Friday, March 31, 2017

Man of the house

       In honor of my middle child's eighth birthday today, I thought I'd share his blog from 2015.  All of these years I thought I had been taking care of him, but in reality, he's been taking care of me.  
       Birthday blessings, Forest!

Man of the house
Originally published on January 8, 2015

My mom has been really busy with all kinds of stuff today, so she asked me if I wanted to write her blog.  I figure if Aditi and Jhoti can post on Open Road, I can, too.  Plus I've perched on the desk and watched Mom use the computer enough to know what's what.  She said she'd come in later to proofread my work, but I think I'll be alright on my own.  After all, I'm the man of the house and should be able to handle this just fine.
It's not that I'm all that macho.  I was the runt of my litter and almost didn't make it a couple of times.  I've been hospitalized on a few occasions, and  my mom nearly went nuts the last time when I got sick from grooming Aditi before she was fully wormed.  Mom needn't have worried.  I recuperated quickly enough.  During the night I even figured out how to unlock my cage at the vet's, pull out my IV, and escape from the exam room so I could go exploring.  I had had enough of that sitting around business and knew there were better things to do with my time. 
Like bird watching.  
And (plastic) snake charming.  
And playing with my sisters. 
When I was a kitten, my littermates took good care of me.  They nudged me to the bottom of the scrum pile so I could stay warm while we napped near our mama's belly.  My sisters knew I tired easily and didn't jump on me when I sat down to watch them frolic and play.  And my brother often joined me, grooming my ears for good measure.  After my human mom adopted me, I soon learned I was the smallest kid in her trio of cats.  Jhoti and I bonded quickly, but I'm still working on Sophia...and it's been over five years, so you'd think she'd get a grip and realize I'm not going anywhere. 
I've been spoiled rotten, let me tell you, but I hear I'm also a cute little booger, so it all evens out in the end.  When I was a baby, Mom carried me inside her sweatshirt wrapped in fleece to keep me warm and gave me extra treats to help me gain weight.  As I grew, she nurtured my love of birds by hanging a suet cage outside the window near a sunny spot where I like to snooze.  Along with my Aunt Doris and a few other folks, my mom has bought me enough toy mice and snakes to last more than nine lifetimes.
But I'm not a Mama's Boy. 
Like I said, I'm the man of the house.

I didn't really understand what that meant until my kid sister, Aditi, came along.  She's a tough little squirt all right, and when Mom squirts her with the water gun when she's being bad, Aditi holds her ground.  I even saw her slap Mom once...or twice.  Well, okay, nearly every time. 
As the man of the house I've tried to set a good example.  I use good manners when I eat my meals and use the litterbox like a gentleman.  Grooming is one of my favorite hobbies and I keep myself neat and clean.  (Mom even calls me Dapper Dan, except my name is Forest, so I don't know who she's talking about.)  Best of all, if it's nighttime and I want to sleep on Mom's bed (she has a thing called an electric blanket, but I call it Paradise), I very gently jump up, slowly and carefully making my way to a cozy spot so I don't wake her...unlike two other black cats I know who don't give a hoot and step on Mom's head, her hair, even her face
I'm rewarded with lots of love.  With catnip and paper grocery bags.  With lots of kisses and chin rubs.  But that's not why I do all of those things.  It's in my nature to be a good boy.  Mom says I'm her pride and joy.  And why not?
I'm the man of the house.
But you know, I've been watching Mom a lot these days.  She has a lot of papers on her desk and I heard her say there's a lot to do running her yoga business and writing books and marketing them (whatever that means...I thought the market was where she got our food) and paying bills and making sure the house is in order.  She cuts the grass in the summer and takes the trash out year 'round.  I wish I could scoop our litterbox myself because that's a job no one or woman.
Mom does all of the work around here, but if she doesn't, who will?  I'd like to help, but I'm hobbled by being a quadruped.  I can't reach the sink to wash dishes.  I can't make business calls or drive a car.  I'd like to go to work and help earn my keep, but I figure keeping Aditi out of trouble most of the day is a full-time job.  At night I bring Mom my toy snakes and mice.  I drop them in her slippers, hoping she'll know how much I love her.  How much I appreciate living in this peaceful place full of windows and warm beds and wonderful women who come in for yoga classes. 
Maybe being the man of the house isn't what I've heard it's supposed to be.  Maybe being the only boy doesn't mean I have to be tough and courageous.  That's it's okay to run away from the sweeper and get startled every time the doorbell rings.  I don't have to be strong and steady when Mom's sad or not feeling well.  I can curl up on her shoulder and purr in her ear...and maybe even feel a little low myself just because she's feeling blue. 
Mom says she loves me just as I am, even though I'm not a big Tom cat or a Bossy Boots.  I'm not rough and rugged and ready to rumble.  She says that if she marries a man who's half as sweet as me, she'll be the luckiest woman in the world.  I guess it's a good thing I know how lucky am to live with a bunch of lively ladies.
That's man enough for me...and for my sweet Mama, too.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tell it like it was

A few weekends ago, I had lunch with a dear friend of mine.  Kathy’s son, Andy, was in my first-grade class many moons ago and she and I recently reconnected over the winter.  While it’s always great fun to visit with people from my past, it’s uncommonly hilarious to spend an hour…or two…or three with Kathy whose wit and sass had me laughing so hard, my ribs ached.  She and my sweetheart haven’t met yet, but ran a humorous dialog through my text box that makes me look forward to when I can introduce them at our next lunch date, then enjoy what follows, making sure I don’t snort coffee through my nose.
After we ate, Andy stopped by and I hugged him, asking, “How old are you now?”
“Twenty-eight,” he smiled.
“That’s the age I was when you were in my class,” I laughed.  “I can’t believe it!”
How sweet it was to catch up on his life, to hear about his wedding last spring, to see what an incredible man he has become.  Not that I’m surprised at all, for I spent a lot of time with Kathy and her family while the kids were growing up.  We swam together, watched movies on Friday nights, and hung out in the backyard on summer nights, roasting marshmallows and catching fireflies.  When Andy was senior in high school, I joyfully went to his graduation.  When his sister, Steph, was changing majors in college, I eagerly listened to her hopes and dreams.  Since we’ve all gotten back in touch this year, it seems as if no time has passed at all as we tell stories to catch up, then tell stories about how it used to be.
At one point in the conversation, Kathy nodded to Andy.  “I remember the Thanksgiving Feast and you had a speaking part.  You were so nervous!  And then you had to do that pilgrim dance and your hat fell off.”  She looked at me.  “And he ran right into your arms.  That’s how I knew you were like a second mother to him.”
“I remember that,” I smiled. 
Then I thought, I cannot believe that was twenty-two years ago.  Where has time gone?
Forward…just like it always does.

Yet for the past month or so, I’ve enjoyed going back in time when I was just a toddler and the world was a much different place.  In watching The Wonder Years (1988-1993), a television program that chronicles the late adolescence of Kevin Arnold, I’ve revisited the Vietnam War, Watergate, paisley shirts and bell bottoms, Woodstock and Mama Cass.  With the tumultuous transition from the sixties to the seventies as a backdrop, Kevin goes through his rites of passage into adulthood in much the same way many of us did -- fighting with a sibling, struggling in difficult classes at school, and the awkward experience of falling in love for the first time.
It’s been fun to watch episodes with my sweetheart and recognize his childhood in Kevin’s.  Even more poignant to point out scenes that remind me of times in my life that were often hilarious and sometimes less-than-stellar.  In the end, The Wonder Years has given me permission to wax nostalgic about moments that we can never revisit.  Not that I’d want to anyway. 
Recently I’ve been talking with friends about the way things used to be and have come to realize that perhaps my generation was the last one to have a real childhood.  I could go outside and play for hours without my mother needing to know my every move.  Sure, there were boundaries around where my sisters and I were allowed to play, but for the most part, we had the run of the neighborhood as long as we returned home in the evening when the church bells rang at five o’clock.  We watched The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, and The Bionic Woman without constantly being bombarded by advertisements and ideology.  We talked on a push-button phone that was anchored to the wall, not attached to our hip every second of the day.   Sure we had to deal with bullies, peer pressure, and addiction, but not like kids do today in a world of what my sweetheart calls Spacebook (which includes all social media and the Internet).
It’s a bittersweet thing to tell it like it was, for I know that Satish and Danta will never have a life like the one I left behind long before they were born.  They won’t know what it was like before virtual reality was king and now live in a culture where alternative facts are played like pawns on a chessboard.  Then again, they won’t know a life that limited our connection with each other to snail mail and expensive, long-distance phone calls.  And they’ll grow up in a world where global awareness is only a mouse-click away.
I guess what Kevin Arnold says in a voice-over during an episode called “The Sixth Man” is undeniably truth:  Maybe change is never easy.  You fight to hold on.  You fight to let go.
 I can never relive the years when shag haircuts and bell bottom jeans and Star Wars reigned supreme.  I can't go back to an era when Glen Frey and Prince and David Bowie  were at their prime.  But I'm thankful that with every year that goes by, I'm that much father from an adolescence when I was often overwhelmed and frequently scared out of my mind.  
Since my significant other and I got together last year, we’ve been telling stories from our collective past.  Some are funny and endearing.  Some are painful and heartbreaking.  Some help him understand who I am that much more, and I imagine others might invite questions that have yet to be answered. Because I trust him completely, I’ve revealed things that no one else knows, parts of me that I don’t want to show anyone else.  What I’ve come to realize is that while I embrace change readily, I’m still hesitant to let go of things that used to serve me well, but now seem a bit rusty.  I can’t simultaneously be completely independent and create a healthy relationship.  I can’t walk through the world consumed with my own thoughts and opinions and not consider his as well.  I can’t wake up every morning focused on what I want and not add him into the equation. 
Yet because I can’t imagine life without him in it, it’s easier to soften around the edges of my independence.  To carve out space and time when we can be together.  To open my heart even more to experience of loving him.  To know that while the wonder years of our childhood may be long gone, the magic of being in this life together has only just begun.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My first (and last) formal dance

       This spring, my sweetheart and I are going to a concert at the Toledo Museum of Art's Peristyle, and I'm looking forward to wearing my best dress...and some stellar high heels.  As a yoga instructor and writer who prefers to be barefoot, it's not often that I have the opportunity to dress to the nines.  But when I do, I'm infinitely thankful that the evening will end on a much sweeter note that my first (and last) formal dance.
       With prom season waiting in the wings, I've often been reminded of this chapter from my memoir -- a time in my late teens and early twenties when learning what I'm worth was never easy.  

My First (and Last) Formal Dance

I’m standing in front of a hotel mirror, styling my hair with a curling iron.  It’s the night of our annual sorority formal and I'm both excited and nervous.  I didn’t go last year because I was too afraid to ask anyone.  This past fall, right after I turned nineteen, I took a guy to our Canoe Date Party.  Grant and I actually went out a couple of times afterwards and he even cooked dinner for me at my apartment. 
Unfortunately, Grant was an honors scholar who turned out to be a coke dealer as well. 
That ended that.
This past November I went to semi-formal with Troy, a frat boy I had met at a party the week before.  After the dance, we came back to my apartment and the other couples disappeared upstairs into private bedrooms.  Troy soon discovered I wouldn't do anything more than make out...much to his disappointment.  But I'm scared to do anything but kiss a guy.  I don't know how to take that next step.  And besides, I don't know Troy that well...and we aren't in a real relationship.
The next morning over chocolate chip pancakes, he seemed polite enough.  But he never called me again until months later when he wanted me to ply one of the fraternity pledges with alcohol after the poor kid had walked three miles from campus to my place.  It was all part of the pledge's "hunt" for his Big Brother.  By the time he arrived, the guy was so drunk, I just drove him back to the frat house with Troy's bottle of vodka in tow.
Naturally, I never heard from Troy again.
Now three of my sorority sisters and I are sharing the bathroom, eagerly getting ready to head downstairs for dinner and dancing.  We’ve reserved the hotel room, but it only has two double beds, so two couples will have to sleep on the floor.  Since I don’t mind, my date, Brent, and I volunteered first.  We met in my running class and while I don’t know him too well, I’d like to try. 
Brent's quiet and nice.  Tall with brown hair and brown eyes, he looks like a surfer with his matching auburn skin.  We’ve compared our running logs and have even met outside of class to jog around campus.  Brent doesn’t say much.  What he does reveal is only sparse details about his business classes, his brother, and his roommate.  Right now he’s sitting on the bed watching television with the rest of our dates while my sorority sisters and I finish our make-up.        
Last weekend Mom drove down from Toledo and we went shopping for a dress in Cincinnati.  I’ve never been to a prom or a formal dance, so she’s as excited as I am.  There's a part of me that thinks this one doesn't count as I had to do the asking, but I don't want to get into that with her.  Mom's delighted I'm even going on a shopping expedition.  After trying on half of the formal gowns at Marshall Fields, Mom bought me a pink dress with a ruffled neckline that accentuates my skin and slimmed down waistline.
  Last year I gained more than my share of the freshman ten.  It was more like twenty.   Over the past six years, I’ve put on all the weight I lost in eighth grade…and then some.  I had started running last summer and have slowly peeled some of it off, but I’ve still got a long way to go.  I hope Brent doesn’t mind.  He doesn’t seem to.
Once we’re all tressed and dressed and perfumed, we make our way down to the reception hall.  A tiny blob of chicken cordon bleu sits on my plate and I’m not sure if I even want it.  I paid the fifty bucks for our dinner, but now it seems like a daunting obstacle.  I don’t want to eat in front of Brent...or anyone for that matter.  Eating in front of men has always bothered me, and more so when I’m faced with sitting next to one at a formal meal.  So I pick at my dinner and ask for an extra glass of iced tea.
Brent seems to enjoy talking to my sorority sisters’ dates more than me.  That’s fine.  I sit and listen and chat with Veronica who’s on my left.  I pretend I don't notice that Brent has said nothing about my dress or the way I look.  When a professional photographer stops by our table to shoot pictures, we don’t have one taken.  I'll have to make do with the group shot my friend snapped before we left the hotel room.
One of my sorority sisters buys us a drink from the bar, as Brent and I are only nineteen, legal to drink beer, but not liquor.  I hate beer.  Long Island Ice Tea is my drink of choice.  It relaxes me, and since I've had little to eat, immediately goes straight to my head.  As we sit at our table, chatting with our hotel roommates, I wonder about Brent.  Do I like him enough to do anything more than dance?  Yet, he's aloof and I don't know what to make of that.  Men like the thrill of the chase...or so everyone tells me.  So I say nothing.  Do nothing and hope that's enough to let him know I'm interested. 
After all, I asked him to this stupid formal dance. 
I don't know how to feel later in the evening when Brent disappears.  One of my friends says she saw him get into an elevator with another sorority sister.  They were going up to Amy's room.  Should I feel humiliated?  Should I cry?  Should I make a scene or act indignant and bitchy?
I'm a nice girl, so I do none of these things. 
My mother has raised me to be a lady in public.  So, when the rest of my friends and I go back to our room for the night, I change clothes and slip an extra key into the pocket of my jeans.  As I walk toward the elevator that will take me to the floor where Brent is doing God knows what with Amy, I feel my heart hammering inside my chest.  It hurts, but I'm not sure if that's from the shame I desperately want to hide or from the adrenaline frantically pumping through my body. 
When I arrive at the door, I knock timidly and Amy opens it, revealing nothing behind her but a darkened room. 
"Here's a key in case Brent wants to get his stuff," I tell her matter-of-factly.
She takes it and gives me a weak smile.  "Thanks...that's nice of you, Katie."
I press my lips together, biting one of them to keep me from crying. 
Everyone is asleep or nearly so by the time I get back to the room.  I quietly make a little nest on the floor between the two beds, then curl up by myself.
"Are you okay?" Derrick whispers from the bed above me.
"I'm okay."
"You sure?"
"Yep," I reply directly, almost defiantly.
"Well, that's a shitty thing he did to you."
"We're not really dating," I say.  "We just take a class together."
" don't shit on a girl who brought you to a formal only so you can make it with another one," he replies bitterly. 
Derrick's choice of words makes me flinch.  I don't want to imagine Brent having sex with my sorority sister, that he thinks nothing of ditching me in order to get what he wants.  Lying there in the dark, I can see the outline of Derrick's shadow, his arm partially hanging over the edge of the bed.  I want to thank him for being the only man in the room to acknowledge how I might be feeling.  For some reason, I want to reach out and touch him.  But I don't.
Derrick doesn't know this is my first formal, my first big dance, my first big deal date.  He has no idea that it feels incredibly unnatural for me to live in the Sadie Hawkins world of sorority life that ties me to the pressure and obligation of having to do the asking.  I don't want to do the asking.  I want to feel wanted enough for the other person to ask me.  I want to feel wanted by a real man, and that is obviously not happening tonight. 

The next morning, Brent arrives at the hotel room, freshly showered and sheepish...the shit.   I have to endure a long drive as we return to Oxford with my friends, sitting next to him in the back seat, biting back the words that are lodged in my jaw and won't come out.  I imagine them to be like my impacted wisdom teeth, so stubborn that the orthodontist had to kneel on my chest and shoulders in order to pry them out by their intractable roots. 
But I'm in no mood to be a bloody mess, metaphorically or otherwise, and I won't let Brent know how much he's hurt me.  So I sit next to him, enduring the odor of his anxiety-riddled sweat mixed with an aftershave I cannot identify by name.  But for the rest of my life, whenever I smell it, I will be reminded of this awful moment.  
I wish the urge to strangle Brent would go away.  I can tell that he knows what he's done is incredibly cruel and undeniably selfish.  Still, he remains silent until he gives me a curt, "Thanks, Katie" when we drop him off at his dorm. 

When I see him in class the following Tuesday, I lace up my shoes, and run like hell in the opposite direction.


The first formal I attended dropped many seeds into the tenuous soil of my life.   While I had no real expectations of what would happen between Brent and me, I certainly didn't expect him to leave in the middle of the evening...and with another woman no less.  It was a blatant slap in my face, but I never said anything.  Instead, I chose to curse him under my breath while simultaneously assuming that I didn't deserve any better.  Brent taught me that men will leave at the beginning, or even during the prologue, so it's better to stick with the table of contents, wondering how the story will unfold, but never actually turn the pages.
Genesis says, "In the beginning was the Word," and in my life, that word was “marriage," the main goal toward which I aspired.  The holy state in which I was groomed to enter by my mother and her mother and every other mother in my neighborhood.  
I was a na├»ve high school Freshman when my English teacher asked the class one wintry afternoon, “What are the two certainties in life that everyone must experience?”
I eagerly raised my hand, “Marriage and death?”
Mr. Peck gave me a nod.  “You got that half right.”
I wrinkled my brow in confusion. 
“Death and taxes, Katie,” he replied.
My face reddened and I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the period, ashamed to be so eager to spill forth my programmed platitudes in public.  I knew all too well society's unspoken expectations for a girl growing up in the seventies.  Attend college.  Earn a B.S. as well as an M.R.S. degree.  And have both a career and children by the age of thirty at the very latest. 
My mother hounded me for years to “put on a little make-up and show some interest in the nice boys out there. ”   Painfully introverted and shy around boys I liked, I never attended a Homecoming dance or prom.  College wasn't much better, and I drew a line in the sand after that humiliating experience with Brent.
Two years later, I remained tenaciously single and graduated with a major in Elementary Education and a minor in Family Studies.  I had spent four long years in preparation for a life where I could both teach and raise a healthy, happy family.  One of the reasons I chose teaching rather than becoming a veterinarian was because I wanted to have a schedule that would allow me more time with my own children. 
Still, when my parents and I were walking back to the car after the graduation ceremony, my mother said to me, “Well, Katie, you just blew it.”
“Blew what?” I asked. 
“You had four years to spend time with men your own age,” she said curtly.  “And you didn’t end up with a husband or even a boyfriend.   This was your last chance to find someone in a large pool of men.”
How could I respond to that?
Five years later we were standing in her kitchen making dinner.  Tearing up lettuce for a salad, I made a comment about how much I appreciated the fact that in the last year or so, she had stopped nagging me to “get out there and find someone.”
Without missing a beat, she replied acerbically, “Oh, we gave up on you years ago.”

By then most of my friends were married; many of them were having their first child.  By then I had bought a house and earned a Master's Degree.  I had proven that I could take care of myself and yet I still felt pressured by the unspoken code of my mother’s generation:  I needed a man and a family of my own to make my life real and complete.
Tick, tock…tick, tock.  My biological clock was clanging louder by the minute and for years I constantly fielded the questions single women often hear, “When are you planning to get married….have a child…get a real life?”
I also asked myself those questions and continually planned for a husband, a child, a life beyond my own.  I made baby sweaters, wishing, “If I knit for them, they will come.”  I fixed up my house, all the while hoping, “If I nest for a family, it will come.”  I went on blind dates and spent time with my friends’ children, praying, “If I surround myself with the life I want, it will build itself.” 
But it didn’t.
Somehow I always ended up attracted to men who showed an interest at first, then eventually dismissed me entirely.  But I wouldn't give up on the kernel of their initial attention, thinking that if I supported them, gave them opportunities to see me as a generous, kind, and loving woman, they would eventually love me
But they never did. 
And now, seeing the bigger picture, I thank God for that.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that for everything we have missed, we have gained something else.  I missed out on having a traditional life, so what did I gain instead?
Ah, there is the delight…and the drama. 

Over the years, men have said I am "too independent," "too strong," "too intelligent," "too spiritual," "too intense," and the catch-all -- "too intimidating."  Once while living at Esalen Institute, I was hounded by a man whose girlfriend lived a few hours away.  He repeatedly approached me for sex in front of my co-workers and friends, making it clear that it would only be a casual thing.  I rebuffed him by saying, "When the rotating cycle of women comes back to Esalen, I won't even exist to you." 
Of course, that was true, but Nate had to get in one more dig by saying, "I don't want anything beyond've got an edge I don't want to deal with."
At the time, I was forty-one and had finally learned to speak my mind, so I told him, "The reason I have that edge is because you and a lot of men treat me like I'm an object to play with and then discard.  You'll take just what you want and then move on to the next woman you can use.  I've learned the hard way NOT to play that game."
Looking back, I can see why it has been so difficult for me to allow myself to soften, to let myself be vulnerable.  Living alone and being solely responsible for everything in my adult life has forced me to be more masculine in a culture that often prizes pretty, shallow women.  Strong, vocal women are not considered to be assertive like men are.  They are seen as bitches...but that is slowly changing.
Some say we only attract people who are as healthy as we are.  After more than two decades of being attracted to men who couldn't handle my honesty, strength, or integrity, what I really needed most was to learn how to honor and accept those qualities within my own self.  In doing so, I also learned how to embody them without feeling the need to apologize for the incredibly dynamic awareness I've gained in the process. 
Living a life of independence is often costly, and one of the highest tolls I have had to pay is the reality of walking through my darkest moments alone.  But it's through this cracking open of the seed...this exertion of courage and determination so essential to growth...that the sprout ventures through the shadows of the unknown and ultimately finds its way above ground into the light.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A good death

          I just returned from a diagnostic mammogram after a routine film showed a lump in one of my breasts.   While I've been down this road before, all weekend long I still worried about what the future might hold.  I silently reminded myself of the summer of 2012 when I was faced with the same situation, and that the outcome was favorable.  Still, I couldn't help but wonder if my good luck had finally run out and this time around, I would be faced with a biopsy, possible mastectomy, and ongoing treatment.  
          Yet, I also remembered that no matter what might happen...whether I was told I had cancer or not...I would be okay, for there's never been a time in my life when I couldn't take care of myself.  Then and now, I'm infinitely thankful for friends who supported me.   For the incredible people at ProMedica Breast Care.  For the lab technician, Tamara, who took care of me last week, and Kristen, who did the follow-up films this morning and moments later, delivered the good news that I'm just fine.
       In the end, I feel as though spring has come a little early to my home in the Heartland, as I honor the fact that rebirth often begins with a good death.

"A Good Death"

It's well past midnight and I still can't sleep.  This morning, after a month of breast pain and discharge, after a month of worrying and wondering, I finally had a mammogram.  All the menopause books I’ve read said not to worry if I have breast pain.  Not to worry if I have discharge.  It’s all a normal process of hormonal shifting. 
Unless the issues are unilateral…which, naturally, mine are. 
For almost a month, my left breast has felt different and I’m scared.  But not scared enough to be paralyzed by my fear.  So this morning I did something about it.  Knowledge is power, but the results won't be available until tomorrow.  And today I learned the vital lesson of never asking the lab tech, "What do you think?"
"Does your family have a history of breast cancer?" she replied, gazing at the screen.
"No...not that I know of," I told her.
"Well, this could be something," she said, pointing to a cloudy image on my left breast.  "But I can't say for certain.  The radiologist will take a look and we'll let you know."
I haven't had a mammogram since I turned thirty, which was sixteen years ago when I had health insurance that covered such things.  Now, even though I have great independent coverage, I still have a deductible to pay.  I haven't gotten one sooner because I've been fine...or so I thought.  I do monthly self-exams and started going to the doctor annually once I accepted the fact that menopause is right around the corner.  Last year, she said everything looked good.  Still, I never banked on breast pain, discharge, and the fear of what they might mean. 
For the past few years, it's always the left side of my body that’s been a challenge.  That Baker's cyst behind my left knee after the car accident.  The left eye that had a spot requiring special testing.  And now my left breast hurts and is discharging fluid that looks like partially dried milk.  In metaphysics, the left side represents the past, the mother, the receptive side of who I am and what I want to become.  It's my body's way of reminding me that I desperately need to let go of the old tapes…the old ways of being. 
Maybe that's why my left side is speaking so loudly, and now it's finally gotten my attention.  I'm not sure if everything outside of me reflects my inner self, but I do take full responsibility for what is personal to me.  What I create.  How I respond.  I've been in this place of waiting for so long.  Waiting for the right publisher.  Waiting for financial security.  I don't need the experience of waiting anymore.  I need the experience of that for which I've been waiting...NOW!
Tossing and turning, I try everything to help me get to sleep.  Reading a book.  Drinking a glass of warm soy milk.  Writing in my journal.  Nothing helps.  Nothing takes away the fear I feel deep inside. 
I think of all the work I've done this past year.  All the work Kelly's done to pitch A Tapestry of Truth.  While editors all over New York City praise my writing style, the book has yet to find the right publishing house.  For over a year, I've lived with hopeful anticipation that is always met with immediate rejection.  Kelly keeps my spirits up, but it's hard to see other books on the shelves at the store and know that my work is just as good.  Just as worthy of being published. 
And I'm prolific, if nothing else, having finished writing Common Threads last month.  Squirreling around in my head for plot points yielded some long-buried nuts and I'm thankful for the mental housecleaning.  Still, I’m curious to see if I can write a memoir.  Can I allow myself to explore something that real?  Well, what I'm feeling now is certainly real...and I don't much like it.
But then again, I didn't much like most of what happened to me in the first half of my life.  I wonder if that's all I'll ever have...a few peaceful moments sandwiched in-between a host of horrible illnesses, horrifying relationships, and the horrific challenges of financial stress.
I was just getting back on my feet, too.  Now I wonder, Can I accept the loss of my mother and the loss of motherhood without having to die?
My inner drama queen is instantly silenced by the fact that for over a year I had lived with the fear of imminent death when the drug dealers and their arsenal of handguns haunted the duplex next door.  If I do have cancer, it's not an imminent death.  I will deal with it.  I will get treatment. 
I will survive.
So I turn off the light and fall asleep, believing that no matter what happens, I will remember Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote that's posted on my bathroom mirror:  "All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."

In the summer of 2012 I was knee-deep in purge mode.  Every year I spend hours in the basement, cleaning and gleaning that which I no longer need.  Since my return from California, I have little to sift, but I still make piles to donate.  Piles to give away to friends.  It’s a cathartic ritual I annually summon in the weeks before my birthday in order to start my solar New Year fresh and renewed.
But in 2012 I wasn’t purging tangibles.  I was ridding myself of emotional baggage I had hauled across the country and then back again.  For in the back of my mind, I always thought I would one day return to Esalen.   Return for a visit or even longer if the Garden Manager’s job was available.  Return to finish what I had started.  Return to create new beginnings.
In my heart of hearts, I dreamed of selling my novels so that I’d have the means to buy (or at least rent) my own place in Big Sur.  I could come to work part-time in the garden, soak in the tubs, and then leave at the end of the day. 
The fantasy had faded over time, but it never fully diminished.  In the months leading up to the mammogram, I found myself revisiting Esalen in my journals.  In photo albums.  In dreams.  I wrote a novel about a young woman abandoned by her parents who eventually ends up living in an Esalen-esque setting.  And although the characters and plot lines in my novels are fictitious, somehow, I always end up writing a spiritual autobiography. 
By early September Common Threads was finished and I sent it to Kelly.  That night I wrote in my journal about the loneliness I felt at the end of writing a book:  No one really understands how momentous this is…no one’s been a witness to this unfurling.  Maybe that’s how it is for a lot of writers.  Many of us embody the sound of one hand clapping.
But not everything in my literary life was silent.
By this time, Kelly had been pitching A Tapestry of Truth for nearly a year, but had not found the right editorial match.  Even though I was disappointed by the rejections, they didn’t have the same punch as being dismissed for years by literary agents.  At least I was having my work shown to publishing houses.  At least I had that.
One day not long after my birthday, Kelly forwarded me emails from editors who praised my writing style, but had passed on the novel.  It was heartening to read their positive comments and compliments.  It was worth all the years of waiting to be recognized for the time and energy I had put into honing my skills as a novelist.  The years of rewrites and edits.  All the late nights in my office.  All the ink and paper that had gone into submissions.
Still, the whole process made me wonder if I needed to let go of my dream of publishing.  By then I knew I wouldn’t have a baby.  I had all but given up on having a healthy relationship.  Was I going to have to surrender this one, too? 
Pondering this question while running errands, I had a quiet conversation with God.  “I’ve worked my ass off for this, You know,” I said out loud.  “I really want it.  Am I ever going to get published?”
In that moment, I glanced to the right as a truck zoomed past.  The speeding driver was halted at the next red light and as I rolled to a stop, I saw his license plate. 
NOT YET,” it said.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I laughed, “Well, thanks for that, God.  At least it didn’t say, “NO!”
A week later, I was anxiously awaiting the results of the mammogram.  Sleep didn’t come easily.  I lay in dread, thinking about the possibility of having cancer in my left breast, the one closest to my heart.  And I realized that I had been keeping my heart closed for a long time.  Afraid of hoping.  Afraid of setting myself up for failure.  Afraid of repeating the same old patterns.  I resisted being in the world.  Resisted asking for the recognition I wanted. 
The love I needed. 
And yet, I was loved.  I had Lisa and the Sharmas and Barb.  I had my yoga students and neighbors and friends.  No matter what the tests results were, I knew I would be able to take care of myself.  And I would have all the love and support I might need.
That night I had a dream where I was standing at a distance, looking at a charming white house with a wrap-around porch.  I saw an old woman peacefully sitting in a rocking chair.  A young couple came out and covered her with a quilt asking, “Do you need anything, Katie?”
It was then that I realized the old woman was me.  Stepping closer, I felt a presence by my side…an angel or a spirit.  “That is you, Katie,” she said.
It was a beautiful sunny day.  A breeze blew across the porch.  The wind chimes sang in harmony with the rustling leaves.  I saw my older face, etched with lines.  My hair, white as snow.  My lips, rose red.  My eyes, still brown and bright.
Leaning closer, I was suddenly aware that this old woman, this version of me, was going to die.
“See how she relaxes into it?” the angel whispered in my ear.
One moment later, the woman was gone.
“Is it hard to die?” I asked the angel.  
“Easier than taking a breath,” she whispered.
Then both she and the dream vanished.

The next morning my cell phone rang.  The test results were in.  I was fine.  No cancer.  Everything was normal.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I went outside to sit on my front porch that overlooks the lush and lovely gardens which have been both my sanctuary and my salvation.
I took a deep breath.   I let it out.  
With that one breath, I died to the life I had wanted, so that I finally could enter a new one...a life that has been waiting for me with open arms.  In that moment, I let go of needing to be tethered to dreams which would never come true...a life I could never experience.  At last, I had finally crossed the vast sea of a tumultuous past and landed on an empty shore...a blank canvas of luminous existence.
I now see how my novels are infinitely about mothers and daughters in all varieties -- abortions and miscarriages, births and adoptions, unintentional abandoners and stalwart protectors.   
And I have symbolically embodied them all. 
The writing of each novel has allowed me to more fully understand all of the women in my life.  My mother and my sisters.  My grandmother and my aunts.  My friends and even those who seemed like adversaries.  For each one has been a reflection through which I have seen different aspects of myself. 
The breast pain is still intermittent and I've also experienced bouts of tachycardia similar to the one I had on Thanksgiving of 2010.  My body continues to speak clearly and I've learned how to listen carefully, responding with compassion and understanding.  For the past year I've encountered losses in many areas of my life and am not really comfortable floating in the hollow spaces left behind.  Yet through it all I've once again cycled around to the question I always ask when my life is in flux and I'm not sure what to do or where to turn:  What kind of woman do I want to be now?
In the process of discovering the answer, I've read articles on financially successful writers, on what readers crave in an ever-changing culture, on what's popular and how to make myself stand out enough to garner new literary representation.  The word branding has come up again and again, not only in terms of writing style, but in business savvy as well. To be slick and have a hook is paramount. 
While I'm reticent to admit I fit into any one category, I'm clear that I'm developing a style that's ever evolving.  When Kelly was pitching my work to publishing houses, she labeled me as a commercial fiction writer, explaining that my novels would appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests.  It sounded good to me, but I still scratched my head when she sent my work to a popular romance book publisher.  And then I thanked the gods they rejected me...twice.
Six months later, Kelly changed gears and shifted my work into the literary fiction category.  There was some serious interest from a couple of editors, but in the end they all passed.  Nevertheless, they all praised my writing style, but said my novels weren't enticing enough for them to offer me a contract.  So last April, after three years of rewriting and editing, of trial and error, of hopeful anticipation followed by rejection, I made the difficult choice to end my contract with Kelly. 
In less than six months, I self-published the first edition of this memoir and two novels.  Then I changed the title of Turtle Island to A Tapestry of Truth and returned it to its original premise.  By June it was self-published along with the latest book in the series, Common Threads.  This past summer I sketched out plans for a children's book based on the darling fairy garden I created in my front yard.  I honed and edited three yoga books for kids and sifted through my notes for a non-fiction book I'll be writing in 2017 called Growing the Lotus which will illustrate the long and lovely journey I've been taking with my yoga students since 2011.  This fall I've been researching and outlining a novel that is unlike anything I've written before and it's been a daunting process, but not without its gifts of grace.  
Recently I was lamenting to my neighbor that, after twenty years of working toward greater awareness, I thought the process would get easier.
Tyler shook his head.  "It only gets deeper."
Which is the cardinal reason why my heart is once again calling for my attention. 
I've always known I'm unbrandable.  I can't be the kind of writer who figures out what the public wants and then carves out my niche in the genre.  I can't spend any more time being angry or frustrated that I've not been rewarded with a publishing contract after all the time and energy I've spent trying to become a better writer.  I simply need to write for myself.  For the stories that want to be born through my imagination.  For the characters who weave their way through the creative process and always reveal inherent lessons that have been slumbering in my subconscious.  Only then will I find the success of having written from the heart of who I am, not a facsimile of what others demand or desire.
Like anything that grows, I will simply become more of who I am meant to be.  What comes next is unknowable, yet ultimately freeing.  And in that open space, my heart can finally be at peace.
Through it all, may I continue to be blessed with inspiration and endless opportunities. 

And may I continue to keep walking forward on the open road before me.