Monday, February 23, 2015

40 days and 40 nights

I owe a large amount of money to a financial institution in Texas who holds all my student loans. These have been in various stages over the past 9 years… deferment, forbearance, and now IBR (income based repayment). I have repaid a meager amount considering.
Recently, I was able to once again put the loans into the IBR mode. All I had to do was to fill out the request form and send that plus my most recent tax return and the low payment would be in place.
The other night, in the middle of the night, I woke up in a state of panic. I remembered seeing an email letting me know that I had a message awaiting me in my EdFinancial inbox. To my dismay, I suddenly had the thought that I didn’t send in the forms! They wouldn’t offer me the repayment option again! The payment was due on March 1! It was a full blown panic attack. The rest of the night was shot as far as sleep was concerned.
The next morning early, I began looking for the paperwork so that I could hurriedly get it in. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, I looked upstairs and found the folder…but the forms I needed were missing.
Suddenly, I remembered…I had mailed in the forms the day after these were requested. The panic slowly receded from my body. Everything was ok.
The point of the retelling of the crazy scene is this:
There is so much drama in my life. Between trying to act as a source of encouragement to several people in my house who have different sources of anxiety plus trying to make certain that all things that need to be done by these people actually get done, there never seems to be enough time for me to do the things I need to do…for ME.
Obviously, that problem is causing me some of my own anxiety…and as I have already noted, I am a fairly anxious person all by myself.
So, in these 40 days and 40 nights, I am exploring that anxiety…which often shows its ugly head as anger. In that I process best when writing, I am not only exploring but trying to find new ways to alleviate the anxiety so that it turns into something positive rather than negative. Right now, I feel very negative.

I don’t know how long this will work, but for the moment, I am focusing on the inward aspects of self with a hope that it will clear a path to better see beyond. For now…we will see where it leads. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Go Farther Faster

I grew up on racing. Formula, stock, or funny cars, I craved speed. I loved to watch the races but more than that I loved to go fast in a car. I adore the recent car commercial of the little girl in the back seat as her daddy is driving. She has her own steering wheel that she is working hard as her daddy drives fast in circles and back and forth. I can tell that she feels like she is in heaven. It is a fearless world.

Interstate 30 used to be a toll road between Dallas and Fort Worth. Bridge St. ran alongside of the interstate from Brentwood to Oakland. If you didn’t want to go all the way to Dallas, that road was the one you had to take. There was a hill that I loved…Daddy would always accelerate going up the hill so that when we crested the hill our stomachs would slam into our throats. I would always squeal in extreme delight at the rush of adrenaline pumping through my body. I wanted to do it again and again.

I remember when Daddy bought a 1966 Grand Prix 2 door hardtop. My heart leaped in joy at the sight of its long low lines. I was only 11 but I could tell that it would roar down the highway eating up the pavement.   

Mom considered it incredibly inappropriate for a family of four. She didn’t like to drive it but I could tell she loved it as much as we did when we crested that hill.

As for me…I wanted to drive it. I wanted to feel the power surging through my hands and feet. I wanted to feel my heart leap as the fear sped away.

Daddy let me drive that big old hunk of metal down our driveway one day. It was a lane that was maybe a quarter of a mile. I am sure I scared the bejeezus out of him. It was the only time I got to do that. I know Mom would have yelled if she had known about it. All it made me want to do is to drive further faster.

My grandmother had let me drive her Plymouth Valiant with push-button transmisison from a very early age. She would get out to open the gate and I would drive through it and stop. I don’t remember how young I was the first time I did that but I would have pitched a fit if I thought my parents had let my daughter drive through anything at that age! But as for me, it felt so natural. Forget the fact that I basically had to stand up to touch the accelerator or the brake.

I hated going to the go-kart places until I was old enough to drive my own. Then…I loved it. More importantly, I was good at it. I wanted to be a race car driver. I didn’t care if it was at the Indy or Daytona…I just wanted to drive fast.

Fat chance of that. Danica Patrick has had her own problems breaking into the white man’s world of racing…I had no chance in my teen years.

When I learned to drive…formally…I sat through dull and boring classes learning all the do’s and don’ts of the road. The only part I liked was the driving. My driver education instructor was also my geography teacher. We could easily get him off of the lesson of the day by asking about his summers at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He would show us videos of his races.

I got my first car for my 17th birthday. It was a 1970 Mustang fastback that my daddy had bought from a banker friend of his.  I almost got a 1971 Cutlass 442 but the guy who owned it came up with the back payments just in the nick of time. Oh my God, that yellow Cutlass was so hot! But I quickly adjusted to the Mustang. Even though there were very strict rules as to actually driving it, I would just go sit in it and dream of racing in my head.

The maddest I have ever been at my sister was one time when she snuck out my Mustang. For whatever reason, I was with Mom and Dad while she stayed at home. When we drove back into the driveway, it was immediately noticed by me that MY precious vehicle was GONE. Going into the house, it was quickly noted that my sister was nowhere to be found. Just about the time, as Daddy walked back outside, up drives my sister in MY car. She bounced over the curb and came to a rocking rest in the driveway. I was so angry that I don’t remember much but my dad saying to her, “you can’t even drive! You hit the curb!” And she belligerently and indignantly bellowed back, “I was driving just fine until I saw you standing there staring at me!” I think she was 13 at the time. Always sassy, my little sister. While it may be worth a smile or a giggle now, I was not amused at the time.

Over behind Bell Helicopter was a stretch of road that was perfect for drag racing. It is what is known as Trinity Blvd now but then, it was mostly an access road for the hundreds of people working at Bell to get to the parking lot. The road also led to Mosier Valley. Mosier Valley was the area of town where most of the black folk lived. Mosier Valley was the oldest black community in Tarrant County. It was founded by freed slaves in 1870 and named after a plantation that was home to slaves who had been brought from Tennessee to the Trinity River bottomland. (Read more here:

On Friday and Saturday nights, all the teens of the area would gather alongside the shoulders of Trinity Blvd. Cars would line up so that headlights could light the path of the screaming vehicles that raced down the road. The bit of road used was straight and perfect for drag racing…until the end. The race was over when the cars had to stop before going around a curve to the left or into the two lane road leading to Mosier Valley. There were numerous crashes when one driver or the other was so hell-bent on winning that they slowed too late.

I never raced out there on the weekends. In the first place, I, as a girl, would never have been allowed in the lineup. Secondly, my car was fast but it was not souped up enough for winning. But I would go out there on a week night. I would set my car at the start line, allow a mental countdown and bam! Foot to the floor I would be flying down that road. Too soon the curve would loom ahead of me and I would slow down. Many years later, as my little Bronco was rolling over and sliding on its side, as I saw the asphalt and grass flashing past me, I had a split second memory of the way the road looked as I raced down it.

Fear has been such a major part of my life. I have rarely been without it. But when I sit behind the wheel of a car, fear fades as the car accelerates. I can get into a zone and zoom in and out of cars, accelerating into curves, and focusing solely on the road ahead. It is a world of its own. Caution flies out the window when the “pedal meets the metal”.

I used to drive between Fort Worth and Ruidoso New Mexico on a fairly regular basis. On one journey, we were in a Good Times Van, one of those custom vans with all the comforts of home while on the road. It had a huge engine in it and gas was cheap. Traveling down U.S. Highway 380 was perfect. Long stretches of straight uninhabited highway. I could see for miles. At one point, the highway was on a upward grade and it traveled through a cut out…an area that was blown out so that the road could go through it. Just as I crested that cut out, I saw a Highway Patrol car on the other side. Too late. Sure enough, I saw him pull a u-turn in the highway and come speeding up behind me. I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and watched him angrily walked up to my window. He fiercely glared at me and asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?????” I innocently answered, “No, sir, I don’t.” He basically yelled at me, “Well, I don’t either but it was too damn fast!!!! Slow this vehicle down!!!” I said “Yes, sir.” He turned on his heel, marched back to his vehicle, slammed it in gear and spun out as he pulled another u-turn to go back from whence he came. I slowly put it in gear and took off, feeling fairly proud of myself. I am just as sure that before long, I was once again going far faster than he thought I should be going.

I suppose I could claim that a level of maturity brought me to the point that I slowed down…but no. That was not it. Rather, it was the speeding tickets. While I have not had one in a good many years and I did not get one that day, I have had a multitude of them in the past. That, plus the fact that racing a minivan doesn’t do much for me…it’s just not the same.

I find it rather ironic that driving fast is the one thing that makes the fear go away but at the same time, fear of being stopped for speeding is the reason for slowing down. If that understanding is maturity, I don’t really like it.

I still dream of racing every time I drive on I-44. With all its curves, it would be perfect for a little sports car low to the ground and capable of hugging the road.

I think I will always feel the call of the open road, the wind in my face, me racing past life, free of obstacles, the unknown ahead, the present left behind. Maybe I will go again…one day…but maybe not.

Maybe I have found other ways to be courageous and let fear fly out the window of my soul. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Web of Our Existence

or…the truth will set us free.

I didn’t go to Ash Wednesday services…I had the opportunity…two, in fact. I just didn’t go. It was a choice. It felt like a rebellious act, as though I was intentionally, pettily, childishly, pulling away from an overbearing parent. And that is the way a religious institution can sometimes feel.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Episcopal Church. I could have changed directions numerous times but did not simply because I love the ritual, the bells, the smells, the Tradition and the tradition. There is a freedom that is firmly anchored.

But it is time to detoxify a spirit long held captive by dis-ease. It is time to stop holding on so tightly to some of the sorrows in my past. Can a life be measured by deaths?

To me, my life as a child was as idyllic as an introverted, shy child’s could be. Surrounded by love, great amounts of family, just north of the heart of Texas, in the midst of one huge ranch that we lived on and the two separate farms of my grandparents, nature was our playground; our dogs and cats our playmates. Trees were our jungle gyms; dry creek beds our slides. We rode horses, jumped from the hayloft, swam in “tanks”, read books under big oak trees, felt the green grass and mud between our toes, turned brown under the summer sun and basically lived a life that was unknown to millions of people. We were always fed, always clean (for the most part), always loved. I lived with the words of my daddy in my heart, “You can be whatever you want to be.” It took me a very long time to realize that there were many obstacles within that truth.

It has taken me even longer to acknowledge the sorrows in my life.  My view of my childhood as a time free of anxiety or despair is not a reality. There was anxiety. There was despair. We have to look inward before we can see beyond.

My beloved grandfather, my “Poppy” died when I was ten. He was my mom’s step-dad but to me, the epitome of steadfast love. I could do no wrong and I worked very hard to do no wrong. To disappoint him would have been a true sorrow. His death was a tragedy for sure, one that paled the assassination of the President of the United States in comparison.  

Medger Evers and Malcolm X were not even on my radar.

We moved when I was in 6th grade from our idyllic setting to a rental house in the town of Comanche, Texas while we awaited the construction of the ranch manager’s house on Prather Ranch outside of town. We always called it the “rat house” because it was a pier and beam where rats had infested the under regions of the place. It was a horror. When we took baths, we could hear the rats running under the tub. We could hear them skittering at night. I shiver to think of it now. Thank God we only lived in the house for a couple of months.  It was the cause of a great many nightmares for me.

Not too long after moving to Comanche, while still living in the “rat house”, my mom was in a horrible car wreck. I was eleven. She lived but it took a very long time for her to heal. The old man who hit her died at the scene. I have breaks in my memory from that time. The next few years were indeed a time of high anxiety with multiple surgeries to reconstruct her face, arm and leg.

Not long after that, my daddy’s right hand man, Jesse, and Jesse’s mom died in a car accident. Jesse was driving her home from a doctor’s appointment. She was pregnant with her 14th child. Their family had lived on the Ulmer Ranch with us and followed my daddy when he became foreman of the Prather Ranch in Comanche. The tragedy was close to home. My sister and I were friends with three of Jesse’s younger siblings. They had to move from the ranch after the accident.  

Near the end of the “Civil Rights Era”, in 1967, my Granddaddy Sam died of suspicious circumstances. The suspicion was that his current wife withheld his heart medicine which resulted in a fatal heart attack. Of course, that could have been a distraught daughter thinking that…Colleen was not a nice person. It would have been easy to think she did something like that. My mom filed a lawsuit against Collie because she disposed of a lot of Granddaddy Sam’s estate prior without discussing it with Mom. He died without a will. The suit was dismissed. My mom got his guitar.

I have the guitar now. It means a great deal to me. When I was young and in the midst of a terror, I would hide. One of the places I would hide was behind a great big wingback chair in our living room. It was in a corner and a perfect fit for my scrawny body. My granddaddy came looking for me, knowing that I was in one of my fits. He found me in my corner and crawled back there with me. He lifted me up and sat me in his lap and then laid his guitar across my lap and started playing. Before I knew it, whatever fear that had seized me was gone and our laughter and singing galloped through the house.

By the time that Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, we had moved to the big city of Hurst, one of the Mid-Cities of Dallas-Fort Worth. Talk about anxiety…move that shy and anxious 12 year old girl out of the country and into the about terror. When we lived on Ulmer’s Ranch in Erath County, my fifth grade classroom was also inhabited by the third and fourth grades. All total, there were maybe twenty students in the room. Maybe. When I moved into the Comanche school district, the 6th grade had three times that many. Moving to a suburban junior high school was a leap outside my imagination. I was beyond terrified.

But I survived the onslaught of nasty boys and mean girls. I even made a couple of lifelong friends. There are even a few that I wish were still friends. The other 700 plus Class of 1971 that attended L. D. Bell High School … meh… If I attended high school reunions, it would be only to taunt the ultra-conservative factors that are so vocal today. To say our opinions are diametrically opposed is an understatement.

However, by 1970, I was entering into a state of awareness of those things around me. I had not yet come into the understanding of the correlation between poverty and war/race and war but I knew that many things were wrong. I knew that the basic alienation of human rights was wrong. I knew that the Baptist preacher was focused on the wrong message and that horse racing in Texas was not the real problem.

It was at this age that I began to recognize a deep dark anger. I do not know the origins of the anger. I would like to think it born from a profound sense of justice, a righteousness beyond my understanding. But I do not know that. At this age, that is how it manifests itself most often. But it has been something that I have had to learn how to hold in check. God has worked closely with me on it, I must say. I have overpowered God on numerous occasions. I continue to be a work in progress.

Looking back on my life and comparing it to the stories of others, pssht…it is nothing. It is calm, middle of the road. But there has always been the dis-ease, the certain uncertainty that made all life questionable. The gap that separated me from the lives of some of my childhood friends was wide, Grand-Canyon-esque in some cases. I knew no parental rages, no poverty, no strange bedrooms that were actually utility rooms or closets. I knew that my both my grandmothers had suffered mightily at the hands of one man or another. It seemed to touch me only superficially, but the rumbles were felt deep below the surface.

I have looked outward. I have stared inward.  Understanding lives somewhere in the midst of our life’s happenings. These seem random and unconnected but what hurts one, hurts us all. We are made up of the sorrows surrounding us. The unrest and worry of my mom as she wrestled with an altered life due to physical and emotional scars – both from the car wreck and her own childhood; the memories of both my grandmothers as they held in check their fears of abuse and violence so that they could go on to love and be loved by others; the alien goings-on in the lives of friends; all these things and many others are enmeshed within my own life, known and unknown. It is the web of our existence.

I am in a rebellious state and have been for quite some time. I feel as though I have complied with rules all my life. Over the past ten years, I have learned that playing by the rules makes one complicit with a good deal of the harm being done.

Some may believe that I have not played by the rules for a long while now but I tell you this – I have tried. I do not want to try any more.

I am not speaking of those little tax rules that are constantly broken or loopholes greedy ones jump through or those who toe the line to the point that they push the line into the space they want it. I am not speaking about breaking laws and getting away with it.

I am talking about truth. Truth as I see it. Truth as it is revealed to me. Truth as I believe it is revealed to me. Injustice. Disharmony. Dis-ease. Silence.

We are all a part of another, many others. We are connected. What hurts one, hurts all. There are always obstacles within the truth. But it is that connectedness that helps us get around the barriers and over the hurdles. It is the connectedness that holds us together…and sets us free.

I am ready for a new place where the webs I weave are for the good. I am ready to be free.