Thursday, January 19, 2012

“A leader on the playground!”  Those were the words that were carefully written on a thin line at the bottom of a pink carbon copy of my second grade report card (and believe it or not) those words have helped me hang on to my sense of self ever since.  My childhood consisted of the classic Midwest ingredients: Start with one conservative medium sized Catholic family, (stir in one idealistic homemaker and one ambitious salesman) then add in a large colonial home in an upwardly mobile subdivision, sprinkle across the prairie then bake in the average daily grind until mediocrity occurs.  We never talked about our dreams; we never talked about me going to college or my future because mostly we didn’t talk about stuff like that because that’s just how Catholics from mainly German heritage did things back then. Most of my childhood days were filled with daydreaming and creating scenarios and competitions, but when I reached about fourteen years old, my grades started to plummet and the crying spells began.  I had a sense early on that my parents weren’t really interested in spending time with us kids, and we weren’t the only family where I saw that happening. It seems that it was a part of the evolution of the 1970’s and of the women’s movement. The 1970’s were pretty traumatic to me and to many others like me; the rampant divorces and remarriages of neighbors was very desperate houswivesish (I think I just invented a new word!) one of the ladies I babysat for ran off and joined the military and announced that she was a lesbian and left her loyal hubby and two adorable little boys. Crocheted bikinis, marijuana bongs and twenty year olds taking teens to the roller rink on dates? Seriously, now that I’m an adult I can ask, “What the hell happened?” There is one super trauma (as I like to call it) that stands out among the rest and “it” came in the form of a very scary man that we called the “butt slasher”.  There was a guy who rode around on his motorcycle slashing young women in the rear end with a machete for wearing their jeans too tight.  I can just hear him thinking, “That’ll teach em!” My friends and I walked everywhere and we were so freaked out when we heard the sound of any motorcycle approaching. I’m not sure if that guy was ever caught, but wow, the 1970’s were messed up in more ways than one. Honestly, I cannot remember most of my life from 14-20 due to a thick fog I found myself walking through daily.  When I turned 17 my father was fired from his job of 20 years (as a successful publishing salesman) and that’s when the fog went from thick to black.  My father had a complete psychological breakdown; my parents divorced and then lost their dream home to foreclosure. Dad disappeared and mom (who still had two teenage children at home) started working two jobs to make ends meet.  I ran away to NYC to find something.  I don’t know exactly what I was looking for, but looking back, I can now see that I was just trying to get as far away as possible; to disassociate from the pain that looked like a giant boulder pinning down the back legs of a donkey at the bottom of a desert canyon. My time spent in NYC was a blur too, jumping from job to job with (sometimes) intentional and intermittent homelessness wedged in the open sores of my pain.  I did not do any drugs, even though I was offered them daily.  Instinctively I knew I was already in a darker place than a drug addict; for I had no home, no family, no friends, no guidance, and not a soul to talk to or lean on. I had no hope. I was alone in a city of millions of people. Somehow I managed to make it out of the Big Apple and back to my city city ~ the Mini-apple. I returned to find an empty overworked and despondent mother, a desperate and destroyed teenage sister and a mentally ill homeless father. I took a job at a downtown furrier because my friend told me that they were hiring.  What a weird time for me, fetching twenty five thousand dollar mink coats from cold storage when I only owned the clothes on my back. One of the store managers gave me some money to buy a nicer outfit for work, so I bought a purple cotton knit skirt with a matching purple and white horizontal striped top, I loved it and I wore it to work every single day for an entire summer. I had three co-workers that were older ladies.  They were: Gertrude, Helen & Mrs. Booth. Gertrude was a ninety-something socialite who lived in a downtown loft, walked to work every day and still wore every piece of Italian gold that each one of her suitors gave her; on each of her gnarly bent fingers an 18k gold ring represented a man who chased her, fell in love with her, tried to buy her and eventually gave up. Gerty lived her romantic history by pointing at each piece of jewelry and telling the tale of each love, she was hunched over and stood about four feet tall, her hair was a thin soft cloud ~ a barely gold nest piled right on the very top of her head. Mrs. Booth was the buyer of the store; she was built like a linebacker and always wore a stiff tight two piece tweed skirt suit. She was the teacher of the three, always explaining the difference in the fur coats, the makers of the fine accessories and always making sure we knew that she routinely mingled with top designers at trunk shows in NYC.  So at nineteen I didn’t know how to cook or how to balance a checkbook, but I could point out the difference between mink, chinchilla, fox, seal and beaver coats. Helen was the hater.  Back then it wasn’t even a term, but I know she was a petty bitter human being. I guess you could say Helen was a rule monger, task master a perfect schoolmarm; she would watch my every move I made and comment on what I was doing wrong. If I bent over without bending my knee the right way I was scolded, and if I sat down without crossing my legs the proper way, she would whisper ‘hussy’. Helen had real issues with my refusal to wear pantyhose (which were a requirement) she would report me daily to the boss but he just blew it off. He was a small mild mannered Jewish man who knew I simply could not afford to buy them. There have always been moments of complete clarity and vision in my life; even in my youth (and in my vulnerability) I knew that there was something better.  I knew that attitude shaped these women and I knew I had youth on my side.  I would never forget how each of them made me feel and I have always made sure to reach out to younger women and try my hardest to be a positive role model wherever I went. I always believed that one person could make a huge impact; each one of those old broads left an indelible impression on me. One thing I knew for sure was that wearing a tight synthetic fiber on the largest organ of your body was just wrong. I vowed never to wear pantyhose again as my defiant opposition to what Helen stood for: empty, bitter, angry like a bully desperately grasping sand in both hands and trying to throw it as the other kids run away.  Mrs. Booth, well she taught me to put your heart and soul into something and to give it your everything no matter how small, to give it serious consideration and in Gerty I learned that I should not fear making commitments, because it was the one thing she just couldn’t seem to do. To make matters even more difficult and awkward; my homeless father had a knack for finding out where I worked.  I could see his reflection in the front glass (from about 15 feet away) as he briskly approached the door; his hair was wild like classic Einstein and he was wearing the navy blue quilted brewery jacket that he received after  my Moms uncle Zig’s funeral. I quickly hit the floor behind the counter and told my friend Roohi to tell him I no longer worked there. That was just one of the many colorful and uncomfortable situations he would put me through, and over the next ten years my sisters and I spent countless hours in the local court house having him committed to the VA hospital so that he could receive proper treatment for his bi-polar disorder. I like to refer to those days as my sockless phase. I took the Miami Vice trend of sans socks with loafers all the way through a Minnesota winter. Nothing and I mean NOTHING can compare to the blistering misery of sitting at a frozen bus stop (several times a day) for 15 minutes at a time in negative -30, -40 and -50 temperatures. Freezing temps that were so cold you literally felt like your skin was on fire. It’s not that I wanted to nearly freeze to death every day, but I told myself that I was fine because it was the only way I could cope with not having the money to buy a pair of socks. And when I made friends with a rich girl in one of my college classes, I would play it off that I enjoyed driving around with her in the convertible that her parents bought her, I pretended to enjoy the countless trips to the high end downtown department stores where she would try on multiple pairs of shoes and endlessly ask me which ones I liked better. She would always say, “You should buy some.” and I would say, “Nah, shoes are not my thing.” Push pain down, keep pushing the pain down.  That’s what I did most of my adult life. I knew I was hurting, but I came from a family that didn’t talk about such things. I was trained not to whine. “Get over it.” I could hear my mother’s words loud and clear and so I did. Or so I thought I did, but deep in my heart I knew something was very wrong with me, but I chalked it up to poverty and walked forward into my life to make something of myself. With hard work and a college education, good things started to happen for me, but my life still felt the way molasses looks when you pour it from the jar.  It was dark, slow, thick and by itself, inconsumable. I got married and had a son and for several years this adorable little creature enticed the sun to follow me wherever I went.  My handsome loving husband and my baby boy brought me joy that I had never experienced before; Joy that could split a watermelon in two with the sound of its laughter. As the years marched on, the crying spells became less frequent (but so did the temporary joy) they morphed into something different.  Now I was simply numb. I was without feeling, like a lifeless octopus that washed up on the beach ~ each tentacle representing a dead appendage of my life. Here’s the equation: Marriage = huge struggle + Children = even bigger struggle + Career = a walk of emptiness on the moon. From about twenty five to thirty five, I bounced without feelings in my oxygenated suit, working fifty hours a week (insulated from emotion and from the world) as I walked on my own personal empty planet.  My thoughts were jumbled, my words were twisted and my actions bewildered all those with whom I interacted. At 35 years old I had a complete breakdown.  I tried to tell my Mom (and in her classic German way) she shut me down. She said, “I worry about you.” And this translated into, “I worry that you will go down the same pathetic road as your father.” It was at this point that I realized I had hit bottom and could no longer wish and hope for things to get better, so I decided to go to a Dr. for help. The meeting was uncomfortable and weird because I was embarrassed to admit that my thoughts, actions and words just didn’t make any sense. I began to tell him the story of my life and he listened intently.  I could hear my words coming out crammed together and I became more and more self conscious. I wanted to smooth it over and just give him the abridged version but as I searched for more words, (and my eyes wandered from corner to corner on the ceiling) I heard him say. “Two Rats.” This tiny Middle-Eastern psychiatrist had a very thick accent, but I immediately got what he was trying to say. I think he meant I had two problems. I was like, “Huh?” “What did you say?” “Tourette’s, it’s a syndrome and I believe you have it.” “That combined with anxiety.” I sat there silently stunned looking at the cheap paneling in his dumpy office. Alas, finally I can begin to understand me. I’m not the only person in this world who feels this way, struggles with these issues; there’s a name, THERE IS A NAME!  I was bewildered and silent, I wanted to laugh and to cry at the same time and I was both relieved and worried too….this little girl, the leader of the playground who was always called goofy, crazy, wild, zany and defiant could (maybe?) now take back her power.  She could reclaim her self esteem that had been slowly whittled away through the years like a lone piece of drift glass lying on an empty beach. With my diagnosis I was completely liberated.  My diagnosis allowed me to know what to research and the knowledge I acquired opened doors that lead me on a personal wellness journey a of self discovery and of taking back the power of me.  My life is light and energy now.  Every day I awake and thank my lucky stars for me and then I go about my day making sure to spread the good feelings to everyone I encounter…and every night as I lay in bed I think about my own beating heart and my last thoughts are always the same.  “Wow, I’m so lucky to be here; this is such a miracle.”  I wouldn’t change anything from my life (past or present) because now as I live in the moment, it’s as if every day is Christmas to me. I’m the little girl who breaks the rules and sets her alarm early to get a sneak peek of the Christmas tree and all its bounty; because for me, seeing the world through rose colored glasses is a big beautiful velvet wrapped gift.
Lisa Ekanger Your Preferred Realtor!

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