The Furnace.

This is the sort of writing I like doing best, and this is one of my favorite posts I wrote.

Lucky Otters Haven

My post The Mystery Ship was one of my most popular posts. Here’s another childhood memoir from over two years ago I wrote in the same spirit as that essay.

Originally posted on June 15, 2015

pipes-front.freeimage

In 1968 our family moved to a Dutch Colonial three-story house built in the 1920s. We only lived there for five years, but the memory of that house is etched into my mind like veins of quartz in granite. Some other time I’ll write about how cool the entire house was, but right now my concern is the old oil furnace that lived in the basement.

Yes, it lived there. It wasn’t hard to imagine that furnace was alive. It had a personality.

Its squat rotund body stood in the sooty gray-concrete corner like a Russian sentinel from a lost age. Its concrete exterior had been painted what appeared to have been white in…

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2 weird dreams I had as a kid.

An oldie but goodie.

Lucky Otters Haven

steel_wool 

I was a weird, sketchy kid who had weird dreams. When I was about 5 I had a dream about something called a “clout” that looked like an oversized steel wool pad. It was sitting on the small rug in front of my bed and I was too scared to put my feet on the floor because that clout thing was evil. It just sat there on the rug, in all its black malevolence, not moving, but I knew it was alive and meant to kill me.   I knew if I put my feet on the floor the clout would suck me down into the Hell-portal it must have come from.

When I was around  the same age, one morning I woke up doubled over with laughter.   My dad asked me why I was laughing, and I remember saying, “someone was throwing mud at my door.”  …

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May he rest in peace.

One of the things I do when I have nothing to do is type names of people I used to know — old classmates, friends, co-workers, etc. — into Google and see what comes up.  Most of the time it’s just those “people finders” that ask for an additional fee and promise to give you the person’s address, age, criminal background, work history, etc.    I think most people have probably spent time browsing the names of people they know only slightly or that they lost touch with long ago.  But sometimes you get lucky and find some actual information about the person, sometimes even photos of the person.

Today I was thinking about the roommate I had in the hospital where my son was born and where we spent the next 5 days, recovering from C-sections.   The woman was about a year older than me, and had an older daughter (my son was my first).   I remember I was in the room first, and at some unspecified time during my morphine-haze first evening,  my new roommate was rolled in, followed by a glass basinette on wheels containing her newborn son, Sam.  There we were to spend the next few days recovering, getting to know our newborn sons,  and waiting for “bowel sounds” — after major surgery, this is a major milestone.  It means you’re ready to start eating real food again, so this is the only time in your life you will actually be praying to fart — because nothing in the world tastes better than your first bland dinner of stewed apple slices, white rice, and chicken nuggets after three days of liquids only.

We visited only once after we both went home.  When the boys were about a year old,  we got together at my friend’s house.   At that age, they played very little with each other but got into everything else.  I remember being in a near-panic because her son was already using full words, while mine still just babbled nonsense or even worse, was silent.   I decided after that visit to take my son to speech therapy.  It wasn’t necessary.  He started talking just shy of three years old — quite late according to the child development experts, but when he finally spoke, he did in complete sentences, completely skipping over the one-and two-word stage.   The pediatrician told me some kids are perfectionists and play “practice tapes” in their heads, but won’t speak until they are sure what they want to say is perfect.   That’s probably true, since my son is a perfectionist and even has an OCD diagnosis.   I also remember a time or two when I heard him alone in his room as a young toddler, apparently practicing his words.  If he knew you were listening, he’d go silent, so I had to be very quiet and not let him know I knew.   Needless to say, when he finally started talking, there was no shutting him up.

I typed the woman’s name and her son’s name in Google.  Nothing came up on my friend at all except a few people-search websites which demand a fee before they give you anything,  but there was definitely something about her son, Sam.  There was a very flattering picture of Sam at about age 19 taken at university, where he was an honors student.   He had a great smile. He looked like a nice person, the sort of guy I’d want my daughter to marry.

And there was an obituary.   I hoped it was for another person with the same name, but  I read over the entire entry, and it was definitely him.   All the names, his age, and the location of the funeral home fit.

Funeral home.  Funeral.  A funeral for a boy born the same day and year as my son, who recovered in the same room as my son.  I wanted to cry.  I think I did shed a few tears.  For a child I had known for just a few days in October of 1991.

The obituary said Sam had died of cancer, which he’d been battling for 15 months.  Oh, God, no.  No, no.   I looked at the smiling college photo of him and tried to imagine him lying in a hospital bed with advanced cancer.   I couldn’t.

I wish I could reach out to his parents now, but it would be way too awkward.  I’m not even sure they would remember me.  Not even sure it would be appropriate.   Besides, what do you say to someone whose adult child has died?   Losing one of my adult children is my biggest fear.   I seriously don’t know how anyone can ever get over something like that or ever live a normal life again or think about normal things again.   But somehow when it happens to other people, they do get through it.

I know I would have no idea what to say, or I’d blurt out something really awkward and cringeworthy like, “I would kill myself if my son died so young,” or, “Wow, that could have been MY son.”  No, no.  I won’t say a word to them or try to contact them.   It happened almost a year ago now anyway.  But it’s so spooky and sad.   May he rest in peace.

 

The Furnace.

My post The Mystery Ship was one of my most popular posts. Here’s another childhood memoir from over two years ago I wrote in the same spirit as that essay.

Originally posted on June 15, 2015

pipes-front.freeimage

In 1968 our family moved to a Dutch Colonial three-story house built in the 1920s. We only lived there for five years, but the memory of that house is etched into my mind like veins of quartz in granite. Some other time I’ll write about how cool the entire house was, but right now my concern is the old oil furnace that lived in the basement.

Yes, it lived there. It wasn’t hard to imagine that furnace was alive. It had a personality.

Its squat rotund body stood in the sooty gray-concrete corner like a Russian sentinel from a lost age. Its concrete exterior had been painted what appeared to have been white in the distant past, but had turned a dirty tan with age. Rust stains snaked along it like varicose veins. Tumors of soot embedded themselves here and there and filled its crevices. The furnace was covered with guages and meters relating information about the furnace’s internal state my young mind couldn’t understand.

Snaking from the furnace were too many old iron pipes to count. Some were painted what had once been white but were now pock-marked with rust the color of old blood, others were unpainted and rusted over completely, and a few had been replaced with more modern steel pipes that looked out of place. All these pipes stuck out of the furnace like limbs, and converged along the ceiling, delivering their payload of heat to the house that was home to the inhabitants that that served it so lovingly.

The furnace chugged along in the cold months, clanking and blatting and hissing in its corner. Sometimes it leaked hot water all over the peeling painted cement floor around it. Other times it farted black smoke. There were a few times the entire basement was filled with its sooty miasma, and you couldn’t go down there. It was probably dangerous. I used to wonder sometimes if the old furnace might explode when it did that. I was assured it was safe but I never was sure.

Sometimes the furnace scared me when it did that. It also scared me when it made more hissing and clanking sounds than normal. I used to think it was angry that it had to live in the ugly damp unfinished basement and the only light it ever saw was the dim gray light that filtered through the filthy slit-like windows that dotted the white painted brick wall near the ceiling. Those windows were veiled with spider webs and caked with soot. Even my clean freak mother, who had a meltdown if she saw so much as a gum wrapper anywhere else in the house, never did anything with the basement windows. The basement was the one place she allowed to get dirty, except for the laundry room, which had been partially modernized with a carpet, fluorescent lights, and acoustic tile ceiling. The rest of the basement was lit–barely–with bare incandescent bulbs screwed in between the ceiling rafters and operated by metal pull-chains. An old rusted (but working) toilet sat in a tiny closet with only one bare bulb screwed overhead, and no sink.

I used a tiny room that at one time had been used for canning as my escape from the dysfunction that regularly went on up above. My bedroom was too close to the master bedroom, and offered little refuge from the oppressive tension and constant arguing. My basement room was outfitted with a metal desk with wood grain Formica where I did all my homework, and an old piece of salvaged carpet. The canning shelves housed my Barbie dolls and all their accoutrements. The cinder block walls were painted mint-green. A small painted shelf sat above the desk, and my favorite books made their home there. I loved my books. They opened parallel universes in which I could escape from my painful reality.

I’d stay in my little room for hours at a time, barely aware of anything except the world of my books and Barbies. Although I had a probably healthy caution of the furnace and didn’t like to get too close to it because it was so unpredictable, its clanking and hissing noises, when they weren’t too loud, were comforting to me. Its grumpiness and isolated loneliness reflected my own state of mind most of the time. I could relate to it.

Occasionally after one of its sooty temper tantrums, a serviceman would come and minister to it like a doctor on house-call, and then the furnace would be happy again. If a psychiatrist could have given the furnace a diagnosis, I bet it would be Borderline Personality Disorder.

I remember taking a picture of it shortly before my parents’ divorce. I kept that picture for years, but somewhere amidst my many moves, it was lost. I know the house is still standing and was updated at some point (my family never updated anything in that house), but I would be shocked if that old furnace is still there, and even more shocked if it still works. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened to it. I hope it was treated well.

This barren wasteland.

barren_wasteland

In my life, I’ve rarely experienced true happiness, of the kind I experienced during the week of August 21, when I was on the Florida Gulf coast visiting my son.  I wrote a lot on this blog about the experience I had while basking in the warm Gulf waters and exploring the beaches and gazing at the unbelievable sunsets, and just being able to relax, forget my worries, and spend time with an almost 25 year old man who I love with a fierceness I reserve for very, very few people.  I felt very close to the divine during that time.   Even the 700 mile road trip going there and back was a sort of spiritual experience for me.   Everything about that week was perfect. I never felt so much at peace with myself and the world.  I felt somehow changed.

It occurred to me today that this weekend will be a month (4 weeks) since I began my vacation.  It’s a cherished memory now (and one that changed me in some profound way), but is now receding ever deeper into the past, joining the other few happy memories I have, most which happened much longer ago than this.     The memory is probably far enough in the past now that it’s no longer part of my short term memory but has now entered my long term memory.

While I’m grateful beyond words that I got to have this amazing experience, and know it won’t be the last time (I’m tentatively planning to return at the end of March),  I feel a deep sadness that it’s over tinged with a kind of yearning to return there forever.  Not so much because I miss the location of where I was, or even that I miss being in close proximity to my son (though I miss those things too), but the feeling of pure joy I had unfettered by anything else.  Rarely have I felt that kind of joy and lightness, and when I have, it’s been fleeting, like the momentary reflection of the sun on a dragonfly’s wings.

It’s been said that you can’t feel sadness without having known what happiness felt like.   Sadness is about loss.  In my case the loss of that deep, pure joy is bringing me into contact with the abyss of emptiness that still lives deep inside me, heavy and dark and cold, like a barren wasteland in which a chill wind always howls and it’s always winter and where nothing ever grows.

I tried praying about it, for I know it was really feeling close to the divine that made me feel so full of joy, not the actual surroundings, but it was just so much easier when I was away.    It’s hard to get that feeling back.   I look around my surroundings here and am reminded of how much I hate this time of year when the days are growing shorter and the nights longer, and  nature’s beginning to look tired and spent before going to sleep again for another winter.   Being here, without the sun and the sea and the sand, so far inland, back in the daily grind of real life, just reminds me of all the heartbreaks and losses and disappointments and hurts that have contaminated my life and pockmarked my soul full of raw and gaping holes.

This feeling of sad emptiness is very hard to explain.  I do suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) so that might have something to do with it, but I go through that every year.   This is different.  I feel like I’ve suffered a terrible loss, like a death, and like there’s no way I’ll ever feel that kind of joy again.   I want to so badly and I know I will, but right now it feels like it’s forever gone.

I imagine normal people feel that kind of joy more often, even if they don’t all the time.    I know I need to find a way to feel that lightness of spirit no matter where I am, but at the moment, I’m overwhelmed with this terrible nostalgia and sadness because my memory of that perfect week is no longer that recent and is quickly receding into the distant past, where details are forgotten or corrupted by other memories.   For that one week, it seemed as if the emptiness inside me was filled for a change; now it’s just empty again.

I always knew the emptiness was there, but I was so emotionally numb and so used to it that I regarded it as normal. I didn’t really think about it; it was just always there. Now it’s nearly unbearable. It could mean that I’m close to diving into the void because it seems so much nearer than it ever did before. Maybe I’m closer to it because so many of my usual defenses have fallen away. Maybe tomorrow night’s session will be an interesting one; I’ve noticed that just before a breakthrough I become more depressed than usual.

I called my therapist crying today and left a long message about how overwhelmed I felt by this spiritual and emotional barrenness.   I’ll be seeing him tomorrow;  I guess we need to talk about it.   I got a small taste of what it’s like to be mentally and spiritually alive and healthy, without any disorders, but the downside of that is that once you’ve seen heaven, reality seems like hell.

On losing my dad.

dadandme1983
Me and my father, Summer 1983, Dallas, Texas.

I’ve experienced a strange array of emotions since my father’s death on Monday, June 6th. To be more accurate, I haven’t felt too much emotion at all. I used this event to take two days off from work, but not really to grieve, just to reminisce and remember the good times my father and I had together. And yes, there were many good times.

I know the things I’ve written about my parents in this blog haven’t been too flattering, but that’s because of the subject matter of this blog. Essentially, I write it for myself and nobody else. I feel no shame in saying the things I have said, none of which were untrue. And I never identified them or used any real names. I can’t deny they simply were were not very good parents, but for this post, I’ll just leave it at that.

In recent years, my father and I haven’t been very close. Although my father was most likely a Covert Narcissist or a Borderline, he was not a malignant anything so there was no need to ever go No Contact with him. On many levels we were able to communicate and understand each other. I always felt deep down that he really did love me, or at least tried his hardest to love me. As a young girl and teenager I worshipped him (although there were times I grew very angry too, and would tell him I hated him).

During my teens and even into my early 20’s, we always got together on the weekends and it was always a fun, exciting event, no matter what we decided to do. He’d take me out to my favorite restaurants and let me order as much as I wanted to eat, without criticizing my weight or making me feel self conscious. He took me on road trips and all kinds of day-long excursions. I always looked forward to our time together and always felt he took a genuine interest in the things going on in my life. I felt comfortable talking to him about my problems and concerns, when I never felt that way talking to my mom. I knew my dad was far from an ideal parent in many ways, but I did feel his love for me.

In recent years, geographic distance, lack of funds to travel, my dad’s progressive Parkinson’s which made movement and speech increasingly difficult, and personal differences have caused us to drift apart. He remarried in the early ’80s, and his current wife hasn’t always approved of my lifestyle or values. The last time we spent any time together was in 2005. That is a very long time–a long enough time that any intensity of feeling you may once have had begins to fade, even if it’s your own parent.

I knew he hadn’t been well for a long time, due to his Parkinson’s and other problems. But my father tried to take good care of himself, and his extremely devoted wife did everything she could to help him. My dad always, always carried a positive, upbeat, can-do attitude about life and aging. I spoke to him on the phone every month or so (sometimes a bit less) and no matter what else was going on, my dad always sounded happy and contented, and always happy to hear from me.

When I got the phone call from my mother on Friday, I knew his time on earth was coming to a close. His kidneys began to shut down on Saturday and he was admitted to hospice, where he died on Monday. When the call came, I wasn’t surprised. I thanked my mother for letting me know, hung up and remember just feeling sort of…nothing. I went about my usual activities, albeit with a bit of wistfulness. I did spend some time thinking about him, and looking at old photographs of the two of us. But I didn’t feel anything resembling grief or bereavement, and I didn’t cry.

I went online to find out if this lack of feeling was normal. I felt a lot of guilt for not feeling more emotion, for not being able to cry. I read about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief. The first stage is Denial, which is often accompanied by emotional numbness, similar to PTSD. But I wasn’t in denial! I knew my father was dead. I just wasn’t particularly upset about it. Of course I wasn’t happy about it; I just didn’t feel too much of anything. I thought there must be something terribly wrong with me. When I went back to work this morning everyone wanted to hug me and comfort me which was strange because I just felt…normal. I just wanted to get busy working.

Tonight I think I feel a little more emotion. Not exactly sad, but wistful and nostalgic which is close enough. I rummaged in my closets for more photos, and I found the lovely one of us taken at his home in the summer of 1983 when he was still active and in great health and I was young and sporting big 1980’s hair.

I feel grateful for the good times my dad and I shared. The times we laughed together, watched a movie, ate a delicious meal, took a long drive, and had a heart to heart talk (yes, we did even have those sometimes). We had the same offbeat sense of humor and love of the random, shared a fascination with geography and science, and loved all sorts of word games. No, he wasn’t a great parent, but he wasn’t the worst either, and he was aware he wasn’t a good parent when I was a kid. We had love for each other though, and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day.

Maybe I’m unable to cry because my C-PTSD makes it so difficult for me to access and feel my emotions anyway. I’m going to talk about this in therapy tomorrow.
Or maybe it’s just normal to feel an emotional distance when you and your parent haven’t seen each other in 11 years, and is really nothing to worry about.  I feel some regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to see him one last time before he died.

Dad, I am thinking of you, and I know one day I’ll see you again.

Gone forever.

wrecking_ball

In the late ’70’s, for about one year, I lived in a group residence for troubled teenagers or teenagers who could not live at home for a variety of reasons.  The building it was housed in was an architectural standout even if it didn’t date very well, and won a couple of awards for architecture in its time.  (I’d post a photo because there is one on Google images, but I don’t want to give away too much information so I won’t do it).

One of my weird geeky hobbies is taking “virtual road trips” using Google maps.  I decided to “visit” the old ‘hood, and the address  typed in took me to a building I have never seen before.   I thought I made a mistake, but nope, the address was the right one.  I did some further sleuthing and found out the building was demolished in 2003 because the enterprise that bought out the address didn’t think the building suited their needs.   The residence center closed shortly before the demolition.  I had no idea this happened until about an hour ago.    I was gobsmacked by how grief stricken I felt–over a building I lived in for one year in the late 1970’s that has been gone for 13 years.   I actually had some great memories of that place and felt that it helped me.  I had a great counselor there.  I fell head over heels in love with a boy who lived there the same time I did.   We were both kicked out and sent back home because of “PC” (physical contact) on the premises.  I found out several years back that he died sometime in the late ’90s.  Life marches on, things change, or even disappear, and then they are forgotten.     Life is full of fleeting moments like that.  Someday in the not too distant future, even my memories will be lost.

A reflective trip into our common past.

My son said he’s spent today feeling reflective and wanted to revisit some of the places he knew as a child, including the home he and his sister were raised in by us.   Compared to the last two days, which were fun and active, today was quieter and more reflective  for both of us. It was also very healing and put a lot of perspective onto things.

So we took the 20 minute drive to where he grew up, parked the car and just walked around looking (without trying to look too suspicious!)   Our old house has fallen into disrepair (I don’t know if anyone lives there) but back in 1993, just after we purchased the house, we planted some trees.

We had this nutty idea of importing 30 tiny Canadian redwood seedlings from a company in British Columbia, Canada.   I remember we had to wait a while for them even after they shipped, because first they had to pass some kind of inspection in Florida to make sure they were free of aphids and other microbes that they might have been carrying from outside the US.   I remember when we finally got the seedlings, I had to keep them in a tub for a few days to moisten and soften their roots before planting them.

Redwoods are not indigenous to North Carolina, but we did some researchh and found out the moderate humid climate here is actually conducive to their growth, which is why we took a chance on them.   Over the years most of the seedlings died, and when the house was finally sold (well, actually foreclosed on) in 2003, the next owners chopped most of the surviving redwoods (about 5 or 6 left) down.  I remember being so enraged by that.   At the time the doomed young redwoods were about 8-10 feet tall.

But there is one last survivor, a beautiful, majestic redwood that is now 30-40 feet tall and looks very much at home among the small grove of other large trees that were either non-existent or very small when we bought the house in 1993. Here is that redwood as it is today.   It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that twenty-three years ago it sat in my tub upon arrival encased in a root ball with a plastic bag tied around it.

redwood2

redwood1

redwood_bark

Closeup of the bark–beautiful, red and burled.

I got photos of the rest of the trees (the ones I was able to–I didn’t want to be caught trespassing), all so much bigger than they were in 1993 or even ten years ago.     Here’s a cherry tree that was very tiny, barely more than a sapling,  but is now a huge shady tree big and sturdy enough to support a tire swing.   When my kids were little, the tree was too small to climb, but they used to pick caterpillars from its bark and collect them in a bucket (to be released outside later, as per my instructions.)

cherry_tree cherry_tree2

View of the property as it is today.  It was quite bare and almost treeless when we moved in.  You can see part of the house on the right.  The pink magnolia directly to the left of the house I planted there as a tiny seedling in 1996.

Here is a closeup of the magnolia:

magnoliatree

One of the many pine trees showing off its huge sturdy trunk:

pine_tree

The tree pictured below was the only one that was already big when we purchased the property in 1993, but it’s at least twice the size now and wide enough at the bottom to make a perfect fort for kids to play under.  Hell, I used to go sit under that tree to escape from my then husband!  Sometimes I even read books under there.

pine_tree2

2 views of the remains of our old outbuilding.  The roof has collapsed.  My son and I are both attracted to the eerie beauty of abandoned buildings.  Seeing the shed we used to store our gardening equipment and other things in was a little bittersweet.  I didn’t dare go inside.

abandoned_shed1  abandoned_shed2

A nearby “bamboo forest” growing behind the elementary school my kids attended.  It wasn’t there then.  Bamboo may be an invasive weed in this country because of its lack of natural enemies to keep its growth in check, but I find it beautiful.   I find the same to be true of Kudzu, which also grows here.

bamboo_grove1 bamboo_grove2

Finally, a view of our old neighborhood from the top of a nearby hill:

hightop_view

My son is flying back to Florida in the wee hours this morning.  I’m going to miss him, but I feel so happy we had such an amazing time together.

Tomorrow I’ll be able to return to blogging as usual.   I’ve been so busy the past few days that keeping up has been difficult.  I didn’t even have time to post a Monday Melody, but I promise there will be a new one this coming Monday.

Okay, Tony Burgess, happy now?

steel_wool

Tony Burgess wrote a post telling me to post something new right now. I was going to take a night off, but now I’ll feel guilty if I don’t, so here’s a new post.

I was a weird, sketchy kid who had weird dreams. When I was about 5 I had a dream about something called a “clout” that looked like an oversized steel wool pad. It was sitting on the small rug in front of my bed and I was too scared to put my feet on the floor because that clout thing was evil. It just sat there on the rug, in all its black malevolence, not moving, but I knew it was alive and meant to kill me.   I knew if I put my feet on the floor the clout would suck me down into the Hell-portal it must have come from.

When I was around  the same age, one morning I woke up doubled over with laughter.   My dad asked me why I was laughing, and I remember saying, “someone was throwing mud at my door.”   I pointed to the door of my room and globs of gooey mud were sliding down its painted surface. I couldn’t stop shrieking with mirth.   I kept pointing but he couldn’t see the mud and told me to stop making things up.  “Look!  Look! There! There!” I screamed in frustration, but I was still laughing.   Then I woke up for real and was almost afraid if I looked at the door, mud would be on it. I was really awake this time, so there wasn’t. Relieved, I went downstairs for my Cap’n Crunch and orange juice.

Like I said, I was a weird kid.

I can’t get enough of this song.

Here’s a popular country pop song that has more meaning than most current offerings in this genre. I posted the lyric video because I think they’re special. There are those times in our lives we remember many years later because they still remind us that sometimes even the most humdrum life can surprise us with moments of perfect happiness. Those memories keep us going even when the present and future look bleak.
If I played guitar I sure would love to learn how to play this song.