The Battle, Not the War

9:48 pm. I feel of the cool night air on my skin. I’m not sure if I will sleep tonight, or if the 10 hour nap I had this afternoon will keep me awake until dawn. Should I make some coffee or down some Benadryl and return to my fitful slumber?

I guess it would be an easy decision if I drifted off to a fantasy land where I am tiny and beautiful and perfect. Perhaps in these dreams if I were wealthy and stylish and floated through a room with layers of silk trailing from a stunning white dress, I would be able to justify the need to return to the sleep that rescues me.

But it is only the fear of staying awake that is worse than returning to the anger and vengeful acts of a rage I unleash in my dreams onto those who have only somewhat wronged me in my wakefulness. It is harbored somewhere deep. I wake up crying. I wake up throwing punches. I wake up disturbed. I would never have the audacity to do the things my mind convinces me to do in my dreams. The only  harm I am afraid of inflicting is onto myself. I am more afraid to stay awake than return to the violence and confusion I face as I snuggle my cool pillow and let the air from the fan wash over me.

11:36 pm. The children are asleep, and I am still awake. The three helpers I have ingested are teasing me. I feel only a peacefulness and the gentle tug of fatigue at my eyelids. My insides are wide awake. I decide to sneak into bed and comfort myself next to my love. He stirs and I tell him I am sad. He says he knows. I have done nothing for weeks. I say I am sorry. He quietly snores, falling back asleep. I want to say more, but I already feel guilty for waking him as he needs to get up in a little over two hours to go to work. The hot tears leaking from my eyes somehow lull me to sleep.

2:00 am.

It’s been hours, but feels likes minutes. I’ve done up the dishes and folded laundry. Flipped through the channels several times. I am beginning to loathe the images on the screen. I have been imagining all the wonderful and productive things I will accomplish tomorrow… I mean today. And then the alarms go off.

It is time for my love to go to work. We will have our little ritual of breakfast for him and a late night/early morning snack for me. We find something funny to watch and have a bit of small chat to lighten our moods. I hate to sleep through this time because it is our quiet time to be together as friends and roommates. No interruptions or kids or errands. Besides, I always felt like it would be sad to get up and sneak out before everyone else is up, and return just in time to go to bed. (He drives an hour and a half to work 12 hour shifts.) Even through this calm, my mind is working, tinkering a plan to get a meaningful job that allows me to still give the kids care, how to clean this or fix that, which necessity do I sacrifice to afford an alternate one?

3:00 am.

Our quiet time is over, and after a quick briefing on the day’s plans, we say our goodbyes. I am finally in the short-lived harbor of his tight bear hug. A quick peck on the lips, a honk, a wave, and I sit on the porch for a while soaking in the night sounds.

A goddamed check on Facebook, a quick glance at some emails. Play a game. Play another game. I know, I know, put down the phone. But even though my eyes droop, but my mind  races on. The phone is just diverting me from my own nagging thoughts. The sky lightens to my left.

5:00 am.

I let the dog relieve herself one last time. I stagger to my bedroom. Plug in my phone… Shit. I left it in the living room. Go get my phone and now plug in my phone. Crap. I need a drink. Go to the kitchen and get a drink of water. Need to refill the pitcher. Go to my bedroom. Get in bed. Get out of bed. Go relieve myself. Get back into bed.

5:25 am.

5:45 am.

I think I’m asleep.

6:00 am.


8:00 am.

Wake up to my alarm reminding me to wake up the little guy for school.(I gave up on rising with the high schoolers. I would sit on the couch with a coffee waiting to have a quick morning convo or laugh, but eventually they woke late, spent the whole of their morning in the bathroom primping and shot out the door with a quick wave. I decided to take advantage of the extra sleep. They will wake me if the need a signature or money or miss the bus.)

I stagger drunk-like out of bed to help him get ready and complete his checklist: change your clothes, wash up or shower, brush your teeth, where are your shoes, did you remember to put your folder back into your bookbag?, get your coat, wear a hat, blah, blah, blah… I am fortunate his bus stop is in front of the house. I grab a mug of coffee and my comfy, yet ragged, red flannel coat. Sorry, neighbors. Yell funny things and sing songs at the little guy to pass the waiting time. Here comes the “cheese wagon” as we call it. You can hear the breaks squeal down the block. Wave to the bus driver. Wave to the little guy. Wave to the kids on the back of the bus cooing over the dog waiting with me on the porch. Watch the bus roll away. Let the smile fall away. Go back to bed.

11:30 am.

Shit. There went half the day. I am lost without a steady job. I loved the last one, but it was so stressful, my whole family prayed it to be over. Besides, I’m not going there in my head right now.

Many days I clean everything. Make sure things are in place and ready. I am the one home, it is my responsibility. Then the monotony starts to literally destroy me. Little by little, each dirty dish, each trip down to the washer, each scrub of the toilet, my soul vanishes. I just did this, how is it dirty again/already. I know I am home, but fuck, I am so constipated I haven’t shit in a month, let alone this brown speckled catastrophe! Doesn’t anyone else see this? WTF!? I just mopped the floor, why do I keep stepping on shit? What is that? Crumbs? Dirt balls? 

I slowly go insane.

Fuck this shit. Cleaning and paying bills and chauffeuring people is all I am good for?

I go back to bed. Me and those fucking tears that burn my cheeks.

3:15 pm.

My daughter wakes me by flinging open the front door. I stumble to my bathroom and try to make like I’ve been awake.Some days she heads to the kitchen for a snack, but today, like most days lately, she heads straight to her room and shuts the door. I get annoyed that I wasn’t worth a “hello,” and flip on the TV. 

Haven’t seen her older brother in a week. He works and goes out with friends and spends some nights at his dad’s or grandparent’s. I don’t get a call. I usually don’t get any calls. I don’t get visitors. I don’t venture out. I’ve had my fill of one-sided relationships. My mind is tired, buy it keeps running some marathon with no finish line. My spirit is tired. Each accomplishment gets wiped out and I have to start over. My soul is tired. Now my body is tired again.

Chewing on my cheek and clenching my jaw subconsciously leads to the sudden headache I now feel. Grab a cup of tea. Flip through garbage on the TV. Shut off the tv. Close my eyes.

4:18 pm.

My dog is barking like a fool. The little guy is home. Ask him about his day. Start the quest to get homework done. What do I make for dinner? I don’t want anything. That won’t fly with the kids. Riffle through the cupboards and fridge and freezers. “I guess this will do.” Ask little guy if he needs help. He really doesn’t until the last math essay questions. Then he’ll run to his phone or tablet or go outside to see the neighbor kids.I pop a couple asprins as my mind goes crazy over employment options. Damned useless degree. Damned useless job websites. Damned useless life. Damned useless me.

7:15 pm.

My love is home and he’s tired. Somedays we eat at the table. Today we are gathered in the living room. My daughter texting her friends and watching her favorite show’s past seasons online. Little guy is watching a video on how to make car sounds. We (I) watch more garbage TV. We eat and talk and then eventually they retire to their sleeping places to get ready for the new day. 

11:00 pm.

I am sleepy even though my mind is running full speed. I will read or check Facebook or play my games or do a puzzle. Lately, I am teaching myself to crochet to try to chase away the self-loathing that fills every void in my head. Any lull in thought brings forth a thought of hatred. Even if I do lay down proper and close my eyes, my chest fills up with a primal scream. I could let it out and feel better, but I’d probably scare the living shit out of everyone. “Suck it in. Breathe. Shove it back down.” I pray for peace and patience. 

1:35 am.

The time which crawled during the lonely day has flown by in the darkness so my efforts to tire myself out have been in vain. My love will be up in less than a half-hour. My eyes start to close. My dreams torment me with some crazy obsession. Sometimes its terrors from the past. Sometimes it teases me with a life I can never have. Sometimes there is nothing and the day’s theme continues.

Soon the creaking of the stairs will wake me…


Blog Title

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

Further thought on the subject:

Truth that has been merely learned is like an artificial limb, a false tooth, a waxen nose; at best, like a nose made out of another’s flesh; it adheres to us only ‘because it is put on. But truth acquired by thinking of our own is like a natural limb; it alone really belongs to us. This is the fundamental difference between the thinker and the mere man of learning. The intellectual attainments of a man who thinks for himself resemble a fine painting, where the light and shade are correct, the tone sustained, the colour perfectly harmonised; it is true to life. On the other hand, the intellectual attainments of the mere man of learning are like a large palette, full of all sorts of colours, which at most are systematically arranged, but devoid of harmony, connection and meaning.

Daily Prompt: Complicated

via Daily Prompt: Complicated
It’s complicated to maintain a relationship with your ex, but you will do it. Whether you want to or not, and especially if you have children together, you will be eternally bound in a relationship with that person.

At first you will spend your energy avoiding contact and communicate through emails and texts and third parties which can provide physical evidence of exchanges, promises, schedules, lies, insults, etc. It’s complicated to decipher the truth after a while. “I know you’re crazy, but am I crazy, too?”

Between hurling hurtful words and going out of your way to go out of your way (to avoid that asshole in the store, restaurant, school, concerts, plays, sporting events…) you realize things are way too complicated.

One day, you put aside the bullshit and mutually decide to get over it for the kids. “I want to be at the kids’ games and practices, and you want to be at the kids’ games and practices, and they definitely want us both there.” But, it’s complicated.

He’s bringing the skank along and you have your own new significant other that he hates. Soon one child graduates, then another, and in a few years the youngest will be off to college, and you can finally forget all about the fuckface that cheated on you and terrorized you and the kids (and even the poor house). Although, it’s kind of complicated to explain why you have a broken back and trust issues and anxiety and your son hates to smile because of his blackened tooth.

When your children are beautifully grown, and have hopefully forgotten all about the broken windows and flying fists, they begin to fall in love with the dreams of starting families. But even in the beauty of graduations and marriages and new life, it will be complicated.

It’s been years since you have had to lay eyes on the dark swarm of lies that manifested itself into the shape of a charming illusion that once convinced you love existed when you were nineteen. You pray the kids will never have to experience the heartbreak of the violent death of a relationship (again) in their lives. Nevertheless, you will find yourself and across the aisle or on opposite sides of the bassinet from your ex. Smiling.

And in the end – the real end – there it is. Despite your fear of the complicated and the awkwardness of seeing him after 20 years, seeing his wife and extended family, worrying about what can possibly be said that hasn’t already been said, the sadness, the shame, the fact that you have already grieved over this person – you go. Your children need your comfort. They need to know that they are not alone.

Partially out of pity, and partially for show, you awkwardly sit down by the bed. Surprisingly, in the most uncomplicated way, on-lookers turn away out of respect for your brief-lived intimacy that only you shared with this one other person.

Looking into his eyes and holding his hand for the last time, the definition for the word, “complicated” has vanished. The years have been wiped clean. The giant torturous memories that have complicated every aspect of your life have shrunken to nothing more than a dandilion fluff that floats away on a whisper that comes forth to create the most beautiful moment you have ever been witness to, “I am sorry.”


Who hates math?

The only thing incomprehensible about mathematics is that it’s comprehensible.

Education Concept

That’s the first question I ask my math students.

The second question is, “Why?”

It doesn’t matter the grade, although now I am teaching at the post-secondary level at a community college. Many of these students haven not even passed the placement test to start at a college-level math class. Asking these two questions are the part of my job that I love the most. It brings the grim reality of the bad reputation that mathematics carries on its shoulders. But, it also presents me with the challenge.

This semester, more than half of my Basic College Mathematics students raised their hands with no hesitation. (I swear I hear the faint roar of an angry mob echoing throughout the room.)

Yes, there are those students who are enrolled at this college to save money on tuition, or lucked into my class in order to fulfill a scheduling conflict at another university. Occasionally, there are a few older students who have enrolled in college courses to keep their minds sharp as they age. They are usually not the hand-raisers.

The owners of the palms wildly waving in front of me are most likely students are not here by choice. Many of these students have opted to enroll in college because it is the thing that they hope will save their lives. They are the first in their families to even attempt to earn a higher education in order to break a cycle of poverty. They have been rejected from other learning institutions. They have no trust funds or scholarships. They are trying to change careers, or fighting to keep their current jobs by earning required certifications. I’ve even had the rare student who is taking classes in order to avoid jail time for some minor offense, and wants to prove his commitment to bettering himself to the courts.

More importantly, what these students all have in common is having performed poorly in mathematics in the past. It is no surprise to me that so many hands are in the air, literally waving like they (just) don’t care – because they probably don’t.

The questions are important, though; They bring a sense of solidarity to the students. (“Oh, you hate math? ME TOO!”)

Is this the reason I ask students to identify their mutual hatred for my class? Nope. It’s to show the students that I understand them. I hear them, their classmates hear them, and they are not alone. I do not expect them to pretend to be excited to spend the next 13 weeks just getting by.  They are important to me as people, who are not going to be judged based on their past performance or attitude in math class. We are all going to start again. Together.

And then comes my challenge…
I grab my cane and my top hat and start the show. Specifically, I encourage participation, practice, and tolerance. I try to present as many strategies and experiences as I can. I strive to make the classroom as anxiety-free as possible. (The number one cause of failure in mathematics students is a result of anxiety.) I give them tools and “tricks” and make them laugh. I can’t say that I do anything out of the ordinary as far as teaching the actual content. I mean a real number is a real number, and a fraction is a fraction…
In the end, we do some things and stuff, and before you know it the semester is over.
Yes, I get a pay check. Yes, each class allows me plead my case for the topic at hand, have a little fun, and get to know the students. Yes, I revel in the sight of that “ah-ha” moment that I get to see over and over again. Yes, my goal is to move the students through the curriculum and cover all that is required for the final exam. And yes, it pleases me that nearly all of my students will ultimately pass the class.
I can add together all of the above reasons for teaching, but the sum of the whole is still less rewarding to me than a single sentence uttered from a fellow mathematician:
“I never believed I would like math, but now I do.”


A Summer Camp Mom’s Reflections

Somebody told me it was frightening how much topsoil we are losing each year, but I told that story around the campfire and nobody got scared”  ~Jack Handy

Summer. We are almost at the halfway point here. Hard to believe. What have I done with my summer? Not much this year. I am still reeling from the move and having one kid graduate and another get her drivers permit. What will I do with the rest of my summer? When you don’t know where else to go, stay put and reflect a bit.

Some summers have been spent studying for my degrees. Some at the public pool. Some at the beach. One summer I read well over 20 books while the kids played in the backyard. We gardened a few summers and enjoyed the veggies of our labor. We have had too much sun. We have had too much rain. The kids are usually bored and bothersome. Except during their week of summer camp.

I remember summer camp. I loved it! We camped as a family when I was very young. Later, I was privileged to get to accompany my grandparents when they went camping. And starting in about 5th grade, I was able to go to church camp for a week every summer. When my children had the opportunity, I saw to it that they each had that experience. It only took one visit for all three to become excited every summer for their own week of independence and adventure.

Two years ago, it was hard when my oldest son was not as interested in summer camp as working to earn money for a car. I worry, as every parent does, that he will look beyond the material things and hold a part of the spirituality that summer camps of yesteryear have taught him. I hope that he makes time in his life for the outdoors and time away from technology. Time to heal and be quiet and listen to himself.

This was my youngest son’s first time at camp. I was worried and nervous. It was a three-day camp for first timers, instead of a full week. Every year, on the ride home from dropping off one of his siblings, I had to endure the endless onslaught of questioning. “When can I go to camp? “When will sissy be home? How old do I have to be to go?…” Had my other two children not been veterans to that camp, I don’t know if I could have left him! In the end, it was my daughter who hugged him over and over again, and cried as we pulled away.

Today is sissy’s turn, again. We tried counting on the way out. We think she has been coming to this camp for 8 years.

Over and over again, I have made the 50+ mile drive to camp. On the way, we stop for a “last supper” and I make sure they have enough to eat. We gather around a table and talk for a while before getting back on the road. A celebration of sorts and a promise that we are here for each other – or at least in my mind that is what the tradition holds. I’m sure the kids just see a rare meal out from their cheap old mom. I know that the week will be full of friends and laughter, reflection and opportunity to do things we may not get to do as a family. The ride to camp is always filled with laugher and discussion and anticipation.

One year, my two oldest attended camp the same week! That was very convenient for me! Another year, we mistakenly scheduled back-to-back weeks of camp. Good idea, except drop-off is Sunday, and pick-up is Saturday. I was not making the drive back and forth two days in a row, so we found a hotel and stayed the night in the town next to camp.

Occasionally, but rarely, do I have a passenger with me on my way home. Or, at least one that was over the age of 5 and not asleep 10 minutes into the ride. Once I run through a list of my worries and possible necessities that I prayed my little camper hasn’t forgotten, it has become my annual time for reflection.

The kids attend a camp that practically borders the Flight 93 Memorial. (I attended summer camps in my childhood just a few hills away in Jennerstown, PA.) It is a solemn place, yet one that is peaceful for my soul. I remember in the year after the tragedy, visiting the site while there was nothing but a few benches and a chain-link fence filled with mementos and prayers. In front of the benches were wooden angels, each bearing the names of the souls on board. On a windy day, we sat staring at a cross-shaped hole in the ground in silence with visitors from all over the country. It was humbling. It would forever hold a place in my heart. (My kids did not attend camp there for a couple more years. Once I realized how close it was, I had made it a point to stop each year the first few times, but found it extremely emotional and eventually, I  chose not to stop. I have not been there since the new memorial was erected.)

The roads which lead to and from camp are desolate and surrounded by the forest that rests atop the Allegheny Mountains. The views are breath-taking and there are very few stores or gas stations. Just green trees and the windmills and the occasional “fresh honey” or “fresh maple syrup” sign. Where I am sure that in previous years the great attraction for this small village would be the great “car graveyard” of the local wreckers. Shining cars sit in rows upon rows extending for acres, it is actually quite impressive.  My mind wanders to the events of September 11, 2001, and the cross-shaped hole. I say a prayer.

I think about the ride to camp, just an hour or two old, and how it was marked this year by the fact that my daughter was permitted to drive the second half of the journey. Please time, be gentle on my soul.

Words cannot describe the meditative qualities this drive holds for me. I take in the view and my mind wanders. Each year I think about the path my life has taken since the last summer. I have reflected and grieved. Each drop-off leaves a void in me. The wound of their absence seeps quietly from my eyes. I remember releasing the pain of my failed marriage on a lonely ride home several years ago. The fear and uncertainty and the gratefulness for this time away for the kids. I pray for my loved ones. I wish for the future. It is something about this place This is the place I long to be. Sitting on a porch, drinking coffee and looking out over these hills. Solitude. This is the place I would like to live out my days.

In a short while, I find myself back in Johnstown, and my focus returns to the bumpy, curvy roads and light traffic that has appeared. In a few short miles, I will be home. In a few short weeks, summer will be over. In a few short years, I will not need to drive to this place.

I drown out the sound of my own thoughts with the radio and watch the road ahead of me, and look forward to the end of the week when I get to return to summer camp.

My Bucket

My Bucket

For several years the trend has become all about the “bucket list.” Dare I say I am probably one of the few people to never complete such a list. The plans I have made for the future can fit into a Dixie cup at this point. When I was younger, I could have filled a dump truck with all the great plans I had for myself.

Then life happened.

Now, I never say, “never,” because that too means I have made plans. But, I know how quickly life changes things, and I think the better route is to appreciate the here and now, and all that happy-go-lucky stuff. Besides, it’s too overwhelming to try and keep up with the Jones. And to be quite honest, I don’t feel like setting myself up for disappointment.

For example, I think it would be super awesome to experience the Egyptian Pyramids up close and personal, but let’s be honest, the chances of me doing that while I am young enough to physically accomplish it are pretty slim – unless I hit the lottery (which I am not planning on doing anytime soon.)

And, even if I had a genie to grant me a few wishes, I have been to several places around the globe enough to know that it is probably a disappointment on some level. In real life it’s probably all touristy and roped off and looks nothing like the pictures in the textbooks I have seen my whole life. I can’t imagine doing that kind of thing alone. I also cannot imagine dragging two teenagers and a seven-year old…

In a book and through a documentary, I can see the Pyramids in the beautiful light which they were meant to be seen. I can see them with a bird’s eye view. I can go into the crawl spaces without wiping cobwebs out of my hair and enduring, what I can only imagine, is a ripe stink of a thousand year-old tomb. I can see what they may have looked like in the distant past with all the junk PhotoShop-ped out.

Of course, if the opportunity arises, you bet your sweet A$$ I will be there.

Facing a Bucket List is like writing a book where you are determining the ending. What’s wrong with calling them dreams or goals? I don’t want to get to the end of my life lugging around a bucket full of an unfulfilled to-do list. My dreams are vivid and alive. They are also temporary and fleeting. Once in while, you have one that keeps reoccurring. They are ever-changing, just like me. They are more beautiful than I could have concocted, just like life. Sometimes, they even come true.

My bucket makes a good planter. Perhaps I will throw some dirt in it and plant some seeds. It will keep me in control of what comes next. I will be looking out for the weeds. I will have to water and tend my dreams if I want them to blossom.

If anything, I know in the end, I will have some flowers for my grave instead of garbage pail full of “if onlys.”

First say to yo…

Stages of Truth

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

This quote would explain my life. At every turn, I have done exactly this. It has been a slow transformation, and one that I thought would have produced so much more.

Putting this into perspective: I am grateful for all that I have. I have much more than I should, perhaps. It is not the material things I am after. I am looking for the thing that defines me. My mark on this world. The place where I belong. It’s hard to believe that I was made to live out my days mopping the same floor, washing the same clothes, and staring out of the same windows.

In the beginning, the saying and doing was easy. It was a matter of survival. I worked hard, and did the things that I was supposed to do. Say it. Do it. Say…

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