October 25, 1984. My Dear Mary Beth,…

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“Drinking beer and telling lies” as Dad would say (at the 2004 World Series)

It is Father’s Day. This is the fourth Father’s Day that has arrived since my dad died. I still miss him every single day.

One good thing is that this is the FIRST Father’s Day that I did not cry when I went to the card aisle.  That has to count for something.

Recently, I helped my mom clean out her attic.  I found a box of my old stuff.  In it, I discovered an envelope with my name written in my father’s notorious script.  It was one of the Palanka letters I received on my Junior Retreat.

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Here is what he wrote down.

October 25, 1984

My Dear Mary Beth, This is a difficult letter to write because I try to tell you as often as possible how I feel about you, and something new is hard.  I’ll try not to be too long-winded.

Every day I pray and thank God for you, for you are the most wonderful gift that I could receive from Him. You are my joy and my happiness.

I know that I ‘m not as patient with you as I should be.  I know that I’m short with you, and I regret it every time.  I hope that you know it’s because I want you to be everything you can, and I seek your happiness always.

No man could ask for more than you are in a daughter. You’re a good girl yet full of fun and life. You’re a mover and a shaker who loves God and is loved by God very much (look at the mother he gave you.)

Thank you, Mary, for never giving me a worry or a care about what or who you are. Thank you for being a truly beautiful person. Thank you for all the happiness, joy, love, fun and pride you have given to me.

Thanks for understanding that your daddy doesn’t want you to grow up and understanding that I’ll always need to have you as my little girl.

Thank you for talking to me more. Thank you for being kind to others. Thank you for being nice to Gram. Thank you for making your mother so happy.Thank you for being such a good friend and sister to your brother.

But I supposed that I thank God for you so often that I should say thank you for being you. I could go on and on.

I could go on even longer about the things you have forgiven me for and how you still love me. Thank you.

When we found out that you were to be born, I was as happy as I had ever been.  When you were born on December 31 and gave me a tax deduction for the whole year,  that was a sign of the beginning of all the good things and happiness that your brought and are still bringing to us all.

My dream for you is that you be as happy and fulfilled as you can possibly be.  I pray that God allows you to be as happy as you have made your family and me.

I pray that Jesus takes you in his arms and protects you forever.

After that, I pray you have all that you want and that you have children that make you as happy as you have made me.

Mary Beth, you are a beautiful woman with charm and grace, blessed with intelligence and wit as well as an inner glow that makes you shine.

I thank God for allowing me to be your father. It’s a high gift.

I truly love you now and forever – no matter what.

Daddy

I loved my father dearly. But I am the first to admit (as would he) that our relationship was complicated.  That is not to say that it lacked love.  Quite to the contrary, we adored each other.

But there were hurts. There were disagreements.  We had our share of impasses.

The thing is that our relationship was always REAL.

This letter is invaluable to me.  I will hold it in my heart forever. It is a gift better than any other he had ever given to me. I treasure it.

So on this Father’s Day, 2015, I don’t feel quite so sad that my dad is not with me, grilling a steak and drinking a beer or hitting some golf balls as we used to do.  Because you know what? He is right here.

Happy Father’s Day.

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  To learn about palanka click this link http://www.ehow.com/how_8088924_write-palanca-letter.html

Chicken “Marysala”

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Here is my Culinary -“ARTS STUDIO.”

My bestie, Clare, has always said that I could make a few pieces of lettuce look delicious on a plate.  She is also the friend who lets me wear neon bike shorts in high school and let me marry my first husband.  But those are stories for another day.

I started placing said lettuce on that plate back when she and I were around 15 years old. I have come a long way, Baby.

I caught up with Clare tonight.  We live insanely crazy lives. But no matter how busy we are, she and I always carve out time for each other.

Because that is what best friends do.

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She has always stood up for me- both at the dress rehearsal wedding and this one, the main performance.

Clare keeps me grounded. She talks me off the ledge, encourages me and always has my back. She and I have been friends since 1982. We have had some serious run time.  The way I see it is that if she hasn’t dumped me by now, she probably won’t.

And I have forgiven her for the neon bike shorts.

She is exhilarated and exhausted by her new job.  She is trying to find the balance. She wants to crawl into bed at night and relax.  I SO get it.  I feel the same way. And I told her I could relate.

Clare said, “Mar, of course, you’re spent.  It’s not like you are writing about how to grow tomatoes.”

She was so right.

I am writing about my life. I am in a place of vulnerability. That is hard to turn off.

But, when my tank is empty, cooking fills me up.

One of my great passions is cooking. With or without tomatoes, it is as therapeutic as writing or going for a long run or organizing the sock drawer.

I read cookbooks the way some read novels. I devour them. They inspire me. The pages of my favorite cookbooks prove that they are loved by the smudges and smears of past creations. That may sound gross, but it is usually just the remains of some innocuous ingredient like olive oil. Don’t worry.

There is a process.

First, I hunt.

I get jazzed about reading a few recipes by my favorites, Julia, Ina, and Tyler.  Then,  I transform their ideas into my creation.  I encounter success and, on occasion, the big FAIL.

Then, I gather.

I am a grocery store aficionado. Maybe it is the agility with which I push my cart through the aisles.  Maybe it is the comfortable conversation I have with my favorite butcher, Douglas.  Who knows?

Trust me when I say that people randomly approach me in the aisle and ask me where to find the fish sauce or the golden raisins. It is as if I have a neon halo above my head flashing “pro-shopper” in two-second intervals. Yesterday, a dear elderly lady asked me where to find the bread crumbs.  We were standing right next to them.

Then, I create.

Creating can be messy, but it is rewarding. The transgression from “mise en place” to “TA AAA DAH!” evokes success. It brings joy and a feeling of accomplishment.  Best of all, cooking makes the people I love happy.

When my marriage was falling apart my past husband and I were disconnected and miserable, cooking became a coping mechanism for both of us. I did the cooking. He did the eating.  What a perfect arrangement.

At the time, our son was just a toddler who consumed so much time and energy, as wee ones do.  My ex and I both worked. We were always tired. At night, there were stories and prayers and tuck-ins (usually more than one.) Then, we were alone.

“Alone” and “us”:  not a good combo.

My former husband took to watching TV.  I took to the kitchen.  I would start cooking at 8:00 P.M. and usually somewhere around 10:00 P.M.  I would serve dinner in front of that TV.

It was our only semblance of togetherness. And at that time it worked. The TV held power over the dinner conversation. That made it easier for both of us.

In cooking, I found comfort.  It was my escape. It was the way he and I avoided one another, and it worked. I was so comfortable in the kitchen. I was having a fling with my cutlery and my copper core pans.

It sort of saved me.

My marriage ended, but my cooking was just the beginning of a whole new world.

My love of cooking started in my childhood home. My mom taught me well. I loved standing on a chair watching and helping as she cooked dinner on many nights.

Mom is an amazing chef who taught me, amongst other things, that cooking is chemistry. I thought I was screwed. Oh, how I struggled in Sister Robert’s chemistry class!

But as long as I was not required to balance any chemical equations, I was ok.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala was the bomb and became my “go to.” If I wanted to impress, I pulled out her recipe.  You know that “man’s heart and stomach” thing?  Chicken Marsala became my secret dating weapon.

Her recipe was decadent and delicious.  It was time-consuming as well but still worth the effort especially when love was at stake.  I cut, chopped, dredged, buttered and sautéed my way to the masterpiece (or heart-attack) on a plate.

It is funny, but I never cooked Chicken Marsala for My Michael until after we were married.  There has to be something subliminally psychological with that one, don’t you think?

My Michael sits with me as I cook, keeps me company and is my official taste-tester.  What a difference from my past days as a solo chef with no taste-tester.

Now, cooking brings our family together. It is not a means by which I isolate myself. Our routine is to come together at the table, break bread and break the news of the day. It is fun. Also, The Three Musketeers (A.K.A. our boys) provide our nightly dinner entertainment.

About a year ago one of my personal chef customers requested Chicken Marsala. Although my mom’s recipe had always been the gold star,  I decided to shake things up.  I studied a few recipes, and this is what I turned out.

It takes half the time as my mom’s delicious recipe as well as half the butter. They loved it!

So today, I wish to share a recipe with you.  I have cooked Chicken Marsala many times. Over time, however, it has evolved and become a newer version.  It has become a symbol of how I have created myself and how I have evolved, too.

So, enough of the cushy stuff.   Let’s get cooking, friends!

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Chicken “Marysala”

  •  4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. Bacon fat (I keep a mason jar with pan drippings on hand in my fridge. It is worth the calories.Trust me)
  • 8 ounces crimini or porcini mushrooms stemmed and halved 
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoon  butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and slice diagonally so that you have thin slices.

Lay a piece of parchment paper over them (or use paper towels if you prefer); pound with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/4-inch thick.

Put about 11/2 cups of flour on another piece of parchment paper and season with about 1 Tsp. of  Kosher salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Mix well to evenly distribute the seasonings

Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium-high in a large skillet (I use my grandmother’s cast iron skillet that quickly conducts heat evenly.)

While the oil heats, dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour and then shake the excess.

Place the cutlets in the skillet and fry for 4-6 minutes on each side until golden, turning once.

Do not crowd the pan; you need to be sure that there is space between the cutlets for them to cook properly.

Remove the chicken to half-sheet pan (a cookie sheet or oven-proof platter will do) which has been covered with foil of parchment paper. This makes the clean up much easier.

When all the cutlets are cooked, place in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, and add the bacon fat to the drippings in the pan. Saute for 1 minute to render out some of the fat.

Add the mushrooms and saute until they are browned, and most of the moisture has evaporated 6 minutes or so, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the Marsala in the pan and increase the heat to high. Boil about a minute to cook down the alcohol.

Add the chicken stock and simmer for 2 minutes or so to reduce the sauce slightly.

Stir in the butter until melted.

Place the cutlets back into the skillet.  Simmer gently for several minutes on medium low.

Season with salt and pepper.

Plate the chicken and garnish with the fresh parsley.

Serve with rice pilaf or risotto.

That’s all.

Terrible Beauty

I had been accepted to Boston College’s Abbey Theater summer program! Just imagine, a summer in the Emerald Isle. What a wonderful adventure to precede my senior year of college. I was dancing a jig. I was ready for a Guinness.  I  was ready to meet my first leprechaun.

I had never been so far away from home.  And I had certainly not been away from home for such a long time. I geared up to be homesick.  I was doing the, you know, “managing my expectations” thing. There were dramatic goodbyes and gnashing of teeth and tears and farewells.

My family, my bestie, Clare, and my boyfriend of a few years (let’s call him “Guy”) waved their handkerchiefs in Logan’s Terminal E.  I was off.

As much as I looked forward to my adventure, I was semi-stuck in a state of despair.  What would I do without Guy for the summer? Oh sure, it would be “good for us to be apart for a bit,” as well-meaning folks said.

That was the world’s greatest understatement.

Twenty-five fabulous Boston College students joined in Sandymount, Dublin to unpack for a summer of storytelling, theater and history.  Off we went on the #3 bus to Dublin each morning to the Abbey. Off we went to the pub each afternoon. Life was good.  Friendships were made.

It was heavenly.

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The Syllabus!

If you have ever participated in the theater, you will understand what I am about to say.

Theater people are dramatic, not just on stage. Everywhere. And they tend to love big and loud. Theater people accept everyone.

My oldest is a chip off the old block.  He is an actor.

He has attended enriching summer theater programs; he has had all sorts roles in many productions. He has recited everything from one single line to entire monologs. His school has earned medals and awards. I am SO proud of him.

I have been the taxi driver to said performances and rehearsals.

Pulling up to Summer School for the Performing Arts each morning over the past several summers was a treat.  Each day there was IMPROV at car drop-off in the parking lot.  There was singing and laughter and hugs and high-fives.  Everyone was smiling.  It was seriously fun. It was welcoming and warm. I wanted to jump out of the car and join in.

The awesome thing about acting is that we can step out of ourselves and morph into whatever part we are playing. The stage is a welcome mat for whomever we chose to be. Actors know that. Actors accept that. On the stage, everyone can be a star.

In Ireland, I learned a vast education outside the classroom, too. Specifically on a bench by the sea with my new friend, Bob.

Bob was the first person I met when I arrived at our summer accommodation in Sandymount.

Bob has marked charisma. He commands a crowd with his quick wit and humor. He certainly gave the natives a run for their money. He is smart and hilarious and jovial.

He is deep.

Bob is also soulful and resilient. He is fervent. He is compassionate. He had been dealt a tough hand, but he rose above it. At  22 years old he had lived, and gracefully survived, a life that some have not lived by the age of 90.

What I learned was far beyond the syllabus.  I learned about strength and resilience.I learned about hope. I learned that I got to decide how I allowed others to treat me. The unfortunate thing?

It took almost 25 years to sink in.

What was mesmerizing about Bob is that he spoke in a way that lacked SHAME. He had been through the ringer. He had struggled. And he was shameless.

Holy. Holy.

For two months, we developed a friendship. We shared our stories.  My poor choices in life became apparent.   It was inspirational to see how he came out beautifully healed, gentle and in tact.

I had so far to go.

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Just another day exploring the countryside (in my green mohair sweater)

He offered such support and kindness. Tragically, it just whizzed past me.

I shared a few stories about how great Guy was. Then I shared stories about how NOT great Guy was.

Bob looked as if I had hit him in the gut.

He could not believe that beautiful (?) me could live with that.  He was filled with compassion.

He stood up and positioned himself as a boxer. He talked about being knocked down but that we have to get up, take our stance and fight back. We feel hurt and beaten. At the time, we can’t see it but eventually, we get it. And we mend.

And our beautiful scars show growth.

It was inspirational. It was moving. He was rattled by my pain. But I was not rattled by own pain.

Or so I thought.

I thought I was in love with Guy. I stayed with Guy in that horrible place because it felt familiar.  It was my comfort zone. It is what I had come to expect.

Here was the thing.

I loved Bob way you love your best friend. The friend who accepts you warts and all.

He loved me differently.

He could not understand why I would continue to stay with the abusive, cheating boyfriend. I could not accept his concerns or heed his advice.  I was young, naive and busted.

My benchmark for love was tragically shallow.  Guy was the “greatest.” The greatest to me was the one who made me feel like I was the worst, like I was in that familiar place. I attracted abusive men.

They were like moths to a lightbulb.

In hindsight, I understand. If I had gone to that loving place with him, I would have hurt him deeply.  On some subconscious level I believe I knew that I could not reciprocate.

Yeats refers to Ireland in his poem Easter 1916 as a “terrible beauty.” His metaphor is about Ireland’s emerging independence, what it took to get there and what would be the result from the Easter Rising.

Yeats said Irish Patriots suffered and died during the Easter Rising, which was both terrible and beautiful. There was beauty in their courage and fervor for independence. It was terrible that they suffered punishment and brutal defeat by the English.

But this it speaks on other levels, too. Ireland has lush green landscapes, pots of gold, but it also has the Dole. There has been illness and strife and poverty and plague. The sun shines simultaneously during a soft rain.

Ireland survived. And it is beautiful.

I was in a beautiful place full of hope and promise with grace all around me.  Grace was inviting me to step out of that dark place. Grace urged me to look at my choices and make different ones. I could not do it. Dark was better. Standing in the rain was better even though the sky held rainbows. I did not have what the Patriots had.

It was a terrible beauty.

On one of our final weekends in Ireland my dear friends, Jane, Bob and I took a road trip.  We stopped at a shop in Galway where I fell in love with two beautiful mohair sweaters. One was green and one black. I could afford only one. Bob wanted to buy the other for me, but I wouldn’t let him.

I didn’t deserve that!

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 Here we are discussing green? Or black?

(There has never been a greater negotiation as this one since my son hit his teens.)

Later that night we drove along Dingle Peninsula.  At the pinnacle, we pulled over next to a celtic cross. There were crashing waves, a full moon and a random lone sheep that jumped over the stone ledge that defined the narrow road from the sea below.

It was a beautiful night and a holy moment. I felt happy and full.  My summer had been magical. The three of us were quiet and took it all in.

I took a photo of Bob standing on the stone ledge.

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Look at his sweatshirt (Holy Cross). Look at his halo.

In December of our senior year, he showed up at my apartment with a gift. It was the black mohair sweater we saw in Galway.

I  never saw him after that. I never communicated with him after that.  I tried and tried, but he did not respond.  Ask my bestie, Clare.  Looking for him over the years became a “thing.” I was sad.

It was all my fault. I blew it.

Sometimes people love you no matter whether you allow them to or not.

At age 22, I was broken and hurting. I was in denial. I believed that Guy loved me.  He treated me beautifully on the surface, on stage, but he desecrated me.  He was an unfaithful playboy. He was disrespectful and cocky.

He treated me in a way that felt comfortable.

I am not sure that women realize something immensely important.  Just because he is your “boyfriend” you are still an individual who gets to pick how you are treated.  He is not the boss of you in any way, spiritually, physically, soulfully. You are IN CHARGE.

My Michael has a key chain that says “I’m Third.”

God is first; others are second, and he is third.

It is beautiful.  He lives it.  He is loving and kind and gracious. He is thankful and appreciative. He looks out for others. He does not kill ants. That is our only problem.

Bob was right. Grace gave me a hint, a promise. And 25 years later here I am.

My Michael is my forever Grace, loving me with kindness and an open heart and respect. I am treasured.  I never knew that would happen. Even though Bob told me that it could.

God loans people to us.

We never know for how long or for what reason.

We eventually realize it, and it is simply divine.

Thank you, Bob.

Thank you, God, for My Michael.

You kept good on your promise!

That’s all.

re- “Do”- nion

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Last year I decided to do what I love and love what I do. So, I started a business called “table24.” I offered personal chef and small-scale catering.

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Clams Casino and the logo

Out I ventured with grand plans, a beautiful website and chef’s jackets. Oh, the chef’s jackets! I was off to the races. I immediately had clients! I was busy in the kitchen! I was trying all sorts of new recipes! I am yelling right now!

Just what I wanted. Or so I thought. It was a huge disappointment. It was also a huge lesson.

You see, for me, cooking is a creative and cathartic outlet. Best of all, cooking is the means by which I express my love and affection for others.  In my family, food is glue for our togetherness. We all participate in it, find joy in it and, well, love to eat.  And I get to put it all on the table. YAY!

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Shrimp Etouffee- On My Michaels “A” list

My Michael and My Three Musketeers (a.k.a. my boys) get jazzed about giving me cooking challenges. We have had some doozies. One of their all time favorites is Fried Chicken and Waffles. It was love at first bite.  I am so happy when they are happy. And when mention of our evening meal gets airtime at bedtime prayers. Alleluia! Score!

As the head chef (and only chef) at table24, I spent the majority of my time in the kitchen.

Alone.

Alone and I are not a super combination. I am far too social. I started to talk to myself. I began a love affair with Dierks Bently and Keith Urban over Pandora. I developed a tick. It was worrisome.

Then, it dawned on me.  All of a sudden cooking carried a new meaning, a new stigmata- money.  It was my business so I charged people. I was expressing my affection for those about whom I cared and my new clients. And  I expected to be PAID for it?  Oh, how very wrong.

Talk about conditional love.

I packed up that carnival and left town.

Much like cooking, writing is cathartic. When I started MARYMORPHOSIS last month, my goal was to help others, to serve others, in sharing my story.

I recently attended my 30-year high school reunion. I had not been back to Ursuline in 15 years and was so looking forward to seeing everyone. Going back to Ursuline feels like going home.

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The motto of Ursuline Academy is Serviam, Latin for “I will serve.”

I was pleasantly surprised and a bit overwhelmed by the number of women, classmates and otherwise, who actually pulled me aside privately to express how impactful the content on MARYMORPHOSIS has been.

That to me is success.

When I first attended Ursuline I was thirteen years old and entering the 8th grade.  It had been a year since that day in the kitchen when I “outed” my abuser.  I was still reeling from the response, or lack thereof.  I was also still being abused.

My parents sent me to Ursuline primarily because it was an outstanding school.  But also, they pulled me out of public school because I was so horribly bullied that it was unbearable.

That is a story for another post, however.

This was on the tail end of the time span that my grandfather abused me but it was still happening. Simultaneously, I was traumatized by a handful of horribly cruel girls who victimized me because I had a new pair of Nike sneakers or a cute boy had a crush on me and not them.  How Cinderella-esque, hmm?

The Ursuline girls were beautiful in every way.  I was made to feel welcome. They included me. They were so kind to me.  Thank you eighth-grade friends, Gaby, Lisa, Anna, Sarah, Christine, Kim, Sheila and on and on.

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I was shocked.  How was it possible that all of a sudden I was liked?  I had a warped perception of myself. I loathed me. How on God’s green earth could anyone like me?

As the years passed my network of friends grew and changed.  I always felt liked and accepted on some level. But that deep-rooted hurt dominated.  Having been the victim of sexual abuse killed my spirit, robbed me of my purity and stripped me of my childhood.

Then vicious, vulture-ish girls took what was left.

Chin up!

I should have won an Academy Award. I played the part well. I was wearing a costume and by that in no way am I referring to my green plaid skirt and sensible brown shoes.  It was four years of “Showtime!”

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I still have my beloved green plaid skirt.  My Dexter is its best accessory!

I put my head into my books, and I pulled my grades from a consistent B/B+ average to a straight A average. Ursuline was HARD. And my classmates were brilliant. I did homework until 1:00 AM most nights. But I did it.

I was in clubs and committees, the class VP and the captain of the cheerleading squad at our brother school. I had great roles in school productions. I was cheerful with a cute and popular boyfriend who was the lead in the school musical. (Incidentally, while I was on stage he was backstage with one of the dancers. Yawn- you know that deal.)

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“S-U-C-C-E-S-S!! That’s the way we spell success!”

And, of course, I accomplished all of this on about 300 calories a day. I starved  myself so that I would be the skinny “-est.”  Eshh

Prior to the 30 year mark, former Mary would have fasted, had a fabulous hairdo and the perfect slimming outfit prior to attending said re-union. This year I didn’t iron my pants and I had roots. Oh, and I had dirt under my nails from gardening earlier that day. I did shower, however.

But in 2015, for the first time, I felt as if I could show my high school classmates the real Mary. The real, raw, honest Mary.

It felt so good just to be myself.

And my classmates were STILL nice to me.

When I post I often feel as if I have taken off all of my clothes and am doing high, deliberate kicks with “jazz hands” across stage of  the nationally televised Presidential debate.  I feel like I am the half-time show at the Superbowl.

It sounds mortifying, doesn’t it? Strangely, there is great comfort in vulnerability.

Every day I remind myself to “love myself with the heart with which I love my child.” And Honey, let me tell you, it is a hell of a lighter load.

I left my high school that evening feeling lighter and happier. I felt as if I were re-writing part of that sad high-school past. I felt as if I got a do-over.  I was able to accept the kindness of others. It was joyful.

Writing has become a part of my daily life. I know that some of my friends won’t read what I write. Some are probably shaking their heads and snickering with others on the ball field but want in on something?

I.COULD. NOT. CARE. LESS.

HA ! Imagine that!? It feels LIBERATING!  People can relate! Through one’s honesty, others find their humanity and feel a sense of community.

But, the best feeling is that I genuinely believe that I am helping people.  And folks have told me just that. And I believe them. So there.

“I will serve.”

It is such a juxtaposition that there is power in vulnerability, don’t you think? One would think that being vulnerable simply makes you weak. That is wrong. Bet on it.

“I am she. She is me.”

When my cousin wrote “He Wrote It Down” and I subsequently wrote “BEFORE He Wrote It Down, “ THOUSANDS no… HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS read our story. HUNDREDS WROTE TO US.

Over and over we read the response, “ME TOO.”Maybe you said it, too.

Do you see what I mean? In telling our stories, in our bare, honest truth and without shame, there is power. Good power. Power in your freedom, your happiness and your self-talk.

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There is an abundance of love that we all have deep inside ourselves that is meant for US. WE MUST LOVE OURSELVES.

And that, my pretties, is it for today.

That’s all.

maryMOMphosis

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On my due date November 2001

Mother’s Day is upon us! Folks flood the card aisle. Stores post reminders to “Mother’s Day is May 10!”  Well-wishing Mother’s Day Mylar Balloons float around us and tap our shoulders as we stand a the grocery check-out.

This floral holiday Trumps Valentine’s Day, for Goodness sake!

I will never forget the first moment I became a mother. To me, it was not when I peed on the stick and the second line appeared. It was the moment I looked at him. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, despite his cone head and red face.

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The hospital wrist band I wore as an infant, and the one I wore and Ronan wore when he was born

He was gorgeous.

I will bet every mother has felt the same way.

Over the past 13 years, I have adored being a mom. Over the past three I have loved being a stepmom, too. Motherhood is the hardest job I have ever loved. I have morphed into a woman I would never have become had I not been blessed with motherhood.

My mother made me a cup of tea the day I took my baby home from the hospital. She set it down and said, “Enjoy. You will never again have another cup of hot tea. “ She was joking, but she was so right.

Mothers love their children unconditionally. Being a mother means putting yourself at the back of the family line. You can always count on Mom. Mom makes the hurt go away.

Mother is a verb.

Some of the best meals I have ever enjoyed were in my bed on mother’s day morning. From the very young age of five my boy brought me breakfast in bed. I think that it started with goldfish and a water bottle. Most recently, my three boys brought me a toasted bagel with cream cheese, a brimming bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios drowning in milk and coffee brewed from the Keurig.

Children idolize their mothers. Mothers are the rock, the source of love and the center of a child’s universe.

In many ways, the attention and love I receive as a mother can feel overwhelming to me. It feels like such a gift.  I gift I have never believed I deserved.

But they do love me. I feel it every single day.

In third grade, he gave me this mothers day poem.

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My AWESOME Mother’s Day Card 2011

Clearly, it made an impression.

I think that one of the most beautiful moments of motherhood happened in the Chatham Dunkin Donuts on Cape Cod. My two and a half-year-old and I were patiently waiting in line for his chocolate donut. We were surrounded by retirees. A lovely elderly lady behind us caught his eye.

“Where did you get your beautiful blonde curls?”

He instantly replied, “From God.”

Proud Mama moment!

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Curls from God

Now that my boy is a teen things have changed. I am annoying. I am so not cool anymore. I am a helicopter. The eye roll has become as dominant in his interaction with me as the word “like.” Its all good, though.

 

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13th Birthday!

Our roles change.

I have morphed from the center of his universe to a tornado. And I know that as he grows, our relationship will continue to morph and continue to change in many ways. Most of which I hope to be delightful.

My relationship with my mother has too, changed over the years. She was my everything as a child. She was my friend as a teenager. We shopped and had our nails done and lunched. She was career counselor after I graduated. Then she took care of my baby when I worked.

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Each day I got a note from the day’s events. Elmo was BIG back then!

When she had a devastating and debilitating stroke 11 years ago, the tables turned. I took care of her.

I visited her thrice a day for the three months she was in the hospital. I fed her and dressed her and put on her makeup and did her hair when she was immobilized and could not speak. It is so important to look and feel your best when your rehab for the day is getting into a wheelchair.

It was an enormous role reversal.

She became dependant. I became the nurturer.

Looking back I would not change it. EVER.

She is stubborn and opinionated (the apple does not fall far from the tree.) She has spunk and refuses to leave her home despite my father’s death and despite that she is patently disabled.

In light of recent life events, including reuniting with my long-lost cousin, Laura, hearing the other side of the story about our abuse and going to the police, there has been a predictable crack in my relationship with my mother.

It is a huge gaping fault much like the aftermath of an earthquake.

I am so, so angry. I am intensely hurt.

Mom is loving and kind. She is smart and generous and funny. She took care of me. She loves me.

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Christmas 1968

I struggle so.

There is a place that I am trying so hard to reach where I can reconcile the past and my mom’s role in it. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is perhaps more difficult than the aftermath of my sexual abuse and certainly more difficult than reporting her father, my abuser, to the police 35 years later.

It is heart wrenching, and I am torn. We all have hurts. We all have emotions and sensitivity. Once we are burned, it can be hard to stick your hand in the flame again.

So, people cope with their sexual abuse in different ways. When I was disbelieved after reporting my sexual abuse to my parents and uncle I had to survive. I mirrored their behavior. I pretended that it did not happen. I told my story in that kitchen. No one listened to my story.

(For clarification, please read my first blog post, “Before He Wrote it Down,”)

BUT my story, as much as I tried to stuff it down as far into my soul as possible, has told itself over and over again in my decisions, in my choices and in how I have lived.

Ok so here is a twist. Taking it one step further, people cope with OTHERS sexual abuse in different ways, too.

I applaud some. I shake my head at others. But I can’t judge. No one can judge. That is not our humanly job.

Although she is getting help for the first time in her life and says that she believes me, the jury is still out. But at 76 years old, I am grateful that she is a least trying.

My brother is brilliant and has offered great insight. He has provided guidance. He asks if I want to have a relationship with her? If so, that is the FIRST thing I need to decide. If so, and only IF SO, I need to determine if I can forgive. If I choose to forgive, I must do just that -all in-no takebacks no exclusions.

I am human. I am so very hurt.

I look at my mom. I can only imagine what happened to her as a child. She has coped differently. I suspect that she did the “stuffing down into the soul” trick. And it worked for her. But it did not work for me.

Herein lies the problem.

So on this mother’s day I have made a decision. I have decided to forgive my mom.

Forgiveness has many faces.  Forgiveness can be as easy breezy as a fist punch and a pat on the back.  Forgiveness can happen over years laying on that black leather couch.  Forgiveness can just be a decision.

Forgiveness, in this matter, is not releasing it, accepting that what happened can be dismissed or saying “It’s ok.”

In a billion, gazillion years, it will never be “OK” with the past but I choose to move forward.  I have decided that my grandfather had my past but will never have my future.  No flipping way.

I cannot change the past, but I can change the future.

I cannot judge, but I can love

I cannot undo it, but I can move on and accept her frailties and shortcomings.

Although I cannot say that it will ever be the same (how could it be) I will try.

There is an abundant amount of love in this world. We just need to let it in.

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Happy Mother’s Day.

That’s all.

Jeans

I rejoined Weight Watchers last week.

Weight Watchers and I have had an on-again-off-again relationship for the past fifteen years. Weight Watchers and I get along great each time we come together. We are committed to each other. Then, I get frustrated and need space. Or I decide to go back to my “buffalo wings and pizza” ways. It’s not you, Weight Watchers. It’s me!

I paid my forty-five big ones last week and attended a meeting with my favorite coach, Nancy.

Nancy, “Welcome, Mary! What brings you back today?”

Me, “Umm, I broke the zipper on my jeans twice.”

Other weight watchers, “Giggles.”

The following Saturday, My Michael and I went off to the mall. Jeans were our mission. We started at Nordstrom where he patiently sat and critiqued about twenty-one and a half pair (I could shimmy one pair just to the knee). Over an hour later we found the perfect pair that cost more than our monthly cable bill.

Then, we trekked to the other side of the mall to continue our mission and found ourselves at Lucky Brand. This time, I tried a mere ten styles of jeans and landed with a pair of adorable “boyfriend jeans.” How fitting!

The most delightful thing happened.

I tried my usual size that were enormous on me. After a few attempts, the adorable sales girl finally brought me a pair that perfectly fit. They were a size two. I have not been a size two since I was starving myself in high school. My Michael gave me the “VA VA VOOM!” and it was all settled. I was a two-jeans girl.

There are two things worth mentioning here.

First, Lucky Brand has a brilliant marketing program.

Second, the jeans were appropriately named “boyfriend jeans.”

For years, I dated guys who were so very wrong for me. Most treated me poorly. Almost all of them cheated on me. So many times I found myself in “negative Marymorphosis.”

If I were not thin, enough I would starve myself eating only celery and cabbage soup. If he preferred blondes, I would go off to the salon for highlights. At one time, I even changed my political party to appease a boyfriend. It’s a good thing we broke up before the Presidential election.

I tried over and over to fit into that size 2 “boyfriend jeans.” Standing in the fitting room, I had a moment of “Ah-HA!”; I did not have to force myself into those size two jeans. They fit me just as I was. My Michael would love me at any size, no matter what. The fact that I could be myself and wear a 2 was freedom!

It has taken me so long to reprogram my brain. I have had to learn how to change the voices in my mind prattling that I was worthless and terrible. It was brutal to myself. My Michael often reminds me to put down the bat with which I repeatedly beat myself.

My grandfather did not see me as a beautiful little girl full of delight, innocence, and wonder. He saw me as a physical object that he chose to dominate. I was not a person to him. I was not the sweet child of his eldest daughter. I was the vulnerable baby emu in the herd. Harsh but true.

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(I was so very little)

I was a physical object without emotion or blood running through my veins or a heartbeat. That is what I accepted as my role. That defined me. I, in turn, started treating my body as an object of control. That, my friends, is why I almost starved myself to death.

The aftermath of sexual abuse rears its ugly head in numerous forms. Victims suffer from a warped sense of body image, we develop eating disorders, we accept ill treatment in our relationships. We suffer from depression and anxiety. We are prisoners in our minds and bodies.

Look at media. In so many cases, images used in advertising are about appealing to one’s physical attraction and desire. Gorgeous, stick thin women with bedroom eyes and wearing little more than that sexy pout infest the pages of countless advertising campaigns.

Sex sells.

When you are robbed of your sexual identity before you hit puberty, it is highly unlikely to learn what self-respect and self-love are. Then, you see beauty and glamor and sex appeal all over, and that is such discord. How does sexy feel good? Why did I feel so undesirable and used?

Almost forever I have felt powerless, ashamed and distrustful. That is why I inserted myself comfortably in abusive relationships repeatedly. As survivors, our comfort zone is to be that object.  It is to be a nonperson- it is to be undesirable.

Many years ago I dated a man who was a big golfer. I spent many weekends at his summer home and enjoyed the summer social events, many of which were held at his country club. There was a particular group of guys who could be equated to the “popular clique” if we were still in high school. One of them included the club manager.

He was charismatic, good looking, a tiny bit curmudgeonly and “happily married” with an infant son.

One afternoon I was shopping in Boston with my good friend and we were at the Chanel counter. The woman was a talented makeup artist and even better salesperson. I left with a heavy bag of cosmetics and a lighter wallet.

Club manager called and said that his meeting in Boston ran late, and he missed his train. Would my good friend and I like to join him for dinner? After dinner, could he crash on my couch? We had a delightful time as friends do. We dropped my good friend off and went back to my apartment where I made up the guest room and said goodnight.

Use your imagination.

I was able to escape to my room and lock the door eventually with several bruises, but the next day I woke up covered in hives. I was convinced that I’d had a reaction to Chanel.

No, I truly did believe that.

Then, I drove him to the train. We barely spoke. I am not kidding.

I never mentioned it again. I was so ashamed. I had hives from that darn makeup.

It was upsetting, but I just passed it off and ignored it. I was ashamed of my naiveté in allowing this “friend” to stay with me. I never imagined that he would do what he did. What I SHOULD have wondered is why Club Manager could not book himself into the Marriott.

After the aftermath of all this trauma, I feel very lucky that I was able to get help. I have invested years in therapy, and I cannot tell you how many journals I have filled. It has been a painful, grueling road filled with hives and poor decisions, but I got out. I changed it. I shed the shame.

I met My Michael.

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(Happiness is….)

Now, despite my Weight Watcher on-and-off relationship, I do see my body as a vessel that holds a loving and compassionate soul. My Michael tells me over and over all the time how beautiful I am and how he adores me. I believe what he says although it is a conscious decision to do so.

After my son was born, I was drunk in love with him. I created a saying that has become my mantra.

“Love yourself with the heart with which you love your child.”

I wish that for survivors. I wish that for all.

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My wonderful boy!

Animation 101

It was time to register for my fall classes. I chose to opt, again, for an elective in studio art. Art was one of my great passions. I enthusiastically poured over the course selection and decided to mix it up from my usual drawing classes. Animation 101 was offered from 12-2, three days per week.

Here was my logic. First, who doesn’t love Walt Disney? Second, and more importantly, the class was held at noon. Translation: it would not interfere with my sleep schedule.

Very quickly I learned that Walt Disney had the patience of Job. Aside from watching paint dry, animation was the least fun and the most tedious art medium I could imagine. It was just another challenge to my perfectionism.

One afternoon, “Professor Animation” assigned our final project. We were required to create an animated flip-book themed “Rites of Passage.” I just wanted to pass the class. I decided a ballerina dancing and morphing into a beautiful butterfly would be easy enough. Boy, was I wrong.

You create a flip-book by subsequent images that are connected by the slightest changes. It’s a grueling and tedious process. It felt like my recurring dream in which I cannot arrive at my desired destination. It took me longer to draw this flip book than it did to write a 20-page paper on D.H. Lawrence.

Finally, my ballerina danced and twirled herself off of the dance floor and then fluttered herself right off into the sunset.

I earned my lowest grade of all time-C.

Like traditional animation, change can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. Change can be excruciatingly slow and scary. Changing is stepping into the unfamiliar.

I had much in common with that ballerina, except, I never studied ballet.

 

It just wasn’t in the cards.

I was only eight years old when “The Thief” robbed me of my innocence and chastity. At that young age, I was unaware of sex. I did not know what it was or what was happening to me. He clearly defined it for me. It was about dominance and power. And it has held such power over my decisions, specifically relationships throughout my life.

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Little Me. Age 8

My baseline for relationships was poor and defined by disregard, disrespect, and abuse. My baseline was at the level of the bottom feeders.

Let me give you an example.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I met “Finance Boyfriend” at a happening bar. He was handsome in his Armani suit surrounded by his buddies. He was loud and overly confident, drinking his Maker’s Rocks. He put the full court press on me to go on a date with him. He made me feel as if I was the most beautiful and special girl in the whole smoky place.

It did not take me long to agree.

We started out with a bang! We talked endless times per day, and we saw each other every chance we could. He told me that time was irrelevant when we were together. When he met my parents in our THIRD week of dating, he brought my mother a bouquet and my father, a devout Catholic, a book on Pope John Paul 2. He was too self-assured and too good-looking and MOST CONVINCING.

And I fell for it.

One night we dined at an expensive, hip new restaurant.  It was crowded, loud and full of the beautiful people. He ordered an expensive Cabernet and the Kobe. I stared at him adoringly. Ah. Bliss! Then the bill came, and I pulled out my credit card and I paid.

I ALWAYS PAID.

A show followed dinner. I was excited to surprise him with the best seats in the Colonial Theater. I paid more for those tickets than I did for my new fashionable outfit and “6 hour-new” auburn highlights. We settled in said best seats. He turned to me and told me that it was not working out.

He told me about Brandy.

At first, I thought he was joking. I thought that he was changing his beverage choice. Then, it hit me. Brandy.

He dumped me third-row center. Again I felt disregarded, disrespected and abused.

I remained in those seats. I did not get up and walk away from him. I sat there and just watched the show play out. I did not change frames. On stage, the men in blue pounded on drums and splashed paint.

The audience and Finance Ex-Boyfriend delighted in the show. I sat quietly. Then I went home and wept.

Another month lost. Another heartbreak.

A few weeks later, at the same loud, smoky bar, I saw Finance Ex-Boyfriend. He was with the same buddies and wearing a different Armani suit. He had his Maker’s Rocks in one hand and Brandy in the other. He introduced us. They told me how happy they were.

Get me a bucket.

Just like that ballerina, I stayed stuck in this pattern, frame after monotonous frame. It was a perpetual ride of hurt and disrespect and disappointment. Sadly, the feeling was so familiar. And that is what kept me there. It was my comfort zone.

At last, I reached the denouement.

“Other Boyfriend” and I had just returned from an indulgent Caribbean vacation where we enjoyed the sun, delicious food, and caloric tropical beverages.

One night we got into it. He predictably said something snarky, and I unpredictably retorted. He stopped, his face contorted, and he said, “Why don’t you do some sit ups you fat cow?”

I left the room and stared at the wall with eyes filled with tears.

Ten minutes later he entered the room, set a wine glass in front of me, filled it with Chardonnay and said, “I don’t want to fight, ok?” He walked out.

Shortly after that, I mustered up every bit of courage possible. I threw my shoulders back, stood tall, and I joined him in the kitchen. I poured the wine into the sink all the while staring at him.  I said, “I am done.”

I reached my breaking point. I had been at the bottom of the sea in the company of the bottom feeders for way too long. I desperately needed air. I had to surface.

I raised the white flag. It took a long time.

My best friend, Clare has always loved me unconditionally, respected me and had my back. She held my hand through all my breakups and answered calls at all hours. She was steady as a rock. It dawned on me that if I could have that steadfast and loving relationship with my dearest girlfriend, why could I not have it with a man?

I did not believe that it was in the cards.
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But then, I met My Michael.

He adores and cherishes me. He loves me for who I am and who I am not. He believes in me and shows me every day that I am a gift to him. He respects me. In my wildest dreams, I would never believe that I could marry a man like  My Michael. IMG_2735

He threw me a 48th birthday party.

Here I am showing my appreciation.

 

After My Michael and I met we tested each other over and over. We had our ups and downs, but we both knew that we were meant for each other. Finally, I emerged from my cocoon. We married. Our marriage is full of mutual kindness, unconditional love, and respect. He is my miracle. I am blessed. And he feels the same way that is wondrous in itself. I broke the cycle.

 

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And we are living happily ever after!

That’s all.