( I listened to a webinar last night about how to write a best selling book. The commentater, Jerry Jenkins of the Left Behing series, warned against start with the back story. That's when I realized I always start with the back story. There you have it, why I'll probably never write a best seller.)
A woman I was good friends with back in the the 80's passed away on Monday. I'd only recently re-connected with her. For twenty years we lived in the same city but never crossed paths. I saw something about her on FB and sent her a message. In "before I broke my ankle days" we met for lunch and to get reacquainted. We spent close to three hours talking about our lives, our kids, our grandkids, our illnesses. There were so many blanks to fill in.
We also retraced our steps to those days when we were Navy wives whose husbands were deployed for months at a time. That was before the Internet, email, cell phones, and social media. The only contact we had with our seafaring husbands was snail mail, Red Cross Emergency telegrams, and the infrequent, usually drunken, calls from an exotic port. I don't know what it's like now for Navy wives. Back then we became sisters. Not too many wives worked. We were stay at home moms. We shopped at the Navy Exchange and Commissary. We had long phone conversations. We hung out together on Friday nights playing bridge, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine. We laughed. We cried. We held each other up when our kids were sick, the toilet backed up or the ice maker broke. If, God forbid, there was an emergency the circle grew even tighter.
Donna and I shared cloudy memories of which time had erased the fine details. Like the time Donna got stuck in the doggy door. She had locked herself out of the house. At the time crawling through the opening meant for her Schnawzers, must have seemed like a good idea. For the life of me, I have no idea how she got unstuck.
We also shared more honest versions of those times. Close as we were, we didn't always let others into our private worlds. That was one of my darkest times. My then husband and I had been married for 12 years. He was on his way up. I was on my way down. I'd suffered from depression for years. I'd been in therapy to many times to count. This time when the darkness descended I had trouble believing there was a light, let alone catch a glimpse of it.
When I think on those years when my world fell to pieces I wonder how I made it through. As Sue Bender said, "Miracles happen after a lot of hard work." I did work hard. I also made some big mistakes, said things I regret, lost the respect of my husband, along with my marriage. But here's the thing, not many people knew I was so depressed. How was it that I was able to keep my pain hidden?
There were times I wished for a multiple personality diagnosis so I had someone else to blame - the Mary people saw and the "Real" Mary.
On the outside I functioned. I drove car pool, had parties, socialized, made love, cooked meals, took my kids to the dentist, sewed quilts, decorated for Christmas, baked pies from scratch, and joined a bowling league. It's when I was alone that I didn't function so well. I cried all the time. I slept too much. I drank too much.(Jose Cuervo you are a friend of mine). I smoked too much. I exercised and ate so little I dropped to 115 pounds. I lied to the world and I lied to myself. I rebelled against the "establishment" like a teenager. I said the "F" word a lot. I cheated my family out of the wife and mother I had promised to be. I thought I wanted to die.
Mostly I wanted to end the pain. The pain of self-loathing. The pain of not being smart, pretty, or good enough. The pain of being so needy. When I looked in the mirror I could see the outside Mary put her make up on, dress in fancy clothes and high heels. But I knew what others didn't know. That person was a fake.
Fast forward a bunch of years. I'm still inclined to be a bit of a depressive. Sadness can creep up on me, but I no longer try to hide it. I cry easily but no longer apologize for the tears. I also laugh. I believe in the me who cared for her parents and held their hands when they passed over. I'm proud of the writer and bear maker and Grammy and friend I've become. Am I still my biggest critic? Sure. Am I still scared to try new things or go new places? Sure. Am I okay? You betcha.
As I have spent time remembering old times with Donna, I discovered that those times were NOT all black. I can see now that there was light all the time. The light was there in friendships that lasted over the years; in the happy dance Wendy did when she scored the winning field hockey goal; at Sunnyland Farms when John rode Nutmeg around in circles; at my sister's house for holidays surrounded by family; in the John Denver songs I played over and over again; in the relationship with my then husband that may not have survived marriage but continues to this day; in the big white cat and stinky black dog; in the things I learned about myself and the people who helped me grow.
Today I am filled with gratitude for the life and friendship of Donna Stoddard. May she rest in peace. I'm grateful for hindsight that lets me see now what I couldn't see then.
I promise even if you can't see it, there is always light,