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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Unbreakable Heart


The Unbreakable Heart
By Kimberly Kinrade

There are moments in life so profound, so heart-wrenching, that there is no perspective beyond the pain. Only time reshapes these events into something meaningful.
Kassandra sat legs folded in front of the fire, letting the lapping flames caress her naked flesh. The full moon above her lit the small pile of treasures in her hands. This was a rebirth into the life of her choosing. She hoped. If Samantha was right. If she could turn aside from eight years of her life.

Kassandra was not prepared for this journey, and often thought fondly of ignorance. Then she would think of him. And she knew this pain had to be better than his path of numbing blindness found at the bottom of a bottle or in the embrace of a nameless stranger. No matter how afraid she might be.

“Slaughtered Hope”
I walk the minefield of our broken dreams
Navigating to the other side of fear

An invisible body bag has moved into our home
Hiding the remnants of who you were

They returned to me your body
But your empty eyes reveal your slaughtered soul

I bleed out on the battlefield of our marriage
Wondering what awaits me on the other side of death

I cock my gun and take aim
How do I kill the empty spaces left in you?


She had written this poem when she still thought there might be hope, though she imagined no one would know that by reading it.

Here we go, she thought, trying to ignore the flickering fear in her gut, and laid the small piece of paper in the fire. As she watched the fire dance with the paper, she felt the burn in the deepest part of her soul.

She choked back a sob at the picture she held. They looked so happy. So in love. So beautiful. It was a day of fear and hate transformed into love by their one act of defiance against terrorism.

***
September 11, 2001

“Marry me?” he begged, his eyes so sincere and adoring.

Kassandra sat on the edge of his bed still reeling from the cinematic horror she had just witnessed. If she hadn’t known better, she wouldn’t have believed what she’d seen. How could the two towers be gone? All those people? All those lives? People she knew.

“Kass?” his voice pulled her back to him.

“Hmm?”

“Marry me,” He repeated.

“We are getting married,” she reminded him, holding up his dog tags around her neck. Her engagement ring. His pay and their whirl wind courtship didn’t allow for fancy jewelry. She didn’t mind. It was romantic. Exciting. Just like him. Their chemistry was nothing she’d ever imagined, let alone had. Soul mates.

Her friends and family questioned her sanity. She was more educated, worldly, liberal. He did manual labor and was in the National Guard.

But she saw things they didn’t. He was well-read, brilliant in his own way. He was kind and sexy and made her laugh. When she looked in his eyes she saw her future.

They’d been inseparable since the night they’d met in a bar, while on her summer break from college. She wasn’t much of a drinker. She didn’t think he was either, despite his recent DUI. It was a fluke. Besides, he’d promised to cut back if she didn’t like it, and he had. He adored her, looked at her as if she was the only woman on earth. Worshiped her body with every inch of his. She felt her face flush at the thought of just how that worship had made her feel last night.

“Kass, I just got the call,” he said and her heart stopped. “I’m on two hour alert. I could be deployed to Iraq at any moment. Marry me today. I want to know you’re mine when I board that plane.”

Deployed? Leaving her? Iraq?

“No…” she muttered under her breath, tears leaking out of her eyes.

“No, you won’t marry me?” he asked thickly.

“No, I mean yes, I’ll marry you, but I don’t want you to leave. I’ve given up New York and the best college to be with you. You can’t leave me now.”

She felt pathetic. Desperate. Unlike herself entirely.

Her wedding day was not what she had expected. It was planned in six hours and took place in a small chapel. She had a dress, a cake, roses, and shoes. Her husband-to-be spent their wedding day buying bullets and polishing guns. It was surreal.
That all disappeared the moment they stood face to face at the altar. Her bright blue eyes met his chocolate brown, forever committing to love, honor and cherish him, and he her. Their kiss made the world disappear.

She wore a sleeveless dress that exposed her creamy shoulders. She carried red roses the color of blood. He wore his dress blues. He looked like a hero. Her hero. She just prayed he wouldn’t leave her. Ever.
***
Kassandra ignored the tears as she placed the picture in the fire. It curled around the edges and then caught flame, causing their features to turn into a macabre version of their true selves.

The next picture was harder. This was the reason she could never truly be free of him. And the reason she fought so hard to stay alive and retrieve her right to life. Unlike the last picture, in this one she looked tired and worn out, wearing a hospital gown. She’d just been through 40 hours of labor and an emergency C-Section. But she was holding the bundle of love that made it all worth it. Leo had his arm around her and their daughter, Kali.

***
October 31, 2002

Kassandra didn’t know what was happening. Everything was moving too fast. Something was wrong with the baby. They were wheeling her out, to surgery. NO! She cried. This was supposed to be a natural birth. No one listened to her pleas. She endured the drugs, the epidural. The vomiting that would have choked her had Leo not intervened. He saved her. In that moment she forgave him for all the pain. The frequent drinking binges leaving her alone and pregnant for days at a time. She forgave his violence when he was drunk. The way he’d choke her until she couldn’t breathe. The way his arms that held her in love would suddenly turn into weapons aimed at hurting her. She forgave him for everything. They’d created a life. He was saving her life. The baby would change it all. They were a family now.

Then she heard it. A cry. One little cry. Their eyes locked as they both heard their first born daughter make her first sound of life.

They bundled her and brought the baby to Kassandra. They wouldn’t let her hold her baby. Kali was covered from head to toe, revealing only her small elfin face. Her big brown eyes were wide and open. They connected. She saw God in those eyes. Eternity. Life. Pure Love. Then they took her away. She choked back tears. Don’t take my baby, she said. They didn’t listen. The drugs took hold of her. She couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. She drifted to sleep as she remembered her baby’s eyes, as her heart, no longer beating in her chest but now wrapped in a pink blanket, wandered the halls of the hospital in the hands of strangers.

***

This one was harder to let go. They're safe, she reminded herself. They're in bed, just a few feet away. It's the memory you've got to let go, not them.

She would never be free of him; they had created three lives together. She would not trade those amazing beings for anything. Not even to retrieve the eight years she had allowed her soul to die as he abused her body and manipulated her mind until she almost lost herself entirely. Almost. It was done so subtly she didn’t even see it happening. Like the frog boiling in a pot of water. The temperature rose so slowly that she was dying before she even knew she was wet. She had followed the pattern cut for her by society and ended up wearing a life ill-fitted for her soul.

Samantha's face appeared before her, and she swallowed. Remember, she thought. The journey is not yet done. You can do this.

She stared at a picture of a beautiful house lit by Christmas lights with a happy family of five on the porch. The girls sported glowing faces, giddy in anticipation of Santa. The promise of a spring garden lay covered in snow and danced with lighted reindeer. A postcard moment. It was her last picture for her purging fire. This was the moment for which her heart had feared and eagerly anticipated in equal measure. She remembered the strawberries that grew in the backyard in the summer. The mud pools the children would dig and play in on hot days. They’d finally achieved everything they’d wanted in life.

She made herself cast it into the flames. Letting her “perfect” house burn.
***
February 2007

They finally felt at home, not just in their new house but in Olympia, Washington. It was everything they wanted in a community. Food co-ops, alternative schools, close to the military base where Leo was receiving never-ending medical treatment for the injuries he’d sustained in Iraq, nice neighbors, and gorgeously green surroundings.

Kassandra was a rising star at her insurance company. Her bonuses kept growing almost in proportion to their lifestyle. Even without Leo’s income, it was the most they’d ever made.

Leo was off of alcohol and cigarettes. They were in counseling together and he went privately to work through the rage and anger that he’d always had and that had been fed as if on steroids since his time in the “sandbox.”

Kassandra was optimistic. She was more in love with him than ever. He had potential untapped but incredible and beautiful to behold. She had been the most faithful, supportive wife while he was off fighting the war. While other wives left their husbands, breaking under the pressure, she held steady. Loving him, praying for him, sending letters, pictures, care packages, even a birthday party in a box for him and his friends, party favors included. She’d done everything but fly out to see him. She would have done that if she could have.

Now, they were finally together again. They planted trees and berry bushes and created play areas for the children. Leo built Kassandra a custom office with floor to ceiling bookshelves. She loved it, and loved him all the more for it.

But, there were times. Oh, there were times.

The night Leo came home so drunk he was throwing up and crawling, Kassandra’s heart landed somewhere in her gut, if the pain was any indication. She stayed up all night to keep Leo from choking on his own vomit. For her good deeds, he puked all over her. Still, she told herself that maybe it was an aberrant one time fall. Certainly he wasn’t going back to his binge drinking? She couldn’t survive that again.

The lies continued, and she stayed blind, hoping that her faith would be enough to reverse the truth of their failing family. She worked harder and harder as the economy started taking chunks out of her previously fat checks. Bills were no longer easy to pay. Their debts piled up. They lost their new mini-van with the built in DVD player and heated seats. Everything was falling apart. Her dedication to the book “The Power of a Praying Wife” didn’t seem to be yielding the promised results.

Kassandra was on the edge of hysteria. Her carefully crafted dreams were turning and twisting on her, becoming desperation. It seemed the harder she held on, the more out of control her life became. She began to get very sick; her body was in pain all the time. She was diagnosed with various incurable conditions and put on pain medications. She took more and more pills just to get through her long work day, trying to keep their lives intact. She came home exhausted and tired. Leo’s night walks got longer and longer, until he was gone for most of the night nearly every night. Coming home from his “walks” only after the bars had closed. Then he would sleep all day while their children bleakly endured daycare.

The war on terrorism had finally come to her home. He terrorized her with death threats in front of their children, he’d have flashbacks that led him to choking her into near unconsciousness with their children in the next room, and one night he attacked their middle child, shaking her so hard her head bobbed back and forth while screaming at her inches from her face. Kassandra had to pry loose his fingers from Rose and lock him out as she consoled all their terrified children.

Her life was dying without her permission. The coaching and counseling were not helping because Leo didn’t want help. She created a plan and one night approached him with it. Would he agree? She doubted it.

What would she do then? She didn't know. But she had to try.

“Leo, we need to talk.”

“Ok,” he said, giving her half his attention as he continued playing on his X-Box.

“Please pause the game, I need your attention.”

“One sec, I just need to get to the next stopping point or I’ll lose my spot.”

She waited impatiently. Finally he turned to her, looking eager to get back to his game.

“This isn’t working. We’re not working.” She fought the tears that started to cloud her vision. She didn’t want to be one of those women who used tears to manipulate an argument. But she couldn’t help it. She had become a lot of things she didn’t want to be in this marriage. Bitchy, pushy, controlling. Anything in an attempt to keep order and maintain their lives.

“So, what do you want to do?” he asked.

“Leo, our house is being foreclosed." Was she getting through? Was he listening? Or was the siren song of the stupid game too loud for him to hear her?

"We owe the kids’ school thousands of dollars. We can’t maintain this lifestyle. Not only that, but my health is getting worse and you’re out of control. I can’t live like this. Something has to change or…or we can’t be together.”

He stayed very still and very quiet for so long Kassandra wondered if he’d heard her or if he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open. She despaired. There'd never been any real hope of getting through to him.

“I don’t want to lose you.” he said.

She couldn’t hold the tears back anymore.

“I don’t want to lose you either, but you need help. Help I can’t give you. And we have to find a way to live on the income you’ll be getting on disability. I can’t work until I get better; we’re way over our heads.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” he asked.

Hope flared. “Get help. Real help. In house rehab treatment for PTSD, anger and alcoholism. I’ll wait for you. Help you. Go to the classes for the families. Anything. But you need a sponsor, someone besides me who will keep you accountable and sober. We’ll move to Lake County, California where we have friends. The cost of living is much lower and it’s away from any military influence. It’s a fresh start. When you’ve completed your treatment, then we’ll rebuild our lives. I’ll do everything I can to support you. I want this to work. I’ll do my part, but you have to do yours.”

“But our house…” he said sadly. This house was everything to him.

“I know. But we’re going to lose it no matter what. The place I’ve picked is more affordable and there’s a local charter school that will provide the children a great education for free. We need free right now.”

He surprised her by kissing and hugging her, whispering the word she didn’t dare believe she’d hear from him.

“Ok.” He kissed her again. “We’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to make this work. I don’t want to lose you. I can’t live without you.”

***
I can't live without you. Words she'd longed to hear, begged to hear, thought she'd never hear again. The house burned in the fire. Her house. Her prison of lies and of denial. Her American dream. Her American nightmare.

Burn it all. And what will be left when it's gone? She suddenly couldn't remember why she was doing this in the first place. All she could remember was ...

***

May 14, 2008

“I thought you weren’t going to email her anymore? Now you’re encouraging it?” Kassandra accused in a voice she hated. A voice cultivated after years of marriage to this man.

“It’s just an email, it’s nothing,” Leo lied.

“Nothing. Right. Your ex-wife contacts you and makes comments about the great orgasms you gave her and how much she misses you and it’s nothing. I assume your membership to the online dating club is nothing too,” she asked, her voice thick with sarcasm and pain. “Leo, we had an agreement about this.”

“Well, I’m changing it,” he said in defiance.

Kassandra sighed.

“Leo, this place is perfect for us. I picked this house for you. I know it’s not as green and lush as Washington, but it’s beautiful, and cleansing. And it has all the small town charm that leads to real community, which is what we wanted. Plus, we can afford it.”

There was a magical energy here that enlivened Kassandra. It seemed to irritate Leo. He hadn’t even feigned happiness since the move.

“Leo, you can’t have it both ways. We talked about this in counseling. You’re either in or out. You’ve already turned down at least one opportunity for treatment. When are you going to get help?”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Kassandra knew she had just pulled the grenade and thrown it.

“I’m not going to treatment. When I leave, I’m not coming back.”

A grenade, indeed, and it had just exploded. Kassandra froze. Despite everything, she realized she'd never believed he'd actually say it. She pulled at her long, curly brown hair as if it might offer some insights. She looked down at her overweight body. A body once much sexier, but which had been devastated by pregnancy and disease. A body she was trying to heal, but couldn’t. Not when all of her time and attention was devoted to Leo and the children. How could he possibly choose alcohol over their marriage and children?

“You’re not coming back, ever?”

“No, we’re done. I can’t do this anymore.”

“You mean you’d rather drink than be a man and a father.”

“I can’t be who you want me to be,” he shot back in exploding anger.

She sobbed.

“Where will you go?” she asked.

“Back to Washington. I’m going to stay in our house and try to delay the foreclosure for awhile, and then I’ll figure something out.”

He was more delusional than she’d imagined.

“What about the kids?” she asked. What about me, she thought to herself.

“I’ll visit as often as I can.”

So, that was that. Eight years, and he was walking out, leaving her with three little girls to raise on an income that was dependent on him. Her life felt over.

“When will you leave?”

“Soon,” he said as he began to pack.

Soon. Soon she would be a single mom. What was she to do now?

That night she took out her notebook and through tears wrote out her desperation.

Wishing on a Star
Breathing in the Stillness of the Night
I let go of the nightmares of my life
You used to be my world

Taking in the magic of the stars
I make my wish and hope and pray
I used to have more dreams

Moving toward the moonbeams of my memory
I shut my heart and lock it up
I used to want to live

Now, I wait for the final promise of death

Then she cried herself to sleep. Alone.
***
Kassandra’s vision cleared as she watched the symbol of her house burn in the fire, as she said goodbye to the life that wasn’t a life. It's done now, she thought. She had been cocooned in that house. Insulated from reality. From her own vision. Living for others as they fed off her strength and life blood. Like the Phoenix of legends, she had to burn to ashes before she could be reborn. Born as a new person. Her own person. Someone she didn’t know, but very much wanted to know.

As the embers of her fire died down, the smoke took her past into the ethers, to the gods and goddesses of rebirth and renewal. Kassandra slowly rose and let the coolness of the night embrace her slender body. She began dismantling her small ceremonial circle.

Three sacred symbols of her new life lay around the fire. These she would not burn. These represented her present and her future. The new life she was creating with her children.

She looked at them as she thought about life. About needs verses wants. About how much we can learn to live without when we realize how little, and how much, we need to survive and thrive. When she first began this journey, she thought the climax of it would be in learning to live without Leo. To survive the loss, the heart break. She was learning an entirely different lesson.

She held up an almond. An ordinary almond. But raw. Alive with the power of growth. If planted, this almond could grow into a tree, producing almonds for the duration of its life. Sustenance. The very essence of need. She needed food for herself and her children. She needed shelter from the elements. She needed transportation. Leo had kept his word for about a month after he left, sending her enough money to provide for their children in their oversized rental.

The next month he cut that support in half. And then again the next month. Never with any warning or explanation. Never with any consideration for how she was to care for their children. So she purged. Sold everything she could. Realized she needed very little in terms of “stuff” in order to be happy. She found a small duplex, and with 75% of her belongings now gone from her life, it suited them quite nicely. Their previous 4 bedrooms, 2 living rooms and 3 bathrooms now neatly fit into a small 2 bedroom. And yet it didn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. It was liberating. Not to mention easier to clean.

The almond also represented all the support she’d received from her new village. Local friends with farms gave her fresh produce. Samantha helped her find government resources to get food, money and childcare. Friends came when she needed to move, twice. Gary the tire guy gave her two new tires when she was down to $11 and stuck an hour from home with blown tires. All her needs were being met.

Providing for her family had been her greatest fear, and it was now her greatest triumph. There were many times she was tempted to go back to work, to take the easy way, the way she knew, in order to make ends meet.

“Kassandra,” her doctor had said, “if you go back to that life, you’ll be hospitalized within three months, then how will you take care of your children? And if you don’t change your path now, this will kill you eventually.”

That sobered her. Made her realize she couldn’t afford to go back to who she was, even to make money. She had to find other ways. She called her best friend crying.

“I don’t know what to do. I can’t rely on Leo. Even when the court orders come in, he could lose it all if he’s arrested, which means we would lose it all. I have to be able to take care of my kids.”

“Kass,” Samatha has said, “stop thinking like the old you. There are other ways. I have some ideas.”

And she did indeed have some ideas. Ideas that utilized Kassandra’s gifts without taxing her empty reserves.

She was able to sustain her life and thrive with or without him or his money. When they divorced she thought she’d always be his prisoner, always under his thumb because he could kill her with one withdrawal. But she had triumphed. Her sources of passive income were starting to flourish. Without working for someone else. Without risking her physical and mental well-being. Without stress. With only joy and faith. And real results.

She picked up the sage and smelled its earthy sent. It smelled of health to her. Just as death and decay and sickness has a scent, so too did health and vitality. She now understood what being healthy meant. It had taken a year after their separation for her to get to a basic state of health. Two doctor’s visits a month, weekly acupuncture, monthly massages and a daily health regimen that included exercises, deep breathing, baths, herbs, supplements, naps and more. It was a full time job, but she had finally gotten off a three year dependency on pain pills and was pain free. She looked down at herself and thought about how far she’d come. Her once overweight and unhealthy body was now thin and toned, strong and sleek. And it was sexy.

To make this transition also required an entire overhaul in her diet. To go from a mac and cheese diet to one of strange health drinks with seaweed and blended kale had required a shift to viewing food as physical nourishment verses emotional comfort. It had been a hard, long struggle, but her body, health and energy were testament to the importance of persevering. She could now keep up with her children. She would now live long enough to enjoy their children, should they choose to have them.

She held the last symbol in her palm, a heart made of rose quartz, a crystal that represented healing, self-love and love of others. It is a stone said to help one attune to the spiritual energy of love.

When Kassandra lost Leo, she felt her heart had been crushed into tiny pieces. She thought the process of healing would be to somehow heal her heart of its broken, mutilated state. She was wrong. She didn’t understand love. Or her heart. Or much of anything at that time except pain. She recalled the conversation that first began to change her perception of love.

“Sam, I just don’t think my heart’s gonna get through this. Every time he’s around, all the progress I think I’ve made falls apart. He tries to control me, he makes fun of me, and I feel small and weak. My heart will never heal, will never be free of him.”

Samantha paused for a second. “Are you ready to hear the truth?” she asked in her ever patient way.

“Umm…I think so,” Kassandra said, hoping she was. Desperately wanting to be.

“This is the time for strength of heart and not indulgence in reactivity and weakness. Whatever the experiences of the past, the heart is not even the slightest bit touched by them.”

Her words struck Kassandra so powerfully she dropped the phone. She meditated on those words for weeks, really letting them into her “broken” heart. Understanding in a feeling way what they could mean. The implications were staggering. She was not capable of being broken? Nothing in the past could hurt her, or even had hurt the real Her? Just her ego, her personality had been wounded. She could live with that. After all, her ego was the thing that was causing all this drama and pain in the first place.

Kassandra saw the truth clearly now. She was the Almond, had always been the Almond. Sustenance, Love and Health were always within her, but she had chosen the life of an enabler living in a 2500 sq. ft. prison. So, like a child, the pile of laundry in the corner always looked like a monster at night. She had only ever had the vision of a child, seeing fear in every corner. Never seeing the Truth, the Reality of Life. That all she ever needed was always already within her. Now she saw the laundry for what it was (and sometimes wished it was the monster instead, she thought with a small chuckle.)
She held the heart and thought about how dramatically that gut-realization altered her life. From that moment forward, Leo never again bothered her, despite his efforts. Her reactivity was gone, replaced by sympathy and Love, as one Loves a friend who has chosen a very sad path. She was free! And in this freedom she found a love she never imagined. Love not spoken of in songs and books. Love that had liberated her from the burning house and cookie-cutter life. This allowed her to break down the walls of her prison, to see the village of the Universe there for her, and to slough off the suit of the enabler in order to embrace her True Self. She was free to fly away from the ashes and into a new world of her own creation. She smiled, shivered in the chill of the night, and realized she'd been standing so long the fire had mostly died.

Let it, she thought. She'd done what she needed to do.

She stretched, feeling free, and went to meet her new life.
******************************************************************

Note From author: This is a fiction story based on true events.

The Unbreakable Heart

Photobucket | broken heart Pictures, broken heart Images, broken heart Photos

The Unbreakable Heart
By Kimberly Kinrade

There are moments in life so profound, so heart-wrenching, that there is no perspective beyond the pain. Only time reshapes these events into something meaningful.
Kassandra sat legs folded in front of the fire, letting the lapping flames caress her naked flesh. The full moon above her lit the small pile of treasures in her hands. This was a rebirth into the life of her choosing. She hoped. If Samantha was right. If she could turn aside from eight years of her life.

Kassandra was not prepared for this journey, and often thought fondly of ignorance. Then she would think of him. And she knew this pain had to be better than his path of numbing blindness found at the bottom of a bottle or in the embrace of a nameless stranger. No matter how afraid she might be.

“Slaughtered Hope”
I walk the minefield of our broken dreams
Navigating to the other side of fear

An invisible body bag has moved into our home
Hiding the remnants of who you were

They returned to me your body
But your empty eyes reveal your slaughtered soul

I bleed out on the battlefield of our marriage
Wondering what awaits me on the other side of death

I cock my gun and take aim
How do I kill the empty spaces left in you?


She had written this poem when she still thought there might be hope, though she imagined no one would know that by reading it.

Here we go, she thought, trying to ignore the flickering fear in her gut, and laid the small piece of paper in the fire. As she watched the fire dance with the paper, she felt the burn in the deepest part of her soul.

She choked back a sob at the picture she held. They looked so happy. So in love. So beautiful. It was a day of fear and hate transformed into love by their one act of defiance against terrorism.

***
September 11, 2001

“Marry me?” he begged, his eyes so sincere and adoring.

Kassandra sat on the edge of his bed still reeling from the cinematic horror she had just witnessed. If she hadn’t known better, she wouldn’t have believed what she’d seen. How could the two towers be gone? All those people? All those lives? People she knew.

“Kass?” his voice pulled her back to him.

“Hmm?”

“Marry me,” He repeated.

“We are getting married,” she reminded him, holding up his dog tags around her neck. Her engagement ring. His pay and their whirl wind courtship didn’t allow for fancy jewelry. She didn’t mind. It was romantic. Exciting. Just like him. Their chemistry was nothing she’d ever imagined, let alone had. Soul mates.

Her friends and family questioned her sanity. She was more educated, worldly, liberal. He did manual labor and was in the National Guard.

But she saw things they didn’t. He was well-read, brilliant in his own way. He was kind and sexy and made her laugh. When she looked in his eyes she saw her future.

They’d been inseparable since the night they’d met in a bar, while on her summer break from college. She wasn’t much of a drinker. She didn’t think he was either, despite his recent DUI. It was a fluke. Besides, he’d promised to cut back if she didn’t like it, and he had. He adored her, looked at her as if she was the only woman on earth. Worshiped her body with every inch of his. She felt her face flush at the thought of just how that worship had made her feel last night.

“Kass, I just got the call,” he said and her heart stopped. “I’m on two hour alert. I could be deployed to Iraq at any moment. Marry me today. I want to know you’re mine when I board that plane.”

Deployed? Leaving her? Iraq?

“No…” she muttered under her breath, tears leaking out of her eyes.

“No, you won’t marry me?” he asked thickly.

“No, I mean yes, I’ll marry you, but I don’t want you to leave. I’ve given up New York and the best college to be with you. You can’t leave me now.”

She felt pathetic. Desperate. Unlike herself entirely.

Her wedding day was not what she had expected. It was planned in six hours and took place in a small chapel. She had a dress, a cake, roses, and shoes. Her husband-to-be spent their wedding day buying bullets and polishing guns. It was surreal.
That all disappeared the moment they stood face to face at the altar. Her bright blue eyes met his chocolate brown, forever committing to love, honor and cherish him, and he her. Their kiss made the world disappear.

She wore a sleeveless dress that exposed her creamy shoulders. She carried red roses the color of blood. He wore his dress blues. He looked like a hero. Her hero. She just prayed he wouldn’t leave her. Ever.
***
Kassandra ignored the tears as she placed the picture in the fire. It curled around the edges and then caught flame, causing their features to turn into a macabre version of their true selves.

The next picture was harder. This was the reason she could never truly be free of him. And the reason she fought so hard to stay alive and retrieve her right to life. Unlike the last picture, in this one she looked tired and worn out, wearing a hospital gown. She’d just been through 40 hours of labor and an emergency C-Section. But she was holding the bundle of love that made it all worth it. Leo had his arm around her and their daughter, Kali.

***
October 31, 2002

Kassandra didn’t know what was happening. Everything was moving too fast. Something was wrong with the baby. They were wheeling her out, to surgery. NO! She cried. This was supposed to be a natural birth. No one listened to her pleas. She endured the drugs, the epidural. The vomiting that would have choked her had Leo not intervened. He saved her. In that moment she forgave him for all the pain. The frequent drinking binges leaving her alone and pregnant for days at a time. She forgave his violence when he was drunk. The way he’d choke her until she couldn’t breathe. The way his arms that held her in love would suddenly turn into weapons aimed at hurting her. She forgave him for everything. They’d created a life. He was saving her life. The baby would change it all. They were a family now.

Then she heard it. A cry. One little cry. Their eyes locked as they both heard their first born daughter make her first sound of life.

They bundled her and brought the baby to Kassandra. They wouldn’t let her hold her baby. Kali was covered from head to toe, revealing only her small elfin face. Her big brown eyes were wide and open. They connected. She saw God in those eyes. Eternity. Life. Pure Love. Then they took her away. She choked back tears. Don’t take my baby, she said. They didn’t listen. The drugs took hold of her. She couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. She drifted to sleep as she remembered her baby’s eyes, as her heart, no longer beating in her chest but now wrapped in a pink blanket, wandered the halls of the hospital in the hands of strangers.

***

This one was harder to let go. They're safe, she reminded herself. They're in bed, just a few feet away. It's the memory you've got to let go, not them.

She would never be free of him; they had created three lives together. She would not trade those amazing beings for anything. Not even to retrieve the eight years she had allowed her soul to die as he abused her body and manipulated her mind until she almost lost herself entirely. Almost. It was done so subtly she didn’t even see it happening. Like the frog boiling in a pot of water. The temperature rose so slowly that she was dying before she even knew she was wet. She had followed the pattern cut for her by society and ended up wearing a life ill-fitted for her soul.

Samantha's face appeared before her, and she swallowed. Remember, she thought. The journey is not yet done. You can do this.

She stared at a picture of a beautiful house lit by Christmas lights with a happy family of five on the porch. The girls sported glowing faces, giddy in anticipation of Santa. The promise of a spring garden lay covered in snow and danced with lighted reindeer. A postcard moment. It was her last picture for her purging fire. This was the moment for which her heart had feared and eagerly anticipated in equal measure. She remembered the strawberries that grew in the backyard in the summer. The mud pools the children would dig and play in on hot days. They’d finally achieved everything they’d wanted in life.

She made herself cast it into the flames. Letting her “perfect” house burn.
***
February 2007

They finally felt at home, not just in their new house but in Olympia, Washington. It was everything they wanted in a community. Food co-ops, alternative schools, close to the military base where Leo was receiving never-ending medical treatment for the injuries he’d sustained in Iraq, nice neighbors, and gorgeously green surroundings.

Kassandra was a rising star at her insurance company. Her bonuses kept growing almost in proportion to their lifestyle. Even without Leo’s income, it was the most they’d ever made.

Leo was off of alcohol and cigarettes. They were in counseling together and he went privately to work through the rage and anger that he’d always had and that had been fed as if on steroids since his time in the “sandbox.”

Kassandra was optimistic. She was more in love with him than ever. He had potential untapped but incredible and beautiful to behold. She had been the most faithful, supportive wife while he was off fighting the war. While other wives left their husbands, breaking under the pressure, she held steady. Loving him, praying for him, sending letters, pictures, care packages, even a birthday party in a box for him and his friends, party favors included. She’d done everything but fly out to see him. She would have done that if she could have.

Now, they were finally together again. They planted trees and berry bushes and created play areas for the children. Leo built Kassandra a custom office with floor to ceiling bookshelves. She loved it, and loved him all the more for it.

But, there were times. Oh, there were times.

The night Leo came home so drunk he was throwing up and crawling, Kassandra’s heart landed somewhere in her gut, if the pain was any indication. She stayed up all night to keep Leo from choking on his own vomit. For her good deeds, he puked all over her. Still, she told herself that maybe it was an aberrant one time fall. Certainly he wasn’t going back to his binge drinking? She couldn’t survive that again.

The lies continued, and she stayed blind, hoping that her faith would be enough to reverse the truth of their failing family. She worked harder and harder as the economy started taking chunks out of her previously fat checks. Bills were no longer easy to pay. Their debts piled up. They lost their new mini-van with the built in DVD player and heated seats. Everything was falling apart. Her dedication to the book “The Power of a Praying Wife” didn’t seem to be yielding the promised results.

Kassandra was on the edge of hysteria. Her carefully crafted dreams were turning and twisting on her, becoming desperation. It seemed the harder she held on, the more out of control her life became. She began to get very sick; her body was in pain all the time. She was diagnosed with various incurable conditions and put on pain medications. She took more and more pills just to get through her long work day, trying to keep their lives intact. She came home exhausted and tired. Leo’s night walks got longer and longer, until he was gone for most of the night nearly every night. Coming home from his “walks” only after the bars had closed. Then he would sleep all day while their children bleakly endured daycare.

The war on terrorism had finally come to her home. He terrorized her with death threats in front of their children, he’d have flashbacks that led him to choking her into near unconsciousness with their children in the next room, and one night he attacked their middle child, shaking her so hard her head bobbed back and forth while screaming at her inches from her face. Kassandra had to pry loose his fingers from Rose and lock him out as she consoled all their terrified children.

Her life was dying without her permission. The coaching and counseling were not helping because Leo didn’t want help. She created a plan and one night approached him with it. Would he agree? She doubted it.

What would she do then? She didn't know. But she had to try.

“Leo, we need to talk.”

“Ok,” he said, giving her half his attention as he continued playing on his X-Box.

“Please pause the game, I need your attention.”

“One sec, I just need to get to the next stopping point or I’ll lose my spot.”

She waited impatiently. Finally he turned to her, looking eager to get back to his game.

“This isn’t working. We’re not working.” She fought the tears that started to cloud her vision. She didn’t want to be one of those women who used tears to manipulate an argument. But she couldn’t help it. She had become a lot of things she didn’t want to be in this marriage. Bitchy, pushy, controlling. Anything in an attempt to keep order and maintain their lives.

“So, what do you want to do?” he asked.

“Leo, our house is being foreclosed." Was she getting through? Was he listening? Or was the siren song of the stupid game too loud for him to hear her?

"We owe the kids’ school thousands of dollars. We can’t maintain this lifestyle. Not only that, but my health is getting worse and you’re out of control. I can’t live like this. Something has to change or…or we can’t be together.”

He stayed very still and very quiet for so long Kassandra wondered if he’d heard her or if he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open. She despaired. There'd never been any real hope of getting through to him.

“I don’t want to lose you.” he said.

She couldn’t hold the tears back anymore.

“I don’t want to lose you either, but you need help. Help I can’t give you. And we have to find a way to live on the income you’ll be getting on disability. I can’t work until I get better; we’re way over our heads.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” he asked.

Hope flared. “Get help. Real help. In house rehab treatment for PTSD, anger and alcoholism. I’ll wait for you. Help you. Go to the classes for the families. Anything. But you need a sponsor, someone besides me who will keep you accountable and sober. We’ll move to Lake County, California where we have friends. The cost of living is much lower and it’s away from any military influence. It’s a fresh start. When you’ve completed your treatment, then we’ll rebuild our lives. I’ll do everything I can to support you. I want this to work. I’ll do my part, but you have to do yours.”

“But our house…” he said sadly. This house was everything to him.

“I know. But we’re going to lose it no matter what. The place I’ve picked is more affordable and there’s a local charter school that will provide the children a great education for free. We need free right now.”

He surprised her by kissing and hugging her, whispering the word she didn’t dare believe she’d hear from him.

“Ok.” He kissed her again. “We’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to make this work. I don’t want to lose you. I can’t live without you.”

***
I can't live without you. Words she'd longed to hear, begged to hear, thought she'd never hear again. The house burned in the fire. Her house. Her prison of lies and of denial. Her American dream. Her American nightmare.

Burn it all. And what will be left when it's gone? She suddenly couldn't remember why she was doing this in the first place. All she could remember was ...

***

May 14, 2008

“I thought you weren’t going to email her anymore? Now you’re encouraging it?” Kassandra accused in a voice she hated. A voice cultivated after years of marriage to this man.

“It’s just an email, it’s nothing,” Leo lied.

“Nothing. Right. Your ex-wife contacts you and makes comments about the great orgasms you gave her and how much she misses you and it’s nothing. I assume your membership to the online dating club is nothing too,” she asked, her voice thick with sarcasm and pain. “Leo, we had an agreement about this.”

“Well, I’m changing it,” he said in defiance.

Kassandra sighed.

“Leo, this place is perfect for us. I picked this house for you. I know it’s not as green and lush as Washington, but it’s beautiful, and cleansing. And it has all the small town charm that leads to real community, which is what we wanted. Plus, we can afford it.”

There was a magical energy here that enlivened Kassandra. It seemed to irritate Leo. He hadn’t even feigned happiness since the move.

“Leo, you can’t have it both ways. We talked about this in counseling. You’re either in or out. You’ve already turned down at least one opportunity for treatment. When are you going to get help?”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Kassandra knew she had just pulled the grenade and thrown it.

“I’m not going to treatment. When I leave, I’m not coming back.”

A grenade, indeed, and it had just exploded. Kassandra froze. Despite everything, she realized she'd never believed he'd actually say it. She pulled at her long, curly brown hair as if it might offer some insights. She looked down at her overweight body. A body once much sexier, but which had been devastated by pregnancy and disease. A body she was trying to heal, but couldn’t. Not when all of her time and attention was devoted to Leo and the children. How could he possibly choose alcohol over their marriage and children?

“You’re not coming back, ever?”

“No, we’re done. I can’t do this anymore.”

“You mean you’d rather drink than be a man and a father.”

“I can’t be who you want me to be,” he shot back in exploding anger.

She sobbed.

“Where will you go?” she asked.

“Back to Washington. I’m going to stay in our house and try to delay the foreclosure for awhile, and then I’ll figure something out.”

He was more delusional than she’d imagined.

“What about the kids?” she asked. What about me, she thought to herself.

“I’ll visit as often as I can.”

So, that was that. Eight years, and he was walking out, leaving her with three little girls to raise on an income that was dependent on him. Her life felt over.

“When will you leave?”

“Soon,” he said as he began to pack.

Soon. Soon she would be a single mom. What was she to do now?

That night she took out her notebook and through tears wrote out her desperation.

Wishing on a Star
Breathing in the Stillness of the Night
I let go of the nightmares of my life
You used to be my world

Taking in the magic of the stars
I make my wish and hope and pray
I used to have more dreams

Moving toward the moonbeams of my memory
I shut my heart and lock it up
I used to want to live

Now, I wait for the final promise of death

Then she cried herself to sleep. Alone.
***
Kassandra’s vision cleared as she watched the symbol of her house burn in the fire, as she said goodbye to the life that wasn’t a life. It's done now, she thought. She had been cocooned in that house. Insulated from reality. From her own vision. Living for others as they fed off her strength and life blood. Like the Phoenix of legends, she had to burn to ashes before she could be reborn. Born as a new person. Her own person. Someone she didn’t know, but very much wanted to know.

As the embers of her fire died down, the smoke took her past into the ethers, to the gods and goddesses of rebirth and renewal. Kassandra slowly rose and let the coolness of the night embrace her slender body. She began dismantling her small ceremonial circle.

Three sacred symbols of her new life lay around the fire. These she would not burn. These represented her present and her future. The new life she was creating with her children.

She looked at them as she thought about life. About needs verses wants. About how much we can learn to live without when we realize how little, and how much, we need to survive and thrive. When she first began this journey, she thought the climax of it would be in learning to live without Leo. To survive the loss, the heart break. She was learning an entirely different lesson.

She held up an almond. An ordinary almond. But raw. Alive with the power of growth. If planted, this almond could grow into a tree, producing almonds for the duration of its life. Sustenance. The very essence of need. She needed food for herself and her children. She needed shelter from the elements. She needed transportation. Leo had kept his word for about a month after he left, sending her enough money to provide for their children in their oversized rental.

The next month he cut that support in half. And then again the next month. Never with any warning or explanation. Never with any consideration for how she was to care for their children. So she purged. Sold everything she could. Realized she needed very little in terms of “stuff” in order to be happy. She found a small duplex, and with 75% of her belongings now gone from her life, it suited them quite nicely. Their previous 4 bedrooms, 2 living rooms and 3 bathrooms now neatly fit into a small 2 bedroom. And yet it didn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. It was liberating. Not to mention easier to clean.

The almond also represented all the support she’d received from her new village. Local friends with farms gave her fresh produce. Samantha helped her find government resources to get food, money and childcare. Friends came when she needed to move, twice. Gary the tire guy gave her two new tires when she was down to $11 and stuck an hour from home with blown tires. All her needs were being met.

Providing for her family had been her greatest fear, and it was now her greatest triumph. There were many times she was tempted to go back to work, to take the easy way, the way she knew, in order to make ends meet.

“Kassandra,” her doctor had said, “if you go back to that life, you’ll be hospitalized within three months, then how will you take care of your children? And if you don’t change your path now, this will kill you eventually.”

That sobered her. Made her realize she couldn’t afford to go back to who she was, even to make money. She had to find other ways. She called her best friend crying.

“I don’t know what to do. I can’t rely on Leo. Even when the court orders come in, he could lose it all if he’s arrested, which means we would lose it all. I have to be able to take care of my kids.”

“Kass,” Samatha has said, “stop thinking like the old you. There are other ways. I have some ideas.”

And she did indeed have some ideas. Ideas that utilized Kassandra’s gifts without taxing her empty reserves.

She was able to sustain her life and thrive with or without him or his money. When they divorced she thought she’d always be his prisoner, always under his thumb because he could kill her with one withdrawal. But she had triumphed. Her sources of passive income were starting to flourish. Without working for someone else. Without risking her physical and mental well-being. Without stress. With only joy and faith. And real results.

She picked up the sage and smelled its earthy sent. It smelled of health to her. Just as death and decay and sickness has a scent, so too did health and vitality. She now understood what being healthy meant. It had taken a year after their separation for her to get to a basic state of health. Two doctor’s visits a month, weekly acupuncture, monthly massages and a daily health regimen that included exercises, deep breathing, baths, herbs, supplements, naps and more. It was a full time job, but she had finally gotten off a three year dependency on pain pills and was pain free. She looked down at herself and thought about how far she’d come. Her once overweight and unhealthy body was now thin and toned, strong and sleek. And it was sexy.

To make this transition also required an entire overhaul in her diet. To go from a mac and cheese diet to one of strange health drinks with seaweed and blended kale had required a shift to viewing food as physical nourishment verses emotional comfort. It had been a hard, long struggle, but her body, health and energy were testament to the importance of persevering. She could now keep up with her children. She would now live long enough to enjoy their children, should they choose to have them.

She held the last symbol in her palm, a heart made of rose quartz, a crystal that represented healing, self-love and love of others. It is a stone said to help one attune to the spiritual energy of love.

When Kassandra lost Leo, she felt her heart had been crushed into tiny pieces. She thought the process of healing would be to somehow heal her heart of its broken, mutilated state. She was wrong. She didn’t understand love. Or her heart. Or much of anything at that time except pain. She recalled the conversation that first began to change her perception of love.

“Sam, I just don’t think my heart’s gonna get through this. Every time he’s around, all the progress I think I’ve made falls apart. He tries to control me, he makes fun of me, and I feel small and weak. My heart will never heal, will never be free of him.”

Samantha paused for a second. “Are you ready to hear the truth?” she asked in her ever patient way.

“Umm…I think so,” Kassandra said, hoping she was. Desperately wanting to be.

“This is the time for strength of heart and not indulgence in reactivity and weakness. Whatever the experiences of the past, the heart is not even the slightest bit touched by them.”

Her words struck Kassandra so powerfully she dropped the phone. She meditated on those words for weeks, really letting them into her “broken” heart. Understanding in a feeling way what they could mean. The implications were staggering. She was not capable of being broken? Nothing in the past could hurt her, or even had hurt the real Her? Just her ego, her personality had been wounded. She could live with that. After all, her ego was the thing that was causing all this drama and pain in the first place.

Kassandra saw the truth clearly now. She was the Almond, had always been the Almond. Sustenance, Love and Health were always within her, but she had chosen the life of an enabler living in a 2500 sq. ft. prison. So, like a child, the pile of laundry in the corner always looked like a monster at night. She had only ever had the vision of a child, seeing fear in every corner. Never seeing the Truth, the Reality of Life. That all she ever needed was always already within her. Now she saw the laundry for what it was (and sometimes wished it was the monster instead, she thought with a small chuckle.)
She held the heart and thought about how dramatically that gut-realization altered her life. From that moment forward, Leo never again bothered her, despite his efforts. Her reactivity was gone, replaced by sympathy and Love, as one Loves a friend who has chosen a very sad path. She was free! And in this freedom she found a love she never imagined. Love not spoken of in songs and books. Love that had liberated her from the burning house and cookie-cutter life. This allowed her to break down the walls of her prison, to see the village of the Universe there for her, and to slough off the suit of the enabler in order to embrace her True Self. She was free to fly away from the ashes and into a new world of her own creation. She smiled, shivered in the chill of the night, and realized she'd been standing so long the fire had mostly died.

Let it, she thought. She'd done what she needed to do.

She stretched, feeling free, and went to meet her new life.

The Unbreakable Heart

Photobucket | broken heart Pictures, broken heart Images, broken heart Photos

The Unbreakable Heart
By Kimberly Kinrade

There are moments in life so profound, so heart-wrenching, that there is no perspective beyond the pain. Only time reshapes these events into something meaningful.
Kassandra sat legs folded in front of the fire, letting the lapping flames caress her naked flesh. The full moon above her lit the small pile of treasures in her hands. This was a rebirth into the life of her choosing. She hoped. If Samantha was right. If she could turn aside from eight years of her life.

Kassandra was not prepared for this journey, and often thought fondly of ignorance. Then she would think of him. And she knew this pain had to be better than his path of numbing blindness found at the bottom of a bottle or in the embrace of a nameless stranger. No matter how afraid she might be.

“Slaughtered Hope”
I walk the minefield of our broken dreams
Navigating to the other side of fear

An invisible body bag has moved into our home
Hiding the remnants of who you were

They returned to me your body
But your empty eyes reveal your slaughtered soul

I bleed out on the battlefield of our marriage
Wondering what awaits me on the other side of death

I cock my gun and take aim
How do I kill the empty spaces left in you?


She had written this poem when she still thought there might be hope, though she imagined no one would know that by reading it.

Here we go, she thought, trying to ignore the flickering fear in her gut, and laid the small piece of paper in the fire. As she watched the fire dance with the paper, she felt the burn in the deepest part of her soul.

She choked back a sob at the picture she held. They looked so happy. So in love. So beautiful. It was a day of fear and hate transformed into love by their one act of defiance against terrorism.

***
September 11, 2001

“Marry me?” he begged, his eyes so sincere and adoring.

Kassandra sat on the edge of his bed still reeling from the cinematic horror she had just witnessed. If she hadn’t known better, she wouldn’t have believed what she’d seen. How could the two towers be gone? All those people? All those lives? People she knew.

“Kass?” his voice pulled her back to him.

“Hmm?”

“Marry me,” He repeated.

“We are getting married,” she reminded him, holding up his dog tags around her neck. Her engagement ring. His pay and their whirl wind courtship didn’t allow for fancy jewelry. She didn’t mind. It was romantic. Exciting. Just like him. Their chemistry was nothing she’d ever imagined, let alone had. Soul mates.

Her friends and family questioned her sanity. She was more educated, worldly, liberal. He did manual labor and was in the National Guard.

But she saw things they didn’t. He was well-read, brilliant in his own way. He was kind and sexy and made her laugh. When she looked in his eyes she saw her future.

They’d been inseparable since the night they’d met in a bar, while on her summer break from college. She wasn’t much of a drinker. She didn’t think he was either, despite his recent DUI. It was a fluke. Besides, he’d promised to cut back if she didn’t like it, and he had. He adored her, looked at her as if she was the only woman on earth. Worshiped her body with every inch of his. She felt her face flush at the thought of just how that worship had made her feel last night.

“Kass, I just got the call,” he said and her heart stopped. “I’m on two hour alert. I could be deployed to Iraq at any moment. Marry me today. I want to know you’re mine when I board that plane.”

Deployed? Leaving her? Iraq?

“No…” she muttered under her breath, tears leaking out of her eyes.

“No, you won’t marry me?” he asked thickly.

“No, I mean yes, I’ll marry you, but I don’t want you to leave. I’ve given up New York and the best college to be with you. You can’t leave me now.”

She felt pathetic. Desperate. Unlike herself entirely.

Her wedding day was not what she had expected. It was planned in six hours and took place in a small chapel. She had a dress, a cake, roses, and shoes. Her husband-to-be spent their wedding day buying bullets and polishing guns. It was surreal.
That all disappeared the moment they stood face to face at the altar. Her bright blue eyes met his chocolate brown, forever committing to love, honor and cherish him, and he her. Their kiss made the world disappear.

She wore a sleeveless dress that exposed her creamy shoulders. She carried red roses the color of blood. He wore his dress blues. He looked like a hero. Her hero. She just prayed he wouldn’t leave her. Ever.
***
Kassandra ignored the tears as she placed the picture in the fire. It curled around the edges and then caught flame, causing their features to turn into a macabre version of their true selves.

The next picture was harder. This was the reason she could never truly be free of him. And the reason she fought so hard to stay alive and retrieve her right to life. Unlike the last picture, in this one she looked tired and worn out, wearing a hospital gown. She’d just been through 40 hours of labor and an emergency C-Section. But she was holding the bundle of love that made it all worth it. Leo had his arm around her and their daughter, Kali.

***
October 31, 2002

Kassandra didn’t know what was happening. Everything was moving too fast. Something was wrong with the baby. They were wheeling her out, to surgery. NO! She cried. This was supposed to be a natural birth. No one listened to her pleas. She endured the drugs, the epidural. The vomiting that would have choked her had Leo not intervened. He saved her. In that moment she forgave him for all the pain. The frequent drinking binges leaving her alone and pregnant for days at a time. She forgave his violence when he was drunk. The way he’d choke her until she couldn’t breathe. The way his arms that held her in love would suddenly turn into weapons aimed at hurting her. She forgave him for everything. They’d created a life. He was saving her life. The baby would change it all. They were a family now.

Then she heard it. A cry. One little cry. Their eyes locked as they both heard their first born daughter make her first sound of life.

They bundled her and brought the baby to Kassandra. They wouldn’t let her hold her baby. Kali was covered from head to toe, revealing only her small elfin face. Her big brown eyes were wide and open. They connected. She saw God in those eyes. Eternity. Life. Pure Love. Then they took her away. She choked back tears. Don’t take my baby, she said. They didn’t listen. The drugs took hold of her. She couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. She drifted to sleep as she remembered her baby’s eyes, as her heart, no longer beating in her chest but now wrapped in a pink blanket, wandered the halls of the hospital in the hands of strangers.

***

This one was harder to let go. They're safe, she reminded herself. They're in bed, just a few feet away. It's the memory you've got to let go, not them.

She would never be free of him; they had created three lives together. She would not trade those amazing beings for anything. Not even to retrieve the eight years she had allowed her soul to die as he abused her body and manipulated her mind until she almost lost herself entirely. Almost. It was done so subtly she didn’t even see it happening. Like the frog boiling in a pot of water. The temperature rose so slowly that she was dying before she even knew she was wet. She had followed the pattern cut for her by society and ended up wearing a life ill-fitted for her soul.

Samantha's face appeared before her, and she swallowed. Remember, she thought. The journey is not yet done. You can do this.

She stared at a picture of a beautiful house lit by Christmas lights with a happy family of five on the porch. The girls sported glowing faces, giddy in anticipation of Santa. The promise of a spring garden lay covered in snow and danced with lighted reindeer. A postcard moment. It was her last picture for her purging fire. This was the moment for which her heart had feared and eagerly anticipated in equal measure. She remembered the strawberries that grew in the backyard in the summer. The mud pools the children would dig and play in on hot days. They’d finally achieved everything they’d wanted in life.

She made herself cast it into the flames. Letting her “perfect” house burn.
***
February 2007

They finally felt at home, not just in their new house but in Olympia, Washington. It was everything they wanted in a community. Food co-ops, alternative schools, close to the military base where Leo was receiving never-ending medical treatment for the injuries he’d sustained in Iraq, nice neighbors, and gorgeously green surroundings.

Kassandra was a rising star at her insurance company. Her bonuses kept growing almost in proportion to their lifestyle. Even without Leo’s income, it was the most they’d ever made.

Leo was off of alcohol and cigarettes. They were in counseling together and he went privately to work through the rage and anger that he’d always had and that had been fed as if on steroids since his time in the “sandbox.”

Kassandra was optimistic. She was more in love with him than ever. He had potential untapped but incredible and beautiful to behold. She had been the most faithful, supportive wife while he was off fighting the war. While other wives left their husbands, breaking under the pressure, she held steady. Loving him, praying for him, sending letters, pictures, care packages, even a birthday party in a box for him and his friends, party favors included. She’d done everything but fly out to see him. She would have done that if she could have.

Now, they were finally together again. They planted trees and berry bushes and created play areas for the children. Leo built Kassandra a custom office with floor to ceiling bookshelves. She loved it, and loved him all the more for it.

But, there were times. Oh, there were times.

The night Leo came home so drunk he was throwing up and crawling, Kassandra’s heart landed somewhere in her gut, if the pain was any indication. She stayed up all night to keep Leo from choking on his own vomit. For her good deeds, he puked all over her. Still, she told herself that maybe it was an aberrant one time fall. Certainly he wasn’t going back to his binge drinking? She couldn’t survive that again.

The lies continued, and she stayed blind, hoping that her faith would be enough to reverse the truth of their failing family. She worked harder and harder as the economy started taking chunks out of her previously fat checks. Bills were no longer easy to pay. Their debts piled up. They lost their new mini-van with the built in DVD player and heated seats. Everything was falling apart. Her dedication to the book “The Power of a Praying Wife” didn’t seem to be yielding the promised results.

Kassandra was on the edge of hysteria. Her carefully crafted dreams were turning and twisting on her, becoming desperation. It seemed the harder she held on, the more out of control her life became. She began to get very sick; her body was in pain all the time. She was diagnosed with various incurable conditions and put on pain medications. She took more and more pills just to get through her long work day, trying to keep their lives intact. She came home exhausted and tired. Leo’s night walks got longer and longer, until he was gone for most of the night nearly every night. Coming home from his “walks” only after the bars had closed. Then he would sleep all day while their children bleakly endured daycare.

The war on terrorism had finally come to her home. He terrorized her with death threats in front of their children, he’d have flashbacks that led him to choking her into near unconsciousness with their children in the next room, and one night he attacked their middle child, shaking her so hard her head bobbed back and forth while screaming at her inches from her face. Kassandra had to pry loose his fingers from Rose and lock him out as she consoled all their terrified children.

Her life was dying without her permission. The coaching and counseling were not helping because Leo didn’t want help. She created a plan and one night approached him with it. Would he agree? She doubted it.

What would she do then? She didn't know. But she had to try.

“Leo, we need to talk.”

“Ok,” he said, giving her half his attention as he continued playing on his X-Box.

“Please pause the game, I need your attention.”

“One sec, I just need to get to the next stopping point or I’ll lose my spot.”

She waited impatiently. Finally he turned to her, looking eager to get back to his game.

“This isn’t working. We’re not working.” She fought the tears that started to cloud her vision. She didn’t want to be one of those women who used tears to manipulate an argument. But she couldn’t help it. She had become a lot of things she didn’t want to be in this marriage. Bitchy, pushy, controlling. Anything in an attempt to keep order and maintain their lives.

“So, what do you want to do?” he asked.

“Leo, our house is being foreclosed." Was she getting through? Was he listening? Or was the siren song of the stupid game too loud for him to hear her?

"We owe the kids’ school thousands of dollars. We can’t maintain this lifestyle. Not only that, but my health is getting worse and you’re out of control. I can’t live like this. Something has to change or…or we can’t be together.”

He stayed very still and very quiet for so long Kassandra wondered if he’d heard her or if he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open. She despaired. There'd never been any real hope of getting through to him.

“I don’t want to lose you.” he said.

She couldn’t hold the tears back anymore.

“I don’t want to lose you either, but you need help. Help I can’t give you. And we have to find a way to live on the income you’ll be getting on disability. I can’t work until I get better; we’re way over our heads.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” he asked.

Hope flared. “Get help. Real help. In house rehab treatment for PTSD, anger and alcoholism. I’ll wait for you. Help you. Go to the classes for the families. Anything. But you need a sponsor, someone besides me who will keep you accountable and sober. We’ll move to Lake County, California where we have friends. The cost of living is much lower and it’s away from any military influence. It’s a fresh start. When you’ve completed your treatment, then we’ll rebuild our lives. I’ll do everything I can to support you. I want this to work. I’ll do my part, but you have to do yours.”

“But our house…” he said sadly. This house was everything to him.

“I know. But we’re going to lose it no matter what. The place I’ve picked is more affordable and there’s a local charter school that will provide the children a great education for free. We need free right now.”

He surprised her by kissing and hugging her, whispering the word she didn’t dare believe she’d hear from him.

“Ok.” He kissed her again. “We’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to make this work. I don’t want to lose you. I can’t live without you.”

***
I can't live without you. Words she'd longed to hear, begged to hear, thought she'd never hear again. The house burned in the fire. Her house. Her prison of lies and of denial. Her American dream. Her American nightmare.

Burn it all. And what will be left when it's gone? She suddenly couldn't remember why she was doing this in the first place. All she could remember was ...

***

May 14, 2008

“I thought you weren’t going to email her anymore? Now you’re encouraging it?” Kassandra accused in a voice she hated. A voice cultivated after years of marriage to this man.

“It’s just an email, it’s nothing,” Leo lied.

“Nothing. Right. Your ex-wife contacts you and makes comments about the great orgasms you gave her and how much she misses you and it’s nothing. I assume your membership to the online dating club is nothing too,” she asked, her voice thick with sarcasm and pain. “Leo, we had an agreement about this.”

“Well, I’m changing it,” he said in defiance.

Kassandra sighed.

“Leo, this place is perfect for us. I picked this house for you. I know it’s not as green and lush as Washington, but it’s beautiful, and cleansing. And it has all the small town charm that leads to real community, which is what we wanted. Plus, we can afford it.”

There was a magical energy here that enlivened Kassandra. It seemed to irritate Leo. He hadn’t even feigned happiness since the move.

“Leo, you can’t have it both ways. We talked about this in counseling. You’re either in or out. You’ve already turned down at least one opportunity for treatment. When are you going to get help?”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Kassandra knew she had just pulled the grenade and thrown it.

“I’m not going to treatment. When I leave, I’m not coming back.”

A grenade, indeed, and it had just exploded. Kassandra froze. Despite everything, she realized she'd never believed he'd actually say it. She pulled at her long, curly brown hair as if it might offer some insights. She looked down at her overweight body. A body once much sexier, but which had been devastated by pregnancy and disease. A body she was trying to heal, but couldn’t. Not when all of her time and attention was devoted to Leo and the children. How could he possibly choose alcohol over their marriage and children?

“You’re not coming back, ever?”

“No, we’re done. I can’t do this anymore.”

“You mean you’d rather drink than be a man and a father.”

“I can’t be who you want me to be,” he shot back in exploding anger.

She sobbed.

“Where will you go?” she asked.

“Back to Washington. I’m going to stay in our house and try to delay the foreclosure for awhile, and then I’ll figure something out.”

He was more delusional than she’d imagined.

“What about the kids?” she asked. What about me, she thought to herself.

“I’ll visit as often as I can.”

So, that was that. Eight years, and he was walking out, leaving her with three little girls to raise on an income that was dependent on him. Her life felt over.

“When will you leave?”

“Soon,” he said as he began to pack.

Soon. Soon she would be a single mom. What was she to do now?

That night she took out her notebook and through tears wrote out her desperation.

Wishing on a Star
Breathing in the Stillness of the Night
I let go of the nightmares of my life
You used to be my world

Taking in the magic of the stars
I make my wish and hope and pray
I used to have more dreams

Moving toward the moonbeams of my memory
I shut my heart and lock it up
I used to want to live

Now, I wait for the final promise of death

Then she cried herself to sleep. Alone.
***
Kassandra’s vision cleared as she watched the symbol of her house burn in the fire, as she said goodbye to the life that wasn’t a life. It's done now, she thought. She had been cocooned in that house. Insulated from reality. From her own vision. Living for others as they fed off her strength and life blood. Like the Phoenix of legends, she had to burn to ashes before she could be reborn. Born as a new person. Her own person. Someone she didn’t know, but very much wanted to know.

As the embers of her fire died down, the smoke took her past into the ethers, to the gods and goddesses of rebirth and renewal. Kassandra slowly rose and let the coolness of the night embrace her slender body. She began dismantling her small ceremonial circle.

Three sacred symbols of her new life lay around the fire. These she would not burn. These represented her present and her future. The new life she was creating with her children.

She looked at them as she thought about life. About needs verses wants. About how much we can learn to live without when we realize how little, and how much, we need to survive and thrive. When she first began this journey, she thought the climax of it would be in learning to live without Leo. To survive the loss, the heart break. She was learning an entirely different lesson.

She held up an almond. An ordinary almond. But raw. Alive with the power of growth. If planted, this almond could grow into a tree, producing almonds for the duration of its life. Sustenance. The very essence of need. She needed food for herself and her children. She needed shelter from the elements. She needed transportation. Leo had kept his word for about a month after he left, sending her enough money to provide for their children in their oversized rental.

The next month he cut that support in half. And then again the next month. Never with any warning or explanation. Never with any consideration for how she was to care for their children. So she purged. Sold everything she could. Realized she needed very little in terms of “stuff” in order to be happy. She found a small duplex, and with 75% of her belongings now gone from her life, it suited them quite nicely. Their previous 4 bedrooms, 2 living rooms and 3 bathrooms now neatly fit into a small 2 bedroom. And yet it didn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. It was liberating. Not to mention easier to clean.

The almond also represented all the support she’d received from her new village. Local friends with farms gave her fresh produce. Samantha helped her find government resources to get food, money and childcare. Friends came when she needed to move, twice. Gary the tire guy gave her two new tires when she was down to $11 and stuck an hour from home with blown tires. All her needs were being met.

Providing for her family had been her greatest fear, and it was now her greatest triumph. There were many times she was tempted to go back to work, to take the easy way, the way she knew, in order to make ends meet.

“Kassandra,” her doctor had said, “if you go back to that life, you’ll be hospitalized within three months, then how will you take care of your children? And if you don’t change your path now, this will kill you eventually.”

That sobered her. Made her realize she couldn’t afford to go back to who she was, even to make money. She had to find other ways. She called her best friend crying.

“I don’t know what to do. I can’t rely on Leo. Even when the court orders come in, he could lose it all if he’s arrested, which means we would lose it all. I have to be able to take care of my kids.”

“Kass,” Samatha has said, “stop thinking like the old you. There are other ways. I have some ideas.”

And she did indeed have some ideas. Ideas that utilized Kassandra’s gifts without taxing her empty reserves.

She was able to sustain her life and thrive with or without him or his money. When they divorced she thought she’d always be his prisoner, always under his thumb because he could kill her with one withdrawal. But she had triumphed. Her sources of passive income were starting to flourish. Without working for someone else. Without risking her physical and mental well-being. Without stress. With only joy and faith. And real results.

She picked up the sage and smelled its earthy sent. It smelled of health to her. Just as death and decay and sickness has a scent, so too did health and vitality. She now understood what being healthy meant. It had taken a year after their separation for her to get to a basic state of health. Two doctor’s visits a month, weekly acupuncture, monthly massages and a daily health regimen that included exercises, deep breathing, baths, herbs, supplements, naps and more. It was a full time job, but she had finally gotten off a three year dependency on pain pills and was pain free. She looked down at herself and thought about how far she’d come. Her once overweight and unhealthy body was now thin and toned, strong and sleek. And it was sexy.

To make this transition also required an entire overhaul in her diet. To go from a mac and cheese diet to one of strange health drinks with seaweed and blended kale had required a shift to viewing food as physical nourishment verses emotional comfort. It had been a hard, long struggle, but her body, health and energy were testament to the importance of persevering. She could now keep up with her children. She would now live long enough to enjoy their children, should they choose to have them.

She held the last symbol in her palm, a heart made of rose quartz, a crystal that represented healing, self-love and love of others. It is a stone said to help one attune to the spiritual energy of love.

When Kassandra lost Leo, she felt her heart had been crushed into tiny pieces. She thought the process of healing would be to somehow heal her heart of its broken, mutilated state. She was wrong. She didn’t understand love. Or her heart. Or much of anything at that time except pain. She recalled the conversation that first began to change her perception of love.

“Sam, I just don’t think my heart’s gonna get through this. Every time he’s around, all the progress I think I’ve made falls apart. He tries to control me, he makes fun of me, and I feel small and weak. My heart will never heal, will never be free of him.”

Samantha paused for a second. “Are you ready to hear the truth?” she asked in her ever patient way.

“Umm…I think so,” Kassandra said, hoping she was. Desperately wanting to be.

“This is the time for strength of heart and not indulgence in reactivity and weakness. Whatever the experiences of the past, the heart is not even the slightest bit touched by them.”

Her words struck Kassandra so powerfully she dropped the phone. She meditated on those words for weeks, really letting them into her “broken” heart. Understanding in a feeling way what they could mean. The implications were staggering. She was not capable of being broken? Nothing in the past could hurt her, or even had hurt the real Her? Just her ego, her personality had been wounded. She could live with that. After all, her ego was the thing that was causing all this drama and pain in the first place.

Kassandra saw the truth clearly now. She was the Almond, had always been the Almond. Sustenance, Love and Health were always within her, but she had chosen the life of an enabler living in a 2500 sq. ft. prison. So, like a child, the pile of laundry in the corner always looked like a monster at night. She had only ever had the vision of a child, seeing fear in every corner. Never seeing the Truth, the Reality of Life. That all she ever needed was always already within her. Now she saw the laundry for what it was (and sometimes wished it was the monster instead, she thought with a small chuckle.)
She held the heart and thought about how dramatically that gut-realization altered her life. From that moment forward, Leo never again bothered her, despite his efforts. Her reactivity was gone, replaced by sympathy and Love, as one Loves a friend who has chosen a very sad path. She was free! And in this freedom she found a love she never imagined. Love not spoken of in songs and books. Love that had liberated her from the burning house and cookie-cutter life. This allowed her to break down the walls of her prison, to see the village of the Universe there for her, and to slough off the suit of the enabler in order to embrace her True Self. She was free to fly away from the ashes and into a new world of her own creation. She smiled, shivered in the chill of the night, and realized she'd been standing so long the fire had mostly died.

Let it, she thought. She'd done what she needed to do.

She stretched, feeling free, and went to meet her new life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shifts in Health


Today my diet consisted of a litre of green drinks (blended kale with mangos and strawberries), one tsp of seaweed in OJ, MSM (a supplement) and whole cup full of other supplements that my doctor has me on to control my yeast, increase the healthy bugs in my gut and heal my intestines and to reduce the inflammation in my body. I also took my standard 4 Tramadol. Two in the morning and two at night. The highest dose allowed.

It's not a high end narcotic, like Vicadin. I was on that for awhile. And Percaset. No, this is not in the same ball park, but it is a prescription pain pill. And I've been on pain pills for three years, daily. To manage my chronic pain from Fibromyalgia and several other "no known cause or cure" conditions that have left me in pain and misery.

Until a few months ago, all my previous doctor's doomed me to this for a lifetime. Then I found a doctor in Sebastapol, CA who specializes in lost hope cases such as these. He's successfully treated all my conditions in others, with no drugs or symptoms. I hesitate to use the word "cured." But, no drugs, no symptoms, and blissful health, sounds pretty good to me. He's of a medical ilk of less than 2% of doctors in the world who understand the causal effect of our inner workings and how they relate to and cause so many of those "unknown conditions." So began my treatment.

In the last several months, I've lost weight, my swelling had decreased, I've eliminated nearly everything I used to eat because I found I was allergic, and am gaining energy. I'm not what is considered " healthy" yet, you can't be called healthy when it takes 4 pain pills to get you through the day, apparently. Go figure.

So, the next shift in my radical health/life change, as if diet overhaul, divorce, major moves and single parenthood aren't enough shifts, I am now going off my Tramadol. This is my last week. Apparently a slow and steady reduction doesn't work with this drug, because it's producing the endorphins that my body should be producing, but isn't. My body is depending on the Tramadol. And as long as I keep taking it, even in small doses, my body will feel no need to produce it. So, it's all or nothing. It's time to claim health for real. And I'm terrified.

In preparation, I'm doubling my green drinks and sea week, taking extra supplements my doctor says will help prepare my body, and stocked up on straight Aloe Vera gel. The Aloe Vera isn't to be used the first three days. I've got to get through those on my own, letting my body kick back into gear. After that, the Aloe Vera can be used to help repair tissue, decrease inflammation and pain, etc. But those first three days...well...let's just say I may not be my most congenial. I would have opted for the coma if given the option. But my drug withdrawls don't warrant a three day blank out. So, I have to suffer every moment of pain and agony until my body learns how to work again.

I've cleared the week. The kids have summer school around the corner. I'll make sure the house is clean and food is prepped for them, and that I've got all my green drinks ready. I'm lining up comedies to watch (to get the laughter endorphins in as back-up), books to read, computer stuff to keep me busy, art projects to distract me, baths, naps, anything and everything that can help me transition. I'll be journaling. Feeling things the drugs have been repressing. Releasing. All those fun things we schedule right next to root canals. Fortunately my teeth are healthy.

This is an important step for me. To reclaim my health. To scale to a higher plateau of energy and vitality. To truly stretch my wings and engage myself in the best way possible. But, I apparently have to walk through hell to get there. Thus begins the journey. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monsters in the Closet


My eldest daughter Madelynne has been having bad dreams. Dreams that I died, that the whole family turns in to monsters, dreams of losing me. She's afraid someone or something will take me away from her.

My daughters are 6, 5 and 3 and none of them can imagine life without me. I've gone on business trips and training things, but I've never gone a day without talking to them. They also know that I'll come back. Even so, it's hard for them when I leave. It's hard for me too. I miss them. It's physically painful for me to be away from them for too long, or to imagine losing them. They are a part of my body, my soul, my daily life.

I can understand her fear. She's been through a lot. Lots of moves, her dad coming and going for drinking problems, rehab, deployment and divorce. I've been the stable focus in their lives from the beginning. I've been their world. Madelynne is turning a corner into a new phase of life, where differentiation occurs. After 7, she'll start to relate to the world more independently. In the first stage, especially with my 3 year old, they still feel a physical part of their mother. Their life force is somehow still attached even if the umbilical chord isn't. But they grow up.

Madelynne is feeling this growing up. And I assure her that nothing could take me away from her, or her away from me. That I will do everything in my power to keep her safe and loved and with me until she is old enough to move on. I also assure her of others in her life who love her and would move the earth to give her a home should something unforeseen happen. That she is loved, surrounded by family and totally nurtured. But I also try to make the point that God is everywhere, and she is NEVER alone because she is always in the presence of the Divine.

Prayer, meditation, breathing, spiritual devotions; these are all things we do to connect to the Divine in our own way. And we have practices in our home to help me and my children stay in that Divine connection even when scared, nervous or angry. I certainly have been tested in that these last few weeks. My test was to stay present, to trust that my children would be cared for and safe and all would be well in my struggles. Letting go was not easy. Is not easy. But I passed this test. And once again I was shown that all my needs, and all my children's needs are being met.

The more I practice this, the more they will feel it and feeling it, all will shift. Their fears will shift when my fears are no longer ruling my life. I can feel it happening even now. And when that happens, there will be no (or less) fear of separation, loss and abandonment. There will also be clarity. A new vision that the monsters in life really aren't as scary as we all thought. In fact, rather than fear, we can face them with laughter and joy. With true happiness. Because that is where the REAL power lies. Just watch Monsters, Inc.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Subjective Reality of Truth


Ok, so I know I haven't written in...well...at least weeks. And this month was supposed to be devoted to Middletown and Lake County,CA. I've done some great interviews and taken some great pictures for those blogs, but life got in the way. I had a lot I wanted to write about this month, but felt that if I couldn't do the profile blogs, I shouldn't write anything. That's an all or nothing mentality I'm trying to shake. So, Middletown can wait another week or so, and I'm going to write about what's been keeping me from writing.

These last few weeks I've been doing battle in a court hearing. I thought it would be resolved in a few hours, given that it dealt with primarily one issue and was temporary at that. But the other party turned it into a war, and I had to pump up my amno to do what was right.

And that's really what this blog is about, our perception of the truth and what is right. I'm sure the other party in this issue feels just as strongly about their "rightness" as I do. Fortunately the judge agreed with me and my witnesses. I doubt that had lead the other party to rethink their take on all this. If I had lost, would I question whether I was right in pursuing my outcome? No. I wouldn't have at all.

So, the question is, is this all subjective. Am I any more "right" in my views than the other party? Seems the judge thinks so, but judges can make mistakes. They are,after all, only human.

I still believe I did what was in the best interest of all parties involved, including the opposing party. Though I'm sure that will never be understood by that person. So, how do I know I'm right in this?

I've thought about it a lot. I realize I'm not giving specifics enough for you as my readers to determine what I'm talking about, but that is to protect others involved, and because I'm more interested in what this represents, then in rehashing the specifics.

In all situations in which a decision has to be made, or value judgements have to made about an action that needs to be taken, I tend to consider my own thoughts, feelings, beliefs and evidence of the subject. If there's disagreement, as in this case, I look at the kind of life, the kind of person and the kind of decisions the other party and those who support that person have. Do they lead lives I would want? Do they have values I would want my children to embrace? Do I respect them? Then I do the same for those who agree with my assessment. Most of the time, this gives a pretty clear picture of the truth. Especially when it's backed by studies, research, past history of repeated behaviors, etc.

This is simple when I'm clear on what I think. But because of my own process and patternings, I sometimes find myself questioning my own known truths about myself in light of some "attack" by another person. This time I find I am double-minded (which was not at all the case in the court situation, but happens most often when I am making choices to care for myself or not fall into society's expectations for me and someone criticizes me for it.) So, I go back to what I wrote above. I look at the person who is bringing this up in me. Is this someone I would want to model any part of my life after? Are they living the quality of life I desire? And I go to those who are living the kinds of lives I admire and am working on living myself, and get their take. This always gets my head screwed back on straight. Of course, this only works when you know what you want your life to look like and have people in your life who model that. That was a process in and of itself.

So, the bottom line for me these last few weeks was really waking up to who I am and who the people around me are, and noticing the truth of what each person brings to the table of my banquet, and then noticing and taking action on what does not serve me and my children and what does. And I did. I passed this test and learned this lesson! With the help of those who offer me real integrity, love and intimacy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Origins


To start off my series on Middletown Month, I'd like to take some time to look at the history of Lake County. When I first visited here several years before making my move, I felt a different energy in this area. There must be something special here, because as remote as some places can be, there are several major spiritual sites in Lake County, a few of which I will be discussing in future posts.

I know that this energy seems to pull those sensitive enough to feel it. It's a pull that requires authenticity and inner healing. This is just my sense, and certainly not scientific, but I'm not the only one who has expressed such a notion. And that's not to say that everyone who lives here feels it. But many do, and many are drawn here because of that. I was.

I've heard it said that this is or was considered sacred land by the Native Americans, and that they would come here for healing. Spiritual as well as physical.

Here is a brief history I found online.

Lake County History: "Lake County is a 'walled-in' county with Mount St. Helena and adjoining mountains forming the southern boundary; Bear Mountains on the east; Mayacamas on west; Hull Mountain, San Hedron and adjoining ridges to the north. It is a small county, being only about 100 miles long by about 50 miles wide, but includes the largest natural lake entirely within California borders. (Lake Tahoe doesn't count since it is shared with Nevada). Other recreational lakes include Lake Pillsbury, Blue Lakes, Highland Springs Resevoir and Indian Valley Reservoir. It takes us 1 and 1/2 hours to get to the Pacific Ocean, or 2 and 1/2 to get to the Sierra foothills.

The county was formed May 20, 1861, and was made up of land taken mainly from Napa County with the northwest portion taken from Mendocino County and some of the eastern portion came from Colusa County. Probably over 99% of the population is in the southern 1/3 of the county. The northern portion is mostly the Mendocino National Forest and includes a portion of the Snow Mountain Wilderness area.

"The area was home to the Pomo Indians before Salvador Vallejo brought in his cattle in 1839 and a few (very few) pioneers began arriving in the area in about 1845."

"There are two incorporated cities - Lakeport & Clearlake (not to be confused with the lake itself - Clear Lake); 8 small towns: Kelseyville, Lower Lake, Middletown, Clearlake Oaks, Glenhaven, Lucerne, Nice & Upper Lake, and numerous "communities" built around the modern day resorts.





The negative side of living here...slow traffic on the curvy, two-lane highway around the lake and through the mountains.

The positive side...We are rated as having some of the cleanest air in the State."

Cobb Mountain, which is part of Middletown according to my GPS but does have it's own postal code that my little machine hasn't registered, is where I first fell in love with this beautiful land. Though a bit of a shock from my green, lush Washington home, I soon found that the beauty and energy here were much more powerful. Though I don't live in Cobb, I hope to someday. (Especially in the summer when Cobb is 10 degrees cooler).

But Hidden Valley Lake offers it's own unique perks. Local lakes and playgrounds for my children. Ducks to feed. Great childcare just around the corner. And a gated community to keep away unwanted guests. Though the threat of triple digit weather has me wondering if any of those perks are worth it. I'm just grateful for air conditioning.

All this to say that we live in a unique and wonderful area, and though my posts may not change daily, as they have been, I will be updating it regularly, with new stories on the people and places in the Middletown, Cobb, HVL area that make this home to me and so many others.

I'm new here, but I'm meeting some great people. However, if you know of anyone (including yourself, don't be shy) who you think would make an interesting profile, please let me know. As I stated a few posts ago, I want to help connect our community with this blog, and give people an online place to come to learn about their neighborhood and all the wonderful things being offered right next door to them. Like fresh produce from small, locally owned farms, fabulous toys that are thoughtfully chosen to encourage play and development in children, locally grown meats that are organic and safe, a great seaweed source who harvests it, dries it and creates blends for all uses, and a used clothing store for children and women that looks like an upper class boutique with a great selection, reasonable prices and is owned and run by a local mom. This and much more. Healing centers, spiritual centers, schools....the list goes on. So keep checking in to see what's coming next. You never know what you may discover that could impact your life in ways you never imagined.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing from all of you. And again, for those of you who live elsewhere, check out your own community. Use these blogs as an opportunity to see what's possible and start digging into those nooks and crannies of your own neighborhood. You may just find gold.