These are the the kind of things that will ignite my soul–if you care about these types of things.

My mom’s favorite attribute of me is my loyalty. She says it’s unwavering, fierce, and swallows one hole. She outlines differences between my brothers and I by telling of a situation where I walk into the room and search until I find her first before addressing anyone else. My brothers tend to go through everyone else until they finally make it to her, last. I like this story a lot, but I suspect I like it because of the deep desire to be so important to someone else that they see me first; building blocks of how to love.

This theme follows me into many story lines of love, and the literal manifestation of it almost always fails to capture the essence of which my mom speaks. I’ve watched as one I’ve made my world walks into a room full of others and charms the crowd casually keeping an eye out for me. All the while I was at the entrance watching my beloved like a ghost. If I were truly a ghost like the ones from the past that tightly grab on to haunt because any life is better than not living, well then I would have been seen–definitely. But, I am not a ghost and I’m not a crowd. I’m just another person looking to be recognized above all else.

There were times upon falling in love that I avoided rooms all together because this ultimate test in compatibility proved I couldn’t be loved that much. As I get older, I realize it’s not that I am unlovable but rather I have walked into the wrong room–someone else’s.

Thank You Nuclear Families, Tummy Tucks, and a Thanksgiving without newspaper smudges.

It’s fascinating how our Thanks You’s transform over time.

In childhood I was mostly thankful for having more than my brother to play with as we gathered at Granny Erwin’s house.  Back in those days–the days of large family gatherings–we’d bring picnic tables into the living room so that we could all partake in the merriment of family.  The protruding bellies of my uncles, gossiping-voices of my aunts, and little cousin tattle-telling threats; this was Thanksgiving as I knew it.  Once Aunt Debbie–our beautician–cleaned her scissors and shears from the last haircut of the day, Thanksgiving had come to its end.  I was thankful for the following:  Dear Santa Letters we read from the local newspaper in hopes of seeing ours published, the end of Uncle Thed and Puff’s tickling torture, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, The Macy’s Day Parade, Aunt Glenda’s delightful full-bellied laugh, an Aunt LuLu and Uncle Darry Lee sighting, being in a family that danced, Crystal telling me about boys, Joe and Red shooting slingshots and my finding the best rock to shoot at the barn versus listening to Crystal’s boy-crazed stories, Bubba and Donnie sneaking into the tool shed, and my nuclear family.

High school was tricky as family units began to separate and splinter off into several small siloed Thanksgiving gatherings.  There wasn’t a headquarters any more, but rather several remote ones in which transformed the holiday into a chore.  There were new faces without the history or tradition in which defined family to me.  Bubba and I spent time with new families, outsiders looking in from the window, missing what Thanksgiving used to be.  Maybe we would get to see the characters of our family if our visit corresponded with their schedule, otherwise we would try to see them on Christmas.  I was thankful for the following: no more bickering, having a buddy like my brother to experience days like these with, our new baby brother Blake, my birthday so I could choose my own guest list, and the silence and alienation that allowed me to cherish memories and learn how to be alone.

College, I went where I wanted and I always went back home.  I was searching for myself, but mostly I was hoping to find the characters of my family again.  People had moved on; cousins married, loved ones died, slingshots were passé, picnic tables remained outside, gossiping sounded more faint, we were less enthused with newspapers and Santa, everyone was doing Weight Watchers, and Aunt Debbie forgot her scissors and sheers.  I was thankful for the following: being home, newspaper smudges on my fingers, eating despite being broke, playing with my cousin’s children, being too old for tickle torture, that CD that turned into family dancing, divorce allowing happiness, for not having to eat smaller portions, not having to tell Aunt Debbie I needed a more complex type of haircut, not being married, and the remembrance of those we lost along the way.

Today, I have to decide between Thanksgiving or Christmas, the latter always wins going home.  My family has extended into its own social network and text messaging allows me to tell all these characters how thankful I am they are in my life or have passed through it.  Newspapers are electronic as to prevent smudging, gossiping is viral, tummy tucks replaced dieting, Aunt Debbie is retired so no haircuts rendered, my cousins have divorced and remarried, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton have had so much plastic surgery their faces don’t move, I’m not sure slingshots are even sold any more but Crystal is still boy crazy, new faces are no longer intimidating, and I’m okay with Thanksgiving this way.  I’ll dance on Christmas, but the Macy’s Day Parade is on in all our homes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stoic Approach To Broken

“And then I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can’t ever be fixed, and this is something nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older as you see the people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it’s already happened. “–Douglas Coupland

Everyone has a pivotal moment, a retrospective stand-still, in which growing becomes hard; innocence lost.  It’s like being punched for the first time, doubled-over in perplexing pain, trying to catch your breath.  After that–the first time–it becomes easier to take a beating.  Maybe you self-protect or maybe you’re scared or maybe you’re stronger, but you’re never where you were before.  Moments of truth awaken reflexes within you that were either conditioned or innate, but either way the reaction defines you.

Everyone also has an ostensibly innocuous moment, a seemingly irrelevant event, in which a choice or decision is entered into the dynamic mindstream of another; karma.   Sending and banishing another into Samsara–cyclic suffering–until noble virtue, noble concentration, noble discernment, and noble release is understood.  Sounds like a disproportionate amount of spirit work for one versus the other, right?  Not really, it’s all in the give and take.

One midday Saturday in the early 80’s, I watched out the screen door as a trio of teenagers walked down our mostly desolate road in Divide Community.  No rock was left unturned by my family in our Podunk community and it was the first and perhaps only time strangers afoot passed through.  The details between my curiosity as a screen lurker and why those orphans or hippies or serial killers were devouring the Hamburger Helper at our dinner table may have been misplaced.  Nevertheless, the youngest of the ambiguous sibling tribe became a squatter in our hamlet.  Squatters get all the benefits of home without the responsibility, and by their very nature live in survival mode so everything is a threat.  He was the first broken person I knew, and a catalyst for the demise of  my family unit.

Several months after my parent’s divorce, we were in the grocery store when a familiar but faceless lady mentioned seeing my father buying beer.  This information would have been a fairly normal adult activity, however my father spent my whole life up to that point judging and preaching about the sins of the sinner.

“You must have meant my Uncle Donnie,” I interjected.  “People think they’re twins, but they aren’t. MY dad doesn’t drink.  Drinking beer is a sin.”

Ironically, I will never forget her expression.  She quickly withdrew her tongue from idle talk and looked down.

“Oh.”  She glanced at my mom and then back to me.  “Maybe you’re right.”

I placed my hands on my hips and curtly replied, “I am.”

I was afraid of what it meant; my father drinking.   Was this how stoic people did things?

I didn’t have a penchant for bad things during my teenage years like my friends did during their era of rebellion.  I coughed and  complained too much for my friends to truly get me addicted to cigarettes (like most of them eventually did).  Not a smoker.  It wasn’t an easy feat, either, to get me drinking alcohol.  I hated the taste of liquor, wine, and beer.  One particularly weighty morning, I snatched a beer from my stepfather’s refrigerated stash and took it with me to school.  I got in my car and pushed in the single cassette tape of TLC’s “Waterfalls” and drove toward school–beer between legs and sobbing.

(WAIVER:  I DO NOT CONDONE DRINKING & DRIVING, NOR DO I CONDONE DRINKING LOW-POINT BEER.) 

7:30am, football field parking lot, sobbing and gagging as I forced down my first beer, alone.  After all, this is how stoic people do it.

A Decade without Jeffrey; the Weight Is A Gift.

A lot can happen in a decade. Time passes and a great many things happen, but yet at times it seems as though no time has passed, it was like yesterday. I’ve thought much about this over the years as I coped with my grief. How could I hold onto every single detail of Jeffrey without succumbing to the deep sadness it brings; the loss of my brother. The coarseness of his short black hair, the slenderness of his feet, his voice as he encouraged me; characteristics of him that haunted me as I longed for him to come back to life.

I won’t deny that Jeffrey Lee Ben’s death was an unusual circumstance, nor will I reveal any major developments in his case. The story hasn’t changed; he was missing for five years until 2006 when we retrieved bits and pieces of his remains from a mountain in Clayton, Oklahoma. Jeffrey wasn’t given a proper burial and all we ‘laid to rest’ fit in a shoe box; my brother’s beautiful growing body deduced to something so small. However, the focus of this piece is not to discuss his exceptionally painful death, rather to share the mindfulness his life has brought into the world.

Over the years I have been led by the lightness of my brother’s being. The weight of his death pales in comparison to his bright light. His life was an inspiration for which I grew. When hatred and anger soil my soul, it’s Jeffrey’s extraordinary smile that cleanses it. When there is sadness or grief, his long arms tuck me into the shiniest of places. Where there is disappointment or insecurity, his voice echoes sentiments of comfort through my hollowed soul. When life gets the best of me, Jeffrey writes encouraging notes in everything. After a decade I learned that when I’m mindful of everything, the easier it is to see this weight as a gift.

Jeffrey Lee Ben

(8/23/1982 – 1/29/2001)

Blake’s Fallen Hero.

I’m an adult, I’ll finally admit this.  But, when Blake is upset I curl up in the fetal position and cry because he is sad.  I can’t explain how my little brother’s emotions become my own, but when he hurts I hurt.  It begins with sharing, which is not something he does easily so I know he trusts me.  His speak of Jeffrey, our deceased brother….his hero, is unique in the sense that he rarely speaks of him at all so when he begins I listen with all my soul.  The thing about Jeffrey was that he was ‘the man of the house’ and he took Blake under his wing like his very own son.  Blake was, with all intents and purposes, his.

I can not describe the difficulty of telling Blake, that very tumultuous day, that his hero was missing, gone, vanished, and I had no explanation at the time.  Seven year-old’s are smart, whether you credit them or not, and in an already confusing situation a seven year-old can question a lot.  A simple “He’s missing” doesn’t bode well, so heading into life and death territory may seem like a mature topic.  But, these were not usual circumstances and eventually it had to be done.

Blake was forced out of childhood into topics even adults shouldn’t have to endure.  He held his mother’s hand as she laid paralyzed with grief in bed, begging God to take her instead of her dear son, Jeffrey.  He braved through morbid conversations that no seven-year old should be privy to.  Blake held my heavy head as I cried my eyes out into his shirt for Jeffrey to be alive.  He just assumed the responsibility, but I should have assumed more of the role than I allowed him to take on.  After all, I was the oldest.

There’s a connection between he and I.  Without Jeffrey, I have overcompensated to fill that void.  On occasions, like tonight, Blake confides in me his pain. How he wished Jeffrey could have stuck around, but I remind him how special he was to Jeffrey.  As a matter of fact, Jeffrey was the only person that promised mom he would take care of Blake when she found out she was pregnant.  I know if he just pays attention, he’ll find Jeffrey is just a few step ahead of him.  Luckily, I’m their big sister so I’ve got it covered, but there will never be enough coverage for a fallen hero.

I love you, Blake Allen Miller, and more than anything I hope you know that Jeffrey loved you more than anyone else in this world.  You were/are his soulmate. XOXO.

 

1.1.11

The number 11 has been a personal favorite of mine since my mom mentioned it being her basketball number when she was a kid.  It’s more than a sentimental gesture, really.  What was peculiar to me was that my mother, at least the woman I have known the past 33 years, has not one iota of athletic ability but yet she had a basketball number.  At some point in her life my delicate, non-competitive, scrawny, athletically disinterested, mother (#11) had the balls to shoot hoops on a team.   As bemusing as it was to find out she wanted to be a rockstar as a child, it had nothing on the number 11.

Once the time rolled around for me to be on a basketball team, I shot out of formation and ran to rummage through the cardboard box that coach threw to the gymnasium floor. Unfortunately, so did everyone else.  I had one eye on the numbers being lifted out of the box and the other on the goal at hand; finding the number 11 jersey.  10, 8, 12, 22, 45, 50, 2, were the numbers of the jersey that were being ripped out of my hand.  To underestimate the combative nature of a thirteen year-old girl searching for a piece of her mother’s legacy in a cardboard box with twenty-something aggressive hands doing the exact same would be a tremendous oversight.

Ah ha!  There it was near the bottom of the box alongside number 25 and to my right was a tough-as-nails teammate who had her eye set on my number. Had she not elbowed me in the kisser, I would have ended up with it in the first place.   25 was a sufficient enough number for a bench warmer, but the following year there were no holds barred; I was #11.

Mark Miller’s Short Cover of “What Do You Want From Me”

The Bridge of Popcorn Balls.

Halloween was my favorite holiday as a child.  My brother, Jeffrey, and I couldn’t wait to dress up and join the other neighborhood kids in trick-or-treating.  Jeffrey had an affinity for vampires long before the Twilight franchise, and every year he dressed as one (sans sparkle)  he got the most candy; further proof vampires are sexier.  We would come home from our door-to-door begging and dump our pumpkin pails out on the brown-looped living room carpet.  We shuffled through our candy throwing the wins back into our pails and leaving the losses on the floor.  Like traders on the floor of the stock market, the frenzy began.

“I’ve got a popcorn ball.”  Jeffrey started the trade.  “It’s an Alexander’s special, so I’ll take that Tootsie roll log and jawbreaker.”

“No way!”  I shook my head.  “The jaw breaker for the popcorn ball take it or leave it!”

“Fine.”  He threw the popcorn ball at me and I reared back to return the favor.

“No, no, Sissy, okay don’t throw it.”  He prematurely flinched.

I laughed and placed it in his hand.  “You should be the one answering to sissy.”

“Whatever.”

I eyed his stash and picked up the Tootsie roll log.  “What d’ya say this for the candy cigarettes?”

“No deal.”  He placed them in his pumpkin pail.

“C’mon!”

“Not for trade.”  He held up a small bag of M&M’s.  “For your Tootsie roll log.”

“Hmmm.”  I strategized out loud.  “Seems to me that this Tootsie roll log is in demand.”

“Whatever I don’t want it anymore.”  He put the M&M’s back in his stash.

“Liar.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well then if you don’t want it then I think I’ll eat it now.”

“Whatever.”  He rolled his big brown eyes.  “I don’t care.”

I pretended to open it.

“Okay!  Don’t eat it.”  He pulled it from me.  “I’ll take this and give you M&M’s and whatever else you want you name it.”

I ran my hands over his stash.  “I’ll take the M&M’s and the candy cigarettes then.”

“Deal.”  He smiled unaware that he had been hosed.

I smiled completely aware. “I hate candy corn.”  I separated them from my pile.  “You want them?”

“For free?”

“Yeah but you have to give me something for free too.”

“Okay, I hate butterscotch.”  He slid three over one-after-another on the carpet.  “It tastes like butter.  I don’t like butter.”

“You nut job, it’s not made out of real butter!”

“Yes it is.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Whatever.”

We would spend half-an-hour trading candy before the real competition began.

“I bet I can eat all my candy before you can.”  He challenged.

I sized up his weight in candy.  “Okay, but we have to make it even.”

“Okay, let’s take out the big candy and eat the same amount of little candy.”  He emptied his pumpkin.

I followed his lead.  We counted out twenty pieces of smaller and equal candy and excluded the larger pieces.

“Okay, you ready?”  I asked.

He shook his head yes.

“Wait.  We have to make it interesting.”

“Like how?”  He asked.

“How about the winner gets all the candy?”

He squinted his eyes.  “Okay but then we have to switch piles to make it innersting.”

“Interesting!”

“Whatever.”  He smiled mischievously.

“No deal.”  I shook my head.

“Chicken.”  He held his hands behind him.

“Am not.”  I knew I could beat him.  “Fine, here.”

He pushed his toward me.

“Okay, ready?” I asked.

He shook his head and laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

He brought his hands in front of him and dropped the candy corn into the pile.  “You forgot to add these!”

“I hate candy corn!”

He smiled, big.  “I know but you have to do it or you lose.  On your mark.”

I was about to disagree.

“Set, go.”  He said before I had a chance.

I couldn’t lose my candy.  I stuffed my mouth in the candy-off, and we went head to head until the very last few pieces; candy corn.  He chewed them down as I nibbled on the morsel of overused corn syrup and sugar unable to swallow it down.

Jeffrey sprung to his feet and jumped around me screaming, “I won!  I won!  You lose!  You lose!  I’m getting all the candy!  I win!  I win!”

His tiny hand gripped the handle of my pumpkin pail, but I quickly gripped it  unwilling to let go.

“Hey, no fair.”  He sat down.  “We had a deal and you lost fair and square.”

“So what!”

“You’re a sore loser!”

“Am not.”

“Sore loser!”  He jumped up and started yelling.  “Sore loser!  Sore loser!”

“Fine!  Shut up!”  I rolled the plastic pumpkin pail across the floor as the candy fell out.

He ran over and picked them up one-by-one and placed them into his pail; combining the candy.

I walked over to the couch to pout, and he followed, sat beside me, and held out the popcorn ball.

“Lucky for you I’m a sore winner.”

 

 

 

Fearless Rear-view of Roadside Attractions.

I pride myself on my fearlessness, but even those of us in head-to-toe armor will fall with enough impact.

In my late teens/early twenties, I was a free spirit that ran with the wind.  The open road lead to far and away worlds, and I drove fast.  Experiences, people, and breakdowns moved quickly through windshield-view and passed like a blur out my unoccupied passenger window until I could see it out my rear-view.  So long roadside attraction…off to the next destination.  Those roads, streets, paths to various destinations were sometimes long and lonely, sometimes short and winding, sometimes average in length and quality, but the music remained the same.

My poor mother watched her fiercely independent daughter depart so many times – sometimes picking me up upon arrival, sometimes rescuing me from roadside breakdowns, sometimes guiding me at unexpected pit stops, but always welcoming me home.  She never asked to drive because she knew I wouldn’t let her, but mostly she knew what I didn’t; the thrill fades in time.  Her only rule was to keep my eye on the road and to pay attention to the signs along the way.  When I did, it got me the farthest.

Stranded in Buffalo, New York, during the 1997 winter storms, I experienced my first whiteout.  This Oklahoma girl knew a blackout, but what the hell do you do when the world instantaneously goes white and you can only see that which is inside your car with you?  You stop, pull over, turn up the music, and let your thoughts roll through.  Once the white dissipated to a soft fog-like view, I got back on that road but this time I went home.

I still get out on that open road from time-to-time, but with a passenger, unlimited supply of digital music (RIP CD’s), and a GPS – no armor required.

Happy 28th Birthday my beautiful brother…

Today you would have been 28.  I’m awake and beginning my first class toward my MBA.  I’d call you after breakfast and wish you a good day had life worked out differently.  Instead, Jeffrey, this day and all it’s about it reserved for those (like myself) whose life you immensely touched.  I’m so very grateful to have had the eighteen years of this life with you and I feel you in the simplest of breezes, the massaging of the summer sun to my skin, the breath between every thought, the comfort of the night sky, and the love within myself.  If love could have kept you here…you would have lived forever..you are so very loved by many people whose lives you’ve changed in even subtle ways and that is what life is about.  So despite your short eighteen years, bubba, you have lived a full life.

Today is reserved for you.  Happy Birthday (you’re in everything every day for me, but today maybe others will be inspired to love hard).

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