Remembering Sister

Today I learned that one of my favorite teachers has passed.

I was blessed to attend an outstanding, private, all-girls high school; Ursuline Academy in Dedham, Massachusetts.

I have referenced my school in several posts, including “Perfectionista!”  I specifically talk about Sister Ursula (Sister)in my post, “eye lock

In “eye lock,” Sister Ursula was the nurturing, caring and perceptive teacher who clearly saw through my “stiff-upper-lip-ish-ness” in homeroom on that cold December day. It was the day before my nana died.

As mothers, we have an inherent capacity to identify and detect our children’s needs, fear, sorrow and happiness. We know when something is off with our kids. We can FEEL it.

Sister Ursula was not a biological mother, but I observed on many occasions her innate ability to express that maternal love to her students especially when they were troubled. She extended her love and genuine warmth without appeal. She just knew what to do.

She did this for me, and I will never forget it.  She responded to her maternal sense toward me in her homeroom, first period,  in Latin 2.

It was the day before my nana died. I knew it was imminent. Although I kept my fear and sadness it to myself (without success, apparently,) she sensed my sorrow and despair within the first minutes of class.

After our opening prayer, she paused, looked at me with her head tilted in compassion and asked, “Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I burst into tears. I sobbed in her embrace, and she just held me and comforted me as mothers do. My classmates looked on silently and respectfully with kindness and compassion. I told her that Nana was not expected to live.

That was correct. She died the next day.

Last May, I attended my 3oth high school reunion which, in itself, is gross and mean and hurts my feelings. Yes, thirty.

Despite the sparse attendance from our class, there was a remarkable connection between us. It was as if we had not lost a moment.  Ursuline is a special and unique school whose students have an uncanny bond as sisters. It is a bond which transcends time and does not discriminate concerning graduating year.

Sister Ursula, along with numerous other teachers, both religious and lay, made our experience one of learning, love of learning and just plain love.

I struggled immensely in my formative high school years. I was privately coping with repeated sexual abuse by my grandfather, Nana’s husband. I kept it a secret from my school. Despite that and all my sadness, my school community made me feel loved.

So, in close, here is my testimonial to this remarkable lady.

What a loss to our Ursuline community. Sister Ursula was a dynamic woman whom I will never forget. She was an inspirational and impassioned person. Sister went to great lengths to better our learning with her zeal and candor. She was a lover of art, humanities, sharing her knowledge and being in community.

She had MOXIE.

I will forever remember her for her blessed gift of shining a light on the uniqueness and beauty of each of her students.

One of the many remarkable things she did was to collect a stone from the beach each summer for every one of her homeroom students. She painted it uniquely for each young woman and gifted it on the student’s birthday. On one side she painted a relevant quote. On the other, she painted a picture

Who does that?

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I wish that all Ursuline girls had the wonderful gift of Sister. And for those of us who were blessed enough to know her, let her spirit live on in all of us.

Rest in Peace, Sister. Love to you.

 

That’s All.

 

 

 

HAPPY Officer Paul-IVERSARY!

It has been one year this weekend, friends.

One year has passed since My Laura and I laid eyes on each other after a thirty-five-year separation. A separation over which we had no choice.

One year has passed since I stood on the train station platform with my heart beating like crazy waiting for her to step off the car so I could hug her again.

One year has passed since she and I curled up in front of a roaring fire with tea and warm blankets and finally found all of those missing pieces to the puzzles of our lives.

One year has passed since we sported our white “Invincible” coats and stood camera ready for My Michael to capture a moment we would never forget.

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One year has passed since we ventured to Carlisle to find his grave.

One year has passed since I hurled behind a dumpster.

One year since we met Officer Paul Smith, our hero.

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Everybody’s hero.

One year since we learned that there was, at least, one other little girl he abused.

One year has passed since we held her momma and cried together.

And from that one year that has passed to this very moment

THOUSANDS have said, “ME TOO!”  

We founded Say It, Survivor. 

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THANK YOU TO ALL WHO HAVE BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN HELPING US AND OTHERS.

Especially-

Officer Paul Smith

Chief Fisher

The beautiful girl’s Momma

Susan Elsbree

Michael Ross

S.I, Rosenbaum

Brian Stauffer

MY MICHEL

My children

My Dearest Clare, who has been my closest pal since age 14 who knew my secret from the start

Friends, family and everybody has read Marymorphosis, shared, offered kindness and love

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That’s all.

Honey, I’m Good

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Riding horseback in Ireland. Bucket list- another check!

 

Honey, I’m good.

I have written about abuse, trauma, bullying and how society is so skewed. I have written of the unfairness of things. I have written about love.

Love is my favorite.

Bad things happen.  And we get to grieve.  We have a right to our reactions and our feelings no matter how they play out.  No one gets a say in how we manage. No one gets a vote on how we survive.

The aftermath of tragedy and trauma is stifling. The effects are physical, psychological and social, at least.

The result of my sexual abuse smothered me. Living with it is much like being suffocated by a pillow. For years, I struggled to breathe.  I could gasp, and that kept me going.  It was no way to live.

I just could not get enough air.

My abuse did a tattoo on me.  It wormed its way into the deepest part of me and, like a parasite devoured me.  The worse I felt, the more I fed it.

And much like metastasized cancer this malady took over.

Finally, I decided that feeling broken had to stop. I needed a new baseline.

We have the right and responsibility to come up for air and take charge of our lives and reclaim our joy.

I made a conscious decision, a conscious commitment to put the kibosh on low self-worth, anxiety, and sorrow parasitically existing in my soul. And Honey, that took YEARS. And I am still at it.

I am not fully there yet. I know that it is not possible to squeegee my past so that my screen is clean. But I can squeegee my mirror so that I get a clearer picture of myself, a picture that is not smeared and muddled.

I have said before that there is great power in vulnerability.  One may think that vulnerability is a weakness. It is nothing of the sort. Quite to the contrary.

Vulnerability takes strength. It takes courage, and it takes Moxie.

My cousin, Laura and I have recently co-founded Say It, Survivor (sayitsurvivor.com,) an organization committed to shedding a light on sexual abuse, helping other survivors to stand firmly in their stories and putting an end to this horrible epidemic.

We have had an overwhelming onslaught of love and support.  We have heard from thousands all over the world; People are speaking up, reclaiming themselves and joining our bandwagon. It is awesome.

Often there is the predictable reaction when I share my story. Folks are uncomfortable (understandable,) profusely sorry and express pity.

Another reaction that I have heard more often than not is, “But you are so NORMAL!”  That one makes me chuckle.

But Folks, there is no pity-party happening, At all. Not even a smidge of a pity party.

Then, there is the other side of the peanut gallery. Brace yourself.

There are haters. There are those who believe that we are trying to attract attention to ourselves. These are the people who gaff and roll their eyes and call us sensationalists. There are those who think that this is self-serving. There are those who are aghast that we would bear such “private” information about our past.

“Private.”  That is why we are doing this. We are trying to tell our private stories and encourage others to do so. Privacy equates to secrecy and that in turn evokes shame.

Shame. That is the cancer, the malady I am talking about.

There are people with whom I was close. Friends who I kept for years. I have not heard from them.  That is ok. For some, it is too painful and may stir up their emotions or past. I understand and continue to send love to them. I hope they heal if they have not already.

For some, it is not a “nice” topic.

Some, believe it or not, are embarrassed by me. And that is all good information.

Everyone has the right to their opinions and feelings. I can no sooner judge other’s opinion of me personally or of my charge. I am an activist and people are not going to like me or what I am doing.

That’s not going to change.

I am sad for people who have that perspective.  It must be painful to live with a perspective like that.

I have compassion for them.

In my painful past, where I was suffering from parasitic self-loathing and insecurity I would be defensive and hurt and embarrassed over this.

Laura and I  did not choreograph our dance. It was improvisational.  We did not premeditate what happened at the Carlisle Police Station on January 18. My car turned itself into that parking lot.

Our story is not exceptional nor is it unique. We are not heroes. We are just two women who decided to take charge and find peace in telling our stories to anyone who would listen, And Officer Paul Smith did just that.

Our charge is not self-serving. We have plainly decided to do what I said. We decided to take charge and shake it up like a snow globe.

And every serendipitous turn, every co-incidence were God moments. We are not thankful for our abuse. Not at all. But we also refuse to stay mired in it. We refuse to be victims.

In Say It, Survivor we are working for a greater good. It is healing and empowering to help others.

“Honey, I’m Good.”

Thank you for your kindness and compassion and love. Thank you for the outpouring of support. Thank you for spreading the word. Thank you for holding hands with Say It, Survivor.

But All, please don’t view me broken because quite to the contrary I am better than ever. I am empowered and charged up and ready to take this on.  I am privileged and honored for those who have faith and put their trust in us.

What a privilege.

There is something powerful, cathartic and joyful in putting one’s pain to work. And  ill-wishers shall be ill-wishers.

And I will bear witness to others with kindness, compassion and love.

Love is my favorite.

Let’s change the world, Friends.

 

That’s all.

 

Empty Seats

(The draft of this piece was inadvertently published earlier today. And the draft was tragic. Don’t worry, I have submitted a strongly worded letter to WordPress. Hopefully, they will change their program so that the next time I see something sparkly I will not hit the wrong button and send an unfinished piece out to the world. EESH.)

It has been fourteen years.

It seems so hard to believe that we have fallen on the fourteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.  Do you remember where you were fourteen years ago today? What were you doing? Do you remember how you learned that The United States of America was terrorized?

I was in my car in downtown Boston, driving to my first appointment of the day which was with my business consultant.  I heard that the first tower had been hit.  The general consensus at that moment was that it was an “accident.” It was a small plane which crashed- a pilot’s error.

My office manager called me frantically.  She asked if we could close the office.  I remember my consultant saying that things happen. Accidents happen. That we need to just keep going and keep focusing on work. We were still under the impression that the first tower incident was an accident.

Then, my consultant’s partner interrupted our meeting.  He informed us that the second tower had been hit.  His daughter and her two best friends worked on the upper floors of the second tower.

This was no accident.

Then, we all just went home.

I lived a half mile from the location of my meeting and it took me over two hours to drive home. Two hours.  The city was in gridlock. There was no cell coverage. People looked at each other as if asking for answers. But in those moments, there were none.

We were scared. But can you imagine how terrified those directly affected were? And how horrific it must have been to witness? And what about those who fought to save those suffering and wounded? And how about all the people: parents, children, spouses, friends, who were desperately trying to locate their loved ones?

How are the survivors remembering today? How do they cope with their personal tragedies around what happened fourteen years ago?

I knew of many people who were killed on September 11, 2001: My hometown pastor, my friend’s step-grandmother, my babysitter’s best friend, my client’s fiance.

My friend, Trudy.  She and I worked closely together when we were in Student Congress in college. Trudy who was the firecracker, the joyful, adorable and smart class officer.

I knew a bride to be who was to be married on the following Saturday, September 15. Her groom worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. She was working on the seating arrangement and did not know where to place the sixty-five guests that were unaccounted for during those days leading up to her wedding.

Those seats remained empty.

The place cards served as a memorial.

I was seven months pregnant watching that footage.  All I could think of was that I was about to bring a child into this world.  I had a great career and a home. I had a good family. I was faithful. My friends were like gold. My life was good.

But this horror was happening in our homeland. The one into which my child, in two short months, would be born. The land of the free and the home of the brave.

As a mother-to-be, I had many worries. I worried about diaper changing and sleepless nights. Would he have ten fingers and ten toes? Until that time, I did not worry about whether my workplace was safe, however. I did not worry about bombs destroying innocent lives.

I did not tend to worry about my daily general safety.

Yet, there are so many countries where expectant mothers do worry about safety daily. Just like they worry about those diapers getting changed or the fact that they have not slept more than three hours per night in months.

What happened on September 11 changed America.

Americans are not immune to the threats of terrorism, of evil and that those do not simply happen in foreign lands.

Years later I took my five-year-old child to a parade commemorating the five-year anniversary of 9/11. He asked about it; what happened. And I told him.

And telling him the evil truth hurt.

Explaining that evil to my child was like teaching him all the curses and swears I could think of and letting those words swirl in his head- uncensored. It was if I was if I was giving him evil fodder. I wished I could protect him.

Life is beautiful. But bad things happen. There are no two ways about it.

We remember what happened.

We remember the heroes.

We remember those whose lives were lost

And those seats will never be filled. By anyone. Ever.

That’s all

Join Laura and me!

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My cousin, Laura, and I are looking for Massachusetts area survivors of sexual abuse who are interested in participating in a half-day workshop that we are offering on September 25. The workshop will take place in the 495 area, convenient to routes 3, 128, 95,93 and the Mass Pike.

This event is free of charge and space is limited.

To register, please contact me at marymorphosis@gmail.com

That’s all.

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I was 15 years old and in my freshman year at Ursuline Academy. My home room teacher was Sr. Ursula. She also happened to be my Latin teacher. I loved her.

But I did not love Latin.

Sr. Ursula took attendance on one cold and dreary December morning. When I uncharacteristically mumbled a quietly “here,” she looked up at me, paused and walked to my desk. She took me in her arms and after a few moments she asked,

“Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I fell apart.

Nana had suffered a stroke the evening before.

Nana was on life support. My mother and her siblings and spouses gathered around her hospital bed. My brother and I were the oldest of her seven grandchildren and the only grandchildren present.

My mother spoke to Nana as if she were conscious. Mom encouraged my brother and me to do the same.

I did as told. I prattled to Nana about my cheerleading practice that I’d had earlier that day. I told her I did well on my math test. I couldn’t think of anything else to say as she laid peacefully with the ventilator doing its job.

I shifted from one foot to the other. My brother and I continued to catch eyes. We knew it did not look good.

Nana passed away the next day.

My Nana was a kind and special lady. She touched many lives. It was not surprising to see such an outpouring of people gather to offer their condolences at her wake.

But.

It was disarmingly surprising to look up and see my three cousins standing in that funeral parlor clutching their mother, my Aunt Betty.

“Surprising” is the understatement of the century.

I am referring to The Aunt Betty. The Aunt Betty who called my grandfather out on sexually abusing my cousins. The one who ensured that her children would never, ever have to see that monster again.

That one.

There in the parlor stood an incredibly brave woman embracing her three beautiful daughters as if she were their coat of armor.

The moment the family noticed her, the energy in that room filled with disdain. In their eyes, she was repugnant. The divorce of my uncle and her was atrocious. But that wasn’t the real reason they loathed her.

She was the one who exposed our grandfather for sexually abusing two of her daughters.

The girls looked horrified, frightened and as if they were trying to melt into their mother. Aunt Betty held them tightly. Very tightly. So much so that the four of them looked like one.

My eldest cousin, with eyes, averted to the floor, buried herself into my aunt’s left arm. My youngest cousin, only waist-high to her, buried her face into her mother’s hip.

Then, there was Laura. Laura leaned into her mother’s embrace with her left leg planted on the floor, and her right crossed behind it.

At that moment, Laura and I locked eyes.

She smirked. Not a mischievous smirk, Not a disingenuous smirk or glib smirk.

It was the same smirk that both of us wore in our school photos that were taken around the time we were being abused by Grandpa.

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It was a knowing smirk.

Those moments were profoundly impactful. She and I connected on a very intense level. I will never, ever forget it.

There stood a very brave woman. She dauntlessly brought her girls to say goodbye to their Nana, whom they loved. That took such strength in a room filled with such disdain.

But she did it.

Just as she had the courage to stand up for her daughters.

She had guts. She had gumption. She had MOXIE.

That was the last time I saw Laura. We never spoke the words of our abuse to one another.

But that look, that eye lock, said it all.

And 35 years later we have made up for time. We face it. We talk about it. We compare notes and share similar stories of how our lives have played out.

We continue to heal together.

That was the connection that my cousin Laura and I always had growing up together. We understood each other. We knew each other. And sadly, tragically, even, we lost many years.

Reuniting with her has been a blessing. It has been easy. And you know what? Our reunion feels like slipping into my favorite and most loved slippers.

That’s all.

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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