01 January 2013

Mixed Blessings

2013 started out gray.  2012 ended the same way.  For most of the last week the skies have been heavy, bloated, on the verge of crying.  I know this feeling.  I spent a good portion of last year feeling this way.

I don’t like to hear someone say “This day can’t be over soon enough!” or “I wish it was Friday already!”.  Ask my son how many times he’s heard me say “Don’t wish your life away!”.

And yet, as I sit at my desk watching the first few drops of rain ping one leaf at a time on their way down, I am aware of a sense of relief that a new year has begun, that the old one is finished, and that we’ve careened past yet another milestone no more damaged than we were going in.  And, I am grateful.

Thanksgiving was different; not bad, not difficult, just different.  Christmas was different, too…a little sadder, and angry, but not in a fierce way.  Angry in a wistful way.  Wistful as in “Isn’t it a shame he chose not to be here?”  Because, he did.  Trey chose not to have Christmas with us.  And we know how to do Christmas!  We have great Christmases! I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to be here…

There are lots of things I don’t understand.  

I don’t understand why a general practitioner happily rewrites a middle-aged woman’s Zoloft prescription for months on end, but when that same woman suggests her adolescent son might also benefit from anti-depressants, he refuses without listening and looks at her as though she should be ashamed.

I don’t understand a therapist who, after several unsuccessful attempts at getting an obviously troubled teenager to open up, dismisses his mother with “You’re wasting your money and my time.  Don’t bring him back until he’s willing to talk.”, or a high school counselor who, upon being alerted by a classmate that a student is cutting himself, shakes her head at the parent saying “We simply can’t have that here.”, as though mental illness is somehow catching and another kid will see his scars and think them cool and before you know it everyone is cutting.

Anyone who tells you mental illness carries no stigma never tried to get help for a disturbed child.

I do understand, though, the horror inherent in the realization that the weapon-wielding monster might have been my son and the ever-present fear that the next time he might not be pulled over before crossing the center line.

My son is dead but he didn’t take anyone with him.  I understand that.  And, I am grateful.

I am told that the black hole in my memory where last January and most of February used to be is normal.  I likened the space to a blank chalkboard when describing it to my therapist who agreed that the missing chunk of time may, indeed, contribute to my feeling that every moment since is a do-over.

In one of those moments, several weeks after I began seeing her, I realized parts of me I hadn’t missed are back.  My wounds are healing, as all wounds do, by reclamation.  The “skin” has grown back, not as new skin but as a continuation of the old, only better, stronger, scarred and thus resilient.  I like her, the woman I am becoming; the one I was before but newer, stronger, with a chance to be better.

That is his gift.

He always did that.  He always brought me gifts.  From the time he was very small, if he went outside, he came back in with pockets full of rocks and handfuls of dandelion heads.  He was sure every rock was a gem.  And they were.  I kept them all.  

At Thanksgiving last year he brought me bird’s nests to add to my collection.  He frequently came across them in his work and saved them for me.  Some were square, as though formed inside a box.  Some were round and tiny.  And one had parts of blue eggshell inside.

And he wrote me notes like the one I found a few weeks ago while cleaning out a file cabinet.

Thank you so much from all of us.  Without you I/we would be nothing.  In my whole 21 years you have never let me down.  You are absolutely without question the best mom in the world. I love all you guys with all my heart.
Thank you.
Love, Trey

© Copyright 2007-2013 Stacye Carroll All Rights Reserved

27 December 2012

First Christmas

I shopped for weeks.

I cooked for days.

I spent hours wrapping gifts.

In quiet moments you came,
making every task a reminder of what we would miss
on this,
our first Christmas without you.

© Copyright 2007-2012 Stacye Carroll All Rights Reserved

18 November 2012

Warm Whispers

I have a thing for sleepwear.  I like cotton nightgowns, silk nightshirts and girly pajamas.  I own six bathrobes; one of them purported to be “The Softest Robe Ever”.  It’s soft, alright.  It’s also very fluffy, and putting it on makes me feel like a lavender-hued Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  I hold on to it for those two or three days a year when the temperature dips so low that warmth trumps frump.

Two of my robes are girly.  The silky peach one channels Hedy Lamarr.  The sheer black one was an impulse purchase from a Victoria’s Secret catalogue.  It has bright pink feathers at the collar and cuffs.  I’ve never worn it.  But you never know…

The red robe is short, made of cotton and features a very large dragon embroidered down the back.  It’s one of my favorites.  Depending on my mood while wearing it, I either feel like a prize fighter or a naughty Geisha.  

The black one is heavy and hooded and used to belong to a man.  It’s a Bill Blass.  1998 was a very good year.

The one I wear is flannel and plaid, tartan plaid, in blues and greens.  I remember tearing open the Christmas wrap covering the box it came in, and looking around to see what my sisters’ robes looked like.  For several years, since we all had married, my mother bought four of the same thing in different colors.  One year it was sweaters.  Mine was beige.  Have you seen me?  Well you can’t if I wear beige.  

Blue and green are not my colors either.  I’m more a red and black or, better yet, a turquoise and silver kind of girl.  And plaid?  Honey, please…

And yet, that’s the robe I wear.  I take care to make sure it hangs on the outside of the hook so that in the morning, as I stumble out of my bedroom and into the bathroom, I can grab it without thinking.  

This morning I noticed a hole…a slice really…in the back.  The fabric around the slice was thin, very thin; thin enough to make me wonder if the slice wasn’t really a tear; a surrender to time.   The discovery inspired me to inspect further.  As it turns out, there are lots of holes, some of them bigger than others. 

But, you would expect that in a 30 year old robe.

This morning, as I drew the robe around me, I felt her. 
I imagined her hands on the robe, as she chose it, as she wrapped it, and the image comforted me.  

“It’s going to be alright.”, Mom whispered.  “You’ll be fine.  He’s here with me, you know.  Your boy is here with me.”

© Copyright 2007-2012 Stacye Carroll All Rights Reserved

14 November 2012

An Empathetic Voter

There was a point in time when I was sure my Mom had a thing for Hubert Humphrey.  It wasn’t anything she said or did.  It was something in the way my father responded when she spoke of him.  As it turns out, Dad was an unapologetic Nixon republican, and what I was hearing was my first political debate.

I registered to vote in my high school’s cafeteria along with the rest of the senior class, and I’ve voted in every single presidential election since.  There was a time, prior to the 2000 elections, when I cast a vote in favor of a candidate.  Since then, however, I seem to find myself choosing what I believe to be the lesser of two evils and, while I don’t purport to remember loads about my high school civics class, I’m nearly certain they didn’t teach that.

I voted for Obama in 2008, but he wasn’t my first choice.  You see, I’d been a long-time fan of John McCain whom I’d always considered a straight shooter; a person who didn’t play party politics.

But that was before Karl Rove sunk his horns into him. 

I WANTED to like Hillary, but I couldn’t get there.  I’ve been the wife of a cheating man.  I did the only thing I could imagine doing, I left.  Throw at me all the extenuating circumstances you’ve got.  I left.  She didn’t.  End of story.  By the time I cast my vote, I was on line to board the “Hope and Change” bandwagon.  Since then, I've never been more disappointed in a politician in my life.


I started casting about for a replacement two years ago.  Excitement at the prospect of a Christie candidacy lasted all of two days…until he held a press conference urging all of us groupies to stand down.  From there, the list dwindled considerably.  Newt was a no go. I’m from Georgia, remember? 

I do. 

Santorum was scary…way scary…Zombie Apocalypse scary.

Enter Mitt Romney.  I read his bio.  I read news clips.  I read legislation.  I comforted myself with the knowledge that the healthcare plan he’d sponsored in Massachusetts served as a template for the one now dubbed “Obamacare”.

But that was before Karl Rove sunk his horns into him.

Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as running mate sealed the deal.  I was officially out of options. 
Once again, I voted for Barack Obama.

I watched returns on election night from the viewpoint of a pacifist.  If Obama won, great!  If Romney won, oh well.  Certain pundits predicted he’d morph back into his old, pre-Rove self.  One could hope….

Let’s face it.  There is no such thing as unbiased news coverage in the United States.  As in all things Capitalism, it’s all about the money, honey.  I went with CNN.  At least they pretend...and they feature my boyfriend, James Carville.  I love James Carville.

Seeing the numbers did nothing to calm me.  Hours passed, and still I worried that the party responsible for Sarah Palin, Richard Murdock and Todd Akin would win the majority.  When Wolf Blitzer (and what is his real name, really?) announced Obama the winner just a little after 11:00 pm, I was as surprised as anybody.

Well, maybe not anybody.

I guess I wasn’t as surprised as the woman who, next day, hoped everyone who voted Democratic would enjoy their food stamps, free cell phone, and government issued six-pack of beer.  It’s probably safe to say I cannot relate to the feelings that motivated another person to post an article detailing Obama’s involvement with one Valarie Jarrett whose only crime, as far as I can tell, is having been born in…wait for it…IRAN!!!  You’d think, by this time, everyone would know about Snopes.  And, let's face it, Karl Rove's response to Fox anchor Megyn Kelly when she asked him "Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better or is this real?" was just sad.  His distressed confusion was so palpable you had to feel for the guy.

Georgia went red in 1996 in response to what we’ll call President Clinton’s indiscretions.  Accordingly, nearly everyone I know supported Mitt Romney…loudly…in a manner suggesting that those who did otherwise were not just wrong; they were downright unpatriotic and obviously did not love Jesus.  On Wednesday morning, it was this knowledge and my determination to honor that age-old southern tradition of grace in victory that set my posture as I headed out into the post-election world with my head somewhat bowed, my eyes definitely averted, and my intention set on avoiding any and all political discourse. 
You know what they say about intentions?  My hell came in the form of a very small woman with an enormous chip on her shoulder.  The conversation started innocently enough.  It wasn’t until I thought we were done that she took a step toward me and said, “Well, my family had to peel themselves off the floor last night!”

Here it comes, I thought.  

“I can imagine, I said.”, hoping my sympathy sounded more like empathy.

The tirade that followed was more than unexpected, it was unpredictable.  Nothing could have prepared me for the explosion of desperate anger that filled the ever-shrinking space between us.  Hands flew.  Eyes narrowed.  Her voice cracked and all I could think was “Don’t cry…please don’t cry.”

“Oh my daughter can get an abortion…”, she growled.  “but not a job!  Our children won’t be able to get jobs!”

My mind became a pinball machine, pinging about for a rational response to her irrational outburst, until she said the one thing that resonated with me.

“I’m so scared!”

It came back to me in a rush…the feeling of desperation…and more…frustrated desperation…and anger…outraged anger.  And the feelings brought me words.

“I understand.”

Though breathing hard, she quieted.

“I get it, I really do.  Had the tables been turned, I’d feel exactly the same way, I’m sure.  In fact, I HAVE felt that way.  When George Bush was reelected, I cried.  I turned off my television.  I turned off my radio.  I couldn’t stand to hear his name spoken.  I just knew terrible, awful things were going to happen to our country.   And, you know what?  They did.  And here we are.”

With crazy still dancing in her eyes, she turned on one heel and walked out of the room.

© Copyright 2007-2012 Stacye Carroll All Rights Reserved

14 September 2012

Of Trees and Music

I covet my neighbor’s willow tree.  I always wanted one, but the roots contain some kind of homing device causing them to make a beeline for the septic tank, resulting in “thousands of dollars in costly repairs.”

Or at least that’s what the man said.

My neighbor’s willow sits right on the corner, next to the street.  I drive past the tree every day on my way to work.  In winter, her barren branches droop gently, forming a frosty crown.  In spring she sprouts cotton candy that melts into the lush green of summer.  

Yesterday, cool breezes blew through my opened car window and the willow’s branches, taking green and yellow leaves with it.   As I passed, I noticed the uppermost branches were already bare.  I saw patience in her droop, a studied tolerance under a swirl of green and yellow ovals.  Soon she would be regal again.

Something about the scene moved me.  It might have been the empty branches, or the way those unruly leaves mocked her on the way down.  It could have been her beauty.

But, it might have been the music.

Yesterday, as I passed the tree, Dionne Warwick warbled.

If you’re under the age of 40, you’re probably confused.  You’re marveling, I’d guess, to think that the host of TV’s “Psychic Friends” also sings.  I know how you feel.  I haven’t stopped shaking my head ever since I heard she was hosting a television program featuring washed-up soap opera stars pretending to telephone psychics.  What a concept…

Dionne Warwick was the mouthpiece of one of the greatest songwriting duos of the 20th century, and it wasn’t until I heard her sing the leaves out of a tree that I realized how much that music meant to me.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David originally wrote “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” for the Broadway show “Promises, Promises” in 1968.  In 1970, Dionne Warwick took it to number one on the charts.  I STILL know every word.  

Hal David was 91 when he died on September first.  To commemorate his life, Terri Gross replayed her interview with him on “Fresh Air”.  I’m sure he told stories and shared anecdotes.  At one point, Terri asked him about a supposed riff with writing partner Burt Bacharach.  David swept it under the rug, along with any suggestion of Dionne as Diva.  And that was just fine with me.  Enough with the talk!  Let’s hear some music!

I heard a snippet of “Alfie” which I didn’t realize originated from a film of the same name until I saw the remake in 2004.  I went to see Jude Law.  I left humming Bacharach’s tune.

Then she played “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”.  This wasn’t my favorite…but I still get sucked in.  Every time it plays I find myself singing the accompaniment “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoawhoawhaowhaowaho, whoa”.

What I didn’t realize until Terri played a montage of their hits was that Dionne didn’t have to sing it for me to love it. 

 In 1965, our parents bought Tom Jone’s album “What’s New Pussycat”.  A few years later, me and Judy Witcher played it over and over and over again…”You and your pussycat nose…”.   

The highlight of Christmas day, 1970, was waking up to the sight of The Carpenter’s album, “Close to You”, among Santa’s gifts.

And Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love” still seduces me.  

The music, and the tree, and the leaves, and the breeze all came together in a tiny moment in time called Joy.

And I felt it.

What a gift!

© Copyright 2007-2012 Stacye Carroll All Rights Reserved