Posts Tagged With: writing

“Fear” #32

Some time ago, I sat across from my professor and talked about different types of fear.  He was very interested in how I, as a member of the military, processed fear in a deployed environment.  Like most of the things my professors asked me, I hadn’t thought about my fear before.  But I want to try to think about it now, and what I’ve concluded is:  There isn’t much that scares me anymore.

I used to play around with fear. If there was a group going to the haunted houses for Halloween, I was there.  Game of flashlight tag in a cemetery?  Let’s do it.  Scary movie marathon? Can’t wait.  Death-defying roller coaster drop?  Let’s go again.  The charge of electrons that sparked in my brain when it came to being scared was something I sought after as much as I could, in very safe and predictable ways. In all those situations, the thing that I allowed to scare me was controlled. I was secure in the knowledge that the roller coaster would wind its way back to the start, and I would soon find myself safe on the loading platform again.  I knew the scary movie wasn’t real, and the folks in the cemetery were not the same as those from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, waiting to break through their dirt-packed resting places and snatch at my ankles (That video was terrifying when I was a kid!).  Those safe experiences brought a younger type of fear.  It was flimsy and tin-foil thin, and it could be broken through anytime I wanted simply by reminding myself that it wasn’t real.

During my deployments, there were times when I was nervous about being harmed; times when I was grateful for the weight of my small bowie-knife bouncing against the outside of my leg as I walked through a darkened compound alone under watchful eyes; times when I was grateful for my M-4 grasped firmly in my semi-steady hands and the ammunition snuggled inside her; and times when I was happy for the heaviness of the helmet and Kevlar vest weighing me down as our aircraft flew low over enemies with high vantage points. There were several moments when I thought violence towards me was a real possibility and life, as I knew it, could be changed forever, but those fears were never allowed to fully materialize.  They were simply breath-catching minutes that passed with little more than a racing heart, brief body shakes, and a mental sense of relief that something I couldn’t fully fathom hadn’t come to pass. That fear was the type of fear that I wouldn’t allow myself to linger in because what would be the point? Nothing happened. I wasn’t shot or raped by the Saudi guard at the checkpoint who was angry to see a woman alone, driving a car, and pointed his weapon at me while yelling for some explanation I could not provide. I didn’t have to fire my weapon at the young men greedily watching us walk across the bridge towards a village of Al Qaeda sympathizers.  My limbs weren’t blown off by an IED (improvised explosive device) as our SUV bounced along the streets of Kabul days after an attack on an American convoy. No good could come of being traumatized by the possibility of terror.  It was all around me when I was deployed, and I would not be able to function in other ways if I was overcome by possibilities rather than realities.

For me, the possible deployment atrocities where more shallow moments when compared to the fears-come-to-life I had already lived through.   I wrapped those realized fears over my shoulders, tattered shreds hanging down my back, slipping over my chest and down my arms, enshrouding my body and everything in it like an invisible, bullet-riddled bed sheet.  As far as I knew, I had already been through the worst sort of trauma, and it had numbed me to everything to follow behind it.  When I was married, I had a fear that he would find someone else. And then he did. And after the divorce, there were the fears about him moving on, falling in love, re-marrying, and my children getting a stepmother whom they loved.  All those things came to pass.  These fears weren’t the same controlled fears of my youth, and they weren’t the distant fears of being killed in a foreign land.  They were the fears of actuality.  They really happened to me, emptying me of all the things that had filled me since I was a little girl.  During those immediate months after the divorce, I was often like a wild animal, unable to control my thoughts or emotions.  I would writhe in pain, sometimes physically rolling around the floor of my bedroom after my children were asleep, grabbing at my chest, begging for release, begging for my breathing to stop and for my heart to quit its insufferable beating.  My fear was embodied within me.  I could touch it, and stare it down in the mirror.  I wrestled with it, and it kicked my ass.  But with each new terror that came true, the struggle began to subside.  I stopped fighting the fear and began to recognize it as a foreshadowing of strength to come.  The fears happened, and I had to experience them fully, undiluted and unchecked by any protection.  And the happenings made me braver and more certain that I was being held by something so much stronger than me because the fear didn’t kill me.

I didn’t die of a broken heart, just as I didn’t die from an IED. I didn’t die at the hands of my enemies, either home or abroad.  Instead, the sun came up every morning and switched places with the moon every night. The trash kept getting picked up from the curb, and the mail kept getting delivered.  My kids kept calling me mom, and the dog continued to need food and water.  So, when one of my friends off-handedly remarked that I didn’t seem to be afraid of anything, I guess he was right.  I may have a moment of panic, but I soon come around to the certainty that things will be better than fine.   I am not afraid of things (most things) because I live in the reality that something much bigger, much greater, much more powerful than me and my capabilities keeps things going. I can take a deep, sometimes ragged, breath and step into the street in Kabul or sit down to a cup of coffee with my sons’ stepmom, because I have met the type of fear that I thought would destroy me and lived to tell the tale.  Things kept going.  Things keep going.  I am one of the lucky ones.

Categories: Military, Military, Personal Story, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: , ,

#31

When I arrived in San Antonio for basic training nearly 16 years ago, I didn’t have a name.  Technically, I had one, but nobody there cared what it was.  I was called “female,” if I was called anything at all.  It was very strange how quickly I became used to my new name:  female.  It came with a certain ambiguous identity.  I had a place, but it was along with all the other female basic recruits.  And I didn’t have to settle into that name:  female.  I didn’t have to put it on, button it up, wear it, truly inhabit it, believe in it, or define it.  It already came with a body, and I just had to stay in its shadow.  Then, when I graduated basic training, I was recognized in a new way, the name I was born with:  Thurman.

The military moves in graduations.  We never jump in, head-first, full-bodied into the next phase.  We are gingerly allowed to dip a toe, then up to the knee, then wade to the neck into the too shallow tub of individualism.  In keeping with the tradition of less individuality is more, my first name was not used by my newly created friends, but I was allowed my surname.  Being called by my last name was strange, but not uncharted territory.  I played sports for many years, and the military wasn’t so different from the athletic world in the regard of last names.  But, my teammates called me by my nickname more often than not:  Red.  No one calls me Red anymore.  Maybe I’ve outgrown it; maybe it’s too strange a name to call a nearly 40-year-old woman.  So, what happened to Red?  In fact, what happens to any names I’ve carried, but no longer wear?  I think there is a Lost and Found.

Before I married so many years ago, my fiancé and I discussed what name I would use–it was a discussion initiated by me.   For him, taking on his last name was a foregone conclusion.  A done deal.  No discussion necessary.  I remember trying to talk to him about how nervous it made me to no longer be Thurman after 24 years of being Thurman.  Who was this Clemens person?  What made her tick?  How did she navigate the world?  He saw my nerves as rejection.  His name was a source of pride for him, and he wanted his wife to wear his name.  In love, trusting that I was loved in return, the discussion ended.  I acquiesced.  Passive.  I would no longer wear the name I had worn since birth.  I would just put on a new one.  Clemens was born.

With slightly less ease than he exerted when he gave me his name, the gift that he was convinced made me more his than not his, he jumped away from me, but left his name behind.  And when we divorced, my children, young, strapping Clemens’ boys, were upset at the thought of me shedding the name they had worn since birth.  “If you’re not a Clemens, you won’t be our mom anymore!”  They are worried.  For them, my existence is wrapped up in the name.  And, again, I acquiesce, and wear it, a strip on my military uniform, a flourish on my driver’s license.

Just go back, someone suggested.  Be Thurman again.  If only.  But I’m not Thurman anymore; I abandoned her.  She was less changed, less formed by names she no longer carries.  Will I still fit her?  I worry she will not have me back.  Thurman died at 24.  Can I resurrect her?  I’m not Red anymore, either.  I didn’t leave Red, but she left me when I turned–what–22 or maybe before?  Regardless, I’m too old for cute nicknames, now.  And I’m beginning to grow out of my Clemens’ skin.  Someone else is filling the clothes of Mrs. Clemens now.

What name will I wear moving forward?  When I achieve something, who will get the achievement?  Will I still be the same mother to my Clemens’ boys?  I don’t know.

Categories: Military, Military, Personal Story, Motherhood, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Another One Bites the Dust” #30

Today is New Year’s Eve.  As I sit here in my down-sized, divorce house in Colorado (about half the size of my married home in Illinois–the home my then-husband designed and had built for our growing family), I’m staring at all the clutter, toys, video games, books, suddenly out-of-place Christmas decorations and just stuff lying around what seems to be every square inch, and I really wish I already started drinking.  Yes, I admit it.  I wish I had a nice, super-friendly, alcohol-induced buzz humming through my body, making my brain a little fuzzy, a little less perfectly clear and present in this mess of a house.  But I didn’t, so I don’t.  What I do have is too much dust on the surfaces, too many dishes in the sink and too much dog hair on the dull wooden floors.

In 2010, I counted down the minutes until 2011 by crying on my couch in my roomier, cleaner, dust-free married home in Illinois.  I had a better idea of what I faced:  a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, a divorce, and a year away from my children.  In 2011, I counted down the minutes to 2012 from Afghanistan, happy in the knowledge that I would be heading back to the states in a few weeks, and strangely secure in the knowledge that I would be starting over in the new year.  Last year, I counted down the New Year from a party in New Orleans with my great friend, Varner.   We dressed up, went out, drank responsibly, and I danced for the first time in a very long time.  It was fun, and I was excited about the prospects of 2013 because, before my trip, I went on a date with a guy from Denver and I had excitement about possibilities.  My excitement wasn’t authentic though; it was me trying to keep up with my ex who was getting married in a couple of months.  I wasn’t ready and still had personal work to do.

New Year’s is marketed as the time of the year when we should take account of the past and celebrate the hope of the future.  But what happens if the unknown is just too unknown, you know?  Yesterday, I drove to the mountains to do some snowboarding before my kids came home from their weekend with their dad.  The powder was nearly perfect:  soft, ample, fluffy–what the seasoned riders call “pow.”  Feeling brave, I decided to hit some of the trails that I hadn’t explored yet–it was time to branch away from the beginner “greens” to the more experienced “blue” trails.  There’s one lift at Winter Park called the Panoramic Lift.  It takes riders to the top of the mountain to overlook the brilliance of the peaks at over 12,000 feet above sea level.  After clumsily exiting the lift to the top of the world, I pulled out my cellphone to snap a picture and was disappointed to see the coveted panoramic view of everything below blocked by an unmoving, cloudy haze.  With the exception of the top of the ridge, all I could clearly know was the Parsenn Bowl, what resembled a spoon’s scoop out of the mountaintop.  After waiting patiently for the 20-minute ride to the top of the summit, I couldn’t see anything below me, and now I had to dive down into it.  That’s a bit what New Year’s Eve looks like to me this year.

12,600 feet

Marketing picture of 12,600 feet–what I didn’t get to see

This year, I’m cleaning my cluttered house (or going to be), taking stock of 2013, and trying to see past my own cloudy haze into 2014.  Over the last few years, I’ve been sowing, rebuilding, healing, thinking, crying, starting and starting and starting over and over again.  What’s in store for 2014?  This is probably the part where my readers (all 20 of you) expect me to say that I’m confident in the future, but, truthfully, I don’t feel anything for 2014 yet.  I don’t feel sad like I did in 2010, or brave like I did in 2011, or falsely excited like I did in 2012.   I feel…nothing.  Maybe I’m too tired from sowing.  And a little impatient to see some buds sprouting through the packed earth.  My faith calls me to remember that I’ve been consistently led through darkness in my past to the light, but I can’t see any light…yet.  So, I keep coming back to my time on the mountain yesterday, when I stood at the top, and I was certain of one thing:  I had to get back to the base somehow.  I had my board strapped to my feet, and I knew how to use it.  Regardless whether or not I could see what was beyond the cloud cover, I did have what I needed to ride my way to where I could see things more clearly.  I stood up, pushed off and started the descent.

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My views on the way down

Even though I couldn’t see anything clearly from the top, with every inch I rode down, the paths became clearer.  I may not have been able to take the picture I wanted, but the scenery that surrounded me was breathtaking, and when I got to the bottom I could look back up the slopes and catch my breath at the distance I’d covered.  I’m holding onto that experience as 2014 looms ahead of me.  I have what it takes to face the unknown, and the clouds can’t stay there forever.  Some day, they will move.  For now, it’s time to get back to work.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Along for the Ride” #29

My friend Holly is responsible for my addiction.  She said it was what all the cool people were doing, and I wanted to be cool.  She made it look so great, and fun, and freeing.  She was my pusher, and after only one trip on the powder I was hooked.  Before I knew it, I was taking a trip every other weekend when my kids were with their dad, sometimes even taking off work to maximize the experience.  I fell madly in love with snowboarding.549978_10100860160658054_1268818898_n

The first time I tried snowboarding was the same day my ex was getting married somewhere in Pittsburgh.  It was about a week before my 37th birthday, and I could not sit at home counting down the minutes.  Instead, I agreed to take a snowboarding lesson at Keystone Ski Resort in Colorado.  I guess I figured what better way to keep my mind occupied than by hurtling down a mountain at breakneck speeds?  I wasn’t a total novice to the slopes.  I had tried skiing once in college when my roommate wanted to go to Paoli Peaks in Indiana.  I was super ready because the hills of Indiana are EXACTLY the same as the 12,400 foot peaks in Colorado.

The morning of my snowboarding lesson I was excited but nervous.  My last trip on powder ended up with one ski wrapped backwards (and my knee along with it), a swollen ankle, some sort of medical snowmobile ride and young children whizzing past my mangled form on tiny skis.  And that was nearly 20 years earlier.  I was determined not to give in to the very real fear (some may say “common sense”) that threatened to talk me out of jumping on the board and taking it for a ride.

Fresh powder

In the first few minutes of the lesson I learned how to strap my feet into the bindings (straps on the board that keep your feet attached when you fall again and again and again–and they’re supposed to help you actually control the board like reins on a willful stallion), and I learned to “skate,” by strapping in my lead foot and pushing my back foot along the snow, moving the board forward like a skateboard.  I rocked skating.  Rocked it.  If skating on a snowboard was an Olympic event, I definitely would have received a silver medal.  Feeling pretty cocky, I stupidly indicated I was ready for more.  Eventually, I moved into the phase where both feet could be strapped firmly into the bindings, and my instructor and I took a magic carpet (moving sidewalk) up the gentle slope of “learner’s hill.”

The hill looked very sweet from the bottom.  Its gentle sloping and harmless, cloud-like snow was inviting and safe–from the bottom.  Once the carpet deposited me at the top of the “bump,” as my instructor called it, I made the mistake of looking down.  The bottom was miles away, and seemed to be on an almost straight-down, death drop from where I was standing with my inadequate skating accomplishments.  The instructor reminded me that I did, indeed, know how to stop (I had practiced several times), and we were here at the top of Mt Everest so I could practice “leafing,” which was riding down the hill, drifting from side to side like a leaf falling from a tree to the ground.  I rocked falling.  I fell trying to stand up on the board; I fell within a few feet of standing up on the board; I fell midway down the hill; I fell two or three more times before I reached the bottom of the hill; and I fell trying to get in line for the magic carpet to take me back up the hill.  The snow falsely presented its softness and every fall hurt, a lot.  It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, and I couldn’t get enough.  Traveling on the snow, even upright only a few feet at time, I felt unfettered.  Despite being strapped onto the board, I started to feel parts of my heart and mind become resuscitated after years of flatlining.

I took another lesson a week later and the conditions were perfect.  Inches and inches of fresh, soft, ample snow cushioned the slopes, and I started progressing in my skills.  I was hooked.  The feeling of riding down the mountain was enough to keep me coming back fall after fall, ride after ride.  During those first few days, I could barely sit on my backside and I knocked my shoulder away from the comfy home of its socket.  I didn’t care.  Each time I got on the lift, my fear (common sense) would build, and my heart would flap its wings frantically in my chest.  Was I really going to hurl myself down the 12,000 foot mountain?  Seriously?  Yep–over and over.

Snowboarding

The first time I made it down the mountain without falling was a personal triumph–and my butt-bone was pretty happy about it, too.  I don’t know what the triumph was over exactly, maybe loss.   For the last few years going through a divorce and taking inventory of whatever was left, I had lost so much, even the ability to truly feel anything–but snowboarding helped me stir some embers and bring something about me back to life.  And, even though there’s a line at every ski lift that’s clearly marked “Singles only,” I hold my head high, skate right to the front like a silver medalist would, hop on the lift with whatever 12-year old snowboard aficionados are heading up the mountain, and get ready to enjoy my ride.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Girlfriends” #28

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Girlfriends

In middle school, high school, and most of college, my girlfriends were my center.  Everything I did, and everything I knew came from them and returned to them.  But, over time, let’s say college age, I became one of those girls who would describe herself as someone who “got along better with guys than with girls.”   Which really just meant I wanted the boys I thought were cute all to myself, but I used the unoriginal excuse that girls seemed to crave drama and guys were just easy going and liked to hang out, not gossip or start trouble.  As time moved on, the girlfriends I had from my younger days, I kept, but I wasn’t interested in making any new ones–really ever.

295293_3379028404535_633336833_nWhen I got married, some woman, I don’t remember who, told me to find good girlfriends and hold them tight.  And whatever-her-name-was was right.  My husband did not like my male friends, not even my old ones.  It was better for him that we made couple friends, and after a few fights, I agreed it was better for our relationship if we made couple friends.  I thought making friends with a couple would mean my husband would get to hang out with the cool half of the couple and I would get stuck with the wife.  But what I didn’t know was that making couple friends would save me by opening up a whole world I hadn’t really explored in my youth:  the world of girlfriends.

3345_1078543849454_1791839_nDuring the early years of my marriage, I met great girlfriends like Rachel who was married to Josh and Jill who was married to Doug.  Luckily, both my husband and I got along with both halves of the couple, and they got along with us—or at least they continued to invite us over for weekend football games, game nights and holidays.  As time went on, my husband became more comfortable with me hanging out with single girlfriends like Rachael who lived with me when my husband was in Korea (man, did we have some fun times!), Courtney who has a firecracker wit and the smarts to match, my supervisor Eliza who was awesome wrapped in a small package sealed with terrificness, or Jilly who was deemed “safe” because she was dating one of my husband’s friends–luckily for me she was also full of energy and had a caring heart.  I started accumulating so many girlfriends; it became hard to see the forest for the trees.  But my early instincts to keep the cute boys all to myself wasn’t wrong, and eventually the drama came, not in the form of any of my girlfriends, but in the form of one of my husband’s.

22731_1348393108090_433644_nWhen my world began imploding, it was my girlfriends who stood by my side, sometimes holding me up and other times, picking me up off the floor.  It was my girlfriends who talked me through the crazy thoughts and allowed me to sharpen my faith on the stones of their experience, grace and compassion.  I didn’t necessarily seek out girlfriends, but they kept coming into my life through my Bible study class, or through work, or friends from my past who reached out to help me, like my girl Meg in Tennessee who spent countless hours on the phone with me, letting me weep and curse, shout and sit silently.  Women opened their arms to me like my sister-in-law-turned-friend, Jen, who put up with more of my whining and crying at the same time she was pushing me to run farther, run faster and pick up the pieces of my perspective.

167341_1840581296886_750572_nDuring my deployment to Afghanistan, I met Peggy, Melissa and Megan, and I deepened my friendship-turned-sisterhood with Tommi.  All these women let me expel the demons of my thoughts, and, like the best girlfriends should, they cried with me sometimes; they made me laugh sometimes; they told me it wasn’t my fault sometimes; they gave me difficult truths sometimes, and they showed up all the times I needed them.

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I continue to receive the gifts of girlfriends as the shadows are starting to dissolve back to where they came from a little more each year.  I meet wonderful women; some of them are introduced to me by their husbands, and some I have the honor of serving alongside like Shelmon and Deb who have shared their faith and never-say-die-attitudes.  Others are in my life just because sisterhood is a beautiful thing that I didn’t understand or appreciate because I was so blind for so long.

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My family, Melissa and Megan

 There is little more precious a gift than sharing your life with someone else.  Each one of my beautiful girlfriends has shared her heart with me in some way, lifted me up and pushed me forward in others, commiserated with my pain and disappointment and my struggles with motherhood and being an ex-wife.  Now, I’m moving into a phase where there are women in my life who are there because they need girlfriends, too, to show them that the girls don’t bring the drama.  When you get older, girlfriends bring the healing and, hopefully, the wine.

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