Thursday, 28 June 2018

by Judith Michaels Safford

Dad would to say, when he wanted to refuse my invitation, “Your mom isn’t up to going anywhere today.” Mom would say, “So sorry, but we have other plans,” quickly making other plans so it wouldn’t be a lie. She lacked truth telling tools and had no voice of her own. She complained about dad never being home and, then, took it all back and talked about him working two jobs to support the family. We lived in a housing project. Mom sewed most of our clothes; dad had suits from Gilbert’s Men's clothing store and Florsheim shoes, looking the part of a successful salesman. Mom could make a meal for seven out of one small jar of dried beef, flour, water and bread. Standing up for herself or us was not in her tool box. Dad was god and the rest of us were ducklings walking chronologically behind, sitting in the first pew at Sunday Mass.
That was then. This is me now, living out ancestry residue.
Me, learning to say, ‘NO.”
Smothered! Wanting to guard my boundaries. Wanting to find some boundaries, any boundaries.
Stirred by Gabor Maté’s book, “When the body says NO,” I sit and think in silence. I act standoffish. Don’t touch me as I grapple to find myself. My mood is triggered by a revelation and the piercing sound of ripping. The thin sticky veil covering my vision resists removal. The very word authenticity makes me squirm and shreds a multitude of stories.
I wear a smile all the while the emotional vampire drains me empty. I smile a yes and lean in with empathizing ears. The character in this story showers me with overbearing hugs, kisses on the mouth, compliments and gifts. Choking, smothering, I want to be set free of her. I had no clue it was me wanting to be set free from my smiling lie. Suddenly, I’m blackballed, no longer spoken to, invitations canceled and presence unacknowledged. Me, the loving, compassionate friend. Me, the one who listened, nodded and smiled. How could she? Part of me rejoices with relief, and the other part of me pastes together another victim story, like Mother did. My soft, kind, listening energy was false in this relationship. It totally eluded me and it wasn’t the first time. Many years of yes-smiling lies, thinking it was genuine. Being the “good girl” is what truly left me dry.

Nine years after being dropped, my once old friend had both breasts removed. Her new friends fell at her feet. Being the voluntary Librarian that Saturday before her surgery, I checked out her stack of movies and was able to look her in the eyes and wish her well. With each encounter at the library and her every little California hug and how are you, I was the dead fish, arms by my side with no response. I couldn’t even squeeze out, “And how are you?” Unable to witness my own facial expressions, I notice her baldness changing to fuzz and now her curly gray.
Today, clarity sat me straight up in bed, as if a fire alarm had stung my ears. My part in the relationship flashes before my eyes like a hand cranked black and white movie. My smiling lie had reached a tipping point when she acted out the final good-bye. I watch my story collapse, disintegrating into baby bird feathers flying away with the April cold-front winds swirling in the skies heading for the fire of the stars. Longing for authenticity to trickle into the beating of my heart, I begin my truth telling here with you.
Building daily healthy fences, bathed in gratitude, laced with humility,
I’m learning to say, “NO and/or YES,” within truth’s boundaries.

* * * * * 
In 2006, Judith Michaels Safford discovered a radio program on writing poetry. She followed the prompts and mustered up the courage to press the send button. She was invited to read and a door was open that had not previously existed. She finds that her emotions express more easily through poetry. Judith self-published her memoir in 2009. Don’t Sell Your Soul, Memoir of a Guru Junkie. Encouraged by a published poet-friend, she embarked on self-publishing a book of prayer poems. Joyful Surrender, A pilgrimage. Judith continues to practice a 23-year career as a licensed massage therapist. Today her home is Glenwood, New Mexico, where artists of many kind reside. Touching others with hands and poems brings a tremendous satisfaction of purpose to her life.

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