Saturday, July 21, 2007



That last column I wrote generated quite a strong response, mostly from women who either a) confessed to having their own love-of-their-life-but-can't-live-with-him stories, or b) wondered how I could admit that I wasn't with the love of my life any longer while at the same time be linked to someone else. Some people--yes, even men--emailed or stopped me in town to explain how my story brought tears to their eyes, gave them goosebumps.

I had no idea.

I mean, you live the majority of your life protecting your heart because you simply don't have it in you to offer yourself 100 percent any longer, and you tend to think it's a secret, an experience no one else shares. But there are so many who are on that same journey, albeit via different roads. If it's true that for every one person who takes the time to speak up there are seven who feel the same way but remain silent, then ours is a society of walking wounded. Every town--each individual neighborhood--is a microcosm of a global population whose hearts get broken to one degree or another, sometimes repeatedly, and yet who find reasons to get up each morning and start the day anew.

Since several people have asked me how the situation in my last column was resolved, I'll explain here briefly. Jamie was indeed in charge of the company whose platoon was involved in the ambush back in March. However, since only 30 soldiers were out on a mission, he did not accompany them, but stayed back at camp, per procedural policy. So while he was not involved in the actual incident, he was held accountable as a senior enlisted in charge.

Although the details are many, the end result is that he was relieved of duty. And since he technically retires in December, he will simply go on "permanent leave" in August and that will be the end of a life-long military career. Did his men do what the media has accused them of doing? I asked him that. He unequivocally denied that his men willy-nilly slaughtered innocent people. To explain how he knows this, he likened his role in the company to that of parent. When your kids lie, you know it. They don't look at you, they fidget, they struggle to answer your questions. His men returned from the ambush and recounted what went down, and with the exception of details relating to where the soldiers physically were in the attack, the stories were the same. He believed them; I believe him. "I trained those men, Beck. The average age in my company is 28, with more than 2 years of battle experience. I would not train my men to do what we've been accused of."

That's all I needed to hear. He's disillusioned with the military, left feeling betrayed by the silence of the higher-ups in the chain of command. But his relief at being out, finally, was palpable. I'm happy for him, and I don't think I could piece together any selection of words that would convey my own feelings of relief. Life for my old friend/lover/protector is beginning again at the age of 42. More power to him.
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On a lighter note, the Windsor Weed Nazi has visited us again and issued another citation. Despite the fact that we have been out pulling weeds while MANY of our neighbors have not, we are yet again the ones to be cited. So we pulled those weeds (fewer than we've ever had in any previous summer). And then I went through the neighborhood, along Stone Mountain Drive, taking photos of all the properties that actually HAVE serious weed issues. There's one property right across from Skyview Elementary that has weeds almost as high as the privacy fence. I'm talkin' weeds so big and bountiful they could almost be classified as bushes. Yet no one has pulled them.

I took my photos and enclosed them with a letter requesting that the weed watchers get off my back if they're not going to go after other property owners with the same level of concern and dedication. I used those photos as evidence to back up my claim that I think I'm receiving special attention...my weeds haven't been nearly as nasty as some other properties along Stone Mountain. I think they just love me there at Town Hall.
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On the other hand...my two dogs have been escape artists this summer. We have construction going on at the house, and these two Houdinis have found some remarkable means of escaping over, under, through fences. The animal control lady (Vicki) has been ever so kind and understanding. Really, she's been a gem. Granted, both Scout and Oliver have their registration tags, ID tags, rabies tags...they're not dangerous dogs by any stretch of the imagination. And they aren't getting out because of neglect. But I think we've used up our chances, so until the addition to our house is complete, I've got the evil eye on them. I swear these two actually commiserate about the most effective strategy for escaping...I've come outside to find them standing in front of that fence wearing expressions of great concentration. I know they're dogs, I know. But something is going on between them...telepathy or sign language or whatever. All I know is, I'm wishing I had a cat about now.
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I officially turned old earlier this week when a routine eye exam resulted in my needing to buy bifocals. Yes, you read that right. Bifocals. My eyeglasses prescription has always been very minimal, and even that was only for the left eye. Now, at 42, I suddenly need bifocals? This is just wrong. And guess what happened while I was at my eye exam? THE DOGS ESCAPED. This, even though I made it a point to call home and warn my kids not to let the creatures out without supervision. I was not a happy mom that day. Old, yes. Happy, no.
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I was outside this morning, watering my little evergreen trees, when I noticed my friend and neighbor walking toward me. Usually, she's one of those upbeat people whose inner light just shines. She's always got a smile, a "hello." This morning she looked drawn, weary, beaten.

By the time she got to where I was standing in my yard, I had learned through her tears and her quiet, unstoppable hiccups of breath that her eldest son (who is 50) was found dead in his home, apparently of a heart attack. I dropped my hose and hugged my friend, whose sadness and grief I absorbed. In an instant, I was back to November 4, 2004, sitting at the kitchen table as my sister informed me that our mother was found in her home, cold, not breathing. She couldn't bring herself to utter the word "dead." All those emotions--along with the knowledge that this was one of those before-and-after events that would forever mark my life--ripped through me like they happened yesterday. And as I held my friend, I cried. I imagine we were a sight there in my front yard...I repeatedly apologized to her: for her immediate loss, yes, but also for the dark, merciless grief I know she will have to endure in the days, weeks, months to come.

The thing is, we expect to have to let go of our parents; that's the course of nature, right? But a parent burying a child--even an adult child--that's not in keeping with our idea of how things are supposed to go down. It's wrong, no matter how you look at it. It's wrong.

I crossed the street to offer my friend's husband my condolences. I like this guy. A lot. He's one of those older retired guys who doesn't seem to get that retirement means chilling out, taking it easy. He sweeps his driveway! He and his wife have been caring for 2 of their great-grandchildren this summer. They're amazing people. Good people. The kind you would handpick for neighbors if you had the choice.

So when I get to his side of the street, I tell him how sorry I am, and I hug him. And that hug just about kills me because in it I can feel him slump into me as he quietly repeats himself, "My son, my son." And despite my most diligent efforts, I hear myself crying with him, and really this intense sorrow is just debilitating. I love these people; they're suffering is unbearable. I wish I could ease their pain, but I know what lies in store for them as they make the long drive to their son's out-of-state home. I remember my own very long trek across the country to Pennsylvania, where Mom lived. It seemed it would never end, and so much of that time I felt absolutely numb. And now my friends--these dear people--must bury their firstborn.

So, I come here--to you--to write. To tell you about these things, these details that make up life: weeds, dogs, death, aging, relief, betrayal, disappointment, love, loss, letting go, comfort. Everyday life is so messy. It requires so much of us on so many levels.

But it's what we've got. And the measure of our success, really, lies in how we deal with it.

5 comments:

april t said...

god i love your writing becky.

thanku for letting us in.

Sis said...

Well, I needed a good cry, anyway. I'm glad things worked out for Jamie, though. I'm glad you're writing again.

la g├╝era said...

I saw your "weeds" today. I had to squint to actually see them. Then I saw the bushes down the way. Ugh. I've also gotten a letter from the WWN. My neighbors smoke weed in front of their house. Do you think they get a letter? (I remember your column about the potsmokers in the park across the street from their house. Again, ugh.)

My beef with the system is that my neighbor (different neighbor) can issue me a citation because my dog alegedly got out of my yard and barked at her (I know whose dog it really was) yet the potsmoking neighbors have 3 huge dogs (guess which breed) tethered to trees, with 4 feet of rope, that bark all the time. I've called the cops several times and they do NOTHING. That is when they choose to respond.

This town's priorities astound me.

Judith said...

Life is every color of the rainbow, and some are so intense they defy any given shade name.
Some weeks the emotions contain enough variety that a book could be written with the plot line already in place.
For weeks I've watched my oldest son do battle with a doctor that he has learned to detest with reasons that defy why she chose her given profession. He has numerous health problems, and this has compounded everything for both of us. I know--find another doctor. It's not as easy as it sounds. He has uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, among too many health problems to describe.
Today he saw a new doctor that my oldest sister found for him. She has the same type of diabetes, and she assured me this man would be the answer to our endless worries and fear.
When he called, from his cell phone, I assumed the worst because it was much earlier then expected. He all but gushed about the kindness and competence of this wondrous, new doctor. My son has not exhibited such outgoing happiness in such a long time that it was hard to understand a lot of what he said over the phone.
Today is great day. Fear has left the part of me that rips at any mother who lives with the thought they could lose their adult child through thoughtless negligence. The illnesses remain, but someone has taken over the main worries, and replaced them with treatment and kindness.
The other doctor may have seen him as a "weed" among many, but he'll always remain a flower in the hearts of his family.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Becky,
Your words could have been written by me. The never ending feeling of the pain of others is something that I hope I'll never lose. In reality we both know that it will never happen to either of us.
The same can be said about the happiness we enjoy with and about the good fortune of others.
Here's to emotions! May they never fail to keep us going.
Judith