Endless Summer

When I saw it, I knew. It was van Gogh. I knew it not by his distinct style, but by the raw emotion that radiated off the inanimate canvas. I stood at the opposite end of the gallery and cried.

It was endless summer.

Specifically, it was “Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun” hanging in gallery 355 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Experts believe it depicts autumn, November in Saint-Rémy, based on the vibrant orange and yellow paint. It was created just seven months prior to his suicide. It stands as the only time art has moved me to tears. And what moved me was how he captured the sunlight.

I know that blazing day.

I forgot about endless summer. Life became as adult life does, a series of days in which there is work to be done for the sake of survival, and a shot at happiness one day when the bills stop exceeding the money. When you’re young, all things are possible if you can just decide what you want to do.

Endless summer of youth.

There was a large field behind the grade school with a gravel track and baseball diamonds. It was June and it was covered with dandelions. Some had turned to seed. And I lay there, relaxed. No hurry, no worry… uncommon for me. In that moment of breeze and blazing sunshine that broke behind the passing clouds, the dandelions glowed as if they were lights themselves. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt one with creation.

All was right with the world.

Laying in the field behind the school in the last days of junior high, dreaming of the life to come, blowing cottony seeds in the wind like candles for wishes. What does the future have in store for me? Will I be happy? Will I be loved?

I, so consumed with grief at the tender age of 12. I, who sought solace in the arts and nature. I, who buried myself inside my own head, inside my dream world. I was ill prepared for the hard realities that would become my life.

But that girl… she was in love with the promise of endless summer.

Life back then, it was hard. I never felt safe or like I belonged anywhere. I knew I would escape to high school. I was convinced that it would be a better experience for me. I was wrong. I was wild and out of control. 13 years old in massive grief with a fuck-off attitude. Not much has changed.

While other girls were concerned about the brand of jeans they wore or their hair and make-up, I was trying to come to terms with my father’s death and the upheaval in my family. I couldn’t relate. I couldn’t see the value of the trivial concerns of others. I still can’t. But innocence was how I was supposed to be. That was stolen from me at too young an age.

That girl… she cried for van Gogh.

We make our choices and try to live with the consequences. Once I was in college, I worked my ass off. I never wanted to be financially dependent and vulnerable to anyone else. People hide how abusive they are… people die. So, as I watched other young people be young, while I held my face to the grindstone, time slipped away. Those years I was meant to be light and free, gone.

But twenty years later, I took up cycling.

That first summer ride along the bluff of the Mississippi River under the sparse clouds and impossible blue sky- that light made the leaves look silver; the heads of flowers, tiny lamps. The sun outlined every detail in the fabric of life. The endorphins rushing through me sucked all the color through my eyes and etched it into my brain.

Endless summer means peace, it means being fully present, it means being shocked into the now by the astonishing beauty of the natural world. It is being in harmony with the flow of life without distress. And on that day, it was OK for me to hope, OK for me to want love. I did not have to be embarrassed by my longing of dreams forgotten.

That endless summer day split my flaming heart.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, June 2019

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Mother’s Day

 

I don’t really celebrate Mother’s Day because I am 400 miles away from my mom. Truthfully, I miss most holidays and celebrations. But I send cards. I call with my well wishes.

Mom has terminal blood cancer. It’s tough to write about Mother’s Day when your mother is dying, when it might well be the last. It’s not that she is on her death bed, but she is getting thinner and weaker every day. She is grinding to a halt.

I read an incredible poem once, “Our Lady of Perpetual Loss” by Deborah A. Miranda that suggests the death of the mother is the worst one must endure. But I know better. There is no consolation for parents who lose a child. There is no consolation for a child who loses a parent.

It is hard for me to imagine a more difficult death than my father. I was 12. He was 50. I was old enough to understand what had happened but so young that I did not have the capacity or experience to process it. It stands as the most traumatic experience of my life.

My mother has lived a full life and at age 78, she is of an age. She is at the time in life when one might expect its end. Still, I know the loss of her will crush me. She is my life giver and the person I met first. You only get one mom.

Back in January 2013, my mother had a doctor’s appointment to look at an irritation she had in her mouth. But a week before she could get in, my childhood home burned. She was homeless. She cancelled that appointment and did not get examined for another few months.

The irritation turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the tongue.

She had surgery to remove the lesion and was diagnosed. In September of that year, she had more surgery to remove those parts of her tongue that had cancer. They also removed her lymph node to check for migration. The hope of course was that the cancer was in its early stages, that her speech and ability to swallow would not be greatly affected, and that the cancer was localized to her mouth.

The surgery went very well, and she was sent home two days later. We lucked out with the speech and swallowing but not so with it staying localized…  The lymph node indicated that the cancer had spread to other parts of the body. There was no way to know where until it appeared again. As a precaution, she opted for radiation and chemotherapy. Eventually, the treatment ended, and she was declared ‘cancer free’. But unfortunately, there is a known risk for ten years post-radiation of developing myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)…

She developed MDS five years later.

When mom called in May of last year and told me that all of her blood counts were down, I knew. I had spent years editing a book about leukemia treatment. If your red cells and white cells and platelets are all low, you have blood cancer. I was relieved that it was only MDS, not leukemia. But the result is the same. They are both blood cancers and the only cure is a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant). Mom is too old. She would never survive it.

There are seven sub-types of MDS with varying survival outcomes. I struggled to get the answers I needed about her condition long distance. She would forget to ask the doctor for the information and when she did get information, it was not specific enough for me. I needed to know exactly what type of MDS she has and how long she was expected to live.

In December 2018, I met with her medical team and they told me that she has myelodysplastic syndrome with multiple cytogenetic abnormalities. My mother is in the high-risk group which gives her a life expectancy of about a year and a half after diagnosis. She was diagnosed in May 2018.

We are at the one-year mark.

If you do the math, it makes the coming holiday season a bit foreboding. What will Christmas look like? I have caught myself imagining life after my mother goes. I think this is all part of the pre-grief, trying to process the inevitable.

Grief can trap you in time. Grief can steal years of your life away. Grief kills people.

But truthfully, anyone can die at any time. A dear friend has said to me, “You don’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop. It’s going to.” In other words, live without the grip of your fear of pain because pain is coming. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one which is why we must live in the present, just this one day, and not anticipate trouble so much it sucks all the joy out of it. Fill the cup of life with as many good memories as possible to see you through the darkness.

It’s not just that life goes on… Life must go on. We must choose it.

And so, we do. Last month, mom traveled to Louisiana to meet her first great grandchild at 4 months of age. And in June, she will attend her 61st high school class reunion. We also have a fabulous road trip planned around her 79th birthday that will include beaches and margaritas. We can sit and enjoy our time together.

I pray we are given more than we dare hope…

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2019

Party of One

It is customary to mark anniversaries. This is a powerful week for me because it marks ten years of being single. My first long-term relationship ended twenty years ago. My second long-term relationship ended ten years ago. These dark cold days of January must really get to me. I will not get into all the reasons each relationship ended. I will only say that we disagreed.

In the ten years since the last break-up, I’ve had to recreate my life at least four times. I had to figure out who I was again, figure out how to manage my life of one- cooking, housing, living, and trying to have some fun. I had great hopes to meet someone, fall in love, get married, and have a home and a child together. I was only 36. I thought I still had time. None of that happened for me.

Life kicked me right in the head. I seem to be on some kind of three-year trauma cycle: 2010 (life threatening depression), 2013 (worst year of my life), 2016 (major medical crisis), and 2019 has the potential to be a real whopper (mom is terminal). It takes two years to recover from one bad one, then it starts all over again. The in-between years are spent losing weight (cycling) or gaining weight (eating) to try to cope with all the emotional consequences.

I have tried to date on and off with very little success. In general, the advice I was given about how to be single was to “stay busy”. Later, I was questioned whether I had time for a relationship… Other great advice from well-meaning people was to “just pick someone”. FYI- whoever you pick is going to be scrutinized to the max by friends and family.

I’ve been told all the reasons I am still single: too serious, too tall, too fat, too independent, too mysterious, too aggressive, too angry, too loud, too stressed, too smart, too confident, too busy, too much a career woman, and (my favorite) because I am not dating women. I’ve been asked, “Do you think your laughter drives men away?”

I once had a girl’s dream of what love was supposed to be… waiting on my one true ‘soulmate’, waiting on that one person who would see me clearly and erase all the pain and fix all the wrong and live up to my impossible standards… And of course, no one could.

I do not have a girl’s dream of what love is anymore. I understand that while love can bring happiness, they are not inextricably linked. In fact, love is most often expressed in patience, in silence, in forgiveness, in acceptance.

It is expressed when you allow another to collapse under depression on the couch by just being there and letting them be. It is expressed by sitting in an ICU for a month, watching someone cling to life, hold their hand and talk to them though they cannot respond.

That is the true work of love, where the rubber meets the road in loving another. It is not high romance or happy memories or exciting and fun. It is the highest form love takes: I am here. I am here. And I love you even now when it is so hard.

I have been asked if I get lonely. Of course I do. But I also know that I’d rather be alone than in bad company. I’d rather be alone than BE the bad company. I was no saint in my relationships. We each brought our good and bad. We each made our mistakes.

I love both of them- that’s a permanent condition and I will not fight my heart on that matter. But I can’t be with them. If we spend too much time together, the stress increases, we start to argue, and who needs that? Not them and not me.

When relationships end, you have to grieve the loss of the life that can never be. You have to grieve the loss of your hopes and dreams: the house never bought, the children never born, the shared memories through time that will sustain you in old age that simply do not exist.

I can not tell you how to deal with it, only that you will cry a lot and maybe for the rest of your life. You will cry at odd times. When you least expect it, a memory will return of what was once so good and is now long gone and there is nothing that can bring it back. You cry and you move on. I read once that in the end we are all faced with a choice: be bitter or not.

Love has yet to return to me but I do believe it is possible. I have many friends to see me through the hard times, past and future. To be honest, sometimes walking through trauma alone is better simply because you only have yourself to worry about. I am not dragging another person down with me. I can be sad or angry or lay in bed all day and no one cares.

I suppose you want me to write about how exciting single life can be and it’s true. I get to travel a lot, even internationally. I can be footloose and fancy free. Meeting new people is exciting. So is getting dressed for a night out with the girls and collecting all those glances the men steal. Feeling good, looking good, concerts, dancing, socializing, bars- it’s not all bad. And I get to hog my queen size bed. The mess in my apartment is mine alone. The orange juice will still be in the fridge where I left it as well as the dishes and laundry. But it’s my dirty underwear and coffee cup. So yes, being single is great in many, many ways.

But I miss the kisses… I miss being held. And most of all, more than anything else, I miss coming home to someone who asks me, “How was your day sweetheart?” and they really, truly want to know.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Resolution

It’s the new year. Like most people, I overdid Christmas. I celebrated with reckless abandon knowing that the last two weeks of the year are to feast, imbibe, and be rowdy. Let’s face it: I travel for Christmas, I’m not exercising in the hotel gym even if you paid me, and I am not cooking at home. So, letting go of my fitness goals is just reality and I embrace it.

But then New Year’s Day shows up with its fresh calendar and same old life, same old body. There seem to be two types of people- those who make New Year’s resolutions and those that don’t. For those that don’t, I get it. The turning of the year does not change your life. New Year’s Day is just January 1st.

But I fall in with those that make resolutions. Or I at least reaffirm my commitment to the goals I already have and work toward every other day of the year. I meditate on where I was at this time last year. What in my life has changed? What did I learn? What am I grateful for and what was hard and painful? And I readjust my course.

I have three major goals guiding my life at all times: Health, Wealth, and Purpose.

Health is paramount. Everything else is built on this single goal because without it, you cannot do anything else. Ask people with chronic illness and they will tell you this truth. Health  goals for me include physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The big ones of course are diet, exercise, and managing my depression. But it also includes meditation and prayer, seeking companionship with those who love me, and recreation.

Wealth at its simplest definition is money but I mean more than that here. Paying off debt and saving for the coming rainy days. Focusing on my career and what I want to do before I retire. Planning for major purchases like a home. Managing my current possessions and budgeting for my current bills. At the end of the day, money is green paper but life without it is so mean we dedicate a third of our lives in its pursuit. But I understand that it is simply a tool that I must use in order to function in our society, not the purpose for living.

Which brings me to my last goal- Purpose. What is my life’s purpose? I have enough work, projects, and writing to shut myself off from the world for the rest of my life. I could isolate and focus only on my plans, accomplishing them one by one, and maybe stop to appreciate how far I’ve come but that’s unlikely. There are always more plans to be made, more goals to achieve, no time for satisfaction… But that is not what life is for. That is not what brings life meaning.

My life’s purpose is simply this:

  1. Learn how to love others. Learn how to allow others to love me. Both require the hardest of all: Learn how to love myself
  2. Write my truth and share it with the world
  3. Live well according to my Higher Power’s guidance

It’s not about resolutions. It’s about refinement and recommitment. It’s about gracefully accepting the lessons of time and allowing all those big, big plans of youth to fall away to focus on what really matters. Time passes so much faster than we realize. It is the most precious commodity we have.

And what I would say to you for the New Year is simply this: figure out what you really want and resolve to do that in whatever capacity you still can. What else is this time for?

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019