Sticking the Landing

A dear friend of mine recently told me that for many years he had watched me tumbling through space, with my arms out, desperately and unsuccessfully clutching at anything in an attempt to gain stability. I’m sure it was almost as painful to watch as it was for me to experience. “But then,” he said, “you stuck the landing.”

I love that imagery. Like stepping out of an airplane, and clumsily flailing end over end in a dizzying freefall, and even, more than once, getting tangled up in my own parachute, only to find that I was still able to land safely, against all odds. That’s my life in a nutshell. I marvel at the fact that I survived.

I tried many things over the years. Colleges and trade schools in which I’d excel, academically, but ultimately those places got me nowhere. I bought a house, had to sell it during the crash, and then poorly invested what little money I gained from it. I got into a few relationships that made me even worse off, both financially and emotionally. For a while there, I was so nomadic that I barely bothered to unpack.

At some point I began to feel like I had nothing to lose, and I moved across the country to start over at age 49. I didn’t know anyone in Seattle. I knew nothing about Seattle except that the show Frasier was based here, and that there was rain. Lots and lots of rain.

It took me a few years to gain my footing in this foreign place, and I have to admit that there are still things about Seattle that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. But I did stick the landing, indeed. I’m married, have a great job, and am living in a place worth unpacking for. Life is good.

Now to shake the feeling that I’m going to wake up to discover it was all an illusion and that I’ve actually broken every bone in my body. Call it imposter syndrome writ large. But hey, even in that scenario, the ground will be stable beneath me, right?

My late boyfriend Chuck used to say, “We’ll get it done. It may not be pretty, but we’ll definitely get there.” And so it has been.

I wrote this for everyone out there who feels as if they are flailing. Don’t give up. Keep trying. As long as you draw breath, it’s still possible to stick that landing.

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An Horrific Insight

There are actually three versions of this story. The first version was my initial, gut reaction. The second was my instant reaction after obtaining more information. The third was my conclusion after some calm, pragmatic thought. Be sure and read to the very end if you want to see how quickly your point of view can be altered!

Version One:

It was your typical Pacific Northwest November night: raw, wet, cold, and basically gloomy. But I was inside, warm and safe and dry, beside a crackling fire, watching Netflix. All was right with the world, even though I was totally taking it for granted.

And then came the knock on my door. I nearly jumped out of my fuzzy pajamas. We almost never get visitors unannounced, especially in times of pandemic. Our house is relatively isolated and not close to the main street, so it takes some effort to get here. Here’s the perfect litmus test for that: There have been no Halloween trick or treaters on this front porch in decades.

It was a young man, asking for food. Not begging. Not giving an explanation or an excuse. He was just hungry and in need. He looked wet and disheveled and had nothing with him but a backpack.

My husband had him wait on the porch (safety first), and went in and made him a big sandwich. He threw an apple, a Pepsi, and a tuna snack for later into the mix. He then sent him on his way.

A wave of sadness washed over me. It was the sadness of knowing that we’d be seeing a lot more of this in the coming months. Desperate people. Cold, wet, desperate people, everywhere. And there would always be this feeling of not having done enough. There are just so many of them, and only one of me.

There’s also this sense of survivor’s guilt. I’m considered an essential worker, although I have no idea why. So my income hasn’t decreased in this pandemic. I’ve managed to stay relatively isolated and healthy, and I still have my health insurance. I suspect I’ll stay warm and dry throughout the winter. Even my dogs will get to stay warm and dry. I’m not at all accustomed to being one of the haves.

I wonder where that young man slept that night. I wonder where he’ll sleep tonight. For me, he is the leading edge of a wall of hundreds of thousands of people out there, just trying to survive. This is the wall that has been built, and it’s an ugly thing to behold.

I can’t shake the feeling that this is only the beginning. How privileged so many of us have been, secure in the knowledge that survival was likely. Now everything seems much more fragile. And a heck of a lot more scary.

Version Two:

The next day, without us even having broached the subject, some friends from 1/2 mile down the street said that the same guy came to their door that night. That time he was turned away and the theory that he was casing the neighborhood, seeing which houses don’t have men and/or dogs, for later burglary, was posited.

I was instantly furious. Had we been used? Are we now unsafe? He could see our TV through the window. I hate being taken advantage of! People suck!

Version Three:

After I had a chance to calm down and climb out from under my massive pile of righteous indignation, I realized that in both versions above, I was drawing conclusions from facts not in evidence. I will never know what that young man’s motivations were.

Was he a saint or a sinner? My most pragmatic self assumes that, like most of us, he is something in between. From that concept, a new theory has emerged for me.

It was a wet, raw, miserable night, and most criminals are lazy. If he had been casing the neighborhood, I suspect he’d have waited for better weather to do so. No one would be out in that weather without a good reason. So I suspect he was, indeed, in need.

But I also now suspect that like most panhandlers, he was hoping that if he asked for food, what he’d really get was money. Money is a much more flexible commodity. With it you can buy food you actually like. Or you can pay the rent. Or you can buy drugs or alcohol. Or you can take care of a sick child.

He did stand out on the porch and wait for the food. If he had been casing the neighborhood, that would have slowed him down. If he was hoping for money, maybe once he realized that my husband was actually fixing him food, he hoped that some actual cash would also be slipped into the bag.

The money theory makes me sad, because I feel mildly manipulated. But at least there was still a need there, whatever it may have been, and we did our best to help. I hope drugs or alcohol was not a factor. There’s no way to know.

But what’s the point of speculating, really? Our motivations were pure. If his motivations were not, that’s on him. I just hate that we live in a world where we feel the need to question and theorize. I hate that this might taint our desire to help our fellow man in the future. The bottom line is that we’ll never know the whole story.

What do you think, dear reader?

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Are We Living in a Dystopia?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word dystopia originally meant “displacement of an organ.” But the word, based on our current understanding as an “imaginary bad place”, was first used in a speech by J.S. Mill in 1868.

That this word is so young surprises me a great deal, because human beings have always been rather good at imagining the worst. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a dystopia as “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.” We’ve been either living such lives, or imagining them, for many centuries, it seems.

Thanks to our current pandemic, we are all definitely living fearful lives, and for those who are unable to work, life is becoming increasingly wretched. But have we become dehumanized? We have if you’re craving dried beans, toilet paper, or Purell, I suppose.

But I’m encouraged by the many ways we’ve come up with to remain connected to one another. I’m impressed that so many people are making some noise, every night, to thank health care workers. I love the number of people who are behaving responsibly by staying home and by wearing masks in public. I think, if anything, we’re more human than ever before.

I’ve always enjoyed reading dystopian novels. I like to be reminded about how good I have it, relatively speaking. It’s gratifying to see how resourceful people can be when they have to struggle to survive. I must admit, though, that I haven’t been able to appreciate this genre quite as much lately. Things are getting a little too real.

But I have to believe, for my own sanity if for nothing else, that we’re not in a dystopia yet. Our infrastructures are relatively intact. We have access to good information if we employ a bit of critical thinking. We may not always be able to eat exactly what we would like, but we definitely have access to food. Sane people haven’t felt the need to board up their windows and spend all their waking hours clutching shotguns. We still have Netflix.

We may be forever changed when we come out the other side of this, but I truly believe the majority of us will, indeed, come out the other side of this. Hopefully we’ll have learned how to better cope with the next crisis as a result.

Stay safe everybody. Wear masks. Wash your hands.

war-of-the-worlds-by-robert

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100% Survival Rate

“I’m having a really, really, really bad day,” I said to my husband. “All this quarantine stress is getting to me, and the drama at work is hard to take, and I’m so tired.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “Please remember that you’ve got a 100% survival rate for previous difficult days.”

And just like that, I felt a lot better.

My husband is often really good at saying the right thing. And his words gave me a perspective that I’d never contemplated before. Yeah. I’m a survivor. So are you. We’re here, right? We have won this competition, every single solitary day, for our entire lives. Check that off the to-do list. Winning!

That standpoint makes me feel empowered. It makes me feel capable. It gives me the strength to carry on. I’ve made it through more than 20,000 days so far. This silly little day is child’s play. I’ve got this! You’ve got this, too!

I hope I never forget this lesson. Thanks, dear husband! Your positivity will see me through.

winning

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A Cystic Dream

I have this recurring dream during periods of high stress in my life. I feel this painful, pressurized lump somewhere on my body, often on a shoulder, hip, or behind my ear. I try to squeeze it to no avail. Messing with it hurts, but I have to get it out of there. I pick at it. I scratch it. No luck whatsoever.

Then one day, I’m clawing away at it without much hope of success, and, pop! Suddenly it bursts through the skin. It’s still attached, still intact, but at least it’s outside my body, so the pressure is reduced. Even so, I want it gone. So I take a deep breath, brace myself, and cut it out. It detaches with a sickening, watery, ripping squelch. But it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as I anticipated. What was I so worried about?

Now I’m holding it in my hand. It’s warm. It’s actually kind of pretty, now that I’m free of it. It’s a perfect sphere. The most perfect one I’ve ever seen. It’s shiny and white, like a pearl. (That is, if a pearl were the size of a golf ball.)

I’m kind of in love with this thing, because I realize that it’s all my problems, beautifully encapsulated. I can control it. I can handle it. Best of all, I can get rid of it. So I do.

I always wake up smiling after that dream. I often go to sleep wishing that I’ll have it. I take comfort from the fact that it exists somewhere deep inside me.

It is survival.

Pearl

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Coyotes

I was standing in a big, dirty parking lot in the industrial part of town. Think concrete and gas fumes. It would be difficult to find a less natural setting. And it was raining, causing rivulets of polluted snowmelt to criss cross the pavement as far as the eye could see.

That’s when I spotted her. A coyote, running down the sidewalk as semi trucks blasted past. She looked mangy and emaciated. I’ve never seen anything that looked so feral in my life.

I was fascinated, but also glad that she hadn’t come too close. There was something surreal about seeing her there. It was almost like she was floating in outer space. This should not be her environment.

She was focused on her mission, whatever that may have been. She didn’t acknowledge me, although I’m sure she was acutely aware of my presence. Nothing was going to get in her way, not even an 18 wheeler. And she was quiet. If I hadn’t been looking that direction, I’d have never known she was there.

I had never come face to face with a coyote before. I know they’re around. I sometimes hear them howling in the park behind our house. It always gives me a frisson. And it makes me worry for my Dachshund.

But to see one is something else again. It’s like being confronted by the raw power of nature. Even in her weakened state, I had no doubt that she was stronger than me, and much more capable of surviving.

At the same time, I felt sorry for her, living on the ugliest, dirtiest fringes of human civilization. We have done this. We have encroached. She shouldn’t have to live like this.

None of us should have to live like this.

https _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_6_6f_Coyote_in_Griffith_Park_3

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Grass

Isn’t nature awesome? It never ceases to amaze me. The natural world is capable of so much more than we mere humans are.

Case in point: Grass. I recently watched my back yard get covered in 9 inches of snow, and it remained in place for a week. While it was beautiful, I couldn’t help wondering what was going on beneath it.

Imagine being covered in a thick, cold, wet, smotheringly heavy blanket. Imagine being plunged into temperatures below freezing for days on end. Imagine not being able to see the sun during that entire period.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’d be dead. Stick a fork in me. I’d be done.

And yet, once the grass was exposed again in a thaw that is still making slow but steady progress even as I write this, it was as green and perky as ever. Incredible. Dare I say it? Miraculous.

Okay, yeah, I get it. There is a scientific explanation for it. I have every confidence that this phenomenon can be accounted for. But I’d much rather just gaze at my intrepidly green back yard and consider myself lucky that it is content in its beauty and comfortable in its role in the overall scheme of things. Because if it had a union, it would probably rule the world.

Grass and Snow

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The Other Shoe

My whole life, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. That feeling intensifies when things are going well. Because I can’t have the nice things. I’ve never had the nice things. At least, not for long.

Sooner or later, everything seems to turn to sh**. If I’m braced for it, I can usually handle it, and come out the other side. I’m nothing if not a survivor. But if that darned shoe takes me by surprise, then that would be bad. Really, really bad.

I remind myself of Nelly, a wonderful dog, who flinches every time you reach out to pet her sweet head. She knows all about what having it bad used to be like. She learned early that flinching can soften the blow. How do I explain to her that I love her, and I’ll always love her, and I’ll never hurt her? She deserves to be petted and cuddled and adored. I want her to be able to own it.

I deserve the good stuff, too. I know it. And here lately I have been experiencing it. And I enjoy it. Mostly. But I can’t seem to get out from under that mental shoe of mine. It’s always there, stinking up the place.

I think there are a lot of people out there, walking around with a shoe in their heads. Please be patient with us. We may not show it well, but your goodness really is appreciated. Probably even more than it would be if we were one of those lucky shoeless people.

one shoe

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What Mother Does This?

I have zero desire to be a parent. I have no idea what it’s like, and I don’t want to. But I do know that if I had become a parent, there are certain things that I would have never done.

Sometimes I look back on my childhood and wonder how I ever made it to adulthood. My mother was an amazing human being. You’d have loved her. Everybody did. I’d never be writing this post if she were still alive. But I have to say that some of the choices she made with regard to my upbringing leave me absolutely speechless now that I’m looking back at them as an adult.

I won’t even get into the whole looking-the-other-way-while-I-was-sexually-abused thing. That’s a subject for another day. I’m just too worn out to even tackle that topic.

No. Today I remembered something that makes my adult eyes widen in horror, and sorry, I need to vent. So here goes.

When I was about 8 years old, my mother, my stepfather and I went camping. We had a little trailer and we stayed in a very nice campground. So far, so good.

But after we got there, the campground manager approached us and said that a violent offender had escaped the local prison and police would be searching the area, so we should probably stay in our trailer and lock the door. No sooner had he said that when we saw a helicopter fly overhead with a spotlight. The guy was close.

So we sat in the locked trailer. I don’t know how long we were in there. I was 8, so it seemed like an eternity. My mother was content. You have never seen anyone get lost in a book the way that woman could. My stepfather, too, was content. He fell asleep sitting up, as he was wont to do. The man spent very little time conscious, which suited me right down to the ground. I, on the other hand, was bored silly.

I guess my mother finally got sick and tired of my whining, so she let me sit outside at the picnic table. She kept the door open, but locked the screen door. Safety first, I suppose. For them, at least.

It was pitch black outside. I saw police flashlights in the woods in the distance. I was fascinated by the helicopter.

Then, out of the darkness, I saw a scruffy man approaching. Suddenly I was aware of my vulnerability. I went to the screen door and whispered, “Mom…”

I didn’t want to draw his attention, in case he was the bad guy and he wasn’t heading specifically to our site. I didn’t want him to notice me. And being the respectful child that I was, I also didn’t want to insult him with my fear if it turned out he was one of the good guys. I whispered again. “Ma…”

She was lost in her book. And her parental radar, which was feeble at the best of times, was apparently switched off. My stepfather slept on.

The guy was getting closer. I was terrified. Even after all these years, I can feel my heart beating a little faster just thinking about it. “Maaaaaaaa…” I hissed.

When she finally looked up, I was clawing at the screen door and the man was looming over me.

“You should get your kid inside, Ma’am. It’s not safe out here.”

So she unlocked the screen door and let me in.

And then she yelled at me for not saying something.

It was awful then, but I didn’t grasp how outrageous the situation was, because stuff like that happened all the time to me. I still have a hard time feeling safe to this day.

But from an adult perspective… damn! Who does that? What mother does that?

Jeez. My inner child needs a hug.

Vulnerable by Julia Galemire

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Cautious? Me?

During my wedding ceremony, one of the things I said to my husband-to-be was, “You’re the more cautious one.” Afterward, a friend came up to me and expressed her total shock about that. In a nice way. She’s a pure delight. But the implication was that she found it really hard to imagine that anyone could be more cautious than I am.

That, to me, is really fascinating.

Okay, standing beside that friend, I’m sure I come off as shy and retiring. She’s amazing. She’s colorful. She’s larger than life. Total strangers will stop her on the street to talk to her. (Which is wonderful, unless you’re with her and happen to be in a hurry.) She lights up every room that she enters. She’s got that indescribable “it” factor. Rock on, my friend!

But my being quiet, thoughtful, and ever-so-slightly slower moving does not necessarily equate with caution. Let’s review:

I’ve been to 19 countries.

I lived in Mexico, all alone, when I was 19.

I spent a summer away from home, doing construction work on an Air Force Base, when I was 16.

I used to camp deep in the forests of Appalachia, a week at a time, with only my dogs for company.

I survived a childhood of sexual abuse.

I have met several friends face to face that I had previously only known on line.

I worked graveyard shift, in total isolation, for 13 years.

I sold my house and moved three hours south, where I knew no one, to go back to college.

I started over, yet again, moving 3100 miles from Florida to Seattle, at age 49. It was a place where I had never been, and where I knew no one.

I managed not to have children despite intense societal pressure.

I got married for the first time at age 53.

Have poured my heart and soul out in this daily blog since 2012, revealing things about myself that many people wouldn’t even have told their best friends.

I’ve published a book.

None of this sounds particularly cautious to me.

I may not be flamboyant or loud or outgoing, but does that mean I’m cautious? Hell to the no!

Brave Cat