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.

IMG_3409

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.

IMG_3260

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!

IMG_3259

 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.

IMG_3258

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

1393_logo

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.

129table24-logo jpg

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!

IMG_2875

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.

IMG_3164

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.

IMG_3406

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!”

IMG_3392

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.)

march 034

“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.

lavender-1603

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

belly

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.

FullSizeRender-3

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.

005

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!

September 2005 011

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.

 

IMG_2532

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.

FullSizeRender

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.

FullSizeRender-2

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.

©JudyWestPhotography-77

Happy Mother’s Day.

That’s all.