing (or not much of anything), we are going to create entitled adults who believe they are “untouchable.” Again, what kind of message do we need to send to young kids? Telling them not to drink is just not enough anymore; they are obviously not being reached at this level. We need something more. We need to figure out how we can take measures to change the thinking of these young people before more lives are lost.
I sincerely hope that part of this boy’s probation will include having to talk to other kids at schools and other awareness seminars. I also hope that he feels remorse for his actions and understands how his selfish needs have forever changed the lives of the victims’ families. No matter what action has been taken in this case, I’m sure we can all agree that such senseless acts need to be addressed (again). As parents, we need to teach our children that while we are able to make decisions for ourselves, the things we choose to do can also affect others and often times, in absolutely tragic ways. My heart goes out to the families that were devastated by this young man’s lack of judgment. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen more done in this case, especially where prior, similar acts were committed. I hope that the judge who passed this sentence down is able to reconcile this decision and it doesn’t torment them for some time to come. And yet, in a way, I do hope the judge endures some sleepless nights over this. I’m not so sure that they would’ve acted so dismissively had this been a family member of their own. Let’s keep everyone involved in this tragic incident in our thoughts and prayers. And please, please let’s talk to our children and all children/teenagers. It is our responsibility to convey how drinking and driving is not a game. Lives are forever changed when this decision is made. This is what we all need to take away from this.  

tragedy tradgedy

Being a Woman

You are beautiful
Inside and out
Don’t let your heart give in
To feelings of fear and doubt
You are a queen
Be sure you are treated as such
Take whatever is given to you
And give back just as much
Don’t allow life’s obstacles
To keep you from your dreams
Hold onto your faith
Things aren’t always as difficult as they seem
Know your worth
And let it show
Your confidence will shine through
And your heart will glow
Your gentle spirit
Doesn’t make you any less strong
Tear down the stereotypes
And prove them all wrong
Being a woman is a marvelous thing
Embrace all that you are
Don’t let anyone limit what you can do
And keep reaching for the stars!

YOU get over it

Too many times have grieving mothers (and families) heard some combination of these words:
“How long is it going to take for you to get over that?”
“Aren’t you over that yet?”
“You should just get over it.”
There are many well-meaning people who simply don’t know what to say to the ones who are grieving the loss of a loved one, especially when it comes to babies and children. However, the words “get over it” should never be uttered to the grieving, no matter how well-meaning the intention. First of all, what exactly are they supposed to “get over?” Get over the death? Get over the life (no matter how short)? Get over the feelings of despair? Or is it simply wanting the person to return to what they feel is a sense of normalcy (whatever that means)? Let’s make one thing clear here: the “it” or “that” that one should “get over” is a life. It doesn’t matter how short that life was; if the person is grieving that loss, it meant something. And those feelings are deeply felt; they go beyond the loss and spill over into the decisions that were made, feelings of guilt and many other overwhelming emotions. It’s something that the griever doesn’t ever want to “get over” because that would mean forgetting that the life ever existed and that’s just wrong (on so many levels) to ask someone to do. This is something that will be forever imprinted into this person’s heart, soul, even their very existence. It’s a slap in the face to be told such callous words. People who’ve experienced loss wish more than anything they weren’t grappling with these feelings that will last a lifetime. As time passes, the grief may not always be at such a high level. However, there will be triggers, anniversaries and moments where the pain comes flooding back and even though it hurts like hell, knowing the pain still exists is a reminder that that precious life hasn’t been forgotten. It’s an unimaginable feeling to know that the scars will always be a blessing and a curse. Even if a loss could be gotten over, I doubt that the griever would want such a thing to occur anyway. Here is what I have to say to anyone who thinks it is okay to utter the phrase (in any combination of words) “get over it.”
I will always remember my baby. YOU get over it.
I will speak my baby’s name and talk about them. YOU get over it.
I will likely never be the same again. YOU get over it.
I will grieve the way I want to, no matter how long it takes. YOU get over it.
I think it’s time for the grieving to throw this phrase right back at the ones who feel the need to tell us this in the first place.

Much to be Thankful For

No one can escape the sorrows of this world. We will all experience tragedies over the course of our lifetime. It isn’t something we can control most of the time and we simply have to find ways to cope when it does happen.
However, being thankful is something that is well within our control and despite what might be happening in our lives, we can always find something to be grateful for. We can be thankful for simply waking up to see another day. Or that we have food on our plates, a roof over our head and clothes on our backs. We can be grateful for the ability to see, hear, move and speak. We can be thankful that we live in a country where we can voice our opinions and have platforms to be heard from. We can be thankful for our families, our childhood and our children. We can be thankful for our health or our jobs. We can be thankful for the sun rising and setting, for the moon that illuminates our nights or the shade the trees provide. We can be thankful for music that touches our heart or words that enrich our minds. We may not be thankful for all of these things, but I guarantee that if you look hard enough, you can find many things to be thankful for. Gratefulness isn’t about being upset over the things we don’t have, but being appreciative of all we do have. Even when times are hard, if we can find things that we are thankful for, our perspective will change and perhaps open the door for more things to be thankful for. If we change the level of our attitude, the level of our gratitude will also change. We can always want for more, but to be grateful for what you already have; that’s a remarkable quality to possess.

When Faith Meets Roadblocks

We’ve all been traveling down the road, many times our usual route, only to find we must detour and travel into areas we are unfamiliar with. When this happens, we fret about arriving at our destination on time. We also might become angry that our routine has been disrupted. It might even cause us to be anxious because we aren’t quite sure where we’re going. Life can be like this too sometimes. We are going about our daily lives when the unthinkable happens; a roadblock, if you will. Life is very good at making sure we meet those roadblocks at some point in our lives. And the Devil tries to ensure that our lives become uprooted when we meet these obstacles. What are we to do when we meet these inevitable roadblocks of life? I’ve said it many times; faith is easy when life is going well. It is always the difficult times when we question our faith, when we question God. Sometimes it takes every ounce of physical strength we possess to navigate through those times. How do you react to situations that bring you to your knees and cause you to question every truth you know? This is the point where faith is the most crucial to our survival, to being able to face the world. This is the point where we have no choice but to believe. Believe that there is more joy than sorrow, more hope than bleakness, more good than evil, more love than hate. This is the point where we submit to God and trust that His love is greater than any roadblock we could ever face. The detours in our life may not be what we asked for. We may be terrified to travel down roads unknown. However, we must cling to His promise that He will be our light and that He will carry us when we cannot walk. Sometimes those very detours that we are afraid of lead us to majestic places that we never could have imagined, but we have to trust. And even though these words are so much easier to write than the actual act, it IS the truth. He is the truth. There is a reason we were not meant to travel that road at that particular time. We may not understand and we might cry out in disbelief, but we cannot allow our joy to be taken from us, no matter what life puts in our path. We were created with purpose and divinely planned. We have to know that no matter the road He is leading us down, that’s the road that was meant for us. So when your faith meets those roadblocks, don’t despair, just trust. Pray for strength and courage to go where He leads you. Don’t allow the shadows and darkness to overcome your soul. Have faith that His way is the right way and pray for comfort as your path leads you away from the roadblocks and into His presence.

When Trust is Tarnished

When I was seventeen, I was raped by an ex-boyfriend. We were friends at the time (which was rare for a past high school relationship or any relationship for that matter) and I cherished our friendship. I trusted him. My parents trusted him. It hurt me deeply when, after I emphatically told him that I had no interest in being physical, he took what he wanted anyway. Once that happened, I found it hard to trust any man. Men that I had known for years began to receive side-glances from me and I questioned every invitation, every conversation, everything in general. I hated feeling this way because I always had comfortable relationships with my guy friends. This is why it wasn’t a big deal at all for me to spend time with an ex-boyfriend. It was something I was used to; you know, just “hanging with the guys.” That fateful day changed everything for me. I went on to get married right after high school. I felt that I had found “the one.” It was a step I don’t think I was quite ready for and yet, I still made the leap. Suffice it to say, we didn’t last. We had many problems, one of which was my own inability to remain faithful. Sex had become meaningless to me. All that I had ever tied emotionally to sexual intercourse had been shut off and it had become nothing more than a purely physical act. Sex, for me, was only a means to an end for pleasure and reproduction, period. I met my second husband in the midst of my divorce from hubby number one. I wasn’t even open to meeting anyone romantically at the time. We just happened to share common friends and we ended up in the same places frequently. He wasn’t forward at all and I found myself becoming the aggressor (which was completely out of character for me). I went after him and I guess you could say I “caught” him. We began dating and it wasn’t long before we moved in together and later got married. We now have two beautiful boys and we are going on seven years of marriage. I can’t say I’m completely healed from my past scars because that would be an outright lie. It creeps up on me in the worst ways. When my husband lies to me, it sets me back. I clam up and find it difficult to be open. Thankfully, he tries his best to reach out to me and draw my feelings out as gently as possible. I’m blessed that he cares enough to do that because it wouldn’t take much to send me back to prior misbehavior. I won’t go so far to say that sex is still meaningless to me; my husband has helped to change that, but it hasn’t been easy. It’s a conscious effort on my part to remind myself that this man is different. This man has been there for me through some difficult times and I honestly can’t imagine how I’d wade through some of my deepest feelings without him. He catches me when I’m falling into the abyss and pulls me back into reality. It isn’t easy to heal from scars created by sexual assault. I know I’ll always carry some emotional baggage from that day. However, finding a gentle, sensitive and caring man has helped volumes that I couldn’t begin to describe, even if I thought I could.

Beautifully Broken

I am broken…
My past experiences have changed me.
Much of my innocence and parts of who I am have been stripped away.
This is often reflected in my mistakes and misjudgments.
I’m not proud of this, but let it be known…I am a sinner!
I don’t always make the choices I know that I should.
Today is the day that I come out from behind the shadows of excuses, ignorance and pure arrogance.
I accept responsibility and own my misdeeds.
I am broken…beautifully broken.
Sometimes it takes being cut down to size to regrow into the person whose reflection you actually recognize.
Perfection will never be achieved, but this recognition is even better; the realization that brokenness is not only okay, but it’s also beautiful because it’s real.
Realizing that admitting your faults is not weakness, but a strength that many of us won’t ever find.
Rise above your inadequacies and mistakes.
Own them, grow towards the light and above all, love yourself.

Tamir Rice

Can someone please explain something to me because I’m not quite sure I that I understand? The city of Cleveland is blaming the death of Tamir Rice on the 12-year old “by the failure ... to exercise due care to avoid injury.” As I read those words, my head was literally shaking in disbelief. So, let me get this straight: a 12-year old went to the park to play with a toy gun (a common toy played with by young boys) when someone called the cops on him as a purported threat. The police arrive and without even taking the time to assess the situation (let’s be real here…from the time they arrived to the time when they fatally shot him was NOT ample time to do so), shot and killed him. And instead of the police being questioned by their actions, it is not only accepted that they did nothing wrong, but the fault is placed on the victim?! Let’s say for a minute that I bought into this BS. Ok, the young man had a gun without the safety tip on it and was possibly waving it around. And perhaps he made a move toward the toy gun when the officers approached. I still don’t see how the officers had enough time to fully evaluate what was going on, much less to see the tip missing. In addition, the officer who fatally shot Tamir has described this child as being a “menacing 12-year old in an adult body.” Are you kidding me?! A grown man describes a 12-year boy this way? If this officer truly felt “menaced” by a 12-year old, I think he should probably find another job because he obviously isn’t mentally or physically suited to handle police work (unless he’s behind a desk).
Essentially, based on all of this, we are expected to believe that a 12-year old should’ve been knowledgeable enough to understand his actions and expect such treatment from law enforcement. Let’s say I buy into this logic too; after all, a 12-old is a reasonable age to expect discernment of right from wrong. Tamir Rice was not doing anything illegal. He wasn’t doing drugs or drinking. He was simply playing at the park, just as many other young kids do. However, according to the city of Cleveland, he should’ve known that playing with a toy gun in such a manner would inevitably lead to his demise. Ok, ok. Does anyone remember a young man from Texas named Ethan Couch? He was a 16-year old who made the choice to drink and drive. He wound up killing four people and was only sentenced to rehab and probation, no jail time at all. His defense was that he was a product of “affluenza,” wherein he wasn’t properly taught right from wrong and this somehow excuses his reckless regard for human life? He was a young, dumb kid that didn’t know any better, but Tamir Rice was a “menacing” 12-year old who should’ve known better by “exercising care to avoid injury?” Or, as some people have pointed out, his parents should’ve taught him proper use of a toy gun. Tamir Rice didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t even harm anyone. In fact, HE is the one who wound up dead; but it’s ok for another OLDER teen to commit quadruple vehicular manslaughter and not only receive no punishment, but also no blame because he didn’t know right from wrong?! I seriously don’t understand this. Ethan Couch was older, broke several laws, killed four people and is still alive today, but Tamir Rice didn’t kill or hurt anyone, broke no laws and was not only killed but also BLAMED for his death? How does that work exactly, because I’m at a loss to comprehend this. There is an obvious disparity in our justice system and whether its race or class, something needs to be done. We need to make our voices heard that this is NOT okay. My heart is sad and I mourn the loss of this young man. It wasn’t your fault, Tamir. It wasn’t your fault.

An Unscheduled Tribute

It was the first day at a new school. I was transitioning from middle school to high school and to say it was overwhelming would be an understatement. Few of my junior high friends would be joining me and although my brother was a senior, he wanted nothing to do with me (a lowly freshman). Being the stubborn person I am, I took a deep breath and dove headfirst into my new adventure. After dealing with some registration issues, I received my schedule and gave it the once-over. I was pretty surprised to see Reading Comprehension listed as one of my classes, but I shrugged it off and headed to find my homeroom. When it came time to enter my reading class, I was still quite skeptical but took it all in stride. Because it was my first day and I was a newbie, I figured the school had to know what the right classes for me were. My teacher (Ms. Curtis) introduced herself and explained how the class would be structured. Right away, I knew that I was going to enjoy this class because it would give me a chance to do what I loved best: write. We were to keep a journal, where we could write about anything we wanted to and it would be kept between us and Ms. Curtis. In turn, she would respond to our entries and give us feedback. I was more than excited about this prospect and enthusiastically wrote to her every day. I began by writing about mundane topics, but I eventually wrote about more personal things as the semester progressed. Ms. Curtis became much more than a teacher to me in those weeks; she was a mentor and (I felt) a friend. I knew I could tell her absolutely anything and she wouldn’t judge me. She always gave me fantastic advice and I found myself feverishly anticipating her class. She treated all who were in her class equally and with a great amount of care and attention. I often found myself telling her things that I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone else and it meant a lot to me, the personal touch she gave my journal.

I wasn’t long in her class before the school discovered they had made a mistake with my schedule and I was never supposed to have been enrolled in a reading class. Although I was happy to know I would be placed in more advanced classes, I was going to miss this particular one a great deal. I felt as though I had been open and vulnerable in a way that helped me adjust to a major transition in my life. I may not have needed the class academically, but I know that I benefited from it on a much higher level. It may have been a mistake, but I’ll always believe that it was a divine mistake.

It wasn’t just me either, no; she touched many young lives at my high school. Even within my small circle of friends, we all loved her just the same. There aren’t many teachers who make you feel like family, but she did. I even had her over at my house once! I can’t say that about any other teacher I’ve ever had in my life. She’s a special woman, a rare gem. I’m blessed to have her in my life to this day and to have profited from her profound influence. She changed me (and my life) in so many ways. I wish I could explain the way she touched my heart, but I don’t think I need to. I see it; it comes out brilliantly in my writing and in my thought-processes. It’s almost as though I can envision her responses even though she is no longer writing them to me. I’m forever blessed by simply knowing her and I take great pride having been her student, mentee and now, friend.

Reading at the dinner table

When I was growing up, my parents insisted that we all have dinner together as family. With all of our lives so hectic (us kids in school and both parents working full-time jobs), dinner was sometimes the only quality time we had on any given day. We turned off the televisions and we didn’t answer the phone if it rang; this was our time. We normally chatted about our day or we might announce some exciting event, although sometimes we didn’t really talk at all (and that was okay). Even though we did have this steadfast rule, I happened to be the only exception. One of my passions has always been reading and most days you could find my face buried inside a book. Dinnertime was no different and my parents allowed me to do so at the table while we ate. I think they knew that if they didn’t make this exception, I might not even make it to the dinner table. And although it was important to have our family time, my parents also knew that reading was too. Every now and then, I was asked to put my book aside if someone had something newsworthy to share; otherwise, I was free to immerse myself in literature. I remember my sister complaining one night that it wasn’t fair that I was allowed to read but she couldn’t watch TV. My parents explained that she was more than welcome to bring a book to the dinner table, but TV was still off-limits. They told her that there was inherent value in reading a book whereas television was hardly enriching. I’m glad my parents let me do this because it encouraged my interest in reading and (I like to believe) writing as well. Although I’m not as much of an avid reader these days (I work full-time and have two kids), I still love to sit down with a good book when I have the time. I also encourage my boys to read as well and will have no problem letting them bring a book to the dinner table when we share our evenings together.

Being an expressive, emotional person

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been very in tune with my emotions. I’m a sensitive person and as such, I feel things quite deeply. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned to handle the stronger emotions in a more efficient way, but there’s no doubt that my experiences have truly touched the depths of my heart and soul. I can distinctly remember being a pre-teen and putting my headphones on, only to sit in front of an open window and feel the cool breeze through the window screen. I’d close my eyes and allow myself to become lost in the music. I’d let the lyrics soak into my mind as the tempo took over my body. I recall doing this a lot when I had arguments with friends or boyfriends. There was a serenity of sorts felt within by doing this simple thing. Even today, when I think about those times, I can almost feel the air flowing through the room.
            There have been times when it was suggested that I try to suppress the things I was feeling. I have never been good at doing that nor have I ever understood why I needed to. In my experience, whenever I’ve held back, I’ve become an angry and irritable person, one whom I’m not fond of. Even when my emotions are messy or intense, it’s been necessary for me to release them however I need to. In retrospect, I think the notion of suppression may have been an attempt to consider how others were affected by my feelings. I’m not advocating that people should express themselves without any thought to how it will make those around them feel, but I don’t think it’s fair to ask a person to hold back because of what others might think. My feelings are just that; mine. And while I’m more than happy to share them, I’m not inclined to take away from them to make someone else more comfortable. I would never ask someone to hide their feelings because they made me uncomfortable. Life doesn’t always promise us comfort, but we should be allowed to express our feelings in our way (except in regards to physical harm, to others or ourselves).
            I’ve learned to embrace my emotions and other people’s as well. In fact, I believe that it is because I’m so self-aware that I’m able to empathize with other people. The only downside is that I tend to overinvest in what other people are feeling to the point that it begins to affect me. While this can be good on some levels, it isn’t always optimal for me to do that. I find it easy to be able to imagine myself in someone’s shoes and think of how I might feel in the same situation. While I won’t always be able to fully understand, just being able to try can be meaningful. I’ve gained new perspectives and attitudes due to this ability. It’s also why I chose psychology for my major in college. I enjoy being able to connect with others in such a real and raw manner.
            It isn’t always easy being able to comprehend how you’re feeling and why. I’ve found myself to be in the wrong on many occasions and I’ll admit; I’m a stubborn person. I do not like to admit when I’m incorrect, but I find it easier to recognize when I am. I can decipher the thought process that led me to that conclusion, but it still doesn’t make me right. It can also be overwhelming at times. Just because I understand my feelings so well doesn’t make them any easier to digest. I think sometimes ignorance can be a friend to us. Unfortunately, for me, I know too much about my feelings to be able to pretend that I don’t.  I’m working on trying to express these sentiments through my writing and my hope is that I am able to touch someone who is on the other side, reading along. Don’t be afraid of your emotions and let yourself feel things, even when it isn’t easy to do so. It’ll help you (hopefully) come to terms with things and perhaps learn something about yourself in the process.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When the shoe didn't fit (alternate Cinderella ending)

          Cinderella was patiently waiting for her Prince to come and rescue her. She knew it was only a matter of time before he discovered who the shoe belonged to, but when? She was finding it hard to continue her daily chores while falling head over heels for her “true love.” Days passed without any indication of the Prince’s discovery and Cinderella was just about to give up hope when she heard a knock at the door. Startled and excited, she ran to the door and practically ripped it off it's hinges as she opened it. There he was...her Prince, standing on her doorstep! She couldn’t wait until the moment she could leap in his arms and leave with him to live happily ever after.
            After a few moments of silence, the Prince asked to speak with all of the ladies who lived in the house. Cinderella’s stepmother suddenly appeared in the doorway and told the Prince she’d be delighted to have him speak to her two beautiful daughters. The Prince looked and noticed the two step-sisters sitting on the sofa and was slightly confused. He asked about the girl who answered the door. “Oh, she’s nobody,” the stepmother replied. The Prince persisted and reluctantly, the stepmother obliged and asked Cinderella to join them in the living area. Cinderella appeared and the Prince explained that he was searching for the girl with the glass slipper from his royal ball two weeks prior. He continued by saying that she left one of the slippers behind and he had searched high and low, without any luck of finding his princess. He pulled the shoe from the inside of his coat pocket and presented it to the ladies. He politely asked the stepmother to try it on first since she was the matriarch of the family. A little flustered and slightly flattered, the stepmother approached the shoe and tried it on, noting that it was likely not her shoe and probably belonged to one of her daughters. Upon affirming the shoe did not fit Lady Tremaine, he then approached Drizella with the shoe. After many attempts to force it to fit, she relented and sulked as the Prince approached Cinderella. She could hardly contain herself as she began to slide her foot into the shoe. However, once her foot was in the shoe, she was horrified to learn that the shoe didn’t fit at all! For some reason, the shoe was much narrower than she remembered and she was terribly confused. “Ha! See, I told you it didn’t fit,” said the stepmother gleefully. Dejected, Cinderella slumped into her chair and tears began to stream down her face. The Prince then directed his attention to Anastasia and moved to place the shoe on her foot. With perfect ease, the shoe slid right onto her foot. It fit! Although Anastasia seemed a bit surprised, she jumped up from her chair and squealed with delight. The Prince appeared to be happy that he had found his princess, but also confused because he thought the shoe belonged to Cinderella as well. He stole a glance at her tear-stained face and felt a tug at his heart. He approached Anastasia and said, “Now that I have found the rightful owner of the glass slipper, I would like for you to come away with me and I will make you my bride, the royal princess.” Anastasia took her Prince’s offered arm and walked with him outside to his awaiting steed. Lady Tremaine was beside herself with happiness as her daughter would now be in line to inherit the throne. As the new couple rode off into the sunset, Cinderella was left at the house brokenhearted. How could such a thing happen?! She was the one who danced the night away with the Prince. She was the one who had stolen his heart, yet she was not the one on her way to her happily ever after. While she was completely devastated by this revelation, she was also furious! This was not how the story was supposed to go and she refused to let this ruin her happy ending. At that moment of despair, she was renewed with a sense of courage and determination. She whipped off her apron and informed her stepmother that she would no longer be a servant in her own home, a home that first belonged to her father. Lady Tremaine looked surprised, but was glad to finally see Cinderella stand up for herself. Although she might have still been in a daze from what just happened with Anastasia, she told Cinderella that she no longer had to do the excessive labor she had been performing for years. Drizella looked confused and objected to her mother’s statement. Lady Tremaine cut her off and said that they would all share in the household chores, unless Drizella was offering to do all of Cinderella’s work now. With a pout, Drizella reluctantly agreed.
            Meanwhile, back at the castle, the Prince was questioning his decision about his soon-to-be bride. This was not the girl he had fallen for, he was sure of it. But without any proof (other than the slipper), he had no choice but to honor his new commitment. He began to get to know Anastasia and realized that she wasn’t as hateful as he had previously thought. She told him that he had saved her from many torturous years of abuse at the hands of her mother and how she would not let him down as a wife. She also told him that she never agreed with her mother’s treatment of Cinderella but was afraid to speak out against her. She intended to try and make things right with her stepsister when she had the opportunity to do so. She and the Prince spent their days together, learning about each other and falling in love. Perhaps this was not the union the Prince thought it would be, but he was enjoying himself and Anastasia as well.
            Cinderella now spent her days getting to know her stepmother and Drizella. She found that they were not particularly distasteful people as she once thought, now that they weren’t barking orders at her all the time. She often wondered about Anastasia and hoped they would get a chance to speak someday. She didn’t have to wait long. Anastasia reached out to her and invited her to the castle one sunny afternoon. They sat and enjoyed tea as they awkwardly made small talk. Cinderella looked around, casually eyeing all that she believed should be rightfully hers. Even though some time had passed, it hurt to see her stepsister here with the Prince. She tried to muster a smile as Anastasia described all of the fine parties she had been to and the exotic new foods she had tasted. She told Cinderella that she had a confession. “What’s that?” Cinderella asked, nonchalantly. “That shoe shouldn’t have fit me; it was always your shoe.” She looked down at the floor, as the words spilled from her lips. Cinderella angrily jumped from her chair and screamed, “What?!!!!” at Anastasia. “It’s true,” replied Anastasia. “Why didn’t you say anything?” Cinderella demanded. “Because you don’t know how much I needed an ending like this…you don’t know what life was like for us, Cin. We were abused and the word ‘happy’ never meant anything to me, until I met him,” she replied. Suddenly Cinderella felt pretty awful. She had never taken into account what her stepsisters had gone through or even known them well enough to try! She tried to put aside her feelings and understand where Anastasia was coming from, but it was hard considering her own strong feelings for the Prince. Anastasia knew this and told her that even though it would take some time, she really hoped to get to know Cinderella so that they could try out the possibility of friendship. They idly chatted for a short while longer and Cinderella excused herself to leave the castle. She headed towards home, replaying all the events that led her here and tried to have them make sense. She knew that her life would never be the same again, but perhaps this was how the story was always supposed to end. And maybe, just maybe her happy ending was on the other side of the rainbow.

Moral of the story – Walt Disney lied to us! Real life doesn’t always have a happy ending and issues are not magically solved by riding off into the sunset. Real life is messy and doesn’t always end up the way we think it will. Happily ever after is better left in fairy tales. We have to create our own happy ending with the things (and people) life has given us.