I have cried tears of regret over many losses in my lifetime. Loved ones lost to illness, tragedy and death, lost keys that open the doors of remembrance and eternity, or lost loves that leave an empty place in one’s heart that will remain forever. However, I feel the greatest loss is what might have been.
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I was the oldest and only girl and my father’s joy and my mother’s friendly right hand. He was born next and challenged my father’s position and power at every chance while my mother protected him in every way from my father’s wrath. At thirteen, he cried the tears that came from a place deep within as he asked, “now, can I be the boss?”
I’ve read theories regarding birth order and how it affects the psychology and family dynamics of the siblings. My eldest brother, born three years after me, leader of the pack of three boys born two, then three years after his entrance into the world resented my place as the responsible one. My mother and father placed me in that position, as they knew I could be counted on. My brother, wanted to be more than the leader of his brothers, he wanted to be “in charge” when my parents were not at home.
My eldest brother and I shared a love/hate relationship until his death a few years ago. I loved him; however, I was always suspicious of his motives. He loved me; but resented my influence with my dad. He and my dad’s power struggle lasted until my dad’s death. At the time of his death, my dad had a restraining order placed on my brother.
He really seemed not to care about being punished when his broke the rules of the house my parents made. He always did whatever pleased him, no matter the consequences. When my parents opened their own business, one of the perks for us kids was Mom would bring home a partially eaten two-day old pie, that she would cut into four evenly measured pieces for us to enjoy. My brother would sneak into the kitchen early and eat two, even three pieces, knowing that howls of rage would ensue. Once my father tried reverse psychology and made him eat the remaining slice(s) that my brother had not eaten. Evan smiled as he ate the remaining pie as we cried silent tears over this miscarriage of justice.
He grew tall and slender with an easy way about himself. He was the alpha male among my brothers who had a way with women that I never understood. Even recently, while attending a funeral (it seems an often requirement nowadays), I was in the ladies room washing my hands before the repast (serving of food after the funeral service), when during a conversation with another attendee, my parent’s business came up which lead to her mentioning my brother and with a huge smile, her saying how much she really loved my brother. My response was that most women said the same thing about him. She further commented how “she missed him; he was so funny.”
I’ve thought about that conversation in the ladies room more than once and remembered other occasions with women that my brother loved. And he loved them all. And they loved him in return. He never married. He was a rascal, if ever there was one.
He joined the army right after high school and the uniform only added to his mystic. At that time, my two sons and I lived in an apartment building that faced a twin building with a courtyard in between where the children safely played. When Evan, wearing his uniform, came to visit while on leave before being sent to another state for training, one of my female neighbors saw him and asked about my visitor. When I answered, “he’s my brother, Evan,” she became very animated and almost salivated as she asked for more details about his status. I answered as honestly as I could; because all I knew was that he was not married; however, she was. Her husband was in prison for some reason or another and she was lonely, I guess.
The two of them started an affair that had the whole apartment complex talking. When Evan left town for training, she would come over to my place and cry and whine about missing him and her love for him. I was incredulous…what was this married woman with two children talking about? In less than two weeks she was talking about divorcing her gangster husband so that she could marry Evan. My response to her was “you must be crazy, Evan will never marry you. He has other women in his life and he is not the marrying kind.” Plus, I was concerned about that gangster husband of hers and what he might do to Evan upon his release from prison (no matter how I felt about my relationship with Evan, he was still my brother). My words did not deter her. As tears rolled down her heartbrokenly screwed up face, she declared her undying love for Evan. Of course, he didn’t married her, and only saw her a few times after their few days together.
Evan had one child out-of-wedlock, a beautiful daughter who became a part of our family. Her mother, again just as the others, was hopelessly in love and hopelessly unable to get Evan to the altar. However, she did manage to receive blessings from my mother. It’s ironic how much she resembled my mother; they could have passed for mother and daughter.
Evan died a few years ago remaining uncaring even about this health. The last days of his life were lived on the streets of San Francisco where they referred to him as “Pops.” In order to find him one had to send out word that a family member or friend needed to see him. A phone call from him allowed the visit.
His capacity for management and leadership always impressed me, even as I did not understand the power he wielded over those in his circle of acquaintances. My two other brothers followed his leadership into the abyss of nothingness as lives and loves go.
My regret is that I did not understand him, ever. His military funeral seemed incongruous to the life he led and the death he suffered. As taps was played and the flag folded and passed to his daughter sitting in front of me, I wondered, what could have been? His death was expected as he refused to care for himself. He had veteran’s benefits and had very good health care offered, but he did not follow his doctor’s advice. He had a stomach problem called pancreatitis, which caused him much pain, however, although this condition did not change his life style and he only checked into the veteran’s hospital when the pain became too unbearable to function. Upon his release, he went back to unhealthy eating, drugs and living on the streets.
He also lived by his own morality. The woman who loved him and bore his child had three beautiful daughters when they met. After years, she finally moved on and married another, Evan started a relationship with her eldest daughter. She, the daughter, was something of a rebel also. That was right down Evan’s alley. I heard the daughter recently boast about her being the only person who could, at will, find Evan during his life on the streets of the city.
Sometimes an understanding of what goes on in life is not to be understood. I regret not understanding my brother. He lived life as the Frank Sinatra song written by Paul Anka, testifies, which was quoted by more than one guest at Evan’s funeral “he did it his way.”
When the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune surround and encompass the very air one breathes and life becomes suffocating, choking, questioning the logic of living, how does one commit to putting one foot in front of the other each day? The smile of Robin Williams had slowly begun its downward spiral and no one noticed. Or at least, I didn’t notice.
The massive tears rolling down the archetype clown’s cheeks were hidden by the persona created by the magic of his own making, concealing the obvious from the adoring ones who truly believed that one as magically majestic as he could have no real issues with living. The tears that welled up and spilled from kind and gentle eyes went unnoticed even as he made us laugh as we too laughed until we cried a different kind of tears. He is gone too soon, leaving behind an adoring public who ask the question – why? We ask; however, we will never understand the persona of the clown or why his love of prompting laughter from others may have been the very reason that would cause the shooting star of his essence to rise above the horizon exploding in multi colors, lighting the darkened cosmos, then fall back to earth in flaccid nothingness. The smile of Mork from the planet, Ork, hid the truth of his being and the reality of his existence. A smile can do that. Robin Williams, rest in peace, I will miss you and your smile.
If I were to choose a theme song for myself, my life, it would be “Smile.” I love that song. That one word makes the statement that I choose to live by. “The Little Tramp” himself, Charlie Chaplin, wrote it as the musical score for his 1936 silent film, “Modern Times.” In 1954, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added the lyrics and title and Nat King Cole recorded the newly blended music with words. However, it was when Jermaine Jackson sang it at his brother, Michael’s, funeral that I really took notice. The words and music together form that perfect balance of musical magic that moved something inside me on that occasion. It’s such a lovely song, advising one to smile through it all:
“Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky,
You’ll get by…
If you smile with your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll find that life I still worthwhile,
If you just…
“Smile” is a blend of musical instrumentation and lyrics that took eighteen years to complete, forming a sad, yet uplifting composition that seemed to shape the persona of “The Little Tramp” and the melodic harmony of beauty, sorrow and regret seems an appropriate theme for my life.
“Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You will find that life is still worthwhile,
If you just…”
I drove to “The City” the other day (those who live in the Northern California Bay Area know that means San Francisco). I had a couple of job interviews spaced four hours apart. After the first interview, I drove around twenty minutes looking for a street space before finding a convenient open-air parking lot. As I sat in my 1999 car with the passenger side rear bashed in from a previous accident (another story) causing issues with opening the trunk. As I sat there, too early for the next interview, I bemoaned the fact that at my age, I still needed a job. I moaned not being able to open my trunk to place the coat that was not needed (really unusual for San Francisco), and finally I moaned about the money that I had spent on bridge fare, breakfast (mostly to waste some time) and the parking fee. The stall I selected faced a relatively busy San Francisco street, and as I stopped concentrating on myself and became aware of my surroundings, I observed life on this street in The City.
There were people of all shapes and colors, some seemingly happy, some perhaps not so happy. There was an older man sitting on a fire hydrant, leaning onto a grocery cart filled high with plastic bags, perhaps containing his life. He did not react or seem to be aware of his environment. The lids of his eyes remained in a shielding position, almost meeting the lower lids, perhaps defending his consciousness from that which he did not want to see. A younger looking, slender woman with a long, dark braid tossed nonchalantly over one shoulder walked seductively in black stiletto heels heading for some adventure or another as grateful men turned and smiled as she passed.
An elderly man wearing a blue plaid shirt, a blue baseball cap and jeans with no belt, busily worked with a tagged, years old mini van whose original color I could not discern. He patiently wrestled with a muddy orange-colored tarp as he surrounded the van with it, occasionally stopping to enter and exit the aged vehicle, at last coming out with a skillet with food that he held gingerly as he managed the tarp. At one point a dog appeared, and at another, a second elderly man; he fed both the dog and his friend, appearing happy to do so. His living conditions, I imagined, were tied to those images: two humans, an animal, a muddy tarp, a mini van and a skillet of food. What story rested inside that scenario? My imagination whirled in colors and scenes with stories of loss and possibilities of triumph as I judged my better circumstances. Or are they better?
What is happiness and contentment in this day and age? Who is the better off, that older man, his dog and his friend together in a beat-up van with a skillet? Or me, in a bashed rear in car, in need of employment, recently betrayed by a close friend, no dog and a skillet at my mortgaged home patiently waiting for me to come home and wash it?
As I sat and watched the two men interact with each other, I considered the importance of friendship and the devastation of betrayal. Betrayal causes a deep wound that punctures the heart. And everyone knows a wound to the heart can be fatal. As you grow older friends become even more important because as the years wane and the body weakens toward transitioning back to dusty nothingness, friends become the touchstone of living. Other than family, friends travel with you on the path that you have chosen. When the knife plunges into that soft unprotected area that only a friend would know how to get to, the pain and suffering caused can be overwhelming and mind numbing.
In Francis Ford Coppola’s movie “The Godfather” (based on Mario Puzo’s excellent book of the same name), when faced with an attack by the oncoming enemy, they “took to the mattress’ “ to protect themselves. When I suffered a friend’s betrayal, I took to the mattress too. I got in the bed and covered my head for days…asking why? There really is no overriding answer to why a friend would betray you. Brutus betrayed Caesar, Judas betrayed Jesus, Iago betrayed Othello, the list of infamous betrayals is long and varied and almost always ends in tragedy.
The tragedy and regret of the betrayal I felt was associated with the losing a portion of my life that required a major adjustment. The phone conversations, the companionship in hours of need and the misplaced feeling that person could be counted on, no longer applied.
“Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky,
You’ll get by…
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You will find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile…”
For the sake of giving honor to what was, I have revealed the details of the betrayal to only a trusted few; however, in my circle, some may have guessed, or know the details…I refuse to talk about it. There will remain an empty place in my heart, but forgiveness is important to one’s sanity and well-being. The trust is gone. Life moves on. I smile when I see her now.
“That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You will find that life is sill worthwhile
If you just smile”
Chaplin, Charles. “Modern Times.” Instrumental theme for movie, 1936.
Turner, John and Parsons, Geoffrey “Smile.” Lyrics and title, 1954.
Cole, Nat King “Smile.” Capital Records, 1954.
My chest started blossoming when I was nine years old. I tried to hide the budding embarrassments by hunching my shoulders forward and wearing loose clothing. Nobody else my age had these “things” growing on their chests. Why me?
One day as I walked home from the “Corner Store” as we referred to the relatively small supermarket three blocks away, distinguishing it from the much smaller local stores owned by Mr. Taylor (the mean one) which was right across the street from our apartment and Mr. Daniels (the nice one), which required a five-minute walk across an empty field.
With a small bag of the purchases I had made in one hand, I watched as Alex Rawlings walked toward me. Alex was tall for his age and I had become aware at school and around the neighborhood that he noticed me. I was not impressed and always ignored and avoided him.
As we passed each other on the sidewalk, Alex reached over and grabbed one of my budding boobs and squeezed. I screamed in embarrassment and horror and ran the rest of the way home suppressing tears as I ran. As I entered the door, my father looked at me and said “Baby Girl, what’s wrong?” I replied, “Alex Rawlings messed with me” as the tears broke loose as I held my hand over my chest. My father did not say another word. He went over to the closet, got a baseball bat and disappeared into the fading sunlight for about three hours. When he returned, night had fallen; he said nothing to me.
I didn’t see Alex for quite sometime after that; however, whenever I walked through the neighborhood and he saw me coming (or going), Alex hastily crossed to the other side of the street or turned and went in the other direction. I always smiled when I saw him.
I miss my dad.
There is an evilness that lurks, watching and waiting for the vulnerable, smiling a wicked, crooked smile when it takes human form to perform its heinous tasks. This monster will creep in and strew hurtful, painful, unspeakable acts of viciousness without concern or trepidation.
In October 2009, a kind, giving man who always wanted to belong was murdered. He was a caring man who could easily be manipulated in the name of “friendship.” His gentle soul and pleasant countenance was all wrong for the life-style he led. His need to be part of the group and his gentleness left him exposed in that world that he chose to live in. It was a world where his older brother lived and encouraged him to join in the way that only an older brother can. However, when the evil one crept into and covered this gentle soul with violence and death, his older brother was not there to protect him and neither was I, his older sister.
He was hardly a threat to anyone. Ten years previously, veins from his legs were removed to place in his heart for a double bypass. After that surgery, he walked with a cane to steady his weaken legs.
He was beaten to death. His hands and feet were bound. A plastic bag covered his head, bound with wire around his neck. His spleen was ruptured. The coroner said he may have been kicked while he was down; that might explain the rupture. His apartment was set on fire.
The Certificate of Death read as Cause of Death (1) Hemothorax – my medical dictionary says that means blood in the chest space between the chest wall and the lung most commonly caused by chest injury (2) Left rib fracture and splenic maceration – meaning fractured ribs and ruptured spleen (3) Blunt force injury to left flank (side).
And yet, the demons twisted evilness wanted more. They set a fire to the apartment, causing second-degree burns to the left side of his body and placing other innocent adults and children living in that building in harm’s way. Yet somehow, my brother was given strength to those bound, weakened legs; given purpose to that beaten body and breath to that plastic-covered air deprived mind and brain and in his panic, pain and beaten, crippled state, somehow he managed to get to the doorway of that burning building where he was found. He died in a local hospital.
He was my brother and when violence strikes home, its effect is kinetic. His blood flows through my veins and until the memorial service, whenever I was alone, in the silence of my room, I could feel his pain; I could feel his panic. I could hear the sounds and feel the hot breath of the fire as he – and I – struggled for air and a way to get out of that burning room. Dear God, have mercy.
Death by violence perpetrated by demons in human form presents a different kind of problem for those who remain living. Our spirits cry out for justice.
I found that I could not depend on the police for justice. My regret is a question: How does one seek justice when there seems to be none? I could not afford to pay someone to find and “bump off” the perpetrators of the evilness. So, I prayed that I could work toward balance and grace where there was chaos, strife and violence. I prayed for joy where there was sorrow and shame.
Once we held his memorial service where we lifted him up in prayer, song and praise, asking blessings for his life, my feelings and visions of panic and pain dissipated. A feeling of peace enveloped me and I knew that he was with God.
Funerals and memorial services are practiced for the living as well as the dead. The practices vary in different cultures; however, the outcome, in most cases, is that we say goodbye to the loved one and pay tribute to his or her life, establishing closure and finality.
As I stated in an earlier post, I don’t think much about how he died, I think about the fun, goofy things we did when we were young. And although I still seek justice, I am at peace knowing that justice will be served at some point; I truly believe that. But for now, I want to encourage an environment of peace, kindness and love…just like my brother always wanted.
As I write this journal to explore this process called aging, I want to look backward and forward at once. Do I have regrets? You bet I do; in fact, I have many. My realization that the regrettable dissing of one silken shoe emphasizes my question, is there promise? I believe there is. Even in a society that worships youth, body image and beauty, I can pass the mirror early in the morning, scream in horror at the surprising image that I see and then, adjust quickly to acceptance of that image and be thankful that I’m still here.
The battles of aging are quite different from those exciting battles of youth. These are conflicts against a hidden and silent foe where only the outcome is evident. How can a human battle a foe that is wished for, then at the same time, decry its results? One can “live long and prosper” as Leonard Nimoy’s Dr. Spock proclaimed in Star Trek; however, we cannot live long and remain young, in this society, holding on to youth as the holy grail of remaining here.
There are cultures that pay homage to the aged. Not here in the United States. The aging process here is about “looking good.” What a supercilious way of looking at life. Yoda, in Star Wars was one of the strangest looking creatures created by George Lucas; however, Mr. Lucas’ view of wisdom, instigated by the writings and teachings of Joseph Campbell, shows us that wisdom comes from unusual sources. It’s not beauty that teaches us. We must dig a little deeper to find the essence of living a long life. What does living long mean? How and what do I want to do with a long life? If I live long and prosper, what then? What if I don’t prosper? Being old and broke is not a good thing.
As I slip into the mysterious unknown, with death waiting as the only sure thing, the battle becomes one of mind over matter. Acceptance of the process or the never- ending (and expensive) fight against a process that is inevitable is the judgment each of us must make.
I realize that I have written about this in an earlier post; however, the conflict is real every day, every time I pass that mirror. Will I become tired of the worsening signs? Will the gray hair growing everywhere cause me to give up in defeat and run into the Botox booth? Will those smile lines that do not go away whether I smile or not sadden me and take away my joy?
These are the questions that I ask myself as I ponder my worthiness of being an elder who may not be glorified for wisdom, but only looked upon as to whether I am beautiful to look upon.
May the force be with me!