Saturday, September 29, 2018

Crossing the Line

The first time Tim beat Julie she was seven months pregnant and terrified of losing her life and that of her unborn child. He took pleasure in punching her in the face that day, and when she tried to get away from him, he grabbed her and threw her to the floor.
She had the presence of mind to roll over in time to protect her stomach and the baby within, but her actions provided an opportunity for him to kick her with his new six-hundred-dollar western style boots. When he tired of hurting her, he grabbed a beer, sat down and watched a baseball game on television while she writhed in pain on the floor.
Sober the next day, Tim saw the damage he had done to his beautiful wife and he sobbed like a child who just saw his favorite dog get run over by a Mack truck.
Julie believed him when he swore it would never happen again and she forgave him because she needed to believe in him. It happened again, of course, and before long a pattern of abuse developed, one that lasted throughout their marriage.
You might ask how and why Julie allowed the battering of her size-six body to continue for all those years. You might even question why any sane person would choose to remain someone's punching bag day after day.
Julie's inner voice, her mangled self-image, successfully convinced her that she deserved to be punished. Tim had no trouble persuading her that she was lucky to be married to him and if he was unable to control his anger, it was not his fault, it was hers. She stayed with him because on some level, she believed his irrational lies.
Perhaps the other reason she remained married to him was because Julie had a need to fix broken things, and that included relationships. Her dream of a happily ever after never wavered even when her own body was broken and bleeding.
I am livid today. I wish I could hire an oversized thug to beat Tim to a bloody pulp so that he could experience a taste of what his size-six wife endured for too long. In addition, I feel enormous anger at myself. Why had I not moved heaven and earth in order to spirit my friend away from that monster?
Just after her first beating, she came to me with a black eye, swollen nose and cracked ribs. She was brokenhearted. Not knowing what else to do, I sympathized. I put my arms around her and cradled her, soothed her as best I could. Why did I not try to talk some sense into her? Why had I not given her a safe harbor in my own home?
There were other times when I sensed that she was being abused but, afraid of overstepping the boundaries of friendship, I kept quiet. I wish I had a nickel for every time I told myself that it was none of my business and that the best thing I could do for Julie was pray for her. I didn't know how to determine the delicate but defining point when it becomes acceptable, even crucial, to cross the line. I made myself believe that sooner or later she would turn to me for help and I would be there for her.
Julie and I met when we were much younger and we spent years of mutual moments in each other's lives. Girl stuff; wife stuff and mother stuff. We exchanged recipes, saw "Beaches" together twice and cried together both times. We even created short stories together, exploring different philosophies as we wrote. We shared hairdressers, housekeepers and hundreds of snapshots. I have lost count, if I ever knew, of the hours we spent discussing the ups and downs and kid-sized problems relative to our children.
Before either of us realized it, our conversations took a turn; our grandkids, not our children, became the center of our exchanges. Lord, how we laughed at the antics of those little ones. Julie was my constant friend for all those years, and I was hers.
Today, every aspect of me is numb. I walk from one room to the other not knowing how or why I got there. Tears spring from my eyes with no preamble. I wear black, not because it is my best color, but because it is the definitive color of death.
How I wish I could go back and do things differently. If I had only given credence to my intuition, Julie and I could be sitting at my kitchen table right now drinking coffee, laughing at a joke or engaged in a lively discussion over a NYT Best Seller.
If only I had reached out instead of waiting for her to come to me, things might have ended differently. Tim might not have beaten my friend unconscious. He might not have dragged her inert body to the sink or held her head under dirty dishwater until her soul left this world forever.
Battered and bruised was not what Julie wanted to be when she grew up.
~ Cappy Hall Rearick

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Idol Thoughts

One time long after I was grown, Mama said, “The other day somebody told me that you were her idol when she was a kid.”
“Who on earth would say a thing like that,” I asked, clearly thinking Mama was cranking up on a joke. It turned out, however, that she was dead serious. The idol person was Julia, my third cousin, five years my junior. I remembered her only as a little girl who showed up occasionally at our family reunions — a virtual stranger, really.
Mama said, “She’s grown now, same as you. Came by to see me the other day and wanted to know where you were living and what you had been up to since you left town.”
“Dear Lord,” I muttered. “When you filled her in on my crazy life, I bet her idol world wilted faster than Strawberry Jell-O at a July picnic!”
As it turned out, Julia had made it her business to keep up with me through the years, only losing track after her mother died. She came to visit Mama with the sole purpose of catching up.
My mother told her that I was living at that time in Hollywood, married to a studio executive. I was writing a newspaper column and doing pretty well, but that she didn’t get to see me as often as she would like.
According to Mama, Julia’s comments about me were, “I remember the first time I ever saw her. She was sitting high up on a float in the Christmas parade wearing a red evening dress and a black velvet cape. Her blonde hair was long and tucked under in a pageboy style. She smiled and waved at people who waved back at her, and she had the whitest teeth I ever saw,” she exclaimed. “When I asked my mother who that girl was, she said, ‘Why, that’s your cousin,’ and I was so proud. It was the day your daughter became my ideal. I wanted to grow up and be exactly like her.”
As I listened to Mama tell this tale it occurred to me that, to my knowledge, I had never been anyone’s idol before and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Flattered? Well, yes, I was a little bit. How could I not be? But I had another emotion, too, one that crept like silent footsteps into my consciousness and stuck. 
Accountability.
In the course of only a few minutes, I had become answerable to a distant cousin I could barely remember, had known briefly. Not only had she patterned her hairstyle and clothes after a young girl perched on top of a parade float, she had gone on to model a portion of her life with me in mind. In doing so, whether she realized it or not, she made me accountable to her for my actions. I felt very strongly that I had to do right by her, if not in the past, then certainly now. 
When I voiced my newly born concerns to Mama, she smiled knowingly and quipped, “I always told you to keep your nose clean, didn’t I? You never know who’s watching you.”
I’m ashamed to say that today I don’t know what happened to my cousin Julia. Like me, she is probably a grandmother or at the very least, a grand-aunt. All the same, I can’t help but wonder if she, also like me, ever found herself alone, completely cut off from the people she loved passionately. I wonder if she ever felt that she had not made much of a difference in the world. 
Now that the years are winding down more quickly than I ever thought they would, I also wonder if Julia ever thought to question what was behind the cardboard character she so easily made out of me. Did she keep that first vision of a smiling young gracing a Christmas float, all decked out in a red formal gown and over-the-elbow white gloves? Or did she see beyond the fru-fru to the real mewho was just as scared, excited, happy, tearful and wonderment as any other fifties teenager? 
If so, did I survive her scrutiny? Would I still be her idol today?
Mama, who always insisted on having the last word, was right. It’s always best to keep your nose clean, because you just never, never know …

Thursday, September 20, 2018

WORSE THAN DYING

We’re really a composite of our life experiences ~ memory layered upon memory. 
Alheimer’s steals that away. 


My friend has Alzheimer’s Disease, God and her dear husband is charged with taking care of her. He told me that he lives with a sense of the Other, both divine and human. He is learning that it is through the human that we learn of the divine. 

For him, the primary human “Other” is his wife who, over time, has evaporated. The disappearance was slow but constant. She was in denial for a long time and resistant to change, especially when it involved her living facilities. And she was angry — especially toward her husband, even as loving and patient as he has been throughout. 

While I understand that every critical disease has the ability to destroy relationships and connections, it seems to me that Alzheimer's has its unique method. In its deliberate assault, it brings about an ending that has no end. 

God, we know there are no happy endings with Alzheimer’s at this time. Not for the one with the disease and not for the caregivers. For the patient, forgetting where they put their keys is nothing compared to forgetting who they are and who they were. 

It breaks my heart to think that my friend can no longer dress herself, bathe or use a fork. She sees people and talks to people who are not there. She struggles with trying to figure things out but she no longer has any memory of relationships. The struggle goes on all day and all night. Every day. Every night. In so many ways, God, my friend’s battle with this disease is worse than dying. 

Please help us find a cure for this insatiable monster. Amen.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Sackcloth and Ashes

“To every thing there is a season, A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace.”

On the second September Monday morning of this year, I will turn off my alarm clock, get out of bed, put on the coffee and begin to do my morning rituals.
At some point, I will glance at a calendar and remember what day it is and exactly where I was when terrorists attacked my country seventeen years ago. I will experience, just as I did for the previous sixteen years, a sickening feeling in my belly. Fear. Helplessness. Unbridled anger. It has been a very long seventeen years.
9-11 made such a profound change, whether needed or not, in my life. It made me look differently at almost everything and made me realize that nothing could ever be the same again. How then, can I deal with its effects as I approach yet another anniversary of that fateful day?
After the attack in 2001 someone asked me, “How can you possibly keep writing humor after the horrible thing that happened on 9/11?”
At the time, I had not had one creative thought since the attacks. Fortunately for me (and my editor), I had tucked away six upcoming columns during an August streak of manic output. I quickly found, however, that I was not alone. Many of my writer friends were struggling with the same non-productive affliction. Writer’s block they called it. Paralyzation is what I called it.
Mystery writer Ed McBain reported that he expected to throw away most of what he had been able to get down on paper since that dreadful day. His admission painted a pretty accurate picture of the national grief attacking most of the people in this country.
I was only a baby when Pearl Harbor was attacked, a young mother when JFK was assassinated, and middle-aged at the time of the shuttle explosion. As saddened as America was during those times, nothing can compare to the magnitude of national grief, the sackcloth and ashes worn by every one of us on September 11, 2001.
Maya Angelou said, “Now is the time for thinking Americans to think.” We have done that. For seventeen years we have run the gamut of emotion from shock and disbelief to vengeful hatred. Who among us was not touched by the incredible burden placed on a newly elected POTUS? He told us to live courageously. He said we must pick up the pieces and continue to report to our jobs, go back to school and to church. “We must hold our heads up high,” he said, “and be thankful that there were not more victims when the Towers were struck.”
As appalled and saddened as I was after the tragedy, I knew in my heart that it would not be healthy to wallow in grief. CNN’s constant coverage of America’s New War gave me no comfort. It frightened me. It made me cry even harder.
In time, I came to wonder if perhaps it was  laughter that was missing. Long overdue laughter in the midst of our mourning, might well be what we lacked. We needed to put grins back on our faces because we owed it to the innocent souls who died on September 11, 2001.
So here we are again about to approach another anniversary of our nation’s tragedy. Once again I am asking myself if it is possible for laughter to be the medicine that will finally heal our brokenhearted country and bring us back together again? Maybe or maybe not, but I think it’s worth considering.
So, here’s what I propose. I will do my part if my readers will do theirs. I will sit at my keyboard day after day and week after week, writing good and sometimes not so good humor, but always with the sincere hope that my words on paper will help others to look on the bright side of things so that smiles and laughter can once again light up our world.