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Monday, September 29, 2014

It Drives Me Crazy

Maybe it's because I was raised by a cranky old woman and now I'm turning into one. I'm not entirely sure. Although Gram remains one of my favorite people in the world, she was never shy to tell me, when she thought I was wrong, that I was a stupid jackass. Seriously! Something along the lines of, "Only a jackass would think that was a smart thing to do/say/think/whatever." Along those lines, she often told me that Liz and I left more fingerprints around the house than she did because we were from a lower class of people than she was, and therefore had more oil in our fingertips. Hmm. I thought it was because we were young and kept touching our faces a lot, but who knew? Perhaps she was descended from the greatest poets and warriors of Ireland. When I studied Irish history with Professor Jeremiah Ring in college and told him where the two sides of her family originated, he shook his head sadly, frowned, and said that they were definitely not high-class areas. But I kept that to myself, because I made the choice not to judge based on where a person was from, or indulge in stereotyping. Enough said, yes?

Although I don't refer to others as jackasses (unless they do really horrifically stupid things while driving, in which case Trent and I award them J.A. points) I have to admit that people often drive me crazy. In these days of quick internet communication and reporting, it seems that the standards of writing and editing have gone by the wayside. Or perhaps the editors in question have a less than solid grip on the basics of the language. These days it seems that I read a news or entertainment-type story at least once daily that makes the writer look as though they aren't quite up to the task at hand. Today I looked at two different entertaining news stories, and found myself shaking my head in dismay. One article had the line, "...has since wrote a book..." What?! She has since wrote a book? Try written, my dear. Please. Another story, which showed models struggling to walk runways in ridiculously tall and dangerous shoes, ended with, "Let's here it for these models." Umm, no. Here refers to location, my dear writer. How about, "Let's hear it for these models," as in let's give a cheer which we all can hear? It drives me crazy.

There's something else confounding that happens every year. I'm referring to the over-eager, under-informed Independence Day comments. I am sad to report that there are many people here in the USA that have no idea when the Declaration of Independence was signed. And I can tell you, with a dread-filled certainty, that somewhere in the USA, heartfelt comments such as these will appear on July 4, 2015. "Happy Birthday, USA! 2015 years old today," or, "Happy Birthday, America, 2015 years old today!" There are couple of very important things here that drive this child of immigrants crazy. One: America is not a country. There are two continents, North and South America, with the bits in the center often referred to as Central America. Two: the United States of America declared independence from England, or the United Kingdom, in 1776. When July 4, 2015 rolls around, the USA will be 239 years of age. I don't know for sure how old North America, the continent, will be in 2015, but it will be pretty darn old. Much older than 2015 years, for certain.

There's other little things that have me mystified. I know that languages are living, changing things. Sometimes the changes happen deliberately, like the LOL and LEL and SMH and ROTFL and other assorted spoons of alphabet soup. I accept that, and understand it fully. Heck, I remember when gross changed from 144 (a dozen dozen) to icky or disgusting. But it's stuff like people saying agreeance instead of agreement that sets my teeth on edge. (By the way, some sources say that agreeance is acceptable, but I just can't handle it. I think it's gross.) And people saying "now in days." What the heck does that mean, anyway? Just use the good old-fashioned nowadays, please. Or "I could care less," which is essentially a statement that you do care, instead of "I couldn't care less." It drives me crazy. But at least it's a short trip!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I Really Can't Say

I have this theory that we all have words that give us problems. We may have a problem pronouncing them, or understanding them, or maybe even spelling them. We want to say something, but we can't, and it's not because we're trying to keep a secret of monumental proportions. We just really can't say them. For the ones among you reading this and thinking to yourselves that it just isn't so, you have no problems, let me say one thing. You just might not have experienced your trip word/s yet. Or it could be that you're just many times smarter than everyone else I know, in which case I salute you. You're awesome.

Gram used to have a few words that came out kind of funny, but I would never have disrespected her by laughing at them. Of course it wasn't just courtesy and love, there was some self-preservation at play as well. If I had pointed anything out, she might have done what she would have called giving me the sharp side of her tongue. If it isn't obvious what that means, just think of words that are sharp enough to cut you to shreds and leave you shaking in fear.

One of Gram's trouble words was confiscate. I first heard it when she was talking about a news story having to do with a major drug bust. The police literally found stacks of money in the house, which was taken away as evidence. Gram told me that the police had confisticated thousands and thousands of dollars in cash that was found in a house on a major crime bust. I know that Trent won't make fun of Gram for this, either. His trip-you-up-words are far shorter and simpler. One of them is iron, as in the mineral or the wrinkle eradicator. Mm-hmm. See, it happens to most of us.

I have one that's pretty silly. When lupus became a part of my life, it did so in a dramatic fashion, attacking my kidneys. After very aggressive treatment, my kidneys were saved, but sustained minor permanent damage. As is often the case with mild kidney damage, this left me with elevated blood pressure. It's such a simple phrase, really. High blood pressure - what's so tough about that? Not a thing. Except that when I say it, I have to concentrate so that it doesn't come out as, "I have high blood plessure." I find it frustrating and embarrassing. I can say antedeluvian (a highfaluting word that means "before the flood," and is a way of saying something is terribly old-fashioned) and prestidigitation (magic or slight-of-hand), but I can't tell someone I have high blood pressure without really concentrating on the words. And as a companion to that, I have a really hard time typing certain words, one of which is remember, which usually comes out as remeber.

Something that helps me feel a bit better about myself when I stumble over certain words is remembering my Aunt Jackie, Gram's daughter. Her ability to mangle certain words over and over again was the stuff of family legend. Her most famous incident occurred in a Woolworth's store when she and her sister Alice went shopping together. Alice had wandered off, and Jackie was looking at a table of fabric remnants that were being sold at greatly reduced prices. She found one piece that she must have thought was particularly beautiful, because she called out to Alice, who was across the store, "Alice, come look at the Rembrandt I found on the sale table!" To the best of everyone's knowledge, no one suffered any permanent injuries or loss of limbs in the small riot that ensued.

I was particularly entertained whenever I heard her say something about taking a couple of Ty-nols for headaches or other pains, or needing a spatulator when cooking. Her all-time greatest, though, was often used at a time when something happened that made her particularly angry. One evening when she was on her way home from work, she stopped by to share dinner with us. She was telling Gram that she was glad to be coming over for some of her mother's cooking, because she had not eaten much lunch that day. She had gone out to a nearby sandwich shop, but was so disgusted by how dirty it was that she lost her appetite. She was practically yelling, saying that she would never set foot in that place again. "It was absolutely thilthy! I've never seen such a thilthy place in my whole life! It made me sick to my stomach!" Gram and I managed to keep ourselves together, and we were very sympathetic to what Jackie had experienced that day. But we laughed ourselves silly in relief when she finally went on her way. 

Now that I think about it, there was an almost a Shakespearean quality to the whole thing, just with very bad timing. He would never have had the high drama and the comic relief that close to each other in the same scene! And if I offended you by saying that we got a belly laugh out of it when Jackie was gone, I hope you'll consider forgiving me, because I'm really not a completely cruel and insensitive person. Gram and I had a few chuckles over it with Jackie herself after she had cooled down, and she thought it was funny, too. If we should ever meet, my dear reader, and I mangle something terribly, I would love to have you laugh with me over it. I hear that laughter does wonders for your blood plessure!

Saturday, September 20, 2014


When I was in my late teens I had long, flowing hair - almost long enough to sit on. It was easy to care for and do various things with, and I really enjoyed it. It was long enough that I'd sometimes be sitting in an armchair and it would lay across my arm and tickle me. Using the hand on my opposite arm to toss my hair back was a normal and automatic behavior, something that happened almost unconsciously.

One lovely summer day, I was sitting in an armchair by the front door while Gram and I were visiting with my cousin Vicky who had dropped in that afternoon. Various subjects were covered and we relaxed and enjoyed our shared time with laughter and smiles. My hair was tickling my arm, so I reached up with my right hand to toss the hair over my left shoulder. This happened once or twice, but the darn hair was still tickling me. This wasn't unusual; everyone sheds some hairs now and again. It wasn't uncommon for one of them to end up draped over my arm, making me feel a tickle. So I glanced down at my arm to see where the offending long golden hair was. Instead of a long strand of hair, I saw something that looked like this on my arm.

Now, I have to admit that spiders are not my favorite creatures on the planet, even though Charlotte's Web was one of my favorite books as a child. Being raised by a woman who claimed that she could hear a spider walk across the ceiling or wall probably didn't help. Although I was also afraid of them, I was the official spider-eradicator in our household. I know on an intellectual level that spiders are beneficial - without them, other insects would be out of control and take over the planet. But they give me the creepy-crawlies if they touch me. And the thought of them crawling over my face in the night just makes me twitchy all over. 

This critter on my arm was a Bold Jumping Spider. Yes, they have great jumping abilities. And they don't just have the eight legs to make you feel twitchy - they are also hairy. In my past experiences with them, I had found them to be the toughest spiders I had ever seen. You'd step on one, lift your foot, and find the spider scurrying away, all the while laughing at you. "Ha, ha, ha, try again, human!" If you accomplished your goal of instant spider-death when you stepped on one, there was an audible crunching sound that was every bit as disconcerting as the combination of multiple legs and freakish hairiness. 

So when I saw my greatest arachnid nemesis sitting on my arm, I reacted by completely losing my decorum. I batted at the spider while jumping up from my chair and shouting heaven knows what. I believe I was even jumping up and down, still brushing at my arm, and saying things like, "Get off of me, get off me!" Gram and Vicky turned and looked at me, shocked, and probably frightened. I told them that I had a spider on my arm, but of course, the spider was nowhere to be seen. The combination of my flinging it off my arm and its resilience and jumping abilities had enabled it to flee the scene of the crime, and leave me looking like someone who had completely taken leave of her senses. I am sure that neither Gram nor Vicky ever believed my there's-a-spider-on-my-arm story. But I saw it, and felt it, and I know it was there.

I think the two of them not-so-secretly thought that I was experiencing a moment of utter madness. But I know the truth. Maybe that's the real reason for the birth of the Italian folk dances known as the Tarantella. They were inspired by something called tarantism, a disease thought to be caused by the bite of the dreaded tarantula. The weeping victim's condition could only be improved by engaging in wild dancing. Maybe the victims weren't actually suffering from spider bites. They might have just taken temporary leave of their senses because they found a spider crawling on their arm or leg or whatever. The frenetic dancing may have just been an attempt to get rid of the spider. And as for that dancing being a cure? Well, since the scary, hairy spider was gone, it sure worked for me!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sphinxes And Spots

Do you remember the riddle of the Sphinx from the play Oedipus the King by the ancient Greek writer Sophocles? When I say ancient, I really mean it, by the way. The play was believed to have had its first performance in the year 429 BC, or BCE if you prefer. Even though it was written over 2400 years ago, this play is still an active part of our worldwide cultures. Hey, this is what gave birth to the name Oedipal or Oedipus complex, referring to a male's excessive or abnormal love of his mother. I don't want to go into all of that other stuff right now, though. Let's get back to that riddle business. 

Legend had it that Thebes was terrorized by a Sphinx that asked all travelers who passed to answer a question. If their answer was correct, they could pass safely on their way. If their answer was wrong, as it always was, she would kill them. Oedipus came to the Sphinx and was asked what creature goes on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening. Oedipus thought for a moment and answered that it was Man, who crawls as a baby, walks as a man, and uses a cane in his old age. The Sphinx was so infuriated by him giving the correct answer that she flung herself to her death, and the people of Thebes proclaimed Oedipus as their King.

I remember first hearing of Oedipus and the Sphinx when I was in High School. I thought then, and still do, that although the riddle and its solution might seem simple, they are very profound. Generally speaking, we are all at the mercy of our bodies and the processes they must go through during the courses of our lives. Rich or poor, we all must start this life as babies crawling on our knees. I know that lots of people say their babies never, ever crawled in their lives, but went straight from lying in their cribs to running the New York Marathon. But most of us mere mortals go through the process of building our muscle strength and coordination by starting out either rolling around on the floor or crawling on our hands and knees. It gives us an opportunity to explore and learn our surroundings as well as learning how to use and strengthen our bodies.

When we are on our two legs, we attack our lives wholeheartedly, not necessarily thinking of what repercussions our actions will have on our bodies and our future. I'm not referring to things like drinking or smoking or doing drugs, although those certainly have an impact on the body. It's just that when we are younger, whether it be nine, or nineteen, or thirty-nine, we still sometimes tend to feel sort of immortal. We push our bodies to the limit, twisting and straining our multitude of joints and muscles in an effort to complete everything we want to accomplish, or all of the things that are expected of us. 

Then evening approaches for all who don't die young. The body begins the inevitable cycle of breaking down, wearing down, slowing down. It's a very individual process; some people, for example, never get to the point of needing a cane to steady them on their path, while others have bodies that are ravaged by various effects of wear-and-tear or illness. Others may have healthy bodies but deal with things like Alzheimer's or dementia. I don't think it's necessarily appropriate to use the word aging either, because it doesn't necessarily happen at the same times for everyone. I can say with certainty that in my case the breakdown began when I was almost thirty and began to experience the effects of lupus.

Having been raised by a woman who was fifty-three years my senior, I was able to learn about the effects of time and experience at a fairly young age. Gram had fairly advanced arthritis in her knees and hands by the time I came to live with her when I was nine and she was sixty-two. She had done housework from the time she was a small child; her own mother died of pregnancy-related complications before Gram turned two, and her father never remarried. She spent many years working hard, whether in her home or garden, or in jobs that she had from time to time over the years. She pushed her body to the limit, and it wore down.

There were things other than arthritis that also took their toll on her body, as can be the case with anyone. When she was in her seventies, she permanently lost the vision in one eye due to glaucoma. Her increasing challenges with worsening arthritis, coupled with her decreased vision, made it a bit more difficult for her to do things like eat as tidily as she had always done. (With the exception of tostadas. I never saw her eat one of those without getting it everywhere, and we'd have a huge laugh every time she made an attempt to eat one.) We took it in stride, though. I had started taking over the laundry duties when I was around twelve, and I tried to wash her clothes whenever it was needed.

She would also comment about having a thin skin. As can often happen, her skin became more delicate and her blood vessels were less resilient than they had been in her younger years. I grew very adept at bandaging the torn flaps of skin she'd get from bumping into a door frame or a piece of furniture. We'd joke that all she needed to do to get bruised was to be given a hard look, and that wasn't far from the truth. Even though she spent most of the last two months of her life in a nursing home, coming home to spend her last few days in a hospital bed and die in her own bedroom, her arms had several visible bruises when she died. Apparently her children found these embarrassing when they prepared for her funeral, as they buried her in long sleeves, which she didn't often wear.

My heart was already breaking as I walked to her coffin to say my last farewell. Her illness and death had created a flood of anger and emotions among her children, much of which was directed at me for lack of a better target. In their extreme pain they didn't realize that for the second time in my life, I had essentially lost a mother as well. I walked up to the coffin to see her one last time, and the grief became mingled with anger bordering on fury. In their eagerness to make her body look better by covering up her bruises, her badges of life, they clothed her in a top that was dirty. She went to her grave in a shirt that had food spilled on it and hadn't yet been laundered. In an attempt to hide the signs and ravages of age, they had made the situation worse by clothing her in something that pointed out her weaknesses. No one, it seemed to me, had cared enough to take the time to launder the clothes that she wore to her grave. 

Every time I think of the last time I saw Gram, my heart breaks again. I knew her well enough to know that she would never have been ashamed of her bruises. They were inevitable, and they were clear signs that she was still among the living. They were the brave signs of her frail, ongoing mortality. She would not have cared whether they were covered, but she certainly would have been furious to have them covered by dirty clothes that everyone would see. If she had seen it coming, I know she would have given them the sharp side of her tongue, as she would have described it. The most important thing for me to remember, I guess, is that the dirty clothes she wore brought no shame upon her. The peace and beauty on her face were more glorious than any clothing she could have worn, and my love for her outshines it all.

And the cycle of the Sphinx continues for every one of us. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reach Out

"I am mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, "and liable to fall."

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, 1843

We are all only humans. As such, we can be incredibly strong and resilient, but we can also be frail. I'm not just referring to our bodies; our minds or spirits or psyches are also simply mortal. Our emotions can rise incredibly high and sink equally low. 

I'm very saddened when I hear of people of various walks of life committing suicide, and it seems that I am hearing about it more frequently recently. As a society, we all seem to be touched when we hear that someone has come to a point in their being when dying seems less painful than living. We have different responses to the situation. Some of us feel sorrow, some feel anger; there are numerous thoughts and feelings awakened within us. Many of us try to understand why the person in question made that final decision. We might look at the life of one person and say that we can understand the desolation and anguish of their experience. After all, we think, they had nothing but struggles, financially, emotionally, and in every other way. Then we hear of another death and think to ourselves that this person had everything to live for; they had wealth, fame, steady work, and were well-loved.

But how well do we really know another's emotions and struggles? Do we have a right to judge what we cannot comprehend? There are many among us, me included, who live with depression or other issues. There are pains, both emotional and physical, that others may not see, things that are kept well hidden. When I hear about someone who has chosen death to escape their pain, I remember when I was seven years old, with a mother who was dead, and a father in prison for killing her. And I remember lying in my bed at night, praying to die before morning. The pain of all that I was going through was, I thought, more than I could bear. I am still here, probably because I was a child, and knew nothing more than hoping for death, and not how to bring it about. I hope that you don't think that I'm sharing this with you to garner your sympathy, because I'm not. It's just my way of telling you that anyone can hit the point of feeling that there's no use in sticking around until tomorrow.  

Part of me wonders if people make these irrevocable decisions because they feel alone. Amazing to think of in this age of instant communication, isn't it? We may find it easier to contact one another with our cell phones and online chatting and video communications, but I am starting to think that at the same time that it makes us easier to reach, it also drives us apart. Conversations that used to take part face-to-face, or even over the phone, have been replaced with brief text communications. The words are still there, but the tone of voice is not heard. We can't hear the flat, depressed sound of someone's voice through a text or an email. The words on a screen may say someone is fine, and nobody can tell the difference. 

So what it boils down to for me is this - reach out. If you are feeling desolate, reach out to someone, anyone, and tell them you need someone to talk to for a few minutes. It could be a friend, a stranger with a kind face, a clergy person, the checkout clerk at your grocery store. You may feel alone, but you may find someone with a big heart that is there to help you. There are people who want not just to laugh with you, but to dry your tears as well.

If you see someone that you think needs help, please reach out. It may be a friend, or it may be a complete stranger. I know that sometimes we might know someone is struggling and we're afraid to say something to them. Let me say this - you may be hesitant to say something to a friend that you think is suicidal because they might get angry with you. What if they quit speaking with you? I can guarantee you this - if they are dead, they will not be speaking with you. Wouldn't you rather have them not talking to you because they are angry or embarrassed rather than because they are gone from this world?

As far as reaching out to strangers, what could it hurt? Maybe you got the wrong signal from them. Big deal. They are briefly passing through your life. I am familiar with being afraid to speak with strangers. I deal with depression, anxiety, and a few other things, on a daily basis. It's not easy for me to put myself out there. Because of Trent's surgeries and other health challenges, I've spent a lot of time in various parts of hospitals. And on more than one occasion, I've gone up to a complete stranger and asked them if they needed someone to talk to for a few minutes. I have never had a single one of these people get angry with me. I have had them, however, heave a sigh of relief at being able to let go of trying to be strong for a few minutes. They have told me that they have a spouse in surgery who doesn't know his mother died this morning. They have said that they are the only one who is able to be here for Dad while he is dying, and that they have been overwhelmed with sorrow and worrying about losing their job. They have called me an angel for giving them the gift of listening to them for a few minutes while they vent or cry and share their burdens.

We never really know what an impact we can have on others. Just saying a kind word or listening to someone for a few minutes can make a huge difference to them. You could become someone's hero just by reaching out when they feel alone. You don't have to be a doctor or a soldier or a superhero. All you need to do is be you. You never know when you might be the one ray of light that can save someone's day...or maybe even their life. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

It's Just A Chronic Condition

I've said it before and will say it again. I love movies. Gram, who raised me, had met her husband at the movie theater where he was working as a projectionist, and she spent some of their years together working in movie theaters with him. When I came to live with her, she was really great about letting me stay up and watch movies on Friday and Saturday nights, and that's where my love of movies was born. I am pretty sure I was the only kid on my block who got to do such an awesomely cool thing as stay up late to watch wonderful movies! I loved the Saturday night Creature Features, but my biggest love was classic films. I know that there are varied opinions about what the word classic means. For many people, for example, a classic means a movie from the 1980's. When I refer to the classics, I'm digging a bit deeper into the film archives. Yes, there were great films going back to decades that start with numbers as low as 1 and 2, believe it or not. 

When anyone asks me what's my favorite movie, I go into a mental tailspin. I need guidelines, for crying out loud! Like what is my favorite romantic movie from the 1930's? Oh, gosh, even that category is too broad! It could be the original version of A star is Born, which starred Janet Gaynor (the first actress to win an Academy Award for Best Actress) and Frederic March. A lot of people think that movies from this era are all daisies and sunshine. Not so - this is the story of an actor whose career is failing due to his alcoholism. He meets a lovely aspiring actress and they fall in love and get married. As his career declines, hers is on the rise, and this makes him slip even deeper into the bottle. When he realizes that his that drinking is hurting his wife and her career, he goes out for a late-night swim, knowing that he will never make it back to shore. And then it gets even more dramatic. Even though I've seen it several times, it still makes me cry. 

There's such a wealth of movies from that decade that I absolutely adore. And so many of them have memorable lines that I use frequently. This is the decade of the first Fred Astaire movies, many with Ginger Rogers. It's also the decade that gave us such gems as It Happened One Night, Gone With the Wind, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Wizard of Oz, to name just a few. I guess this must be the decade that also gave birth to my love for great movie lines. My weird mind at work - I might forget to pay a bill when I intended to (thank goodness for online bill-paying!) but I have a head full of movie lines. Partly due to his association with me, Trent does now, too. Almost everyone loves the moment when Dorothy says, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more." Or one of the most famous movie lines of all time (which resulted in an amendment to the Hollywood Production Code), Rhett Butler telling Scarlett, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

We enjoy our little moments when we slip movie lines into conversations with each other or with friends. Since a lot of people we know haven't seen all of the same old movies we have, we have to fess up from time to time when people think we're extremely witty. Or just plain weird. I could go on and on about various movies and lines we love, but I'd like to leave you with a gem from the wonderful musical play-turned-into-a-movie Guys and Dolls, from 1955. The character of Nathan Detroit, played by Frank Sinatra, has been engaged to Miss Adelaide, played by Vivian Blaine, for nearly fifteen years. Every time they get on the train to Niagara Falls to get married, he gets off at Saratoga to gamble at the racetrack instead. She still loves him, though, and sings a song about how the stress of the relationship makes her have coughs and colds. When Nathan is speaking with her, she begins to sneeze, resulting in the following delightful exchange.

Nathan Detroit: Gesundheit. Your cold does not seem to be getting any better.
Miss Adelaide: It comes and goes, comes and goes. It's just a chronic condition.
Nathan Detroit: Even if it is, it sure hangs on.

I guess you could say my love of movies and movie lines is also a chronic condition. That keeps hanging on! 

Postscript: Are there movie lines that stick with you, too? Feel free to share them in a comment, or send me a message. Happy movie-watching!

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Lessons She Learned

Some years ago, in a big city, a little girl was born. Her creation probably came as a surprise; her siblings were six, seven, and nine years older than her. Her family were poor immigrants, and while they were not stupid, they were also not intellectuals. She was not a pretty baby, and she did not turn into a pretty little girl. Her nose was a bit too large and her forehead was a bit too high. She had an overbite (commonly called bucktoothed) and a gap in her front teeth, and even though she was very thin, she had inherited a double chin from her mother.

Her father told her at an early age that she needed to work hard and learn well and get good grades in school. He loved her even though she was not pretty like his other two girls. When she was still very young, a tragic event took away her mother and resulted in her father being sent away to pay the price for the crime he had committed. She learned about pain, death, and uncertainty. She was sent with one of her sisters to live in a place where there were other children with no parents. She sought out love from her caregivers and, along with the other children, was told that everything bad that had happened to them was their own fault, the results of their terrible sins. She learned guilt. She learned what it was like to be unloved.

There was a day, suddenly, when she learned that there were relatives far across the country that wanted to give the two sisters a home. She was eager to please the new family, to share her boundless love with them, to have them love her. She was told that she was not what was wanted. When she told her school friends about her imprisoned father, she was told that she must never speak of him. She was told that nobody would want to be around her if they knew about him. They would know that craziness ran in families and that she was crazy like her father. She was beaten and berated. She learned to live in fear. She learned to be ashamed. She learned how it felt to be unwanted. She learned to tell lies to protect her abuser. She was seven years old when she learned to wish that she would die. 

She was sent away to live with someone who was not a relative, but still gave her a loving home. She eagerly went to school and tried to make friends. Some of her classmates learned about the nickname that her family and neighbors used for her. They told her that it was a cute name and that she was too ugly to be called by such a name. There were other matter-of-fact pronouncements. She was very ugly, she was told. In fact, she and another girl were so ugly that the war that was currently being fought across the world was started over which one of them was the ugliest. She learned to be ashamed of her appearance. She learned sadness and loneliness.

She always had a few friends, and got along well with the neighborhood kids. She did well in school because it was the only way she could excel. She felt awkward around other kids, and she wasn't remotely athletic. She had the ability to be an actress, but the one who brought her across the country and hated her would only allow her to perform very infrequently. It was not something that good people did. Nor did they socialize by sleeping away from home; people who did things like that were tramps. (Apparently sleepovers are a gateway activity. Spending the night with the kids next door must lead to loose morals or something.) She learned resentment.

As she grew older, though, the lessons she learned made her have more empathy for others. When she met people who were less than beautiful or handsome, she sought out their personalities rather than their appearances. She appreciated intelligence, a sense of humor, sensitivity, creativity. She grew to see others with the eyes of her heart and soul rather than simply with the eyes in her head. She still had people judging her based on her appearance, and it still hurt, but she knew now that it was the way of the world. She felt more pain on behalf of others who were treated cruelly for not fitting into the beauty standards of a world that couldn't see them through the proper eyes. She felt even more sorrow for those whose lives were wrapped up in, or ruined by, such shallow perceptions.

She continues to read and write and learn and love, and tries to always remember the lessons she learned. Some of them were wrong, and she knows this. But all of them formed the person that she is today. She hopes that the lessons she learned, although some of them were painful, can help her touch others' hearts and lives. She hopes that she can help others see with their hearts instead of just their eyes. She hopes that she can share the best part of the lessons she learned. She always hopes...