Broken Free – A Poem about Suicide

Yesterday you told me

Why you were dying.

I didn’t believe you would

But you left me so alone.

All the pain built up

With no one to talk to.

Bottled up inside, you said

No one could cure it.

The silent disease of solitude.

You couldn’t break free.

Chains held you down.

Now I lay crying for you,

But you have gone away.

No longer do you hurt,

All the pain is gone,

Except my pain for you.

I loved you more than life,

Yet you left me here alone.

Tonight I shall join you,

And leave the pain behind.

Written June 23, 1999

Happy Birthday Baby!

Yesterday was my granddaughter’s first birthday. We had a very small party for her at our house. There were several factors that led to the “small” party.

The first, obviously, was COVID-19. Since the baby and I are heading back to Missouri in a week to care for my father, it’s very important that we don’t pick up this virus along the way. Not only would traveling while sick be an incredibly stupid idea, the chance of my father getting sick is entirely too great.

Secondly, Katarinah doesn’t handle large groups well. We’ve had suspicions about her behaviors since the major quarantine that happened in April but today at the doctor, our suspicions were heard and her doctor referred her to a birth-to-three program for children with disabilities. See, we believe our sweet little granddaughter has autism.

It’s hard to completely agree with the idea because she has developed like most babies. She walks, crawls, tries to run, rolls over, laughs, babbles, and uses her hands.

But sometimes, she regresses. Two months ago, she had a vocabulary of about five or six solid words. Now, she doesn’t say any of them. Some days, she doesn’t even babble. If she makes a sound at all, it’s to cry or scream. She gets agressively overwhelmed when more than one person tries to interact with her for any amount of time. And when she gets worked up, she requires a fuzzy blanket to snuggle on her cheek before she will calm down. There are other signs. Other details I might have missed if I had spent the last year working all the time instead of spending an extensive amount of time at home with the children.

For this time at home, for the time I got to spend exclusively with my children and grandchildren, I am grateful despite the horid circumstances. Global pandemic be damned, we made the best of it. We stayed home. We watched movies. We watched the baby learn to crawl and roll and play. We had many sleepless nights that led to long afternoon naps. She cut teeth, she learned to drink from a sippy cup, she transitioned to solid foods. She drove us crazy without a break but we didn’t get coronavirus so it was worth it.

Some days, taking care of all of her needs is the most demanding job imaginable. Some days, she is a dream child. Some days, being a writer and student while being her primary caregiver is impossible. Those days, I don’t get to do any writing. I won’t post blogs because I can’t sit at the computer and type one handed.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get any work done. Instead of typing and grinding at the projects I want to complete, I find myself lost in daydreams while we snuggle on the couch and watch musicals. I play out the stories I long to tell and look at the different sequence of events that might happen for my characters.

Many nights I am at my computer until midnight hammering out college assignments after baby goes to sleep for the night. Most days I spend working on homework or household chores while she naps. One thing I know for sure is that she has required more attention than all of my own children at her age. There has been very little downtime. I am exceptionally grateful for all of the little breaks I was able to get over the last six months.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know that this year has been the most emotional and the most chaotic of my life. I am happy to have this wonderful little girl here with me. Our journey has just begun and I know that it will not be an easy road for any of us. Still, I’m hopeful for her future and all the things she might someday do. But most of all, I love her more than I ever thought was possible, just as I love all of my own children more than words can even express.

So happy birthday baby girl! Your Nana will be here for you, no matter what comes our way. There is no obstacle too big for us to overcome.

Lost

This is a poem I wrote on January 25, 1999. As I re-read it today, I realized how much it resonates with me in the world we live in. As I look around me when I go out, I see fear, anger, outrage, and disgust. I want to share this poem with you because I think it will resonate with you as well.

Alone, I stand

In the midst of the faces

With nothing but fear.

Everyone is strange.

Everything has changed,

And left me in solitude.

All the new faces look,

And see a lost soul.

A soul which does not love,

Or feel pain, or weep tears.

A soul lost in the faces,

Lost in the crowd.

No one to hold,

No one to love.

I stand alone

In the faceless crowd.

They cannot see inside,

Cannot understand anything.

Faceless people in a nameless crowd.

Yet still alone, I stand.

Goodbye

You’ve been trying

To figure me out

Looking so deeply

In all the wrong spots

The truth is hidden

Far from your view

I can tell from here

You’re just not capable

Of looking beyond

What you can see

I want to trust you

But I just don’t feel it

Scared to be hurt

I am guarding myself

From the pain hiding

In what you don’t say

Omission from responsibility

Has left you guilty

You’ve been trying hard

To hide what I see

And it breaks me up inside

To think you must be ashamed

Why do I have to pretend

Like I just don’t care

I hate you for overlooking

That I am human too

I have invaded a private world

Where I do not belong

And it hurts me to say

That I just cannot stay

Game Night with Dad

A few nights ago, as I was preparing to return to Wisconsin for a couple of weeks, we decided to have an impromptu game night with my dad. He has stage 4 lung cancer and has just finished a rigorous 7-week schedule of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He hasn’t been feeling well enough to do much more than watch television and sleep.

Friday was a beautiful exception to this norm. My father was up and moving all day, eating well, and even enjoyed a couple of family visitors in the mid-afternoon.

Because of COVID-19, we have been limiting interactions outside of the immediate family to protect my dad. I’ve been traveling between Wisconsin and Missouri but being very cautious about interactions to avoid illness. We hosted two of my stepmother’s sisters on Friday for a short visit. Dad really seemed to enjoy the interactions.

My brother and his wife and children brought dinner later that evening and we enjoyed some great family time eating. Growing up with dad, dinner was always an important time of the day for our family. That hasn’t changed as we’ve gotten older. In fact, now it seems even more important. It’s our chance to talk and check in on his condition and mood. During this time, we also get a chance to share our interests. This week, my dad picked a movie for us to watch. I didn’t enjoy the movie but I enjoyed the time together.

After a pretty great dinner, we decided to play a card game. I wasn’t expecting dad to join us as he is usually too tired or in too much pain to sit still for long periods of time at the table. He surprised me and joined in. We had a fantastic time playing Jumanji Fluxx.

It was nostalgic for me, to play games with my brother and father. So many rainy childhood days had been spent playing chess or checkers or monopoly. And now, I’ve gotten to share a piece of that magic with my youngest son.

I know as my father gets sicker in teh future that this was one of those nights that will live on in my memories. I will carry it with me forever, though I hope to have a chance to create more of these memories with him before he leaves us.

In a Mother’s Words

You’re so small and helpless

In a world so big and full.

You look to me for guidance

And protection from all harm.

You know I’ll always be here,

Standing by your side.

Sometimes you may wish

That I would just disappear

But I could never leave you

So alone or so afraid.

It is when you need me most

That you will understand

Just how much I love you,

And just how much I care.

One day you will have your own

Children to hold and love,

Then you will see just how special

Life is whn you’re a mother.

Written April 2, 2002

For my children.

Family Secrets – A Short Story

“Time to wake up sweetie.” The voice is sweet. Feminine, pure, maybe a bit excited. Where am I? I can’t figure anything out. I can’t remember anything.

            It’s warm right now. I am not sure how, but I can feel the sun on my face. It reminds me of a beautiful field in summer. Two summers ago, when Ashley was just learning to walk. I can almost see myself there with her. Mom and I had taken her to the park for a picnic lunch. We laid out the blanket and spread out the food. I took Ashley nearby to practice walking in the grass while mom watched. Ashley was having a heck of a time balancing, and it was adorable to watch her fall over. When she refused to get back up, I pulled her shoes and socks off so she could feel the grass on her toes. She was smiling and giggling while she wiggled her little pudgy baby toes in the grass. She called me “Wen” because she couldn’t say Lauren. I giggled with her and scooped her up for snuggles before we went to the blanket for lunch.

            Oh. My. God. Ashley. Just like that, the beautiful day is gone and the heat is no longer pleasant. Now it feels like I am burning up. My eyes fly open. Am I dead? Am I alive? A million questions fly through my head as I look around, searching for answers.

            A pretty middle aged nurse is looking at me from near my bedside. She looks startled as I pop up out of the bed, flailing and thrashing my head around. Cords pull me back down and I realize my arms and legs won’t move. I’m restrained to this bed!

I…can’t…move.

            “Oh dear, slow down. You’re going to hurt yourself. Lauren, you have got to calm down!” She sounds so calm, I can’t help but do what she says. I try to calm down, to get my bearings.

Must focus.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

1…..2…..3….4…..5

            I’m clearly in a hospital room. There is white everywhere. No flowers, no cards, no life in this room except me and this nurse. I look at her, searching for a name badge. Claudia. She is looking at me with pity in her eyes. She turns to look at the monitors next to my bed.

            “Why am I alive?” I say. “I don’t have anything to live for anymore. Why on earth am I still here?”

            “I understand you’ve had quite an emotional night. I will let Maggie, our social worker on shift right now, know that you are awake. She wants to talk to you right away. She said it was very important. Now, listen to me, I know you are sad right now sweetie. I understand how much you hurt. Can you promise me that you will just relax for a little bit while she comes in to talk to you? I promise, we won’t ask you to stay when she is done if you can’t.” This woman, this nurse, sounds so genuinely concerned for me. Her voice is melodic, hypnotizing me into a calm state that I haven’t felt before.

            “I guess I really don’t have much of a choice right now. I am not going to do anything to myself right now, if that is what you are asking. But if I am honest with you, there really isn’t anything for me to live for. I can’t make any promises once I leave here.” I say. I don’t really have the energy to argue or try to even get up right now. I feel so drained and weak. I’m completely emotionally defeated.

            The nurse nods at me, dropping her eyes, and pats my hand. She turns and walks out of the room, leaving the door wide open. I lay there on the bed feeling cold and alone. I wonder where Nikki and Trevor are. They must have called for help. I vaguely remember Trevor finding me.

I look down at my arm, raising my wrist a little. It hurts a lot, and is wrapped in thick layers of gauze. I hold my arm a few inches above the bed for a few minutes, which is as high as the restraints will move, allowing the blazing fire to course through my arm, feeling the spikes of pain everywhere as I try to let it overtake me again. After a few minutes, I cannot bear anymore and I slowly lower the arm. I roll my head to the side, defeated, and cry softly.

“Lauren? How are you feeling?” I turn my head to see a bright eyed woman, maybe in her thirties. She is wearing a navy blue pinstripe pantsuit and heels. Very polished. While she looks the part of a social worker, I can see emotions on her face I am not expecting. Her eyes are puffy and smeared with makeup. Just a little bit, like she tried really hard to clean it up. Her nose is a little red too, like she has been blowing it quite a bit tonight. This doesn’t make sense to me. I cannot imagine a situation that would make a professional woman like this cry on the job. So of course, now I am intrigued to know what is so important that she rushed in here to talk to me in this condition.

“I’ve been better.” I whisper.

“I’m so sorry. I’ve been talking to many doctors tonight about your unique situation. Are you comfortable? Is there anything we can get for you?” She is now hovering over my bed, looking at my arms, looking at my eyes which are still a little pooled with tears. “I’m very sorry, but the restraints are standard protocol, given the reason for your hospitalization. They are for your protection.”

“I don’t want anything. I just want to go back to sleep.”

“I understand. I know it has been a rough night for you. I have some information that I need to share with you. First, I need to know what you were told about the accident.”

“They are all dead. No survivors.” I whisper, choking on the tears that start flowing again.

“I’m sorry then, for what you have gone through tonight. But I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed.”

Wait.

What did she just say?

There is no way I heard that right. Perhaps I succeeded, and I really am dead. This doesn’t make sense. I can’t help but look confused and dumbfounded as I lock myself away in my head to try to process this statement.

“Lauren, I need you to listen to me and pay very close attention. This may be hard to process for you, but you need to look at me.” She is looking at me, and she takes a seat in the chair next to me. She reaches out and clasps my hand, gently so as not to hurt me. She is looking directly into my eyes now.

“Ok, I need to know what you mean? Was there an accident? Is everyone okay?” I say, trying to contain the hope building in my chest.

“Yes, there was an accident. At the scene, the officers and paramedics believed everyone was dead. But then, something happened. They couldn’t explain it to me in a way that made sense, but it doesn’t really matter if it makes sense. The little girl, Ashley, she started breathing again.”

“Are you serious?” I say as I try to snap myself up from the bed. “Ashley is alive?” The pain in my wrists is so intense from jerking my body that my head falls backwards. I nearly black out.

“I see you are going to need more pain medication. Let me just handle that.” The nurse steps up to the I.V. in my arm, opens something, and inserts a syringe into the tube. I am in so much pain I can’t really see what she is doing, and my brain is screaming at me.

“Lauren, you need to stay still. You cannot do anything right now. You need to relax and listen. Don’t try to move, just listen ok?” Maggie is talking to me in a low calm voice again, and I can see tears in the corner of her eyes. Is this what she has been crying about? Has Ashley somehow survived this nightmare?

“Ashley is alive. She is in intensive care. She was flown here a couple of hours ago by MedEvac since this hospital has a specialized children’s operating room. She is out of surgery and in recovery right now. I just left her to come see you.”

I cannot believe my ears. She is alive. My little sister. My parents are dead, but she is not.

“Now, there is something we need to discuss. I don’t expect an answer right away. I know you have been through an emotional rollercoaster this evening. But, it’s my job to handle these things.”

Uh-oh. I can feel a freight train coming straight at me. All these walls I built to protect myself are about to crumble. The heroin, the vodka, the oxycodone, they have all been masking the secret that I know is about to be unraveled right here in this room by a stranger. I close my eyes and brace for impact.

It’s been three years since I almost threw my life away. I was a 4.0 student, active in tons of academic activities, on the path toward an Ivy League college and a bright future as a potential district attorney. And then one night, I lost control of myself with my boyfriend Trevor. My parents bailed me out of trouble so I could follow my path. Instead, I tore myself apart emotionally because of what I did. And then, Nikki introduced me to oxycodone she snagged from her mother. It killed the pain. I have spent three years chasing ways to kill the pain and slowly losing myself.

“Lauren.”

“Your parents are dead. Ashley has lost her guardians. According to hospital records, she was voluntarily adopted at birth. It is also recorded that if anything should happen to the adoptive parents, Ashley’s birth mother should be given priority to re-establish guardianship. Lauren, as you know, that is you. We understand she has been raised to believe she is your little sister. If you cannot take on this responsibility, a foster family can be found temporarily. The choice is up to you. I don’t want an answer right now. But, I will need an answer before you leave this hospital.”

There it is. The world explodes as she says all of this, all my secrets and lies rushing to the surface. Do I accept this responsibility, and all of the questions it brings? Or do I turn my back and trust that she is better off with someone else?

…I will have to stop everything…

…she deserves a better mother…

…could you live in this world without her now?

“Of course I will take her. I am her mother.” I say, causing a smile to slowly form on Maggie’s face as a tear slid from the corner of her eye.

It won’t be easy to admit what I have done in the past. I know eventually there will be questions to answer. I will tackle those problems when I get to them. Right now, the only thing that matters is that Ashley is alive and I am her mother. As long as I can figure out how to take care of her, nothing else matters.

***Author’s note. This story is being expanded into a YA Novel and is listed under my “upcoming projects” page. It’s in the early stages of being expanded upon. This story was a writing project for a fiction writing workshop. Many of my classmates and my teacher expressed interest in reading this as a larger novel with a more expanded story. I’ve taken their desires to heart and am working on this. Thank you for taking the time to read it!

Writing in the time of COVID-19

I see a lot of posts online about what people are doing during the coronavirus pandemic. I wasn’t sure what to write about today, so I decided to share my own story with you.

In the beginning, I was one of those people obsessed with the world. I was almost constantly online, following the outbreaks, reading the news, worrying about going to the grocery store, and staying home as much as possible. I stopped working to protect my family due to a high-risk illness in my household. I was terrified of everything outside of my own yard. I was terrified of every person I saw. I had the flu in February and thought I wasn’t going to survive it. I knew I didn’t want another round of illness like that.

And then, in May, I got the phone call nobody wants to get. My dad was sick. Not COVID-19.

Bone Cancer.

In May, my whole family took a trip from Wisconsin to Missouri to spend time with my dad before he got too sick. He hadn’t really seen many doctors yet. It was early in the process. We had plenty of time. We had a great weekend visit and went home.

During the next couple of months we waited for results from doctors. I went back to work. The kids continued to not go anywhere. We minimized our trips outside of the house, but not obsessively. I’m an introvert anyway, so avoiding public outings is right up my alley. The real losers in this situation were the children. No playdates, no parks, no eating out, no movie theaters, no school, no friends.

In August I was informed that the cancer was further along than they had thought. The doctors wanted to start an intensive schedule of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

I moved in with my father shortly after that so that I could be here with him and take care of him. I am staying with him still, trying to make things easier on my dad and stepmother. I drive him to treatments a few days a week and I clean the house. I cook and help out as much as I can.

So now my life is spent mostly in Missouri, living with and caring for my dad. Sometimes I go home to Wisconsin for a few days here, a week or two there. I left behind my husband and all but one of my children. This is my life for the foreseeable future. Living between two states and two homes. Traveling during this pandemic, being as careful as possible not to be exposed. Praying this virus doesn’t take someone away from me too soon.

I don’t read the news updates anymore. It’s too bleak. I don’t watch the news, because it’s too political and I can’t take the uncertainty or the negativity.

COVID-19 only scares me now because I believe if my father caught it, it would kill him. And I don’t want my dad to die.

Desolation – A Poem

This poem is from my teenage years. It’s a little rough around the edges but I wanted to share it, unedited, from the raw emotions I struggled with as a teenager.

Separated.

Cut off.

No more tears.

No more fear.

So scared.

Might hurt.

Can’t handle

Pain.

Through the door.

Emptiness.

Lonely.

No anger.

Play the cards,

Dealt to you.

Run and hide.

Peace at last.

Stillness.

Utter quiet.

I am

Free.

Truth Within – A Poem Written When I Was 15

In the starlight,

We see the world.

Loud and obnoxious,

Quiet and concerned.

The people are like

Shadows on the wall.

Their images change

As the day goes by.

In each new problem,

They change masks,

Alter themselves

So they belong.

They become something

They are not.

They change so much,

They cannot remember

Who they are,

Or who they were.

They are hidden

From the truth within.

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