McKenzie Free

One woman's quest for greater understanding through freedom of self expression.

Archive for the tag “life”

61

There is a gaping hole inside of me

Which nightly I try to fill up

With mounds and mounds of food

And sometimes sex with inappropriate men who like fat girls

It is a gaping hole which by now is the size of a basketball

A small hole that was ripped larger and larger by

my alcoholic father and crazy brother

Made bigger with each failed marriage

That grew to make room for the babies I could never have

And is currently being fed by fear of the spot on my liver

Fear of joining my cancer-ridden siblings in death

At night I feed it with pound cake and chips and red wine

During the day I feed it with professionalism

as I try to do one thing in life well

and sometimes with screaming unprofessionalism

as I fail to succeed in a dysfunctional workplace

At times, like this morning, when I am too exhausted to

stand up straight and carry on in the morning light

At times like this when I stop for a moment and sit very still

Alone with my thoughts

I simply sob until I have no more tears

And then I get up and get on with my day

Wondering if I will ever be able to heal this gaping hole

Or if it’s too late for a full recovery

perhaps just something to shore it up and keep it from engulfing me.

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A Tale of Unfulfilled Potential

I was told so often as a young adult how much “potential” I had. I was pushed into the advanced classes in High School. I took master degree courses my first year at the University because I didn’t want to be bored. At age 20 I met with members of our Nation’s congress and the Israeli Knesset. At age 21 I actually sat in the President’s chair in the Oval Office as part of a special tour of the White House given for “Up and Coming Young Politicians”. I was the only one with the courage to take the seat when it was offered. I commented as I sat down, “It’s about time a woman sat here”. That was almost 30 years ago and still no woman has taken the chair.

I was meant to do something BIG with my life. I was meant to do something big, find a big partner to share it with, have wonderful children who would be healthy and happy and well brought up. That is what seemed to be expected of me. We should be getting ready now to meet our grown kids at our beach house in Bethany for a long weekend where their Dad would tell them how proud he was of them and how much he still adored his brilliant, beautiful wife after all these years.

Instead I live alone with my dog. Two failed marriages behind me. No particular successes to share. I have no kids, no beach house, and barely enough money to pay my bills. I work for a not for profit organization that does invaluable work that America pays lip service to but where most of our workers barely make above poverty level.

I don’t know when it happened, where it went downhill, when I stopped being one of the best and the brightest and just became another tale of unfulfilled potential. I wonder if I could go back to that one moment, that turning point, would I make a different decision. If I got a chance for a do over would I take a different turn that would have me writing the great American novel while raising wonderful children with a loving, supportive man who thinks the world of me?

Was it falling in love with the wrong man and then holding on too long? Was it making the wrong career moves? Geographical moves?

No matter, for there are no do overs. I’m a survivor but I don’t know how much more survivor I have in me. I have tried desperately to rise up from ever y set back. I have mourned the deaths of those I loved and carry them with me daily. I have done my best to move on from a 20 year relationship that felt  liked it was ruined in an instant. I told myself, as all my belongings went up in flames, that they were just things, not relationships, and relationships are all that really matters. I have survived breast cancer, I have cried my way through the shingles and the other ravages of aging and through it all I can’t help thinking, where did all that often spoken of potential go?

Was it ever really there? How did I fail to harness it? Is it too late at this age to dig deep and find some flailing potential to build on?

Make Time Stand Still

Oh sweet joy, sweet joy of youth.

You fill me up and bring me pleasure.

So clear and honest in your exploration;

A reminder of my own lost naivety.

Our time limit expired almost before it begins;

I can’t turn back the clock to keep you here.

Use your lust and boldness to reach for your future.

March on as you should but let your memory linger.

LIfe is What Happens

by McKenzie James

When I was very young I was smart;

the smartest one in the class.

Sometimes folks thought I was a little too smart,

a bit of a smart ass.

In my twenties I was restless; new jobs, new men new towns.

I wanted to experience everything, see the world,

and prove I was no longer a child.

I was young, I was fearless, and some thought a little wild.

In my thirties I got married and settled down with just one man.

He loved my quick wit, my ready smile and he’d explored a lot too.

We built a life, worked on our careers,

and shared a love I thought was true.

Then when I was forty the girls came along.

My whole identity was engulfed by being a nurturing Godmom.

First the girls needed my care, next my dying brother,

and then my aging Mom.

Now I’m in my fifties and everyone is gone.

My brother died, my husband left me,

the girls are grown, and Mom passed on.

It’s not the life I would have chosen,

when I sit to contemplate and take stock.

But it’s the one I’m living

and there’s no turning back the clock.

It’s true what they say:

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans”.

Each decision you make, big or small,

brings you closer to the end.

I hope there’s much more to be lived

but no one really knows.

We simply have to carry on

and continue to enjoy our part in the show.

Touchstone [tuhch-stohn] – Noun

  1.  A test or criterion for the qualities of a thing.
  2.   A black siliceous stone formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the color of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.

(Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged, Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.)

My mother died a year and a half ago and this weekend my sister and I thought it was time to go through the personal items that my sister had boxed up from her dresser when she died.  My sister brought the box in from the garage and gave it to me to open. The very first item I pulled out of the box was a simple, tiny, plastic stamp dispenser.  Like myself my mother was an avid writer but her writing took the form of letters.  Living over 2,000 miles away from her most of my adult life I’d gotten hundreds of letters from Mom.  Her letters were always engaging, entertaining and filled with humorous stories and vivid descriptions.

She probably wrote a letter to each person in her address book once a month.  So for years she had bought stamps in rolls of a hundred and used her stamp dispenser daily.  That stamp dispenser was such a tiny thing, yet such an enormous part of who my mother was that simply touching it brought tears to my eyes immediately.

I began crying, my sister began crying, and my sister’s little two year old granddaughter began slapping her grandmother on the leg because she thought Grandma had made Aunt McKenzie cry.  It was quite a scene which ended with us laughing at the baby girl and explaining to her that we were crying about our Mommy and that Grandma hadn’t hurt Aunt McKenzie.  We then put the box away to try again another time.

My mother was my touchstone.  She was my mirror to my place in the world. Being Lois’ youngest daughter — the attractive, successful happily married one who lived on the East Coast — was an enormous part of my identity.  She not only took pride in who I had become but reminded me always of where I came from.  With my mother’s passing I felt not only her loss, but without my tether to the past and my touchstone to reflect the purity of my beliefs, I lost a bit of my identity for a while as well.

Mom was a strong and independent woman who rarely asked anyone for help.  She survived a fractured skull in her twenties when she was hit by a car while on her bike.  Until the day she died she had slight hearing loss in one ear and dizziness when she turned her head to a certain angle from that accident.  She survived the loss of an infant child, WWII, the great depression, poverty, the loss of a spouse, raising six children alone, the death of her youngest child before his fortieth birthday, a dog attack, and at eighty was hit by a truck while out walking.  The doctors and physical therapists told us that no one else her age and in her condition would have walked again.  It was her sheer stubbornness that brought on her recovery and ability to walk again six months later.  She did all of these things, and others too numerous to mention, and carried on with a joy that brought tears to your eyes.

The one strong belief that my mother had that she passed on to me was that every day is a fresh start and a chance for renewed hope.  No matter how bad things get I realize that the very next morning I could wake up to a day that brings me infinite joy.  So it was with this belief that I put one foot in front of the other each day after my Mom’s death until the pain subsided and I was able to tether myself to my place in the world again.

I hope that one day very soon my sister and I can attempt to sort through Mom’s personal belongings once again.  Next time we’ll better prepare ourselves for the bittersweet memories we’re sure to experience and perhaps, without a toddler there, we’ll allow ourselves as many tears as we need to get through it and finish the job.

Reprinted below is the speech that I wrote for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration and gave again at her funeral.

My Mom was born on November 10th and shared her birthday with the United States Marine Corps.  These two events may seem to be unrelated to some, but not to those of us who know both the Marine Corps and Mom well.  Let me enumerate just a few of the characteristics they have in common.

 Courage – Whether attacked by the poverty of her early youth, distance between loved ones, government red tape, or the common hardships of everyday life, Mom always faced her enemies with courage and taught her children to do the same.

 Loyalty – Lord knows, each of us children tested the limits of our Mother’s loyalty and love and found it remained limitless and unwavering.

Honor – Mom’s honesty and integrity were beyond questions.  In fact, I’m sure there are those of us who wished at times that she had been a little less “honest’ since she tended to  “call ‘em as she saw ‘em”.  Her straight forward approach and homegrown advice usually hit the mark.

 Endurance – No matter how many times circumstances conspired to knock her down, she pulled herself up and never lost hope that things would get better.  In fact, it was because of her singular determination that many things in our lives WERE changed for the better.  Even getting hit by a truck couldn’t keep that woman down.  After her recovery, she continued to volunteer at St. Alice Parish and McKenzie Willamette Nursing Home.

 Strength – You can’t tell me that raising the flag at Iwo Jima was more difficult than raising six children to maturity (especially these particular children!).  As far as we’re concerned Mom deserves a monument in her honor as well.

 Through her 88 years she maintained a nobility of character that made us proud to call her Mom.  We’re proud today to celebrate her life.  She was a great mother, a great grandmother (in both senses of the term) and a friend to many.

Friends for Life

From the outside Meredith Blaine looked like a woman who had a full life.  She had experienced things that most people never would.  She’d traveled the world; met many famous, and some infamous, people, drove alone across America, skied the Italian Alps, rode an elephant in India, a camel in Israel, and a horse across the plains of Australia.

It was years before she realized that not everyone felt things with the same level of passionate intensity that she did.  When she loved someone she loved them to the point of aching.  She bonded immediately and would do anything for those she cared about.  She never played games.  She was honest to a fault.  When she cared for someone she let them know.  When they walked away she felt a pain that was indescribable.

She woke each day hopeful that she would meet a man who would understand and cherish her.  She met many men – she married two of them — she entertained them, they talked, they walked, they danced, they shared meals, they shared history, they shared stories, they shared sex – but always, for one reason or another, it ended.

There were professional men, educated men, simple men, working stiffs, artists; it didn’t seem to matter what their background was, where they came from, what they did for a living.  Apparently men never felt for her the type of love that caused them to feel a lasting connection.  She studied the women she knew who seemed to have wonderful relationships and simply could not understand what it was that she was lacking.  She could attract a man, she attracted plenty of men, but none of them seemed to have staying power.  Men were drawn to her for her outgoing personality and passion for life and then immediately upon getting her began the mission to change her.

Her latest heartbreak had been over a year ago and she still thought of him almost daily.  She had been attracted to him from the moment they met.  She was tapping her foot impatiently waiting for her carry out order at Louis’ and he started a conversation with her, finally suggesting they eat there rather than taking their orders back to their empty apartments.   They had gotten to know each other slowly and when he finally asked to make love to her she had wanted nothing more.  The courtship had lasted longer than the actual relationship.  Her time with Charles was over almost before it began for reasons she still couldn’t understand.

Meredith sat alone in her doorman apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan and wondered why she bothered any more.  What exactly was the point of getting up each morning and continuing on when every day was the same as the day before?  She got up, made herself beautiful, went into the office and managed all the issues that came up with intelligence and finesse and then came home to her stunningly decorated but very empty apartment.  She laughed sometimes thinking that most people would be shocked to know that Meredith Blaine spent most nights alone ordering in from the many fine restaurants in her neighborhood and watching reruns of NCIS on TV.

This particular night she felt empty and tired beyond anything a good night’s sleep could help her recover from.  She got up from her favorite chair and went to the medicine chest to get the sleeping pills her doctor had given her at her last visit.  She stared at the prescription bottle for a long time and then she sat down at her antique desk and began to write her good-bye.

September 7, 2010

Dear Eleanor,

I write to you because I know you’ll be the one who finds me.  You will be the one who finally wonders where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to, and worries enough about me to come find out.  After calling, texting and emailing me for a couple of days without a response you’ll spend at least an hour looking everywhere for the key I gave you last year (finally finding it in the basket on your dresser) and you’ll let yourself in and find my body.  I hope it’s not too gruesome for you.  I tried to make myself as presentable as possible.  I don’t know if that will make it easier for you, or worse.

I know you won’t understand.  You of all people, the one who has always been content with her life just the way it turned out, won’t be able to understand how achingly empty my life has become.  I will try and write something here that will help you understand.

I know it’s not politically correct to say all you want is a man who cherishes you and your life will be complete but, let’s face it, I’ve already got everything else and truly that is the one thing I’ve always wanted and that has always eluded me.  All the education, world travel and wild experiences in the world can’t top the look I see in Jim’s eyes when he’s watching you from across the room.  He truly thinks you are the most wonderful woman in the world and you can tell he still feels like the luckiest man on earth that you agreed to share your life with him. 

No man has ever felt that for me.  Do you know how it feels to have been married twice,  and to never have a man buy you a ring or ask you the question?  As you well know, both my husband’s had to be pushed, pulled and prodded down the aisle.  And neither of them, nor any man since, has ever looked at me with the love struck joy in his eyes that Jim has when he gazes at you.

So two marriages, an incredible career, and no children later…what has it all gotten me?–empty nights and emptier days.  My world is filled with activities but I’ve apparently failed miserably at the most meaningful part of life, human relationships.

The phone rang and Meredith wondered out loud if she should answer it.  “It may be an emergency”, she thought as she picked up the phone.

Dottie dialed her friend Meredith’s number hoping she would be home.  She just had to tell her the good news.  Her daughter, Laura, had just been chosen for the lead in an off Broadway musical.  Laura knew it was mostly Meredith who had given her daughter the courage to be herself and go for her dream.  She was always there for the kids one hundred percent and she had an enormous impact on the young woman Laura had become.  Thinking back, she didn’t know how she would have gotten through being a working Mom with three kids under the age of five if Meredith hadn’t stepped in to help and be there for them.

“Hi Mer, How are you?  I just had to call and tell you Laura got the part!”

“That’s wonderful, Dottie, is she over the moon?”

“That’s putting it mildly.  She started memorizing her lines the moment they called.  She really feels like this could be the beginning of something for her but she also keeps reminding me what you told her, success is doing what you love every day.  Wait, here she is, I know she’ll want to talk to you.”

“Hi Mama Mer, did Mom tell you?”

“Yes, sweetie, she did.  I’m so happy for you.  I know it’s what you wanted.  Have you met the rest of the cast?”

“Not everyone, but remember that gorgeous man we saw in “Grease” at the Playhouse last year?  He’ll be playing opposite me.  It could prove to be very interesting!”

“You have fun sweetie.  I know it will be a lot of work and many late nights, but just remember to have fun and enjoy yourself along the way.”

“I will Mama Mer.  Every day I remember how you told me to be true to myself and do what makes me feel good in my soul.  If I hadn’t done that all these years I wouldn’t be here now.  Thanks for always being there.  I’m going to be certain you have tickets with Mom and Dad for opening night.  You’ll come won’t you?”

“You know I’ll be there if I can.  Tell your Mom good-bye for me sweetheart.  I love you.”

“Love you too Mama Mer.  Bye.”

Well, you’ll know by now that Laura got the part.  Was there ever any question?  How that enormous voice comes out of that tiny girl I’ll never know.  No one hearing her on stage would ever believe there once was a question about whether or not the child would have a normal lung capacity.  That’s one of the things I did right with my life is help out Dottie when she needed help with those babies.  She always thought I was doing her a favor, but you and I know it was the other way around.  I loved mothering those kids.  But they’re all older now and they’ll b e fine on their own.  My work there is done and I rarely see or hear from them now that they’ve been launched into lives of their own.

I know you can’t imagine what it’s even like to be alone every day.  You have Jim and the kids and your house is always bursting at the seams with visitors from all over the world taking advantage of your wonderful hospitality. 

You’ve been a good friend, Eleanor; a lasting friend who has always been there for me.  I thank you for that. I feel badly leaving you this last difficult task to handle for me.

Meredith heard someone knocking on her apartment door.  It must be Carlos, her doorman, because no one else could have gotten by him and up to her floor without being announced.  He knew she was in her apartment so she’d better answer.  She didn’t want him worrying what was wrong and using his key.

Carlos knocked on Ms. Meredith’s door.  He wouldn’t do this for the other tenants, he thought to himself, but Ms. Meredith wasn’t just any tenant.  She treated all of the staff like real people, always asking him about his wife and family, remembering him on holidays and special occasions, not acting as if he was less because of his job.   He had just signed for an international special delivery for her.  The protocol would be to phone and let her know it was there and then leave it on the desk for her to sign for it when she had time to pick it up.  That’s exactly how he’d handle it for anyone else in the building but he thought international special delivery might be really important and Ms. Meredith looked like she needed something to cheer her up when she came in tonight.

“Hello Carlos.  What are you doing up here?”

“Hi Ms. Meredith.  This came in for you just moments ago.  I thought it might be important and I wanted to get it to you.”

“Thanks Carlos.  You know you didn’t have to do that.  I would have gotten it next time I was down.”

“I wanted to.  You’re always good to all of us and I thought you deserved special treatment for a special delivery.”

“Thanks Carlos.  You have a good evening.  Tell Maria I left her some bulbs for the roof garden in the back office.

“Okay, Ms. Meredith.  I’ll let her know.  You have a blessed evening.”

Meredith opened the Express envelope and immediately knew who it was from simply by the beautiful handwriting on the interior envelope.  It was obviously an invitation from Martina and Joaquin.  Martina’s hand writing was exquisite, always had been, even though she’d had no formal education.

Please join us to celebrate the publication

 of Joaquin Aguirre’s first novel:

Evenings in the Vineyard

Saturday, November 13, 2010, 7pm

Aguirre Vineyard

San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina

Inside the invitation was a hand written letter.

Dear Meredith,

You know how upset I was when Joaquin decided to turn over management of the vineyard to Benjamin to spend his time entirely on his creative pursuits.  I was angry at you for a long time for advising him to follow his heart.  I was worried that Benjamin would fail, that Joaquin would fail, and that we’d end up with nothing. Now here it is two years later and both have been successful in their pursuits and none of us have ever been happier.

You must join us for the celebration.  Joaquin listened to you when you told him to do what would feed his soul and the rest would take care of itself.  It’s because of you that he gave himself the time to write the most beautiful and provocative work I have ever read.  (Okay, I admit to being a bit prejudiced.)  It’s a wonderful book.  I know you will love it.  I will let you in on a little secret.  It’s dedicated to you!

So come visit us, my friend.  We love you and can’t wait to celebrate with you.

          Love always,

                   Martina

Meredith had met Martina and Joaquin over ten years ago on a trip to Argentina and they had hit it off immediately.  Two years ago during a visit Joaquin had admitted to her how unhappy he had become.  He told her that the Vineyard, although a part of his family for generations, was not really what made him happy.  They had sat up long after Martina had gone to bed and talked about art and writing and the things that made their hearts swell.  She had told him to feed his soul and the rest would work out.  Thinking about it now, where did she get off telling anyone that?  Had her life worked itself out?

Meredith sat back down at her desk and picked up her pen.

I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve sat alone in this apartment with only the television to keep me company.  Tonight, I came home believing it would be another one of those too quiet evenings but I’ve already had several interruptions.  Sometimes I feel as though I’ve read everything there is to read, traveled everywhere there is to travel, seen everything there is to see, and yet something is missing. 

Listen, when it comes to the obituary…just list Marina as my surviving sister….leave the rest of them out of it completely.  If they couldn’t be close to me in life…they don’t need to be recognized in death.  Do whatever you want about a memorial service.  You know I have never understood why people care what happens after their death.  It is truly the height of self centeredness to try and control things after you’re dead.

The house phone? Carlos must have forgotten something.

—————–

“Thanks for letting me use the house phone, Carlos” Eleanor said.  Eleanor knew Meredith wouldn’t ignore the house phone.   She needed to get through to her and she was fairly certain tomorrow might be too late.

She noticed that Meredith had become more and more withdrawn and quiet lately.  She knew Meredith was saddened that her love life had never gelled but she was such a fabulous friend to so many.  Meredith had been a part of her life for as long as she could remember.  She had changed Eleanor’s life for the better the first day they met.  It was freshman year and Eleanor blushed just thinking about what a techie dork she’d been back then.  Lost and confused on her first day of classes Meredith had helped her find English Lit and then later helped her understand English Lit.

Since then they’d been through everything together from childbirth to planning Eleanor’s mother’s funeral.  She couldn’t imagine her life without Meredith in it.

“Carlos, did you forget something?” Meredith asked as she picked up the phone.

“It’s me, Mer.”

“El, what are you doing?”

“I’m downstairs, can I come up?”

“Well…um…yeah… of course…come on up.”

As Eleanor got in the elevator she found herself thinking back to that day at the campus coffee shop when Meredith decided she’d had enough of Eleanor and Jimmy smiling shyly across the room at each other and got up and invited him to their table.   After that day, it was the three of them against the world.  They got through everything together: finals, Jimmy’s parents’ divorce, graduation and the search for what to do next.  They’d been through a lot and Meredith was still the only one who could make Jimmy smile when he was in his lowest funk.

Eleanor knocked on Meredith’s door.

—————–

“Hey, Meredith, sorry to just pop in but it’s an emergency.  They just hung Jimmy’s last painting at the new gallery and he’s a wreck.  I got him settled down and left him at Louis’ with a drink.  Can you please come out and work your magic on him?”

“’Well El, I had planned to get a lot of writing done tonight.”

“Come on, Meredith, you know you’re the only one he’ll listen to.”

“Okay, okay, let me get my wrap”

As they stepped out on to West 86th Street Meredith took a deep breath and took in the streets of New York in early fall.  She’d always loved this neighborhood with its wonderful, bustling, busy, streets.

As they walked toward Columbus Avenue to make their way to Louis’, Eleanor linked her arm through Meredith’s and spoke.  “Do you want to tell me what’s got you so down lately.”

“I’m fine, Eleanor, really.”

“No, you’re not fine.  I’ve known you for 30 years and loved you for every day of it.  Do you really think I don’t know you well enough to know when the world has you down?  You’re an amazing woman, Meredith, and a woman I can’t imagine not having in my life.  You give so many people so much of yourself.   You normally take on the world with an energy that’s frightening to behold.  You’ve been withdrawn and quiet for weeks.   You haven’t stopped in to see us at home or at Louis’.  Something is terribly wrong.  If you don’t want to tell me about it, that’s fine,  but I’m not letting you out of my site until you can ensure me everything’s okay.“

She looked over at Meredith and saw the tears quietly streaming down her face.  She stopped and wiped them off and hugged Meredith close to her for several long seconds before opening the door to Louis’.  They stepped into Louis’ Place and he greeted them with open arms, planting a kiss of each of Meredith’s cheeks as was his custom.

“My favorite customer returns!  I haven’t seen you for weeks and Jimmy tells me you haven’t been yourself.  I am fixing you something very special tonight of my own creation.  It will make your taste buds burst with joy and make you happy to be alive.  Sit…sit…   Marie!  Bring my guests some fresh, hot bread.”

Jimmy smiled up at her.  “It’s an intervention.  What did you expect?  We love you Babe.  Sit and sink your teeth into these delicious crusty calories.  If my gorgeous face and Louis’ food and hospitality can’t make you feel better then there really is no hope.”

Meredith smiled in spite of herself and sat down between Jimmy and Eleanor.

“Pass the butter,” she said as she grabbed a hot crusty roll out of the bread basket.   “This is no evening to worry about saturated fats.  I love you two, do you know that?  Thank you so much for watching out for me.  Quite a few of my friends have checked in this evening.  It’s hard to believe with so many who obviously love me I was feeling isolated and alone. ”

“You never have to be alone as long as El and I are still kicking, you know that Mer.”  Louis chose that moment to sit a platter featuring a scrumptious, roasted Poulet de Bresse on the table.  There was a group “Mmmmmm……” as they began to dig in and share one of the simplest joys in life.

—————–

Meredith let herself in to her apartment and dropped her wrap on the chair by the door.   She looked over at the clock on the mantel to see it was close to 2am.  They had sat at Louis’ for hours, just like the old days, talking, laughing and simply enjoying the closeness the three of them shared.

She walked over to her desk and looked down at the letter she’d been working on when El had called.  She sighed, picked it up and ripped it in half once and then again and tossed it into her waste basket followed by the pill bottle.

Tomorrow was another day.

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