Happy Memory: The #LinkYourLife Challenge Day 5

I have to admit I struggled with the latest #LinkYourLife Challenge prompt: Explore a happy memory. I have plenty of happy memories, but I’ve always been more inspired by pain. This might be something I should explore in therapy.

The one happy memory that kept coming back to me is one steeped in pain. It was my mother’s funeral and visitation. Even five years later, there is still a great deal of pain, but I saw happy things those two days that make it a little easier.

When I first saw her in her casket, I was completely alone. It had been almost a week since I’d been notified, but this was an incredibly painful moment. I was very much looking forward to having some friends and family show up to distract me for the next couple of hours.

Days later a friend apologized for not being able to make. I told her it was better that way. I was barely able to talk to anyone who had come to see me. The turnout was far larger than I had expected, and my mom’s friends had completely overwhelmed me. My time was almost entirely occupied talking to these people who had come to pay their respects, most of whom I had never met. I always knew she was a nice lady, and seeing how she had touched so many lives was incredibly touching to me.

There’s probably a lot more I could and should write about this, and I’ll put it on my list for the future. I have written a little bit about her in the past here and here. Right now I have a crazy little kitty who wants my attention. I guess she expects me to help her create some happy memories of her own.

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A Troubling Memory: The #LinkYourLife Challenge Day 4

CW: War, blood, death

For Memorial Day, I have to go out of order slightly and explore a troubling memory.

I remember the tremendous feeling of relief when we were finally free to go. Our Afghanistan tour had been miserable and full of trauma for many of us. We had lost our executive officer just days before he was to transfer to another unit. Several of us had lost loved ones back home throughout the year, including me. We lost someone a few days before Christmas, just as we were preparing to leave.

Those of us on this last flight had rung in the New Year searching for our bags by flashlight at Bagram Air Field. Hours later we were awakened by a mortar attack. Even this last leg of the journey was agonizing with endless briefings. It had been almost six hours since our plane landed at our home station, and I was awash with relief.

One of our buddies who had been home for a couple days already was kind enough to meet up with us. He asked if we wanted to say hello to his wife’s best friend. I immediately said yes, but when I saw her, I wished I’d prepared myself for it.

She was wearing a great big button with her husband’s picture on it. I couldn’t help but think of the last time I saw him, lying on the ground on a small pool of blood. I didn’t even recognize him at first, but I was sure he would make it. There wasn’t that much blood, and everyone on the scene was doing everything right. But the internal bleeding was too much.

Standing in front of his wife months later, I searched desperately for something to say. I wanted to tell her how everyone did everything right. So many had turned up to give blood to save him that most of us were turned away. The words wouldn’t come, and neither would tears. Nothing felt good enough because none of it mattered. She was still a widow and an involuntary single mother.

Plenty of things still haunt me from my time at war. Nothing, though, has caused me more trouble than how I froze when it was all over. This is why I always say my worst wartime trauma was hugging a widow. I know I couldn’t have done anything else to save my comrades, but I still wish I could have found something to say.

What I Do Offline: The #LinkYourLife Challenge Day 3

What do I do when I’m offline? I’m afraid the answer is pretty boring, but I must press on with the challenge.

I try to read and write which is horribly inconsistent. I’m tinkering on a couple of non-blog projects, and I have a huge stack of books waiting to be read. I need to focus on this a little more.

I walk for at least an hour most days. Some of the reason is exercise. Some of it is just the solitude and tranquility of walking. Many times I start writing blog posts in my head while out on a walk.

I suppose it goes without saying that I spend time with my lady while offline. Then again, she might get upset if I don’t mention that. So good thing I did.

I watch a good amount of “Chopped” and sometimes experiment with my own cooking. I also recently purchased a George Foreman Grill. I know he lost to Ali, but this grill is the greatest.

I told you this would be pretty boring. It’s not my fault, though. Francesca only allows me to do so much.IMG_0715

Once I Was: The #LinkYourLife Challenge Day 2

The Day 2 prompt for the #LinkYourLife Challenge was to write about who we were. It made me think of the song “Once I Was” by Tim Buckley.

One thing I’ve always been is old in my tastes. I can clearly remember when Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” was an MTV Buzz Clip. I was 20 years old and a perfect age to be his fan. Instead, it was his father Tim, who died when I was just over a year old, that caught my fancy and inspired me to read their dual biography “Dream Brother”.

What struck me repeatedly when reading that book was Jeff’s mixed feelings toward his father. Jeff hardly knew Tim who died at 28 when Jeff was 8. Their musical connection was purely genetic. (Both had incredible multi-octave voices.) Jeff came to love music purely on his own, not hearing his father’s work until adulthood. Still, he seemed often to be somehow haunted by Tim’s legacy, wanting to know about his father but hurt by his abandonment and often chagrined by comparisons.

I knew Jeff’s mixed feelings quite well. I never knew my own father, and that caused me a lot of pain and anxiety over the years. There were times I was bitter, but I grew out of that as I realized he probably felt much of the same fear I did. I was 34 when he died. I could’ve reached out to him but never did.

My father wasn’t famous, and I’ve never carried his last name. (Jeff Buckley, in fact, went by a different name for much of his childhood.) I have, however, often felt that same haunting of my father’s legacy. I briefly considered a similar career path (law) and served in the military during a war. As I mentioned, I feel much of the same anxiety I’m sure he felt. Also like him, I long used alcohol to deal with it. That anxiety has been a significant factor in my not having kids, but if I do, I will not let fear keep me from being the best father I can be.

I’d listened to “Grace” many times by the time I read “Dream Brother” but had never really appreciated it as the work of Jeff Buckley rather than Tim Buckley’s son. After reading that biography, I finally found myself listening differently and now can appreciate the unique qualities in each of their voices. Unfortunately, Jeff died young like his father, age 30, in 1997.

Once I was a son, but my parents are gone now. Now my lady and I are talking about having kids. I have some work to do: become healthier, finish school, get a steady job. I know she’ll be a great mom just like mine was. I will certainly try like hell to be a good dad. I’m both scared and excited by the whole idea.

Very early in his career Jeff Buckley performed at a Tim Buckley tribute show, closing the event with “Once I Was”. Maybe I’ll sing that song to my kids as a lullaby.

“Once I was a soldier,
And I fought on foreign sands for you…”

Beginning the #LinkYourLife Challenge: Who Am I?

Who am I? At 42, I’m still searching for the answer. That’s part of why I started writing. Or why I started writing again.

As a child, I dreamed of being a writer when I grew up. I definitely tinkered with it often over the years. I even finished a novella I intended to be part of something larger. I lost it long ago and have struggled to redo it several tikes since with little success.

Some months ago I decided to start writing a memoir and started blogging to help me develop my voice. Parts of that memoir have been turned into blog posts which often get very nice feedback. Somehow that’s made it all much harder.

I want to be clear that I appreciate any feedback, and the positive comments are always so touching. However, it bugs me each time someone calls me brave when I know there’s more I’m still holding back out of fear.

Maybe it’s the old war veteran in me feeling the discomfort. I’ve been thanked countless times and on a few occasions even called a hero. That latter compliment is the worst for me because the word holds such special meaning. Heroes are the ones we sent home the wrong way. I’m no hero. I got to come home alive.

Maybe it’s the abuse survivor in me that can’t accept these nice words. It’s always been hard to accept compliments. It’s also easier to deal with hurt when you don’t let your esteem get too high.

Maybe it’s the stories I’ve heard from others over the years. The hurt I’ve suffered is nothing compared to what so many others have, but so few of them will ever tell.

What am I? I guess I’m a writer struggling to tell his truth. I’m a product of everything and everyone that brought me here. What that is exactly is a question I still haven’t really answered and doubt I ever will.

Depression Confession

It won’t be displayed for a little bit yet, but I was nominated by the wonderful SynDolly for a Lovely Blog Award. I am beyond touched by the nomination and what she had to say about my blog. I will fulfill the requirements for the award soon, but first I have to get something else out of my head.

I’ve been pretty well knocked out by a bout of depression for some time now. It made reading and writing feel like work. It was hard for me to allow myself a break from them, but doing so was probably for the best. I think I’m on my way back now, but I’m treading lightly. It’s important not to force it but to do it because I love it. I give this same advice to friends all the time. I suck at taking it myself.

The most frustrating thing about this latest phase has been that there is no clear reason for it. I’m not sad about anything. Life is going really well. My complaints are quite minimal. I have great friends, an amazing girlfriend, a crazy but entertaining kitty, and the list could go on for pages. Still, feeling good about anything has been a huge struggle.

I faked it the best I could. I thanked people for complimenting work that I forced out while a part of me was angry. That anger was definitely misdirected, though. I was angry at myself because I have so much more and so much better work I want to do, need to do. Maybe it’s fear bringing me down.

My writing luck has been incredible. Whenever I share something personal. people call me brave, thank me, practically bury me with love and compliments. A lot of other writers I know get trolled all the time. My audience is pretty small, but it would stand to reason I’d attract a little more negativity by now. Then again, that little bit of negativity has been powerful enough.

Hurtful comments from strangers probably would still sting, but they would probably be easier to handle. The first one happened right after I published something deeply personal about my mom. My childhood abuser chose that moment to contact me after nearly two decades to try and hurt me again. A few more, though fortunately rare, examples have followed. Thankfully, they have mostly been drowned out by love from friends and a quite a number of strangers.

So like I said, I will soon get some things together and do a post for my Lovely Blog Award including some nominations for others. That will require me to catch up on some reading so I can make sure I don’t repeat a nomination. Before I do that, though, I have to go spend some time with that amazing girlfriend of mine.

You So Need to #LinkYourLife

Soon after I started blogging, I managed to meet (in the online sense) Shareen Mansfield, co-host of #LinkYourLife, a fantastic Friday event. I soon joined the Facebook group LinkYourLife Connection where I have had the pleasure to meet lots of other amazing bloggers and found a wonderfully supportive community.

It wasn’t long after that I started guesting here and there on other blogs and ultimately became a regular contributor to Shareen’s Open Thought Vortex magazine. I also have done a couple workshops, including an incredible one hosted by LinkYourLife founder and OTV editor Shawna Ayoub Ainsle. (She is an amazing writer, and I’ve been lucky to have her as a guest here on my blog.)

Without LinkYourLife, I don’t know if I could keep going with blogging and writing. Recent months have brought some life changes and found me muddling through a depressive episode. So while I haven’t kept up as well as I’d like lately, I continue to find inspiration and encouragement.

LinkYourLife is having its first birthday, and in celebration, Shareen and Shawna are having a giveaway. You can get the details here and here. And if you haven’t already, join the party every Friday and the Facebook group. You’ll be glad you did. I sure am.