In the dictionary I discovered that one of the definitions for the noun “natural” is “a creamy beige color.”
I like creamy beige and do not, like some people, see it as a dull hue. On life’s color wheel, the color coordinates with almost everything. It’s a mellow, tame color. Creamy beige’s calming, soothing effect befits painting it on the walls of a psychiatric unit.
When I am in a natural state of being, I am calm. The state involves ego deflation, a process I started to learn over 36 years ago through consistent 12-step work. Now, in my new normal, I sign-off conversations, saying, “be calm.” In my past life, I used to say, “Hang in there.” After my trauma, the H-word kicks off a dangerous association that feels like it’s on a repeating loop that belts me into a sinkhole of anxiety.
Anyway, when I try to be “normal” and fit into norm, the tension compounds in the back of my neck and my heart feels like a tomato dried and shriveled.
Back in my late 20s, a Catholic priest, with whom I spent 12 years on an annual Women’s Lenten Retreat, reinforced the relevance of living “natural” and not “normal”. The priest, also a certified psychoanalysis, prompted me to substitute the word “natural” for “normal.”
One recent example of living in the natural realm was when my friend and I strolled along Long Island Sound. On our way, we stopped and conversed with an older woman who was scrubbing individual rocks from a pile of rocks until she reached a white smooth surface. Despite the fact that I found Geology 101 to be a daunting college course that I barely completed, I have a penchant for rocks. My son and I shared the same fascination. The last time I visited Kentucky when he was alive in 2018, we took a rock exploration road trip. I was raised on rock and roll, but I’ll take a natural rock formation over rock music any day. There’s a psychology behind it. Rocks give me solidity and help me feel balanced — metaphorically speaking, standing on solid ground.
So, I inquired what the woman on the beach was planning to do with her 50 some spic-and-span rocks. First, she explained that she only sourced one rock a day at her hometown beach about ten miles away. In contrast, she came to farm this area because of the booty: dozens of rocks in a day. It was interesting information. I never knew different beaches produce different rock harvests.
Second, answering my question, she said she gathered the rocks to lay on top of her father’s grave to prevent the grass from overgrowing. After conversing a tad longer, we bid the woman goodbye and continued our walk. On the way back, the woman was gone, but I noticed that she had left behind about three dozen rocks, all the color and texture of toothpaste.
“I’m going to get some rocks to bring home!” I exclaimed.
“You don’t need rocks,” my friend replied.
I ignored her advice that I knew was well meaning since, who really “needs” rocks? I mean, to most people rocks are not a normal household acquisition. Fortunately, my “natural” inclination won out. I grabbed three rocks, and I brought them home without any specific purpose in mind.
Arriving home, I plopped the rocks on a table in the hallway and went about my household chores. I looked at the rocks all day and then, out of the blue, I realized the rocks’ purpose.
I grabbed a fat black marker and inscribed the rocks with my son’s name, “Mom” and “E,” our family’s, especially her brother’s, nickname for my daughter. Writing the names, I obsessed over the word “permanent” on the marker’s container. It was my son’s marker and it had outlived him. So far, it appeared that there really was one permanent item in the world of temporary things.
Afterwards, I made the dreaded trip to the cemetery and placed the rocks in front of my son’s plaque. (The plaque that the funeral director left marks his spot since I cannot bare to order a foot stone.) In turn, the rocks accomplished what they always do, they brought me a sense of balance and comfort.
When my daughter visited for the weekend, she accompanied me to the cemetery and saw the rocks. The site energized her and as she took photos, she announced, “It’s the most beautiful plot in the cemetery.”
As sad as the circumstances of a child’s death, the memory of that moment at my son’s grave with his light-footed sister is framed in a creamy beige, the color of our rock trio that fits naturally into the landscape and gives you the faith that some designs are divinely inspired.
Eleven years ago, my ex-husband suffered a mental breakdown and abandoned his family. Last Father’s Day, my then 25-year-old daughter, Alexandra, had weathered the holiday storm well, especially considering that she was in isolation as a result of the worldwide pandemic, and it was the first Father’s Day she was grieving the loss of her 21-month older, only sibling.
A few people over the years have offered unsolicited advice, saying that my role was to be a father as well as a mother. I told them that’s pure nonsense. I can only be a mother, because that’s my role. My role is not a father role. My role as a mother has changed, but during those times when a situation baffled me, my 12-Step foundation kicked in and the answer never failed: unconditional love.
I knew it was a sad holiday for her and on the wings of faith (and Mama Sandra) this past Sunday, I did what I really was scared to death to do, but did anyway, and that was to drive into New York City from our little green town about an hour and a half away for a visit with Alexandra. After 30 minutes, I regretted my decision since it seemed everyone on the road was vying to size up for the Indy 500. In comparison, I felt as if I were Grandma Moses hitting the highway, taking a folk art painting break for the day.
When I finally arrived, Alexandra and I went to a nearby movie theater to see In the Heights. My daughter, a former Washington Heights resident, had been raving about the movie since its premiere. I suppose most people attend movies in the same manner they brush their teeth – without overthinking it. For me now, I live in the screenshot of life, but, in actuality, I am also knee deep in a subplot that changes, but what doesn’t change is the reoccurring theme of pain.
This was the first movie I saw since the passing of my best bud, brilliant 26-year-old son, Marshall. As we walked inside, down the movie theater’s hallway, my PTSD from losing a child kicked off. Here’s a little snapshot of the subplot that played in my mind:
What was the last movie he ever saw? Oh, that’s right. It was about two years before he died alone in the bedroom closet of a house he rented in Kentucky, a death later sealed with a clean toxicology report, the site of two previous suicides. I have no clue what movie he saw, but it was shortly before the landlord wouldn’t allow him to break the lease of the house he despised. He went with a woman he had recently met online. I was overjoyed at the idea that he met her and did not have to be alone on the weekends. As it turned out, for about a month in Kentucky, she finagled every dime she could from my son to provide complimentary entertainment and dumped him after Marshall started realizing that she was taking advantage of his resources.
What was the last movie I saw with my son? I believe it was Avatar in 2009. When we were still a family unit, the four of us sat engrossed as we watched the movie. Silly me, I lavished in those moments, not because of the movie, but because I was sitting next to the three most important people in my life. During that time my gratitude could fill the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and that was just to start with, because it overflowed. Silly me.
In essence, since the 2019 tragedy, I have trained myself to black out my mind’s screen. Inhale. Exhale. Real world.
I chanted my mantra: Keep the faith. You will make it through.
However, ten minutes into the movie’s preview section, I took a nosedive into the dark abyss. I felt like a flea that was swallowed up by a bad, bloody case of hemorrhoids as overblown as the theater. This time faith was futile. No mantra would work.
You see, two separate movie trailers involved two young men who died of suicide. Both of the clips hit deathly close to home. I braced, tried not to fall too far into the bloody swamp. I heard my daughter ask, “Do you need to go into the lobby?”
No lobby. Just a lobotomy I need. That was what I wanted to say but froze and somehow my sick humor helped to pull me up, and I returned into my skin as the hemorrhoidal monster shrunk.
Keep the faith. You will make it through.
By some miracle, I was able to focus on the movie. You do not have to be Hispanic or a first-generation American or immigrant to relate to the musical that is filled with a sense of hopefulness in the eye of the hopeless and voices in a climate of the voiceless.
“We are all one.”
That’s what I thought as I saw Alexandra’s tears flow. It was then that I realized living life in America is not always about achieving the so-called American Dream: Life, Liberty and Justice for All. It is also about lifting each other up as a community when we fall into the subplots of life that do not appear as if they were written for us in mind. Those times when we feel forced to wear costumes in which there is barely room to move, because they are not suited for us, yet we manage to stuff ourselves down to our “soles” and walk the line of courage with fake faith and hope.
Examining the movie closer, my daughter saw her grandmother, my mother, who died in 2015, in the character of Abuela Claudia, matriarch and surrogate grandmother of the barrio. She keeps her culture alive and never loses the true definition of value. Abuela is the perfect example of how we, as a society, should not measure people by their titles, but on the ground they stand on because, in the final analysis, it is how they make it sacred – turn it into a better place than it was before they stepped on it, even if that means undertaking a tiny action like making their bed in the morning.
Abuela’s ground is sacred because she views everything as sacred, even a bread crumb. Powerless to her meager circumstances, she finds willpower to forge on in life by stringing herself along on the small details that skip others by, details like hand embroidered towels. Likewise, even though the world beat my mom to the ground, she survived by seeking leverage from little things like robins and sparrows. No matter how insignificant to others, she reveled in the details, a perspective the movie brings to light.
I, in fact, remember my mom making the sign of the cross three times and kissing a piece of bread before reverently putting it in her hand to eat. I can also recall my mom flattening wrapping paper in her soft hands and putting it in a drawer that smelled like a lilac garden. The drawer was full of crumbled wrapping paper from gifts she or our family had received over the years. To her, it was not just her appreciation, but the value of the giver who put the effort behind presenting the gift. It was as if she took the love that was given and continued its acknowledgment into infinity.
Thankful for every little crumb of substance, like Abuela, my mom, as limited as she was, did not limit her generosity and was truly delighted to bestow gifts of her own. For years, when I was growing up, she knitted poodle dogs around whiskey bottles for many of the neighbors. Sometimes I was saddened because she wrapped things that were already in the house and gave them to me on my birthday or Christmas as presents. Today, I realize it wasn’t that we didn’t have the money or she was being vicious, it was that everything to her was a gift. Like Christians who spread the word of the gospel, she spread love through re-gifting, because nothing in her eyes lost its value even if it loitered around for years and years.
In fact, when my mom gave my daughter or son something of hers like a butterfly pin, it wasn’t just a piece of jewelry. It was a part of her and she gave it with her heart and soul. That was why Alexandra wept, because each and every little token her beloved baba presented, no strings attached, to both her grandchildren, is the spirit that weaves through her and brightens my daughter’s sad and cloudy life. Hopefully, one day the good memories shared with her brother and maybe, by some miracle, her father, will also lighten the load she carries.
My soul, too, is a tapestry of unconditional love, gifts I have received over the years. It patches me up when I am down lower than dirt so I can stand my ground and maybe be strong enough to give pieces of it away. This is the faith I walk. Giving others unconditional love is my duty to carry on the legacy.
Alexandra summed up the movie as we hit the hot air outside the theater: “It’s all about community!”
I remembered when she was younger and said DNA did not make a family. Love did. If this is the case, my daughter and I have a huge family bulging at the sides! It is our little barrio full of people like the children’s godmother and my partner and his family and my friends Michelle, Camille, Anna and Anne and the handful of people who walked March 2020 on Marshall’s behalf to raise awareness that we are all vulnerable, regardless of how we act, what we do or what we say; and so many others, who drive the extra mile to visit. It is the people who do not understand our pain, but will ask us about it because they are ready to listen without judgment. It is the people who are brave enough to mention my MARSHALL’s name and share a beautiful memory about him.
In the movie, the community of Washington Heights experiences a blackout, but at their lowest point they prevail because of the one lone voice that tickles the imagination to believe in Santa Claus proportions. Eventually, the electrical power comes back and lights up the Heights. In the end (spoiler alert) Abuela dies, but the director successfully presents the process of dying as walking into a bright light.
That’s our non-DNA family: a bright light that if we can’t find it, it will find us, and we have a steel-like faith that we will travel through those Indy 500 days even if it knocks the wind out of us because in the end, the only thing of lasting value is love.
This year, one of the retail business owners commented on the local news station how meat and other food products are flying off the shelves as compared to last year. As many of us turn the corner of COVID-19, people feel a need to compensate for the celebrations that the pandemic erased from 12 calendar months.
Calendars serve a lot of other purposes than just tracking special dates, holidays and appointments. For one thing, they can signify importance. When I was an adolescent, I was a recluse. Long before the days of personal computers in the 70s, I spent my lonely days updating my wall calendar, tracking holidays, birthdays and school projects in different colored markers, pens and embellished the days with a variety of seasonally themed stickers. In actuality, whether weekends or weekdays, rarely did I get invited to parties. The process elevated my life. Apart from gifting myself with a false sense of importance, my calendar also offered me a true sense of organization and control during the fragile coming-of-age period in my life.
In the 80s, as I started taking responsibility for my actions and allowed people, some of whom became lifelong friends, into my life. I “grew down,” becoming less self-centered, and reckoned with the fact that I didn’t have to color my life by bringing a false sense of significance to it. My fellow, Allan, aided the process. Some of his favorite sayings were, “Out of all the grains of sand, we are one mere speck!” and “In a hundred years, what will it matter?”
My calendars reflected my new maturity, and they became black-and-white, practical pages that kept track of appointments and reminders.
When my first child, a son, was born in 1993, ironically, at the beginning of the year in January, my calendar-keeping bug not only revived but sparked into an inferno. I purchased a new calendar and an array of stickers and markers and recorded every little hiccup, smile and gained ounce of weight. This practice continued with my second child, a daughter, in 1995. For years, it were as if I wanted to freeze both of them in time, like butterflies under a glass display case to admire them like an over-enthusiastic curator.
I’ve learned, especially through my son’s untimely death, that curators belong in museums. Life has a divine curator, and I can’t tell you all the particulars, but I have full faith that it is not me. For the most part, I ceased my over-indulged calendar-keeping duties when the children grew older. Sure, I noted appointments, assignments and important dates, but, as the stresses of daily life elevated, the new teeth and height spirts became too time consuming to commemorate.
Today, I continue to update my calendar with the bare minimum. In addition, I now have another calendar displayed on the wall downstairs that I turn on the 15th day to the following month, which happens to be today, because instead of chasing behind time, I want time to accelerate and move faster as if I will reach a finishing line for my grief.
The grief that tracks me month after month, season after season, is mine alone to process, not micromanage nor deny, but, wow, somedays its weight can cover me 10 feet deep in cement. I can’t turn the clock back, but I can turn the calendar ahead to give me some sort of symbolic reprieve.
Thankfully, after knowing such influential people like Allan, I can step aside and not allow my jaded vision to dilute others who have faith that their upcoming milestones, celebrations, commitments, important dates and special days ahead will come to fruition because they are marked in permanent ink.
In my inner circle, sometimes the curmudgeons criticize others when they share about their feelings of pain, as well as sadness, and other emotions involving certain situations that they feel are trivial. For instance, if someone cries, saying, “I met someone who I thought was a keeper, and he | she stood me up after the first date.”
One of the curmudgeons’ favorite replies to a statement like this is, “Don’t cry over broken shoelaces.”
On the other hand, my usual response is, “If those broken shoelaces hurt that person, let him or her cry!”
I could never understand why we assign quantitative, numerical values on a person’s personal feelings and emotions. Feelings and emotions are as individual as a person’s fingerprints. Recently, I read that if fingerprints are burned off, duplicate ones grow back. This is like a metaphor for pain and/or emotions and if we alter them to fit another person’s morphsuit they don’t lessen. Instead, if you’ve read any of the research about blocked emotions, you know they cause a negative impact on mental and physical health.
I don’t need research. During my adolescent years until my mid-twenties, I battled insomnia and suffered from a gamut of gastrointestinal issues. Every remedy I tried, lied. What worked was to identify and learn how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable emotions like fear, sadness and anger without inflicting self-harm or harming others.
Pain and emotions are universal, but their intensity is different for everyone and, as such, shouldn’t be judged. To put it in context, a couple of weeks ago, I saw my neighbors constructing a handful of tents, about eight feet wide and high, in their backyard. I figured it was for a party, likely for their daughter.
Sure enough, the father surprised me at my front door when he handed me his cell number. He explained that they were hosting a prom night sleepover for his daughter and a group of her friends. He told me he wanted to be a respectful neighbor and that if the kids turned rowdy, not to hesitate to call him at any hour.
“Let them party!” I replied and meant it.
My response created a comfort zone for my neighbor. He removed his guard and revealed that it was a tough time for him and his wife with their only daughter moving on to “the next stage of life.”
Suddenly, as he unsuccessfully fought the tears, he said his daughter’s relocation to an out-of-state university was heartbreaking. There I stood, like a strong, sturdy pair of steel pliers while inside I crumbled. I realized the grief spilled over his situation could be dismissed as a “broken shoelace” emotion, especially in the eyes of a grieving mom who lost her handsome, brilliant 26-year-old son to suicide. Knowing each other only in passing, obviously he was not privy to our family’s tragedy.
The one and only time he encountered my son was in 2010 after my now ex-husband abandoned his family responsibilities and our neighbor and his daughter, who had recently moved in next door, were in our yard. We mistakenly thought they were helping themselves to our fireplace wood.
My son, daughter and I scooted out on the second floor deck. My son played the role of family protector and in his deep, distinct voice instructed our neighbor, “If you wanted wood, you could have just asked.”
In response, my neighbor laughed and explained they did not need wood, only their ball and thanked us before leaving the premises.
The man now in front of me believed my son, a genuinely good, sensitive and quiet guy, was alive and thriving, living away from home. I looked into his eyes and sometimes a familiar face transports me back to my old self in the days when I took faith for granted, when it was common and as plentiful as mosquitos in the summertime, when I was steadfast in believing only good prevailed.
Then and there, I knew that I had a choice with my grieving neighbor, this broken man in front of me. Stab him with the raw reality. Tell him to stop being a cry baby over a pair of broken shoelaces, especially in light of my tragedy. In this way, I would not only shut him up, but feel as if I’d won in the pain department and, likely, ruin his whole weekend as he would probably feel guilty over his broken shoelace grief.
The man, in fact, reminded me of my similar state of distress when I left my son behind in the classroom on his first day at preschool. I walked like a zombie to the car and immediately after I sat inside, I bawled uncontrollably because the feeling of letting go of my son was devastating, like having every single cell in my body forcefully removed with a sharp pair of tweezers.
“You know how it is. You’ve been through it,” my neighbor muttered through his tear-stained face.
Another scenario occurred to me. Nine years prior after her godmother and I dropped my daughter off for her first semester at college, I bawled during the entire six-hour ride home. Fortunately, my daughter’s godmother didn’t squelch my emotions and because I processed my grief over the separation, I felt better by the time we arrived home.
I nodded at my neighbor like one of my mentors, Cornelia, who, in fact, lost two sons had taught me through her example so long ago.
“It will be okay. Really,” I assured the grief-stricken man before he made a beeline home.
Afterwards, I forced myself to keep the painted smile on my face and conduct the motions of life, but, wow, I was drowning in my children’s bittersweet high school memories at the time when their father abandoned them. Through it all, somehow I managed to keep my head above water. Cornelia, who is now deceased, would have been proud.
Grief, like sadness, I reiterate, is not an emotion to assign a quantitative value to. My natural emotional state of being now encompasses grief. I lug my griefcase wherever I go, and somedays it is heavier than others. Louis, my therapist, who lost a child of his own, promises that the emotions and feelings will lessen in intensity. Of course, we both agree they will not go “poof” and disappear. I live as an amputee who not only has to get used to the new normal, but also learn how to manage the pain.
One of my friends attends a group for grieving parents who have lost children to death. She told me that one of the sessions revolved around the idea that, “There is nothing worse than losing a child.”
In light of this statement, the group members minimized all other types of grief, whether it resulted from losing a spouse or parent or friend and so on. And I told my friend that kind of group would not be a proper fit for me. I don’t want to wash out someone’s grief with my own. The man at my door is entitled to feel his grief from “losing his daughter” as much as I am entitled to my grief at losing a son to suicide.
K.L. Hale, a beautiful member of this blogging community, wrote a heartfelt comment to me after last week’s post. She said, “after 2 1/2 years of not seeing my sons (only because of their Air Force duties) I would think of you. Your loss put things into perspective for me. Your words leave me with tears running down my face. The beauty that you’re able to give us all is faith indeed. I’m so proud of all you have overcome to find that inner peace.”
My reply was: “Thanks to people like you, I am able to hold my head up, carry my griefcase bravely and keep the faith. What has helped me most is the hope that my pain will somehow help heal the world. You have brought this hope of mine to fruition, and I am deeply moved. So moved in fact that you’ve inspired my post’s topic for next week!”
What I also want to say to this beautiful, faith-filled woman is: “We walk these roads of sadness together, never alone as we think of one another and feel our human connection. Allow my loss to help you through this difficult time, but also validate your loss and embrace it. Your feelings of sadness are real and important, and they matter because you matter and through the process, if you have not yet found your inner peace, it will find you. Whether you choose to call it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Goodness, it is deep within you. I promise, because I was fortunate to discover it so many years ago, and I have lived there ever since.”
Everyone is entitled to feel what they feel and experience their emotions when they want to and for however long they need to. In fact, if I can find my way out of my pain and sit with another person’s pain, more times than not, I feel better. The bottom line is, it alleviates my suffering to focus on yours and sometimes it gives me the reprieve I need. Life is hard but we’re in it together, at least for today. Tomorrow some of us that are here right at this moment will be missing, I guarantee it. So let’s hold on tight, keep the faith and allow ourselves to feel our vulnerabilities that are part of our humanness. In fact, if we practice at it, it should become as natural as tying a pair of shoelaces.
In the late 1990s, I attended a seminar in which a woman discussed her recently published book about her experience of working with dying AIDS patients in New York City. Most of her talk centered around the taboo topic of death in today’s world. One of the biggest mistakes we make as a society, she said, is to presume that when a loved one leaves the premises, he or she will return.
My former self would never have fathomed how the author’s profound statement would one day relate to my own life. Two years ago this past Memorial Day weekend, my son left his childhood home and went back to his home, never to return again. My memory frames his tall, broad-shouldered, 26-year-old portrait standing inside our front door. The flashback triggers feelings of sadness and loss, wet and heavy like a low pile rug drenched in pain. I cannot wring out the emotions nor erase the calm look and smile on his ginger-bearded face in those shared final moments. When he was younger, he was the spitting image of his father. Now, his uncanny resemblance to me was unmistakable. Like a baby blanket hand washed hundreds of times, he was familiar to me. Ironically, at the time I was grateful that, in many ways, my job as a mom was a proud accomplishment. He had grown up into a successful young man. Best of all, I thought, I instilled a sense of independence in him and despite a string of setbacks, he had flown the nest.
The airport shuttle bus driver, who was waiting in the driveway to transport him to the airport, beeped the horn. I followed my son outside. I paid little attention to what I took for granted as just another gifted moment. As he sat in the mini bus, I do remember feeling as if he were a young boy again and leaving on the school bus. I waved goodbye as the vehicle disappeared. A part of my former, practical self kicked in and I became focused on my engine red to-do list that was on fire in my mind because there were endless chores, obligations and responsibilities to check off. Yet, another part of me yearned for him to stay one more day and watch the town’s Memorial Day parade, the one he once loved to participate in when he was growing up where there was always a place for him. Just one more day.
I was confident in our Gorilla Heavy Duty Adhesive bond and was tricked to believe no human hands, certainly not our own, could sever it. I returned to the house alone, walked into the entranceway where my mind’s eye captured a snapshot of him towered high, emphasized by the door’s frame. Saying his final goodbye, he had stood in front of the main door with his back to where the sun sets and not far from where our road intersects with another road named Sunset Drive. The same route the driver traveled to take my son home to where he lived on Sunset Road in Kentucky, about 600 miles away. Six months later, the unimaginable happened and my life as I had known it went poof like the blank shells fired during Memorial Day parades.
How could this have happened in my miracle-filled, storied life that began thirty-five years prior when I stood at a crossroads? At that time, I was given a second chance in my life and slowly developed a life of faith. It started when, angry at religion and filled with notions of a punishing God, the 12-step program I later ascribed to taught me to believe in something other than myself. This “something” was called a higher power, and I learned that the higher power could be as random as a doorknob, but the key was, as long as it wasn’t me, it seeded a belief, and the idea of giving up my reign of control on outside circumstances helped me discover something I never experienced – inner peace.
During those years, after a rough ego-shedding start, I was grateful for my new life. My thank-you notes were action steps. Whether someone needed a car ride or a supportive phone call, I helped. I also volunteered at the local hospital’s mental health unit. I watched resilient people overcome insurmountable obstacles. Living a life of witnessing miracles, how could I not envision a bright, promising future for my one and only son? However, the string of happy tomorrows was ripped from me like perfectly healthy layers of skin. The tragedy happened 21 days after a 35-year milestone of my practicing the 12-step principles. It was a time of celebration. On that tragic day, however, I stepped on the landmine I had built out of my sugarcoated optimism, fantasies and misconceptions, and it detonated; my former self left behind in the explosion.
When I saw my son for the last time, framed in the soft cushion of his metal coffin, my new self released into his lifeless palms crowned with his slim fingers and bruised hands, my former self’s 35-year coin, a hallmark of recovery that I carried proudly for over three decades in my wallet like a medal of honor.
Now, nearly 19 months later, the minefields are cleared. I do not trip over booby-traps of overexaggerated optimism, and there are no milestone victory coins any longer in my possession. Don’t get me wrong. I am indebted to the people who helped me achieve those thirty-five years. I have not lost my inner peace. Now, though, I exist within a heavy metal grief framework. I head into my 37th year of recovery with feet flat, accepting life on life’s terms, allowing the raw reality to bite hard, but without chewing me to a pulp. I put my faith into believing that one day the barren, flat ground underneath me will be the perfect level to witness a sunrise; a luminescent horizon, a photo worth framing that makes you believe in an endless loop of miracles that make a surprise grand entrance at your front door.