An Excerpt from “The Cherry Tree”

I’m in the process of writing a memoir…a very lengthy process I’ve come to learn.  This is a short excerpt from the manuscript.

On the days that I’m allowed to stay in the living room, one of the visitors, Neil or Walter or Linda, balances the tray that my mother keeps under the couch on their knees and break up the tight buds. The process mesmerizes me, the removal of seeds and stems, the sprinkle of a generous amount into the small paper, a gentle roll, the application of equal thumb pressure along the length of it and then the final lick and seal of its seam. The seemingly more experienced of them then holds one end and puts the entire thing in his or her mouth, slowly pulling it out between moistened lips to ensure that the seam is tight and won’t unravel once lit. I study the way they work knowing that some day I’ll roll the best joint they’ve ever seen.

I can’t wait for the parties, the loud music, the commotion and excitement. I stay in the living room doorway threshold, knowing that I risk getting thrown out altogether for crossing it. “Go outside and play,” my mother says. Or, “Go play in traffic.”

On the good days, after sucking that smoke into her lungs my mother reaches into her pocketbook and tears a clean five dollar food stamp out of the book, handing it to me, “Go to Richdale’s and get me a 2 liter bottle of Pepsi and a Hershey bar and you can keep the change.”

If the party starts early in the day, it almost always ends in chaos. The radio gets louder as the empty cans pile up on flat surfaces. The partygoer’s start yelling over each other, slurring words and mixing them up like little kids do, repeating them selves even though nobody cares what they said the first time. They’re talking and laughing and then, out of the blue, somebody gets pissed.

“What the fuck. Who took my lighter?”

“Stop your whining,” the slurred response of a different voice.

My shoulders raise up to meet my ears, the muscle on the left side tighter than the right, a clenched fist, the tell-tale sign for years to come that my body is getting ready…for a fight or to scurry to the closest hiding place. I sit still and wait, folding into myself, staying invisible, listening for what comes next—the sound of chair legs sliding back hard and fast on the kitchen floor; a table being flipped on it’s side, beer cans and ashtrays crashing around it.

Or the click of a lighter wheel, and then, “Thanks man.”

The 99 Who Love Me

When I first started inviting people to like my “Writer Facebook Page” a person I’ve known since childhood, a home-towner, posted a comment. They asked if I was planning to “just write about my life or if I was going to write about something good.” I have to admit that it stung. Not that any one person’s opinion makes a real difference in what I do or don’t do, but because I still have that nagging Voice that sounds exactly like me, telling me that I’m not that important. It says that nobody wants to hear what I have to say, that it doesn’t matter…that I…don’t matter.

The statement rolled around so much in my overtaxed brain that I could quote it verbatim even though I deleted it right away. My first thought was filled with some not very nice expletives (okay majorly-hateful profanity) and my second was Oh My God I’m still an insecure basketcase.

It took a little more than a week for the message of that Voice to change. A few mornings ago, amidst the stress of packing for a short getaway It began telling me new things. Three very profound things.

Write what you know.

I’ve heard that a hundred times, but it never struck me quite the same way as it did today. What do I know? I know my own experience. I’m the only one uniquely qualified to tell it. I know that sharing my experience (a wealth of it I might add) will likely help others. I’ve seen it happen. Pain, suffering, anxiety, depression, loss, fear, jealousy, insecurity, loneliness and addiction have all been my companions at various times during the journey of my life. Negative thinking and living were habitual for me. When I came to learn that even negativity is just another habit that can be broken with practice, I was able to let joy, love, faith, gratitude, peace, happiness, companionship, connectedness and recovery become a part of my story. Through writing I am able to relate exactly how I do it.

It’s not about what somebody else wants to read, but what you need to write.

Maybe I’ll have spent the time writing this short essay to have it seen by only my eyes. That’s okay because already, the mere action of writing it has morphed that nasty feeling from insecurity to gratitude. I again feel connected to the rest of humanity, knowing that we all share in this collective adventure of life, instead of being alone in the unfounded belief that I don’t have value.

Not everybody has to like you.

Last but not least, a sentiment that even my twelve-year old daughter has been able to grasp. Throughout my life I would say that if there were 100 people in a room, 99 of whom loved me and 1 who didn’t, I’d believe that the 1 must know the truth about me. Of course that’s not it, the truth has more to do with chemistry or lack there of.  Or maybe there’s a case of “there’s something about you that I don’t like about myself.” Either way, today I’ll just stick with the 99 who love me.

A statement that initially hurt because I remember feeling worthless has now become fuel for me to continue to share my experience, strength and hope. So to the person who flung negativity at me, I send it back with gratitude.  And I say thank you.