Tuesday, 15 August 2017

whisps of vision: whisps of vision: A Seed Planted

whisps of vision: whisps of vision: A Seed Planted: whisps of vision: A Seed Planted :                                                           Chapter One ~ The Seed Planted     It has t...

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Poison Ivy : The Gift That Keeps On Giving

 It has been such a very long time since I have written here, but my reading audience is tight, so to speak. But, today, in this year of 2017, I truly wish to write about my recent episode of a collision with poison ivy. And, if you read further, you will understand.

 Let me begin first by thanking this healthy and protected plant for what it has made me do- to scratch beneath my conscious down to perhaps below my Unconscious. For causing Past, Present and Future to literally bump into each other every day these past two weeks and for giving me the seemingly unending
opportunity to define and explore layers of my life experience and view. Also, to bless my body for its
unflinching but itching presence and support through the tiny red upheavals and blistery, aggressive storms.

 That being duly said and felt, I must also state a couple of things. First, poison ivy is not a BAD plant. Like
most living beings, it does not like to be interfered with and it will protect itself mightily. It wishes to grow
in an environment that is conducive to its nourishment and well-being. And, like humans, its populations
will spread everywhere. Second, speaking of myself, am a person that has been seriously traumatised by
certain life events since infancy and I do suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, no well-delineated memories pin-point to events. It is my responses and faint recollections that speak loudly, clearly and repetitively. They have also kept me very separate and fearful of what many interpret as expected
happenings that life throws at one. I have known this now for over 30 years and it has been extremely painful
and bizarrely fruitful. Hence, I share with you now my run-in with poison ivy.

 One evening, a friend noticed red bumps between the fingers of my right hand. I looked at them and
immediately said that it looked like poison ivy. It took seconds to sink in, then the ripples of fear began
after. By the time I returned home, both bumps and obsession popped out in steady succession. I did
manage to get some sleep, but the horses had already fled the smoking barn. By morning, I was turning
around asking myself what I did to get this . What was I wearing? What had I touched and so forth. My attention became like a skipping stone touching upon millions of thoughts and reactions all at once. My
actions became jagged  making any follow-through on anything  impossible. After breakfast, I rushed with
what recent memory I had and gathered all clothes to wash. I started wiping all surfaces in my flat as well. By
mid-morning, I was exhausted. But my nervous system had put itself on high alert and my awareness
worked as regularly as a surveillance camera.

 I practically ran to the pharmacy and loaded up on calamine lotion, cotton buds, rubbing alcohol-have I
forgotten anything else?! Peace of mind, sanity, grounding....I spread the lotion like jam on my hand and,
as I agonised at each red bump that erupted elsewhere, I submerged it in pink... By afternoon, over-
worried, obsessed and full of desperate prayer, I did get a restless nap in and was incrementally encouraged
by the effect that the lotion was having. In the evening, surfaces were slipping and sliding under Clorox
wipes, 7th Generation house cleaning spray and on went the rubbing alcohol on my laptop, phone, Kindles
and remotes...The extermination of the invader had begun and I remained hyper-active and practically
superstitious in my galloping imagination...My poor heart was trying to keep me on earth and, finally, breathing and fatigue cocooned me to a safe sleep.

 The next morning, I saw that my bumps were getting angrier and swelling into blisters. I seemed to understand that the every day, over the counter remedies were not to going to stop the onslaught. With
a new disregard for how I may perceive of myself and my terror to others, I called the doctor and
thankfully got an appointment that day. While on the phone, I swallowed whole any words of comfort and
shared experience. I calmed down enough to wipe more of my flat which now seemed like a huge dusty,
oil-drenched mansion . A few hours later, I was breathing sighs of relief as my kind doctor puzzled over
the bump composition and the lay of my skinscape. Of course, he prescribed a corticosteroid cream to try
and I remember him gently saying that it may get worse before it gets better...I held on to this possibility
just as a reminder not to panic if volcanoes started going off in a chain, healing reaction. Comforted by
my new weapon, I buttered every bump I could see and then lay on my bed like a crucified zealot. I
must add that my hot flashes did not help at all.

  When I awoke several hours later, I looked at my right hand, which had received the brunt of the plant's
angry response, I saw that it had swollen quite a bit and that more hot skin-bubbles perked up...By now,
I was in childlike tears wondering what to do, why was it me and where do I go...After a shower and
some supper, I managed to calm down enough to walk to my neighbour and ask her somewhat rationally
whether or not I would be safe and what would the best course of action be for the night. Again, her
kindness and words of support were more effective than the cream, it seemed. Defeated and terrified,
I went home, lathered my hands and now my neck with cream and repeated to myself two sentences until
I went to sleep- 1. It may get worse before it gets better. 2. Energy follows thought, so give the itching more
worry would lead to more bumps and blisters. And this seemed to work for this second night.

  As the sun rose the next day, I looked at my hand and saw that the swelling had not gone down and that
there were fluid-filled blisters...I felt shot down again and beleaguered . After lumpily swallowing breakfast,
I said to myself, " No, I will not leave this. I can't take it and what if it's a stronger allergic reaction? The only
place I'll get both answers and comfort is the local hospital's emergency room . And tough if people interpret
my actions to be too much too soon. I need support." So, almost on auto-pilot, I drove to the hospital
first thing and was very quickly seen. Everything seemed to point back at the plant and it would be best
to allow my body to take its course to healing... I am always comforted by that for obvious reasons, but
also it points to my body's wisdom and sense of timing rather than overkill remedies. The rest of the day
was calmer and so were my hands...

  Sunday, I felt so rationally that I thought that I would move about, get fresh air and much needed and wanted exercise. It was both hot and humid, so not very helpful . But I did feel better. Now, when I got
back and took a shower, I was aghast to find tiny bumps on my right thigh!! Before my thoughts ran
above my head out of all control, I convinced myself that this was more likely to be prickly heat. This
interpretation helped me to accept a new red footpath along my hip. I wiped my hip with rubbing alcohol first. Then applied some more lump-block cream. As the following days flooded into each other on its rafts
of new emotional fits and stops, I reached Thursday with great anticipation...Therapy and a visit to my doctor...again...Very friendly and always forward-looking, my primary care physician cradled my hot and angry fingers and even spied more spots! Even though he was wary of such a reaction, he held onto a logical
middle ground..." I still feel that it's contact dermatitis. If it does not clear up within a week or two, I will look
into further care. So, let's try Clobetasone which I have re-named " Clobber-them zones ". The strongest of
steroid creams will protect me from further invasion, I thought. And it did until I spied new bumps on my bubble-wrap like fingers. Heaving to sleep in anxiety for the night, I waited until very early next morning and
simply downed my first dose of prednisone.  I had swallowed the chemical bullet...finally and in desperation.
I was being called upon to heal from both the inside and the outside which I allowed myself to realise in a
calmer, logical frame of mind. Within 3 days, blisters flattened and dispersed and other rashes grudgingly
clung stubbornly to my face and neck while slowing giving up their itch.

  Since the week-end, I have resumed some semblance of courage. I did more walking and circulating. I even started to socialise again. Laundering still continues and I look at my shoes suspiciously  knowing
that the offending oil lies hidden in their many cracks . I will see to them for sure. There are still faint rashes.
This plant has had the same stubbornness as I am known to possess. I most humbly bow to its true power,
but also to this extraordinary lesson that has itched its way through many dark layers. Poison ivy, I will
always look at you with profound gratitude, but also at a very respectful distance.

Collage by Julia Still, 2017
Inspired by Caravaggio and sprigs of poison ivy.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

whisps of vision: A Seed Planted

whisps of vision: A Seed Planted:                                                           Chapter One ~ The Seed Planted     It has taken so many years of unresolve...

A Seed Planted

                                                        Chapter One ~ The Seed Planted

    It has taken so many years of unresolved emotions, conflicts, behaviours and decisions to finally reach this moment of willingness to express what I have pressed/suppressed into every cell of my body. My jaw has been locked between layers of experience and feeling with my heart left in permanent and safe seclusion. And I am tired, very tired. I feel stuck in an amniotic sac that keeps me bound up, inactive...Still feeding myself out of instinct and growing ever larger each day running out of room. What to do with a healthy baby unable to be born?

    In reality and history, I was born just outside of Paris in the suburb of Boulogne Billancourt.
On every birthday, my mother used to become nostalgic and remember the gentle Spring sighing " when you were born, the forsythia of the Bois de Boulogne was in bloom". I was also born in an extremely posh clinic reserved for aristocracy, diplomats, celebrities and so on. And, historically, it was a royal hunting lodge. It has since been amalgamated into the French healthcare system, I believe. It was known as the Clinique du Belvedere and I came into the world in this location of choice and privilege. From what I gather, my birth was quite traumatic for both mother and child. Firstly, my mother ruptured her coccyx . I never found out if I was in a hurry, too big or simply clumsy, but there she was bleeding on the birthing table with me screaming my head off with no nurses coming to our mutual aid. Mother was justly traumatised by this and only the cellular history of my body knows the truth of this dramatic and cold arrival.

    Things improved enormously soon after. At the time, women who became new mothers were given a full two weeks to rest, regain strength, bond steadily with their babies and be roundly pampered. At least at this clinic. Family could visit. But this was a mother's time. And in appropriate French tradition, meals were delicious and served with wine. Wetting the baby's head. A few weeks after leaving Belvedere, Mother contracted German measles and, for my safety, I and my two older siblings were sent to a chicken farm somewhere in France. I believe it was an au pair's family and we remained there for a couple of weeks. According to Mother, among farm activities was the regular slaughter of chickens which fascinated my older sister. As a wry and unkind side note, this may have given her ideas as to how to treat her younger and unwanted siblings. I did physically survive this separation but cannot imagine its effects with the passage of time. I know that Mother was devastated to be separated from her new born child.

    I have little memory of the next two years-as expected. I believe that my parents lived in the 16e arrondissement and life had become chaotic and unhappy for both. Their 10 year marriage was coming to an uncomfortable and unfriendly end and, in 1959, my mother travelled back to the United States with the three of us in tow. Now, the US was known to all the others and English was familiar. To me, most of it was a blur and I must have registered the language, but never kept any memory of it wafting about my grandparents house or elsewhere. By then, I had become a very French child trying to keep my head above transatlantic waters.

   We stayed at Darrow School of which my grandfather was headmaster and my grandmother a resident dominatrix. It was beautiful there-the open country, the quiet and the routine. The one visual memory that I recall is sitting in the
dining room at a fairly long table with my grandparents at its head. And that is all. The rest was told to me by Mother years after. My father travelled and worked as a Canadian diplomat and his feelings about the States were respectful but not embracing. Consequently, he was determined that his three children obtain Canadian citizenship and, unfortunately, got so angry at my mother that he threatened her with kidnapping us and crossing the border. No protections were really in place where international marriages were concerned. So, after a series of secluded months and a bodyguard at our side, Mother took us all on a train ride from White Plains, N.Y. to Reno, Nevada. I believe that we stayed at a ranch which hosted people getting divorces as Reno was a separation city par excellence. By all accounts, Mother divorced my father then walked across the street and married that afternoon a long-time friend of the family when we were in Paris. As a matter of fact, my new step-father was present right after I was born. In a couple of weeks, we were headed back to France on the Queen Elizabeth. The only souvenir that I carried with me from the West of " The Misfits " fame was a left ear almost torn off by an ill-treated horse who did not like children. I wandered into its corral and soon was pursued into a dusty corner of its stall. I fell backwards and the only image is that of a great black hoof coming down on the left side of my face. So, I was taped up as I stepped onto the great ship that was to whisk me back to safety and to a life that was familiar and far less hostile. It was 1960 and I was just 3 years old burdened already by stacks of heavy emotion and very dramatic experiences.

Friday, 21 October 2016

whisps of vision: Preface To A Tale of Two Children

whisps of vision: Preface To A Tale of Two Children:      As I am about to embark on recollections accumulated since childhood, I wish to acknowledge      several things. The first bein...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Sell By Date of My Endurance and My Conclusion

The Sell-By Date of My Endurance

posted August 22, 2015

It is a hard for me to know precisely how I will conclude this opus, but please stay with me. On the 18th of January, 2004 my mother's life abruptly ended on an icy mountain road on a particularly snowy and cold Sunday. She always hated Sundays and the coldest leg of winter's sojourn. As for me, it is still difficult to articulate the grand canyons of sorrow that formed so quickly in my heart. If you have read what I have written thus far, you will register the depths of loss experienced and understand why. My brother was also thrown into such stormy seas and we navigated the swirling waters right through Mother's funeral, the settling of her estate and letting go of our last hold on our history and Vermont soil. Of course, my sister was devastated, but this was very different. Because of old angers still raging against my step-father and his family, she decided not to attend Mother's funeral. Once again, my brother and I were relieved by her absence and we also found it easier to deal with the practical side of Mother's affairs. She did behave in a very dignified manner when the three of us had to choose what items we wished to keep and what needed to be sold and to whom. My mother's friend remained selfish and soon disappeared with a car Mother had purchased earlier, two paintings and a few other objects. Because Mother knew that he was still a serious alcoholic, she left him very little money . She was well aware of how it would be spent. My brother and I worked extremely well together and we were sensitive to each other's experience. We also knew how carefully we needed to handle our older sister.

In the Spring, after all was done, I simply had to return to England. To do what? Grieve, grieve grieve...I did this for over 3 1/2 years and spoke to my siblings fairly regularly throughout. In 2007, I had reached a place where I believed that it was time to re-connect with my brother and sister in person and to determine whether or not we three could somehow remain a family. I returned to New England shortly before my 50th birthday. I did not wish to stay in southern Vermont, so I chose Northampton where my brother lived and worked. I booked into a hotel and , though meetings with him were amicable and meaningful, I was never invited to visit his new home only 15 minutes away. I remained in the hotel for over a month until I found a flat nearby. Once settled, I saw very little of my brother and still hadn't seen my sister. For the following 4 months, I dealt with retrieving my belongings from storage and sorting them out at another unit just on the outskirts of Northampton. In July, after several appointments with doctors for check ups , it was discovered that I had a very large brain tumour. In a daze, I contacted my siblings, family members and my godmother. To go through such a massively complex and troubling event such as brain surgery without the warmth, love and support of my parents added to my fear, grief and feeling exceedingly vulnerable. I did receive tremendous support from everyone throughout the summer. I had a 12 hour surgery with 2 blood transfusions which my brother and a close friend sat through to the end. I will never forget such kindness and care. I remained in hospital for over 2 weeks with my brother and cousin visiting me regularly. My sister did wish to come, but she always required so much energy and attention and I simply didn't have the strength. I also lost all hearing in my right ear, developed some visual impairment and chronic vertigo, so I needed intensive rehabilitation. Walking, talking, eating-almost everything. Some actions I re-learned quickly, others demanded my constant attention and patience. For my first weeks out of hospital, my dear cousin, who was also a professional nurse, had me stay with her and her very warm and generous family. My brother, exhausted from worry and such efforts on my behalf, drove me to their house in Connecticut and, after a brief visit, returned to his work and life.

During my convalescence, my sister did call fairly regularly and I spoke to her a couple of times. However, I always felt more fatigued and depleted energetically due to the obsessive nature of her phone calls. Plus, in hindsight, I believe that she had tremendous difficulty NOT being the centre of everyone's attention. My brave cousins fielded many calls for me and often they too felt drained afterwards. Furthermore, she held on to certain notions about being able to buy back our old home that were painfully unrealistic and that were at such odds with my reality of the moment. And once my sister had an idea in her head, she would never ever let it go. I began to feel that she would pull away all my resources for recovery and rehabilitation thus becoming a subtle danger to my weakened health and somewhat vulnerable mental state. Those with whom I shared this concern were in agreement. So it was that when I finally returned to my flat in Northampton, I enveloped myself with my self-care working with three different rehab workers, taking much needed rest and solitude and keeping up with very necessary exercises twice, three times daily. After my cousin left me, I really didn't have any visits from my brother and I did not have the stamina that a visit from my sister would demand. Consequently, most communication was by phone. And it was at this time that I experienced the unexpected and the deeply unpleasant....

For reasons of her own, my sister maintained contact with mother's live-in. Whilst in England and at the outset in the US, I told her that I wished to have no contact with this man whatsoever and please to never share my phone number with him. To me, he was toxic and I felt nothing for him but coal heaps of black rage. At the end of September, just two months after brain surgery, I began to receive multiple phone calls from him. The first call he was almost unintelligible and I felt as if I could smell alcoholic fumes snaking through the phone wires. I was polite but short and, after hanging up, I went to lie down for more needed rest. That afternoon, he called over and over and eventually I simply unplugged the phone simmering in alchemical heat! Not only at this insensitive, uncaring man, but also at my sister's total disregard for my wishes and obvious physical needs. Again. With each successive phone ring, I repeated to myself that this was the end of any further contact with my sister. I had had enough.

She introduced such pain and confusion in my 50 year life that I decided that I had to cut all ties with her or, like Mother, be the wild black horse slammed to the dirt with no hope or strength. It was going to be her or me.

So, I did. Within 24 hours, I had disconnected my phone and signed up with a new number. I tried to inform as many kind souls as quickly as I could and this when I hadn't totally recovered my speech ablities. Symbolically enough, matters with my siblings came to a head on the weekend of my sister's birthday. It was a beautiful autumn morning and I had wrapped up my exercises. After breakfast, I resumed contacting people and leaving messages at doctor's offices with my updated phone number. Around 10h30/11, I heard a knock downstairs and, after opening the door, my brother charged in, very agitated. When I finally got upstairs, he began to speak to me in a very loud voice. He said that he was trying to have a peaceful morning, but that it had been disrupted by a relative who said that they had tried to reach me but the phone was disconnected. And that they wished to know how I was progressing. My brother said that he was overwhelmed with rage and by now, he was almost yelling. Furthermore, he did not let me utter a word in my defense. When I could, I showed him how far down I had gotten on my contact list, but he was on a very emotional role. No longer having quick speech reflexes, I just sat down and let him go at it. The endpoint for me was when he began to insult both myself and Mother. “You feel you're entitled just like Mother felt that she was entitled” and the rest just fell on my poor deaf right ear. I was shaking by now with fury mixed with sadness. But I stayed relatively quiet. We both calmed down long enough to have a sandwich together. I walked him down the stairs and , when he climbed into his car, I closed my porch door and locked it....So, within one week, my relationships with my siblings ended.

I never heard from my brother down the road again. I went through rehab totally on my own, got my groceries on my own and slowly started to shed the family skin on the very icy and cold rocks of what had become too familiar-grief. And my sister? I did receive one of her famous poison pen letters that many knew too well. I had received one years ago because I hadn't given her some photos she wanted when she wanted. She stripped me of the family name and cast me out with venom, fire and brimstone. Her last letter arrived shortly before Thanksgiving. I opened it and read the first line. “ So, you've had brain surgery. Get over it.” I didn't bother going through the rest of her curses, rejections, recriminations and veiled threats. I tore it up and began tearing her black presence out from my life. My godmother, though I never saw her, was a lifesaver and a heart-warmer over the phone. I would say that she got me through that winter, through all my doubts, tears and sheer disbelief. There was an aftershock from all this that lasted well into the following summer. Other family members couldn't truly comprehend what had transpired between the three of us and perhaps still don't. Once strong and able enough, I decided to leave for England again and I asked all those that I had remained in contact with to not disclose my whereabouts to siblings who had consciously and unconsciously contributed to the cutting of any family ties remaining. I had managed to get up from the dirt and jump the bars of the enclosed corral.

This time, I spent over 5 1/2 years in south-west England and, although I had made such profound changes in my life and within myself, there were still hidden ruts and worn grooves that I found myself still trapped in. I remained mostly isolated and crushed under my iron-clad routine. My honest efforts to invite variety continued to fall into repetition with a thick and heavy thud. This is not to say that wonderful things did not happen at all. They did and terrific people found their way into my life. But my cloak of invisibility would not be cast off and unseen I remained to the world and to myself. Like an old porter at a train station or airport, I continued to move suitcase upon suitcase from one point of departure to the next. But, unlike this porter, the bags dutifully clung to me and weighed me down to familiarity, uncomfortable discipline and walled-in isolation. And I truly did not find a way out of my old self. My artwork played a pivotal role in helping me to see me and in visually expressing so many of the events/feelings that I have described to you. I believe that I persisted in avoiding the word for several reasons. One, the deep rift between my French self and my American-speaking emigre. Second, English had become the language of separation, divorce, hostility and violence. Thirdly, frequently I felt that words were used to undermine me somehow. If I was to hang onto any source of strength, it was going to be through my eyes and my vision. This may be elaborated at some time in the near future.

Last September, I returned to the Berkshires because “it seemed like a good idea”. That autumn, I compiled all my artwork into 6 books in order to bring some order to what I had created over 10 years and possibly to make myself visible to myself through the incredible workings of an imagination that has been a gift and a refuge throughout my life. In Spring, 2015, I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer and treatment continues as I click these keys. There continues to be no contact with my sister or brother and I trust that my recovery has been made all the richer and more certain by their absence.


posted September 6, 2015

I stand in a grey-cold forest with a blanket outstretched before me. It is largely red and quite worn. Piled on top of it is the rubble of memories and words that I have shared with you over these past six weeks. Some are exquisite, others are broken and dusty. Will I take any with me as I move forward ? Or will I tie the blanket like a laundry sack by its ends, place it on a bed of rosemary, heather and sticks and , with reverence tinged with a little ambivalence, set it ablaze ? The fumes and ashes to be swirled up into the light of transformation ? I do see this ritual taking place somewhere in Vermont perhaps near an old crossroads in a wood. I feel deeply strange about this act of release of what has become such a vast and embedded framework of my life, my experience. What will become of the me that managed to exist through such a barrage of events over 58 years ? What will become of my anger that refused to allow me to accept how things were and carried me to this point today? Thanks to the strength and depth of my outrage, I was navigated to the path of self-investigation, healing and profound awareness. How will my body feel after such a long history of bracing, clenching, carrying, trembling in night terrors and aggressive walking? How will it feel to no longer shoulder the weight of bags brimming with a formerly unshared history? What will I do with myself with no seismic reactions to drive me? How will my very cells regenerate themselves now that they have been cleansed of the black particles lodged in by deep-seated sibling jealousy, anger and violence? With infinite gratitude to my body's strength and wisdom, I have succeeded in living long enough to experience this completely new country-my real self.

Yes, this is the end to this particular story. However, there is still an epilogue of work to be done which I truly never had grasped until recently. A couple of weeks in fact. Through these many years, multiple phases and high and low experiences, an unconscious and potentially disruptive phenomenon has formed which I must use all my skill, compassion and understanding to face and to transform. And I must admit it openly. My lines of defence, my rows of seasoned warriors with their astonishing array of weapons and strategies are facing inward and frequently misfiring. Their unspoken target-perceived threat to their order and their learned understanding of my life up to now. I have been my own saboteur for more years than I realise and in so many ways. I don't blame myself, really nor do I blame my sister though flames of anger lick her face every now and then. I do not blame my parents either caught in the unexpected labyrinth of a severely disturbed child. In truth, I am quite amazed at how I have become the architect of a stone box to which I have thrown away key, chisel and hammer! How will I find a way out? That particular thread will need to be of my own creation, focus, willpower and love of myself and the many warriors surrounding my heart.

As for my siblings, there has been no communication for eight years. Will I pursue contact? Probably not. It is as a friend stated regarding her relationship with her siblings, “they bring no joy to my life”. I must admit that my brother often did and that is why his absence is felt every now and then. My sister did have her funny and highly creative moments, but they were so very rare. I wish them no harm. And that is all. As for me, I see cracks of light in this steel-clad eggshell and feel the light breezes of change filtering through. Thanks be.

# # #

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Ten Years of Farewell

                                              Ten Years of Farewell

    The following years billowed with the winds of change for my family. While living and working in London, my parents made the hardest decision of their rural life- to sell their farm which my step-father had purchased in 1969. Though this was equally painful for both, my step-father did not recover from the loss of his favourite horses, the woods he had lovingly cleared, the house which he decorated with his past. Shortly after their move back to the house we had originally moved to, he contracted ALS. My mother basically took over the running of things and quietly celebrated her return to the mountain top. This house was much smaller, more manageable and had a very special place in her heart.

    It was during this time that both she and my step-father thought that it would be nice for her to visit me in London. My step-father, though coping with the beginnings of ALS, felt that he could manage and my mother made sure that he was surrounded by helpers and friends at all times.  We did have a tremendous time in January, 1998, but by the autumn, my step-father's condition was both critical and without hope. Mother suggested I return home in late September and the three of us had two weeks together. My step-father died on the 9th of October, 1998, thus unleashing deep grief within myself and the seismic shifting of my familial underpinnings. Because of her personal issues and ever-present angers with my step-father and his family, my sister did not wish to attend his funeral. Of course, this made the event so much easier for all of us. From what I remember, she remained fairly quiet and was of precious little support to my mother. Mom was both lost and exhausted. She was also afraid of being left on her own. After a couple of weeks of private grieving and spinning in overwhelm, she picked up and travelled to Georgia to stay with a childhood friend. Numb and deeply confused, I returned to England where my life began to unravel in salient ways. I stayed in close touch with my mother throughout. I gathered that my siblings offered her precious little support and consideration in these intervening months. My sister was nursing herself and my brother, because he hadn't been included in my step-father's will and feeling such hurt and resentment from this, rarely corresponded with my mother. I felt somewhat hurt as well, but I understood. I would have loved a book, a small treasure-nothing big or financial. But my step-father had already invested so much time, energy and financial support throughout our lives that nothing more could have been expected. Added to this was the continual draining of his resources to pay for my sister's professional care from the day my parents got married. Of course, I am unable to speak for any of these souls because my step-father's passing brought up such complicated histories and exceedingly painful dynamics. From my point of view, being more forgiving was likely made easier by the fact that I was particularly cherished by my step-father. I was the daughter that he never had, we shared France and much more. He was also present when I was born in Boulogne. My brother and sister had more years and previous experience of living with my father which could not have been easy at all. What I witnessed after my step-father's death was a familiar chaos with nothing to heal each person's wounding .

  What also added salt to our wounds was the presence of Mother's childhood friend- a man whom she had gone out with in her private school days. And it was to this uncomfortable environment that I returned. My brother was slowly re-establishing contact ; my sister concentrating on her life and needs from my mother and myself at very loose and frayed ends. My mother was at a loss with the slow and unpredictable nature of dealing with my step-father's estate let alone her deep-seated sadness and conflict which arose out of her wish to start a less burdened life. I wished to support her as much as I could but her choices sometimes seemed unfathomable to me. Not only did my sister remain unhelpful in the background, but Mother's choice of companion seemed to make matters only more unstable and painful. Of course, there were happy moments between them that I most likely never knew about and this man offered my mother a presence, a point of focus outside herself that she desperately sought. But this friend was a total opposite of my step-father and, worse, resembled my sister in his behaviours, habits and demands on my mother's time and energy. He was a tough-talking eccentric with plenty of life education and experience but with none of the subtlety and intelligence of my step-father. He was also a serious alcoholic and his condition absorbed my mother's attention and concern. He had to have her attention at all times and, if he didn't get it, he would disappear and go on a binge. Very frequently, he verbally abused my mother and treated her badly. Does this sound familiar to you? The echo of experience was so loud for me and I almost despaired. I didn't understand what is was within my mother that caused her to live this way, why she chose a man who simply wound chains around her, why she continued to help my self-centred sister to the exclusion of her own health and happiness....I frequently had the image of my mother being that of a strong black horse being brought down with ropes into the sand of a corral and never being allowed to stand. And there she was to remain.

   In November, 1999, a routine mammogram caught a growth in my right breast and it was decided that I have a surgical biopsy at the local hospital. It was to be a day-long procedure and Mother and I tried to alleviate our mutual anxiety by taking long walks on narrow dirt roads or sitting by our small pond staring at the mountains. My mother's friend would either disappear to the guest cottage to sit and drink or numb himself in front of a loud, disruptive television. The peace of the environment that Mother and I had so become accustomed to was broken and the sensation of change sank ever deeper and heavier in our hearts though my mother insisted on being this man's carer and companion. The night before my biopsy, Mother's friend disappeared with our dog. Once again, my mother was caught between the unhealthy needs and behaviour of a loved one and the attention she wished to give to other family members. Around 8h30 pm, the phone rang and it was the local police. Mother's friend had been arrested after totalling his car in a drunken stupor. Within an hour, a local officer accompanied this man to our door stating that he would have to make an appearance at the police station on the day of my biopsy. Well, my body cells were drowned in floods of emotions, new and very old. This episode was also very reminiscent of an event with my sister when I was 8 or 9. My grandmother was visiting the family during the summer holidays. One night, my parents needed to attend a college event and asked if she could be with us. I don't remember what distracted her attention, but it wasn't for long. My sister had raided the liquor cabinet and disappeared to the guest cottage blitzed to the extreme. Not wishing to leave my brother and myself alone, my grandmother took us along the path to the guest house and we found my sister sprawled on the ground almost unconscious. What happened next remains a blur, but the emotions were indelible. The past was imposing itself upon my present in the heaviest manner possible.

   I got through the biopsy fine in the company of my overwhelmed mother and a very contrite man. While I waited for the results of this surgery, I moved to my step-father's library. An invisible, murky bubble had been formed around my mother and her friend and I didn't want to be a part of it...It was unreal, unhealthy to such a destructive degree...I always welcomed my mother whenever she stepped out of it , but she seemed hypnotically drawn back into it after brief spells. With my step-father's nephew, we did wrap up the remaining details of a huge and unwieldy estate and I prepared for another escape, this time to the south of France. Suffice it to say that , after 6 weeks, I boomeranged back to New England after a lower back injury and flu. I did not want to return to our home and stayed at a motel for a week, then for a month with my amazing godmother. Being my parent's closest friend, she was well aware of the in's and out's of my family and she too was experiencing a painful re-adjustment caused by the heavy and drunken presence of my mother's companion. Having spent her youth with an alcoholic father and dealt with the long-lasting effects of her upbringing, she had difficulty with the toxic atmosphere and my mother's trance-like isolation with him. Their close relationship was shifting....not ending, but certainly redefining itself. I met several times with my mother and I sought to become independent for both of us. Carrying the colossal weights of my sister and her friend, I felt the pressure and wish to lighten her load somehow...At the end of this soul-searching month, my brother sweetly drove me back to the Berkshires to pick up the healing I had begun almost 10 years before.

   From 2000 to 2003, my efforts to stand on my own were determined yet clumsy. Within the recesses of my psyche were still anvil-like bundles of resistance, anger, fear and guilt that impeded my forays into adulthood. Plus, I was about to make yet another change to my career-that of artist. I had taught language for over 10 years, worked as an arts and culture administrator for two and had launched myself into acting for the past 6 years...My bow was vastly outnumbered by strings! My life energy was changing and I did perceive light through my own cracks. Mother also started composing poetry again and joined a creative writing class. This class gave her new life and such pleasure. We frequently joined up in Lenox because she needed to get away so very badly. Her companion and my older sister often made life so unpleasant and they rarely lifted a finger let alone hatch a kind thought to help her. During this time, Mother was experiencing heart-related problems-who wouldn't have? She was diagnosed with a flu-like condition to her heart and she had to treat herself well and thoughtfully for quite awhile. I remember that, during a Christmas gathering, it was my brother and myself who worked to help my mother while my sister and Mother's live-in  simply sat and talked to each other encircled by the smoke of cigarettes. This almost pathological selfishness was a depth-charge to my heart and I shall never forget nor forgive the two monoliths in our family room for this.

  In the autumn of 2003, Mother had to make another monumental decision which saddened her to her very core. To move out of her beloved house on the mountain. I won't delve into the reasons for this, but move she did into another house that she decorated with her history.A couple of days before her move, she did call me and asked if I could come up to Vermont to help. I said yes right away, but when I got off the phone, I felt the onslaught of ambivalent and tired emotions course through me. I called a good friend to ask for her support of me and to accompany me on this very pregnant mission. She said yes without hesitation and I relayed this to Mother. The idea of additional people wore her down and she suggested that I stay where I was
and that she make the move with friends/helpers-of course, not with her companion's assistance nor with my sister's understanding and volunteering to lend a hand. I felt very, very badly about this, but I truly needed some support as well if I was going to contribute to dismantling our history. I still feel ambivalently about this to this day.

  And then in January, 2004, my farewell to all I had known truly began.