I used to keep my mouth open a lot as a kid. I had tonsil and adenoid trouble until they were removed when I was 5. Until then, I was pretty much a mouth breather.
I remember one late summer evening, when I was four, I had the idea as I lay in my bed trying to sleep, that I would embark on an adventure the next day. I was always scheming up some advenure or another. They weren't really adventurous at all, but to me, they were excursions into the great unknown. I was Nancy Drew; I was a pirate; an early explorer; I was hunting for buried treasure.
I woke up the next day all set for my hike through the woods to find the buried treasure I just knew was waiting for me. Luckily, the woods were adjacent to our farm, and they weren't so much woods as they were overgrowth and pine trees, maybe an acre in all. To me, it was expansive and there was most certainly a rare find buried somewhere, beneath some tree, hidden by the previous owners whose farm had burned long ago.
My mom packed me a lunch, I put on a backpack, stuffed a planter's shovel inside, and set out to find the spot marked X.
I had hiked maybe 100 yards when the sky turned darker still. Soft rain began to fall. Under a giant pine I looked to the sky to see if I had any hope of sun.
That's when the mouth breather thing came into play. Half way up the pine, an inch worm decided to drop, down he came, landing in my mouth with a silent splat before I could close my lips. Damn sinuses!
I don't like bugs now that I'm older, but I really didn't like bugs then, and after spitting him out and screaming bloody murder, I ran all the way back to the house at full speed, backpack flailing behind me. My mother was on the porch, where I came to rest, out of breath. I informed her through my tears that I had eaten a poisonous worm.
I don't remember her reaction exactly. I do remember her asking me what color the worm was, and if I'd eaten it, and I remember telling her it fell in my mouth but I had spit it out. And I remember her smiling and trying to calm me down, telling me it wasn't poisonous because I had spit it out.
And I remember the rest of the day wondering if I had spit it ALL out, or if I would be dead by bedtime because of a stray leg or antenna. I might have eaten a little of it. I just couldn't remember. What if some had made its way down my troat? Certainly I'd be dead by bedtime.
Bedtime came and went and I survived. I'm not so afraid of worms anymore, but I am very glad I had my tonsils removed.
November 23, 2002
I used to keep my mouth open a lot as a kid. I had tonsil and adenoid trouble until they were removed when I was 5. Until then, I was pretty much a mouth breather.
Posted by Jeneane Sessum at 10:43 PM
November 22, 2002
I had a great talk with my stepsister today. She was very affirming of my progress, of the strength of my voice, which has changed in tenor and grace over the past year. That my style has evolved is evident to anyone who wanders into the archives and looks at how this blog began.
As I've begun stripping off the mask and costume I've worn for a very long time, things are changing, I'm changing. I once battled hourly with uncertainty. I fought it by imagining every possible scenario and angle, good and bad (heavy on the bad) until I was pretty well lathered up with panic. Mostly I battled it by thinking, what would my mother say/do/think/feel.
Today I'm feeling for myself, for the first time. Today I'm doing better at accepting that there's no such thing as certainty, that it is okay to accept the moment (maybe even enjoy it) without worrying about what's next. That it's okay NOT to panic over not knowing. Easier said than done, but I'm almost getting to believe all of what I just wrote.
Grief is key in my ongoing self discovery.
Grief is very real.
I don't think grief is accomplished in an instant. Sometimes, as it was for me, you find workarounds that keep you from going there for a very long time. For me at least, the process began at age 40, as I lay on the leather living room couch, and for the first time watched pieces of my childhood through my father's eyes. I saw me through his eyes, I saw my mother through my father's eyes--I distinctly felt that I was inside his skin, his skin then. He is in his grave for 34 years now. He has no skin now--he is bones and dust.
But that day, a few months ago, here in this living room, I slipped out of my mom-made body and into my father's body for what was probably five minutes. That was the day I looked out through his eyes. I was his height, I felt his flesh around me. I really was inside of him. I felt tremendous physical pain--pain that had me weeping and moaning and crying out loudly:
I feel her neck snap around, her eyes pierce me, I feel the venom land. [Do I remember this from my childhood?... maybe a dream... I'll never know.] I feel her words sting his skin/my skin. I am in that moment, the moment when my grief over my father and mother collides. I feel the sickness inside of me, I feel my middle buckle. And the wailing begins before I know it... "I'm so sorry for you Daddy... I'm so sorry for you Daddy... I'm so sorry... I'm so sorry for me..."
You should know that I never cried after my father's death. Not the day I was told at 6. Not the years that followed. Not ever.
I manufactured tears for kindergarten because I enjoyed lapping up the sympathy of concerned teachers and curious kids. I later felt guilty for this. Today I realize that I learned dramatics at a very young age.
Real grief had escaped me my whole life. I never knew what my father died of until 15 years after he died. All those years I'd been answering the question that everyone I met eventually asked (what did your dad die of?) with the last information I had (Um, a gallbladder operation). Yes, well, he did have one of those operations, in fact that's when they found the pancreatic cancer that no one ever bothered to tell me about. Not at 6. Not at 16.
I always wondered how he died from an operation six months after he had it. But then...
So as not to backtrack too far, this moment of grief wasn't an endpoint for me. It doesn't mean anything's "over with." Quite the contrary.
This is my beginning. And it is a gift.
And it is supremely important.
I've been grappling with how closely I let myself mesh--how fully I let myself engage--with my daughter. We had an amazing night tonight, she and I. We stopped for a burger on the way home. It's c-o-l-d in Atlanta tonight--must be in the 30s. We got home and got cleaned up for bed, snuggled together in our mommy/daddy bed, painted one another's nails, made funny noises with our throats and laughed until we were wheezing.
I see a hundred people when I look into her eyes. I see George, I see myself, and I see pieces of every other family member from both sides through the generations. She is so full of everyone that she is completely unique.
Let me stop the generational pain in this family now. For her.
I gazed at her a long time tonight, while we laughed and played and tried to stay warm. I'm beginning to connect with her in a new way. My own way. It's taking me a while to decipher what that is, but tonight at least, I moved a few inches closer.
Posted by Jeneane Sessum at 11:30 PM
A Longview, Texas woman was arrested for having 17 sex toys in her car, according to this article. If convicted, she could face two years in jail. Notice, will you, that she was stopped for suspicion of DUI. And yet, what is the news angle of this story? The fact that the woman was allegedly driving drunk and could have killed someone's child is not discussed because it's not "news." It's America. What is news is that this woman works as a distributor for Slumber Parties, which is described as Tuperware meets Victoria Secret. Apparently, that just ain't lady like in Texas, ya'll.
Posted by Jeneane Sessum at 5:09 PM
November 20, 2002
The last few days I've been thinking about horses. My horses. I grew up on a farm--well, until my father died at 37 with no life insurance and we had to move--which meant I spent a lot of time around animals as a kid. A german shepherd named King. Our cats Salt and Pepper. And a handful of horses for starters.
My older sister was the horse nut, and naturally I teetered along after her, she being nine years my senior and my hero with all her trophies and ribbons. Her horse was named Angel, an albino mare with the patience of job in equine form. All beauty and spirit, she was solid as a rock and 16 hands high, which, in non-horse language, means pretty darn tall.
We lived on a three-acre farm on Atlantic Avenue in Penfield, New York, where there are still lots of open spaces. We had trails to ride, and although it was a busy road for the country (which it still was in 1966), we could ride all the way down to the Penfield town hall, which for some reason I felt compelled to look up this evening. It looks just the same to me.
There are at least a hundred stories to tell about this farm, my life lessons of life and death there. I think I'll come back to some of those. Tonight is about the horses.
After pestering my parents long enough for everyone to believe I was actually interested in horses--I was four or five--they bought me my own Pony, which I named Cha-Cha. She was a Shetland and as rank as they come. If you find a good Shetland, they're usually your trusted companion for decades. Cha-Cha wasn't one of the good ones. She was ornery and spirited and down right mean. She looked a little like this:
I sure hope Paul had better luck with his pony than I did with "Cha."
I remember the last time my mother let me ride Cha-Cha, I took one of my many dives off of her back end, but this time she was kind enough to dump me into poison ivy. I was in oatmeal baths for days. No one could handle this cranky pony. Not my sister. Not her friends. My parents finally had to hire a female Jockey from the nearby racetrack to come exercise her every couple of weeks. She was the only one who could ride Cha-Cha into the pasture and come back in the saddle.
My sister probably could have worked with Cha-Cha long enough to turn her into a fair pony. But she had her horse and didn't have much time for my silly pony. I didn't much mind. I had Bessy the Cow to pester back then.
TAKEN FOR A RIDE
I didn't get to ride the big mare, Angel, very often. She was my sisters' pride and joy, but my sister did start giving me riding lessons on Angel when I was about 4. My feet didn't even reach the stirrups--I had to put them in the loop of the stirrup leathers instead. Amazing how fearless I was back then. Life breeds that fearlessness out of us. Maybe it's a good thing.
But by 5, I could get Angel to walk, trot, and once in a great while I was allowed to canter her. Jumps were strictly off limits though. I can't tell you how hard it was pounded into my head, "Do NOT, ever ever ever, take Angel near the jumps because she likes to jump and you won't be able to stop her." The jumps were taller than I was, and looking up at them didn't give me any huge urge to take Angel over the jumps.
And then there was he day when my sister was giving me a lesson, standing in the middle of the ring with her crop. Stop and think. How must it have felt for that 14-year-old teenage horse lover girl to have such power over her bratty little sister. The stunts she used to make me do. All in the name of learning to ride. Anyway...
This day I remember well. It was cold. The ground was hard, and in the cracks and hoofprints were circles of ice, left over from the snow that had melted and froze again. I can see myself trotting along in the ring, my breath visible in front of my face. My reins were down on Angel's neck. I was riding no-handed, one of the favorite teaching methods of horse terrorists everywhere. This day I was learning how to post. I was concentrating pretty hard on "Up, Down, Up, Down" when I felt Angel start to turn. I wondered what she was doing. But I keep my arms obediently out to either side of me and focused on "Up, Down, Up, Down."
It wasn't until Angel rounded the far corner that I could see where she was headed. The jumps. THE JUMPS!
She broke into a slow canter while I fumbled for the reins. Starting to cry, I yelled to my sister for help. The amazing thing is, I wasn't afraid of going over the jumps. I was afraid disobeying what my parents and sister had told me: Do NOT take Angel over the jumps. The terror of screwing up this direct order was far deeper than the fear of Angel taking me over the jumps. I was screwing up. Big time. I was in trouble.
Little did I know.
As Angel approached the first jump and her front legs left the ground, I swear to this day, and I will swear until I can't swear anymore, my sister said, "Let Go! I'll Catch You." These words have stayed with me for 35 years and I maintain each and every letter: LET GO! I'LL CATCH YOU!
And so I did.
My sister says, to this day, that she in fact yelled, "Hold On! Hold On!"
Two distinctly different versions of the event.
I remember leaving the saddle--literally pushing myself out into mid-air so that I would clear Angel's feet. Expecting my sister to catch me in her welcoming arms.
But no one caught me.
WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN--HARD
16 hands, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. smack. crack.
The smack was my face hitting and cracking the icy-hard ground. My wind gone, my head electric. I stayed there on the ground. I don't know how long. I remember hearing Angel stop after clearing the last jump. I remember wishing I would have stayed on. I remember thinking I wasn't that afraid, why did she tell me to let go? I remember thinking, "MAAAAAAMAAAA!" Oh wait, I actually screamed that. I remember thinking I would get in trouble for taking Angel near the jumps. I remember my lip hurting very badly.
My sister lugged me all the way up to the driveway, no small distance, and put me on the hood of the car while she yelled for my mother. She was asking, "Why did you let go?" But in her mind I'm sure was panic over the repercussions of letting this happen to sweet baby Jeneane.
Off to the doctor's we raced, and to not drag this out any longer than necessary, the grand tally of my injuries were two badly blackened eyes, a smashed and bloody (but not broken!) nose, and two fat purple lips. Four days off of school. And a face in the mirror I never forgot.
As for my sister, I'm not sure what punishment was dolled out if any.
But I do know that to this day she says, "I told you to hold on!"
And I tell her, "You told me to let go!"
Angel's the only one who knew for sure, and she took that secret to her grave.
Posted by Jeneane Sessum at 12:56 AM
November 19, 2002
okay, I only have four minutes to write, so I'd better make it quick. In between client calls. Thinking about my dream last night. Don't you love dreaming about electronics? In my dreams, I usually invent useless devices. I wake up only to realize that no one would want a laptop that makes pizza. well, except me. The sadness of my inventive failure is palpable those mornings. I drag through the day with a big "L" on my forehead.
But last night's inventions weren't so bad. Here's what I came up with...
In the dream I had my cell phone with me. It was gold and a little wider than the Nokia I have. You know all the wasted space on the back of your cell phone where the battery pack is? Well in my dream, it wasn't wasted space; it was the face of a digital camera. Right? So you always have a digital camera with you. This combo digital camera/cell phone would be great for Atlanta, where the average Joe has a good wreck every so often. Climb out of the wreckage, call 911, flip the phone over and take a picture for your insurance company. Maybe have an automatic click capability where whenever you push 911 a flash goes off and a picture is taken. So if you're getting mugged and you call 911, the phone snaps a picture of your would-be aggressor. In this case, the cell phone becomes sort of a "black box" of the pedestrian crime scene...
enough about that one...
The next dream vignette featured, yet again, my cell phone. In my dream I was doing a client phone interview, and instead of having to use my stinking tape recorder, a little ticker tape transcription of my call was printing out from the bottom of my cell phone, like those ATM receipts. Okay, this is pretty far fetched, but why not have an easy way, when you're on the phone with some custome dis-service idiot, to capture the call on YOUR END for "training purposes"? In my dream I could, and I did it using the print out capability directly from my phone. Train on "t-h-i-s" PetSmart/PetDumb!
Gotta go back to work now. Have a phone interview to do the old-fashioned way.
Posted by Jeneane Sessum at 12:10 PM
November 17, 2002
Elaine makes an interesting comment to my post below about Jenna landing on her head on our concrete garage floor. Elaine admits that parenting never ends, nor does the fear and hurt we feel over the welfare of our children--even once they're grown. While I've always "understood" this in my head, it's a weighty thing to understand it in your heart. It's something I grapple with--really.
I was talking on the phone to my friend the other day, who is also a mother of a young child, telling her I think that I often consciously avoid engaging in the moment with my daughter. I've recognized this in myself and have begun to think about why that is. She's my life, my world, yet I (more than I would like) try to avoid being completely present when I'm with her her. I think I do this to avoid completely engulfing her.
It is difficult for me to give completely to someone whose absoulte vulnerability and purity undoes me.
I told my friend, I think that if I engaged with her all the time--if I felt the presence in the moment that I only sometimes feel--I would never let her out the front door again. I can't reconcile it. I can't reconcile letting her out into the world, which I've had to do now that she's in Pre-K, with keeping her safe in my womb, metaphorically. I can't quite get to the grey area. I'm having trouble living in the space of improvisation, of life and love. The space that lets you love without the anticipation of, the fear of, disaster. The space where you can love in spite of the possibility of danger, of death.
The surprise of my father's death for me at 6 broke my innocence in that regard, set the tone for a life that anticipates shock in order to defend against it. One therapist called this catastrophising. I thought that word fit pretty well. And while I don't actively catastrophize as much as I used to, there's still a little lock in my heart that I wish I could spring for good, that when it does unlock is like no other feeling I have, like nothing I understand. And I wish I could remove that lock and accept (even enjoy) being present in the moment more often.
Well, I'm working on it anyway.
Posted by Jeneane Sessum at 12:30 PM