The Princess Is In Another Castle.

This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week's topic is: The day that changed me was. Come link up!

So many wonderful and terrible days have changed me, and so many future wonderful and terrible days will too.

This is about the Super Mario game, full of levels and castles. Until the end castle, every smaller castle will have a bad guy to defeat. It gets harder, but each time it says, “THANK YOU, MARIO!! BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE!!!”

I started writing this over five years ago, and I’ve changed it seven times. It’s been several different drafts in my dashboard – and I’ve added to it, subtracted from it, multiplied it, and probably divided it too. When Finish the Sentence Friday asked me to write about a day that changed me, I could write about a number of wonderful and terrible days, but I start with this.

Don’t worry – I certainly won’t end with it.

Layers. That’s how deep loss has been described to me. Layers upon layers that you peel off – only to reveal newer, deeper layers. Some are bitter. Some are sweet. And some are easy to peel off and discard. Others get stuck or torn – too early.

Too late.

Suddenly, I had a lightbulb. “Video games!” I thought. “Deep loss is like a video game in which you get to the end of the level, only to unlock new levels, and fight newer, harder, deeper battles!” And my companion/mentor/teacher of loss said:

Exactly.”

This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week's topic is: The day that changed me was. Come link up!

If you haven’t heard it a 100 times, I’ll tell it 100 times more. Only weeks before my 4th birthday, I sat down to an early summer dinner with my mom and sister while my father napped in the bedroom. Suddenly with a loud thud and the furniture shaking, he collapsed on the floor on his way to the bathroom. He was taken away in an ambulance, and he never came back. Massive heart attack. And so began my life, before I had the capacity to hold onto memories sweeter than that.

And many memories were and are.

This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week's topic is: The day that changed me was. Come link up!

I think about this lately, more so as the kids grow. I watch the way they love and respect Cassidy, and I watch the way they do the same with me. I’ll see them get anxious after he’s been gone merely 24 hours on a business trip and not far way. Or just late home from work. Not a lifetime, and not a world or dimension or vast divide away. Then he walks in the door and their fears subside and they’re folded into his arms so perfectly and I release a breath I didn’t even know I was holding.

And I think that happens a lot. And I think it will happen a lot.

This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week's topic is: The day that changed me was. Come link up!

When I was four and newly lost, which is a nice word to describe what you are after a loss, I saw a therapist. His name was Stuart. I believe he helped me unlock some layers of my heart and some levels in the game of life. In video game speak, we can call it World One: Early Childhood. The levels were those moments and days – first birthday without my father. First Christmas, first Valentine’s Day, first day of school, moving to a new house, new dad, new step-siblings who became real-siblings, pets and friends and neighbors to come and go. Acceptance. I was fixed up, nearly good as new, or so I thought.

Graduated therapy and sent on my way. To grow up and see the world as a girl who had lost her father.

This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week's topic is: The day that changed me was. Come link up!

Then there were new enemies and obstacles and demons to defeat. Middle childhood. Adolescence. Changes. New worlds unlocked. New levels to explore. I saw a new therapist again when I was 10. We used Play-Doh faces to discover why I was so afraid of movie theaters and earthquakes. “It’s the loud noises,” my hot pink Play-Doh face said. “It’s the way the seats and floor shake when the movie is in high action.” Even I could see why such things would scare me, after what I had witnessed.

Again, I graduated therapy and my mom was told I didn’t need to come back. At least not then. New stability followed.

It lasted about as long as it ever did, until change. Going to college was hard and I adjusted. Graduating college and my parents selling our childhood house was REALLY hard, but I adjusted. The loss of my deceased father’s parents was REALLY hard, and I adjusted, almost. We find joy and laughter after every catastrophe because we’re meant to. These were my little shake-ups. My little earthquakes. They shook me apart and I had to learn to stitch the pieces back together.

And then I moved to San Francisco. I got married soon after that and had a baby. Then another. If I sound like I’m telling this story in fast forward motion, that’s because that’s how it felt. And that’s how I coped. So for the sake of my marriage and my kids and my personal well-being, I decided to learn and explore how a loss so early in childhood that you can barely even tell the impact it has until much later, can set the stage for lifelong pain. If that sounds chronic, that’s because it is.

The distance between grief and acceptance isn’t one fluid motion. The hope, though. It shines forever.

This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week's topic is: The day that changed me was. Come link up!

You crawl in and out of holes throughout life, and take baby steps too. You always reach higher ground after the deepest falls. Our mental health requires maintenance and tune-ups more than our homes and our cars. As I watch my kids grow, and am hit again and again by the loss of my father, I nearly have to separate myself into two people – three-year-old Tammy. And adult Tamara. As I see how my kids love and cling and absorb home and family life, I realize the unthinkable world for them is a world without one or both of their parents. No words, no breaths, no gasps, can cushion and explain that fall.

I have to tell myself, “That happened to YOU! Something terrible happened to you. Think on it. Work on it.”

There are no shortcuts or warp zones. You’ll have to fight your enemies and jump over your divides. You’ll sink in the ocean and have to learn to swim. You’ll have to find wings (or feathers) and learn to fly. If you don’t learn all of these things, you won’t move forward. You will be stuck – below or clinging above. And you won’t get your gold stars and gold coins.

You will not rescue the princess (yourself) in another castle. Will I ever rescue my ever-out-of-reach princess in her ever-out-of-reach castle? Probably not in some ways and probably so in others. Probably I have in some ways. Many ways.

And I probably haven’t in others, but that’s ok too. Not fully moving on, but fully moving forward.

This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week’s topic is “The day that changed me was..” And there’s still time to write yours. Come link up with your spin on the matter: HERE.

Last Night I Dreamed that Dream Again

Last night I dreamed I went to Bowcraft again. Bowcraft is just one of those many New Jersey things. Bowcraft is an amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ.

The sweetest dream.

Before that, though, Cassidy was doing my homework for me, again. (in real life) The wonderful thing is that although I still leave things until the night before, I now get paid for my efforts. Also, sometimes I do things the morning they’re due, just like in college, but those papers usually led to high grades. Like my paper about September 11th after interviewing a man (a friend) who saw, heard and forever internalized the impact of bodies hitting pavement. And don’t get me started talking about my 12 page paper about Walt Disney’s life and legacy. I wrote it an hour before it was due and got an A+. These days, my writing is often a lot less intense and sometimes less inspired, although sometimes much more of everything. I don’t get grades anymore but I get paychecks. Sometimes they seem too high for what I do, and sometimes they seem too low.

That’s my thing to work out, though.

Anyway, Cassidy was helping me with my assignment, only he was in pain and he was grumpy. Eventually I took over for my own project and finished it wonderfully, but not before putting both kids to bed. It used to be easier, but now there are monkey shenanigans, stories, and the right order of blankets to be placed. My stories are often ridiculous – like passing gas stories or pranks I pulled – and sometimes they’re about 4th grade teachers and what my father was like when I knew him.

I have this thing, though, about the way I remember people and how they made me feel. Safe. Or not.

Sometimes the stories are unsaid – like when I sank down last night into one of her giant, pillow animal things and she said, “You can stay as long as you need..” And then she put her “Grandma Bella” blanket on me. Grandma Bella was my father’s mother and she passed away when I was in college. She had knit a blanket for the first grandchild, or at least the first grandchild within my own family. Grandma Bella never got to meet Scarlet Bella, but I think they’d get on just right – everything clicked into place – not unlike the robot Cassidy was making for me, until I took over and made it my own.

When Scarlet put that blanket on me, I sank down into a wave of grief – for all that has been and all that won’t be – but gosh, what WILL be. I sank down and I had the dream again – like a million different versions of a story in my mind.

I dreamed I went to Bowcraft again.

Bowcraft is just one of those Jersey things. Maybe even more isolated than that. Maybe just one of those central Jersey things. Bowcraft is an amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ. It’s not huge like Great Adventure. It’s not really tiny either. Actually, it’s sort of just right. It’s where I got over my ferris wheel fear so well that it turned into a ferris wheel obsession. I started low – stuck at the top with a view of a Chinese restaurant and an ugly highway. Since then I’ve learned to love ferris wheels that give you a stuck-at-the-top view of the ocean. Or mountains. I’ll never forget my first, though.

My paternal grandparents took us to Bowcraft a lot when we were kids. We lost them within a year of each other over 15 years ago. Sometimes, often, I’ll find myself dreaming and thinking about them. I’ll send my sister a text about a dream or memory I had of them and she’ll reply with something like, “Yes. I had an intense dream about Grandma last night too.”

You know how it is when you go places as a kid before you have a concept of geography, space and time. My other grandparents lived in the Fort Lauderdale area for six months of the year. One day we went to Orlando instead and I called it “the other Florida.” You don’t think about the factors that got you to where you are. You got there. You’re there. Places are feelings and atmospheres and memories. Sometimes it’s like the man behind the curtain to find out where and what they actually are. Sometimes I’d prefer to think of them as floating memories with snippets that catch my breath in dreams.

I always remember my grandparents in terms of the senses that still greet me in dreams:

Sight – The blurry sky above me as seen from the underwater depths of my grandparents’ community pool.

Sound – The alarm clock she had that used to play, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”

Smell – A musty den on a rainy day. Shalimar perfume. Blue bayberry-scented candles.

Taste – Rainbow sprinkles. Pepperoni-topped chef salads.

Touch – Cool sheets thrown laughingly over my head as I lay in a guest bed on a summer’s night.

Feel (which is maybe also touch) – My head thrown back with the wind in my hair on that very first ferris wheel.

These bedtime stories lead to the sweet dreams – sometimes hers, sometimes mine – and always in between. This is what sticks. What you tell them, where you take them, how you greet them, how you treat them, how you treat their father too.

And how you tuck them safely into bed. Every night. Sleep tight. Sweet dreams.

Do you have places like that – to show up in your dreams?