09 October 2011

“A Family’s Inherited Death Wish” The Suicidal Thoughts in My DNA

[all the names herein are changed to protect the privacy of the living.]

An Original Collection of Provocative and Powerful Essay's by R. B. STUART. Her Work Begins and Ends at the Crux of Truth, Sorrow and Humor---Capable of Slicing Through Your Psyche and Piercing Your Heart.

Part Twenty-Nine

In April 2007 shortly after my move from New York City to the outer tip of Long Island, I experienced an isolation and desperation that brought my thoughts back to suicide. Which hadn’t occurred for 20 years since the age of 26. Now that I was living in my future the hopelessness over my place in life and achievements fell short of the expectations I had for myself as a young girl with dreams of a bright future. After the death of both parents---an orphan for the first time---I witnessed my joy replaced by sadness---and youth traded in for jaded age. It became difficult to see my accomplishments and replicate the beauty cast over me by my mother’s eyes. The vanishing of everything I felt to be true created voids in corners of my life, becoming a vortex of pain that had reached the crux of….that spring day.

When I left the bank, I could feel the emotion snake up my throat---I didn’t expect to still be struggling at 46 the way I did at 26. I asked the teller Laura if any portion of the check cleared. I felt shame and sadness as I withdrew money from my account. Over the past two years I deposited yet another credit card convenience check to pay my rent and bills. Suspending the tears when she asked how I was doing, “Not well. Say a prayer for me,” I responded trying to hold down the emotions that were beginning to regurgitate. Her soft, compassionate blue eyes had a wisp of sadness in them, as if she knew the hardships I was undergoing. Reflected in numerous withdrawals that dipped my account to the $10 minimum.

I couldn’t turn my face to walk out the door fast enough before the pain and sorrow imploded from my heart, melting from my eyes. Orchestrated by a high-pitched whale I wept, ‘They say God doesn’t give you anymore than you can handle…it’s a lie. If it were true then people wouldn’t commit suicide.’ It seems God doesn’t ration the mounting pressure one experiences in life. In times of sorrow, sadness, desperation and hopelessness…. nothing changes. You cry yourself through it and wake to the same toil the next day.

Abandoning the thoughts in my head, I was lost in the grief of my heart. I reached my car door, opened it and sat in the seat of my pain. My apricot miniature Poodle, Sunday lept onto my lap and sniffed the emotions escaping from my mouth. He probably wondered what happened while I was in “that place.” He stayed quiet as I started the car and we left.

I decided to take him to the woods for a walk on the trails at Laural Lake. As we drove down the steep, mottled, dirt entrance I thought, ‘Should I tie him up to the exhaust pipe the way Daddy did with litters of kittens we couldn’t afford to keep.’ In the 60’s my father would have us kids go in the house while Mum turned up the radio. Then he’d place the unwanted litter in a bag, turn on the car and asphyxiate them. On the outskirts of the woods under mounds of dirt and dried leaves he’d bury the remains in a pit. The decaying animals would rest….living out their memories with us on the grounds in which we played.

I plotted, ‘If I didn’t have to worry about my dog, then I could kill myself. What if I killed myself and my dog survived, who would take him? If I killed him first I would surely want to die. I couldn’t bare life without him. Maybe a family member would parent him.’ I parked, he yelped and scratched at the door with pleasure having just arrived at one of his favorite spots. He hopped out, prancing as though life was grand, unaware I was premeditating his murder.

Tucked in the woods we meandered around the dirt trails when I noticed broken chunks and shards of glass from shattered beer bottles. I didn’t want him stepping on broken glass and cutting his paws so I was always cautious where we walked. I began picking up the brown chunks, green chips and clear slivers. I carried them in the palm of my hand, they reflected in the sun. He explored while I contemplated using the glass to cut my arms.

My thoughts raced, ‘What if I took the glass shards and sliced upwards from my wrist to forearm, the way suicide victims do killing themselves in a tub of water. If I sat down on the old cement foundation in the middle of the woods, and slit my wrists I would eventually bleed to death. Would Sunday howl or lick the blood off my arm? How many hours would it take before I died? Would I make it through the night alone in the woods? Whoever found my car would eventually find me. When opening my car door they’d see I had just come from the bank and was on my way to pay bills. The errand and food list wedged on the dashboard. Ready for execution.’

In my family, talking about death and dying was as common as discussing life. My thoughts drifted to my father Irwin, a 1st Division Calvary Specialist in WWII, an Army Master SGT who survived the invasion of Normandy but always wished he died with his war buddies. In 1966 he died at 46 from lung cancer. And as he wished, his ashes were scattered across the ocean…finally finding a resting place with his buddies at sea. My father left behind seven children and a 37-year old wife, my mother, Patricia.

Over a decade ago my mother told us that when my father relocated her from Boston to the 88-acre family farm in the country hills of Sterling, Massachusetts. It was the mid 1950’s, she was around 27, and they were newlyweds. She gave birth to her first two children, my brother Frank and sister Pearl. Desperate to get away from the seclusion of farm living, she went out to the barn and picked up my fathers shotgun. With one hand holding the cold metal barrel she sat with the tip in her mouth. The head pressing against her inner cheek, she tried stretching her other arm down the butt of the rifle. Unable to maneuver both, she fumbled to pull the trigger. In her attempt my father walked in. He ran over and snatched the gun out of her hands and thundered, “What the hell are you doing! Don’t you ever try that again!”

A city girl used to living a comfortable life, she was ejected into a meager existence as a housewife, and reasoned, “I hate it here! I don’t want to live in the country on a farm.” Desperate to be taken out of the surroundings that on one hand, brought her happiness with her children and husband, and on the other, torment and despair. The poverty, daily chores and tending to the farm animals wasn’t what she thought her life would be. She prevailed throughout the years, and after several strokes she died in 2002 at 73 from Congestive Heart Failure.

My brother Frank, the first-born and only boy, said at the age of 18 he thought about slitting his wrists with razors. Having felt caught between the stages of boyhood and not wanting to be the same type of man as our father. Which to him represented the negative connotations of being a man. Frank experienced violent physical abuse by my father’s hand. As a result he didn’t want to grow up and be the monster he saw our father to be. So instead he turned to drug use; marijuana, hashish and acid and developed a slicing sense of humor.

Four decades later, our fathers brother shared Dad knew Frank was homosexual and tried to beat it out of him---thinking he could beat his son into being a man. Frank had experienced bouts of depression since, but no longer suicidal thoughts. Now, in his mid 50’s, he’s drug free, but thick with the past. As a health facilitator he lives happily with his long-term partner.

Born in 1952 my older sister Pearl, who was a toddler on the farm when my mother attempted to kill herself, has had death thoughts since the age of six. Because of the role my mother gave her as junior Mum caring for her four younger siblings. Rather than be a mother to us, Pearl longed to forfeit her birthright of childhood---to die.

She’s the only one in the family to be clinically diagnosed with depression. Her desires to die were more silent than the other siblings. It resurfaced over the last five years partly because she feels stuck in her life, and being involved with a verbally abusive alcoholic for over a decade beat her down. Her self-inflicted punishment casts an anchor of guilt around her neck fearing he’ll have nowhere to go if she throws him out. So instead, each day he extracts a piece of her while she slowly dies inside.

Her seclusion, hopelessness, weight gain, loss of her son and resentments are at most times too much to bear. Pearl confessed to feeling jealous when hearing on the news of people who have accidentally died, “God why take them….I’ll gladly go.” Seeking relief from the pain, she attached a hose to the tailpipe of her car in a failed attempt to asphyxiate herself. It was divine intervention that the car wouldn’t start.

Pearl remains trapped in a life she loathes, childhood wounds still raw, her lackluster commitment to life saddled with the psychological and emotional loneliness of aging makes merely getting out of bed a challenge. As she disappears, she struggles to keep her grasp on living. Fortunately, a brief stint in a mental facility scared her sane. She finally kicked out her abuser, and life and love seems hopeful, as she’s in control of her life again.

In 1957 my sister Karen’s birth was shaky from the start having survived a ruptured appendix at age three. After the death of our father, and the remarriage of our mother to gold digging-child molesters, who over a three year period single handedly drained my mother financially, while desecrating everything that was once my fathers---including his children, especially the younger daughters.

Karen, the prettiest girl in the family, began experimenting with drugs and sex at 16. By her late 20’s she had tasted as many men and women, as drugs, and seemed to be the most seduced by hard drugs; barbiturates, narcotics, amphetamines, shooting up the latter and heroine.

Influenced by her as an older sister, with her guidance, I began an escapade with drugs. In 1981 at 21, Mum gave me my first journal. Karen and I had rented an apartment together in the North End of Boston. As young women, we hadn’t lived together since we were children, and wanted to experience freedom from abusive, controlling relationships. So we spent nearly a year partying together in the safe havens of Boston’s gay clubs. The drug use created erratic behavior and depression, and an uncertainty in my life. At that tine I needed the comfort and guidance of my father. So the first few pages of my journal were about depression and being caught in between life and death---success and failure.

Within months Karen had a boyfriend, a pharmacist and drug addict, whom I detested and she eventually married. She decided they would cohabitate so she moved out. Shortly thereafter they broke-up, and impulsively reunited, got another apartment, moved and separated again.

In the late 1980’s at the age of 28, Karen started complaining of pain on the back of her neck. She compared it to being hit on the back of her head with a brick. At that same time she began a mantra. The first time I heard it we were sitting in the back of a Boston cab going to her apartment in the North End, “I wish I’d get AIDS and die. I wish I’d get AIDS and die,” she chanted. I reasoned with her to stop saying that.

By January 1987, she wanted to reconcile with her husband who’d been bounced out of pharmacies around Boston for stealing drugs. He moved South, finding a drug store in Florida where he charmed his way back into the pharmaceutical business. Karen made plans to be in Florida with him by Valentines Day. Once there, within weeks she became exhausted, had a shortness of breath and developed the flu. By mid April she was diagnosed with AIDS. Three weeks later she died alone in a Florida hospital at the age of 29.

The death of my childhood chum, the beauty who shared bunk beds with me, the kid that tormented me, the girl that combed, cut and braided my hair, the friend who shared laughter and scars, my dance partner, the only one who knew my fears and collective memories, she was the black raspberry to my pistachio ice cream, the one who sang Jennifer Holiday’s “Dreamgirls” with me….the only person who corralled those moments in time, in our lifetime, had vanished. Into the ethers her spirit went---sailing the sea with my Daddy.

I was 27 when she died. My psyche was ripped from the core. My heart bled a constant river of tears and grief. As I mourned, I stopped smoking, no longer drank or did drugs, became celibate and read self-help books. Learned Transcendental Meditation and affirmations, became one with the earth and saw the face of Mother Nature for the first time. I searched the heavens endlessly for the meaning of her death…and to my life. Grappling with my own desires to die.

In the darkened hours of the night, in the mist of heartache and sorrow, I begged God, “Please take me I want to die. I don’t want to live anymore.” My head waved side to side against the pillow that cradled my inner torment. A flush of tears soaking the sides of my face as I repeated my pleas. My stomach ached from the heaves of anguish. I pleaded to take me from this misery. Exhausted, hopeless and feeling abandoned….I began to fall asleep….until I felt my feet being tugged off the bed.

A miniature casket was suspended in the left corner of the room where the ceiling meets the wall. There where two lights blinking, one red to stop, one green to go. As it began to move toward the bed the tugging at my feet continued. Like magnets, I was being pulled towards the casket. I looked at the foot of the bed and saw a three-foot high ugly brown troll, with a big animal like face and pointed ears tugging at my feet.

Frantically I pulled my feet back, using my legs to push myself back up to the headboard. I was horrified and whaled, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” Instantly the spell was broken. I leaned over to turn on the light. My forehead felt afire, was it my third eye and a mystical episode I wondered. I was panting and called by brother to tell him what happened. That’s the night I made the conscious choice to live---and would never wish to die again. Until 20 years later….

Karen’s death transformed everyone in the family in different ways. My younger sister Nita decided the Lord was calling her and in 1989 became a missionary for the New Tribes Mission. Giving herself to the Lord she became celibate, refrained from alcohol and smoking, and learned how to preach fire and brimstone. For eight years she lived across the country learning and preparing for the ultimate goal of doing missionary work, bringing Christianity and Jesus to third world countries. She built houses by hand, cut off the heads of chickens, prayed, asked for donations, sang in choirs, learned linguists; Cherokee and Pigeon English so she could speak with the natives. With training complete and her life in crates, she and the other missionaries moved to the New Tribes Mission camp in Papua New Guinea. Where she’d do her life’s work.

It wasn’t long after she arrived did she meet a tanned and salty scuba diving instructor from Australia, who not only taught her about diving, but rekindled a few of the seven deadly sins. Within a month she was reprimanded and told to stop seeing him or else she would be expelled from New Tribes. The affections from her illicit love was stronger than Jesus, and so she opted out. Leaving with him for a torrid seven-day sojourn in Australia.

Knowing it was time to depart from her fantasy romance she reluctantly abandoned her heart. Aware that her life over the last eight years had dissolved, she flew to California and stayed with our brother and reverted to secular life. The smoking and drinking reemerged as Nita felt God had forsaken her by allowing a weakness for the flesh to return. For weeks she pondered at the crossroads, then moved to Florida. Overtime the doubts began to surface and by 1997 at 34 she uttered repeatedly, “I wish I’d die. I wish I’d get cancer and die.” She hasn’t died. At 43 she lives successfully….with those thoughts, and has recently begun journaling, writing “goodbye” letters to family and friends.

In 2006 my baby sister Ella, a 41-year old Army Captain Chaplain with the 101st Airborne returned two years post Iraq with stage IV Dygerminoma cancer. Although the dance of life and death has been one woven throughout all of our lives…when faced with an unwelcomed death sentence with a rare stage IV she whaled, “I don’t want to die. I’m only 40 years old. I’m too young to meet my maker. I don’t have enough memories yet.”

With all the prayers, a great medical team at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the rotation of family support in D. C. After 35 rounds of Chemo, two major surgeries, one to remove a volleyball size tumor from her abdomen, the other to remove her creative organs. As of November 2006 she’s in clinical remission and celebrating her rebirth.

As my yearlong dedication to her began to wane, I had to resuscitate the life I put on hold. During that period I allowed my already fragile writing career to disintegrate. Willingly, I sacrificed the focus of me, my life and doggy, to be certain Ella would live. I made sure not to make the same errors in judgment as with Karen’s death. The remission eradicated her mindset from the death sentence, giving her permission to take her life back, and in the midst forgetting she didn’t do it alone.

By January 2007 after several telephone arguments, the gratitude and sacrifice of the conjoined family efforts had vanished from her mind. As she reverted back to being the same person before the cancer, with the same sibling conflicts and issues. The near hint of death hadn’t yet transformed, or even awakened her. As a result, our servitude had evaporated from her thoughts.

This was the catalyst to my emotional devastation, compounded by my fragile financial outlook, and lack of work. Having spent a majority of the nine months with her in D. C., my credit card debts were mounting. Edging their way to swallow me whole. I turned from her to me, and what I found was feelings of forsaken. Being isolated in a new town, with work that was sparse. The burdens of my own and Ella’s, was too much to carry, crushing my last bit of hope. I couldn’t see around the corner---was anything even there? Or was there more loss, pain, suffering and abandon.

My daily and hourly prayers were marred by doubt. A blanket of confusion of what to do to twist out of the spiral of defeat was taking hold. I felt disconnected from the family, mostly misunderstood, and judged for not having a “normal” life. And slighted for following my fruitless dreams was only compounded by not having a steady income. It gave them the ammunition they needed. Would I abandon them---or my dreams?

As the work ended my hope diminished. I detached from Nita and Ella breaking the emotional bonds. It was a vortex of heartache that produced thoughts of death once again. Nearly 20 years, 1987 and now 2007. Karen’s death was the catalyst the first time. This time a blend of family and career; fear, scarcity, loneliness and loss.

I took Sunday for a walk and within blocks my mind was flooded with words, thoughts and visions of how I could die. I wept with each step pleading to God why has he forsaken me. The sorrow dripped from my eyes as I fell in a trance of grief. My dog oblivious to my howls of anguish meandered along the frozen edge of the country roads. The feelings of being misunderstood were apparent, as was the lack of respect for the life experiences I had tucked within my history. I pled to the spirit of Karen, my Mother and Father for help. My mind and heart became one---lost in a bounty of aloneness and suffering.

As I approached the homes along the bay the negative tape in my head began to silence. The vision of myself along the rocky shores of the beach started to emerge---I became still inside. Like Virginia Woolf’s suicide, I envisioned myself collecting rocks and putting them into my jacket pockets, into my sports bra, into my underwear, my socks, boots and tying Sunday’s leash to my arm. As we’d wade out into the calm winter water, he’d become cautious as I walked slowly through the graveled shore, clutching him against my breast.

The smooth, faceless cold rocks pressing against my flesh---the weight taking hold, the waves knocking me off balance until I surrendered to the salty foam. The warmth of the water against the crisp air would cover me like a blanket. The life-filled world of Technicolor would become grey, still, and lifeless as my feet became heavy in the sand. I relinquished my will to the vast oceans of death that came before me. Sunday would frantically submit to his masters wish, staying tethered to my arm as our ship of life went down.

This reel in my mind had silenced my cries---as I was suspended by the vision. We floated back home along the tarred road. I thrust my body onto the bed and whaled for my dark thoughts. Sunday was confused and sat by my side. With no one except the spirits to hear my lowly inner turmoil, my journal became the caring caress I needed. It stood firm, spine erect, arms wide open, steadfast. In silent strength the pages took all I could expel. The unfettered paper marred by tears, pain and confusion absorbed the strife eating away my psyche. Only after I exhausted the power of death did the wave of emptiness rock me peacefully to sleep.

The next day brought a feeling of renew, and three weeks of unexpected part time work brought my optimism back. It made me feel self-sufficient and strong. I decided to see a tarot card reader in NYC. I needed to know what was ahead. The trees in the forest were closing in. She provided the hope that abandoned me. She spoke of success, riches, powerful men and love. I only had a few weeks and months to wait before all the cards fell into place. She affirmed my terrible life experiences with lady luck nowhere in sight, but all that would change. The depression would lift, and everything I’d worked for in my life would finally meet---with that elusive four-leaf clover.

I spun like a top with excitement. Nothing could penetrate my star filled eyes. The future was finally mine. Three weeks came, then five weeks, then nine, and….no powerful man, no money, no luck, and was out $50 dollars. I regressed back to the darkness on that crisp, bright spring day when I took Sunday for a walk through the woods at Laural Lake. With each step pieces of my family history sprouted in my head like jewels---suspending the visions of cutting my arms with the glass sparkling in my palm. Their events began to link themselves together. My family’s own personal demons, our own struggles, and fight with life and death I noticed had a similar thread. Like a patchwork quilt their stories surfaced and revealed themselves. Maybe we don’t own those thoughts---they belong to our parents, our ancestors. Their desires to die were passed down to us.

Woven through my parents and siblings is the fragile balance of doubt and hope, weakness and strength, confusion and clarity, sadness and joy. And if tipped one way for a long period of time desperation emerged wrapped in the package of despair, wishes of dying, or death.

While I was able to uncoil the intricate emotional longings that have replicated and connected us over the generations….the memories, the words, the sentences. It painted a picture for me of my family, and I thought, ‘Maybe the death wish isn’t mine after all.’

Just then, as I rejected death, I was possessed by generations of understanding. Their spirits gave me permission to be cradled by the muse and in euphoric excitement I grabbed a pen and paper from my pocket and this story began to unfold. The phrase I penned brought enlightenment, “my death wish was inherited in my DNA, it doesn’t belong to me.” And by unlocking the originators….I felt peace with my demons and was somehow set free. My soul, no longer lost in the woods of darkness---the spell was broken, and in my clarity I found the freedom to finally---live.

© COPYRIGHT 2007, R. B. STUART. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction of this Blog in any form.

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08 April 2011

“Fashion Crash: When Clothes, Loss and Car Collide”

An Original Collection of Provocative and Powerful Essay's by R. B. STUART. Her Work Begins and Ends at the Crux of Truth, Sorrow and Humor----Capable of Slicing Through Your Psyche and Piercing Your Heart.

Part Twenty-Eight

Several years ago my mother suffered her second stroke, then in 2002 the 73 year-old widow had a third relapse. It rattled my existence and I began to ponder my 13 years in New York City, my childhood, and the possible loss of my mother. I reached an understanding; that in order for me to have a quality and healthy life---I'd have to rescue my mother, my own life, and leave New York. I knew I could always have NY but would never have another mother, so I'd forfeit my life in the city as I knew it, and move in with her where she spent the last thirty years of her life in New Hampshire.

In taking care of her disintegrating body I'd assist her as she made the transition to death. All the while I still bartered with God that she'd recover from this one as she did the other two. My heart and mind were split as I listened to her yearn for the days as a teenager drinking bottles of Pepsi-Cola and eating Devil Dogs through puffs of oxygen.

Reminiscing about her long swims in the cool ocean waters of Gun Rock Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. Mentally I knew she'd eventually die from refusing food, but in my heart I couldn't fathom the loss of my one and only---Mother. Yet, there was still so much I hadn't achieved in my life that I needed her to be around for. After all, I owed her the happiness of seeing me marry a wonderful man, that is after I found one, become a successful author, and buy a beach house where she would live with me while I write---a German Shepard patiently curled by my feet.

But in the six weeks that followed she died. As her life had unexpectedly ended---mine began. I bought my first car a 1992 Volvo and planned my mothers Memorial service. Within months I anticipated my move from NH where I restlessly left as a child three decades before. But during that mourning period I'd experience waves of grief along with periods of acceptance and a sense of well being. With emotions and their unpredictable manner, I felt consumed by the darkest moments. At midnight driving quietly along still country roads listening to a Dean Martin cassette, remembering the old songs that she loved. I pictured her sitting beside me in the car she’d never seen, swaying to the music and singing in unison.

That vision had put me into a tailspin of sorrow and grief. I missed her so. Riding down the blackened, barren roads howling in pain like a lone fox caught in a trap--no one to rescue her in the deep of the night out of the cold, dark woods. Suffering---the ache tightly gripped my head. The forceful well of tears burst from my heart---draining months of sorrow from my eyes. Sleep was the only remedy. It takes me back to Mum, and our family as it should be…

When I resuscitate myself from the tidal wave of pain, my memory ponders the last three years of her life….. The second stroke left her with left side paralysis and wheelchair bound, spending her final five years in a seated position. It reduced her sense of fashion and delight of shopping to elastic waist – wide legged pants sufficient for her leg brace. She wore clothes we thought would look good on her, as apposed to her choosing her own wardrobe.

The wheelchair made her extremely self-conscious producing a homebound shame that crippled her self-esteem. Her social life had diminished, her comfort came from a "pet" bowl of ice cream or chocolates. It took several years of cajoling when I'd come home for a visit just to attend family gatherings. She'd defy me and whimper with self-pity, "No one wants to see an old lady in a wheelchair." I'd reason, "No one is looking at you in your wheelchair. Do you stare and talk about people you see in a wheelchair?" “No,” she'd answer, pouting in defeat as she'd pivot from her recliner into her mobile metal chair.

Finally after four years of my drill sergeant methods to get her out of the house, she sulked when the transport service van drove us to Physical Therapy because afterwards we’d go on foot to the mall. She hadn't been in a store since the stroke, relying heavily on home health aids and family to shop.

After her PT I wheeled her 5'10 frame down the hill. Because of her pride she never attached the foot rests, it would only amplify her disability to herself and the world, so her long basketball legs were stretched out before her, her metal knee brace peeking out from under her left pant leg. We rolled along the emergency lane of the bypass, trudging up another hill when it began to sprinkle. She laughed and held her face up to the sky as the raindrops kissed her cheeks. It had been so long since she was out in the rain---like the tin man her caution gave way to ecstasy---filled with glee she shouted repeatedly, "Honey, what an ad-vent--cha!"

I tugged, pushed and pulled her around every bend until Kmart was only a roll away. Out of breath, her legs in cramps, both of us damp from the rain, the automatic doors opened and I let go of the wheelchair. Her feet clad in brown orthopedic Frankenstein shoes dropped to the floor and with her heels pulled herself over to the first rack of clothes she could find. The drunken excitement shown over her face. Childlike awe glazed over her protruding hazel eyes as she marveled and caressed each fabric like it was a babies head. She'd gasp in adoration as each rack of clothes were better than the last. A simple pop into a department store for me---was a life changing event for her. After that landmark day her desire for life began to blossom again.

But as she became psychically disjointed by the silver metal frame with hoola-hoop sized black rubber wheels that flanked her, I eventually felt socially crippled by the car that had been bought to give me freedom. Even though after her death I moved back to the Empire State and lived closer to the beach, the three-ton metal box with four rubber wheels would begin to erode my self-esteem.

It began to cloak my public self, as if putting on an overcoat. I’d adorn my chariot and duck in and out of stores, shielding my lack of make-up behind Armani sunglasses. The rear view mirror the size of a blackboard eraser would reflect the only portion of my body I didn’t mind looking at; my eyes. My lips no longer kissed by a coat of Chanel Star Red lipstick.

When living in NYC walking along the city streets is like strutting on the catwalk of life. Paved with cement sidewalks that glisten like diamonds---you’re on display for the world to see. Your gait, your posture, how you feel about yourself is neatly packaged by your Manalo shoes, Hermes red Birkin bag, 4-ply Burberry cashmere sweater and Chanel scarf---all strategically placed---dripping from your neck, shoulders and arm.

The absence of being on street-display, saddled with using the car to hide…a whiplash of weight gain emerged. While I forfeited walking---the lack of caring for myself trailed behind. Gaining seven pounds a year over the last six years (although not in that order), the newly packed 40 pounds of girth cushioned the blow of feeling unattractive, and the thicker the insulation---the more secluded I became. The outside world mirrored a shame and inadequacy that cloaked me like new lingerie. My stunted sexuality protected by the metal four-door box in which my social persona lives. No longer do I stand erect along the city streets, but seated in a guarded wheeled cage that effectively protects my pride…while I ride.

When you abandon city living---you’re no longer center stage of the style capital---instead your artillery of fashion accessories become abandoned in a darkened closet. The garments are symbolic of the passage of time when they lived amongst the yellow taxi cabs, salty steam of manhole covers, clap of pigeons, hot dog carts and cat calls that make NYC. Like a ghost I’m haunted by a walk in Central Park, my collection of silk scarves rattle the closet doors to be taken out for a wisp of city air. The boxes of Gucci loafers edge themselves further out on the shelves….craving the pavement underfoot. The arm of my Ellen Tracy raincoat longs to drape my shoulders, as my Louis Vuitton tote reaches out to hold my hand.

I push back my thoughts of fashion as it’s been replaced by country roads, farmland, vineyards and an automobile---which I have adorned as my armor for the last six years, shielding me away from society. Hiding within the metal comfort of 250 horsepower it replaces the pulse of the city streets, sweeping away the stimulation and culture. Eventually separating me from the world….as I’m no longer bejeweled by my clothes, but a car.

While the echo from the city wafts through my senses once again, she begins to tip the scales, like a magnet she draws me away from the seclusion, and reawakens the desire of a women to beatify oneself---through fashion---and accessories are but a drive away…

Copyright 2008, R. B. STUART. All rights reserved. No Reproduction of this Blog in any form.

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15 February 2011

Arianna Huffington - The Greek Tycoon: “Greed Is Good”

Part Twenty-Seven

As a Huffington Post contributor, I was invited [self, above] on FOX Business News on Valentines Day to Interview live with David Asman on Nightly Scoreboard, to discuss the recent acquisition of The Huffington Post by AOL. Even the media is dumbfounded to learn that while Arianna Huffington has been building her website and reputation over the past five years----she has never paid any of her writers.

I don’t know who Arianna has been consulting as of late, or how many times she’s watched “Wall Street,” but it’s obvious her new mantra is, “Greed Is Good.”

This sale of The Huffington Post to AOL last week for $315 million, has caused a backlash throughout journalism, because she, without conscience, profited off the backs of her free labor. The 6,000 dedicated, progressive, professional writers, who over the past five years were responsible for transforming the former wife of a U. S. Senator----into a Greek Tycoon.

The sale, coming off the heels of her latest book about America becoming a Third World country is ironic, as she treated her devoted writers no better than a boiler room operation in Taiwan.

These are the very writers whose quality of content has brought credibility to The Huffington Post. This year Harvard University has accepted the publication as a viable web news source, including its credentials among the categories of national newspaper and magazines for its Investigative Journalism award; The Worth Bingham Prize, in which I’ve submitted my series of soldiers diagnosed with Cancer post-Iraq.

It’s unthinkable that her father, a newspaper publisher himself, would have instilled in his daughter that when she builds her own publishing empire---to be sure she stick her Manolo Blahnik heels into the back of her writers---as she climbs her way to the top.

In good faith, Arianna Huffington should have included in her February 7th “contributors” E-mail, that out of the $315 million sale, she would be cutting each of the 6,000 free laborers a check of $1,000, as a thank you [still an insult, but at least it would have been an effort of gratitude]. It would have totaled to $6 million dollars---and still would have had $309 million left.

The writers are what made the publication what it is today, and what made her a valuable commodity. So to think she’ll stuff her mattress with $300 million in cash, while her own stable of writers lay their head on a pillow of poverty is unfathomable and ruthless.

And to assume that selling her lot of slaves aboard “The Grecca” AKA The Huffington Post, to the conservative billion dollar corporation AOL, where they would continue to provide content for free----puts her in the category of Wall Street execs shafting the middle class. And it is the ultimate act of betrayal and exploitation to her servants of news.

This buy-out may have been a shrewd business move in the boardrooms of corporate America---but it has solidified the new tier in the landscape of America’s Workforce---two levels below interning and volunteer work is now exploitation and free labor. The former six levels, will now be seven. Beginning at the bottom; exploitation/free labor, volunteer work, internships, minimum wage, high school diploma, college degree and Masters. This hierarchy of the American work force and age discrimination will saturate journalism with inexperienced mediocrity, and abolish the strife our colleagues suffered at picket lines over a half-century ago when they demanded better wages and working conditions. Their steadfastness and courage for bettering the value of our craft has been usurped by this deal.

The only light on the horizon I see is moving to Asia where I can finally be paid by American corporations for the labor I provide. And I will do so willingly as a true American patriot, only marred by the Made in China tattoo stamped on the back of my hand.

© COPYRIGHT 2008, R. B. STUART. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction of this Blog in any form.

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07 February 2011

"Arianna Huffington Sells Lot of Slaves for $315 Million"

Arianna Huffington, Courtosy AP 10-10

Part Twenty-Six

As a contributor for The Huffington Post since 2008, I have posted 25 original content articles valued over $25,000 for free. So eager to have the platform for my soldiers stories, of U. S. soldiers returning from Iraq with Cancer ---I didn't ask for payment---merely handed over the 20 - 30 hours of reporting of each piece for gratis.

Over that period I had asked Arianna Huffington several times for financial support with this work, but after being referred to the D.C. based Huffington Post Investigative Fund as a candidate for payment---I was turned down, as well as by executive editor, Roy Sekoff.

I become incensed to learn that in December The Huffington Post hired away two New York Times editors for well over $100,000 each.

Then to receive an E-mail today from Arianna and Roy about their "Exciting News" of the AOL take over---I was less than enthusiastic. Do they really think 6,000 slave writers will continue to write for free for an international conglomerate like AOL (who pays their web-writers, even if it is meager) without pay?

The deal was made between AOL and Arianna Huffington while they courted her over the weekend at the Super Bowl. Not only did they buy out The Huffington Post for $315 million, but $300 million is in cash.

Essentially, the 6,000 writers Arianna lured with coveted bylines, then exploited their content while the site raked in ad revenue in the millions---has now sold us without our permission, under the guise we'd continue to write for AOL for free---it is presumptuous and arrogant to say the least.

The only way to turn this downward spiral for writers providing original content for the web for meager wages, or in this instance, for not even a slap on the back---is to withdraw. We have grumbled over the years that our craft has lost its value with technical advancement. Web-writing will never compare to print---in respect nor payment---unless we change it. Since the Internet is unregulated when it comes to rights for writers and photographers and collecting fees, then my fellow scribers, this should be a turning point were we no longer write for free. How can one person sell another’s work, without their permission, unless they are slave labor without laws protecting them?

We might not have had rights contributing for The Huffington Post. But it is OUR right now---whether or not to write for free for AOL--- the new owners of The Huffington Post.

This may be an exciting payday for the masthead....but for the thousands of writers that have kept the site in business and lucrative for five years with incentives for advertisers---for AOL to assume it's business as usual without pay---then the executives brokering the deal need to think again. As writing for free for an international corp like AOL---is another beast altogether.

To think the award winning, much admired and regarded Arianna, sold her soul as well as The Grecca ship of slaves---is not only corrupt---but unthinkable. And in my opinion this act of greed and exploitation may be the beginning of her demise.

And I may not be the only contributor to need a glass of water to wash the bitter taste from their mouth....

© COPYRIGHT 2011, R. B. STUART. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction of this Blog in any form.

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15 January 2011

End of The Line: “When a Branch of Your Family Tree Breaks”

Part Twenty-Five

Studies show that when a woman is shown images of babies their pupils dilate. I have never experienced that sensation but know when I see furry images of a floppy-faced, innocent eyed puppy, my mouth breaks into an immediate smile and my heart is filled with joy. Like when The Grinch is converted by the unconditional love and compassion of little girl Who?, in the town Whosville he’s taken Christmas away. An x-ray of his heart shows it expanding and beginning to pulsate with love and joy, while the sparkle in his eyes give way to half mooned grin. That’s how I feel when I see dogs.

Was that the prediction that I would never bear children? Or was it because me and three other sisters were molested for a three-year period all under the age of 12 by our ex-stepfather and his 16 year-old pedophile son?

When that psychic scar penetrates your entire life---with a secret that distorts all your romantic relationships. If by your 30’s you don’t allow it to surface into the rage it’s festered---then we turn on ourselves.

As my older sister Karen did with hard drugs introduced to them at 16 by a street hustler twice her age. He infiltrated her life preying upon that protection she craved since the death of our father when we where six and nine. The drugs numbed out the childhood pain, and glazed over the domination, exploitation and beatings he’d give her to keep her submissive and fearful of leaving him.

In her 20’s her love for heroin was stronger than the addiction she once had for him. And she parlayed that for a new life for herself with other functioning addicts that didn’t abuse her. But it was only time before the drugs would call her home….

At 28, while she was going through a period of sobriety she said to me she longed to be someone’s wife, at the same time her demons clawed at her and wished she’d contract AIDS and die. She married a pharmacist with a drug habit and access to pharmaceuticals….and with all her fortitude attempted to salvage her once reckless life. But the mantras of death had already begun to weave their web and she developed full-blown AIDS Easter of 1987. She died that May at the age of 29.

Tormented by sexual abuse of my ex-step fathers hand, Karen partied hard and lived recklessly until her body couldn’t withstand the violation it absorbed when she was 12. I watched as she psychically willed herself to death.

It left four sisters and a brother to grant my mothers wish of grandchildren. The latter would be removed from carrying on the name since he was gay. The future rested in the wombs of the four remaining.

When she died I was 27 and the loss shook the foundation of my holy trinity as she would never reach her 30th birthday and I would ultimately outlive her. Her life was frozen mid-stream---her image burnt into the Kodak paper in my mind. Like a caveman in search of a fossil---I clung to her personal effects as remnants of a life half lived, but had evaporated into the ethers. Her remaining belongings reduced to a few cardboard boxes were sifted through by the family---like wiping the dust from the rubble of a gold mine---in search of the one nugget of artifact that extracted the totality of her life. That would essentially invoke an image, thought or feeling of her.

Now only I was the locket of our shared childhood of bumps and bruises, lies and betrayals, jealously and envy, love and empathy. I inherited what was and had the power to change what would be for my own life.

I stopped drinking, getting high, partying, quit smoking and became celibate. I lost the support of my intoxicated weekend friends and turned inwards for the first time in search of myself, my pain, my God.

As the calendar months flipped by, so did the decades. As I celebrated the milestones of 30, 35, 40---I marked the loss of what could have been for her. Having come from a family of five girls and one boy, after our fathers death in 1966, our innocence was sacrificed for the pleasures of out ex-step brother, as three of us had suffered sexual abuse by him. It would permeate every facet of our life, and forever stain our ability to love, trust and experience intimacy with a man.

So damaged, I observed each of us girls become abstinent and relinquish our maternal clocks. While I feel the pricking of turning 50 in a few months I am acutely aware I am childless. Having lost my mother in 2002 at the age of 72 I am now parentless---officially an orphan. Being emotionally maimed by abusive relationships until I was in my mid 30’s---I find myself spouseless. The psychological injuries obtained stunting my ability to love again---trust again. As I’ve resolved it’s too late for me.

My family jests my apartment is so over run with memorabilia and collectables---that when I die they dread having to dismantle my tangible life. Threatening me and my objects of affection with a garage sale or much worse the dump. As I scan each intricately placed photograph, shelved Norman Mailer books and an assortment of his framed letters of encouragement and sketches to me, souvenirs from my world travels and longings for Italy hang side by side, religious artifacts, and wall of achievements---my eye rests on a Bible sized, Italian leather bound coffee table book, with a cover etched with a trio of naked female figures.

Within the parchment pages is my New England Family Tree dating back to 1834 and 1844 in Naples, Italy, 1616 Scotland, 1711 Belfast and 1847 County Cork, Ireland. My fathers and mothers lineage ends with me and my siblings.

Having four childless and spouseless sisters prepares us for a life of spinsterhood. But even more jarring is there’s no one to tell the family stories to, no one to leave the genealogy with, and no other generation who’s interested in my baubles, much cared for chronological photo albums of 25 years---all of which will one day lay on a wobbly aluminum table in a dusty thrift shop. Being picked over by the pelicans of the future.

Like those before me who beloved trinkets line flea market tables or antique shops because their family found no attachment or they had no one living that would carry on their memory. No one to leave their every hope and dream, shared laugh and tear, no one to mark the life they had lived.

It brings sadness to my heart, as I mourn the life I’ll leave behind. The life that will ultimately vanish into the incinerator of death. The only value of my achievements will be in the money I leave behind. There will be plenty of takers for that…. But my grandmothers cameo pendent and engagement ring, my grandfathers communion ring, my fathers WWII dog tags, my mothers Mother’s ring and ruby, the jewelry from the chapters of my own life---will they lay encased in a darkened, antique store marked with white price tags? Will they strike a strangers fancy and find a home ‘round their finger or neck….their history forever dormant.

Or do I have all those keepsakes buried with me, or thrown into the crematory with me? Is it vulgar to ponder adopting a teenage boy and girl to selfishly carry on my Family Tree, and who will mourn my passing by cherishing my volumes of poetry, journals, books, manuscripts and other possessions? Or do I spend the last segment of my life distributing what I’ve amassed over the years to my friends? What will come of my mothers belongings that I horded after her death? The white chest stacked with magical memories and doo-dads laced with her fragrance of “White Shoulders”….the contents and their past only sentimental to a loved one. Will it be impersonally bulldozed into a landfill for seagulls to nest?

After her death is when I became more entrenched in her lineage---the parts she kept secret or long ago forgot. I uncovered generations of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins she intentionally detached from decades ago when she was a young bride in her 20’s. The reasons were hazy. Her estrangements made us, her six children suffer, as we knew no one else except each other.

The floodgates of her private heritage opened up with merely a brief tug. My desire to know who she was, and who I am, brought forth a domino of living great aunts, great uncles, cousins, and childhood chums who happily resurrected her life by recalling moments with her. Within two years I’d been introduced to branches of my mothers side back three generations to Italy, and three to Ireland. As I became engulfed in the family history I longed for while she was alive. I saw a pattern in the Irish genealogy beginning with the seven children born in early 1800’s---none ever married.

I noticed every generation from then on, whether in a family of two or seven siblings; one, two, three, five or six of them within that family never married. Including my own. And I wondered had their families fallen victim to abuse or dysfunction? Just as I noticed numerous drowning from boat or water accidents over the centuries in my lineage, should I beware of the water? Is it better if a family not reproduce and die-off---rather than perpetuate the dysfunction? Was our need not to procreate a good thing for our lineage? As the torment on my mothers side will end with us. Could it be our mission, our destiny is fulfilled, our spiritual work complete? Or had it been in our bloodline----a prophecy effecting certain family branches like mine?

The answers I may never uncover, and it may just be a destiny that no matter how I play tic-tack-toe with my life----the end result is the same for my family: no heirs. At some point I have to come to peace with my inability to pass along all that is precious to me. So along your journey if you come across a bauble, a trinket, old pictures or a journal along the way and find my name etched somewhere----please buy it and give it life----knowing that it came from a girl without a tree.

© COPYRIGHT October 2009, R. B. STUART. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction of this Blog in any form.

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