My Greatest Ambition- ‘The Most Important Lesson’ …Can You Help?

It is now October 2015.

Seven years ago this month my big sister, Sarah, lost her life and left behind two beautiful children. Losing her changed everything.

Personally, I struggled with this very much (“very much” being an understatement). There were so many aspects of the experience that were extremely hard to handle and totally threw me for six. Since then I have wanted to help support, protect, and comfort the kids my sister left behind, but I have been in no position to do so. As I type this I am living seven thousand miles away from them with no imminent hope of affording even a visit back home.

The Ambition:

In 2013 I started and finished writing a story. It all came in a wave of inspiration. I sobbed while I wrote it, I sob when I talk about it, I sob when I think about it. My greatest ambition is for this story to be illustrated, published, and both available for sale and distributed for free.

Let me explain:

When my sister was in the accident, she died at the scene but was resuscitated and on life support for ten days. Her children were taken to a separate hospital and were treated for minor injuries. They were two-and-a-half years old, and two months old, respectively. They were then cared for by friends for a few days until my sister’s partner was able to leave my sister’s side and take them home. Once this happened, all the children really knew was that their mother wasn’t there anymore.

At the hospital when we were all going through this ordeal, they didn’t give us any materials to help explain anything to the kids. I don’t even know if there is a program in existence that does this. So when I wrote the story, I had this in mind. How do you explain to young kids what has happened to their parent? Transcending the parent/child relationship, how do you explain loss to children?

Without wanting to delve into any religious or afterlife type of detail, the story that came into my head was one of conveying the understanding that our loved ones never really leave us if we keep their memories, words, and lessons alive.

The Story:

In the story, the main character is named after my niece, Ezri. Ezri bunny is a curious little bunny who loves to explore and ask questions. She gets a baby brother, Lucian (named after my nephew) and is so excited, but her excitement turns to disappointment when she realises he’s too young to play ‘pretend’ with her. She then decides to show him her favourite things.

As Ezri shows her baby brother her favourite things, she is keen to tell him all about them: The flowers, the lake, and the beautiful sunset. But she soon realises she doesn’t have all the knowledge to explain them the way she wants to. With Mama Bunny by her side, she asks questions about them and her mama gives her explanations she doesn’t fully understand…

Ezri was still curious. “But Mama, why does it make the sky so pretty before it goes away?”

Mama Bunny thought again about what to say. Then she spoke tenderly, “Ezri, my little love bug, it is teaching us a lesson. As the sun sets, it gives us a beautiful show that will never be repeated. But it won’t wait for us to come and see it, it will carry on as it does. We have to choose to see it if we really want to enjoy it, because if we don’t pay attention, we’ll miss it. But if we do pay attention, I mean really pay attention and take in all it has to show us, we will have a wonderful memory of that amazing display of light, to carry us through even the darkest of nights. The sunset will fade away, but our memory of it, the imprint it leaves in our hearts, is what will keep it alive in us. And that memory can never be taken away for as long as we live.”

…until the day Mama Bunny is suddenly not there anymore.

Ezri is confused, and goes to find her mama.

     Ezri went outside. “Maybe,” she thought, “I can find her.” She went to the meadow to see if Mama Bunny had got lost there picking flowers. She could see some of the flowers losing their petals as the wind blew. She found a fluffy white one she was sure had been yellow before. As she touched it, some of the white fluff sailed away in the breeze. It was so beautiful to watch, she blew on it and sent the rest of the fluff dancing on her breath. As she looked around, she noticed all the yellow flowers had turned white and fluffy. She ran and jumped through the meadow and watched all the bits of fluff dance around her. She stopped for a moment. “Mama?” she called.

But Mama Bunny wasn’t there.

Ezri thought about what her mama had told her about the flowers. The flowers were now going away, but she guessed the white fluff was on its way to making new flowers. “Goodbye,” she said to them, “see you again soon!”

As she visits each of her favourite places, looking for Mama Bunny, she gains a better understanding of her mama’s words. Beginnings and endings, peace and reflection, culminating in the ultimate understanding of her mama’s “Most Important Lesson.”

What I need:

Editing: I need help to make this a reality. I have all the words typed and edited to the best of my ability, but I need it to go to the next step.

Illustrations: I am artistic, but I am not an illustrator. I would like help in this area. Someone who knows how to illustrate and can understand my vision for this and where I want it to go.

My poor attempt:

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Publishing: I need a publisher to hear me and want to work with me.

Promotion: This project is designed to be available for sale for anyone who wants it. I also see it being included in a package distributed at hospitals and hospices (et cetera) and by Social Services as an illustrated story to read to the kids affected.

Others: I can see quotes from this and the corresponding artwork sold as merchandise of all sorts, with portions of the proceeds going to either a new or existing charity that focuses on comfort for children who have lost parents.

I can see a short cartoon made from this story available to view for free on YouTube.

I want to tour and read this story wherever it’s welcomed.

I don’t have anything in the way of money or resources to give. I am just me, not rich in the slightest.

Ideally part of completing this project would allow me to visit my home (America) for the first time in over five years, to see my niece and nephew and give them an illustrated, printed first copy of the book, and read it to them in person.

Feedback So Far:

Everyone who has read the story so far has loved it and has passionately told me I need to publish it. This, I feel, is my greatest purpose thus far. My gift to the world.

What’s Been Stopping Me:

Fear. Of applications, rejection, failure, you name it. I have had extreme artistic block when trying to do the illustrations myself, and have been unable to complete them.

I don’t know how publishing works. I am not an expert. I don’t feel I know how to do this alone.

Can you help?

Email me @: talkingthisandthatblog.gmail.com

Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

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Please share this everywhere. Somehow, some way, the right person will see it and get in touch with me.


Copyright notice: All quotes and ideas expressed here are the sole intellectual property of Kirsten Young. Copying of any portion of the above without permission is strictly prohibited.

Not Broken, Just Prepared

Sometimes it’s hard to keep trudging through life when so many things have gone wrong. A lot of people don’t have this kind of life experience, but a lot of us do. Things happen and while there are so many who will look down on anyone for feeling ‘victimised,’ I think it’s important to call a spade a spade and say yes, I was victimised by this person or that event. It was not my fault. That way we don’t internalise it and feel like we’re bad people for ‘letting’ something happen (and if anyone tells you that unjustifiably, that’s insanity), or that we’re whiners for saying it was wrong.

Another difficulty is that the lasting effects of whatever trauma we’ve experienced can be so challenging we often feel ‘broken.’ We wonder why we can’t just enjoy things anymore, why we cry at television adverts, why we’re scared of things that other people find trivial, or why our load feels so much heavier than the next person’s.

My mom was struggling with some of these feelings after I became pregnant with my firstborn. (For those of you who haven’t read it, the back story is here.)

She and I were at a camp in Hungry Horse, Montana, for our traditional weekend away. We used to go every year if we could help it, it was the only thing you could call a “vacation” or “holiday” that we ever really took. It was a church-based retreat, and to this day, that campground remains my favourite place on Earth.

This particular summer, I had just turned fifteen, and, being pregnant with my firstborn, my mom and I both had a lot to process. The incident and the uncertainty of the future were weighing heavily on our minds. We were not wealthy by any means, and never owned new vehicles or anything like that. Choosing to keep my son was my immediate choice and I stuck by my guns, but it was not going to be easy. My mom was supportive of my choice, and was willing to help, but was no doubt under pressure about the situation.

One night at the camp, I was already deeply asleep in the cabin. Mom was in Teakettle lodge, the mess hall, playing board games with others until probably midnight when it was time to lock up. Most other campers were also asleep. There are no lights on the campground after a certain time, so with her flashlight lighting her path she made her way back to the cabin.

When she got to our door, she realised she had forgotten to bring a key. Up in the mountains, in the dark, no shelter, no blanket, and everyone fast asleep. She tried waking me up, but I sleep like a rock and I’m not sure an earthquake could wake me. Bears have been known to come wandering through the camp, the end of May is not summery enough to keep the ground from freezing overnight, and it rains there a lot. I’m pretty sure sleeping on the ground was not going to work out very well.

She didn’t know what to do.

We may not have had much but we did have an old Ford Explorer. Being old and second-hand, the door was broken and wouldn’t lock. Thankfully it was so beaten down no one would steal it, and on this night my mom was able to get into it and out of the cold, much to her relief.

As she reclined her seat to get comfortable, she was thinking about my situation and how sorry she felt for me and what I was going through. She had been praying about it, asking what to do about it all. It was, after all, a retreat where prayer was one of the main focuses. It was then she heard a voice from the back seat say, “It isn’t broken, it was prepared.” She turned to see where the voice came from, but there was no one there.

I realise that this will sound bonkers to many and immediately at the mention of “prayer” about half of you or more will roll your eyes. And that’s fine. I’m not pressing any beliefs onto anyone or indeed, reflecting any of my own. But I know my mom was really shaken by this experience in a good way, and it has had its impact on my life as well.

Sometimes when things really get on top of me, I think of this. Yes, I have been victimised in the past by many things. No, I will not be ashamed of that. I do feel like I was given an extraordinary load to carry, and I also feel it’s important to tell people about it, no matter how personal. I am a survivor, and a fighter. Yes, I have felt ‘broken’ so, so many times. But I choose to believe that for whatever reason I was not ‘broken,’ I was prepared.

I especially believe this because my son, despite the circumstances of his conception, is an awesome little (big) boy. He’s going to be twelve soon, which is really strange to think about. Throughout the years he has been an excellent motivation to keep being a better, stronger, more resilient person despite the many times it has been so incredibly difficult I have seriously wanted to quit.

In no way do I view his entering into my life a ‘breakage’ of anything. His existence has opened my eyes to many things and given me a perspective of the world that I would never shun. I don’t yet know what my purpose truly is, but I know it isn’t to sit still feeling broken and helpless.

Since the day my mom first told me this story, I’ve never looked at anything the same.


If you have a story of something being ‘broken’ but turning out to be ‘prepared,’ I’d love to hear it.

Feel free to comment below or blog it and link to this post to get my attention.

The Bird and the Birdwatcher (A Cautionary Tale)

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Once, there was a bird.

She had the most gorgeous feathers of many colours, unlike anything seen before. And when she would open her beak to sing, all the creatures in the forest where she lived would stop to listen to her beautiful voice.

At dawn she would sing to welcome in the morning. Her friends often joined in her song, feeling every bit as beautiful as she. She filled their days with happiness and joy as her heart was just as wonderful as her feathers and voice. She was loyal and kind and very wise, and dearly loved by those who knew her.

At night she would sing a lullaby and all the creatures of the forest would feel safe as they drifted off to sleep. They all knew they were free, and life was good.

Soon, a birdwatcher came through the forest. He was seemingly very appreciative of birds. He complimented them all on their feathers and fed them from his hands. He brought the tastiest treats for them and they began to look forward to his visits. His touch was gentle, his words sweet, and his smile pleasing.

One day when he was visiting, he saw the beautiful bird. As she sang he fixed his gaze upon her, and as he did so, she couldn’t help but blush a little. He was smiling in a way that made her feel not just beautiful, but perfect. As she finished her song, he beckoned her to come near.

“What a magnificent creature you are, just look at how gracefully you flew.” he swooned.

“Why thank you,” she replied, feeling her cheeks grow red again.

“And that voice! Will you sing for me another?”

She performed for him one more tune and he praised her in such a way that she had never been before. He made her feel so special.

“Can I tell you a secret?” he whispered quietly. She leaned her head in a bit closer with an inquisitive look, and he began, “These other birds here, they have told me how they’ve grown tired of your songs. But I don’t see what they’re talking about, because that was exquisite. They don’t see what I see in you.”

“Oh,” she said, taken aback, “I didn’t realise they felt that way! If only they’d have said…”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he continued, “of course they wouldn’t say so. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. Say, would you be so kind as to grant me your company while I eat a meal this evening? I’m very lonely in my home all by myself and I can think of nothing better than to hear your melody while I dine.”

“Is-is it safe?” she asked.

“Of course!” he reassured her. “Such a treasure like you, I’d protect with my very last breath. I know how much the forest adores you. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Well I suppose so,” she began, “after all I’d hate for such a nice man like you to be lonely. Nobody should be lonely.”

“You go on ahead, my cottage is over there,” the man continued, “I’ll just gather some wood for the fire and will be right behind you.”

“Alright,” she agreed, “See you there.”

As she flew toward the cottage, the man approached the others. They asked why their friend had gone. “Oh it’s nothing,” he answered, “She was only a little tired of sharing her songs for today. She said she would rather sing alone. I’m sure she’ll be back in the morning. But I, on the other hand, would love to hear a harmony by such a good looking bunch. Sing for me, won’t you?”

When they finished the birdwatcher praised them, and made his apologies that his dinner would go cold if he stayed any longer. He said his goodbyes and turned to walk away, and as he did, the other birds were confused. They thought surely their friend loved them and was happy to share her songs, but she did fly off alone, and they knew the man to be trustworthy, so they believed him.

When the man arrived at the cottage, he looked so pleased to see the bird. “Thank you so much for offering your company tonight, my evening would have been so dull otherwise.” In his hand he held some branches. He placed them in the hearth and fanned the flames.

“It’s nothing, really,” the bird assured, and, seeing there was already a pile of sticks stacked nearby she chirped, “Oh, didn’t you know you already had sticks over there?”

“Silly bird, don’t you see those are not fit for a fire?” he laughed, “You had better leave such things to me. Now… I have been so looking forward to another of your songs, won’t you let me hear one?” He sat and poised himself with his hands under his chin, smiling intently, and motioned her to the windowsill, admiring, “What a beauty.”

She took her place by the window and began to sing as she tilted her beak upward and closed her eyes, trying hard to produce the best sound. When she opened her eyes, she noticed the pile of sticks was smaller. She looked all around the room and as she looked behind her, she saw there were a few sticks now standing upright against the window pane. Puzzled, she asked, “Weren’t these sticks just over there?”

“What are you talking about?” the birdwatcher replied innocently.

“These sticks, here, are now behind me. They used to be over there. I’m sure they weren’t here before. Why did they move?” she asked.

“No,” he maintained, “there were always sticks there. You’re imagining things. Perhaps you’re tired, you need some sleep. Silly bird.”

“I don’t think so,” the bird insisted, “I’m sure that pile of sticks was higher and there were no sticks here.”

The man’s fingers began tapping on the table. “I think I would know what was in my own home,” he said, and stood up quickly. He raised his voice, “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No! Of course not!” she conceded. “I wouldn’t–”

“I’d like to be alone now,” interrupted the man. “I think it’s time you left.”

“Oh please, I’m so sorry to offend, I really didn’t mean to.” The bird pleaded with the man, and he accepted her apology. When he then asked for more of her songs, she quickly obliged and serenaded the man until he appeared to be asleep.

“Don’t… leave… me,” he mumbled in between snores, and feeling guilty, and sorry for the man, she stayed. She ruffled her feathers to make herself comfortable for the night, as one of her colourful feathers dropped, leaving a dull grey one underneath. She then drifted off to sleep thinking about how rude she had been in exchange for his kindness, and how sad she was to have upset him.

When she awoke she saw he had made her a lovely breakfast of berries and seeds, and also that there were more sticks surrounding her, this time gathered and tied at the top. For a second she thought to ask if there were now more there than the previous night, but decided against it. She remembered how angry he had been and she didn’t want to upset him once more. Suddenly she noticed a few more of her feathers had dropped, but was immediately distracted by the man wishing her a good morning.

They had a wonderful chat as he told her how much he enjoyed her staying to sing him to sleep, and how she should feel free to come and go as she pleased. As a token of his gratitude, he placed a bracelet around her ankle.

“Our little secret,” the man said lovingly, and with that she returned to the forest feeling more special than ever.

When she arrived there, her friends started chatting amongst themselves. They didn’t seem too pleased to see her. She approached a group of them as she began a song, but none of them joined in.

“What’s that on your ankle?” one of them heckled.

“Why– it’s a secret, actually,” the bird replied sheepishly.

“I knew it,” another started, “she thinks she’s too good for us now.”

“No, that’s not it at all… if you must know, the man gave it to me,” she defended.

“What nonsense.” they all echoed at once, and flew away from the beautiful bird.

Leaving her alone on the branch, she watched as they all gathered together and sang a harmony without her. They looked happy. But the bird was not. Saddened, she flew back to the cottage, dropping a few more feathers along the way.

“Why are you crying?” the man questioned as he drew her near.

“I don’t know what I did wrong,” she whimpered, and looked down, seeing the bracelet. She thought maybe they had been upset that she had been given such a pretty thing. She would rather have her friends than a bracelet. “Oh, maybe it was because I told them you had given me this,” she began, but instantly found herself hitting the wall and in screaming pain. She didn’t know what had just happened.

“I wish you wouldn’t have made me do that,” sighed the birdwatcher, “but it angers me so when you tell our secrets. Hurts my feelings. Don’t you know how much I trusted you to keep that between us? And you betrayed me. I can’t think of anything worse than a friend who betrays another. That’s why I was so upset, I couldn’t help it.”

“I– I’m… sorry,” stammered the bird, “my wing… my wing is broken.”

“You should not have told our secret,” said the man, “if you hadn’t betrayed me you wouldn’t have got hurt. I hope you’ve learned your lesson now.”

He picked her up gently off the floor, where remained a pile of her feathers. He tended to her wing. And then, he placed her by the window. “Why don’t you climb in there,” he suggested, motioning to the sticks which were now attached to a base and completed by a door, “it will be much safer for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in danger now your friends are so jealous. That’s why you should never have told. Would you like me to secure it with a lock?”

“Yes, please,” said the bird sadly, as she cradled her bandaged wing, while a few more of her feathers dropped.

For the rest of the day, the man brought her everything she needed. She began to forget the pain in her wing as he told her stories, made jokes, gave her some of his special treats. He really was a good man, she thought, and she had been so wrong to betray him.

The man asked for some of her songs, and although she didn’t feel much like singing, she obliged to make him happy. She didn’t want to upset him anymore. She sang so much her voice began to crack, and by the end of the evening all her beautiful feathers had fallen into a pile at the bottom of her locked cage. She stared at them, and knew it was because she had been silly and betrayed her friend the birdwatcher that she no longer deserved to be beautiful.

The following day she awoke to a clean cage, but this time there was no breakfast. She asked for something to eat, as she could not go get any food for herself. The man demanded that she sing in exchange for his hospitality. She tried, but her voice cracked again.

“Look at you,” the man sneered, “not only are you so ugly, but you can’t even carry a tune. What good are you to anyone now? It’s a good thing I took you in when I did, or you’d never have survived out there in the forest.”

The man denied her breakfast and left the cottage. Through the window the bird could see him going to visit all her friends. She heard them singing to him, and felt ashamed, believing she would never be able to sing again.

Upon returning, the man brought her a small bit of food. It wasn’t a treat like he used to give her, but she was so hungry that she felt thankful he’d given her anything at all. He then offered her a gift, which was a little jacket made from her beautiful, colourful feathers. Delighted, she put it on and felt pretty for a second. He complimented her and she smiled, when she heard her friends outside the window. Excitedly, she waved to them with her good wing.

“He’s right, she does look happier there,” the bird heard her friends say as they turned and flew away.

The bird looked at the man. He had a smug grin on his face. She lowered her eyes to avert his, and saw once more the bracelet on her ankle. At that moment, she was sure she wanted it off. She no longer wanted to live with the man. She took off the jacket and thanked the man for the food, nodding her head to his following criticisms and trying to be as pleasing to him as possible.

Weeks later when one day the man went out, she seized the opportunity and tugged with her beak at the bracelet. She tried with all her might, but with a weak wing, and an overwhelming fear of what might happen when the man saw it was no longer on her, she stopped, and cried. Letting out a wail while thinking of how she used to sing and be loved and safe and free, and happy, but now she was surely going to die in this cage, she was surprised by the sudden sound of her own soft, melodic voice she had thought was lost. Shocked, she tried to sing a few notes. It worked! She sang a bit longer, repeatedly looking out the window and toward the door, worried the man would return at any second. Gathering a bit of courage, and remembering he would surely be gone for some time longer, she sang as loud and as high as she could, when one of the sticks of her cage began to crack. She stopped, contemplating what she had just done.

In her excitement she fluttered her wings. As she did so she noticed the broken wing had mended and did not hurt anymore. She fluttered again and a grey feather fell out. Surprised, she inspected her wings, to see that on the inside of one of them was a colourful feather. She beat her wings as fast as she could and as she did so, her cage rattled. She smiled as tears streamed from her eyes with this small glimpse of hope. She wiped them away and prepared herself, for the birdwatcher would soon be home.

When the man was around she pretended her voice and wing were still broken. He called her names and told her of all the more beautiful birds he had seen on his walks. She endured his speeches with a silent grace, nodding when he asked if she knew how good he was to her, and how she was lucky he provided for her, as she would no doubt struggle to survive on her own.

Despite becoming wise to his deceptive ways, part of her still wondered if she would indeed be better off staying with the man. Her friends no longer loved her, she doubted she was missed. She could hear their lullabies in the evenings, and their songs and laughter in the days. He would bring her food when she most needed it, and he told her how glad he was she’d chosen to stay with him. Despite the bad things he had done, he’d done equally good things. And she’d deserved her punishments, she thought.

One day when it was sunny, the bird said to the man before he left, “Please, just open this window a tiny bit, just for some fresh air? I am so glad to be safe in this cage and know it could do no harm, but the sun is a little extra warm today.”

Pausing to think about whether she could escape, but knowing her wing was useless and the cage locked, he relented and lifted the window. “Silly bird,” he muttered, and walked out the door.

Shaking, she gathered her courage and started to sing and beat her wings simultaneously. But thinking the man might hear her and be angry, she became terrified and stopped. She sat stunned the whole day until the man returned, feeling angry with herself for not taking what might have been her only opportunity to escape. She really was a ‘silly bird.’

A few days later she caught a glimpse of her colourful feather. She sighed, and knew she must act. She told the man how grateful she was that he’d opened the window the time before, and how much cooler it would be for him when he returned from his outings if he opened it again. As nothing had previously gone wrong, he agreed and opened the window, and left.

Giving him time to walk far enough away that he wouldn’t hear her, she began to beat her wings. The cage rattled. She beat them faster and harder, and tilted her beak upward, closed her eyes, and sang as loudly as she could. The sticks were cracking, and rattling more furiously. Thinking of how much she wanted to be free from her cage and away from the man, suddenly with a burst of what felt like insanity she pushed off and began to fly. Upon making contact with her beak, the cage shattered into thousands of pieces. Her grey feathers were moulting with every beat and her colourful ones re-growing at a fantastic pace. She squeezed out of the window and flapped her wings with fervour in the direction of the forest.

She was flying, and singing the best song she had ever heard coming out of her own mouth.

Being careful to make sure the man was not in the forest with her friends, she settled amongst them. They looked at her with surprise. “Please,” she said, “I have missed you all so much. Please will you help me get this bracelet off my ankle?” She sobbed with relief as they hurriedly rallied together to pull the bracelet off her ankle. “The birdwatcher,” she wailed, “he broke my wing. He caged me. It was awful. He’ll come for me. Please, we need to protect ourselves from him.”

“But you looked so happy when we saw you,” one of the birds commented, “why didn’t you leave sooner? You’ve been there a long time… if anyone treated me like that I’d have been out of there ages before now. How could someone as wise and as beautiful as you allow yourself to be caged?”

“I know,” the bird replied with shame, “I wish I had left much sooner. But I was so scared, and I thought it would have been impossible, so I stayed. But there’s no time to explain. Listen up!” They gathered all the creatures of the forest around and discussed what should be done about the man.

Now walking home to his cottage, the birdwatcher saw something glinting in his path, appearing to float in the air. He approached it, curious. Reaching out his hand, he saw it was the bracelet he had put on the bird, suspended in a spider’s web. After another step he found himself falling into a hole, which had been dug by the underground-dwellers. The birds had disguised it with twigs and leaves. It was so deep, he could not climb back out. After much trying he gave up, feeling sorry for only himself.

The bird, now back in the forest with her friends she had once loved so dearly, began a song. All the creatures chimed in with her, making the whole forest resonate with their harmonies. The last of the grey feathers began to fall out as she sang, except for one feather where her wing had been broken. It was never going to be colourful again. But, accepting it as a token of her strength and courage, she looked upon it proudly.
She would never forget what the birdwatcher had done, though she still felt sorry for him… just not too sorry.

Artwork by my eldest son, age 11

Artwork by my eldest son, age 11

This is a story about domestic violence. It was written to challenge questions like, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
And statements like, “I’d never let that happen to me.”
And perceptions like, “She’s too pretty/wise/educated/etc. for that to happen to her.”
Domestic Violence can happen to anyone, by anyone. The damage isn’t always physical, and the solution not always simple.

It is also worth noting that while this story has a relatively happy ending, that is not always the case in real life.

(This story and all posts contained in this blog are the intellectual property of Kirsten Young and are copyrighted as such, unless expressly stated otherwise e.g.: “reblogged”.)

A Bittersweet Goodbye

Warning: may trigger strong emotions toward cats or feelings of grief for lost/departed pets. An absolutely true and heart-wrenching story.

One summer when my eldest half-brother was visiting us at my childhood home, one of the greatest loves of my life wandered into the backyard suddenly and without warning.

He was young, jet black with a tuft of white hair on his chest and a roundish head, eyes that were an orangey-yellow and the moment they looked at me, I immediately loved him. He seemed to return the feeling as he came and rubbed against my leg and mewed with that voice my ears would come to adore.

He belonged to the woman who lived three doors down and was full of playfulness and zest. He climbed trees in the blink of an eye, hunted mice and birds in the neighbourhood, and gave the most exquisite hugs.

He would wrap his little cat arms around my neck, place his forehead against my chin, and purr as long as I would hold him. He soon decided I was his human and laid claim to his territory by intimidating any other feline who wandered onto the property. Growing tired of sitting outside, noisily waiting for one of us to come and open the door, he took it upon himself to rip holes in the front and back screen doors so he could jump up, wedge himself between the screen and solid door, and push until it opened. My home was now his, he decided. And I was more than happy to accommodate him.

On weekend mornings during a lie-in, if the doors were locked he’d sit on the air conditioning unit protruding from the window and with the sun shining behind him, his cat-sized silhouette would be there, giving shape to this persistent calling, telling me to wake up and let him in. If he stayed in for the night, he’d sleep curled around my head or the shelf just above, whether I wanted him to or not. I could stand in front of him and pat my chest and say “Here, Blackberry” and he’d jump up and give me his trademark hugs. If I patted my back he would jump up and sit with two legs on either side of my neck, lounging on my shoulders. There he would sit purring, hitching a ride with me as I meandered about the house. I’d feed him by hand and sometimes he would even do tricks for the food.

He would bring me gifts of various sizes. It started with the standard mice, but one day he brought me a bird. He sat there looking up at me and simply sounded, “Meow.” Being a girl of only eleven at the time, I freaked out and threw the bird out the door as quickly as I could. In my state of horror I threw him out, too. After his little time-out he wanted back in so I let him, at which point he sat in front of me once more and regurgitated the bird at my feet with a following look on his face that said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise you wanted it chewed. Is this better?” Once again I freaked and threw him out.

When I was at school, he’d prance through the house at three o’clock every day calling for me. “She’s not here,” my mom would say and he’d jump out the door again. He’d come find me as I walked home, emerge from behind some house and walk with me the last few blocks back home. If I went away for a few days, he’d go back to his other house until I returned. As soon as I called his name he’d come sprinting, or he’d be waiting by the lilac bush already until he saw the car and tried to beat us to the door.

I was his and I loved it. He was the greatest companion I’d ever known and I’d come to rely on his company. He developed an immense sense of trust in me and would communicate in the most extraordinary of ways.

As he got in fights he would sometimes become rather injured; He would come to me and I’d clean his wounds and take him to the vet if necessary. I’d have to put him in a carrier which he hated so much he broke the door trying to get out, and once injured his own paw trying to do so. I hated seeing him hurt and felt awful for putting him in this confined space, but if let out in the car on the trip there he would become loud and difficult and dig his claws in my thighs with anxiety.

From his battles he earned a notch out of his ear and scars on his arms, but after a while I noticed his arms were getting injured in exactly the same way on a repeated basis. It was like they were swelling and bursting, not falling victim to the claws of another.

He never had a litter box as he always went outside, but one day he called at me until I looked at him and asked him what he wanted. On a large piece of cellophane on the floor, he urinated before me. There was blood in it. He looked at it, looked at me and mewed. He never messed inside, so I knew something was wrong, and after another trip to the vet he was given pills to clear up what they told us was a urinary tract infection. Another time, he showed me he had loose stool. I was nonplussed at having to dispose of it, but took him to the vet again with more crying and objecting from within the carrier.

He would have times of seemingly perfect health, but occasionally his behaviour would change and he would become withdrawn, finding a cosy place in my mom’s fabric stash to stay for days. He stopped responding to food and water as often and his once vibrant gaze became one of exhaustion. The vet said he had feline leukaemia and an upper respiratory disease. He administered a few treatments but told us it was terminal.

He started staying in the fabric stash permanently. I’d sit with him and stroke his fur and talk to him. At my young, weird age I’d learned to make the same meowing noises he’d made to me when he was content. He wouldn’t purr or give hugs anymore. He looked like he was in so much pain. Finally after speaking with the vet about his not eating or drinking anything for several days, he said we should put him to sleep or he would starve to death. I was heartbroken as I was going to lose this lovely creature who had been my only friend at times when I felt so alone and alienated. He was the one being I could count on to love me unconditionally and without fail.

As he was so lethargic I carried him to the car without the carrier he loathed so badly. For the first time he didn’t object. I walked into the vet’s office with him and was told I’d have to sit and wait for the vet to arrive. I don’t know if it was thirty minutes or three hours, but it seemed like an eternity.

While we were waiting, as if he’d saved all his strength for this one occasion, he was emphatically hugging, pawing, purring and kissing me for the first time in I didn’t know how long. I don’t know where all the energy came from, but I felt he knew what was happening. I was sobbing so much the receptionist started crying, and when she announced the vet had arrived, my heart sank. I didn’t want all the hugs to end.

As the vet prepared him for his passing I held his paw and stroked behind his ears with his forehead to mine. I said goodbye to my dearest and most cherished friend as he took his last breath and passed on.

The weeks after that, one of my teachers approached me asking, “What’s wrong with you? You used to smile sometimes.” I felt silly for saying “My cat died,” because to most people a cat is just a cat, but not Blackberry. He was so much more. A kindred spirit. A soul-mate, just not the same kind most people have.

I volunteered at homeless pet charities, paying special attention to the black cats. They were never like Blackberry. I decided I’d probably never meet a cat like him again.

But on one glorious, beautiful day, I took a new route home from school and the strangest thing happened. A black cat with orangey-yellow eyes and a roundish head came out from behind a house. I called to it, and it came to me, calling in what sounded like that same familiar voice. I patted my chest, and the cat jumped up. It hugged me, and purred, and put its forehead to my chin. I caressed its ears and noticed there was the same kind of notch in the same place as Blackberry’s. I noticed it had the same little tuft of white hair on its chest and the same scars on its arms. For ten minutes or more I stood there on the sidewalk hugging this cat, until I eventually put it down and resumed walking. It followed me a few paces. I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back it was gone.

Despite repeating that route from that day forward, I never saw that cat again.

112

Keep Going (My Conversation With the Un-Dead Part 2)

He said he’d left me a note. He was going to leave me his car. He thought the world would be better off without him and he would be doing at least a bit of good this way.

I told him I didn’t want his car. What am I going to do with that? Look at it every day and think of you? Think of how angry I am that you did this?

Because yeah, I was angry. For as much as he claimed he loved his mother he was about to do the unthinkable and I could see in my mind how she would react. She’s a good woman. She’s been hurt by so many people in her life. She doesn’t need it from her son, her last remaining child. Heck, I didn’t need it either. He shared a birthdate with my other friend whom I mentioned in My Conversation With the Un-Dead who did succeed in taking his life. Both of them had a special role in my life for a time. Both I cared about. I’m tired of grieving one thing or another.

I explained to him that the car wouldn’t be helpful to me at all, it would be like salt in the wounds. Either it would be a constant reminder of pain, or it would be a chore and a load of paperwork to get rid of it, which I hate. In my angst I said he could take his car and shove it, I’d rather see him alive and driving the thing himself.

It was late November. He didn’t want to live anymore, he said. He was mid-thirties, no wife, no kids, no real accomplishments. He missed his sister who he’d lost to a terminal illness. They used to spend loads of time together. Now his Christmases were empty reminders of how they used to have fun together, but she was gone and that part of life was over. His grief left him in depressive states frequently. My hunch is that he was also bipolar, given his manic, Hyena personality and reclusive, Mole personality.

He had tried to seek counselling, but the systems can be slow and he was still waiting for an appointment. Every day he woke up alone, went to work alone, came home alone, ate his dinner alone, went to bed alone. That’s difficult when spirits are high, even more so when they’re low. He was dissatisfied with the general status quo of his life.

It seems to me that this failed attempt is a pretty good opportunity.

“For what?”

To do a one-eighty and change all the things you hate.

One way to look at it is this: When the world around you has you tearing your hair out, crying your eyes out, feeling powerless and worthless, that is the moment you can put your big-kid boots on and say, I’M NOT HAVING THIS ANY LONGER. But rather than a destructive way, how about a transformative way?

Where I grew up we had a saying: “Either sh** or get off the pot.” To me, this means that if I’m going to sit there complaining about something, I’m wasting my time. Instead of sitting there, lamenting over this or that, I have to get up and do something about it, or it’s never going to change. And would I rather give happiness a go than death? Yes. It’s worth a shot if I can get there and finally begin to thrive.

Our sadness is a symptom of a problem. It intensifies the more we stare at it. The key is to shift the focus, and start working on the things you can change. If everything around you has you dissatisfied, maybe you’ve outgrown it. Start a list, and one by one change the things you can.

Don’t set up camp where you don’t want to live.

If your current state of mind is sad all the time, don’t set up camp there. Don’t say to yourself, “Well, this is it. This is where it ends.” Don’t unpack all your hopes and dreams and set them to permanently rest on the shelves of your current state of despair. Because it’s there that they will die. And in one way or another, so will parts of you.

Consider the AA prayer, regardless of your belief in a deity:

God,

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Amen.

Some things can’t be changed. He could never bring his sister back from the dead. (And I totally understand that, because I wish I could bring my sister back, too.) But he felt his existence held no value. So, I suggested he give it value. He was always saying he wanted to volunteer for the homeless. Why not start there?

Once, I set myself a challenge of losing a bunch of weight. But the more I stared at the scale and what it said to me, the less it moved in the direction I wanted. It kept going up instead. So I changed my approach. I realised I couldn’t focus on the weight I lost, because that’s not where I have control. The only real way to change my problem was to start doing some work. I learned that by doing the work, the numbers took care of themselves. I had to constantly remind myself “It’s not about the weight you lose, it’s about the work you do.”

Similarly, we don’t own magic wands where we can suddenly change everything. We have to take it one step at a time, one day at a time, one brick at a time, one word at a time, whatever. It takes time, but it’s always more worth it to try than to give up.

What is in your power? Do that. Do as much as you can every day, and in three months see if you feel the same as you do today. Then do it for three months longer. Then six months. Keep going until this day is a distant memory.

He didn’t like his job, either. I told him to look for another one. In threatening to write a book about him, I told him that if he didn’t at least try to fix the things he didn’t like first, I’d tell the world how he gave up before he even started trying. I’d say he was a quitter. A coward. Is that what you want the world to remember of you? The legacy you want to leave behind? No? Then do something about it.

I don’t mean to tell people considering suicide that they’re cowards and quitters. This one situation is not every situation and I’m not judging you, readers. But as I said here, I was grasping at straws with him. And I do know what it feels like to not want to keep going. But I also know there is a lot of value in picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, taking a big breath, and putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of a better life. You can learn a lot about yourself, amaze yourself, and find strength you didn’t know you had.

Keep going.

If you’re struggling, please remember that if you reach out, your call is likely to be answered. If nothing else, there are hotlines to help. In the UK, the Samaritans are there on the end of the line to be an ear (08457 90 90 90 fees apply). In the US, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “We are here for people struggling through any sort of situation – you do not have to be feeling suicidal to call. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7/365.”

“Try to remember, that you can’t forget
Down with history, up with your head
For sweet tomorrow, she never fell from grace
We might still know sorrow but we got better days”

-Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Better Days

Karmic Heebie-Jeebies

In 2011 I attempted to start a blog. I got three posts into the blog before a random comment on social media, which was probably not even intended for me (but my anxiety wouldn’t let it go), had me feeling like somebody out there thought I was copying them (I wasn’t). Years later I realise that even if they thought that, to post a funny story about being a mother is not copying anyway, it’s just common.

So now it’s 2015 and while a handful of things have changed, the story is still funny. And after the past few posts, I’d like something to make you laugh. Enjoy.

Yesterday was an eventful day for us. The first part of the morning was spent getting ourselves ready and heading to London on a coach to meet up with one of my best friends who deliberately caused herself a layover just to see us. The afternoon was filled with sight-seeing, posing for pictures, and lots of hugs. But before sunset, those feel-good vibes had been replaced by panic, tension and horror.

Once upon a time, a letter came home from My eldest son’s school. (We’ll call him Alfie.) ‘Please be advised that head lice is going around the school… Check your child’s hair regularly.’

“Head lice? Gee, thanks. Let’s just hope Alfie doesn’t get it. Alfie, don’t go near other children’s heads at school. Don’t share your hat or anyone else’s hat. Promise me!”

“I promise.”

Soon after the letter, I had myself thoroughly convinced that it would just not happen to us. I hated having lice when I was six years old, and I was determined not to let them in this house. Not on my watch you don’t!

For about two weeks we thought we were pretty lucky. There was no sign of the little critters, life went on steadily and everyone got to where they needed to be on time. Everyone including Alfie, who needed to be at kickboxing at six o’clock sharp on Thursday night.

While the name ‘kickboxing’ may not immediately imply head-to-head contact, there are some instances in which the children’s heads might meet as they practice certain moves. And when Alfie came home and took a shower after class, he wouldn’t stop scratching his head.

At first we thought nothing of it. “No big deal, surely it’s just a dry scalp from too much shampooing. He’s had quite a few showers this week anyhow. The water is hard in this region, too. We’ll use different conditioner next time.  No time to fuss over it now, we need to be out of the house tomorrow by eight!”

When we woke up yesterday morning we were so busy getting ready that we didn’t pay attention to whether or not Alfie was scratching his head. It was the last thing on our minds at that point. It did get a bit annoying when Alfie would take off his hat and stop walking to do it, so we hustled him along and told him to keep the hat on his head and stop messing with it.

“Can I have a piggy-back ride, mom?”

“No, Alfie, we don’t have time for that right now. We have to get to the bus station on time. Maybe later.”

We made it to the station as planned, and as Alfie sat next to me on our bus journey he rested his head on my shoulder from time to time. Once in London, we took lots of pictures where we were smiling and posing with our heads close together. Our friend hugged each one of us extra tight as we said our good-byes and when we got on our return coach, just when Alfie had rested his head on the back of the seat, I made him trade me places to make it easier to manage the baby.

As a matter of fact, I am not a fan of buses at all. I am always concerned that the person who sat in my seat before me may have had head lice, especially when I see a greasy hair-print on the window next to me. Yesterday was no exception, I just didn’t ever imagine that the lice-carrying greasy person who passed out on the bus would actually be a very clean, seven-year-old little boy whom I love so much.

After the bus had pulled into the station and we were on our way home, Alfie asked me again for a piggy-back ride. I didn’t refuse him this time because I knew he had been so patient all day and really deserved to get off his feet for at least part of the way home. Once on my back I told him to climb onto my shoulders instead, where I carried him for about a third of a mile before I had to put him down. He even got to run (his favorite thing to do) for the home stretch; what a perfect day it had been so far.

Once inside our home sweet home, we were ready to relax for the remainder of our lovely day. Hubby was brewing tea, I was donning my sheepskin booties, the baby was playing with the toys he hadn’t seen all day, and Alfie was…

…scratching his head.

“My head really itches, mom, I think I have head lice.”

“You think you have what? Let me see your head!”

I immediately got out the flashlight and looked through his hair, only to be horrified by the sight of things on the back of his head… crawling around… and… moving… “There’s… there’s one there! There! Get it! Get it!

As I squirmed like a little girl and tried not to empty the contents of my stomach on the floor, flashbacks began to haunt me of all the different times during that day in which my head came close to Alfie’s. I was getting increasingly panicked. What if the baby has them, too? What if he gave them to our friend? What if British lice aren’t supposed to go to America? I HAVE LOTS OF HAIR!

Meanwhile, Hubby was taking a much calmer approach to the whole thing.

“It was going to happen. We knew it would.”

I didn’t! I really thought we wouldn’t get them!”

“Well that was silly. We’ll get some stuff for it in the morning.”

I wasn’t sure I could wait until the morning. However, given the hour and the time required for treatment, it was going to have to wait. It was pure coincidence that we had rice with our dinner, right after I had been getting queasy over lice and nits for some time, but I managed to keep it all down despite fears that it was moving. Shortly after, I thought I started noticing some itching.

I couldn’t tell if I was paranoid or if I really was infested, but I seemed to be freaking out just in case. All night long I had a bad case of the heebie-jeebies, complete with nightmares at bedtime. Not exactly the type of ending I would have chosen for that day.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m afraid of spiders and ticks, especially after Hubby found a tick crawling on me last year, or that I’ve seen one too many episodes of Monsters Inside Me. I’m afraid of quite a few micro-menaces, actually, such as wasps, earwigs, red ants, bedbugs, mosquitoes and even dust mites. There is just something about tiny things making me unhealthy without my permission that really “bugs” me. Plus, I can still feel the nit comb yanking through my super-long hair back in the first grade, which only added pain to the trauma, for a mental scar that is sure to last a lifetime.

While researching more information on the little buggers, it became clear that it is important to stay calm in these situations. Stay calm? Excuse me? This is so that you don’t over-treat the children, and probably also so you don’t traumatise them. So I tried to remember to keep cool.

“Alfie, next time you decide to bring some new pets into this house, you make sure to ask permission first, okay?”

“What? I didn’t bring any…. oh. Well I didn’t ask them, they’re invisible so they just… got on me.”

When Hubby came back from the store this morning with the treatment gel, I was quite excited to use it. It is a product called Hedrin, which is supposed to suffocate the lice and penetrate the eggs to kill them all. When finished simply shampoo, condition and comb out, and voila! No pesticides or harsh chemicals, can be used on the baby if necessary. I saturated Alfie’s hair with it as directed and after fifteen long minutes of “How long is it now, Mommy?” and “Has it been fifteen minutes yet?” it was time to douse him with shampoo.

When I put the conditioner on him and started combing his hair, dozens of little brown flecks kept showing up on it, turning my stomach with each stroke. Only one was as large as a sesame seed so it’s difficult to tell how long he’s had them, but if they have to reproduce sexually and there were lots of small ones and quite a few eggs, hatching every seven to ten days,  and they only lay up to ten a day… how many did he have and how long had they been there? Should we only be concerned with head-to-head interaction from the past two days or the past two weeks? Some friends of ours watched the boys for us one night and their little girl was playing closely with the boys. So I sent her a warning, too.

“No worries, thanks for letting me know. Got all the gear to treat it already.”

Wow! That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting!

“…the first time I got them from my niece and nephew I bleached my hair to get rid of them! This won’t be the last time Alfie brings them home, don’t worry.”

At this point I am feeling much better about the way I reacted. I felt awful at first, but after talking to our friend I realized that if we just keep some treatment stuff on hand, we’ll be fine. My reaction was totally normal, and all was forgiven anyhow. No bleach involved.

After Alfie’s hair was done I treated my own, and now that we have both been treated I can let him near me once again. Alfie’s hair only required about a fifth of the bottle of Hedrin while mine required three fifths. That leaves just the right amount to treat Hubby’s hair and possibly the baby’s so we should all be good. But what the Hedrin won’t remove is the memories of looking through the back of my son’s scalp to see things crawling around on him, sucking his blood. It may be weeks before the nightmares and the phantom itches stop.

I can’t help but be suspicious that this may be karma getting back at me for scaring the crap out of Alfie with his very own plastic spider a few weeks ago. I put my arm around him and pretended I just wanted to hold him close when I put the thing on his sleeve and shouted, “Alfie! There’s a spider on you!” The way he squirmed… seems awfully familiar.

Long Row

Here is an amazing anecdote of wisdom about perspective when things get challenging:

Storyshucker

A friend of mine will soon move to a new house and has been consumed with the process of packing for quite some time. He lamented the fact that no matter how much he gets done he continues to see piles and stacks and shelves full of things yet to be boxed. Adding to the stress, he’s nearing the semester’s end of coursework towards a Master’s degree. This combination has him overwhelmed. He complained a bit more about the work left to do.

“I’ll never finish.” he moaned after his update.

“Well.” I said. “It’s like that row of tomatoes.”

He didn’t get it.

With no idea what I meant he stared into the distance preoccupied by stress. Then, remembering similar comments of mine in the past his head whirled back towards me. “Wait, is that another Nannie thing?” he asked.

“It’s another Nannie thing.” I nodded confirmation and began…

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