Proud to be a featured #MentalHealthWarrior and fellow Stigma Fighter on The Lithium Chronicles. Together, we are changing the world’s views on mental illness through our words to raise awareness. Thank you, Nicole Lyons.
I wasn’t going to write a sappy. I wasn’t. But, I jumped.
My father was and always will be the great love of my life. It’s been seven years, the 5th of May. I know the date I was there beside him. My mom, too. I can’t speak for my brothers, nieces or anyone who had the good fortune to meet him. He taught me everything I know about kindness, loyalty, humor, respect, family and faith. His faith was unnerving, never wavering for one second. I was a hellion, a wild child and my dad never judged. He watched and waited to pick up the pieces. There are too many stories. One I remember vividly. I was 18, spoiled brat, came home drunk, puking my guts out. I don’t even drink anymore. My father cleaned me up, put me to bed and slept on the floor beside me. I can still feel him near, even if I can’t see him.
“Take care of your mother, be a good girl. I love you with my whole heart.”
Okay dad, I’ll try. Although I’m not sure I’m doing a bang up job. Her and I, we fight. Argue. A lot. Rarely agree on anything. I’d like to wring her neck. This woman, the person I call mom I aim to please. She wanted a cordless vacuum for Mother’s Day, not a fancy car, Dior or diamonds. Something useful with a purpose. That’s all. I’d be so lucky and well-adjusted to be more like her. The original, fearless warrior.
I’ve experienced the love of a father like mine, and a mother. Together, they made our family complete. Wherever you are Choff, I hope you’re winning and smirking that devilish grin. The heavens and the orbs are in your favor. It’s your time.
I have to go right on living. It’s rudimentary. Five-year old mathematics, numbers you live a whole life by.
I think they stink. Crap odds. I have to stay anyway, a while longer. I guess. The canvas resets to a stark sterile dove white, a color choice off a paint swatch. The happy, unhappy complicated family colors muted and wiped clean with the stroke of a paint brush. Obliterated by a sixty dollar gallon of paint.
I close my eyes and trust I will see them, the shade memories. I trust they were indeed real, trust they will remain to guide and comfort the remaining journey.
Putrid acid green, Pepto-Bismol pink, sherbet orange and garish gold marble swirls alive in the brain.
Life lived in increments and numbers. The numbers they never lie.
I hang crystal prisms in the bedroom window to capture the sunbeams washing over my face, remembering the weight and light of a kind of pure and selfless love.
It wasn’t perfect, I’m not deluded I know that.
Life was solid, a true gray with primary colors whirling all around.
And that, you can build upon.
Six feet of dock stretches out over a flat, refreshing cool body of water with no threat of jagged rocks, seaweed, or prey absolutely nothing that could hurt you.
With each breath we count, constantly weighing the risks, odds and numbers.
Me, I love to swim. I need to remember that more often.
Inside every jump right before you hit the water lives the dream and infinite possibility.
Another 5-star review for THE VAST LANDSCAPE
thank you! #grateful
“An amazing story of love, loss, and hope. I read it in a week and then turned around and read it again the next week. The author writes about meaningful experiences that touch the heart. I have just finished the sequel, “Georgia Pine,” which continues the story of love, loss, and hope. This story is a heartfelt read as well. I hope to read many more books by Jacqueline Cioffa. She is an author who is here to stay.” – Amazon review
Do you believe in signs? I try. I want to. Some days they’re impossible to ignore.
I have a funny kind of feeling we’ve been here, lived this place before.
Maybe not in the same order, geography or circumstance. I don’t know, maybe not at all says the practical parts to me.
I’m pretty sure we won’t remember.
I’m quite certain the people I have loved deeply, who have loved me fiercely remain infinitely an existential part of my spirit.
One can hope.
Then again maybe I shouldn’t believe in this world, but a different one where pain tastes like cotton candy, death is celebrated with dance and joy, planes don’t crash into the side of mountains but glide on love. Heinous evil, racism, hatred, fear, greed, guilt are words no longer recognized or used in our vocabulary.
“We are made of star stuff.” Carl Sagan
I love that quote, it represents the fortuitous impossibility we are.
I look for them, the signs.
I can’t help but want them to be true.
Truth is universal, truth always wins.
The signs help make sense of the free-floating chaos swirling over, above, under and straight through us.
“Humans presume their orbs are unique, very different, when in fact they are not, they remain very much the same. The only variants are in shape, color and size.” – Jacqueline Cioffa
The quotes, imagination and creative worlds they live inside.
The orbs came yesterday in the form of magnificent, silver-light reflection shimmering atop the ripples of crisp blue waters.
I felt serene, almost happy.
I searched ‘orbs’ for a quote from “Georgia Pine” on my Kindle.
Funny, OTB came up instead.
Not funny at all, not to me.
My dad was a lover of the betting the horses and frequent OTB visitor. Like almost daily and I shared his great big, gambling fool heart.
The best of me lives in the orbs I have known and the signs, well…
The signs might not always be there, the sun will eventually die and burn out.
I am predestined to be star-dust set free.
GEORGIA PINE http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T270L88
I dreamt of you last night. It was so nice to see your beautiful face. You were laughing, tan, skin luminescent, summer blond silky hair straightened blowing in the breeze. You wore a hideous, teal colored poof dress and you were ridiculously happy.
Seven, almost eight years have passed. I wrote this when you left trying to make sense of the shock, grief, numbness and non-sensical. I held onto it until today. It’s time to share your story. You’d want me to help in anyway. Anyone out there suffering, struggling with Mental Illness, you’d help them no matter the cost. So, I use my voice and do my best for the both of us. It’s not nearly enough missing you, but it’ll have to do.
I write with my heart full of you, L.B.H.
The label neither one of us asked for. It’s what we got.
Red Velveteen Curtain Call
By Jacqueline Cioffa
Life doesn’t need movie star quality, reality TV, dramatic, sweeping cinematography.
It can be lived full, on an empty stage, in between the crooked walls, cracks and crevices. On the stage, the story is alive, tingling with possibility. It builds, moves, unfolds organically, the tale takes precedent and the words take hold. The spectator breathes it in, feels the emotion, the characters, mesmerized by the modern day theatrics.
Listen closely, and get swept away by this modern day drama. Come with me as I paint a picture of a boisterous three year old, wearing a pixie cut and overalls on the kitchen floor, my legs crossed atop my baby cousin’s. We’re laughing and eating brownie mix directly out of a big glass bowl. I’m smirking at her with the most devilish grin that is all my own. She has curly, blond ringlets, a pink bow, a spatula in her mouth and brownie mix smeared down her chin. I love this baby girl deeply, for she would grow into the most glorious, courageous of women. She is the gypsy, a curious, starlit firefly, direct from the Gods and the underbelly. She is perfect in all her impossible glory.
She would travel the far ends of the earth and help people around the globe.
She would live in Africa and take care of the sick. She would call a submarine home, and the scientist in her would search for depth and meaning. She would honor truth, and walk to the beat of her own drum. She would go to Princeton, and Yale, becoming a Dr. of Medicine. But, to me she was so much more. She was a mystic, a guru, healer of the heart and mender of the soul. She was always the mender of my sometimes-damaged heart and filled my disheartened soul with more light, laughter, happiness and song than one could ever hope for.
Her hair a la grown up was long, curly, and golden, much like the ancient temptresses of Mythology. She never lost her luster, spark, or electric personality, even while drowning in psychosis, dark worlds and foreboding, mind oceans that were not her own. She was unable to find her way back home. We would watch Happy Feet, she would laugh and waddle-like a penguin for her own entertainment. She never judged my many messy attempts at becoming an adult; instead she celebrated my quirks and eccentricities. She was smart; actually she was brilliant, yet she never made me feel stupid. She made me feel bold. We would sing Karaoke at Christmas, loud and off – key, howling with every missed beat of a tune. She would visit, crawl into bed and tickle me, even though she knew I hated physical displays of emotion. She made me feel safe, proud, precious and loved. For her I was more important than any film, way better than any big time production. For me, she was all the beauty that is the stage and its majestic quality. She was grand, spectacular, much like the house lights, the beautiful, antique wooden chairs and ornate ceilings, theaters from a forgotten time. She was regal like La Scala in Milan and brighter than any red carpet dream in Hollywood.
And then, she wasn’t. When I close my eyes, tears stream silently down my face and snot runs from my nose. I shudder to think of her in the cold damp earth. A box she would never want to call home. I close my eyes tight and fear the black and the dark and the depths of her pain. I want to mend her. I want to make it better, but as I sob like that little girl with brownie mix smeared on her face I know that I can’t. So I sob a little more and imagine her beautiful face, spectacular self and realize my humanistic dreams seem silly. They pale in comparison to her life and how she touched mine. I imagine the impulsivity and courage it took to climb the rail, how scared she must have been. How out of her mind hopeless she must have felt. Then, I wonder was she scared at all? Maybe she felt release finally free to be the gypsy again to come and go without the hefty weight of living. The firefly eternal in flight, lighting up the sky with white and gold flames.
There had been too many hospital visits and failed drugs to mention. Hers was a life she would never have wanted. The bastard tricks of Bipolarity and my cursing at God bring little solace. I want to gather her, rock her in my arms keep her safe and warm. I want to kiss her cheek and tell her I love her and thank her for even one day in her company. I want to find the courage, fortitude and will to live my final act better. I want to make her proud. As brightly as her star shined in this world, so it shall in the next. For when I look up to the heavens and think of her I see the Aurora Borealis hues and colors bolder than ever imagined. There are far too many colors in her rainbow to fade out. Her spirit envelops me with goodness, truth, warmth, and endless golden curls and locks of love.
Life as I knew it was gone. I was left with a gorge in my heart. I was left with deep sorrow and sadness. Selfishly, I want her back. My brain tells me stop. I know better, I too have been cursed with the tortured, bipolar theatrics. I decide to halt my tears, and put on my most fabulous dress and high sparkly heels. I drown my sorrow in a rock song belting it out loud, way louder than I should. Fuck it, no one’s listening. I dance alone with thoughts of her dripping golden light all around me. I rejoice in freedom and abandon. Fireflies flicker for a brief, fleeting moment and then they are gone disappearing back into the night.
Something that precious must burn out, well before its time. Leaving us to bask in its wake, of wonder, beauty, love and twinkling light.
Curtain Falls. Intermission
Last night ‘on the walk’ Lupe and I saw a shadow in the midnight black, bone-chilling distance. An elderly man lying helpless in the snow, black cold, car door wide open, -7 degrees below. He lives two doors down, a neighbor and I don’t know him at all. I tried to lift him with my will, powerless to pull him up by myself. I stayed close, reassuring him he’d be alright. My mind spinning, trying to figure out what to do. I finally bolted next door for help. Together Roberta (go Roberta) and I got him into his car back to semi-safety and warmth, nearly frozen. All because he wanted a pizza from Pizza Hut, his dignity and independence. I’m sad. I’m sorry for the millions of lonely people, elders with no one looking out for them. Nobody hardly knows or cares they exist. Ass frozen, bones cracking, all ninety pounds of the man matters, he has a story. Same as I, same as you. I’m no saint, no do-gooder just a person trying to survive with a shred of decency.
I am however hyper aware.
I understand how excruciatingly painful, palpable the loneliness feels even while surrounded and cocooned by deep love. My mother, an old woman now (I hate admitting that) anxiously watches out the window, awaiting my safe return. I know how blessed I am to look towards the house, to glimpse the shadow of a small person looking out. I smile inside, relax my breath. I know with absolute certainty one person is missing me when I’m gone.
Sometimes, I go away without leaving the insulated safety net of a home-built on fierce, ferocious, all-encompassing Mother-love. Sometimes I go away terrified I won’t find my way back. No matter how far I travel, the heart always knows instinctively the way home.
I’ll be more mindful now when I pass.
Twelve years and however many months, I sat across from the very together, all business woman shrink, who handed me a ‘life sentence.’ I looked at my mother, and burst into tears. No, no, no please god. I could not believe it, yet I already knew. Hallucinations, ghosts, talking way too fast, dancing in Radio Shack (mortifying), writing furiously on stacks and stacks of paper on a cardboard box. Brain zaps, months with no sleep, sobbing in fetal position, alternating between Nascar velocity and black, nothingness. The me, the traveler, the unafraid mouth, unpredictable was gone. I should have known, seen it coming. My father was lying home, fighting his own battle with the insidious, genetic mad mind disease. His eyes recognized me, his mind did not, stealing the best parts of him. Fast forward today, the present. It takes between one and two hours for me to wake, take the required psych drugs, supplements, to quash the anxiety, numbness, physical pain, tremors, the thousand questions flying through the diseased brain that betrays me. I look to her, my mother for grounding, keeping me here, asking her fifty times over the course of a day, “do you think I’m going to make it. Am I strong enough?” She nods, “of course.” Even her empathy, understanding, patience, waivering. She is tired, it has been a long, thankless journey and I am exhausted. Triggers. There are triggers, so many triggers I cannot rationalize, wish away. There is no control, no choice, there is only fear and the will to fight. I dig deep, some days the Marianna Trenches aren’t deep enough. I can not win. The crickets chirping sound like an air missile strike, I fight because that’s what I’m told to do. Twelve years, ECT, pills that don’t work, the invisible pain only I see. Only I feel, without reasoning, rational answers. Do I think Robin Williams ‘chose,’ to die? No way, I fucking don’t. That’s absurd, his exhausted, beautiful, chaotic brain did. He chose to live a rich, empathic life, sharing his genius with the world, passionate, to keep on loving, giving for as long and well as he could. He chose to ignore the voices, squash them under layer upon layer in his ‘mad’ mind. He didn’t give up, give in to suicide, he didn’t quit. Nor did the rest of the millions afflicted by the brutal, incessant war that is Mental Illness. So, fuck you. Fuck them. Fuck everyone who has voiced their uneducated opinion on the why, how, the particulars, mob mentality spectators. None of us are smarter than the intangible, invisible mystery that is the mind. I keep the one piece of control I have, a mental note zipped in my back pocket with the words, exit strategy. Realistic, I’ve read all the statistics, had my heart shredded watching loved ones lose the battle. I’ve done everything ‘right.’ And still I know, there is the very real possibility, that someday for no apparent reason, I may whip it out. So if you see me and think, she’s doing great. I’m not. No, not really. I’m not at all. Don’t make assumptions, because a person smiles, laughs on the outside. Know that I am working very, very hard to make you, less uncomfortable.