Memory Lane

This is an essay I wrote in college some time ago…1997 to be exact… as I pursued my second degree. I ran across it as I packed and sorted things, preparing to move.  I think it’s poignant, even after all these years.  My daughter is a bit older now, and things have changed.  But that feeling still remains, even after all this time. It’s about being there when Kristin, my first granddaughter, was born:

At the Speed of Light

A wormhole is a tear in the space-time continuum through which ordinary people can time-travel.  I didn’t think of this idea; physicists did. Some of the more open-minded of them now say, right out in public, that there are mathematical formulas to support the concept.  The only problem, according to physicists, is that you’d have to be able to move at the speed of light.  Right now, that means all that would be left of us is a grease spot when we got to where we were going.  That could be a problem.  Well, I say you can do it while standing still.  E.B. White knows what I mean; he did it at his summer retreat lake in Maine.  He accompanied his son to a new experience there and thought he was having some profound thoughts about his own mortality.  I think he was, quite simply, a parent who stumbled upon a wormhole.

There’s nothing profound about looking at your children as they grow and seeing the wonder of it all.  There’s nothing profound about seeing their behavior and comparing it to how you behaved or looked at that age.  All parents do it.  It doesn’t mean we want to be that age again, that we miss our youth…at least not all of us.  The less vain of us look back and realize how incredibly ignorant we were in youth; ignorance, in this case, refers to a largely innocent lack of knowledge, not stupidity.  Life is difficult; it is a learning process.  You don’t suddenly become omnipotent just because you’re twenty or even forty.  I’m convinced, actually, that the older you become, the more aware you become of how much you don’t know, because life opens up more and more avenues as you go along.  It is a map-less journey, full of bits of knowledge, some of which you get just by being and by doing.  It’s like driving a car down a long road to a lake house.  The first time you do it you suck at it and you’re a hazard to others on that road, however great you think you are.  More experience makes things easier, less intense, and much safer for everybody; the more you drive, the better you drive.  Nobody really wants to go back to the age of ignorance unless she can guarantee that when she gets there, A) she won’t be a grease spot; and B) she’ll have the benefit of knowledge.  Unfortunately, we can’t always choose when we go back, or how.  Parents go back without warning or forethought, because our children send us there.

You see, when we have children, new worlds open up for us, whether or not we want them to.  We conceive our children in total ignorance most of the time, I’m convinced.  We don’t have a clue what we’re getting into; we’re just in love and we want to reproduce ourselves.   Call it whatever you want to.  Think about this: would a person actually choose to open a feces filled pouch three times a day and actually interact with its content?  No!  It’s about vanity; it’s about ego.  Oh, but one day, after about nine months, a tiny, complete, helpless human being is born and oh boy do we have our work cut out for us then!  It’s a new world!  We learn what it is like to be totally responsible for the life of another human being.  Now we think about mortality.  Now we realize that the world doesn’t revolve around us.  Will my child be safe?  Will something I do harm her?  What will happen if I die?  Who will care for my child?  We learn what it is like to experience undiminished trust; babies depend on us because that’s all they know.  And we love them and our existence changes forever.  It’s like electrocution: we’ve grabbed hold of something we can’t let go!  Suddenly, with a shock, we have acquired a stinging sense of the continuum in which we exist and of which we are but a tiny, finite entity.  The next age belongs to our children, ant it is our job to get them there.

My daughter was born too early in the morning on October 3, 1972.  It was a time when they offered us moms-to-be plenty of drugs and in fact, encouraged them when there were more pressing issues than the birth of a particular human being.  Late October 2nd and until Karen was born, there were more pressing issues, apparently, because I have only split second recollections of her birth, and those only came back over time, due to the drugs I was given.  At the time of my angel’s birth I was somewhere in la-la land, which at the time was fine with me,since I don’t like pain that much.

Thank goodness I was still under the influence of those drugs the first time I saw my daughter.  They kept me calm amidst absolute terror!  There was the real world, tucked into a little white blanket, blinking at me.  She had the most perfect peaches and cream complexion and the light struck her in such a way as to make her the most beautiful she could possibly have been at that moment.  She had perfectly formed,little blonde eyebrows and perfect little fingernails.  Her eyes were green and she looked at me as if she knew me, knew my voice.  I’m sure she did.  I said hello to my beautiful daughter, drank in the look of her at that moment, and in spite of my debilitated condition and the blissful ignorance of youth, I knew that this moment was extraordinary.

Karen was my own little miracle.  For twenty four years she has been.  I’ve taken her places I used to go as a child.  No biggie; it’s what I know.  When I watched her in those places, I wasn’t thinking about death, or wanting to go back, or wondering if it was her or me I was seeing.  I was getting a glimpse of my youthful self through another perspective- seeing her do things I only saw in photographs of me: wading in the lake, picking flowers.  It was, to over simplify, a chance to see how I looked and felt at the age of three, or nine, because at those ages I didn’t know squat, though I’m sure I felt perfectly brilliant.  Through my child, I learned, and continue to learn, more about me.  That is some of what E.B.White experienced with his son, I am sure.  But time travel, a wormhole…that’s a different story.  When you fall into one of them, you lose all perspective. There isn’t time to reflect.  There isn’t time to take a breath!  Time stretches, warps, and you are flung into times past and present, and into the blank interface between.  Your mind knows that something incredible is happening, but before that thought can complete itself, it’s over and you are flung elsewhere.  It is a helpless, completely awe-inspiring adventure and I think you have to be a parent to experience it.

My first wormhole happened the day my daughter’s first child was born two years ago.  I was standing in the birthing room, helping to coach my daughter through labor.  I counted and encouraged and supported my daughter and son-in-law, and basked in the absolute wonder of it.  I was thrilled to be a part of this, my first real birth without drugs!  Excited and a little scared, we spent the first hours in relative calm and we laughed a lot.  As the pains grew worse, I realized how strong my daughter is, and brave…two traits I would never have used in a description of her previously.  I watched my child progress through labor and wondered when she would cry, when she would falter.  She didn’t, and I was proud, and glad to be Karen’s mom.  My senses were bombarded.  Maybe this is how you must feel in order to experience time travel.

As the minutes passed I became more relaxed about the whole process and about my daughter’s ability to handle it, so as E.B. White did, I reflected.  I thought about how different having babies has become. Moms actually participate in their children’s births now, know what monitors are for and which ‘stage’ of labor they’re in.  Fathers, and others, can actually come into the room where labor is happening; I had been sequestered like a Simpson juror or a leper.  And of course, there are no drugs now.  Some things are definitely better.

At ten o’clock, the sun peeked through the mini-blinds, filtered by the leaves of a tree outside the window.  The light struck my daughter’s face and as I watched, drank in the look of my beautiful child, my heartbeat quickened because I felt a strong sense of familiarity and I wasn’t sure why.  It was the only warning of what was coming.  Before I could formulate the thought that she looked just like the morning of her birth…the light, her hair, her skin…that I felt the same love I had felt that morning all those years ago, my consciousness wobbled.  Something strange was happening.  I actually thought I might be about to faint.  Me, of all people!  Karen rested, her eyes closed.  I brushed back her hair from her brow.  In spite of hours of labor, she looked as beautiful as I have ever seen her.  Karen opened her green eyes and we looked at each other in the same way as that morning twenty three years ago.

I felt a shift, felt myself going back, caught between being an older parent about to become a grandparent, and being an eighteen year old, new mother.  I was looking for the first time at my child!  I was stepping into the past from the present. I wasn’t just remembering; I was reliving that moment twenty three years ago, and yet I was here, standing beside my daughter’s bed.  It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to realize what had occurred.  The world ceased to exist; there was only my daughter and me.  While my mind struggled unsuccessfully to assimilate the stretching and bending of time, another, the final, contraction began.  There was a flurry of hospital green, hands, arms everywhere.  I watched my baby’s face as she felt the final contraction, the first pain of parenthood.

“It’s a GIRL!”

She was peaches and cream, blonde, beautiful.  To my left was my daughter’s beautiful face.  To my right was my granddaughter’s beautiful face.  She looked just like her mother, my child, had looked.  My daughter was a woman, and in that exact instant, also my newborn baby, looking at me with trusting eyes.  I was a new mother; I was a grandmother.  My daughter was a baby and a mother, simultaneously!  Time stretched and warped…at the speed of light…and my feet never moved from the spot.

Two hours is how long it took me to drive home that night; it gave me time to reflect on an incredible day.  There was a flood of the usual memories: the time Karen painted the dining room with spaghetti sauce, the way she used to dance her diaper off, the night she drove the car into a tree at the age of three, the terror I felt the first time I fed her.  How could that have been twenty four years ago?  It was really only weeks ago, wasn’t it?  Those sorts of time shifts can be explained; time flies when you’re busy.  But what happened in that birthing room, the instantaneous flipping between past and present…that’s different.  That’s a tear in she space-time continuum, a wormhole that you stumble into when the time and conditions are right.  And it doesn’t take movement at the speed of light to get you there.  It takes a child.


I was gone for several years, recovering from a trauma I’m frankly surprised I survived.  It was my Armageddon. Oh, I wasn’t ACTUALLY gone; in fact I was here and worked harder than ever. It was a figurative absence.  Someone told me yesterday that I survived, to which I replied, “I’m surviving“.  The recovery is ongoing, as anyone who has experienced evil and trauma together can surely understand.  I curled up in a ball and withdrew from the world to the greatest extent I could, reaching out only to the extent I needed to for my jobs…plural; there are three of them…and to my new church family.

The aftermath of traumatic stress is hugely underrated in the lay world.  Medical professionals get it: they understand the reason we can drive for two hours and not remember a single mile of the trip.  They understand why many personal relationships are killed off by the ‘event’, whatever it was. They understand why once close relationships end.  It’s ALL about pain and suffering, the inability of the average person to understand the magnitude of what the affected person is experiencing and how long that experience really lasts, and the collateral damage that ensues.  Trauma is called trauma for a reason; it’s not called a quick picnic.

My clients didn’t know the face they saw and the person with whom they dealt was a business persona, operating on mental skills and pure determination to survive.  They didn’t know it wasn’t me.  No big deal.  They got great customer service…even though I can’t remember a lot of it.  They were okay with ‘me’.  But the people I knew before my world ended drew their own conclusions about ‘what happened to me’, and nobody…not one…got it right.  Some of them decided they didn’t like me and honestly, why would they?  It wasn’t me.  Still, regardless of erroneous assessments and unqualified judgments of my behavior, I lost touch with a lot of people who once mattered to me, who were cornerstones.  Yesterday I reconnected with one of them, and I was reminded what joy feels like.

I hadn’t seen my friend for years, even though she has been one of the most important people in my life since I met her.  I thought about her nearly every day, but was completely hesitant to reach out to her…for many the reasons I just mentioned.  Yesterday I had a chance to see her, and I’m still smiling.  And what’s more, I’m glad I was able to meet her again; that’s a huge step in the healing process.

It’s odd how trauma effects you; you tend to experience a distorted perception of time.  I expected her to look different, because after all, there was Armageddon and I’m sure it lasted at least fifty years (really four so far).  But she looked the same, as beautiful as always.  I was reminded real time isn’t distorted by trauma; it’s only the time in the heart of the person who experienced trauma.  Okay, so now I have one more ‘healing’ data point: time is passing at a normal clip and I’m okay with that.

I wrote about having the best friends in the world, and I do.  I met a new set of friends after Armageddon, all of whom I cherish.  I wrote that all of them, every single one, are worth the trauma I experienced.  And now, for some reason unknown to me, I feel strong enough to reconnect with some of my friends from the past.  That’s called healing, surviving.

There are still heartaches and regrets about some of the broken bonds, but I am learning to accept those, and even realize that some of those bonds weren’t really bonds at all.  And I’m okay with that. But I have hope…now that’s new for post Armageddon me…that the bonds which were true and real, will also be restored.

Anyway, Es, it gave me great joy to see you again.

The Best Friends in the World

If you’ve read my latest post, you know I lost a beloved friend recently, to cancer. This death wasn’t the first in my close circle, but it was unique in many ways. Any death causes one to pause and reflect, not just on the life which has left, but also on the life we are left to live without that loved one. With Linda’s death, I could have spent a lot of time in deep grief…and I did go there, of course…but for some reason only God and Linda know, probably, I spent equally as much time reflecting on how many blessings I have in my life. That is exactly what Linda would have encouraged me to do, by the way, so we can assume there are some deep psychological urges at play as well as spiritual ones. Linda would have wanted all of us to focus on our blessings, rather than on the loss of her in our lives. She would have said that she’s not that important (though she was) and that she doesn’t want us to be sad. I know she’s in a better place, free of pain and suffering, and no longer limited by a failing, unreliable, limited human existence, but sorry Linda: still sad. But I also wonder what she’s seeing now, what she’s hearing, how marvelous is her existence now, without these limitations.

So to honor her, or because I know she would have wanted it, or because her spirit led me…I did reflect on my blessings, not the least of which is my wonderful group of friends. I have the best friends in the world. And I have more of them than I’ve ever had, notwithstanding my work addiction and my great need to avoid social gatherings every chance I get. Somehow, by God’s grace, I have gathered quite an impressive group of friends, each a jewel, unique and beautiful, into my life. One of them is gone in the physical sense but her place in my heart will forever belong to her.

I have been through Hell the past few years. So bad it was, that I said, “If Hell is ANYTHING like this, nobody should want to go there.” Yet…if not for that horrible part of my journey, I wouldn’t be here, in the midst of these people, living a life that is far more enriching than anything I’ve known so far. Interesting that the death of my dear friend would bring this realization to light.

So when I think of Linda, while I miss her terribly, I also smile, because I AM truly blessed. And Linda, I know you did this…

It was just yesterday, wasn’t it, Linda?

Hey Linda, wasn’t it just yesterday that we laughed about how crazy real estate can be, and promised each other we wouldn’t let the stress get to us?  Wasn’t it just yesterday we gave up on trying to plan a girls’ dinner because we were just too busy and life got in the way?

Didn’t you show up just yesterday with chips and dip when I was struggling, just to sit with me and give me comfort?  I think that’s right.  I remember how I couldn’t understand how you just knew when life was getting too tough for me, and how you actually cared about me…took time out of your life, away from your family, to sit with me and try to make me feel better.  I felt so blessed, and as though I had just found an unnamed jewel to study.  People don’t really do this, do they?  People aren’t really this nice, are they?

I remember how your perspective was always kind and charitable, how you always showed me another way of looking at things, as though we just found an unusual sea shell, and standing side by side to study it, you turned it over to point out some things I’d missed.  That was yesterday, wasn’t it? And didn’t we have a longer walk planned together?  I know we did; I’m sure of it.

I remember how you used to laugh at me when I’d say things just to get you going…how I used to love to hear you laugh and how funny your comebacks were…like they didn’t quite go with that sweet face of yours.  You made ME laugh too… yesterday, right?  Remember how you would say, “HEY BRENDA!” every time I called you, as thought hearing my voice was the BEST thing to happen to you all day?  It wasn’t the best thing, but you made me feel like it was…every time.  Every single time.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we had to postpone our lunch because you felt unwell, and decided to go to the doctor instead?  Wasn’t it yesterday that the doctor told you to go to the hospital for testing, because it probably wasn’t good news?  Wasn’t it just yesterday that you got the diagnosis that made me cry when you weren’t around, and try harder to make you feel good when you were?  Was it yesterday that you and I made an unspoken pact to protect one another by not talking about this place, the one we’re in today?  I know it was yesterday; it couldn’t have been more than a day.

I think it was yesterday…that we chose to focus on the OTHER road, the one that took you onward, with your family and friends, to the work you so loved and were so good at, to maybe playing golf with me, and being a grandmother one day.  That road, the one where we grew old together as great friends and built funny memories to laugh about later, was the one we chose to envision.  We chose to look to a different future than the one at which we arrived today.  That was yesterday, wasn’t it, that we had our serious talk and we said we wouldn’t cry after this?  I think it was.  And we cried anyway.  A few times…

It was just yesterday that we prayed together and vowed to believe in miracles and healing, and not talk about death.  And it was yesterday, too, wasn’t it, that you told me you were ready, and to pray that God took you quickly, because you were exhausted and the pain was too great?  I couldn’t pray that prayer. I’m sorry.  I wanted you to stay.

Today, I attended your memorial service, where they showed your life in pictures…pictures it took me a long time to look at because I couldn’t bear it. I saw your childhood, your wedding, your children, your extended family…even I was in one of them.  But just YESTERDAY, we were laughing.  It WAS just yesterday, wasn’t it?  I’m sure it was.  I can’t believe this is happening.  It’s too fast.  It’s not possible, is it?

I can’t believe you are gone.  The world is far worse off now than it was just yesterday, because you are no longer in it.  But Heaven is better.  When I get there, I know you will be there, waiting to show me the way, and I know just what you will say, and how you’ll say it…the same way you did yesterday, and every other time we spoke. And you’ll make me feel like seeing me is the best thing that’s happened to you all day…even though it won’t be.

I will miss you, Linda Miller, my dear friend.