I’m at that Age

dandelionI’m at that age, fifty-one as of yesterday, where two main things are in play. First, I gained a lot of perspective. I’ve been through so many situations, met so many people, and have failed more times than I can count, that I finally get it. I understand life, and what we’re supposed to do, and how I can maneuver through it in a relatively peaceful existence, helping others find peace, steering clear of conflict. I’ve managed to gain the confidence needed to push away people who upset me, be it those I’m close to, or those on social media whose sole purpose seems to be crying out at the injustices of the world. I’m a glass half full type, and will always see humanity and the U.S. and the world at large, as inhabited by good people with good intentions. And I try to push that agenda: be nice. I’m in a good place. A happy place. Perspective has a lot to do with it but it’s also where my choices have landed me. I feel like I’m coasting, drifting along happy on the river of life, a leaf on its waters, enjoying the sun’s warmth, and the ebb and flow of the current.

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The second thing that I am encountering, is that at fifty-one I’m at the age where people around me are dying. In February my ex mother-in-law passed away. A couple of weeks ago my ex father-in-law followed suit. He’d been sick for sometime but still. They were only on their seventies which is not old, and not too far fifty-one. A couple of months ago I was shocked and saddened to discover one of my best friends from middle and high school, and early twenties, died suddenly. I don’t know how, or what happened but her husband passed just a year before and she left behind a daughter Ivy’s age and another in high school. Others I know have been diagnosed with cancer, others have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, pre-diabetes. Or all those things. It’s scary knowing that at this juncture, the people I know now may not be here forever.

Lots of people, most probably, have experienced death in loved ones. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid it mostly except for grandparents and a few others. My parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends…they’re all still here. The people who have passed in the last year, the in-laws and a friend of ours in his seventies had long-term health issues made worse or caused by smoking. But when my high school friend passed away, a woman just a few months older than me, it was a shock. That could be me. Could be any of us.

At fifty-one, though I’m healthy, I feel like any day could be the last day. I’m not being maudlin, just realistic. I could have choked to death on a piece of candy as a young child, or been electrocuted, but someone saved me. I could have died in a head on collision on the freeway at twenty-three, but even with no seatbelts I walked away with chipped teeth. With all the shootings and car accidents and illnesses, on the one hand I am grateful every day to have another day to cruise down the river and enjoy the sunshine. On the other hand, I know I don’t have forever.

I think Ryan went through something like this when he turned fifty-five. That was his age of reckoning. We met up with a friend recently who said because she and her husband didn’t have kids, they wondered what to do with all their expensive books when they someday passed. At twenty and thirty and forty years old, you’re in acquisition mode. Filling your life with things that bring you joy. And then you get here and start wondering what will happen to everything when you go, and you start thinking maybe you can stop adding more stuff and start taking away, or at the very least, accept that when you go, others may not treasure your treasures the way you did.

It may seem like I’m writing this, terrified of death, or the end, or questioning what it all meant. Not at all. I really like life. I’ve always liked it but it’s only the last year or two that it’s…dare I say, easy. Seamless.

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When I used to picture how I’d end up, it was like this. I’ve got a loving partner, a wonderful daughter, good, genuine friends, a cozy house, a reliable car, a job that I miss doing when I’m on vacation, a colorful yard filled with bright greens and reds and yellows that epitomize vibrancy and life.

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My dogs and old cat gather around for their handfuls of heart and blood pressure and dementia pills. But they too are filled with love and life and not thinking of when it’ll be over, just really excited every day that they get to wake up and run around and cuddle. It’s a simple and a good philosophy. When I was younger, I was always questioning everything, digging deep into what was really there, what could happen. Now I see life with all its beauty, as it is. Today.

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You can look at a garden and see wildflowers swaying in the wind, picturing gophers below the surface chomping grass to feed their families, and worms, spiders, and caterpillars all cohabitating, all part of the process that makes the garden. You can smell the flowers and listen to the buzzing of the bees. You can touch the velvety smooth petals, and feel the powdery dirt between your toes. The sky is bright blue and the blazing sun warms you, just enough. And you can be thankful that you get to be a part of it all, that you are lucky enough to be immersed in such a perfect existence.

Or you can obsess about why others don’t think like you, or worship the same God/god or vote the same way, or discipline their children the same or eat meat or not eat meat. And you can tear yourself apart with anger at how different everyone is from you, and agonize over what will happen if everyone isn’t like you, if they choose other paths or love differently.

I choose option one. To just live as I am, in the company of others who are not like I am. To seek peace and those who are peaceful, or those who strive for peace.

At fifty-one, I appreciate every moment, every raindrop, every ant in the cat food, every gopher hole, and artist who has tried and succeeded or tried and failed because it’s all part of life. And this life is a good one. I hope I get a lot more years, and that those around me do too. But mostly I hope that everyone around me can see that indeed, it is a wonderful world, that time must be cherished, and that the best we can do is to see the beauty in everything. Ivy has a tattoo that says Dwell on the beauty of life. There’s no simpler way to say it than that. Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them. Thank you, Marcus Aurelius, and thank you to the universe for giving me another year.

Happy birthday to me,

Carly G.

Bringing the Smurfs Home

smurf2The summer before fifth grade, my stepdad and the beagle he’d taken with him in the split, picked up my mother, brother, and I and whisked us off to a new apartment in a new town.  After a year of separation, of living in my grandparents’ living room, we were going to be a family again. With my child’s eyes, I saw nothing but hope and promise.

By sixth or seventh grade, my parents’ relationship started backsliding. As I wrack my brain, I can’t recall anything being unpleasant. It was all flowers and rainbows.  Except in reality, a fuzzy reality that only appears to me in tiny unpleasant, out-of-sequence images, it was not as Leave it to Beaver as I like to think. It wasn’t horrible, the way some childhoods are, but there were issues that in retrospect were not as well hidden as my mother would have liked.

These not-well-hidden issues manifested in stress illnesses in me. I had headaches and bad stomachaches all the time and was always missing school, going into Boston to see one specialist or another. My parents tried to make the visits fun, and all these years later, one of my strongest and happiest memories was the day we went to the Boston Common after one of the appointments. There was a man feeding pigeons and they hopped up on him. I was impressed but Dad said it was just the peanuts, and if I sat very still and gave them nuts, they’d jump on me too. Pictures in an album of a chubby twelve-year-old with frizzy hair and a rugby shirt, with her arms outstretched, pigeons lined up on her arms and hands, remind me that it actually happened. That day was magical.

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There are a lot of random vignettes from those days: playing cribbage and Scrabble with my parents, singing in the school choir and school plays, playing with friends.  But none of it feels real. I could just as easily have watched a movie about a neurotic, over-imaginative little girl living in an apartment in the 80s and my mind wouldn’t know the difference.

There were a select few bad things, all jumbled together in a blur: the time the neighbor boy killed a garter snake in front of me for no reason. The night my teen brother and some friends tried to steal beer off a train and he fell and broke his ankle. Or how he later abruptly went to live in upstate New York with my bio Dad and stepmother and stepsister. It’s all hazy. Did I miss him? Did my mother miss him? I’m sure she did but when I try to recollect how it really was there’s just…nothing. Only snapshot images of certain, unrelated days.

When my stepdad would go out until the wee hours of the morning, and come back drunk (so claimed my mother years later), and I’d hear those angry shout whispers through the wall that she was so good at, as she rode him over the rails for being out AGAIN, all I could think about was that when I got up in the morning there would be a new Smurf on the kitchen table for me. They used to sell them at Cumberland Farms back then. I didn’t care about the yelling, or feeling sick all the time, or being chubby, or not knowing if my brother was coming back or not. I just cared about the Smurfs. I got the Cupid for Valentine’s Day, and Smurfette, and so many I can’t even remember. The Smurfs were my favorite thing in the whole world and the most concrete part of my entire childhood, next to my beagle.

Then in what felt like days but was actually several years, life changed dramatically, the details of which I’ve talked about at length in this blog. Before I knew it, I was in high school. Everything was different. Except for living in the same apartment, and still being a neurotic, over-imaginative girl with frizzy hair, it was a night and day contrast. When I was a Junior in high school and was dating the boy from Maine, aka my first love, we used to visit his family. He had a little sister who lived up there. She was eleven and adorable. She and her family didn’t have a lot of money, or space, and she didn’t have many toys. At that point in my life, I was so far removed from my childhood and the man who brought me Smurfs, that I didn’t have any attachment to them anymore. Truthfully, I didn’t have attachment to much of anything and drifted through most of those years looking forward to a future phase in my life that would be pleasant and easy.

So, the next time we went up to Maine I took the shoebox of Smurfs who’d gotten me through so much, and gave them to her. She was surprised and happy, and I hoped more than anything they’d bring her the same level of joy they had once brought me.

Over the years, as I got older, I often thought of my box of Smurfs and how I wish I’d kept them. Realistically, Mean Guy probably would have thrown them out and I’m still glad that little girl got them. I like to think she loved them as much as I did.

Now that I’ve arrived at that place I dreamt of, where things are finally pleasant and easy, that one loss nags at me. As an adult, I’ve rebought a few things that I lost over time, like a pop-up book about kids in a haunted house I had in fourth grade, or The Witchmobile book which I LOVED as a small child. Ryan has bought me many items from my past, like the Merlin electric toy. A few years back, McDonald’s had Smurfs and I bought a few Happy Meals to get them. Those Smurfs are on my desk at work. Unless I spend a lot of money though and go to a specialty store or eBay, I won’t get enough to fill that empty Smurf hole in my heart.

Until now.

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Last night I was on Facebook’s local shopping page and a woman posted “20+ Smurfs, $15.” There were two Ziplock bags of Smurfs and my heart leapt. She’d JUST posted so I sent her a message immediately. Rapid fire and manic because I was so excited. “I can be there in twenty-five minutes.” She said tomorrow would be better and I planned to go see her on the way home from the office. Today, I met her and got my Smurfs.

Maybe it’s silly to think that two bags of blue plastic from a stranger in Pacoima will replace everything that the “bad years” took away. That setting them up on an already crowded living room shelf and playing with them and staring at them with utter joy will be the last thing needed to make me complete. But somehow, I think it will. I have worked hard to set my life up just right, and mostly it’s all flowers and rainbows, to the level that people probably think I’m high all the time because no one can be that sunny.  But those darn tangible symbols of the adolescent Carly’s love for her father have haunted me.

Everyone arrives at adulthood with a least a few rips in their emotional fabric, tears that heal and scar over. We can’t go back and fix whatever happened but sometimes applying happy patches to the holes makes all the difference. Material things don’t matter, and at the end of the day, no one really needs “stuff.” But this once, stuff matters quite a bit, to me, still a neurotic, over-imaginative girl with frizzy hair.

Happy Smurfing,

Carly G

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What Could Have Been

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Ivy sent me a meme the other day. It was in block colorful letters and said “Remember that once you dreamed of being where you are now.” This made me smile. There’s something dreamlike about how our lives have turned out. Ivy said she feels the same and suggested looking at my hands to make sure I’m awake. That’s the telltale test which seems to have replaced “pinch yourself.”

It’s not that we have perfect lives. My job entails a ton of brain activity, and hot flashes and too many pets in the bed rob me of a good night’s sleep. I switch between being exhausted and overly energetic. I’m overweight and drowning in credit card and student loan debt. My Five-Year, Debt-Free plan keeps getting extended. The animals are old, most of them, and very costly. Ivy has chronic pain and a future filled with medical uncertainties. Will her disease progress? Will she have a stroke, or need a new kidney? Will her future baby inherit her disease? What if she never lands a high-paying job that will allow me to stop paying her bills?

But beneath all those external situations and possibilities, there’s a tangible sense that we belong exactly where we are, a certainty that’s plunked us into an unwavering state of contentment.

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Opportunities are appearing and falling into place with inexplicable swiftness.  I’m writing fiction again after a hiatus of what feels like a year. Ryan’s friend, now my friend, Debbie, has been nudging me to write a web series for a couple of years. I’ve been saying no, resistant for reasons I can’t defend, but she finally pushed me hard enough until I conceded. It helped that only a week or two before, I got to “act” on a reality show/ courtroom drama, a last-minute opportunity that popped up. It was surprisingly fun, and being in the studio, getting “hair and makeup” and improvising lines was alluring. I finally grasped the “acting bug” phenomenon people talk about. When Debbie took me to a studio later, and we brainstormed the series idea with another friend, I left in an exhilarated, manic state, suddenly back to writing, for better or worse, with chronic excitement and boundless energy.

Everything I wanted is finally coming to fruition.

Ivy just got grades for her second semester, the end of her junior year. All As, all year. In her spare time, she joined a band and has been recording with them; and her summer job will be co-manager of a theater camp for kids. All endeavors that feel more fantasy than reality. She meditates every day, does yoga, often by the ocean as waves crash just beyond her.  She has found an inner peace and quiet she never imagined possible. It’s all clicking into place. 11227039_960513267303604_3426904505297736836_n

Yet sometimes I have neurotic panic moments when I worry I’ll wake up and be back in another part of my life, where none of this happened. I made so many choices over the years and my life could have turned out differently. This fear grips me sometimes, and despite the inner voice that talks me off the ledge and convinces me this is real, it’s an irrational dread I live with.

When I was in high school, I was dating a boy from Maine. Mean Guy was still with us then and I was about as miserable and hopeless as I ever have been. At one point I came home and told my mother that I was going to quit school and move to Maine. Thankfully she told me no and I listened. But if I had done that, where would I be now? Not in Southern California with Ryan, pets, Ivy, and this life.

When I was a senior in high school, I signed papers to join the Air Force. It was settled. I’d go to boot camp in the summer, get free college, and serve my time at the end. I was going into Military Intelligence because I had a flair for languages. But my mother said no and since I was only seventeen, that was that. She would NOT sign the consent form. She was correct in that by the time I was eighteen that following September I no longer wanted to join the military. But what if I had? I could have been killed. Or maybe I’d have excelled and found myself in a nice little life. I’d have a degree and solid career, maybe a military husband and a rigid, ordered life. But it wouldn’t be this life.

After I graduated from high school, I was supposed to go to college but canceled last minute, which has been mentioned before. I often regret that I didn’t get my degree. I have remorse over this I can’t get past no matter how old I get. But if I had gone, I wouldn’t be here now. Maybe I would have gotten the psychology degree I was pursuing and then gotten a Masters. Maybe a PHD. Maybe I’d have gotten a nice husband and a big house and several kids. Maybe I would have been happy. But I wouldn’t be where I am now and I wouldn’t have Ivy or Ryan or the experiences that make me who I am.

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When Ivy was four-years-old, I almost moved to Canada, to Prince Edward Island. I honestly think I would have loved it as I still maintain it’s a magical place that always felt perfect. I would have been happy there, no doubt, but I would have been away from the family that helped me so much when I was raising Ivy. Even so, if I had to pick an alternate life to wake up to, it would be that path. But if I had moved to Canada, Ivy and wouldn’t have ended up here, in this life. I get grief-stricken just thinking about it.

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There were a thousand other choices I’ve made over the years, ones I looked back on and regretted. Ones that seemed pointless and foolish, and that derailed advancement in my company or in my writing career. I think of the tears I shed over boys or men who broke up with me, or friends or family members who left me behind.

But those missteps and tears led me here. If I had made even one different decision, I would not be where I am now. In this life where Ivy and I belong, a life that despite its often-ethereal quality filled with uncanny coincidences, is evidently not too good to be true.

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If you’ve ever done a jigsaw puzzle, you know the exhilarating feeling you get when after countless hours and days of adding one piece at a time, first the edges, then the middle and connecting pieces, you get to the point where there are only a handful of pieces left. And your excitement is overwhelming because every piece you pick up fits exactly where you think it should. It’s effortless.  You forget the frustration of the time you spent picking the wrong pieces, the drudgery of working toward something whose completion seemed an impossibility.  Instead you rejoice in the thrill of adding one piece after another with no guess work. It all flows perfectly and each little click into place brings you one step closer to finishing. You know finally, you have achieved exactly what you set out to do.

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I know this is all real because I just looked at my hands. My life’s path could have led anywhere, but I’m relieved that I ended up exactly where I needed to be.

To finding all the pieces,

-Carly G.

 

The Tragedy of Arnie G.

Some blog entries come easier than others. This one has taken well over a month to complete, with my writing long passages only to delete them entirely. This may be the fifth or sixth version from scratch. I dance around the topic of Arnie G. and what happened to him, and how he became what he became out of privacy but also because I don’t think I’ve looked at it honestly before. I didn’t see the signs that were there earlier than I recall, when I reminisce about an idyllic romance that fell apart in a short period when his mind started to fracture.

The way I’ve often relayed it is that we were two young kids in love who moved in together in a week, married in less than two years, had typical struggles, had Ivy, and then a few years later looked around at a marriage that was quickly and utterly shattered by mental illness and drug abuse. And how twenty years after we divorced, Arnie is still spiraling out of control, and we’re still close, and there’s still nothing I can do about it.

Most of that is exactly how it went, except that none of it happened quickly. Memory is funny that way. In my mind, it feels like he was perfectly fine, best husband and dad in the world, and within a week was checking into his first of many hospitals.

When I try hard to think back, to reconstruct the timeline, it’s fuzzy. I know I won’t get it all right and I don’t want an entry that’s a bulleted list of what happened when. That’s not ever what this should be about. But I do need to look back with open eyes about the way we were.

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We were young. I was twenty-one and he was twenty-five when we met in a store where my mother and he worked. He was quirky and brilliant and within a couple of hours of talking to him I knew our meeting was something special. It was a whirlwind romance for sure, the way many things are in your early twenties.  You’re a blank slate then and for me, with my life planned out in precise steps, all I needed was him to walk into my life and then everything would fall into place. I ignored the fact that he’d had “a problem with cocaine” his words, or an arrest record, or that he’d just moved back to his parents’ house because “things got out of control.” In my life, everything was under control. This was my naïve, youthful thinking, which has since yielded to the understanding that I can only control some things and the rest I let wash over me like waves, adjusting myself so I don’t drown. But back then I hadn’t learned.

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There’s no point in rehashing all of it now except to say there were a lot of arrests, a lot of probation officer visits, court fees, fines, losses of license while I sat by, a dutiful wife, honoring my commitment to stay by his side. I complained a lot, cried a lot, yelled an awful lot. I think we fought so much in those ten years that I wore myself out. He had a nervous breakdown at one point that lasted for months. He stopped working and though I wanted to argue with him about it, I agreed he couldn’t handle work anymore. He was fragile, and has always been fragile and I suppose that was one of the things that drew me to him, his fragility and sensitivity. He cared so much about everything, all the time, just like me. His empathy and kindness toward others was boundless. But those were the traits that crippled him. He cared too much, all the time, about everyone. All of this was years before that short period of time I refer to as “When it all fell apart.”

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There was no one thing, no final straw. It was years of everything getting worse. There were probably about five things at the end that caused me to say I was done, once and for all, that I had to take Ivy and leave. I’m not going to broadcast them here because it won’t help anyone. I stayed as close to him as I could and I have to admit that all the serious boyfriends since him were really good about including him when he went through his clean or lucid periods, and even when he didn’t. I’ll give credit where it’s due. Even Husband #2 was a good sport in that regard.

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Arnie’s mother passed away last week. She was too young, and cigarettes are to blame. Ivy and I were close to her before and after the divorce. Her other children will surely miss her terribly as she was the one who held everything together. Her grandchildren will be very, very sad because she was a wonderful person. Despite Arnie being a mess though, and in and out of rehabs and jail and shelters and sober houses and then starting the cycle all over, and despite how much his mind isn’t as logical as it was, I think he will be the hardest hit by her passing. She was all he had, even if he didn’t always acknowledge it. Once I left him all those years ago, and after he went from bad to worse, and hit his rock bottom and stayed there, she was his touchstone. No matter where he was, he would call her, let her know where he was living, let her know that he was living. And she’d report to me and I’d report to Ivy and the three of us would breathe a sigh of relief that he was okay. For at least another day.

I don’t know what will become of him now. I’ve been in touch with him a lot lately out of worry. Ivy and I flew to Boston a few weeks ago to see Mrs. G. one last time, knowing the end was near. Mr. And Mrs. G. were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and the immediate family got together for one long day and night in their in-law home attached to my sister-in-law’s house. An attendant brought Mr. G. from the nursing home in his wheelchair. He has mild dementia and Multiple Sclerosis but seemed healthier to me than I’d seen him in a long time. It was nice to see all my ex-in-laws and for a brief time on that visit it felt like we never left. Except that in other ways, it was a stark reminder of how much had changed. Ivy and I were so cold, and the little nieces and nephews were so much older and more vibrant, and Mr. and Mrs. G were so much older and sicker. And Arnie…it was heartbreaking.

He was too skinny, looked emaciated. His muscle disease left his hands curled up and fingers mostly unusable; his calves had almost no muscle on them at all. Nonstop facial spasms that he says are excruciating, a side effect of years of prescription and street drugs, were the hardest to witness. He was barely recognizable from the twenty-five year old I met almost thirty years ago.

His mind is different too, as changed by his path and drugs as his body. About a month before the visit he said to me in an exasperated voice, regarding how the government keeps breaking into his phones, “Carly, you thought I was crazy but see, I’m not. They’re watching me. The FBI and the Attorney General’s office, they want me because of what I know. I can prove it now.” He keeps getting new phones and phone numbers and Ivy and I have started naming the contacts “Arnie Jan 19, Arnie Feb 19” so we won’t ignore calls from strange numbers. For once I didn’t argue with him. At this point he will never accept that the panic and paranoia stems from his mind, not covert government agencies. And my fighting with him comes across as name calling and that’s the last thing he needs.

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Ivy sat on the floor next to him as she did when she was little and talked to him, relating to him on a level that was endearing. For a few hours she was a little girl next to a father who told her about his adventures and his findings: flat earth, the Illuminati, secrets in dollar bills, the faked moon landing. There was no judgement that day, and when he dumped out his tattered bag of thrift store treasures on the dining room table, items picked with love, something for everyone, I think he felt good, like nothing had ever changed.

But now Mrs. G is gone, and Ivy and I are back in California, and Arnie is out there in the cold of a brutal Massachusetts winter, figuring out where he’ll live next, trying to stay warm, while his body is breaking down a little more each day. Mrs. G.’s passing has nothing to do with his homelessness; he seems to have a hard time staying anywhere for very long. But I hope he will not drift too far away from reality, from life, without Mrs. G. there to reel him in. He talks about moving to Peru because it’s magical there, or South Carolina, because it’s the first warm state when you head south, or to Sedona because there are people like him, or in a tent in the woods, or maybe just another sober house right there in Massachusetts.  I don’t know where he will end up but I hope he will keep chugging along one day at a time as long as he is able.

Rest in peace, Mrs. G. We will miss you so much.

And to Arnie, may the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.

To Carrying On

-Carly G

 

 

Happy New Year – 2019

It’s New Year’s Eve and I need to make an entry to close this year out properly. The first three drafts of this blog contained a laundry list of accomplishments for the year, and status updates for Ryan, Ivy, and myself. I deleted that because I never want my posts to merely be status updates. I have Facebook for that.

As I review the last year, the one thing that has been looming larger and larger in my mind, my life, and in my actions, is the pursuit of spreading kindness and illuminating beauty wherever I see it. I know people who are dying, who cherish every minute they have left, and who would do anything for more time here. I know others who are utterly absorbed by their bleak perception of the world at large, poisoning their lives. They wax fanatically about the tragedy of “what our world has become” in contrast to the unrealistic, vague fantasy of “how it used to be.” If they were close to death would they change their focus?

Maybe they would listen in delight at the crunch of snow under their feet, or feel utter awe in the diamond-sparkly blankets of fresh fallen snow that cover a town and make it look like a toy train set. The sight of the sunrise or sunset would take their breath away, and they would watch in captivation as a hawk coasts soundlessly against a bright blue sky. 

They would smile at the fluffiness of a squirrel tail, or as I do at the simple sight of the four-year-old next store whose head appears over my wall as she bounces in her trampoline, talking to me in a squeaky voice, in short bursts with growing and descending volume. “How many years do you have?” she asks. “I have four.”

Would they feel the wind on their face as a soft embrace, hear the thunder like a tuba in an ethereal orchestra? Enlightenment does not come from political reform or the shunning of certain races or economic classes, or in outlawing anything that does not fit with whatever religious text or personal ideology you follow. It comes in the hidden treasures: the snap of an ice cube when it hits water, the stabbing of soda bubbles on your face. It’s about feeling, and taking it all in, in experiencing what we can while we’re here, while we’re alive.

I can’t force people to have a sense of wonder, or to appreciate the immensity of the beauty and kindness that is all around us. I can’t force people to feel giddiness when they see clouds touching mountaintops, or autumn leaves dancing in a circle, but I can keep talking about it and hopefully it will rub off.

I can’t make people accept others as they are, to look past their religions, or race, or ethnicity, or sexuality, or political preference. But I can try my best to enlighten others with stories, and maybe that will make a difference.

In 2019, I will continue to focus on the positive, will try to see the best in people, and let myself be spirited away by the joy found in the simple things.

Happy New Year and welcome to 2019!

-Carly G.

 

Playing Pinball at Fifty

Today is my fiftieth birthday, and a time of reflection. Not that all of my days aren’t reflective but this is a big one. It’s a time to assess my life, measure it against where I wanted to be. I’m happy to say this is exactly where I want to be, in a calm, peaceful life with loving people around me. I have a good job, a cozy house, more pets than I should, wonderful friends throughout the country, and the world, and of course Ryan and Ivy, the center of everything.

Ryan and were talking over dinner last night about other paths I could have taken in my earlier life. This will sound metaphysical or religious, but I don’t think it matters at the end of the day which path I chose, because I was always going to end up here. Despite being irritatingly logical at times, I believe in destiny, in fulfilling what we’re supposed to when we’re here.

My mother taught to always look at a situation and ask what I learned from it. I remember learning about Jonathan Livingston Seagull when I was very young, pre-kindergarten. It was one of my earliest exposures to literature along with my Golden books and. Dr. Seuss. That book, more than any other, imprinted in me a guide to follow. For all the other belief systems I’ve had over this life that one stuck. Even if there is no reincarnation, or Heaven, even if this is it, we need to learn from everything we do and correct ourselves accordingly, so by the end of our lives we are that shining white seagull. gull

If I had a bad experience with someone, a break up for instance, Mom would say, “Well it was meant to be.” Most people say that because it helps them to find purpose in bad times, but it went further. She may say, “You needed to be in that relationship to teach you about resilience” or alcoholism, or tolerance, or patience. What I learned as an adult was that each experience wasn’t about what it taught ME. I look at some relationships or friendships and for the life of me don’t see any purpose. I could delete those months or years from my life and nothing would be different, for me. But maybe crossing my path changed their life in a fashion.

pinballLife is like a big pinball machine with Someone Up There banging the edges and harshly, sometimes with anger, pushing the bumpers when we get off course, redirecting our paths. We’re all going to die someday, end up with that third ball going down the hole, but the plan is to play as long as we can, and score as many points as we can. Not money points, or big houses, or expensive cars, but soul points.

I couldn’t tell you how many times my life has abruptly BAM, been thrust into a new path, only to get bounced around, and around, and around, and then feel like it was a failure. And then starting again and bouncing around more. There were times when I was utterly exhausted from the constant movement and change. I kept mental notes of it all, stopping at each turn to wonder, what did I learn?

Of course there are times too when you hit the mini jackpot and the lights go off, and the bells and whistles and you feel victorious. But you keep moving and changing paths and zinging around because that’s what life is. Some people avoid the life changes, zoom out of the birth canal, lead a mundane existence, and go down the death hole, not winning many points at all. But for every point we rack up, for every time we’ve been bounced onto another path, and another, and rung some bells along the way, we’re growing, evolving.

peaceThings are peaceful now in my life, which tells me I’m where I need to be. No one Upstairs is banging the giant pinball machine in the sky to move me toward something else (nothing material at least). My ball is still in play, and I’m ringing bells as I go. A couple of weeks ago I decided to learn Mountain Dulcimer. It’s not a big thing, but there are new lessons there, and who knows what will spring from it? I meet new people all the time, in stores, at events. Some may lead to new friendships, others just plant a seed in me or them, mini moments of enlightenment, but it is all easy and flowing with bursts of joy and contentment, the ringing of a bell, flutter of a neon light.

Maybe where I am in life, in California, isn’t about where I needed to be for me, but for Ivy. She is where she needs to be right now, for her purpose, to learn and to help others. She would not be where she is, also experiencing a period of peace and calm, if not for all the path changes over our lives.

We can veer off course all we want, but we’ll always come back to where we’re supposed to be. Things line up where they should, no matter what choices we make. Some people seem destined for hardship and pain. Do they choose it? Do they make their beds, do they draw in negative energy and cause all the bad luck? Or is just the path they are on this time around to learn, their Job existence if you will.

My greatest fear for the last twenty-two years since Ivy was born, is that I will die and Ivy won’t be able to cope without me and she will fall apart and I won’t be there for her. A few weeks ago we had one of our frequent deep talks. She said she likes me in this “Mom role” but realizes that even if, God forbid, something happened to me and I died, she would understand that I did all I needed to here and had to go help someone else. She’d be crushed of course, but she’d understand. This is about the deepest thing she has ever said, and she is a deep, intuitive person. I’m not sick, I’m not dying, I’m clearly not depressed, (knock on wood for all those things) but on this fiftieth birthday, I feel more content than at any other time. I don’t have a life filled with regrets, or dashed hopes, or unfinished business.

I have made me peace. Everything isn’t a hundred percent perfect but acceptance is a powerful and empowering tool. I won’t say Let Go and Let God because I’m really not religious and I think we have to do all the life work while we’re here. I hope I live another fifty years and continue to make meaningful connections, and change lives, and that Ivy changes lives for the better. I hope that her road is less rocky than mine was because I got her where she needs to be. Between us we’ve got a lot of soul points racked up, and believe me, we earned them.

Here’s to another fifty years of playing pinball

-Carly G.

Train Friends

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Back when I lived in Massachusetts and worked full-time in Boston, long before the concept of telecommuting was an option, I spent hours each day with my train friends. For many years before that, I lived in towns without a train and had bus friends. You spend eight hours a day in the office and have what they term your work husband or wife, or work friends, but no one talks much about the train friends. For most of my work career, I spent about three hours a day on a train or bus, longer with Cape (Cod) traffic in the summer, or snow in winter, or train engine or track issues. Even if I use the lower end of three hours a day that’s sixty hours a month, side by side with the same people in an enclosed space.

There are some train friends I still talk to either on Facebook or email, or visit when I’m home, but others…I wonder whatever happened to them. This concept may be foreign to Californians who almost exclusively drive to work, alone, listening to podcasts or audiobooks. With the advent of telecommuting, this next generation will have a very different life/career experience than I did.

The routine of waiting for the train, and chatting with people who would all sit in the same seats every day, of updating each other with stories of our children or spouses or our work drama, was the cornerstone of my life for so many years. I have one friend, Joanne, who I met on the train when Ivy was very little. Her daughters were younger and they all attended daycare together. Ivy must have been about six as that was her age when we moved to Bradfield. Twelve years of sitting together except for vacations or meetings that pushed us to later trains. Over that time, there was so much we went through. Joanne and I were isolated in our two-seater or sometimes in a three-seater with a third rider. We saw each other’s children grow from tiny to adulthood. We saw each other through illnesses in ourselves, our children, the passing of her in-laws, her husband’s side career as a Jazz Clarinetist, moving houses…the time her nephew was on Biggest Loser, several cars, my marriage and divorce to Husband # 2, and the subsequent rebounds until I met my Ryan and moved away.

For a time there was a young woman with a toddler daughter who rode the train with us. She reminded me of when Ivy was the same age and I took her on the train to work/daycare from my previous town. We’d watch as this woman chatted happily with the conductor. He’d  carry the little girl with him sometimes and let her “help” collect tickets. We were all very surprised to hear one day that they were not a couple but just friends, and she would be moving to California to marry her military fiancé. It was sad seeing her go and the conductor seemed hard hit but we heard later he visited her and her husband and daughter in California.

There was another woman at my stop who reunited with her high school boyfriend when they were in their late fifties, both divorced. It was an adventure hearing about their long distance relationship and hoping along with her that it would work out. It did. I was there when she got the call her mother passed away and she was crying and trying to hold it together. She retired at one point and I lost touch with her but having that years’ long vignette, it was something.

In the early years, when I lived on the other side of Boston and took the southbound train each day I used to sit with a really nice heavy metal guitarist named Randy. He worked for an insurance company by day. He later moved up to New Hampshire and got married so I didn’t see him on the train after that but thankfully I am Facebook friends with him and still get to hear about his adventures. He got a mention as a fictional extra in one of my novels.cropped-band-large-soe-2017.png

When I first started on the workforce in the late 1980s, I used to take a bus and sit with a man named Fran.  He played hockey at night and one time came in and had knocked out a tooth. He came to my first wedding to Arnie G. Over time, he met a divorcee with children and moved away and we lost touch but I really enjoyed talking to him. He was my first commuting buddy.

During my second (albeit brief) marriage, I met Steve, a long-haired architect who had been with a woman in Italy briefly and worked on a grape orchard but now was a landscape architect for a firm in Boston. He boarded at another stop and I saw him all the time for a short time then only sporadically. When Joanne was selling her condo, I sent him to check it out as he was looking for a place and I thought it would be fun to have him in my town. He really brightened a dark time for me, as that second marriage held more downs than ups. He was working to get his Master’s degree and loved his job. It seemed months went by and he wasn’t on my train, then one day he appeared again. I had news I said, I was leaving Husband # 2 and was so happy. He had news too. He found out his ex-girlfriend was carrying his baby and planned to raise it with her current boyfriend. The bigger news was that he had been diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. I was crushed about all of it. He was, at that time, about the coolest person I knew. He was worldly but down to earth, and intelligent and witty. He had so much going for him.

He blurted it all out, his new life plan. He was forgoing the Master’s, quitting his job, taking all his retirement money and living as much as he could before his body betrayed him. He was on the fence about getting to know his son. Would it be cruel to let the baby become attached to him only for him to die? Was it worse to not know him at all? Big questions for a train friend whose sessions were just a bit longer than a therapist’s.

He’d researched the disease thoroughly and was most upset that your body failed you long before your mind did and people were just shoved into nursing homes. One thing he wanted to do, he said, in the few conversations we had before he stopped riding the train, was to make homes specifically for ALS patients. Even then he’d hatched the beginning of a plan. He’d get donors and funding and he’d make a difference before he “had to go.”

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And he did. All those things. We were MySpace friends then, this was pre-Facebook, so I watched his journey. First it was skydiving, then scuba diving in foreign seas. Much later I saw a picture of him holding his toddler son and I smiled that he chose to know the boy as long as he could. Then I started getting emails about fundraisers and eventually about the construction of the treatment center and nursing home for the ALS patients. His first home opened in 2010, the Steve Saling ALS Residence, the first long-term care facility for people with this disease. I was happy to read an article about him (as I was writing this blog) to see he designed a tool for patients to control devices wirelessly. He made the grounds of the facility beautiful and the grass wheelchair-resistant. He found ways to allow the residents to go outside and “live,” not just exist for years in bed, forgotten and sad. The article from 2017 said he went to his son’s school for a presentation. His son was ten years old then. So much time has passed since I knew him and despite his challenges, he has indeed made a difference. He’s still making a difference as new facilities inspired by him are sprouting up.

There were dozens of people I got to know on my morning and evening commutes. Living where I do now, and telecommuting almost 100%, meaning I’m home with the dogs and the cat and four walls, there is a palpable absence. My day used to consist of taking the train to work, then sitting in a cube for eight hours next to people who did the same thing. I’d start the day with train friends, then have different conversations with the work friends. On the way home I might have a different pack of pals depending on the timing and which train I was on. There was so much routine and guaranteed socialization that I didn’t have to seek out. Maybe that’s why I spend so much time on social media now, to fill the gap. I am blessed to have some good friends here but I don’t see them for hours every day. I don’t have the luxury of having them help me process even the most mundane of situations. I sit quietly at home and I work. I see Ryan and sometimes friends, and all the processing of mundane situations happens almost exclusively in my mind.

I don’t miss the expense of the train, or the time lost that I could be home. But sometimes there’s SO much home time. Writing this makes me think I should go in the office more, make some connections again. The trend of giving people a better life/work balance is wonderful, and I enjoy the option I’m given to stay home, but there is a part of me that misses the long group commutes and my train friends. Even the ones who weren’t my close friends but fixtures in my day, the ones I made small talk with, and who I wonder about.

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There were the bad rides, when the AC or heat was broken, or the time we ran over the man who jumped in front of the train. But on the flip side, there was an incredible sense of safety when I hastily boarded my train home on 9/11, and the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, and to a lesser extent during countless snowstorms or hurricanes. I was always grateful to step on board to see my friends and head home.

There’s no lesson to be learned here, just a glimpse into my Carly past, and a shout out to the MBTA.

Thanks for the memories.

-Carly G.