Chapter 1 Lesson Learned
Winter vacation was over, and it was finally time to get the kids back into a routine. Baths and showers, then some reading and cuddling before drifting off to dreamland. The older boys, fourteen year old Brad and seventeen year old Steven, both had classes early in the morning and athletics zero period. They took less prompting during the bedtime rituals but inevitably stayed up later than the two little boys, five-year old Anderson and nine-year old Robert, who responded well to their mother’s bedtime structure. The middle child, a twelve-year-old girl Ella, was at that age when she wasn’t quite little anymore, but she also wasn’t quite grown up and independent. Tweenagers float around in that in-between stage for a while, looking up to the bigger kids and looking down on the littler kids.
Amanda Keilsth quit her job as a teacher to become a stay home mom when her fourth child was born. She was thankful her husband, Richard, had a thriving practice as a neurosurgeon and that she had the opportunity to devote her life to her kids and the running of the household. They were both well-educated professionals and spent their lives building their family one step at a time. Even as a busy teacher, when she was pregnant she read all the “what to expect” books and went to the Lamaze classes. She got prenatal care for all the babies, read parenting books, and did the best job she could at balancing her job at school with her job at home as a wife and mother. When the fourth child was on its way, she and her husband decided it was time for her to stop teaching and stay home full-time. After having three children already, she knew the demands a new baby presented and wanted more time to be available to her family. When their fifth child was born, Amanda and Richard decided to stop having kids, and they were most thankful for the blessings of a big family.
The alarms started going off at 5:30am. She got up without hitting the snooze button, despite feeling exhausted, and made a hot breakfast for her teenagers before they headed off to school for athletics. The sun wasn’t up yet, and she praised them for their tenacity in sports and their self-discipline to get up so early without complaining and go on their way to meet expectations. She gave them big hugs and told them to do their best, just like she did every day.
“No texting and driving. I love you!” she said as they got into the car. No response. Oh well, teenagers were never known for their shows of affection to their mothers.
Her husband left next and told her he loved her and that she was a good mom. She smiled to herself and thought she was doing a good job and how nice it was to hear it. Being their mom was the best and most important job she could imagine.
Ella had to be at school about ten minutes earlier than the two little boys, so after breakfast, brushing teeth, getting dressed, and packing backpacks, they headed outside to her brand new BMW. Mr. Keislth knew how much his wife wanted a new car, so he surprised Amanda for Christmas, complete with a giant red bow just like in the television commercials.
She buckled the boys into the back seat, and her daughter asked if she could sit in the front seat since it was a brand new car.
“Honey, the sign on the visor right there says children under thirteen are at risk in the front seat because of the air bag.”
“Mom, come on. I’m almost thirteen. Please, I’m sick of you treating me like a baby. Anderson doesn’t even have his booster seat in this new car. Why does he get to ride without it? There’s not enough room to fit all three of us in the back seat” she complained, trying to persuade her mom to change her mind.
“One time. That’s it. And I don’t want to hear any more about it ok?”
“Deal.” Ella said as her smile grew as wide as her face and the look of anticipation lit up her pretty green eyes. She got in the front seat, buckled up, and little Anderson sat right on the seat not really sure what to think.
Amanda’s phone went off as she pulled away from the house and turned right to drive out of the neighborhood.
“Oh yea, I’m totally Instagramming this.” Ella said as she took a selfie and posted right away about sitting in the front seat of the car.
Amanda tried to see who just texted her but couldn’t quite tell since she was also navigating the wheel and a hot cup of coffee. Her phone kept going off as it lay on the center console.
“No texting and driving mommy.” Ella reminded her sarcastically.
“I’ll check when we stop at the stop sign” she replied with authority. “And stop sassing me young lady” she added.
Robert was playing minecraft on his itouch in the back seat oblivious to the quarreling in the front seat. Anderson tried to see out the window but wasn’t quite tall enough, so he started squirming.
When Amanda stopped at the stop sign, she put her coffee in the holder and picked up her phone to check the texts. Before she finished reading the first one, they were hit from behind. Another teenager in the neighborhood was late for high school and was speeding while also on his phone. He didn’t see the stopped car in front of him.
The noise was incredible. Broken glass, metal crunching, airbags, and screams echoed as the moment took place in an instant that felt like forever. Amanda fell unconscious. EMS arrived on the scene, and they were careflighted to help at a nearby hospital.
Amanda woke up in the hospital. The last thing she remembered was putting down her coffee and checking her texts. The next thing she knew, the doctors told her that only Robert survived the accident. The front airbags deployed, and since she wasn’t quite tall enough to be sitting in the front seat, the passenger airbag broke Ella’s neck. Anderson’s seat belt didn’t fit him right properly on his lap and chest, and he died from complications of the trauma to his neck and stomach. Only she and Robert, who were restrained properly survived the crash. They had injuries and faced months of physical therapy, but they had their lives.
“How could you let this happen?” Her husband asked her frantically. They were both in shock and disbelief.
Amanda felt empty inside. She knew that the children were trusted in her care, and she failed to follow basic safety instructions. She felt responsible for her two children dying. She learned that no matter how much you do for your children, no matter how good of a mom you feel like, a momentary lapse of judgement when it comes to safety can make it all a moot point.
She never got the chance to make a little child sit in his or her booster again, but she never let Robert ride in the front seat before the age of thirteen. The Kielsths started a foundation called EllAnderson to spread awareness of basic safety precautions that every parent should take using the CDC’s recommendations found here:
They could never get their kids back, but they hoped to prevent future tragedies from happening. Lesson learned.
Chapter 2 Althea
There are things you can replace and others you can not. The time has come to weigh those things.”
Amanda was a mess for years after the car accident that resulted in the deaths of two of her young children. She didn’t take it well at all. And she felt it was her fault that her daughter and son died. Her husband didn’t help the situation. As a logically thinking man, he couldn’t help but deal with the facts that led up to their deaths. Amanda let Ella sit in the front seat even though she wasn’t thirteen yet. Amanda let Anderson sit in the back seat without his booster because she was in a rush and Ella was complaining and trying to persuade her to allow her a special ride in the front seat. She knew about the safety guidelines, but she didn’t think anything would happen on that one time she was lax on the rules. Richard couldn’t help but blame her for the accident. He wanted more than anything to turn back the time so he could put the booster seat in the back and make Ella sit in the back seat too, regardless of her complaining. They went to counseling and were trying to move past the blaming, but Amanda had a hard time with the guilt on a day to day basis.
Every morning, she had trouble getting out of bed. She couldn’t fall asleep at night because of her racing mind, and Robert and Brad were still in school, so she got up early to help them with breakfast. Steven graduated and joined the army. He was always on her mind too. She hoped he would come home safely, and she often thought of the little girl he fathered but never met. It took tremendous energy for Amanda to keep her mind focused on the day to day instead of the past or the future.
She popped pills to regulate her moods, and she drank alcohol to numb the pain and escape to lighter places in her mind. She was under the care of a psychiatrist and a marriage counselor and an individual counselor and was trying her best every day to function.
She reconnected with a former flame on Facebook and agreed to meet him for lunch one day. It had been twenty years since they last saw each other, but it seemed like yesterday. Their connection was just as strong as it used to be. They laughed and shared memories and filled up on salads, pizza, and wine. She realized that school would be over soon and she needed to pick up Robert. He asked her if they could get together again sometime with a flirtatious grin, and she returned the smile with an answer of “maybe.” They hugged each other and went their separate ways.
Pulling into Robert’s school zone, she was suddenly pulled over by a police officer. She didn’t realize she was speeding because she was on her phone checking messages. Because school zones are cell phone free zones, and she was going almost thirty in a twenty zone, this particular officer was not very pleased with this driver. He could smell the alcohol on her breath, so he gave her a breathalizer test and tested her gross motor skills. Amanda was mortified this was all taking place in the school zone where other parents could see it. She failed every test and was taken down to the station and booked with a DUI.
Richard came to pick her up when she sobered up. He was furious and disappointed and confused all at the same time. Once they got in the car, he asked her “so do you mind telling me what the hell is going on with you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it Richard. Can we please just go home?”
“Don’t want to talk about it? Amanda, I just picked you up from the police station….after you being so drunk that you got a DUI and a ticket for speeding and being on your cell phone in a school zone. What am I supposed to think? Honey, there is something serious going on with you. What can I do to help?”
“You can be nice to me. Stop blaming me for everything!” She cried.
“What? I am nice to you? Where did that come from? And what were you doing today?
“Why do you care? You’re always so busy with work and you only care about what I’m doing when something goes wrong.”
“Please honey, stop being defensive and let’s talk about this. What did you do before you got arrested? Where were you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. You wouldn’t understand.” She wanted to tell him the truth, but she knew he would get angry with her. She took some deep breaths and thought about things. She realized just how bad things had gotten. She missed the old days when she and Richard spent more time together, when the kids were little and they were all happy together.
He breathed deeply too and kept driving with a cool head. He didn’t want there to be any more problems that day or ever. He answered in a loving tone of voice, “take your time and tell me when you are ready…and I promise to try to understand and be nicer to you. I love you.”
Chapter 4 The Gun
After Amanda‘s arrest, she and Richard went to bed without speaking. She retreated into herself and didn’t know how to handle the embarrassment. What would everyone say about her? Why did she have lunch with an ex? What would she do to make things better with Richard? How would she go on day-to-day with so many problems? The next day, she got up and helped Brad and Robert with breakfast and the before-school routine. She and Richard were cordial but superficial to each other. He was obviously upset with her and worried about her at the same time. He left for work without a kiss, and the boys left shortly thereafter. Once she was alone, she went back to her bedroom and sat down on the bed. She opened the drawer in the night stand, pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and started to write, “My dearest family, once you read this note, I will already be gone. I am sorry for the pain my death might cause you, but I think in a few years it will become something you can get used to. I can not forgive myself for the past, and I know you can’t either. I haven’t been happy in so long. Please know I love you, and I’m sorry. I just can’t go on like this any more.” She folded the paper in half and propped it up on the bedside table. She looked out the window and took a few minutes to contemplate the garden of roses growing outside. Life goes on, she told herself, they will be fine without me. She looked back over the past couple of years and wondered what happened to her family. She wondered what happened to herself. She pulled the pistol out of the drawer. She held it carefully in her hands, and it was as if her whole life flashed in front of her eyes. How could she ever fix all the problems she created in her family? She blamed herself for losing Ella and Anderson, and she knew Richard and Robert had never fully forgiven her for what she did. Their marriage had never been the same since the accident. How could she face people after what happened at school? Maybe it would be easier for everybody if I wasn’t here she thought to herself.
Amanda never wanted to have a gun in the house. She didn’t have a father growing up, so she was never exposed to guns as a child or young lady. It was never a question in her house. Richard felt it was a necessity to have a gun in the house. He wanted it for self-defense (in the case of home invasion) and for hunting. They owned some land where he frequently went hunting and camping, and he really enjoyed going there to pursue his hobbies. When she met Richard, she learned of his interest in guns and tried to understand it (even though it was new to her). Part of marrying someone is accepting who they are as a person not changing who they are. Amanda firmly believed in the importance of each spouse maintaining some individuality in the marriage. She felt strongly that there are some things that are deal breakers like cheating and beating, and other things are part of the territory of marriage that you put up with. You accept certain things about your partner so you can live a peaceful happy life together. So she accepted Richard, guns and all. She was most worried about having guns in the house because they had children. There were stories all the time in the news about kids who accidentally shot themselves, siblings, and/or friends when they played with a parent’s gun. There were other stories about teenagers who had lost their minds, taken their parents’ guns, shot and killed people in public places like schools, stores, and movie theaters. She really didn’t want her family on the news in a tragic, avoidable story. They agreed to keep most of their guns in a safe, but Richard insisted on keeping a pistol in his night-side table drawer so he would be able to get to it quickly in the case of emergency. The safe with his rifles was in their closet, but he didn’t want to lose precious minutes if confronted by an attacker in the middle of the night. He signed Amanda up for shooting classes, and she braved the experience to show interest in her husband’s hobby. Once she learned how to handle a gun, she felt empowered and prepared for the possibility of being face to face with an intruder. She thanked Richard for exposing her to a whole new world and could barely believe the dichotomy inside herself as she grew to appreciate something she also feared and disliked. All of the sudden, her phone rang. It was Richard. He was able to schedule a marriage counseling appointment for them that evening. He wanted to talk to the counselor about the arrest and what led up to it. When he asked what she was doing, she answered, “uh, nothing really, just thinking about things.” She hung up the phone, put the gun away, and threw the note in the trash. Not today she thought to herself. She ordered pizzas for the boys and put Brad in charge of watching Robert for a few hours while she was at the counseling appointment with Richard. Brad was practicing guitar up in his room and choking down bites sausage pizza in between songs. He shooed his little brother when he came into his room to listen to him play. “Go find something to do! Mom and dad will be back soon. Don’t you have some games to play or something?” Robert played video games for a while, and then he decided to make a video of himself as his favorite character in his new game. His parents weren’t home, so he sneaked into their room and got the gun out of the drawer. They didn’t know that he knew it was in there, but he did. His big brothers showed it to him before and made him swear not to tattle. He set up his camera and got a kick out of seeing himself on the screen. He pointed the gun right at the screen then right, left, up, and down so he could see it from many angles. He made tough faces and felt like a tough guy. He could still hear Brad playing guitar upstairs, so he knew he wouldn’t get caught. Amanda was telling Richard about having lunch with her ex at the counselor’s office. Brad just nailed the solo he was working on in his room when out of nowhere, there was a BANG! Brad stopped playing and looked around wondering what just happened. It sounded like a firecracker. He paused for a moment and then realized he knew exactly what that sound was. “Robert?” He screamed as he started running down the stairs.
Chapter 5 Eyes Are the Window to the Soul
He didn’t know it would be the last time he looked into her eyes when he complimented her. “You have the prettiest eyes,” he said as if really seeing them for the first time. They were deep green like the ocean on the Emerald Coast of Florida. There was depth and breadth and body in her eyes. There was kindness and wisdom, and there was naivety at the same time. She was younger than he, barely more than half his age. When they were saying goodbye, her eyes caught his attention.
She smiled in return and said a simple, “thanks,” followed with a shy laugh. They were both a little embarrassed and uncomfortable with the connection taking place, but were both overpowered by it nonetheless. The chemistry between them was strong, and when they made eye contact it felt like fireworks inside for both of them. Time stood still. A rush of emotion flooded over them as they both grasped for words awkwardly.
He now understood why people say that eyes are the window to the soul. He never noticed how striking her eyes were until then. He felt a soul connection with her, and it grew deeper that sunny afternoon. Perhaps it was the universe’s way of letting him see into her soul before it was too late? It’s funny how things work that way.
They met at the hospital one day when a mutual friend introduced them. If he knew what kind of pain their relationship would cause in the future, he would have turned her away, but he didn’t have any way of telling the future. All he could do was live life fully each day and hope that his actions today would bring him to brighter and better tomorrows.They hugged, said goodbye, and she went on her way smiling and waving. It was a warm and friendly embrace. She smelled like a fresh breeze, and he got goosebumps from feeling that breeze rush through his senses. The sun shone behind her blonde hair like a halo. Her smile and her beautiful eyes were forever etched into his memory. He waved, admiring her fit petite body as she walked away. God she is gorgeous he thought to himself. He got lost for a few minutes speculating what it would be like to be intimate with her. He imagined she had a body like a Victoria’s Secret model under her hospital scrubs. She sent flirtatious messages, and although they were subtle he picked up on them. They got along so well, and her hugs were so genuine. She felt so natural in his arms. He felt young and desirable again when he was with her. She’s way too young, and besides I’m married he reminded himself. He felt guilty for even letting himself follow that thought. If he acted on his impulses, it might be wonderful temporarily, but it would crush his family and ruin his life.
He was clearly in the lustful stages of attraction and infatuation with her. He only knew her for about six months. They started meeting for lunches then taking walks together when they could steal away the moments. They got along in a best-friendly manner even though they were in vastly different stages of their lives. He saw her only at work when she was at her best. They laughed and told each other stories. There was nothing to fight about and no boring routine to get used to. She admired his maturity and prestigious reputation as one of the best neurosurgeons in the country. She flattered him and brought to life a vibrant part of him that had been lying dormant for a long time.
His wife was his best friend a long time ago, but their romance turned into attachment and commitment. It evolved into responsibility and day-to-day mundaneness. He loved his wife, but he hadn’t looked into her eyes that way in more than a decade. It was a very different kind of love. The passion had waned from his marriage.
Although his life appeared perfect from the outside, he was suffering a lonely existence. Tragedy befell his family when two of his children died in a car accident. His wife withdrew into herself, sinking into a downward spiral of depression. He felt disconnected from her emotionally and physically. He struggled with his commitment and responsibilities to her and his family versus the passion he felt for this young woman. He wished he could get all of his needs met by one woman so he didn’t have to struggle internally this way. He imagined starting all over again with a new relationship, a new life with a young wife free from complications. He couldn’t get it off his mind, but he went through the motions when he got home from work that night. He ate some dinner and retreated to his office where he ‘worked’ until midnight while the house was quiet. He did have some paperwork to catch up on, but mainly it was an excuse to be alone with his deviant thoughts. He carefully weighed his options and decided to sleep on things. Perhaps they could meet for lunch again tomorrow and see where things go on their own.
The next day, he woke up early with the alarm at 5:30am. He went through his morning routine getting ready for work. He had a full schedule seeing patients all day. He turned on the news while he ate breakfast. “Breaking news,” went across the bottom of the screen. “23 year old woman found dead from an apparent drug overdose. Police are investigating evidence collected at the scene. More on this story when we return.” Pictures of her apartment building and her face filled the screen before programming broke for a commercial. Her green eyes looked right through him. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing.
His heart sank and his stomach flip-flopped. He felt a wave of dizziness and sank to his knees. He couldn’t hide his grief or mask his reaction. Tears poured from his brown eyes uncontrollably, and he put his hands to his forehead and tried to slow his breathing. He just saw her yesterday. How could she be gone today? Drug overdose?
His wife heard him crying and came out of the bedroom to see what was going on. “Richard? Is everything ok?” There was no answer. He didn’t know what to say. She held him as he wept. The news came back on continued with more details. Cocaine and prescription bottles were discovered in the bathroom where her body was found. There was no suicide note, so it’s not apparent if it was intentional or accidental. “Did you know her?” she asked.
“Yes, from the hospital,” he finally managed to answer.
“I’m sorry honey, why in the world would a beautiful young girl like that want to do drugs anyway?” she didn’t know what to say either.
Richard was speechless. Usually he was the strong person in the family. Now he needed support.
Chapter 6 Facebook Envy
Amanda and Richard had a lot of problems to work out. Their marriage was never the same after losing Ella and Anderson in a car accident. Amanda carried the blame for that, but they both blamed themselves after almost losing eleven year old Robert. He accidentally shot himself when he was playing with Richard’s gun while his parents were at a counseling appointment. Big brother Brad, seventeen, babysat him that night, so he blamed himself also. He was too busy playing guitar in his room alone to watch after Robert properly. Richard decided to put the handgun in a locked box under the bed instead of having it loose in the drawer next to the bed. Robert barely escaped with his life, and neither Amanda nor Richard wanted their family to face any more tragedy. Richard lost a good friend from work whom he had developed feelings for, and Amanda was trying to recover from her drinking problem. Although she enjoyed herself having one flirtatious lunch with an old flame, she drank too much and got a DUI on the way home. She didn’t want to cause any more problems for herself, her marriage, or her family. She was withdrawn and lonely, but she reached out to people over Facebook and other social media thinking that was a safer way to feel connection with others.
She liked spending time online keeping up with everybody she knew, but it also made her feel jealous of others as she unconsciously compared her life to theirs. She saw people posting about their engagements, their family joys, and their fabulous vacations. She was careful not to post too much about her situation as she didn’t want to let everybody in to her complicated world. One night, as they were lying in bed falling asleep to comedy shows, she liked a friend’s status so she could play along with a game. It was one of those chain-type games where you get an age from somebody and then you share what your life was like at that age and compare it to now. This ought to be interesting she thought to herself.
She participated three times as three different friends were playing the game. They gave her three different ages: 18, 21, and 23. Amanda was about to turn 47, so it was a walk down memory lane for her. Her life had changed so much since then. She was a student during the first two ages and by 23 she had already met Richard and was about to get married to him. One of the questions asked who had her heart at the time. When she was 18, she was a high school student and had just broken up with a boyfriend. But the young man who had her heard when she was 21 was someone special. Great. Why did I have to get this age? I was head over heels for this guy. Do I really have to admit that online? He had her heart, but she didn’t have his. It bothered her then, and it bothered her now. She thought about it for the rest of the day.
She met Brian in college. From the beginning, he had her heart. He pulled at her heart like a magnet. He was beautiful in the face with eyes that smiled when even when his lips weren’t. He was incredibly good-looking yet humble at the same time. They were good friends and did fun things together like mountain biking and rock climbing. He was smart, and he was funny. She was gaga from the beginning.
Amanda drifted off to sleep, feeling gravity’s pull. Her breathing slowed, and her mind relaxed. Time and space started to shift, and her visual landscape became surreal. She winded down hallways and spirals into a dream world full of colors and unknown places.
He was there. They were there. She travelled back to a magical morning when they woke up together in his bed. They were both young and free, and although they were affectionate, they weren’t sexual partners. She happened to stay at his house that one time, and that moment was etched in her memory. Sunlight poured in from the window on the east side of the room. The air was still and quiet and the blankets were soft when they awoke, embraced, and smiled at each other kissing lightly. It was dreamy. Amanda got lost in the moment. Their spirits intertwined and time stood still as they lingered contentedly.
Her body twitched, and she suddenly awoke. Catching her breath, she saw her bedroom walls, felt her familiar bed, and heard the familiar sound of her husband snoring next to her. He didn’t want a serious relationship with me. It was just friends with benefits to him. She reminded herself of that reality. She didn’t sleep much that night because she couldn’t stop thinking about the dichotomy between the dream and real life.
She and Richard needed to find that place again, but life kept throwing them punches. Brian married someone else, just like Brian had other girlfriends back when Amanda wanted him. Richard was the man who committed his life to hers; he was the man who built a family with her and was by her side every day through thick and thin. Having five children and individual careers got in the way of their bond.
Her oldest son, Steven was bringing his girlfriend and daughter, Cassidy, over for dinner the next day. Amanda couldn’t wait to meet her granddaughter for the first time. She had so much to do to get the house and the meal ready. She was working in the kitchen when she heard on the news, “A German study has shown that Facebook can make you full-on bummed out. That’s right, Facebook Envy is a new term used to describe how it can affect your outlook on your life.” She thought back to her dream and how different her life was then than it is now. She thought about putting Brian in proper perspective. It was an intense connection and an intense emotion, but it belonged in the past. Surely, her life with Richard was the enduring kind of love. It was a complicated and intense kind of love, but it was the mature and stable relationship she cherished and wanted to strengthen.
Chapter 7 Love
Amanda reflected on the many faces of love in her life as she soaked in a hot bubble bath with lavender oil and mineral salts. Vanilla candles sent a soft scent into the air and a golden hue to her mood. Her tired body ached with tension. Children, parents, husband. Life was an interesting ride, and she took some time to herself to appreciate her many blessings while the house was quiet. As she slowly relaxed, she thought about Richard and what she could do to make Valentine’s Day special for him. After so many years together and so much tragedy and stress, their love was a complex being of its own with a complicated dynamic. Love waxes and wanes. She wanted to believe in the strength of their marriage and commitment, but she also had doubts of its everlasting nature.
She feared inside that he would someday leave her (just like her father did), and she put up defensive walls to keep herself from what she perceived as a sense of impending doom. Her parents divorced when she was a baby, and her father was absent in her life. So, she didn’t have a good role model for marriage. She wanted to be married more than anything precisely because of this gaping hole in her psyche. She grew up wanting to create stability that she didn’t have. Yet she feared she would lose it once she had it. She needed to find a balance.
As fearful and doubtful she was, and as conflicted as he was, Richard stayed with her. His actions spoke louder than his words. He blamed her, but he didn’t leave her after Ella and Anderson died (like he threatened to). He didn’t leave her when she embarrassed him by getting a DUI. He forgave her for having lunch with an ex-boyfriend and supported her through her darkest days. He was by her side when Robert clung to life in the hospital. They didn’t spend much time together as a couple anymore, but he was truly her best friend and a constant companion in her life. Even though they weren’t very religious, they did get married in a church, and they both took their vows seriously. In sickness and in health. Through good times and bad. Until death do we part. She really wanted to believe that.
She learned from Dr. Phil that the key to a sane and healthy marriage is to wake up every day asking what you can do to make life better for your spouse. When both partners are doing that, they are both moving toward each other. It sounded so simple, but in real life, it was too easy to let problems and their busy schedules get in the way. She asked herself what she could do for Richard to make their love stronger. She didn’t want to take him for granted, blindly believing he would stay with her. She realized she needed to do more to work her way back into his heart.
“Honey, are you home? Amanda?” Richard called as he came in the front door.
What is he doing home in the middle of the day? She wondered. “In here, taking a bath” she shouted so he could hear her.
He came around the corner holding a vase filled with twelve long-stemmed roses and a sly grin on his face. “Surprise! Happy birthday! I took the rest of the week off, and we are going to Hawaii. Your favorite hotel in Maui, the Ritz-Carlton.”
It’s where they spent their honeymoon. This trip would certainly be different. “What about the kids?”
“They are coming too. It’s all been arranged. Don’t worry. You deserve it. We deserve it. ” He started rubbing her shoulders and kissing her cheek. “I love you Amanda. You are so special to me.”
Her heart melted. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the massage. “Want to join me?” she flirted jokingly.
“Why don’t you join me?” he answered, loosening his tie and taking off his shoes while sitting on the bed.
She couldn’t resist. She got out of the tub, slipped on her satin robe and jumped on the bed playfully. “Your turn,” she said as she started to rub his shoulders and neck.
Chapter 8 Home = Our Beliefs About Love
Amanda sat down in a chair in her front yard with her laptop and her assignment. Just thinking about her childhood made her both angry and sad, but her counselor gave her online homework. If I want to start feeling better, I need to do this.. She told herself, even though she didn’t want to do it.
“Think about what it was like growing up. Are there specific feelings or situations that come to mind? Write them down and use a word to describe the feeling or situation (ex: mom was always angry: anxious).
Raised by a single mom. I remember a lot of fighting, frustration, and angst. Frustration.
Questions to ask yourself: Was there lots of affection in your home or was affection withheld?
There was affection from my mom.
Were you frequently criticized?
Yes I was. I felt like I was never doing well enough at anything. My father was Korean and preferred by brother, my mom told me, because of cultural reasons. He didn’t want me because I’m a girl. And I never lived up to either parents‘ expectations-spiritually or academically.
Were your parents available to take care of you? Were your needs met?
My mom was for the most part, but she was very busy working three jobs to support us. My dad was not available. My physical needs were met, but not my emotional or spiritual needs.
How was anger expressed – or not?
Yelling, throwing things, fighting, crying, threats of suicide from my mom.
Were there addictions?
What was your parent’s relationship like?
Non existent. Dad sent a monthly check and visited maybe once a year. They never talked as far as I knew.
Was love freely exchanged?
Same answer as above. We were told we were loved by my mom. Not between me and brother.
Did you feel a sense of stability?
No. I didn’t understand why my dad wasn’t around and other kids had dads. I didn’t understand it when my mom got so mad and sad that she would threaten suicide. I wondered if I would find her dead several times and that it would be my fault because we fought.
Did your family communicate about feelings?
Not very well. My dad was absent. My mom did the best job she could. She would try to reassure me when I was sad about not having my dad. She explained that Koreans favor the first-born son. She tried to love me enough for both of them, but it didn’t work. She didn’t really listen to me about anything I wanted to do when I became a teenager. She said no to everything so I just started lying and doing whatever I wanted anyway.
Did family members support one another?
My mom supported me to be a good student, to keep my eyes Asian and not have plastic surgery. She supported me through college. She supported me financially. Brother never supported me. Not sure that I supported him either.
How about fidelity? My mom was single so I never had an example of faithful parents. I learned that my dad was cheating on my mom when she was pregnant with me. My mom said not to have sex until marriage because of the bible. But I didn’t listen to her. I cheated on all my boyfriends.
Did you feel “safe” or anxious in your home?
Anxious. I wanted out. I didn’t know why I was born into my family.
Key Words About Home Write down 6 keywords about your home life growing up.
Chaotic, volatile, critical, rebellious, abandonment, rigid
Positive examples might be:
safe secure loving open caring fun joy-filled comfortable inspiring supportive Negative examples:
scary chaotic critical dishonest not available disregarding shut down betrayal abandonment violent Take the six keywords you wrote about home:
Home = Chaotic, volatile, critical, rebellious, abandonment, rigid
Now substitute the word home with LOVE = Chaotic, volatile, critical, rebellious, abandonment, rigid
This may help you understand how you have formed your beliefs about love and relationship. It may also shed light on past or current partners you have chosen as we tend to repeat the familiar until we learn new patterns of relating.” – read more and take the online quiz by clicking here
************* These were probing questions. The more she thought about it, the more upset she became until for some reason tears started erupting. She never realized how much of an effect her parents’ relationship had on her overall outlook on love. No wonder she had problems inside her own marriage. She didn’t trust the forever part of marriage even though that’s what she wanted more than anything in the whole world.
Her dad taught her to run from her problems, to abandon your children, and that because she was a girl, she was actually worth less than a boy. She spent her adolescence seeking male approval and the intimacy she lacked with her father. She blamed herself unconsciously, blaming herself just for being born. She didn’t know what to do or how to behave to gain his love.
Her mom taught her to be easily overwhelmed, to act out in times of stress. She taught her to be rigid and unreasonable. Amanda constantly fought off critical thoughts about how she didn’t measure up to expectations. Her mom was desperately depressed before Amanda was even born, yet when they fought, she would threaten suicide because Amanda was so cruel and hurtful. Amanda grew up with the irrational belief that she had power over someone else’s will to live. She wondered if she would find her mother dead from suicide and if it would be her fault because they had bad fights.
As a teenager, she started lying to her mother because she said no to everything. There was never an intelligent, rational discussion about life and how to live it. There were just angry lectures full of ‘shoulds’ and the only time she felt free was when she was away from her family.
She didn’t have a good example of marriage, love, or fidelity. To her, it was all pie in the sky. Yet she based her whole life on creating what she never had.
Amanda decided to write them a letter to let it go once and for all. Perhaps letting it out would be beneficial to her progress.
Dear mom and dad, Thank you for bringing me into this world. Thank you for my life. I now know why I am alive, and I am changing things in my life from this day forward. Say goodbye to the old Amanda. She’s dead.
I forgive you for abandoning me dad. I accept that your life, your culture, your personality made you behave the way you did, I believe that you loved me even though you didn’t know how to show it. I forgive you for cheating on mom. I forgive you for leaving us. I forgive you for setting me up to believe that all men will act like you did.
Mom, I forgive you for your angry past. I know you’ve had a rough life and have done the best job you could have given the circumstances. I forgive you for criticizing me and for being so angry you threatened to kill yourself. I know it wasn’t my fault that you got so angry. Know that the guilty feeling you gave me still lives inside of me. Two of my kids died because of decisions I made. I really was my fault. It’s ironic that our fighting never resulted in your suicide, but that a momentary lapse in judgement killed my two kids. I can never fix that. And I can never go back in time to fix what you said to me when I was a kid. All I can do now is forgive you and myself for everything that has happened.
Richard loves me. Steven, Brad, and Robert love me. Richard weathers the storms with me. Richard and I have a life together despite all our ups and downs. We lost two kids, but we still have three who need us to be happy people and parents. I release you into the universe so I can live my life without a heavy cloud from the past hanging over my head. You tried the best you could, and you both really messed up. I refuse to let the past define me. And I refuse to use the past as an excuse not to fully appreciate and trust the relationship I do have. I believe in love and fidelity, and intend to live my life accordingly. From this day forward, I am vowing to life my life in a way that when my kids grow up and take this quiz or one like it, they will have different results and healthier beliefs about love.
Chapter 9 One Day at a Time
Things were getting better for Richard and Amanda. They were communicating better and spending a little more time together on the weekends. Brad and Robert were doing well in school and seemed happy enough. While things seemed good on the outside, they all had independent lives and challenges. They each struggled on the inside with all the curve balls life threw at them. Like everyone, they experienced life in polarities of light and dark, love and loss, togetherness and isolation. Their trip to Maui was amazing because nobody had a schedule or work to do. Now that they were back home, they got caught up in the busyness of every day life. Amanda and Richard started drifting apart again. He came home late after work and spent time in his office most nights. She ran Robert around to his activities, took care of dinner and the kitchen, helped the boys with homework and made sure they got to bed at a decent time. And then she would collapse in exhaustion in her darkened bedroom. The soft, cool sheets were so inviting, and her memory foam pillow fit the curves of her neck perfectly. She nuzzled under the blankets and fell asleep by herself most weeknights, both appreciating the quiet time to rest and missing the romantic time with her husband. She’d wake up early again the next day and start the same cycle all over again.
Amanda didn’t feel great on a day-to-day basis, and although she was working on developing a positive attitude, it was work. She made a vow to release the past and intended to keep it. Yet she was not yet living this new life. She was unsure how to move forward. It was as if she was being born again. A new Amanda was emerging, but it was a slow process.
She didn’t know what it would take to get her out of the rut she was in. She reflected upon her upbringing and her counselor’s advice that she mother herself just like she mothered her children. It was so easy to say, but so hard to do. Every day, she made sure her boys had a hot healthy breakfast, plenty to drink, and a few snacks stowed away in their backpacks to consume later in the day. She frequently lectured them about nutrition and safety but didn’t set the same standards for herself. She wanted to make changes but didn’t know how to. Richard was always so busy at the hospital, he didn’t have time to talk when she called. She had to find ways of filling her time on her own. She didn’t want to go back to work full-time as she loved being there for her boys after school, but she felt isolated staying home.
Amanda decided to sit in meditation and breathed deeply in and out releasing tension and opening herself up to fresh energy. Meditation was one way she could learn to live in the moment. It helped her relax and feel more peaceful and positive. She envisioned a golden light shining through her body and imagined her racing thoughts were balloons that she released into the air.
Twenty minutes passed. It was a sunny day outside, so she decided to hop on her bike and get some fresh air. Exercise also helped her feel good. Doing small things to take care of herself every day was so important and so rare. She felt invigorated as the wind blew threw her long brown hair, pulled back in a messy ponytail. The sidewalk by her house led to a park nearby, so she followed the path into the grove of cottonwood trees. Ducks and herons sat by the lake, and little turtles poked their noses up through the surface of the water. Ahead of Amanda on the trail was a group of older people, and as she took in the beauty of nature around her and approached them from behind, she mentally prepared herself to go around them. She had always taught her boys stay to the right on trails in case other people are coming from the other way or so people could pass them from behind on the left. But this group of aging asian men and women filled up most of the path, and she began to wonder if they would hear her bike and adjust their positions so she could pass. As soon as she was in earshot, she heard them speaking and immediately recognized the Korean language.
Although she never spoke Korean, she heard her dad speak it and over time eventually learned to recognize its characteristics even though she didn’t understand the language. His funeral was completely in Korean, a bad memory for many reasons including that his friends didn’t know he had a daughter. Hearing Korean opened up old wounds automatically, but Amanda also felt a strange kindred spirit with Koreans she encountered.
She passed them on the left, waved, and said hello and smiled. They were surprised and looked at her in bewilderment. At that moment she turned her head around and tried to get control of her front tire. It got caught in the space between the concrete path and the dirt. Suddenly, her bike teetered beneath her and she lost balance, falling hard on her left side. Her left knee was bleeding, and her left wrist was bruised and sore. The Korean seniors gasped in surprise, still confused. Then, they turned forward and kept walking as Amanda sat there embarrassed and hurting.
There was nobody there to help her up or to kiss her boo-boos. Just like her dad wasn’t there for her when she needed him as a child. She hadn’t crashed her bike in as long as she could remember. What luck; just when she was trying to take better care of herself and leave the past behind, she got caught in a literal rut and opened up new and old injuries at the same time. Amanda did the only thing she could do. She got herself up, brushed off the pain, turned her bike around and got back on it. Once she got home, she went back to bed to get some more rest before it would be time to start her shift as a mom again.
Chapter 10 A Stronger Woman
“Have you ever done anything like this before?” The photographer asked Amanda.
“No, never. I can’t even believe I’m here.” She replied hesitantly.
“Because…it’s so not like me…here I am in my bra and panties talking to you, a total stranger.” She laughed and tried not to seem as nervous as she really was. “But a friend did this and told me about it. When I saw the Groupon, I couldn’t resist.”
“Just relax. I will help you through it.” He reassured her, sizing her up looking for her best assets and thinking creatively how to show them off.
She started to sweat nervously. Almost naked in front of this total stranger, Amanda felt exposed literally and figuratively. She thought she must look bad and felt embarrassed being in a studio taking bedroom pictures for her husband Richard. But after everything they had been through, she was trying to do something special for him and to reignite the spark of their love life. She missed the days when their relationship was full of passion. She felt that he was distant and maybe even thinking about someone else. She wanted him to look at her like she was sexy like he used to. She hadn’t worn lingerie in a long time. Richard bought her many pretty sets, and she used to wear them on special nights, but they didn’t stay on very long. The years passed by, and her body and soul had gone through many changes, but there she was with her hair done, makeup on, and dressed in sexy outfits. It had been so long since she’d gotten all dolled up like that.
“Ok, sit on the bed and cross your legs. Put your right arm on the bed and look at me. Lower your chin.” He instructed. “Imagine your man is standing over there. Or better yet, who is your favorite male celebrity?” He asked.
She giggled and answered, “Brad Pitt.”
“Imagine Brad Pitt is standing at the end of the bed. Turn your head towards him and give him a ‘come and get me’ look.”
She looked at the empty space at the end of the bed, trying to pretend it was Brad Pitt. She imagined his long, flowing blonde hair and strong lean muscles in the movie Troy. Making an awkward smile, she tried to look sexy but burst out in laughter. “I can’t do this. Do you make porn in here on the weekend?” she implored.
That made the photographer laugh. “Porn? Why would you say that?” he said like he had never heard a question like that before.
“Well, because you know, the bed, lights, a camera, it seems like a good set for a porn movie. Not like I would know or anything,” she followed up.
“No, we don’t do porn in here on the weekend,” he answered. And then he snapped some candid pictures capturing her genuine smiles and laughter. “Let’s try this again. This time lie down. Put your legs up and point your toes. Bend your elbows and pull your hair up and then look at me.”
She obliged, rolling on her back and pointing her toes. She pulled up her hair and looked into the camera.
“Arch your back a little,” he continued. “Very nice,” he said as he took a few more pictures. “So how many kids do you have?” he asked her innocently.
“Uh, five. I mean three. Well, I had five, but…now I have three.” The mood got serious all of a sudden. “I don’t really want to talk about it ok?” She knew if she went into detail she would get really upset, and she didn’t want that to set the tone of the photo shoot. She was trying to accept the past and move on.
“Wow, five kids. Ok sure, no problem. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“It’s ok. It’s a long story. But yes, I had five kids, and I also have a granddaughter. My oldest son and his girlfriend…it’s another long story.”
“Wow, a grandchild. That’s wonderful, and you look amazing. Now turn over on your stomach and lose the bra top. Lean on your elbows and look at me.”
She couldn’t help but think of her babies. All five of them. All five beautiful creatures her body produced. She had stretch marks on her breasts and belly from her pregnancies. A bit uncomfortable, she made sure to cross her arms as she propped herself up, crossed her ankles and looked up at the camera with a serious face this time. Her crossed arms accentuated her cleavage. This time she didn’t smile. If he only knew the whole story. God, I miss Anderson and Ella.
She continued changing poses and outfits. As the hour went by, Amanda felt a little more comfortable. With each question from the photographer, she sank a little deeper into her personal world. He asked where she was from and what she did for a living. As she answered, he snapped pictures. She didn’t really want to talk about any of it because it made her upset and she was trying to turn over a new leaf. The raw emotions came through in her pictures.
When she sat down to look at the proofs and pick the ones she wanted, it was like a whole new beginning. She didn’t like seeing her stretch marks and the cellulite on her belly and thighs. She wished her face wasn’t so bumpy, and she wished her hair looked better. “Look at me. Yuck. I hate how fat I am,” she complained about the first couple of proofs they viewed, “my stretch marks look awful.”
He encouraged her to look for the positive in her pictures, and it started working. “Amanda, why don’t you feel beautiful? Look at you, a grandmother who had five kids of her own. That’s something to take pride in. I’m sure your husband thinks you are beautiful. Look at this picture, it’s like fine art,” He maximized one of the pictures and put a soft filter on it, “now what is wrong with this one?”
“Well, I don’t know…” she looked for something negative to say, but this time he was right. The angles were just right to accent her best features. And she had a soft expression on her face. It was very candid, not forced.
“It’s all in your attitude. You can choose your attitude every day. You can choose positivity or negativity; it’s up to you. That’s what this business is about – helping women like you feel good about themselves and to do something nice for themselves. Most women are so busy taking care of families and households that they stop taking care of themselves. I meet so many women who come here for a boost because they are aging and feel they have let themselves go. These pictures are not only for your husband; they are for you. When you feel bad about yourself, you can go through them and remember that you are perfect just the way you are. Be kind to yourself. Love your body and yourself, wrinkles, stretch marks and all. Wear them like a badge of honor and be proud of your accomplishments. Don’t be afraid of aging because it’s a privilege many people never get to experience.”
“Wow, I came here for pictures, but I didn’t think of it like that.” This is a photo shoot, but it’s also like therapy. My counselor tells me the same thing-to choose my attitude and to choose how I react to the terrible things that have happened in the past. I don’t have to be a victim of all the sadness and loss that I’ve experienced. I actually do have the power to choose my mindset, and every day is a new day, a chance to start again. “Thank you for that reminder. You are right.”
She selected her favorites and felt proud as she left the studio that day. She couldn’t wait to give them to Richard. Her experience reminded her of a couple of songs by her favorite singer, Jewel, so she put her iPhone playlist on repeat and sang along as she drove home. “It’s going to be a good day. Just wait and see. From now on, I’m going to be the kind of woman I’d want my daughter to be. I’m going to love myself more than anyone else, believe in me even if someone can’t see the stronger woman in me.”
Chapter 11 Beware the Ides of March
With the weather warming up outside, Amanda and Richard heated up their backyard swimming pool over spring break. Richard took the day off work to spend at home with his family since it was the last day of his sons’, Robert and Brad, holiday from school. Their oldest son, Steven, lived in his own place with his girlfriend and daughter, and they were too busy to come over, but Amanda talked to them after breakfast and everything sounded great. It was a sunny day outside, and she chopped vegetables in the kitchen while the guys swam outside. She planned to join them after she finished getting some lunch ready. Lying in the sun and floating in the cool water were two of her favorite pastimes.
Suddenly, Brad came running in the house through the patio door. “Dad’s dead. Mom, come quick!” Water dripped from his suit on the wood floor. He panted, out of breath, furrowed his brow, and Amanda could tell he wasn’t kidding. She could hear Robert crying.
“What? What happened?” she dropped the knife and ran outside, almost slipping on the floor. Adrenaline pumped through her veins, and she couldn’t believe what was happening. “Call 911 Brad!”
Richard floated face down in the pool. Robert cried and screamed in the pool next to him trying to turn him over. Amanda jumped in the water, shoes still on. “Richard, oh my god!” Blood was in the water, but she couldn’t see where it was coming from. “What happened?
“He jumped in and came up like this. I don’t know what happened! We were doing cannonballs. He said to watch him do a watermelon cannonball.”
She grabbed him under his armpits and tried to get to the side of the pool. He was so heavy. Amanda was only 5″3′, and Richard was 6 feet tall. She struggled to flip him over and hold his head out of the water, but he wasn’t breathing. His skin was turning blue as she cried his name.
EMS arrived on the scene and the minutes that ensued were a blur of medical equipment and questions. They were able to resuscitate him briefly, but couldn’t sustain it. He kept crashing. Amanda and the boys rushed to the hospital in the police car not far behind the ambulance. She called Richard’s family and told them what happened and to meet them at the hospital.
The doctors said he had a cervical fracture and was not breathing on his own. He had a large cut on the top of his head, toward the back. They didn’t know if he had brain activity, so they needed to care-flight him to another hospital and run several tests. Amanda knew it was bad news when the hospital chaplains introduced themselves while she, the boys, and his parents waited. The tests showed he had no brain activity and was in a vegetative state. Amanda would have to decide whether to take him off life-support and donate his organs. It was agonizing. Of course he would have wanted to donate his organs so other people could live, and she knew he wouldn’t want to be kept alive artificially. Those parts of the decisions made sense, but it would be so very hard to say goodbye to the man she married and created a family with, the man she hoped to grow old with. She sat with him in the hospital bed that night, speechless, crying, hugging him gently and lightly touching his face.
She sent the boys home with Richard’s parents and said she would stop at home and pick up some things then meet them at their house. It was too painful to think of sleeping in her bed without him. Just going back into the house was going to be hard. She made it quick, grabbing some clothes, shoes, and toiletries. She saw Richard’s phone on the table next to their bed, and she picked it up then headed over to her in-laws’ house for some sleep and a shower. What a day.
Amanda crawled under the sheets and started looking at pictures of them together on his phone. She noticed he had text and email notifications, so she opened them up, wondering what his last messages were about and to whom. She would be in charge of notifying everyone of his passing. At the top of his text screen were three messages from Amy, Amanda’s friend who also worked at the hospital with Richard. “Missed you today; How’s your day at home going? You there?”
My friend Amy? What the fuck?
There were emails from her too. As she scrolled through his pictures, she couldn’t believe her eyes. There were pictures of her husband with another woman, a beautiful, blonde woman in lingerie. And this woman was her friend, a single mom who was widowed when her husband died of cancer. Amanda supported Amy through the whole experience and helped with the care of her two boys, essentially letting the fox into the henhouse. She went into his ‘sent’ folder on his emails and sure enough, there was a long list of emails from Richard to Amy. One by one, she read them. He blamed Amanda for the deaths of their children and wanted to start a new life with her. He told her it wouldn’t be long until he was going to leave Amanda.
Her heart sank. Her stomach felt sick. How much worse could this day get? Amanda put the phone down and cried herself to sleep.
In the morning, she peeled herself out of bed and held herself together enough to go back to the hospital with her family and Richard’s parents. Richard’s phone kept vibrating with new messages, so Amanda turned it off. Today, she needed to focus on saying goodbye to her husband.
The hospital arranged the organ recipients, and informed the family they would take him off life support at 3:00 pm. Everybody said their goodbyes separately in privacy. During Amanda’s alone time with him, a few tears fell from his eyes as she lay in bed next to him, and she wanted him to answer her but knew he couldn’t. So, she just hugged him and kissed him and told him she loved him. Only Amanda and his mom were with him during his final breath. A piece of Amanda went with him that day.
- For more information on organ donation, visit http://www.taylorsgift.org
- Chapter 12 One Chance
The sky outside the Keilsth house was dark and grey. Heavy clouds loomed overhead while cold, thick raindrops fell against the window and saturating the lawn and their gardens. The raindrops raced down her window pane as she looked outside gathering her thoughts. Her heart felt as heavy as the sky. At this moment though, there were no tears, just an empty feeling inside where her marriage once lived.Richard was gone, and he was never coming back. She had to get used to that idea whether she liked it or not. The pool where he had his accident sat empty, the surface riddled with rain. It was hard for her to believe what started out as a family day at home playing in the pool became another devastating loss to her family. At least he is with Ella and Anderson now. He can take care of them in the afterlife while I take care of Steven, Brad, and Robert here.Richard’s parents took care of notifying people about his death. Amanda just couldn’t bear the task. It was hard enough to deal with all the funeral preparations. It was hard enough to mother to her three sons, to guide them in the grief process and to shield them from the secrets of their parents’ marriage. All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and lie in her bed. But she knew her sons felt the same way, if not worse because they not only lost siblings, they lost a father too. One moment changed their lives forever.Phone calls and visitors started to arrive with sympathy flowers, words of condolences, and meals for the family. Friends offered to drive the boys to school and their activities for Amanda. But, there was one friend she hadn’t seen or heard from yet, Amy, her best friend and the other woman. She assumed Amy heard about Richard’s accident because his phone had stopped receiving notifications from her. Amanda was never one to mince words or to put on a fake persona to please others, but she hadn’t had a chance to directly confront Amy yet. Inside, she felt conflicted knowing the man she loved and lived her life with betrayed her with her best friend. She only found out because he died! She grieved the loss of her husband and their future together, all the while remembering what she read in his emails to his mistress…that he was leaving her soon to start a new life. He never forgave Amanda for the accident that killed Ella and Anderson, and despite their attempts to save their marriage, he already had plans to divorce her and was sleeping with her best friend. Amanda had never felt so many emotions at one time before in her whole life. It was hard to think straight, but she knew she had to confront Amy. She had to deal with it because acting like the problem didn’t exist wouldn’t make it go away. It would slowly eat at her from the inside out.She was never known to shy away from conflict. Sometimes that got her in trouble as people thought she was confrontational. But in Amanda’s mind, people can’t solve problems unless they acknowledge the problems in the first place. Sweeping things under the rug doesn’t make them go away. Amanda believed in taking the high road, and how she would deal with her husband’s infidelity and death at the same time would be a true test of her character. So, she decided to call Amy and invite her over to talk.When she opened the door and saw Amy standing there, clearly distraught, there were no words. Amy hugged Amanda and they both cried. Amanda invited her in, and they sat down at the kitchen table to talk over coffee. Inside, she was seething with anger and intensely curious what Amy would say to her. When Amanda pulled out Richard’s phone and set it on the table between them, Amy turned white. Amanda’s stomach dropped. She told Amy she saw the texts and emails but didn’t go into detail. She stopped talking to give Amy a chance to either redeem herself or to end their friendship forever. She would have one chance to tell the truth. If she lied or denied the affair, Amanda was going to flip out.Amy knew the game was up. She knew Amanda read some of her messages to Richard. Surprisingly, she admitted everything and apologized profusely to Amanda for everything she’d done: the infidelity, the betrayal, the secrets, and the lies. She was so embarrassed, she put her head down on her folded arms on the table and sobbed uncontrollably. Amanda didn’t know how to feel. On one hand, she felt relieved Amy told her the truth and showed remorse. On the other hand, she wanted to punch her right in her pretty face and tell her to leave and never come back. Since Amy used her one chance to do the right thing, Amanda exercised some self-control. The fact was that neither woman was going to have Richard. There was really nothing to fight over.She told Amy she appreciated her telling the truth and that she mostly felt sorry for her more than anything. She knew Amy’s life turned upside down when her husband died. Richard was an amazing man and had many attractive qualities. She couldn’t blame Amy for seeing an ideal husband and father in him. She told Amy she would try to forgive her, but that it was going to take time to process everything. Because Amy told her the truth, she would commit to working on the healing process. But because Amy crossed the line in the first place, Amanda thought it would not be a good idea for Amy to attend the funeral. There was no way she could focus on saying goodbye to her husband with his mistress present. Amy would just have to deal with it. It wasn’t Amanda’s issue. Amanda drew her boundary to protect herself.Amy left in the pouring rain, and Amanda locked the door behind her. Thunder clapped and lightning streaked across the sky as she got back into bed. Maybe I can fall asleep and this will all be a bad dream.
- Chapter 13 Life: From Lion to Lamb
Just like expression goes for the month of March, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” we all come into this life crying and bloody and leave it in silence and peace. We are born alone, and we die alone. Life is a journey we share with others but ultimately, it’s a journey we take alone. With the promise of every new birth, every new life, there is the certainty that life will end. When, where, how, and why we never get to know in advance. That’s the game of life. Enjoy it while it lasts because in geological time, it’s a fleeting moment in the vastness of space. What matters the most is what happens in between birthdays and deathdays. That’s what we call life.Richard Keilsth left this earth suddenly and unexpectedly. He didn’t get to say goodbye to anybody, and Amanda and their boys, Steven, Brad, and Robert were left behind to pick up the pieces. Somehow, they had to accept the facts and move on with their lives without a husband and a father.He also left behind a broken-hearted mistress, Amanda’s so-called best friend, Amy. Amanda told her not to go to the funeral and didn’t really care about talking to her for a while. She had more important things to think about, specifically saying a final goodbye to the love of her life.Even if he was cheating on her and not a perfect husband, Richard was the love of her life. She met him while she was still in college, and they got married soon afterwards. He built a family with her and shared history with her. Amanda was working on taking the high road and forgiving both of them. What was the point of being angry with Richard when he was already gone forever? As she reflected back on their lives together, she felt that their true love outweighed all the ups and downs in their relationship. Amanda appreciated everything they experienced together during their twenty years together and couldn’t believe their love story had come to an end.Amanda went to the funeral home with her boys early and stayed late to have some personal time with him. They were all dressed in black suits. The boys were sullen, with freshly brushed hair and matching ties. She hugged each of them and fought back tears. Amanda dreaded the idea of everything that was about to happen. After losing two children already, the funeral home was a far too familiar place for the Keilsth family. First there would be the visitation, long lines of people to greet, then the funeral and burial followed by a reception. She knew she had to be strong to get through the next couple of days, stronger than she’d ever been before because this time her sons only had one parent to guide them through their loss.Her final moments with Richard were breathtaking. The last time she saw him was in the hospital, and then there he was in the coffin dressed in his favorite suit, peaceful, and silent. Make up made him look surreal. He truly was gone. What lay before her was the shell of the man she loved. His spirit and his energy were already long gone. There he was, the man who had saved so many people’s lives with his hands, the man who laughed boldly and loved intensely, lying there still in repose, gentle as a lamb. Never again would he surprise Amanda with flowers after work or jump into the pool. Never again would he betray her when she wasn’t paying attention. Their entire life together flashed in her mind as the reality sunk in.She thought of a video she saw on Facebook earlier that day and took some deep breaths.The message of appreciating all the ordinary moments before they are gone resonated with her soul. How true were those words, how little do we truly appreciate the day-to-day beauty present in our lives? Had she truly loved Ella and Anderson while they were here? Did Richard know how much she loved him that fateful day? Losing them so quickly and unexpectedly taught her an important lesson. We never really know if tomorrow will come, and we need to take the time today to tell people we love them. We need to take the time every day in all those ordinary moments to treasure and appreciate the lives we have. For just as it is certain a child will one day grow up and move away from home, each and every one of our loved ones will leave us too, and we never know when it will happen.She said her final goodbyes and laid him down to rest the next day in their family plot at the local cemetery. The funeral train extended for miles as everybody who knew and loved Richard, except his mistress Amy, came out to pay their final respects. That night, Amanda dreamed of Richard, Ella, and Anderson.Nobody spoke any words, but she clearly remembered their three figures standing there holding hands. She woke up with the feeling that he was at peace on the other side with their two children. While she wished they had exchanged words or that she could remember more of the details, it gave her a soft feeling in her heart to know that they were together on the other side. She felt empowered to watch over her boys on this side, and the memory of the dream was so vivid it made her feel like they would be there waiting for her when it was her time to go. He was truly a part of her, and his spirit would continue to live through her and their sons and grand-daughter.She got out of bed and resolved to start a new day in her new life. No more guilt, no more anger, no more fighting, just peace. She pressed play on her iPhone and this song by Rascal Flatts came on:“It wasn’t long enough together, but it was long enough to last forever.” ~Rascal FlattsRIP Richard Keilsth1961-2013Chapter 14: Moving OnAmanda decided it was time for a fresh start. There were too many memories in the Keilsth family’s four thousand five hundred square foot home. They bought it when their oldest son, Steven, was a baby with hopes of filling up the rest of the bedrooms over the years to come. They wanted a big family, and they wanted to grow roots in a big house where their kids could grow and return as college students to their old bedrooms. They thought of retiring near the ocean eventually, but with their youngest son, Robert only thirteen years old, they thought they would stay in the big house for a while. But everything changed when Richard died; Amanda decided it was time to put the house on the market and start over in a smaller house. She couldn’t stand to sleep in their bed alone or to see the pool where he died every day .
Anderson’s and Ella’s rooms remained untouched since they died unexpectedly four years ago. It was too hard for Amanda to clean out their rooms or to change the decor. A part of her wished that if she left the rooms the same as they left them, parts of her kids would stay alive. She often spent time in their rooms wondering what would have been had they gotten a chance to grow up.
Posters of Justin Bieber still hung on Ella’s walls, and her dance bag still sat on the floor unzipped with ballet and tap shoes sticking out of the unzipped opening on top. Medals and awards lined her shelves. Recital and competition pictures covered the pink walls. Notes from friends lay folded on her dresser, and candid pictures of her and her friends smiled from a bulletin board hung over her bed. Her favorite pink baby blanket waited patiently on her bed for Ella to come back from school that day. She used to joke about her attachment to her baby blanket, claiming to be unable to sleep without it.
Anderson’s room was dark blue. Toy dragons and legos decorated the corner next to his wooden bookshelf. Baby books, handed down from his older siblings were mixed in with stiff toddler books and picture books. The Superman sheets and comforter reminded her of how often little Anderson used to run around wearing a superhero costume. He loved airplanes and anything else that flew. His Taekwondo uniform sat out on top of his dresser waiting for his next class. Portraits of a happy baby boy hung from the walls in the room where her youngest child was growing up, subtle and sad reminders of the potential of his young life.
This was not how Richard and Amanda planned for their lives to unfold. She decided to put the house on the market and downsize to a smaller place. Obviously, their vision for the future had been crashed into tiny pieces, and staying in their family house just didn’t make sense any more.
She called Steven, now 21 to ask him to come over for dinner so they could talk.
“Mom, I don’t know I’m awfully busy. Do you want all of us to come? Althea has class I think. I’m supposed to be taking care of Cassidy tonight.”
“Steven it’s important. Please I need to talk to you. I know you’re busy, just thirty minutes, that’s all I ask.”
He worked part-time as a physical therapy aide while he also went to college, majoring in physical therapy. He had experience as an Army medic and wanted to use it to build a career in the medical/health field like his dad. He was getting used to the role of fatherhood despite its challenges, and he was working toward the idea of a long term commitment (engagement and marriage) with Althea. There was just so much going on in their lives, and they had only gotten back together a few months ago, he wanted to take things slowly and not make emotional decisions. Althea was also in school and working part-time, struggling to make ends meet and get an education at the same time as mothering her little girl. With his father gone, Steven felt more responsibility to help with his mom and stopped by to visit her more often since the funeral.
“OK mom what time is dinner? 6:30 as usual?” He was used to 6:30 being family dinner time growing up and knew it was his mom’s favorite time to eat a family meal together.
Nineteen year old Brad took a year off after graduating high school after the drama of losing his two younger siblings and was accepted to start college at the University of Texas in the fall. He would be moving out of the house and into a freshman dorm on the university campus. He had no idea what he wanted to major in, but he felt it was time to pursue higher education and was looking forward to a whole new life as a college student.
Thirteen year old Robert was Amanda’s youngest child. He still had several years left living at home. Amanda wanted to find something with three bedrooms (instead of six) so she, Robert, and Brad could finish this school year and then it would just be the two of them, Robert and Amanda, living together after that. It would be a tough conversation to have because life would be so different, but she needed to have it with her boys.
That night when they sat down to eat dinner together, she told her sons what was on her mind. Little Cassidy watched Spongebob as she ate her dinner, spilling peas onto the placemat.
“I decided to put the house on the market boys. I know this is the only home you’ve ever known, but it’s time to move on. There is too much sadness, and there are too many memories here. I called my realtor earlier today, and tomorrow we will start getting the house ready to show. I know this is going to be hard for you, but it’s something I feel very strongly about, and it’s something I need to do…for me and for us.”
The boys were surprised but took the news pretty well. In between bites of mashed potatoes with gravy and roast chicken and peas, they took turns asking questions.
“What about school?” Robert inquired.
“We will try to stay in the same zone. I don’t want to disrupt your lives any more than they already have been. I need to think about the finances, and this house is just too big for us. I also…” Amanda broke into tears, “…I also need a whole new reality. It hurts too much to stay here after everything that’s happened. Daddy left us insurance money, but I’m probably going to have to go back to work, and we won’t be able to afford living in a house this big. I need to make a fresh start in a smaller place, and I’m hoping you will both support me in my decision. Our family needs a fresh start.”
“What about Ella and Anderson’s rooms?” Brad couldn’t imagine the thought of his mom packing both rooms away. “Do you want my help in there?”
“Brad, that’s very sweet of you. Yes, I would love your help. I will need your help. It’s been too hard for me to change them so far, but we need to accept the past for what it is and go for it. It’s time. Life is telling us loud and clear it’s time to move on.”
“I’ll help too mom.” Robert added.
Steven agreed it was a good decision and also offered to help. “Mom, maybe you should let us take care of the packing for you. Dad would want us to take care of you. He wouldn’t want you to pack up their rooms alone.” His green eyes mocked Richard’s glances as he waited for an answer. His lips smiled in Richard’s familiar way.
Amanda was so proud of her young men. They all shared a piece of their dad with her and carried on his life in his absence. Amanda imagined all of them together, although there were three empty seats were at the dinner table that night. “Thank you. I love you guys so much!”
Chapter 15: Wings to FlyThe next day, they started packing up Anderson’s and Ella’s bedrooms. Once they finished those two rooms, they could start working on the rest of the house. The house was already nicely decorated and usually kept tidy since Amanda was a stay-home mom. It had been four years since anyone touched the two empty kids’ rooms. Bravely, Amanda got to work with all three of her sons, starting in Ella’s room with Brad, while Steven and Robert started in Anderson’s room. Deciding to pack everything away temporarily and not throw or give anything away, it was just a matter of putting things into boxes.Little Cassidy played on the X-box downstairs in the living room while everybody worked upstairs. She made noises as she swiped left and right to chop fruit on Fruit Ninja. Jumping and laughing, she was totally oblivious to the serious tone of her family upstairs. “Woo hoo, high score daddy! Look!”“Cass daddy’s busy upstairs now. Good job, I’m super proud of your high score. Try to beat it again!”Picking up Ella’s bedazzled dance bag by the strap, Amanda zipped it and packed it away as it was. They took the pictures off the walls and carefully bubble wrapped them. Her jewelry went into Ziploc bags, and her posters were carefully rolled up. One by one, they cleaned out her drawers and emptied her closet. Next to her bed sat a small framed picture of baby Ella, taken on her first day of life in the hospital. She wore the generic pink and blue stretchy baby hat that all newborns receive as a welcome gift. Her little face was pink and puffy, but Amanda could see her big girl in that baby’s face, and it was all too much for her. She reached her limit. She sat down on her bed holding the picture frame, hung her head, and started crying. Steven hugged her then took the picture frame from her hands and put it back down on the bedside table.“Mom, take a break. I got this. Why don’t you go hang out with Cassidy for a while?”Nodding her head and taking a few breaths, she agreed with her oldest son and left Ella’s room to check on her granddaughter. Cassidy was still slicing fruit, making samurai moves and grinning ear to ear. “Grammy look I got a high score! Want to play with me?”Amanda couldn’t help but smile and laugh in return. Such innocence. “Oh honey, I don’t know if I feel like playing now. I’m not feeling so great.”“Let’s go outside! Daddy always tells me to go outside for some fresh air when I’m not feeling good. We could ride my new bike! You know, my pink one with the bell that you keep here for me to ride? Please Grammy, please?” She smiled a convincing smile and opened her eyes wide with anticipation.How can I resist her? “Sure Cass, let’s go outside, why not? Get your sneakers on and I”ll go look for your helmet.”Cassidy had her own bike at her house and was in the process of learning how to ride it. Amanda bought her an extra bike so she could practice when she took care of her. They just took the training wheels off the last time she was over a few weeks earlier.Outside, it was a beautiful sunny day without a single cloud in the sky. Amanda and Cassidy brought the bike around to the front of the house so she could practice on the sidewalk.“OK, now remember how you did this last time? Remember to keep the pedals moving forward and handlebars straight. Find your center. Balance.” Holding her gently from behind, she counted to three then pushed Cassidy slightly forward. Cassidy pedaled, and the handlebars wiggled. She put down her left foot to keep herself from falling over to the side.“I’m going to crash! I can’t do it! Grammy, I’m scared.”“It’s ok honey, you can do it. It just takes a little practice. You’ll get the hang of it; I promise. Come on, let’s try again. Let’s move your pedal around to the top of the cycle so it’s easier for you to get started. Ready?”Reluctantly, she tried again. This time she pedaled, and although the handlebars wiggled a little, she straightened them out and kept going straight past the next house on their street.“I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”“Yes, you are! Keep going and stop at the alley!” Amanda watched as Cassidy continued down the street and to the alley. Cassidy stopped, turned around and called for her Grammy to help her get started again.“Try it once on your own and see if you can do it!” she encouraged.Cassidy paused for a few moments, then started pedaling her way back. Her blonde curls blew in the wind, and her sweet smile was mesmerizing as she approached and stopped her bike. Elated, she jumped into Amanda’s arms. “I did it! I’m so happy!”“You sure did. I knew you could. High five!” She congratulated Cassidy and decided to bring out her portable chair to the front yard. “I’ll sit here and watch while you do it again.”Chapter 16: Without YouAmanda dreamed about Richard every night for a week in a row. There were bits and pieces of flashbacks to previous memories like the first time they met and the last time they made love. She usually didn’t dream about him, but since he passed away unexpectedly, it was almost all her subconscious was working on. The press of his lips, his muscular arms holding her, and the sound of his voice all seemed so real. Other times, the dreams took place in surreal surroundings with imaginary people. This time as Amanda slept alone in her king size bed, he told her he loved someone else and wanted a divorce. There was no emotion, no remorse, just simply stating the facts. He wasn’t attracted to her anymore and found someone else he wanted to be with. That was it whether she liked it or not.She begged and pleaded with him to stay with her and was so mad at him she even tried grabbing him and slapping him in the face to bring him to his senses. “I know I’m not as young, hot, and cute as she is, but Richard we have children together! I will try harder to lose weight and get in better shape. Please stay with me. Don’t do this!”But it was to no avail. Richard and his mistress, a thing yet curvacious long-haired brunette who looked no older than 25, held hands as they turned their backs to her and walked away. Amanda cried and felt completely defeated as her husband literally walked out of her life. The woman turned back to give Amanda a sly smile as if to say, “he’s mine now.”Crying out in her sleep, she awoke to see her familiar bedroom windows and realized none of it was real. Her heart pounding and her breath heavy, she told herself it was just a dream, blinked her eyes a few times to focus and rolled over to look at the ceiling. The fan turned around and around as her mind adjusted back to this earthly realm.Sunlight poured in through the window and lit up her wedding picture on the opposite wall from her bed. She didn’t know what to think. Her new normal included a quieter house with fewer chores and nobody to fight with or blame her for the death of their children. But her new normal also meant life as a single mom. Nobody would be there to comfort her when she had a bad dream. Nobody was there to help with the kids or to share happy times with. It felt like being alone in a crowd. Life would continue around her, but inside she knew she was alone and could only count on herself.Her book of boudoir photos sat next to their bed. Richard died the day before the pictures came in, so he never got to see them. Amanda scoffed at herself as she picked it up and looked through all the pictures of her scantily dressed in provocative poses. She wanted so badly to surprise him with something special and to put a spark back in their relationship. She remembered seeing the picture of his mistress wearing lingerie on his phone and a sick feeling came over her. While her nightmare wasn’t real, Richard was cheating on her in real life and wanted to leave her. Plus, she looked way better in lingerie than Amanda did.
How could he stay with me if that’s how he felt? When was he planning to leave? Was there anything I could’ve done to stop him or change his mind? We made love the morning he died. Everything felt nice between us. I knew he was distant sometimes, but I didn’t know…
She got out of bed, showered and went to the cemetery after she took Robert to school. Richard’s grave was right next to Anderson’s. It had a lack of green grass growing on top, just a sandy rectangle of disturbed earth. All the flowers from the funeral were gone. It was obviously a new grave compared to the other two. She placed single roses on each one, pink for Ella, red for Anderson and Richard. She still needed to order him a headstone, so the temporary marker identified the place where the love of her life lay. She realized that’s where she would also spend eternity, next to her husband and kids. But for now, she was still free to live her life.
She sat down on his grave. Her legs felt weak as noodles. Her body ached with exhaustion and grief. Her heart overflowed with emotions. With a pen and paper, she started to write:
Under the earth you lie
Still as a statue Frozen in time Resting forever
Body entombed Spirit free as a bird Flying through space and time Living in the next world
Everywhere and nowhere
Watching and waiting for us
You were so full of life I didn’t know how fast it would end Now the story’s told And I’m here without you
Living, breathing, loving, learning
In the sunlight with the wind in my hair
And all I want is to be near you
Can you hear me?
Can you see me?
I should be mad at you
I should want to leave you for what you did
But I’m not glad your gone
The truth is
I wish you were here with me
I miss your smile
Your beautiful eyes
Your soft lips to kiss
Your strong arms around me
Your sense of humor
I miss you, all of you
It’s hard to be here
“Your mother checked herself in last night after an attempted suicide. She is stable physically so far today, but she may need ongoing treatment at a behavioral health facility if she doesn’t show improvement. She is clearly a threat to herself, so hospitalization is indicated. And as you know, this isn’t her first hospitalization. We are lucky she called for help.” Dr. Goldstein explained. “Her suicide note mentioned you by name so I wanted to inform you and see if we might be able to set up another therapy session online. I know you are far away and can’t drop everything to come into town, although a personal visit is exactly what your mother probably wants.”
“Are you kidding me? What did it say? Why is this my fault? What did she do?” Amanda asked incredulously. Her heart was beating fast imagining her mom lying in the hospital room alone.
“Amanda, she cut her wrists and then called 911 on herself before it was too late. She talked about the last time she saw you two years ago when she changed her flight and left early because she was so uncontrollably upset. That was a few years ago as you remember. She said you haven’t been calling her enough since then. How you don’t even care if she is alive and how she feels ignored and unloved. Your mom is hurting a great deal Amanda. I’ve tried over the years to help you two repair your relationship, since you were a child in fact. It’s hard for you to understand her multiple conditions, but she feels very isolated and alone. She places an overwhelming amount of pressure on you to take care of her when really she is the mother and you are the child. It’s a classic behavior pattern for parents with Borderline Personality Disorder. Add depression and anxiety to the mix and she needs a lot of help navigating through her life. Although as you know she doesn’t like to have a label or a diagnosis or disorder. I know this is hard for you. So please let’s sit down and talk about this.”
“Hard for me? Trust me I am dealing with a lot. The last thing I need right is for her to blame me for her problems. I don’t have much energy left to give. She is like a sinkhole of emotional energy. This is why I can’t stand to talk to her. Instead of being there for me when my life turns upside down, she makes everything about her….and even worse she blames her misery on me. I don’t know. I need to think about it. She can’t manipulate me like that. We haven’t patched things up since she left my house early during that one Christmas vacation years ago! We’ve barely talked and have only had email communication for the most part. Communicating with her is stressful for me and toxic to my life. I’m a mother. My kids need me healthy and happy.”
“This is a cry for help. She needs you. She needs help, and I am working with her. Think about it and let me know if you can make time. Just call my office, and they will schedule a Skype conference.”
Amanda thanked her mom’s psychiatrist and hung up the phone. They knew each other for years, and she admired his calm demeanor, but knew inside she didn’t have the energy for a face to face meeting with them. Her mom was so frustrating because she was in denial about her mental conditions. She refused to take medication or accept diagnoses, but she claimed that she was overly sensitive and held on to baggage from her past as a defense strategy. On one hand she would say she lived a rough life, and on the other hand she would say there was nothing wrong with her. She wanted people to feel sorry for her and to treat her differently because she was overly emotional and sensitive. Yet she refused to do anything about her problems herself. She blamed others for her unhappiness and raised Amanda with the constant threat that she might kill herself when they got in fights. Amanda grew up with the uncertainty of not knowing whether she would find her mom dead one day, and that it would be her fault because of something she did wrong. It was a cruel and unfair burden to place on a child.
Now after all these years, she actually tried it. Unbelievable. I can’t believe this is happening. I need her to be there for me. I’ve lost so much. I’m hurting now. Other people can call their moms when they need support. Other people spend time with their moms, have fun and feel support.
She remembered that Christmas vacation that changed history with her mom. It was the last time Amanda invited her. She changed her flight to leave early on the day after Christmas because she was so upset she decided to take herself out of the equation. She couldn’t control her emotions and felt agitated and upset, living in her own dramatic world. Impulsively, she came downstairs that morning saying she was leaving a full week ahead of schedule. Like she was doing us a favor because she caused such a scene in our family’s house the day before. She unloaded emotional baggage to Richard explaining how her own parents never loved her on the main stairway in the house while the kids retreated to their bedrooms with doors shut to avoid their grandmother’s outburst. At the time, Amanda did what she knew best. She let her go. Richard drove her mom to the airport. A door inside Amanda’s heart closed when the front door closed behind them. It was a final physical declaration of what Amanda grew up knowing all along, that her mom was unavailable to her. Even if they both wanted a good relationship, it just wasn’t going to happen in this lifetime.
Her phone started ringing again. The ringtone interrupted her train of thought with Jewel’s angelic voice saying “Follow your heart, your intuition. It will lead you in the right direction.” It was Robert‘s school calling.
“Hi it’s Cindy in the nurse’s office at Canyon Creek East. I’ve got Robert here with me. He is sick and needs you to pick him up. He’s got a fever of 103 degrees.”
“Oh hi, sure, thank you so much for calling. Be there in a few minutes.” Amanda pressed ‘end’ on her iPhone and shifted gears.
I’m going to have to deal with my mom later. Right now Robert needs his mom.
- Mothers Love (Photo credit: krandolph)
- Chapter 18: Good Enough
Sometimes is never quite enough
If you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love
Don’t forget to win first place
Don’t forget to keep that smile on your face
Be a good boy
Try a little harder
You’ve got to measure up
And make me prouder
How long before you screw it up
How many times do I have to tell you to hurry up
With everything I do for you
The least you can do is keep quiet
Be a good girl
You’ve gotta try a little harder
That simply wasn’t good enough
To make us proud
I’ll live through you
I’ll make you what I never was
If you’re the best, then maybe so am I
Compared to him compared to her
I’m doing this for your own damn good
You’ll make up for what I blew
What’s the problem…why are you crying
Be a good boy
Push a little farther now
That wasn’t fast enough
To make us happy
We’ll love you just the way you are
If you’re perfect
Alanis sang the lyrics that took Amanda back to her childhood and the constant pressure to be better, to be perfect in her parents’ eyes. Despite being divorced and living in separate states, both her parents were disappointed with her for various reasons. First, she was born the wrong sex so that put her at a disadvantage in her father’s estimation from the beginning. First born sons get the respect in Korean culture. Second born children, especially girls are not as valuable to aging parents. Then she didn’t accept the right religion (her mom’s fundamentalist Christianity) or get accepted to the right college (where her father worked) because she didn’t get “good enough” grades. Instead, she rebelled against their advice and set out to create a family of her own that accepted her for who she was.
Looking in the mirror, she saw the same eyes of that young girl and mentally hugged her, saying her mantra to herself. You’re perfect the way you are. Written on a neon green sticky note with a black sharpie, it was hard to avoid seeing it as she went through her daily beauty rituals. Her eyes were the same, but everything else grew up over the years. Her worries, joys, and experiences all carved into wrinkles on her tan skin. Instead of looking for her flaws, she observed with her mind and kept her focus on her golden brown eyes. Another sticky note written by Richard told her, “You are beautiful.”
She dabbed concealer under her eyes and on her other imperfections then brightened up her eyes and face with fresh color and black mascara on curled lashes. Careful not to overdo it, she preferred a natural healthy look, plus at this point it was difficult to find the energy to go through her routine. Her counselor suggested it as part of an overall self-care program, starting with basics like hygiene and appearance. So, she woke up early just to take a shower and do her hair and makeup before starting her day. She liked the effects of enhancing her natural beauty with feminine touches, but as with everything in life there is a law of diminishing returns. Too much concealing and too much color makes a woman look fake and desperate for attention. It calls more attention to the flaws instead.
If only it were so easy to conceal imperfections in our lives.
So many things weighed on her mind…Richard, Ella, Anderson, Richard’s affair, life as a single mom, her boys, her granddaughter, her mom in the hospital. Taking care of herself was literally the last thing on Amanda’s mental list, so it really did take effort. Mother’s Day was just a few days away, and she hadn’t had any contact with her mom since her suicide attempt.
Amanda was learning to let go of guilt, and she felt especially guilty that her mom was alone and suffering. Knowing the perfect daughter would fly into town and visit in the hospital with flowers, Amanda gave herself permission to be less than perfect, to be good to herself even if it meant staying away from her mom. Even though it was sad her mom did that, it was even sadder she blamed it on Amanda instead of accepting her problems as her own and attempting to work on those problems with professionals. She certainly wasn’t being and hadn’t been a perfect parent.
I will send her some flowers and a card. That’s something. Better than nothing.
She loved her mom but knew that engaging with her would be toxic, so she stayed away. It was not a utopian mother-daughter relationship. No sense falling prey to a nirvana fallacy. The more Amanda let her mom into her world, the worse she felt and the more stressed and upset she was. Being a mom to her own children took all her energy.
She was thankful for her life and her family and needed to try to stay in a positive place. It was her daily practice to let go of the negative and appreciate the positive. She knew life can change at any moment, and she learned the hard way to love fully while there is the opportunity. Her life was still full of love, and although it felt like the end of the road in many ways, she knew there was beauty in the world. Dwelling on the positive was the best way she knew to keep herself from sinking into deep depression and activating a stress response in her body.
Richard and the boys always made Amanda queen for the day on Mother’s Day. This would be the first time she would celebrate it alone. This year, she would have to see the positive in celebrating it with her boys and her granddaughter. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be good enough. Keeping everything in perspective, at least she had three handsome sons and a gorgeous little granddaughter to celebrate.
People in the world are suffering way worse than I am. I am fortunate to have Cassidy and the boys. I am a proud mother and grandmother.
Because of her tense relationship with her mother, Amanda vowed to be a different kind of mother to her own children. And having Cassidy as her granddaughter felt like another opportunity to raise a little girl, one she missed out on when Ella’s life ended unexpectedly. She made it her priority to attend regular therapy and took medication for depression, unlike her mother. She told her boys all the things she loved about them and complimented them for qualities unique to their personalities. She encouraged them to follow their dreams and to believe in themselves. She and Richard tried not to fight in front of the children, and they showed affection in front of them. As far as the kids knew, everything was fine in their marriage except the grief. She tried to shield the kids from her troubles. And she never blamed them for anything going wrong in her life.
I am not perfect, but I’m perfect the way I am.
- Chapter 19: Honesty
Amanda, Brad, and Robert sat at the kitchen table for dinner. The lazy Susan in the center was full of the boys’ favorite meal, lasagna, garlic cheese bread, and salad. Feeding two teenage boys kept Amanda busy, and sitting down to eat together and practicing manners was important to her. Taking turns serving themselves, Robert kept his eye contact away from his mom because he knew he was in trouble. With a nervous feeling in his stomach, he started eating the lasagna hoping that it would calm down.“Highlights and lowlights. Robert?” Amanda asked as she poured herself a glass of her favorite Merlot. She kept a pleasant tone of voice and had a smile in her eyes, attempting to set a positive tone at the dinner table.“My highlight is everything, and my lowlight is nothing” he replied with his standard answer.“Brad?”Brad was wolfing down his third piece of garlic bread and mumbled, “uh let’s see.”“Finish eating before you answer. Where are the manners?”“OK,” he swallowed and looked around as if trying to recall his day. “My highlight was probably soccer practice, and my lowlight was waking up this morning. I seriously hate getting up so early. How about you mom? What are your highlights and lowlights?”“Well, my highlight is right now. I love being together with you boys. And my lowlight is getting a call from school today about Robert’s unexcused absence. What exactly is that all about little man?” She turned her eyes to Robert and waited patiently for his answer. Amanda had already raised two teenagers, her oldest Steven was quite a challenge in high school, and Robert was easier because he was her second oldest. She learned some things along the way raising her oldest. At eighteen, Brad was past his roughest teenage years and becoming more mature.“What? Robert skipped school? What’s up with that little bro?” Brad laughed casually.Robert didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to tell the truth, and he didn’t want to lie either. What a bummer that the school calls the parents. He thought to himself as he avoided his mother’s stare. He looked out the window, then back to his plate. “What? I was there!”“Robert, come on. Do you think I believe you or the school? You know I am an adult who believes other adults in most cases.”“Dude, little brother, do not lie to mom. She hates that. You will be better off telling the truth than if you start lying. Liars need to have a good memory little bro; once you start lying you weave a tangled web of deception and have to start lying about your lies. It’s confusing brother. Trust me on that one. Been there, done that. Remember when I got in trouble for lying about going to the movies and got busted going to my friend’s party? Mom was so mad dude. I got my car taken away for a month! How was I supposed to know she could track my location on my phone? That’s sneaky mom. I was so stupid. If you skipped school today, mom can handle the truth. She already knows. Just be honest. A little bit in trouble for telling the truth is way better than a lot in trouble because of both the behavior and the lying.”Robert kept eating, letting his big brother have the floor. Anything to postpone having to answer his mom. He didn’t think he would get caught, so he didn’t even have a good story. Amanda waited patiently, eating her salad and sipping Merlot. “Wow, your big brother has gained some wisdom has he?” She smiled at Brad and thanked him for his help. “He is right Robert. If you did something wrong, trust me I can understand that. You are human. We are all human. We mess up from time to time. That’s how we learn, from our mistakes. This is not my first time dealing with bad behavior, so your lucky to be the youngest. At thirteen years old, frankly I expect to have some behavior issues. That’s normal really. If you skipped school, I would at least like to know why and what you were doing. I care about you. And your education is important. Whatever it was you were doing is not more important than school. You will learn that one day.”This was the first time he had ever skipped class, and now he felt so stupid because all he did was walk around. He didn’t even do anything exciting or scandalous. “It was math mom. I wasn’t ready for the test. I didn’t want to fail it” he said softly, embarrassed.Brad laughed at him as he cleaned his plate. “Hey now be nice Brad. Honey, thank you for telling me. I didn’t even know you had a test coming up. You skipped class so you wouldn’t fail the test? What did you do? Where did you go? Were you with anyone?”“I just walked around. I didn’t go anywhere, and no I was alone.”“And nobody caught you in the halls?”“I guess not.”“Are you sure that’s it? You weren’t smoking cigarettes or drinking beer or trying drugs were you? Please tell me there wasn’t a girl involved. Seriously.”“Mom! Come on. No!” Now he was really embarrassed.“Because I want you to know you can talk to me about those things. I know what it’s like to be a teenager, and I know that there are drugs in the schools here. Don’t get me started on that. But honey, you are going to be exposed to all those challenges for the next several years. My bottom line is safety with you boys. And pregnancy as in not getting a girl pregnant. I want you kids to stay alive and not get a girl pregnant before you are married. That’s it.”“Like Steven?” Robert was happy to get the attention off of him.“Yes, like Steven. We all saw how stressful that was for both him and Althea at the time, and we see how they struggle now as a young couple. It’s better if you can get your education and start your career and get married before you start having babies. But just like with Steven, there is nothing this family can’t handle. I just want you boys to tell me the truth. And I will help you handle whatever it is. Since you told the truth, you will lose electronics for a day, and you will write an apology note to your teacher for skipping her class. If you were going to concoct a lie about it, the consequence would have been much more serious young man. Since it’s an unexcused absence, you will have to accept the consequence, which in this case is a failing grade. Unfortunately you won’t be able to make it up like you would if it was an excused absence. That stinks, but hopefully you will learn from this experience. If you need help, just ask. I am good at math! In fact, why don’t you boys clean up the kitchen after dinner and then you and I will sit down and look at the material.”“Yes ma’am.” He reluctantly agreed, knowing that being polite was his best option right there. Honest and polite.