A mother, a daughter, a sister, a teacher and a friend walked into a bar…
Okay so it was just me, it wasn’t 5 different people, or was it? And it wasn’t a bar, it was a therapist’s office. But nonetheless, it felt like some kind of bad joke all the same.
It’s funny how at age 13 life seems overwhelming and everything is big. Big stress, big emotions, big drama. And then you move out of the teenage years into adulthood.
And stress follows you. It sneaks in through the mail, in envelopes labeled “overdraft” and “late notice”. It disguises itself in different relationships until you recognize it and send it packing. It falls under the category at work as “other duties as assigned”. But it still feels big.
If you’re lucky you manage to avoid it awhile, or possibly just ignore it, or maybe even shrink it like a tumor in remission.
But then, when you’re least expecting it, stress has a way of becoming big again. Only now you know it’s not teenage angst. Now you know you can’t avoid it or ignore it. So you walk into a therapist’s office and she tells you to write. (2019)
Being forced back into the single life is not for the faint of heart. But it is full of epiphanies. Large and small.
When in a relationship you balance your world with their world. You sync your habits and habits dictate your schedule. Habits like what to fix for dinner, what day is best for laundry (unless a family member is in danger of running out of underwear), and what time to be home.
As a busy person, but newly single person, one of my first epiphanies was no one was waiting for me at home. So I could make those additional errands after work, I could linger longer in the store, I could stop for an unplanned visit with a friend. And it brought a sense of relief and freedom.
But then I would walk into my house, a welcome silence after a busy day, and realize … there was no one waiting for me. And occasionally the welcomed silence turns into unexpected loneliness.
Thankfully, new habits begin to form. New laundry schedules. New dinner menus. And new ways to quiet the silence. You surround yourself with things you love, do the things you love, and let them speak to your heart.
Growing up, I was the designated milk-smeller in our family. Because I had/have the most sensitive sense of smell. I can still tell you to this day when milk has only a few days left before it turns sour.
Smells have always been significant for me. I can’t stand cleaning the cat’s litter box, I’m incredibly picky in Bath & Bodyworks, and every time I take a big trip I wear a new scent so that every time I wear it later it reminds me of my journey. Scents and memories always go hand in hand for me.
I remember as a child my grandmother had this ginormous rosebush on her farm that stretched a long span of her barbed wire fence. It was the old fashioned kind of roses that had layers upon layers of pink puffy perfumed petals. The smell would drift inside my open window and greet me every morning. I would cut tons of blossoms off that bush and fill jelly jars and tea glasses with them. Her kitchen soon smelled of biscuits, bacon, and roses (which is a pretty awesome combination, somebody tell Bath & Body that one!).
I loved that rosebush and it always reminded me of my summers spent on grandma‘s farm. Every house I’ve ever lived in I have transplanted a start of that rosebush and every summer when I water my gardens and I smell her roses it always takes me back to my childhood.
This series of roses is dedicated to my grandmother’s gardens.
As an art educator, I spent more time making examples of student assignments than on my own artwork. I had sketchbooks of ideas. Tons of ideas. But only made time to bring them to life over holidays and school breaks. Until 2020. The summer of 2020 included a move, a divorce, and a diagnosis of cancer. Oh, and a global pandemic.
Suddenly I had an empty house, an empty schedule, a reason to stay home, and a stress level like you wouldn’t believe. So as I often do when life gets overwhelming, I turned to art. My art. Not my normal “follow these steps to create art” art.
I remembered a technique artist and teacher, Katherine Liontas-Warren had taught me in charcoal, where you drew and then fully erased it, time after time, creating transparent layers and wondered if I could create the same look in acrylic paintings.
So I painted a background in colors that made me happy. I didn’t have a real plan, or even steps planned out. I simply grabbed several brushes and just started scrubbing in color. Then I took a spray bottle of water and saturated the painting. I stepped back and watched it wash away. Rivers of paint trickled down my canvas, gathering speed as they collected more water drops and pigment, running down the legs of the easel and soaking into the ground below. Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” I felt like I finally understood. I set it in the sun to dry and walked away.
This method became a form of therapy for me. To paint boldly, loudly, wildly. Without plan or purpose. To paint in the sun outside. To music or to the sound of birds or windchimes. And then to spray them with a heavy hand and walk away for the day. Hoping for beauty. Praying for miracles. The symbolism was not lost on me.
I began to let go of plans. To release control. To pray for wisdom. To pray for a miracle. To trust the process. To watch it unfold in front of me. In my art, and in my life.
I repeated this process several times, layering light colors on dark, dark colors on light, washing them off.. Eventually a painting would awaken and speak to me, telling me what colors to add, where to put them. I never knew from the start what it would end as.
In between rounds of chemo, Poppies of Promise became the flagship into this style of painting for me. It started out as a rose garden. I planned on pinks and mounds of petals. The painting had other plans. Loud, thick strokes of red revealed poppies. I knew this painting would go on my mantle at my new house before I even knew my new home or if it even had a mantle. They were the result of trust and faith in a process I could not control. They were the promise of things to come.
And today they stand boldly, beautifully, on my mantle. A reminder to always pray for miracles and trust the process.
My therapist encouraged me to write to process life, which was spiraling out of control. And I loved control.
But it was more than I could do. I couldn’t write about it. I couldn’t control it. And time marched on.
But I’ve landed on the other side. Perhaps ready now to process. Ready now to relinquish some control (Notice how I said “some”.) Because it’s not really a relinquishment when you never really had it in the first place.
So welcome to the other side. Welcome to 2021.
A new year. A fresh start. A new me. A new life. Unfamiliar at times, (like I literally don’t recognize myself in the mirror at times, but more on that later).
But I have found the best part is making it to the other side… and not stopping.
Relieved to have passed her inquiry on our first date, Cassidy, age 6, happily moved on to other topics, deeming me “okay”.
She was always the wild child. At times I wondered what on earth did I get myself into?
She snuck a finger of icing off our wedding cake. She scratched her mom’s photo out of a locket we gave her. She ran out the front door when it was time to brush her hair for church. She stole her sister’s chocolate bar and swallowed it nearly whole before her sister could choke it out of her. She growled at me. She ran out of church screaming they were all a bunch of liars. She spit on a boy at school (to be fair, he spit on her first.)
She also gave away all of her markers to the neighbor girl who had none. She held my hand when my dog had died. She curled up on the couch beside me asking for back scratches. She sat out on a class field trip because her friend was hurt. She volunteered in the church nursery. She always made all of her own Christmas gifts.
It’s funny how over the years we became more and more alike. Our inner artists found each other and reveled in the camaraderie that was not shared with any other person in our family. She would sit at the bar in the kitchen while I would cook dinner and share stories about French or Art History class, about her latest project or something funny her friends did.
Sending her off to college was harder than her older sister. Maybe because she was the baby, the last to go. The last reason to sit at the family dinner table. The last of 12 years of play dates, activities and taxiing. But I think it was harder because, although she was (is) my daughter, she was (is) also my kindred spirit.
Quick weekend trips to visit are a blast of non-stop chatting, exploring, and creating. But I think I miss her more at the end. And while I know she’s only 4 hours or a text message away, there’s an emptiness that fills the kitchen while I cook dinner. A space where her backpack would lay spilling out books and art supplies. And that realization that she never will really come back sinks in. That era is over. Somewhere along the line, she grew up.
I’m thankful that a stepmom is a unique blend of friend and parent. Charles had always told me that. I never really believed him. Never really understood. I always felt like I’d been robbed some how. Never hearing my name pronounced as “Mom”. But now I understand. She and I are the same in so many ways. Two hearts, but one spirit.
I see them glistening in the bottom of the washing machine, clean, shiny brass bullets, fresh out of the rinse cycle, carelessly forgotten in jean pockets, again. I lean over stretching far into the depths of the drum scooping them up, not 100% sure what to do with wet, unspent bullets. I toss them into a candy dish by the dryer that holds my other laundry findings: random coins, a screw, a paper clip, and brightly colored plastic barrettes shaped like hearts and bows and ponies. Reminders of a promise fulfilled, of His plan and my purpose. (2009)
Be courageous and try to write in a way that scares you a little. -Holley Gerth
It’s funny how the blogging template suggests you introduce yourself first. I had always assumed that’s what each entry did. Reveal a little more and a little more about yourself. Like a game of “Guess Who?”
Is this person a female? Yes! Flip down all the males.
Does this person wear a hat? No. Turn down all the hat wearers.
And so the process of elimination, or illumination continue until you arrive at one person, and that must be you, right?
Yes, I’m a female. And yes, I wear many hats. Let the game begin.