Sunday, November 21, 2010
"The world is a dangerous place. It will jump up and bite you." That was the major lesson Harried learned from his life.
Growing up, his mother delighted in reading out "awful" stories from the newspaper or sharing what she heard on the radio. Babies dropped out of tall buildings in "The City". That sort of thing.
His dad shared this world view, perhaps that was where Harried picked it up. His dad would not let his sons use the power mower, for example, even into their teens. It was too dangerous.
This belief was reinforced by the disappointments of his young life, that made a huge impact on his world view. The hurricane that flooded his family out of their home when he was ten contributed. The time he rehearsed with the church choir for a Christmas program, but then the people who had been giving him a ride to rehearsals didn't give him a ride to perform, and he was kicked out of the choir.
It was reinforced when he found himself surrounded by children who were a closed group, bonded over their religion, which was different from his, in the new neighborhood (where they moved after the flood). It was reinforced when the neighborhood started to change in color and that bonded group fled to the suburbs. By the time he was supposed to go to high school, his inner city school was a nightmare.
He stopped going to school, withdrawing from life. Eventually this resulted in a visit from the truant officer. Even his health failed him: he had terrible headaches, and pains in his legs that could not be explained. His parents took him to doctors, even to quacks when the regular doctors could not figure out what was wrong.
It was into this dismal life that hope arrived on the wings of a neighbor woman's faith. She believed that prayer alone could heal. Harried admired her, and began going to Sunday school, and studying the teachings of this faith. He found that this helped him to function in a way that nothing else had up until now. He went to night school to get his high school diploma, finding that he got on better with adults than he did with people his own age.
But life continued to reinforce the negatives. He had a low draft number, and he was on the train on his way to college when the "Greetings" letter arrived in the mail back home. As soon as he graduated it was off to Army training as a draftee.
In the Army, he learned that he wasn't able to keep up physically. His flat feet kept him at the rear of the pack, "with the fatties", as he later would describe it. In the jungles of Viet Nam, he sent his mother letters telling that he prayed each day to not have to shoot anyone. He was wounded, a rocket hitting the vehicle he was riding on. Had it veered the other way, it would have been his name on The Wall, rather than a buddy's.
After that horror, dumped by the Army after the war, he had trouble adjusting. His negative view of the world was now reinforced by the job market. Harried left a job after a year, anxious over his personal safety on the job.
It was at this point that Harried went to a church conference in Boston and met Helen. Helen's outlook on life was so different. Harried and Helen exchanged addresses at the end of the conference and began writing to one another... Helen's letters were full of everyday doings from the Midwest... everything from movies to school classes she was taking to carving pumpkins with her kid sisters. It seemed so wholesome and upbeat... always upbeat.
Over several years, Harried moved to the midwest, they exchanged visits in a long and unusual courtship. Eventually, with that faith being the thing they had most in common... they married. Harried moved to Helen's town, and they set up housekeeping. Only then did the real learning about one another begin.
... to be continued ...
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Salvador Son was a kid, like any other kid. He didn't know that his life wasn't just like every other kid's life until he went to preschool. There he discovered that the other kids did not have a dad that stayed at home and a mom that went off to work every day. All the others in his class had either two parents who worked or their mom stayed with them.
This started Salvador out with an attitude of suspicion toward his parents and what they told him. He approached what they told him in Sunday School the same way, with suspicion.
Over the years he let snippets of his skepticism slip out in conversations with his mom, our Helen Heroine. When he was four, and Helen bubbled about something she'd done professionally as she tucked him into bed, she suggested he might enjoy this career when he grew up. He nailed her with a gaze and asked, "Do MEN fix computers?"
Salvador quickly learned the skill of children: to play the parents off against one another for what they'd give him. He knew to go to dad if he wanted things, but to mom if he wanted permission to DO something. He knew that his dad's first answer to anything was "No". He knew his parents were loud and argumentative. He knew they hardly noticed he was there, they were so wrapped up in their own conflict.
Once he hid out in his room to see how long before they'd even notice he was gone. The results were not encouraging.
When Helen went off to work in Jobtown, he had it pretty good. His dad, Harried Husband, was so wrapped up in his own misery and whatever his own projects were that third grader Salvador could pretty much do as he liked. Oh, he knew things would change... but for that year? Having one parent and not the other wasn't such a bad deal.
He'd lived in the same village since he was three. He knew all the kids in school. He could run about pretty independently, within limits. He played soccer and basketball on teams, and these were his good chums.
Then there was that horrible year when he was dragged off to Jobtown and enrolled in a strange new school where he knew no one. There was an undetected gas leak in the apartment that made him sick a lot of the time, before they got it fixed. When his dad was gone, his mom would drop him at before school care before he was awake, almost, and not come get him until late. And his mom didn't have a lot of energy to take him places.
When his dad came back, things got a little better. He didn't have to be in day care as long. He got enrolled in flag football, and basketball in the winter. He made a few new friends. His teacher was pretty cool. But when his dad was there, his mom and dad argued a lot. One day his dad used the "d" word in an argument... the one his friends had told him about. Right after that, his mom bundled him into the car and they drove off.
Over burgers, he voiced his concern, "Mom, are you and dad going to get divorced?" His mom asked him if he knew what it took to get a divorce. He did not. She said that someone had to hire a lawyer and fill out lots of papers and go to court. She assured him she would NEVER do such a thing, and asked if he could envision his dad doing it? Salvador laughed. No way would his dad pull that off.
When they moved back to Oldtown, Salvador survived the strangeness of having missed a chunk of life there. Things were returned to a stable state, if not a perfect one. Then there was that awful Summer, when he prayed that the teachers would NOT ask for an essay of what he did that Summer! He told his mom he could write it in one word: "Grieved."
He had a fairly good Summer, if a strange one, when his mom took that leave of absence. Mom let him do things. She let him host sleepovers with a friend or two. Dad almost never did that sort of thing, thinking everything was too dangerous. Mom kept her promises, but didn't let him re-interpret them. Dad often would "forget" his promises, or pooh out on delivery of them... but dad wasn't there for most of that Summer.
But now, it had happened AGAIN! Here he was in a strange city, knowing no one, and about to go to high school. He'd had to leave a girlfriend behind, as well as his chums. And his dad's birthday present? It was a joke. Salvador picked out a fake rock to put on the front entrance to the house. It said, "So this isn't Home Sweet Home - Adjust".
On his own, it was a long walk to the mall, but the town was pretty easy to navigate. In the middle of August, though, he found himself not functional. He dialed the cell phone to get his mom at work. "I don't care what you're doing, I'm sick, I need to get home." Helen made excuses at work, and went to retrieve her son.
School started. Salvador knew no one, and no one appreciated his dry wit. When he joked the way he used to at the old school, no one knew him, so no one laughed. He ate lunch alone, in a school with two thousand students. He was a picky eater, and ended up eating junk out of the machines. But mostly, he felt unwell.
Helen could not keep him in school. Legally he was required to go to school, but he couldn't make it through more than a couple of hours. The church teachings said not to go to doctors, but prayer alone wasn't working, and Helen was desperate. When the practitioner of the faith she'd called for prayerful help "fired" Salvador as a patient, she took him to see a regular medical doctor, who mildly asked Salvador, "So, why aren't you going to school?" Salvador's answer, "I dunno."
... to be continued ...
Friday, November 19, 2010
Helen Heroine had always wanted everyone to like her, and most especially she craved the approval of her parents and family. As a child, she would listen to her parents talk and based on what her child-ears heard, determine how to behave and what to tell and not tell people about her life.
Because her mother seemed critical of anyone who asked for much, Helen would avoid voicing her own needs. Because her father prized intelligence, Helen avoided relating anything that showed her in a foolish or stupid light. Helen's friend Debbie Denial helped her craft what she would tell people about her life, and what she would "spin". The politicians had nothing on the team of Helen and Debbie.
Penny Pinkclouds had been a friend since childhood. Penny taught Helen how to deceive herself, and write fairy tale outcomes for actions that Helen wanted to take or had taken. Penny was great at rationalization.
These ladies came along for the trip back to Hometown. Helen didn't make hotel reservations, as her sister Selena invited her to stay with her during the work week. Helen would house hunt on alternate weekends, trading off with flights back to Harried Husband and Salvador Son, and to prepare for the big move that Penny and Helen had planned.
Helen and Selena talked a lot during her stay. They talked about growing up and various feelings they had. Helen also spent time with her dad. He was alone now, her mom having been gone for two years. She started going back to the church of her youth.
In all her conversations, Helen took the advice of Debbie Denial. She made her life sound happy, because "no one wants to hear that bad stuff". At church, only the good was considered "real"... you don't rehearse "error" (bad) or give it a voice. Helen wanted to be accepted, and the way to be accepted was to put on a happy face and relate the world as Penny Pinkclouds saw it.
Consequently, everyone who knew Helen, knew only what Helen told them... they knew that Harried was fine, not that Helen was resentful of his lack of support. They knew that Salvador was smart. Not that Helen worried about her absence from his life, and Harried's apparent inability to provide guidance for a now-teenaged son. They knew that Helen had a fine new job. Not that she was constantly worried about making ends meet and what the future would bring. Not that she felt inadequate.
Helen didn't admit even to herself that Harried was the only person in her life that she could even voice a negative to. The fact that he wasn't a person who could or would act on the information and provide substantial help? Well, that left our old chum Freddie Foodbinge.
Helen once again decided to "fix" things herself. Harried would come around. He always did, she thought. With her eye on the relocation package provided by her employer, Helen found a house that Harried approved from the online ads and photos Helen and his sister sent. Harried's sister helped Helen paint and prepare it on weekends.
The following Summer, Helen went back to Oldtown and helped pack up the furniture (or most of it) and move into that house. Harried and Salvador came along. They moved in around the 4th of July. Salvador's fifteenth birthday was celebrated by Harried going out and buying something Salvador didn't even want... and forcing Helen to expend energy shopping for accessories and setting it up: an aquarium. Yes, that energy thief was back.
Having given Helen more things to care for, Harried headed out, back to Oldtown and the old house. He was once again supposed to be selling it. Since Salvador was old enough to take care of himself, Helen thought things might be easier than they were a few years back in Jobtown. She worried... what would Salvador do all day? He was too young to drive and he had no friends here in Hometown! She pointed out where things were, and he had directions to walk or take the bus as he explored the town. Still, she was left once again, a "single" mom, with an older son this time, and a demanding job.
This did not look good.
... to be continued ...
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I cannot even begin to write Chapter 6... in this chapter, Helen Heroine tries her hand at being a stay at home mom and organizing her house. This is the job she was so critical of Harried Husband not doing the way Helen thought it ought to be done.
What Helen found out was that it wasn't as simple as her mother made it look. Harried wasn't coping well with the burdens he had been given, either. Eventually he had to have his sister and her son step in to finish the job of selling their mom's old house.
Helen's family leave was extended; she got really anxious about finances, too. Her attempts to find the villain from the first chapter, who was stealing her energy had stopped. She kept listening to Reuben Resentment, although Debbie Denial was also a strong voice in her ear. Polly Perfectionist was "out". Helen was doing all she could to just get through the days. She sullenly told herself she was on her own. Harried was no help. She had to be the one to "fix" things.
Six months after the leave began, Helen was working from home, part-time. Six months after that, she started traveling again. Yet another six months, and she began to hear rumors that her company was bidding on a job back in her parents' home town.
Debbie Denial was joined by Penny Pinkclouds and a fantasy formed in Helen's mind. If she could work her way onto this project, she would relocate her family back to Hometown; everything would resolve itself. In this fantasy, Harried would find a job: he always said he wanted a job, it was a major source of his unhappiness and lack of self-esteem, Debbie argued.
In this fantasy, Salvador would also have more opportunity: it was a bigger town, with good schools, after all, Helen went to school there. And also in the fantasy, Helen would have the family and church support she used to have as a child.
Helen begged the manager for the opportunity to work on this bid. She was given the chance, and excited to see her dad and sisters, she climbed on an airplane bound for Hometown!
... to be continued ...
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Helen Heroine, Harried Husband and Salvador Son drove a U-Haul truck and their battered old car 1000 miles back to the old house, arriving at Thanksgiving. They felt truly thankful for and hopeful about this new beginning. They pulled off a traditional feast, praying and thanking God for this resolution of the difficult past two years.
Salvador had been away from Oldtown for a school year and a quarter. He missed all of fourth grade, attending in Jobtown, and the first part of fifth grade. When he went to school back in Oldtown things were strange. Kids he used to know and he would see one another in the hall and suddenly realize who the other one was… “Hey… I know you. Didn’t you move to Ohio?”
Helen had accepted the new job sight unseen, with only a telephone interview, and she had flight reservations to her first day on the job. She and Harried had looked up the company at the library, knew it to be a solid one, but those first day jitters hit everyone. She got on the plane, flew to Boston, met her new boss and filled out paperwork. Things were a little disorganized; this was a consulting job. She would be flying from client to client, a new city every week. The beauty of it was that she could still live in Oldtown, in their old house.
Harried would stay home and care for Salvador, as he had back in the days when Helen worked locally. Helen quickly adapted to what was needed for the job. She learned whole new skill sets related to travel: how to travel light, for one thing. The first trip was a disaster… she quickly learned NOT to check bags. She learned to sleep on airplanes: snoozing by the time the wheels went up, waking when they hit the tarmac again on the other end.
Helen already had one skill set: people-pleasing. A-student from grade school on, she would kill herself to “get it right”, sacrificing her personal time to complete assignments, working late at the hotel on her laptop.
Still, she knew she wanted to get her fitness back. She sought out the hotels that had swimming pools and fitness rooms in the hopes of using them: but she didn't always find the time. She was tired of the professional programs, even of the self-help book based programs. She wanted to write her own journey. After all, she did know how this nutrition and exercise thing worked. It had worked for her before. She could do this. And it was worth doing.
On weekends, Helen flew home to Harried and Salvador. Things were honeymoon-like at first. They had so little time together that they cut one another a break. The issues between them were deep, but Helen had discovered a new friend, Debbie Denial, and latched on to her. Helen was pretty happy with the traveling. Harried took a lot of energy as Helen willed him to be happy. Helen was tired. All she really wanted, she told herself, was to be normal. But she wasn’t sure how normal would work if she didn’t have those airplanes to escape on.
Six months into the flying consultancy even larger family events impacted the precarious arrangement. A phone call from her mother in law while Helen, Harried, and Salvador were at church one Sunday started the collapse. “It’s your brother,” she told Harried. He had died of a heart attack, mowing the grass. Harried’s mom was devastated. Harried needed to spend time with her.
They took Salvador out of school, a week before the term ended, because he could not be alone with both a mom and a dad on the road.
Half a continent away, Helen's parents were facing issues as well. The day after the funeral, Helen flew to visit her ailing mother for a weekend, and three weeks to the day after the loss of her brother in law, Helen’s mother succumbed to organ failure. Three more weeks passed quickly, with a flight for another funeral, and those career responsibilities crowing in.
At this point Harried’s mother suffered a stroke. Helen had to keep working, but her head and heart were spinning. She continued almost robot-like, flying back and forth, hanging as much together as she could, until the current assignment ended, a full eight months later. She knew she needed what she got from eating right and moving, so she incorporated walks at noon, and she asked her client to support her moving into an apartment, since this was a long-term gig. This enabled her to eat groceries. She was back on a healthy program, as best she could be.
When the assignment ended, she took family leave time from her employer. Helen was feeling good about the change. She would have time at home with her son, time that Harried needed to spend taking care of his mother's affairs. This was Helen's first extended period of time away from work since Salvador was born, 12 years prior! She was pumped for the chance to be "normal", to put her house in order, and she would worry about making a living again when the 12 week leave was up.
… to be continued …
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