Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Do

Kerry and I met when I was a junior in high school and he was just out of his trade school college, earning a certificate in auto mechanics from Williston, ND. I was walking to my Aunt Florence’s house in Palermo after staying in town after school to work on the school newspaper. A car with two guys in the front seat and one sprawled out in back, drove up beside me talking as I walked ( it just hit me how that would be different these days, I'd be frightened). The passenger ask if I knew who he was? I said," No should I"? He said he was Lori Picek’s brother. Lori was dating Kelly Moore and I’d known Kelly my whole life, as his Dad and my Dad were best friends. I talked to the passenger a bit and noticed his pretty eyes that kind of danced when he talked and were rimmed with curly long eyelashes. His name was Kerry and he asked if I wanted to go to the state line club with them ( you could drink there at 18). I pretended to go in Florence's house and ask Mom. She actually said I could, but I came out and said I couldn’t. I had anxiety even back then and wasn’t about to get in a car with three guys who were drinking that I didn’t know. I wasn't scared of them but didn't want to get in a car accident.

I few nights later I was driving around in Stanley which is what we farm girls did when we went to town, and I kept meeting this cute little white car which swerved at me every time I met it! After meeting the little white car several times, the driver stuck his arm out the window, and motioned for me to pull over to a side street. It was Kerry Picek again. Pulling into a vacant parking lot, our cars facing opposite directions, this time  I noticed he had long hair to his shoulders, the same dancing eyes, white teeth with a wide split in them and silver wire rim glasses. The car was as cute as he was and I felt an immediate attraction unlike any I'd experienced before.

Later in the week there was a dance at the memorial building in Stanley, where my favorite local band Podipto, was playing cover tunes. From the dance floor I happened to look out to the people on the sidelines and Kerry was one of them. We left the dance together and  he told me he was living in his Grandmas basement after an argument with his stepfather. We sat there in the basement talked for the longest time before I said I need to get going.

We became good friends, but I always said I liked him more than he liked me. I was a tomboy. I may have plowed a field or something as equally girly before I came to town, not because I wanted to but I had to with just Sonny and us girls to do farm work. Plus I was never a tiny girl. Anyway, he played me around in the strangest ways. He didn’t really want to say we were dating but yet if I dated anyone else he ran interference. For me there was always something different about my feelings for him than anyone else. I used to get teased about how crazy in love I was with him. As soon as high school ended I moved to Stanley, got a job at the Two Way Inn and he worked construction. Some nights he’d sleep on my couch and I’d bake brownies etc. for his lunch just because if felt right to be together but Mom had the "good girl" thing drilled in my head tight!

Finally,  I got tired of his silly games and decided I had to come to terms with the fact that I liked him more than he liked me, I needed to accept that and I was moving on! I moved home and enrolled in college.  When I walked away he missed me and realized he loved me too. He found me a few weeks later and was ready to not only date, but get married. We got married quickly on Nov 17,1973, a month after I turned 18. My idea of marriage was immature. I thought nothing would be better than being with him every day of my life. I literally had a horse and a 13” black and white tv. He literally had a stereo and a car. That what we brought into the marriage.

Didn’t take long before we had some horrible fights. Kerry was very verbally and sometimes physically abusive and an angry guy. Anger that had nothing to do with me. He became extremely jealous and bossy. I fought back after awhile because I wasn't about to be bossed around by anybody. We had Brendon in 1976 and Shelbey in 1979. They witnessed some crazy fights! I realized I had married someone far different from me, but I loved him so much.

Over the years we held on to our passion and commitment to each other.  The explosive anger issues however were always in the way of a peaceful existence that I desperately needed as someone with anxiety issues. My Mom got sick with Alzheimer's disease and passed away about the same time Syd went through a rough time in Minot being bullied by jealous girls, and I brought her to Phoenix to live, to protect her and she's had a great life here. Kerry planed on coming, and wanted to get Syd out of Minot as well,  but couldn’t transfer here without losing seniority and that's a big deal on the railroad. So we have traveled back and forth for ten years almost. After I was here in Phx and away from the anger I'd always been around awhile, I noticed my own reactions when something that would have sent Kerry into a fit of anger, Jerry (my sister’s husband ) handled calmly. I grew resentful at Kerry that his anger had stirred such emotions over small things. Not to make this an even close comparison but like when someone comes home from war and hears a boom and it brings up feelings... all these years I grew to expect anger over simple daily frustrations…I got distant towards Kerry and eventually Kerry went in his own direction for awhile.

Ten years after moving here and 40 years of marriage later, we are starting to figure it out,... I hope, (never say you have something figured out or it will come back and bite you). We have been put through life like a salad shooter…fast, furious, not always fun but spit out the other end in some kind of a blend that seems to work.

Some things I always loved about Kerry was that he always took the responsibility for taking care of the family financially, and the rest was my responsibility. Ever since he got on with the railroad in 1988, I have only done odd jobs that worked around being there for the kids because his was a 24/7 job. He never told me what color I could paint a wall, what to cook or even what to do with the kids. He always stood behind me when I laid down the law with the kids. I remember the night before I started college when Syd was in the 7th grade, I stayed up all night bawling because I had spent 500.00 on books and $2500. on tuition. He got up at some point to use the bathroom and came out in the living room where I was sobbing away. I told him I was stressed out, what if I can’t do the work? What if I waste a bunch of money, what if…and he said,( and this is a direct quote). “If you go to school and don’t like it, you won’t wonder anymore if you should have gone to college. I said I was going to take care of you when I married you, and you were going to take care of me, and the kids. I don’t care if times have changed since those days, nothings changed between us that I know of. Stop pressuring yourself and get your ass to bed.”

I loved him for that. Kerry is a guy of few reassuring words, but when he says something it means a lot because in a few words he nails it. He’s a complicated person, a wounded person that is his own worst enemy. Sometimes the depth of his anger surprises even me, but under it he is a soft, sensitive soul. He makes me laugh, pisses me off to the max, hurts me the deepest, as I do him but I can count on him and he can count on me. Was it a match made in heaven or hell, I dunno…cuz its been both. Sometimes sheer determination keeps us together.

One time we were at the fair in Minot at a concert. Full well knowing the answer I asked Kerry, “how come you have never held me on your shoulders so I can see the concert like a lot of these guys do their women?” Without even blinking he fired back, “well climb on, but its gonna be a quick peak before we both hit the ground!” Then we laughed till we were about sick! A few years ago we went on a summer road trip down the Oregon coast and after four or five days having fun in the car we got in a hell of a big fight over the radio outside of Reno. I was driving and slammed on the brakes and about dumped him out on the side of the road! It was a long silent ride for awhile, until one of us burst out laughing at the insanity of it and got over it. That’s how we handle things these days…get mad, get over it, it’s a new day.

Long marriages aren’t easy, it takes commitment and always keeping your eye on the horizon, instead of the potholes in the road, and hang on to the vision of where you want this to all end. It’s like you got married, expecting the Hawaiian tropics and instead winding up in a  jungle slashing weeds and fighting for survival…later you think… well it wasn’t what I expected in my eighteen year old mind, but parts of it were beautiful, parts were harrowing, but every bit of it was worth this incredible experience. 

My wish for my own kids is that when they tie the knot, they tie it good and tight and hang on, it’s a wild ride but so worth it in the end when you look back at the highs the lows and the children you've raised and parented together. In Nov. it will be 40 years, which seems impossible. Happy Anniversary Kerry! Love you!

High Anxiety

High Anxiety


Passing by the bathroom mirror I was drawn in by the image I saw. The “me” I was looking at, was not the some one I had always known. I was pale and thin with my collar bones sticking out. My eyes were as vacant and haunted as I felt. I had not been able to eat much of anything for several weeks, six weeks actually. That alone was strange for someone who loves to eat, and finds comfort in eating. Anxiety attacks had plagued me like a victim being stalked, never knowing where or when the siege would start, or how long the terror would last.
I had been depressed since I left the hospital with my beautiful, perfect baby girl. How perfect she was added more guilt that I couldn’t enjoy the moment. I wondered how I would ever be able to pull myself together and be the mother I’d dreamed of being to her and our four year old son Brendon. Lately, I didn’t have any feelings…just flat nothingness. Nothing brought me any joy, even this new perfect baby. I’d have had no feelings at all, if not for the torturous, nervous ones that came in waves. I just wanted to get though each endless day. At the beginning of this strange new existence, I went to bed praying and hopeful that tomorrow would be a new day, a better day, and I’d be my “old” self! The longer I was sick the less I was able to believe that tomorrow would be any different than today had been. I paced the floor, woke Kerry several times a night just to tell him how miserable and frightened I was.  My Mother had been staying with us off and on for weeks trying to interest me in the baby, in food… in life for that matter. From three days after giving birth to this point I had tried four medications, which mostly only made things worse and the situation more hopeless.

In desperation one night after a horrible panic attack I agreed to enter the local hospital. My Mom and my husband both knew this was more than the baby blues some women get. Backing out of our driveway that night I couldn’t stop shaking. It was a weird sensation penetrating throughout my whole body.  I also felt like I was looking at everything through a long telescope. I wondered if I’d ever be home. I will never forget backing out of the driveway, my Mom holding my new breastfed 6 week old baby(she told me later she was pretty frightened herself hoping to get the baby to take formula and the responsibility of it), and my four year old frightened, sad son clinging to her leg. Silently I prayed, pleeeaaasssse God let me come home again, and I did six weeks later but wasn’t really well for 8 long years.

When something that traumatic happens to you it changes who you are to the core. I had actually been mad at God for a long time that my Dad was taken away from our family when I was twelve. There were a lot of things adding up to me getting to the place I was in. My Dad’s death, getting married far to young, Kerry’s anger issues and we were building a new house which was fun but stressful. I liken what happened to the rain barrel effect. The rain comes down slowly but it all adds up in the barrel and the barrel eventually overflows and once it’s overflowing it’s going to run awhile.

 I saw people far worse than I was in the hospital and still have images of the suffering people I saw there filed away in a locked file in my head. That’s why I studied Social work because I wanted to be able to say, “I’ve been where you are, I recovered and you can too”.

Over the years I got my hormones straightened out, dealt with the death of my dad, learned to stop being a people pleaser, stand up to Kerry, and I found ways to talk myself out of full blown panic. During my illness I never ever thought of harming my children but wasn’t so sure everyone around me wouldn’t be better off without me. I felt like everyone deserved better. The kids not such a distant mother, and  Kerry was working hard and I was running to the ER or a Dr every couple days. He never called me crazy or put me down and if I thought I needed to go he drove me. He visited me every single night in the hospital and some nights I begged him to check me out and let me go home with him. I still tear up at his dedication to me and appreciate him. I had these morose thoughts about  how they’d be better off without me for quite a long time. One day though, I looked at a photo of the four of us and really studied it. I pictured myself cut out of the picture, and a black hole where I was and imagined another smiling face in its place. Then I thought of my own family, of  my Dad who’d died.  Who else could be slipped in a picture he was in, and take his place?  NO ONE! I still missed him terribly and NO ONE on the planet could take his place. I knew at that moment that I would have to find a way to handle this because my kids needed me and I had to make it.

 Something like four million people give birth in the US every year. Of that number, I was one of the lucky ten percent that suffered with neurotic symptoms rather than psychotic ones. My heart bleeds for the five hundred or so, who become psychotic, hear delusional voices telling them to kill their children and commit horrible acts of violence. While the postpartum defense is part of the insanity defense in the US, it is not a defense by itself in this country. In the United States it must be entered as an insanity plea and then the defense must prove she didn’t know right from wrong at the time of the crime. They go through testing months after the crime ( and many times by then the hormones are calmed back down) to determine if they did indeed know right from wrong back at the time of the crime. Many mentally ill people do know right from wrong at times and other times don’t.

When my Mom was in the nursing home and struggling with Alzheimer’s, another puzzling brain disease, her brain worked intermittently. I always compared her brain activity to an electrical cord with a short in it. An hour ago she may not have known my name nor had any idea who I was but at this particular moment the connection flickers, the lights come on and she calls me by name and tells me to have a safe drive back to Minot like Mom always did. How long will the power stay on? I don’t know, she doesn’t know and the Dr’s don’t even know. So legally, she was insane for a time and sane for a time. That’s caused by plaque build up on the brain. Postpartum is caused by an extreme shift in hormones. Mental illness is not logical, but it’s a hard sell to the US justice system. In at least other 22 other countries including Great Britain, Italy, Canada, and Australia, if the, “balance of a women’s mind is disturbed” she would get manslaughter at the most and the sentence would be hospitalization instead of jail. I am not saying I don’t have compassion for innocent children because I do, I love kids.  I don’t have answers or think everyone should get off in these cases, I am just raising a question I don’t have answers for...only empathy.  

Ten years after Shelbey was born, I had one more baby and one miscarriage. Both times I was treated with progesterone injections and never had any depression at all with Sydney. My life was a lot calmer then too, and I’d decided God had a purpose for me and I was going to live until his purpose for me is over, scared or not!  Once I got a grip on that idea, I embraced motherhood, travel, and my relationship with God that got me through all of this. It was the worst and best thing that ever happened to me, certainly the most painful and certainly made big changes in how I viewed things.  

 If only I could have read the back of the book first back then. I’d have known while backing out of that driveway in 1979,  that the sweet baby girl in my Mothers arms that night, would grow up to be one of my best friends, and support systems. And that my frightened little boy, clinging to Grandmas leg, would be there to help me through a lot of dark days. It’s true that good things come in small packages.