By linda marie pharaoh-carlsonęcopyright, all rights reserved
I read with interest The Bob Danzig Story from Simple Truths Newsletter today.
And while there were probably some similarities between the life of Bob and myself, my world did not contain a single person along the way, who would ever offer me so much as a word of positive life affirmation.
I lost my mother physically at age fifteen. Actually...she had been sick for a good three years previous to my turning fifteen and she was not "there" due to illness so much of the time, through no fault of her own. I remember sitting by mom's bedside and gently rubbing her arms for hours. It seemed the only "close" tie I had during those days. And more often than not, she was shipped off rather unceremoniously to the state hospital for long stays.
Sometimes for treatments, sometimes for surgeries.
Back then, cancer treatment was rather barbaric in nature compared to today's advanced procedures. My mama incurred much pain and suffering, and went through mental and emotional gymnastics facing this horrible illness for what must have seemed to her at the time, virtually a life struggle she faced all alone. Even if you have a spouse and family, you face the inner fears of treatment, an unknown outcome, and the prospect of dying, pretty much alone.
Those days were punctuated with my kindly elderly neighbors, The Hall's (Clyde and Daisy), 'looking after me' somewhat. I would get myself to grade school a little over a block up the street, and walk home at lunchtime to Ms. Hall's. She'd always have soup and a sandwich, and the best home made sugar cookies that I'd eat with the red jello she had for me. Their acts of kindness in taking care of this somewhat bewildered orphan have never been forgotten by me. And I often wish that I could have sought them out at some point to tell them.
My parents hadn't expected me in life. Mom was thirty-seven years old when she discovered she was pregnant. I remember asking my beloved aunt Jodee once later in years, if my parents wanted me. She of course said that they did, but I never could reconcile that affirmative answer with the life I lived with them
I remember sitting with my cousins in my living room and walking through the dining room where my mama's hospital bed had been after her funeral. Knowing she was gone seemed surreal. There were a lot of people gathered and one woman all dressed in black dabbing at her eyes behind a black veiled hat. Everyone was asking who the woman was.
We knew two weeks later.
It was my dad's girlfriend, whom he'd been seeing the entire duration of mama's very ill time preceding her death, who sported an engagement ring from him.
Siblings were up in arms, I guess. I had no real idea what was going on because I really couldn't tell you much about those days. I was "on my own" and just living on planet X somewhere.
The outcome of that short-lived relationship resolved with my older brother marching dad over to the fiancee's abode to take back the ring. Well, life went on.
I was, as I had always been,"the afterthought" in people's lives. I guess no one ever happened to think that a young girl who had just lost a mom the month after her fifteenth birthday, would ever need a word of comfort, or inquiry into whether I needed anything or not, or how I was doing, or even a loving reassuring hug. I imagine everyone assumed that my dad was there for me taking care of me et al, which was quite contrary to the reality I was living.
I hardly saw the man and I was left alone to fend for myself day after day, night after night, without a human soul to talk to or turn to. All while trying to mechanically get dressed and out the door each day for the remaining days of school that were left. I walked all the way across town and back to get it done.
I always marveled at people who had teachers that greatly impacted their lives for good. I had a school full of them (teachers that is), and didn't even get called into a counselor's office once to see if I was ok after mom's death. No one ever asked if I was alright...ever, or even acknowledged the fact that my mom had died and that I had just been traumatized and cut loose to function on my own completely. And only Robert and Raymond and Elaine Karras attended my mom's funeral (which really meant a lot to me, but I never got to tell them).
I had to make it on my own trying to formulate a life plan, which was pretty much just to survive, by myself. There was no one to give me the kind and encouraging words that Bob Danzig received in life, even though he'd only heard them a couple of times. It had been enough to spark in him the ability to rise above his circumstances and go on.
I made bad and unhealthy decisions for myself. What did I know, I was barely fifteen without any guidance or direction coming from anywhere?
But I made decisions that kept me alive and struggling toward adulthood, until my dad remarried the worst step parent of any fractured fairy tale one could imagine. My personal fairy tale was a blithering nightmare.
For the two or three months that I lived with them, dad and his wife, I was a prisoner in my own room. Food was locked away in the freezer from me. I was constantly berated and treated as though I was the most hated human being in the world by this woman. And I would hear her tell whoever she was talking to on the phone on any given day what a horrible person I was. That I was antisocial and wouldn't come out of my room! I sort of was being driven nuts by this schizoid mentality of hers. I would be accused of doing bad things to her material goods, breaking things, intentionally tearing things up (which did not happen). I saw the last baby doll my mom had ever purchased for me that I had tried to keep in pristine condition, given to her nieces and destroyed. And the 101 Dalmatian coloring book she'd bought for me years before at the hospital gift shop (from one of her stays in the state hospital), that I'd set back and wouldn't ever use because I just knew I wanted to keep it forever, scribbled in, ruined, and carelessly tossed aside on the back porch. And I cried.
I was a kid.
And I needed anyone to care. I had been so lost in life and had no one to turn to.
My oldest sister came to get me to live with her and her family of four kids eventually. I really was not close to her. As a matter of fact, I was eight years old before I'd ever learned that the woman with all the kids that used to come around a lot was indeed my sister. I guess I was as dumfounded at that astounding news as an eight year old gets. I had no idea, and found it hard to wrap my head around that bit of information.
But there she was, a virtual stranger to me, taking me in.
Had she not, I guess I would have ended up in some girls detention center or quite possibly a foster care situation somewhere as clearly...I was an unwanted person, and had been for as long as I could remember.
Life on the farm was like living in another country. I found everything about the living situation strange and getting to know them all very hard. The kids resented my being there, and who could blame them? They didn't need another kid in the house and I didn't want to be there, but I had no one else and nowhere else to be. My sister had had some emotional problems in life and struggles of her own to deal with, so it wasn't ideal. But we got by and I graduated from high school. I had to go back for a semester after graduation to make up for the semester I had missed when I quit school, something I promised myself I'd never do (quit school), but did, just the same.
Dad wouldn't pay the tuition or buy necessary school things to get me going the fall after his marriage, so I quit and took a baby sitting job.
The money I earned would go toward getting myself the things needed to go back. It is just so weird looking back now at this all.
I don't know what happened to the money earned. I don't remember spending or saving it. I don't remember even having it actually.
They were the poorest of people with two small boys. I would attempt to feed them lunch each day and there were maybe 3 cans of soup in the cupboard and crackers and a few slices of bread and a partial package of lunch meat and maybe a little peanut butter most days. Needless to say, I would never eat there with them because it would be taking food away from them and they were just little boys.
So I would get up in the morning not eat breakfast, not eat lunch, and by the time my boyfriend picked me up at the end of the day, be pretty hungry. No wonder I was so skinny back then.
My boyfriend was a scoundrel with a bad reputation, but because of him, I didn't starve to death in my teen years. He would either take me to the A&W to eat or to his mom's and she would feed me. Remember, I had said that the step parent locked food away in the freezer from me. She would always fix herself and dad a nice supper and then put any leftovers in bags in the freezer, if there were any. I would come home after baby sitting to a sink full of their dishes each night to have to wash, which I did. Which subsequently brought me more trouble as I was accused of breaking things on purpose from washing up their dishes by the woman.
Once I remember my dad wouldn't even say "hello" to me. I was used to her not acknowledging me in anyway (I was invisible until she wanted to rail on me to dad about something), but him doing this along with her for weeks on end, began to take it's toll.
I stopped him in the kitchen one day and cried, "dad, what did I do?...that you won't even talk to me?"... his response was that I had committed some terrible acts against them (seeded, I was convinced at the time, by her more than likely), such as leaving the toothpaste lid off in the morning, or using more than one washcloth a day, or staining a washcloth with make up or whatever. I was incredulous to what he was telling me. I said, "but I love you"... and his only response then was, "well...we LOVED you too". So I went in my room and cried some more. My "offenses" seemed far too much to ever forgive to them, and so I became an object of disdain that was certainly not lovable by any means.
For those horrendous acts, I deserved their harshest treatment.
I longed for my mom. For my dad. For any one person on planet earth to care even a little bit, just once.
After I'd lived with my sister a year, I guess I was just another kid hanging around to subject her mood swings upon. She would sit in a chair for hours on end and when it was time to do something, the kids all had to do it. We did dishes, we packed up 10 baskets of laundry at a time and carted it to the laundromat and did it all. That, I guess, was the fun family activity that all kids did. We cleaned the house and towed the line, so to speak. She would spend days sitting in her rocking chair looking through "wish books" and catalogs, staring out the window daydreaming, getting up only when it was time to cook, which she did quite well.
One day, I was a little slow getting around for school...but almost ready when I heard her call upstairs, "Linda, get down here the school bus is here!"... I answered simply, "I'm coming!". She must not have liked the "tone" of my voice because by the time I reached the bottom of the stairs she smacked me on the mouth and gave me a blood blister and grabbed me by the hair and dragged me all the way back up the stairs pulling hair out as she tossed me back in the room, complaining that I wouldn't "talk to her like that again!"
Needless to say, it was a traumatizing experience I'll never forget. After all, it's the first time in my life I had ever been assaulted by anyone, let alone a grown up.
I don't know exactly what put a bee in her bonnet that day, but she must have felt sorry for it later because she bent over backwards to scrape up money for me to have a nice dress so that I could go to a homecoming dance. It's not like they had any money for those kinds of things. And I remember the first year there, I was voted as one of the homecoming queen candidates. Well, it was a big deal and the other girls had all gotten together and decided that everyone should have a red velvet dress to wear.
Where in God's blue little acres would I ever get that?
Faced with that dilemma, my sister braved the wrath of my father to go ask him for the money to get a dress. He refused. But at her insistence, I think he gave her a little. Just enough to buy some red material to make a dress. A high school friend volunteered to make it for me, so i had the red velvet dress for homecoming. It ended up a little snug, but it was what I had and I was grateful.
To say that life was a series of soap opera drama's that hardly portrayed the real life that most teens lived, was an understatement. I don't remember ever being in a "happy" atmosphere while living there. I don't remember any fun, and I'm sure the other kids in the house would probably agree with that summation.
All of that and so much more, has brought me here today, some forty-five years later.
My never having received that positive affirmation from anyone in life, the life I was forced to live, the life I haphazardly lived by my own inexperience and design, has made me "different" than many people.
I became a survivor. Fiercely independent, and I became an outspoken and opinionated individual, sometimes overly critical and often wrong in my approach to others...but I also became one with a heart towards another's struggles.
I also became less tolerant of individuals who have had to live very hard lives, who have subsequently needed desperately to overcome and dump the baggage produced along the way, who have been shown that there is a better way to live in life than constantly living in the past and-or wallowing in self-pity and misery, who choose to continue to do so anyway. Life is too short.
I have become more sensitive to the inner struggles of people and tried to be quick to give them the positive affirmations of life that are so needed to help get them through, because I understand that kind of struggle. It hurts. Deeply, and sticks with you. And the new hurtful things of life that pile in on top of what's already been laid down as a foundation, can really do a person in altogether without that 'word in a time of great need.' I try to do for others what was never done for me.
So although Bob Danzig had the words he needed early in life to get him to where he is today, some will never hear them...unless YOU take up the challenge to listen for those who may need them now.
This is why I have an online support community where I have purposely gotten to know the people who come there. Why I want to be there for them, no matter what.
Why I have a web site for people who want to write, some maybe for the first time ever, to showcase their talent and ability to whomever will stop and read it.
It is important for me to not ever see another human being go through almost an entire lifetime feeling as alone and isolated as I have in life. It is important to me to never pass up an opportunity to bring someone else a glimmer of hope and encouragement in a dark and seemingly hopeless situation, such as that which I endured.
My difficulties made me more attuned to the struggles of teenagers. I was a Sunday School teacher, and a youth leader/counselor. I wanted kids to "make it" successfully through the throes of adolescence and teen angst, and the modern day pressures put upon them. And I felt a special kinship to any who had gotten to adulthood despite the problems they had to work through in their personal situations.
Sometimes a difficult life produces a complex and frustrated human, but possibly a human that can see past others foibles to the inner cries of a heart that is in need. I can only hope that kind of life has made me better for the journey. And I intend to do what I can while I have time left here on this blue planet, to reach those who are willing to listen and hear when I say, "You matter a great deal".
No matter whether your life endeavors are small or great in the eyes of the world, you mean so much to me because you're here, and in the business of living the day you were given as a gift, to the best of your ability. You're worthy and you are ok.
This is the purpose behind the struggle. The end result of the experiences that helped me to grow. The moral of the story unfolded. And the vision of the unseen calling to live despite the odds.
I may or may not have touched another life. I hope that I have at some point. And I know that I have failed to do this many times for sure. But never trying is not an option.
If you have it in you to reach, do it now.
If you can speak to a hurting heart, do not hold back.
You, as I, have only a certain allotment of time to do any good that can be done. And if you can not do great things, do small acts of goodness wherever there is opportunity to do so. Say those words of encouragement when you just know someone needs to hear them! It made a vast difference to one such individual, Bob Danzig. And who knows what changes it would have wrought in my life?
I have learned through lack primarily, the importance of saying those needed words to others. Reaching beyond self.
I know what they would have meant to me had I ever heard them. They are or could be "life-changing". So speak up!
You've one life.
Live it well.
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