Throwing Rocks

One beautiful summer morning my brother and I fetched our good friend, Steven, who lived across the street.  We wanted to play. All of us were around 6-7 years of age.

I had a brilliant idea. I suggested we stand on either side of our street, Steven on one side and big brother and I on the other.

The charge was to demonstrate our 7-year-old strength, agility, and skill by throwing rocks OVER passing cars.

We were talented. We were accurate. We were well equipped to handle the challenge.  That was until the ’73 White Camaro drove by.

We calculated, we paused then I hurled that rock. But something happened.The rock neglected to clear the roof of the car. It failed me.

That damn rock whaled itself right into the driver’s side panel.

SCREEEETTTCH!

WHOA.

A thin, stylish young woman  with a large bouffant hairdo, wearing a white mini-dress and white patent leather clunky sandals got out of the car and pointed her long pink pearly fingernail at us and just-

Screamed.

We were petrified. We ran. Big Brother and I hid underneath sofa in our den. The one that had the burlap cushions and the black wood frame with swirls and little pears painted on it.

We hung out with the dust bunnies ’till mom found us. I confessed. She was angry and stern.

But later I heard her on our yellow rotary phone in the kitchen telling our neighbor, Mrs. Nichols what happened.  Mom did not seem so angry, after all.

Sometimes, we think that we have what it takes. We feel overzealous.   But our actions can be destructive even with the best of intentions. Sometimes we think we are a lot stronger than we actually are.

As grown ups, it is hard to keep company with dust bunnies under a retro couch.

I have had my moments of feeling like Helen Reddy. Other times I want to melt away.  I want to quit. And quitting is embarrassing. Quitting requires humility especially when you quit while you are ahead.

I had a crush on my banker.  There was idle prattle each day as I executed my official business banking activity. We learned that we both shared an interest in fitness. Soon after, I learned that he was on some serious, competitive Rugby team. G. Q. had just done a photo shoot of his team all dirty with “”cauliflower” ears.  But I did not know that when I agreed to go on a running date with him.

He invited me to go for a run along Boston’s Esplanade. “SURE!” an overenthusiastic Mary replied. Off we went me wearing my cute lavender/purple matching lycra running “outfit.”  He chatted. I panted

I thought, “How freaking long is this date (strike that) RUN going to last????”

I surrendered myself to a bench. He jogged in place looking puzzled.   Date over.

New bank.

I thought I was invincible. I wanted to impress him. I committed to a “running date” with an elite athlete and believed that I could keep up with him.  I bit off WAY more than I could chew.

And in trying to impress him, in attempting to be someone who I was not, I ended up feeling embarrassed. I did not end up with a second date, either. But that is another story.

That run was much like that rock that slammed into the Camaro.  I did not expect that outcome.  I was humbled. But I went to meet my friends for a beer after that humiliating date instead of hanging out under the couch. That was an uptick.

My girlfriends talked me off the ledge.

Let me share an example of my poor judgment that turned out with a positive twist.

I knew my first husband for many years.  We were acquaintances living in the same Boston neighborhood.  He was attractive and charming.  Over the years, our friendship grew and eventually we started dating.

Our relationship seemed perfect.  We were in the throws of early infatuation then puppy love.  It all seemed just ideal and fulfilling and meant to be, and I was over the moon!

Before long we were saying the L word. Within a year, we were engaged and together we bought a condo in Boston’s Back Bay.

Moving in together was an eye opener.

Our idealistic relationship became real and raw and hard.  What seemed perfect went sour.  I was unhappy. As was he.

We started out happy and loving and kind to one another.  Once the ring was placed on my finger, the tide changed.

Jealousy became poison.  I could not defend myself against crimes I did not commit. We were in constant drama and turmoil.

My stomach was in knots all the time.

We were co-dependent.  It was not good.

As a perfectionist, failure was not an option.  I could fix it. I could make him love me if I just loved him BEST and BETTER. I could teach him not to be unjustifiably jealous.

I could change him. I knew it.

All you need is love, right?

I took off my engagement ring about two months before we got married. When I learned that I was pregnant just ten weeks before our wedding, I saw it as a sign and put the ring back on my finger.

I decided that  I had enough love to save US.  I was certain that we would live happily ever after.  We would have a beautiful, perfect life with our condo in the Back Bay and our baby.

Boy was I wrong.

Three days before we said, “We do” we had our first appointment with the OB.  It was not good.  There was no heartbeat. I  miscarried.

His family was arriving from Ireland while I was in the hospital.  There was no turning back. Or so I thought.

I think he would agree that we both should have legged it from that altar.

A year later I was pregnant and nine months later had a gorgeous boy. Blessed.

But my husband and I never made it.  It was a struggle from the start. It was a hard six years.  It ended. But we had our joy, our son, which made it all worthwhile.

Here is the takeaway.  We all aspire. We have the best of intentions. But you know what? Things do not always go as planned.

We are not always capable of what we think. And that is a beautiful thing, kids!

At the end of the day, that just says that we have a high opinion of our power. Of what we are capable.

It is ok if you cannot hurl that rock over the Camaro.  The part to focus on is that you believed in yourself. You took the chance. You look back and see that your choice may not have been a wise one, but you lived through it.

And eventually, Sugar, you crawl out from under that couch, wipe off the dust bunnies and say, “Onward!”

Failure is an option.

And the strength to accept it, accept yourself as a human being with the delightful ability to be less than perfect is just, well, perfect.

Now, shake things up, honey, and have some fun.  And please, for the love of Pete, quit beating yourself up.  We can’t always clear the Camaro with a huge rock.

That’s all.

eye lock

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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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.

 

“Perfectionista!”

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“Hi! My name is Mary and I am a perfectionist.”

(Others in unison) “Hi, Mary!”

Being a perfectionist is a thankless addiction. That is because you can never truly succeed at it. Think about it. You can be a very successful alcoholic, drug addict, compulsive gambler, under eater, over-eater, shoplifter (well, that is debatable.) You get the picture. Try as you might, becoming a successful perfectionist is just, well, perfectly impossible.

Life’s little twists and turns have an irritating tendency of getting in the way of living perfectly. Just when you are on your way with a spring in your step, swinging your arms with great determination, whammo! You fall flat on your face. Owie.

I have strived to ensure that the world sees me as someone who is significantly pulled together, juggling a career, a home, getting the kids to all their activities and baking a batch of cookies at the end of long day.  You know, the one who never, ever, has a snack stuck in her teeth? Her. Despite my best efforts,  I have been derailed on many occasions while life chugs on. How dare you, life?

I am finally at a place where I am reasonably comfortable in my skin and accept that I am indeed enough and that “said skin” does not look the same as it once did.  Writing that feels like a relief.

Now, I can openly talk about my new job at home taking care of my loving family, waiting for the Geek Squad, organizing the junk drawer that refuses to close and picking up my dog’s doo doo in the back yard. Now, I don’t need the sexy, successful career to define me as it did in the past. I define me. Furthermore, my dress size and my self-worth are measured on very, very different scales. And I don’t floss. There. I said it.

There are days when I make a pork tenderloin for a post-op neighbor, throw a quarter in a stranger’s flashing meter and patiently listen to an elderly lady in line at the registry talk (slowly and in great detail)about her 17 grandchildren. On those days, I feel like a breath of fresh air.

Then, I have the days when I become impatient with the customer in front of me for chatting to the clerk about her guinea pig’s asthma, don’t allow someone to pull out in front of me or I beat myself up because it’s a fat pants day. Those are the days that I feel like, well, bad breath.

It is so much easier to accept that I am imperfect. I will share a story with you of how the pursuit of perfection almost killed me.

I was a senior in high school and felt as if my world was out of control.  To be specific, it was I who was out of control. The negative self-prattling in my head had me convinced that I was bad,  unlovable and on my own. My sexual abuse robbed me of many things including my self-love and respect, security.  I was filled with doubt and confusion and self-loathing. I was supposed to be able to trust Grandpa! As a little girl, I was rotting inside. And I was so ashamed. My self-worth was paper-thin. Don’t confuse self-esteem with self-worth.  They are two different animals.

Self-esteem comes from the confidence in one’s ability to achieve a visible and remarkable accomplishment,  outside ourselves.  That kept me alive. I could accomplish superficial things like good grades, good “high hair” and singing “We Got the Beat” in a Belinda Carlisle-ish way.

Au contraire, self-worth comes from a feeling within, a feeling of believing in oneself.  Within, I felt like that dog doo previously mentioned. Looking within meant shining a floodlight on all my secrets.  I could not tell my secrets to myself, let alone to anybody else. So I put my sight on that OUTSIDE accomplishment. I could trick everyone by giving the impression of being in high self-esteem. And so I did.

I was not overweight, but I decided that I wanted to lose weight.  Friends thought that I was a little lulu, but I convinced them that my plaid uniform skirt was getting snug.  I started dieting and learned pretty quickly that I was really good at it.  For the first time,  I was in control of something: food.  Weight loss was an endorphin, and I became a junkie. The more weight I lost, the better I felt and the more I wanted to lose.

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I remember my dad saying to me with a big smile one day, “Skinny Minnie!” I was SO PROUD of myself.  It was another motivation me to kept going.  Finally, I was skin and bones. My family and friends and teachers noticed and were gently suggesting in what felt like an adamant way that I had gone overboard. I was fine! Instead of listening I started layering. Layering allows you to be skinny and keep it a secret.

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“Layering”

(I was wearing two pairs of pants and, at least, three sweaters- effective!)

My mom took me to the doctor because I had become so thin that I had not had a period in over a year, and I started to get baby chick fuzz all over my skin. The mirror reflected an 103 pound,  5′ 7″ 17-year-old.  But all I could think of was that I looked so FAT. Oddly, that morning I  hit my head on the piano when I fainted from hunger.

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What does it take to be perfect? Everything. And it can even take your life. But Sugar, you will never, ever pull into that station because it just does not exist. I was eventually able to get control of my anorexia and recover from it.  It did not kill me, but it did not make me stronger, either.

Perfection is a hopeless aspiration, and the pursuit of it manifests itself in so many different ways.  This was one of the many ways I tried to get there, but I didn’t and I never will, and I am finally ok with that. While I am still very conscious of my weight today, I know how to keep a balance and live a healthy life that includes buffalo wings and pizza.

So, that is that.

“Hi! My name is Mary and I am a recovering perfectionist.”

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That’s all.