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Author Archives: Susan D.

Prince Saved My Life

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Prince Rogers Nelson, that purple-loving pint-sized bundle of musical virtuosity, died today. As with the rest of the world I mourn his passing. His music was the soundtrack to my first year of college. My college friend, Amy, and I would sit in my room at our small Southern liberal arts women’s college listening to his albums over and over and over – dapurplerain_124pyxurzncing and singing and feeling ever so naughty (have you ever READ some of his lyrics? Sex. Sex. Sex.) Together, she and I must have seen his movie Purple Rain about 20 times in the theatre. Amy even had her hair cut in that curly asymmetrical style he rocked in the movie. I practically lived in a black cape, like the one his love interest in the film wore. For two girls who felt out-of-place in that small Southern town, he gave us some weird sort of strength. Well, at least for me there was a reason for the strength he gave me.

You see, a few weeks before I left for college and met Amy, Prince indirectly saved my life.

As I have written before, in my senior year of high school I was in a terrible, horrible, emotionally abusive relationship. He kept me under his thumb by making threats as to what he would do to himself if I ever left. And because of some odd sense of responsibility for his well-being, I put up with it all and I stayed. I felt so small. So helpless. So powerless. But, that’s how those kinds of relationships work, isn’t it? There is always one with all the power and one with none.

But, despite all the emotional turmoil he put me through on a daily basis, he hadn’t hit me. That’s what I told myself on a daily basis to justify his behavior. It could be worse. He could have hit me.

In late July 1984, just a few short weeks before I was to leave for college, Purple Rain hit the theaters. Opening weekend, the abusive jerk and I went to see it (I had to pay because, well, I had to pay for everything because the idiot couldn’t hold a job, but I digress). He didn’t want to go, but I somehow convinced him, and as long as I was paying, he grudgingly agreed.  I loved the movie. Oh, sure, the acting isn’t the best. And the story is weak. But, the music. THE MUSIC! Amazing. BTW – the abusive jerk hated it. Quelle suprise.

About half way through the movie, there is a scene when “The Kid” (Prince himself) slaps his girlfriend, Apollonia, to the ground.

A shock ran through me. I had an epiphany. Right there, in the middle of the movie, I turned to my abuser and said, “If you ever hit me, even once, I will leave you. I promise I will.” Of course, he said he wouldn’t. And a small part of me wanted to believe him. Really. I did.

It wasn’t long – a week maybe – until he backhanded me, sent me backwards into a bathtub where I whacked the back of my head, and passed out for a moment. When my vision cleared, I climbed out of the tub, gathered my things, and walked out the door. Never to look back again.

You see, I made a promise – to myself and to him – that I would never let that happen. So, I left.

Even now, thirty-two years later, I am positive that if I had not made that promise and if I had not walked out, I probably would have died in that relationship.

I am still not sure what gave me the courage to look at my abuser in the middle of that movie and draw my line in the sand, but I did.

Maybe I was caught up in the music.

So, thank you, Prince. Thank you for the music. Thank you for the memories. But, most of all, thank you for saving my life.

Rest in peace, our sweet Prince. See you in that world of never ending happiness – the after world.

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The Two Little Piggies

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I have a love-hate relationship with teaching. The hours are horrible. The pay is a pittance. The work never stops – nights, weekends, vacations. There are times where it is as if no one wants to hear a word I am saying, and all I am doing is putting out one behavior fire after another. Not to mention all the times I have had to tell  the Three Monkeys that I can’t do something with them or for them because I have had something to do for the class.

It is EXHAUSTING.

And then there are times when it all is so incredibly breathtakingly amazing.

This is the story of the two little piggies – guinea piggies that is – and how an act of kindness lifted my heart in so many ways.

Way back in August, my students and I decided we wanted to get guinea pigs for our classroom. We had everything we needed. Cage? Check. Food? Check. Hay? Check. Guinea pigs? Ummm…

It’s not that I didn’t want them. I did! But, guinea pigs cost money. And with the pay cut I took in order to work at this little piece of academic heaven, I never had the spare change to go get them.

That damned empty cage sitting in my classroom mocked me every single day.

And then this week something serendipitous happened. I came across a listing for two male guinea pigs (cage included) FREE to a good home. Needless to say, I jumped on it. FINALLY we were going to get our piggies! I went to school the next day and excitedly told my class the news. The squeals of delight filled the room. We couldn’t wait!

That evening I took Monkey #1 (now 15 1/2, if you can believe it) and The Middle Monkey (almost 14!) to go pick up our new furry friends, Sergeant and Lieutenant – AKA Sarge and Louie. Together, the boys and I loaded the cage into the car and headed home. Upon arriving, we unloaded the cage to the kitchen table where they would wait until the next day when I would move them to their new home – my classroom.

There was just one little hitch in the plan. Something unexpected happened. In the span of about 10 minutes, Monkey #1 fell head=over-heels-hopelessly-in-love with Sarge and Louie. The very guinea pigs that were destined to go to my class the very next day.

All Wednesday evening, Monkey 1, my sweet little Aspie Monkey, was crouched on a kitchen chair, arms wrapped around his knees, gazing through the open cage door at Sarge and Louie.  He was so calm. So peaceful. Nothing, not meds wearing off, not his brother being very 13, was ruffling him. Occasionally he would tentatively extend one finger and stroke one of the piggies.

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“But, I love them,”

And then came the words that broke my heart. “I wish I could keep them,” he quietly whispered.

“But, baby, I’ve already told my class about them, and they are very excited about the piggies coming. You know they are meant to go to school.”

“I know,” he sighed. “But, I love them. I know I just met them. I can’t explain it. I love them.”

Oy.

I tried to make light, but I could tell, this was no ordinary love. This was a deep piggy love, and I – the worst mother in the whole wide world – was ripping them away from him. Not that he told me that. But he might as well have, because that is exactly how I felt.

The next morning, I brought the piggies to school. More squeals of delight. I told my school kiddos the story of Monkey 1 and his love of the piggies and how he had wanted to keep them. I don’t know why I told them. Except that maybe I have a case of verbal diarrhea and just talk even when I shouldn’t. But I did.

Today I got a message from one of my parents. Her daughter had told her about Monkey 1 falling in love with the piggies. Then the sweet girl asks her mother if there was a way that we could get other pets for the class and return the piggies to my son. Because obviously God wanted my sweet son and the sweet piggies to be together. The piggies belonged to him. Not the class.

I didn’t know how to respond. I was literally speechless. All that came were tears.

In the hours that followed, that mother asked and searched, and has now located another pair of guinea pigs for my class to have. All so my sweet Aspie Monkey can keep Sarge and Louie.

His response when I told him was to bury his head in my shoulder and repeatedly say, “I get to keep my boys. I get to keep my piggies.”

Yes you do, my sweet boy. Yes you do.

So while it means there will be more living things in my house, every single time I see those little furballs, every time I see that little smile on Monkey #1’s face, I will think of the sweet girl who knew it was meant to be – even when I didn’t.

And I’ll remember the time my student and her family taught me a lesson in kindness and compassion I’ll never forget.

Crossroads

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I am standing at a crossroads.

Unsure as to which path to choose.

One path leads to a familiar land.

A land once filled with joy.

But, in more recent times, it is a land consumed with anger and frustration.

The other path is completely unknown.

I have no idea where it leads.

One false step and I lose everything.

Or, by choosing that path –

That path to uncertainty –

I could find myself

On the road

To

Happiness.

Happy Birthday

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Yesterday was my mother’s birthday.  And with all the craziness of the past couple of days (you know, what with the break-in and all), I failed to mention it when I dropped the monkeys off at her house yesterday morning.  Not exactly a stellar moment. I was well on my way to work when I remembered and gave her a quick call to send birthday greetings.  She was in the car, on her way back to her house after taking the Girl Child to school to then pick up Monkey #1 to then take him to school.

You see, that’s what she does. She ferries the monkeys for me on my days with them. Well, that’s just one of the things she does. She does ever so much more for me – for all the monkeys – and I am afraid I don’t let her know how much we all appreciate it.

Among the many things she does, she:

Is a chauffeur for the monkeys. She takes them to school.  She picks them up from school. She takes them to the doctor and to the orthodontist. She takes the Girl Child to dance three days a week. She puts miles and miles on her car every week – and never asks for gas money.

She is the homework manager.  She keeps track of missing assignments and project due dates and science fairs and…and…and…well, everything.

She is a teacher. When it was decided that the Middle Monkey had not transitioned well to middle school and perhaps needed to try on-line learning,  she has stepped out of her retirement and is serving as his learning coach. She spends all day cajoling an at times quite reticent (and quite loud about it) 12 year-old to complete his tasks. She is having to relearn high school algebra (yes, he was placed in a math class 2 grade levels above his own), just so she can assist him. I know it hasn’t been fun, but she’s doing it – for him. Because he needed it.

She is my errand runner. Dropping off prescriptions, dropping off the dry cleaning, picking up things I might need from the store but forgot to get.

She is a Dance Nonna. She takes care of all things dance related for the Girl Child. Other than ferrying her to class, she makes sure there are tights and shoes and costumes and rehearsal schedules.

She’ll bring us dinners and does the laundry and sometimes even surprise me by cleaning my kitchen.

Why, you might ask, does she do these things?  Well, because she wants to help and to feel the she matters.

And, yes. I repaid her by forgetting her birthday.

Ugh.

So, my sweet Momma. Our sweet Nonna Monkey. Thank you for all you do for me. Thank you for all you do for us. I know there are times when I don’t express how very much I appreciate you. I know there are times when I seem annoyed. But, I could not manage my life or the lives of The Monkeys without you. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Happy birthday.

I love you.

You Can’t Take That Away From Me

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 We were robbed.

I mean that in the literal sense. Not in the idiomatic “We were robbed” after one’s favorite team has lost (yes, FSU, I’m talking to you).

I mean our home, Happy Monkey Land itself, was broken into, searched, and had things removed from it. Someone we do not know smashed a window, crawled through, slinked through our safe haven, rifled through our drawers, and took our THINGS.

I know we were lucky.

We could have been home. But, we weren’t. We were at our respective schools.

We could have walked in on the offender. But, we didn’t. We came home to discover the broken carport door window, well after the event.

We could have walked in to find everything we own had been loaded into a truck and carried away. But, we didn’t. We are missing only the electronics the offender could load into the backpack he found in my room and carry out with him.

The Wii, the games, the girl child’s DS, my camera, and yes – even my laptop – can all be replaced. The THINGS can be replaced. But, yet, I mourn.

I mourn that someone, some criminal, touched my things. I am tempted to burn all the panties that had been in my top drawer, but were carelessly tossed to the floor, all because he touched them whilst looking for hidden gems. (Thank you, Mr. Burglar, for leaving my vintage silver jewelry collection)

I mourn the pictures “saved” in my laptop. Pictures of our past two and a half years. Pictures of birthdays and special events and field trips. Pictures of our vacation this summer to Washington and New York. Pictures from the vacation my former love and I took with our children. That amazing week on the beach. Not that I looked at those images from that summer. I didn’t. Why dwell? Those pictures were tucked away in their own little folder, but they were there. Visual proof of what we once were to each other. And while I no longer mourn the loss of the relationship, the fact that I no longer have that proof, that data, that EVIDENCE, has hit me harder than I ever could have imagined. It is as if it never happened. I have lost them all over again.

But, mostly, I mourn the loss of The Monkeys’ sense of security in their home.

The Girl Child didn’t want to sleep in her own room last night because the offender was in there. He took her DS from off her bed. She made sure I not only reported the DS as being gone, but also its Hello Kitty case. She counted all her American Girl dolls and has proclaimed them all present and accounted for. She wants to inventory the “buddies” on her bed, just in case some rogue stuffed-animal-thief comes and takes THEM, she’ll know what is missing. You, my dear baby girl, know what is important in life.

The Middle Monkey is quieter than usual, none of the trademark arguing with his sister. He quickly ran upstairs to count his books, and check to see if the Kindle and HIS DS were there (everything was, the boys’ rooms were unscathed). He will randomly come up to me and hug me and say, “I hate burglars.” It’s happened about 10 times since yesterday. I understand, baby. Really, I do. So do I.

Monkey #1 has taken it upon himself to be The Man of the House. He has been updating me on the value of all the missing items, especially the missing games, “so we get the right amount back.” He allowed his little sister to sleep on his futon last night, even though what he really wanted was to be left alone. When I came out of my room this morning to let the dogs out, he was standing in his doorway, holding the dowel that keeps his window shut, standing guard. “Just let anyone try to come in.” He has spent the day with his Nerf gun always by his side, threatening to “shoot in the brain anyone who tries to hurt my brother or sister.” My sweet little man. Excuse me. My sweet almost-full-grown-man-who-shouldn’t-have-to-feel-the-weight-of-the-world-on-his-very-narrow-shoulders.

We all took the day off from school today, The Monkeys and I. A day to clean-up and call insurance and make lists of missing items. But, most importantly, a day to heal and cuddle and to try feel comfortable in our own skins again. A day to reclaim Happy Monkey Land as our own.

So, Mr. Burglar, you may have broken our door. You may have taken our things. You may have pawned them for a quick buck. But, Mr. Burglar, you will NEVER take our love for one another. For, you see, we are the Mighty Monkeys of Happy Monkey Land, and no matter what happens to us, no matter what is taken, we will ALWAYS have each other.

No, no. You CAN’T take that away from us.

Not now.

Not ever.

Wedding Wishes

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There’s a song in the musical Wicked in which Glinda and Ephelba sing about how meeting one another has changed their lives (“For Good”). In it Glinda sings:

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
(Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)

People come and people go – and if we are lucky, they come back.  If we are very lucky.

When LeaTreacia came into my life, she was the ripe old age of nine – bubbly, full of laughter, exuding joy, and oh so wise for her years. My mother was teaching at Treace’s school and had been assigned to be her mentor. Before too long, I was brought into the mix, and it was love at first meeting. I adored her. We would take her on outings, and eventually she would come to our house for weekends. She filled our house with her exuberance. She was the little sister I had always wanted. We were two peas in a pod.

As the years passed, our bond grew tighter. When it was time for Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, I brought her – after all, she was the closest thing I had to one. She was there when the Monkey Daddy proposed (well, the night he surprised me with my ring…another story for another time). And when it came time for my wedding, I knew she had to be a part of it. She was my junior bridesmaid.

LeaTreacia and I at my wedding

LeaTreacia and me at my wedding

Smooches

Smooches – also known as how to embarrass a teenager in a picture.

I loved her.  More than a little sister.  I loved her like a mother loves a child.  She was a part of me.  And I was a part of her.   We knew we were in this for life.

I lost track of her when she left for college.  She and I haven’t spoken about why it happened, but it did.  I was a new mother.  She was miles and miles away.   And life happened.  But there was always a hole in my heart.  A LeaTreacia size one.  I never stopped wondering about her.  I would try, desperately, to find her.  I had to know she was ok.   I knew in my heart that one day I would find her.   And through the miracle that is Facebook, one day it happened.  There she was.  My girl.  All grown up, but there was my girl.

Today, she got married.  I was to be there.  I was going to drive the eight hours from Atlanta to Indianapolis and I was going to be there.  She needed me there – and I needed to be there.  The years of separation didn’t matter.  All that mattered was that my girl was getting married, and damn it I was going to be there.

And as much as it killed me, last week I had to tell her that I was not going to be able to come.  I cried as I told her.  I cried because sometimes life is so damn unfair.  I cried because I felt that once again someone she loves let her down.   I cried because I wanted to be there to see for myself that she was ok.  I cried because I love her and wanted to be there to share in her joy.  I cried because, well…because I cried.

And I cried again today, at the time the wedding was to start, because I wasn’t there crying tears of happiness.

So, my dear LeaTreacia, (with tears streaming down my cheeks) I want to say here’s to your wedding day.  I wish you all the happiness you have always deserved, and yet sometimes found out of your grasp.  I wish you someone who appreciates and understands all the things that make you you.   I wish you years of joy and only moments of sorrow.

But mostly, I want you to know this:

I’ll love you forever, I’ll love you for always, as long as I’m living, my Treace you’ll be.

Happy wedding day, my sweet girl.  Best wishes on this new journey.  It can be smooth.  It can be bumpy.  But like a roller coaster, it’s a hell of a ride.  Hang on tight and enjoy the trip.

AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!


I swear, today was one of those days when I just want to walk out and not look back.

One of those days when I feel like it doesn’t really matter what I do, I will end up being screwed in the end.

One of those days when I wanted to step outside and scream at the top of my lungs.

One of those days when I wanted to come home, crawl in my bed, pull my comforter over my head, and never come out.

One of those days when it is all too easy to forget why I keep going every day, why I keep giving it my best, why I keep caring.

I am so tired of the politics of it all.

I am so tired of that helpless feeling of being completely out of control.

I am so tired of jumping through hoops that just keep getting higher and higher.

I need to find my joy.

I just have no idea where it is hiding.

Come out, come out, where ever you are.