Category Archives: Family

Sometimes, the dark wins

Yesterday was International Overdose Awareness Day. A candlelight vigil had been planned, here in New Milford, to honor those who didn’t make it. I thought it might be something good to do, a solidarity kind of thing. As it turned out, it just pissed me off. There was no honoring the dead, except for a moment of silence. It was yet another version of Al-anon, people scrambling to do everything by the 12 steps that are going to save their child, their loved one. Platitudes and stories of recovery after heroin addiction. Heartfelt and desperate and relief sharpened to an edge so sharp it glistened.

Can you tell I’m bitter?

A young man got up and spoke. He’s been clean almost two years. I wanted to say, “Oh, child. It’s not over yet.” Then came the mother and her daughter. Mom spoke tearfully. Our experiences were similar. I heard myself, my life in her words. Then Daughter spoke, and she could have been Chris. She was actually the same age. They probably knew one another in High School. She’s been clean almost three years, and again I wanted to say, “Oh, child. It’s not over yet.”

Because heroin is the symptom, not the disease.

Chris battled and won his fight, too. Three years, heroin free. I won’t claim he didn’t do other stupid things in his never-ending attempt to quiet his demons, but heroin? No. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it every day of my life–He fought for happiness. Every. Single. Day. It’s not as if he spent every day of his life in abject misery. It was simply that the that darkness was always waiting in the wings, and he knew it.

I understand that these groups mean well, that they help some people hold it together, let them know they’re not alone. What bugs the shit out of me is that they do the same things, over and over, as if one of those times it’s going to take. And sometimes it does. Those who make it are the shining examples, the hope for us all, the proof we cling to that YES, this really works! And it makes families like mine failures. The pitiful ones who didn’t stick to the rules, and because they didn’t, failed. It breeds a mentality that allows the falls to keep happening.

Because heroin is the symptom, not the disease. 

I watched these people last night, I listened to their stories, and know down to my bones that their stories aren’t done. In the three years between Chris’ last roll with addiction to the day I found him on his bed, a needle on the mattress beside him, I thought we were one of those families who walked the dark road, and came out into the light. I smugly decried rehabs and AA, because we took the scientific path, and our way worked!

But, sometimes, the darkness wins anyway, no matter what path you take. It’ll keep winning until we stop rehashing the same platitudes and the “solutions,” convincing ourselves that our loved one will be the one in three (according to AA’s statistics) or one in fifteen (according to most other statistics) who will make it through.

We tread a different path, and didn’t save Chris. I’m fully aware. But it was a new path, one that bears exploring. A path that doesn’t treat addiction as the disease, but the symptom of something far more insidious, more deeply embedded; something that keeps taking the people we love because it has no name, no identity. A bogeyman no one wants to believe in. Because it’s the harder path, one with lots of monsters hiding in the fringes. Because there is no one answer that’s going to solve it all no matter how hard we cling to the desperate hope that it is.

Peace.

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My Grandmother’s China

I was closer to my maternal grandmother; no surprise where I come from. In my family, the women tended to stay closer to their mothers’ family than their fathers’. We lived with my mother’s parents for many years, in an upstairs/downstairs house in Paterson, NJ. Sunday dinners were a given. Even after we moved, we saw them weekly, at least. Gads, I love them so much. And I miss them everyday.

My dad’s parents were a little distant with us. Things were more polite in Nonnie and Grandaddy’s house. We visited for an hour or two, and then went home to run wild. My two girl cousins (daughters of their daughters) lived next door and a couple of blocks from these grandparents, and most likely had the same kind of relationship I had with my mother’s mother. At birthdays, they got specially selected gifts (probably orchestrated by their own mothers, I realize as an adult) and I got a card with cash in it. I’ll never forget the doll my cousin Susan got for her birthday one year.

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Madame Alexander Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

I fell in love with this doll, and wanted one so badly. But my birthday had already passed, and it was too late. I wasn’t a sulker, but I was all of maybe seven and I’m pretty certain my tremendous grief over this doll was apparent all over my adorable face. That day, days, weeks later, I can’t remember anymore, my Nonnie slipped me a $20 and told me to buy the doll.

For all I know, my parents had given her the money and told her to say it was from her, but I don’t think so. Nonnie had no money of her own, so she had to have taken it from somewhere without my grandfather knowing (he’d never have given it to her–another story for another time, and not as bad as it sounds. Honest.) I’ll never forget that burst of light inside my little-girl heart the moment she gave me that $20 bill–she really did love me as much as she did my other female cousins.

I don’t remember spending many occasions alone with with my dad’s parents, there were probably more than I recall, but I do remember that Nonnie and I would always have tea together in special cups. “One day,” she always told me, “these will be yours.”

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“One day” came shortly after my first husband, Brian, died in a motorcycle accident, a month before our second child was born. Nonnie had a bad heart, and things had been going downhill for her for some time. She was in the hospital when Brian died. When she got home, I went to visit her. She’d been told “Don’t make Terri cry!” And how hard she tried to hold it together when she saw me, my sweet Nonnie. She took my hand and squeezed it, tears welling but not falling. I hugged her and told her it was okay to cry, but she still didn’t. She’d promised.

Nonnie died shortly after my son was born. She never got to see him. I was trapped in such tremendous grief and fear for the future, the china was lost in that deep pit I unintentionally sacrificed a year of my life to. By the time I remembered the china, it was long gone. Packed up and sent to Florida for use in my grandfather’s condo there.

Somewhere along the years, my mom told me the significance of that china, and why Nonnie wanted me to have it over all the other cousins. When Dad was in college and Mom was home being the fiancee, she and Nonnie used to go to the movies. The china was a promotion–free piece with every ticket purchase. Nonnie and Mom collected that china together. Nonnie and I had tea in those very cups. And they were gone. Or so I thought.

After Nonnie’s death, my grandfather did what most men of his generation and heritage do–he found another woman. It wasn’t that he hadn’t loved my Nonnie, it was simply that he didn’t know how to be alone. Gertie was great. We all loved her right from the start, despite our loyalties. She was such a sweet person with a little-girl voice and an always sunny personality. When she heard the story about the china, she made it her mission to get it back for me. It took her a while, but while in Florida with my grandfather, she packed it all up and sent it to me. Every piece. See why we all loved her?

Years later, I felt kind of bad that I got all the china. There was so much of it! Mom and Nonnie must have gone to the movies a lot. I sent my cousin Susan the sugarbowl and creamer. It meant so much to her. I should probably send something to Kim, and my sister Karen, too.

This morning, I was feeling pretty sad. It happens, after a weekend spent with family. It reminds me of who’s missing, of who will always be missing, and…I have to get over that. Scrolling through FB this morning, I came across a friend’s post about the china his family used during his childhood, and how he’s collecting it again. It made me remember my own china, and the story that went with it. The story bloomed the love out of mind but ever in the heart. I really needed that today. So thank you, Nonnie. And thank you, Lou. Today will be better now.

Peace.

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The Ups and the Downs

Some days are harder than others. D-day, strangely, wasn’t. It was like watching a scary movie through your fingers. You can’t help watching, but if your do so through your fingers, you can keep the ghouls at bay. That’s what last week was for me. This week…

I have a confession; my first thought whenever I see a happy family is, “Fuck you.” It really is. On television, in person, on Facebook. How awful is that? It’s not directed at the happy family, but at my family’s fate. The words pop into my head instantly, and just as instantly dissipate. It brings a kind of relief, like slapping a hysterical person.

People die. There’s no way around it. We’re all going to experience loss at some  point in our lives. Parents lose children in far worse ways, under far worse circumstances. Had Chris not died, we might all be mourning him in a different way now. Maybe this, maybe that, maybe the other thing. Maybe nothing. Maybe doesn’t count for anything when the result is already in.

Frankie D and I had a perfect weekend, just the two of us. Beautiful weather, a little shopping, hanging out in the yard, playing Phase 10 (his favorite game) by moonlight. We had a great dinner out at our favorite place, got the yard ready for summer, put twinkle lights on the gazebo, and swam in the pool. Sunday night, I made clams and lobster tails on the grill, and corn on the cob. We watched the Game of Thrones finale. After a peaceful week last week, the weekend was the sigh at the end of a long, lovely day.

And now today…I find myself a bit weepy. Maybe that’s the consequence of all that peace. The ghouls held at bay got pissed. I think I’m pissed, too, because I have a good life. Better than most, I think, and yet saying that out loud feels so many kinds of wrong. Emotion and logic battle constantly. Happiness and sorrow. Hope and cynicism. That’s why I write these blog posts, to help sort through it all.

Peace.

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There And Back Again

Home again, home again. France was amazing from start to finish. Magical, even. The people, the places, the experiences will not be forgotten, even by my errant mind. I walked 50+ miles in the last week and some, ate entirely too much fabulous food (CHEESE! THE CHEESE!) drank a lot of coffee (not a single bad cup the whole time. Seriously good coffee) and come home no worse for wear…but for the blisters the size of silver dollars on my feet. They’ll heal.

French-Coffee

Being home again is good. Very good. I missed it, and my routine. I haven’t been so long without writing in twenty years. No lie. I’ve been writing daily since 1996, and haven’t gone more than a weekend or a week’s vacation without writing in all that time. This extended hiatus has been hard, to be honest. I’d be afraid I won’t be able to get back into the swing of things but that won’t happen. As I said to a friend yesterday–I have to at least pretend it’s hard once in a while.

I feared the world would come crashing in on me once I got home and “the day of days” smacked me in the face. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m still settling in, riding the French high, or that I have a beloved dollbaby house guest here this week, but the world remains intact. Yet the weekend looms. Father’s Day will never again be a day to celebrate fatherhood for me. It will ever be the last day of my son’s life. I’d hope it might change one day, years from now when the pain isn’t quite so raw, but I don’t see that happening. It will never be any less raw. After a year waiting for that to happen, I’m pretty certain it’s not going to. That’s not to invite a pity party. It’s simply a fact. An aspect of my life I’ll get accustomed too, that I have actually already become accustomed to. We wear our pain well, or poorly, but we wear it one way or another. I choose to wear it well rather than let it wear me down.

Now it’s time to get back to Nell and Ledanora in quaint, magical little Sprookskill, NY. They’ve been waiting for me.

Peace.

 

 

 

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Magical Raven

Raven…black as pitch, mystical as the moon. Speak to me of magic, I will fly with you soon.

As I was writing that just now, no lie, a raven was quorking out on the deck of the beach house. Raven has been with me all week, in fact. Long ago, I wrote about being a noticer. I notice things many will overlook. I see signs and symbols where others simply see a cloud, or hear an animal’s call. It doesn’t matter if there is anything magical to it or not. I notice, and it makes me think. That’s magic of its own kind.

This week is Terri-Christmas~Dollbaby Week. I’ve been taking this week for me, me, only me since 2002. It has become something sacred to me. To all of us dollbabies. The like of it you have to experience to actually get. More magic.

One of the things we have been doing the past few years is a Medicine Card evening. Medicine cards are kind of like Tarot, but with a Native American set of symbols and symbolism. This year was a powerful year. We drew Buffalo and Hawk, Coyote and Badger. Most every card drawn by each doll was a power animal. I drew Raven.

Raven magic is powerful medicine that can give one courage to enter the darkness of the Void, the home of all not yet in form. Raven is the bringer of magic, but it is also the messenger of the Void. The Great Mystery~that which was here before all, and will be here long after all is gone. Raven’s appearance signals a change in consciousness. It’s a call to being open to walking the Great Mystery on another path at the edge of time.

I tend to explain away dreams, and the strange, wonderful, comforting things that happen almost daily. As if I don’t deserve them. As if believing my son tries to visit me in dreams or speak to me through song is somehow stupid. Why? I don’t know. I believe in this kind of thing! For everyone but me. On my way down here to VAB, I heard a song I’ve heard a gazillion times before. The chorus goes, “I will wait, I will wait for you.” The rest of it doesn’t really pertain to him, but those two lines–I won’t say they were sung in his voice, but there was his energy, his presence with them. I said, “Don’t wait for me, son. You go on and next time around, I’ll wait for you.”

But later, after telling this to my beloved friend (Diana Dollbaby,) she said, “Maybe he wasn’t saying he’ll wait for you to meet him in the hereafter, maybe he’s waiting for you to stop blocking his attempts to reach you.” Not a direct quote. I was too flattened by her words to remember them verbatim. She’s right–Chris doesn’t speak in dreams because I won’t let him. He tries to reach me and I explain it away. He tries and tries and tries. How long before he gives up?

And then I choose Raven here in VAB. Such a great card. I think I need a raven tattoo now. It’s about creativity and deeper consciousness, obtaining the willingness to accept unexplainable things as a means to further a more spiritual, intellectual growth. But it also said this, as if speaking directly to me:

‘If you have chosen Raven, magic is in the air. Do not try to figure it out; you can’t. It is the power of the unknown at work, and something special is about to happen. The deeper mystery, however, is how you will respond to the sparkling synchronicity of the alchemical moment. Will you recognize it and use it to further enhance your growth? Can you accept it as a gift? Or will you limit the power of the Great Mystery by explaining it away?’

Other things are happening in my life that don’t involve Christofer. Great, amazing things that I was stupidly explaining away. I don’t understand why, since his death, I’ve become so skeptical. I can wiggle the edges of it, but the root is strangely deep for something that hasn’t been around too long. Or maybe the old root I thought pulled out long ago was still deep in there, growing unnoticed and has now taken the opportunity to sprout. I can’t let it. Especially not now. I’ve said it before–I’m a lioness. I will do anything for my kids, and if that means excising that root all over again, I will.

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More frequently

I dreamed, Sunday morning, in those dosing moments waiting. Frank and I had planned on going to go out for breakfast, and he got to the bathroom first. I stayed in bed, warm and lazy with my kitty-boy attacking my feet, and dreamed.

In the dream, we were still anticipating breakfast, but Frank and I were outside by the fire-pit. He had a huge black eye, and wouldn’t tell me how he got it. I was so angry with him. The man is ever hurting himself in my absence, because he never knows when enough is enough. It’s like having a little kid who just wants to do and do and do and doesn’t quite know his limits.

And again, in this dreaming, Chris was there. Only I could see him. Silent. I’ve yet to get a word out of him in all the dreams I’ve had. At first, he was the exuberant Chris he’d been shortly before he died, smiling and showing me his leg made whole. He’s gotten less and less exuberant, now only nodding and showing me, with his eyes, the words that won’t work. He did it again, looking at me with those blue, blue eyes, and then his dad, shaking his head and smiling that almost-smile.

He was many people, my son. Goofy and talkative, silent and contemplative, sweet and somewhere in between. I think he was someone different, depending upon who he was with. I’ll never know all his facets. I don’t have to in order to love them all.

I saw a ghost-whisperer guy on TV who said the newly departed have to learn how to communicate all over again. Maybe that’s why he’s silent in my dreams. Or maybe words, between us, were never really necessary. I always knew what was going on in him. Always. Those weeks leading up to his death, I knew no matter what he said, something was wrong, very wrong. I knew, when he was happy and living on his own, there was something he was not saying. I wrestled with the over-protective mother desperate to bring him home, make the world go away. I told her she had to let him be, had to let him figure it out, had to let him grow up. Putting those fears into words felt too much like anticipating doom, so I didn’t. I encouraged him, reasoned with him when things weren’t working out the way he thought. I knew, and even told him, many of the things happening were self-fulfilling prophecy. I wanted it to be a string of bad luck. He did too.

I woke up angry with Frank for not telling me how he got a black eye. It couldn’t be helped. Reason and logic hold little sway in the morning hours when I’m still slightly groggy and haven’t had my breakfast. The Chris in my dream lingered. I swear I felt him there. His quiet presence. His gentle strength. The Chris I remember best and most often. Silence wasn’t always a bad thing, between us. He was one of the few people in the world I could simply be with and feel no compulsion to speak, to entertain. I miss that most of all, I think. Maybe he does too. Maybe that’s why, in dreams, he never speaks.

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Scott Dream

I dreamed of Scott last week, and have been replaying it in my head ever since. It was so good to see him. Gads, I miss my son. I’ve never been to Portland (Oregon,) but that’s where we were. It looked like the city I’ve seen so many times on Unique Eats, on the Cooking Channel. We were chatting in what I assume was the foodtruck pod where he works. He was so happy. It radiated out of him. But the bandmates he went out there to be with were ready to come back home. He wasn’t. Plain and simple.

Chris was there in the dream, but I was the only one who could see him. Why is his hair always long and curly in my dreams*? And he’s always wearing a blue plaid flannel shirt he had years ago, one he rarely wore but looked so good in. As Scott and I talked Chris stood behind him, silently shaking his head. As if to say Scott was right to stay out west, and that he was staying with him.

They’d plans, pipe dreams, to go out west together. To have an adventure, see a new world, make a place that wasn’t here for themselves. When Scottie went out to Portland solo, I imagined Chris in the passenger seat beside him, silent and watchful, taking it all in along with the brother he adored. I wanted that for them so badly. Maybe they got it after all.

(*Because that’s how he wore it when he was at his best, his happiest, his most whole.)

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Starry, Starry Night

Don McLean wrote this song for Vincent Van Gogh back in 1971. It’s beautiful. I’ve heard it a gazillion times in my life, but after Chris died, I heard it again, and it became new. Mr. McLean could have written it for him. Every word.

It makes me sad, but it also makes me feel better in a way. This morning, I was feeling pretty awful about the unfairness of it all, that he didn’t get the simple things he wanted out of life, that he lived with a hole in him he couldn’t fill. But Chris also lived a life of amazing beauty, understanding, and appreciation for things most of us never will. That’s something. That’s really something.

Peace.

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The other part of Modesty being for Suckers

I hadn’t really thought about it until, just the other day, someone asked me what my motto meant and my answer was slightly different than my pat, “Never hide your light,” answer. I realized, though this is the core of my being, there’s more to it than that.

People of my generation and earlier were taught to keep secrets. Hide who you are. Be what passes for “normal.” As if there is such a thing. In my family, my parents encouraged this reach for normal as much as they, maybe without ever meaning to, nurtured who we truly are. They were raised by much stricter, narrower standards of what it meant to be male or female and, from the outside looking in, it would appear they held such standards to heart.

I did grow up feeling it was more important, more advantageous, to be a boy. It wasn’t just my upbringing, but society that said so. And while my parents might have paid lip service to this way of thinking, their actions spoke louder than words. When other moms watched their kids play from porches or windows, my mom played with us. And not just “girly” games. She taught all the neighborhood kids how to play hit the bat. When the mulberries on our trees out back ripened, all the boys and girls picked baskets full of them and Mom let us all help bake the pies.

She walked the walk and talked the patriarchal talk, but even as a kid, I saw her seething underneath. She told me about being chased around her desk by a boss those short years she worked before marrying my dad. How she wasn’t allowed to do this, that or the other thing because she was a girl. Yeah, I saw the rage, and an adult perspective understands what I might not have way back when–it’s hard to rage against something you’re steeped in so deeply you sometimes stop seeing it’s even there.

Mom always (and still) said, “The gypsies left her on my doorstep.” A history I wore proudly. Even then, I didn’t take that as, “my mom doesn’t love me!” I knew it meant I was different, a little wild, not of any mold already present in our lives. I have always been secure in my mother’s love. She’s a lioness, just like I am.

When I was in high school, my mom got me a unicorn sticker. I loved unicorns, was way into fantasy, and it was sweet that she’d see this sticker and buy it for me. But it wasn’t the unicorn that has stayed with me all these years; (the background was purple and the unicorn was rearing up, silver and white…) it was the saying on it:

Hunted by many, tamed by few. Wild and free I’ll always be.

That, right there. Maybe she saw the unicorn sticker and thought, “Oh, Terri will love that.” But the sentiment did not go unnoticed. I always believed–always–that she was saying more to me than she knew how.

I’ve long contended that my parents weren’t sure what to do with teenagers. They were prepared for babies, children, adolescents, but teens? Yikes. I still contend that, but it was more than simply not knowing what to do with us. It was figuring out how to keep us safe in a world that demands “normal” when we were nothing of the kind.

My oldest brother came out when he was twenty. A young Italian, Catholic man raised to know he’d have a wife and children, be the breadwinner of the family, the eventual patriarch…openly gay? It was a huge event in my family, eclipsing the fact that I was eighteen, unmarried, and pregnant long before it was fashionable to be so. (Thank you, Michael!) It took years for the understanding to come, but not the acceptance. My parents never turned their back on their son. They were confused. In a way, the son they knew was gone and in his place, someone they didn’t understand. There were tears, and grief, and coming to terms with something they truly didn’t understand. The concept of gay was completely alien back in the early eighties. For them, at any rate. There’d been a cousin here or there, people no one really spoke of other than in whispers. They were all taught to hide who they were.

It makes me very proud to know it never fazed me, my brother being gay. He is my brother. End of story. My best friend since birth. He told me, I shrugged and said, “ok,” and that was that. We were raised by people who believed being normal was surviving, but something of that undercurrent I maybe didn’t notice until I was a parent myself had to have been working its magic. Michael was able to come out instead of hiding away what he is. His bravery astounds me to this day. His bravery brought out the bravery in others. He and his husband have done amazing things for the world. And with every step out into life he made, my parents were beside him even when old mindsets reared up and tried to pull them back.

So, “Modesty is for suckers” does mean never hide your light, but it also means never hide who you are. It’s why I keep my posts public instead of switching to private, even when I’m tempted to do just that.

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This time last year…

I feel like I’m in some kind of time warp. This time last year, all five of my kids were in good places in their lives. Happy. Healthy. Good jobs, good lives. I wrote about it here: March 31, 2015, because Chris was moving out, heading into the life he’d worked really hard to make. Years and years of struggle, pain, anxiety, depression, and he was happy. Really happy. Everyone was.

Then came June and he was gone. Just like that.

And, just like that, everything started to rewind. My youngest daughter, who’d been happy both professionally and personally, suddenly found herself in bad situations with both. My oldest son and his then fiancee lost their apartment when the owner decided to sell. He, she, a dog and two cats ended up moving in here. Both daughter and son struggled through personal and professional debacles. We helped them all we could, lent a hand when they reached out for one and (hopefully) stepped out of the way before boundaries were crossed. Our lives were suddenly and once again complicated with children now adults and their adult problems. And then there was the grief. Such intense grief for all of us. Our two oldest have families of their own, and I think they largely escaped the whirlwind in this house, even if they still had to deal with their grief.

Around the turn of the year, things seemed to halt their careening rewind and, after a pause for breath, started winding forward again. Daughter got a new apartment, settled in a good working situation, and fell in love. Son and his fiancee hit a rough patch that ended in a break-up I don’t think either of them saw coming. She took the dog. He kept the cats. And now he’s the one moving out. To Portland, Oregon. He’s taking the chance he didn’t take several years ago when his bandmates headed west. He’s on his way right now.

And here we are, once again: empty nesters. I’m thrilled son is off on the adventure he not only wants, but needs. I’m ecstatic daughter is happy in Brooklyn. But Chris…he’s not out on his own, living his life. The nest emptied in a way I can’t be happy about.

I truly am looking forward to being just me and Frankie D. To the relative quiet, to the freedom of being responsible for only ourselves on a daily basis. We all love our kids, but no one can dispute that things get quieter once they’re out of the house. This time last year, I was excited about that quiet. After that massive rewind, I can’t say I’m excited. I’m…heedful. There’s no going back to that innocence, the wonder of a life opening up and spreading out before me like a gift. I see the shadows now, the little ruts and ridges on the path that warn, “Don’t go too fast! Watch your step! There are bears in these here woods!”

But here I am, on that path I’ve been looking forward to since I had my first baby, because I’m not the kind of mom who ever wanted to keep her kids forever. I didn’t wish my babies back, or “endure” their teens. I have been madly in love with them through every stage in their lives. I still am. It’s just that our nest isn’t the same kind of empty it was this time last year. It’s got a ragged hole where one fell out rather than flew.

The forward momentum continues despite the ruts, ridges and bears. I head into my future a little more warily, but no less optimistically. Because there are flowers in the wood, too, and treasures along the rutted path. The benefit of treading a bit more carefully is that I’ll spot them more often than I otherwise would have.

Peace.

gi-empty-nest-white-feather

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