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The Closet Superhero

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My entire life I’ve had extraordinarily vivid, realistic dreams.  They are almost entirely in living color.  They occur almost exclusively through my point of view; I don’t see myself in my dreams.  They are almost always cinematically perfect; dramatic cut-away shots of action taking place out of my view which I can still see and hear and understand.  They are almost always breathtaking and vibrant in their realism.  They are almost always unbelievably detailed; extraneous background sounds, smells and textures appropriate to the setting.  They are almost always ingrained in my consciousness upon waking.

Most of the dreams worthy of my morning remembrance, and there are many, almost always involve water.  Lots and lots of water.

And the ones fitting these descriptions are almost always…absolutely terrifying.

I do not drown in these dreams.  But there is a recurrent theme, or thread, running through all of them.  I end up in some sort of building; a warehouse, a house, a shed, an apartment building, a barn…which eventually becomes submerged in hundreds if not thousands of feet of water.  Water rarely enters these buildings save for the leaking which comes through the closed windows and doors.  There is air for me to breathe.  Life is normal inside these buildings.  But only inside.

I’ve had this same type of dream for at least twenty years, a couple of times a year, roughly six months apart.  They are definitely cyclical.  Cyclical to what, I’m not sure.

The last water dream I had was about five months ago.  It went as follows:

It was a summer night, early evening, in Chicago.  I had been to the beach and was walking home.  While I am usually the only person in my dreams, I don’t always feel alone…I know there are other people around I simply cannot see them, but I can usually hear them.  I could hear children laughing and playing in the streets.  It was hot, and I was sweating.  I was very anxious to get home.  I could smell popcorn nearby and realized I was very hungry.  I was wearing flip-flops and my feet ached.  I had a beach towel around my neck and was carrying a bag with a book inside.  I was walking toward the apartment on North Broadway I used to live in alone, at a time when that area was probably not considered the safest place for a woman to live in alone.

A few blocks from home I looked West and noticed huge, billowing, undulating black clouds forming and rolling Eastward.  The wind became strong enough for me to have to brace myself against light posts and buildings to avoid falling down.  I stopped in an inset doorway of a little shop and looked South, and noticed the same types of ominous clouds rolling in from the South meeting up with the clouds from the West where they converged over my head…then the same from the North, and the East.  I was one block from my apartment.  I heard no other people at this point, and there was no sound at all coming from the hurricane force winds.  Complete silence except for my heavy breathing.

I reached the double doors to my building and walked up to the 5th floor.  It was indeed my apartment in every way that I remember it in real life, except in real life that apartment was on the 1st floor, not the 5th.  I put my things down and stood in the dim light trying to catch my breath.  There was no sound anywhere save for my breathing.  I went to the stove and turned on the kettle to make tea.  I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and tried to make sense of the weather outside.  I couldn’t.

I went to the window facing South, and there it was far off in the distance…the wall of water, a hundred feet high.

I began hyperventilating.  I opened the window and now there was no wind, not even a breeze.  Roiling clouds overhead.  Utter silence.  But it was coming.  The black wall of water was moving toward me slowly and steadily, swallowing and making invisible everything in its path.

I started screaming to warn people of its approach, but there were no people to warn.

I was alone.  When I looked again at the street below cars were askew all over as if left there in a mass exodus.  I then realized that everyone knew of its approach but me and had gone to a safe place.

I somehow knew it was futile to try to leave.  So I got a teabag out of the cabinet and put it in my mug and poured the not quite hot enough water into it.  I started humming The Beatles’ “Michelle” under my breath.  And I kept walking to the window to see how close the wall was getting.

Within minutes it was across the street.  I could see it engulf the Walgreen’s, the video store, the bus stop.  It was relentless.

I closed the window and backed up facing it until I was against the living room wall.  Twenty feet, ten feet, five…….and then it slowly pressed up against the glass.  I could see into the rippling blackness which was held at bay only by some thin panes of glass, some wooden doors and some bricks and mortar.  I turned my head to the left and watched it lumber past another window, and then another until the dim sunlight was completely extinguished.  The electricity was still on.  Life was normal inside.

I moved in slow motion toward the kitchen again and stared at the bottom of the back door leading to the porch.  And I stared, and stared, until finally trickles of water started seeping in.  Then the same from one window, and another.  The windows and doors never broke or burst open, they simply…leaked.  A gentle, monotonous reminder of what existed outside.

And then I woke up.

What is happening to me now physically as I write this, is a controlled panic.  I’m breathing fast, my heart is racing, my head is pounding and my legs are shaking ever so subtly.  I’m trying to make myself calm.  It is difficult to write this out as I have.

I have analyzed these dreams at great length.  I believe their meaning goes beyond any simplistic Freudian explanation of repressed sexuality, or extreme stress literally burying me in over my head.

Nope, I’ve come to realize that about every six months or so I quite simply need the shit scared out of me.  Fear is a very real and true motivating force in my life.  I have worked extremely hard at controlling and containing fear since I was young.  I abhor being fearful.  I feel that strength and courage are two of the most admirable attributes of personal character.  And fear is an all-encompassing hindrance to attaining those qualities I so admire.

For me, I truly believe that my subconscious tests me in this way.  I’m one of those people who wonders often:  Would I run into the burning building to save a child while others run away?  Would I stand up to an attacker in defense of my own life or the life of someone I love or care about?  Would I do it for a stranger?  Would I think about it?  Or would it simply be an instinct one way or another?  I like to think I could truly be brave, put fear aside, take action at the risk of my own peril to help myself or anyone else.  I want to be that person.

I want to be strong, and brave, with a disregard for fear.  I want to make brave and strong and bold choices in my life which ultimately have a positive impact on myself and those around me.  I don’t want to be reckless.  I want courage.  Courage of conviction and personal truth.  These are character strengths I strive for and goals I have tried to reach since I was a teenager.  I’ve had only moderate success with these things, but I’m trying.

One of my favorite movies is “Defending Your Life” with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep.  It’s kind of a hokey comedy about some people who die and discover that you don’t go straight to Heaven or Hell, but instead to a type of courthouse where you have to prove to a panel of judges that you lived your life without fear to the best of your ability.  A prosecutor awaits to show you examples of how you instead let fear run your life.  Hence, you must defend it.  If you can prove you made at least continual efforts at true courage in all aspects of your life – even if unsuccessful – whether it was to run into a burning building to save someone or took a calculated risk in the stock market in an effort to better your future or stood up to the playground bully…you move on.  If you can’t prove you lived your life without fear and with courage, you go back and start all over until you get it right.  If you have to go back too many times, eh…you get thrown out as unworthy of progressing to the next phase of existence.

The message of that hokey little movie struck a chord with me years ago and stays with me.

And I think that’s what these dreams are about.

For years I’d wake up from these dreams with dread, in a cold, dripping sweat…crying and gasping for air.  I’d have to turn on every light within reach, rinse my face, and it could take an hour or more to convince myself it wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening, so strong was their impact. Now, I wake up from them still breathing hard, but no sweat, no lights on, no water in the face.  In a matter of seconds I know it’s not real.

In the past, within the dreams themselves, I’d scream and try in vain to run, begging for someone to save me.  Crying for help.  Desperate.  Terrorized.  Unable to react in any way other than a primal version of myself. Now, I still breathe hard, my heart pounds, I feel clausterphobic…but I at least try to warn other people. I make tea, albeit not very hot tea.  I now watch in controlled, panicked silence instead of unchecked, mindless hysteria as the wall approaches.  I now make a concerted effort to be brave.

I don’t know.  That’s how I choose to interpret these dreams.  I suppose they could occur due to simple hormone fluctuations, the time of year, what I’ve seen on the news, sexual repression, the sometimes overwhelming nature of day-to-day life.  I suppose.  But I doubt it.

I think my subconscious self is wayyyyy more intelligent than my conscious self.  And I think oh, twice a year or so I put myself to a “test”.  Yes, that’s what I choose to believe.  And I’m passing with higher and higher marks the older I get.  At this pace I should be ready to prove my inner bravery to myself when I turn 80.  And that’s okay.  So long as I get there.

I’m due for one of these dreams pretty soon, within the next couple of months most likely if history continues to repeat itself.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  If this time I sit on the couch reading Cosmo and sipping a glass of Pinot Noir as the wall of water encases the world around me, I just might buy the cape.  Not the full body-hugging jump suit with the “C” for courage on the chest or the black, knee-high patent leather high-heeled boots or the mask or anything.

…it’s a deep, rich and blue satin.  It’s pretty and shiny.

I really want that cape.

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The Mother of All Panic Buttons

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I have now raised three sons past the age of three years old.  Boogs is 6 1/2.  Bubs is 4 1/2.  Boo is 3 1/2.  Sometimes it smacks me in the head like a swatter hitting a fly: “Who in the HELL thought I was adult enough, know enough, am responsible enough….to have three children COMPLETELY DEPENDENT ON ME?!?!”

Yeah, see?  Sometimes it still freaks me out.

A friend once asked me how I do it – three boys so close in age, so young.

My response was: “Some days, if they’re just…alive, and relatively healthy by the end of the day, that day was a success.”

It is HARD being a parent.  Good God Almighty.  It just is.  And to be a good parent…a great one?  Well, I’m not there, but I certainly give it everything I have.  I suppose the magnitude of my kids’ adult neuroses will be the gauge on that meter.

My wonderful boys are…hmmmm.  Energetic.  Very.  They are wonderfully and often, stupifyingly, exuberant.  They’re kids.  Beautiful, crazy, life-loving kids.  I am only recently feeling confident enough in myself to take all three of them together, out anywhere in the world…let’s say grocery shopping, and feeling like I can handle it without at least two of them ensconced in the cart.  When the two youngest would be put in the cart they were excited…they thought it was awesome and the most fun ever!  Me?  I saw a safe little cage on wheels.

All three of them are far too big for carts now.  Now they must be allowed to walk free.  Free-range children.  Oh boy.

Planning a simple grocery shopping trip with them takes years of pre-planning, statistical pie-charting and the mapping out of contingency scenarios.  It requires a thorough knowledge of the store to be patronized and the death-defying route from the parking space to the store entrance.  It requires stern but not menacing discussions about stranger-danger and what to do if they get separated from me.  It requires no sauntering or meandering once inside, but does require a precise list of the goods needed in the precise order in which I will find them in the store.

Listen, I understand that I might seem a little high strung about this…but it’s new to me so give me a break.  I also understand that many mothers just pack their three to six+ kids in the car, zip off to the store and wing it.  Yeah yeah yeah…bravo for them.  I don’t know who those women are, and I don’t want to.  Anyone that brave and put-together is not welcome in my inner-circle…what with their carefree attitudes and zero-stress levels and all.  Don’t let the very-slowly-closing automatic grocery store door gently bump you in the ass on the way out, I say.  I digress.

So six years ago I mapped out my recent grocery shopping trip with the boys, really the first with three completely free-range children.  The day was upon us.  I felt good.  I felt prepared.

Navigation of the parking lot went well…blood pressure was within normal ranges.  Walking through the automatic doors went well…no head injuries.  Explanation regarding why they can no longer sit in the “awesome” cart went fairly well…no sit-down-on-the-floor tantrums.  Directive to never leave my general view went well…”Okay, Mommy”s heard all around.

“Well, hell”, I thought, “All of my hard work has paid off.”  I squeezed my own shoulder with pride.

I was cocky.  Oh yes.

Produce was the first department.  Fruit went fine.  Twenty feet past fruit are vegetables.  Did my head count, all accounted for and within easy sight.  They didn’t need to be glued to me, simply within my vision.   They were laughing at potatoes.  I don’t know…don’t ask me.

I turned around to fill a bag with green beans.  I don’t know why they don’t have a bean-catcher at the bottom of the Giza pyramid- sized mountain of beans.  It’s like some sort of Candid Camera situation when you try to take a handful and 25,000 beans cascade to the ground.

“Son of a bitch…argggghhhh”…under my breath as I bent down to at least move them out of the middle of the floor.  Being an HR Director I’m pretty aware of the hassles of Workers’ Comp claims.

It probably only took about 20 seconds to bend over and push the beans underneath the shelf.  I stood up and realized I heard no potato taunting.  Like one of those prairie gophers I stood up on my toes and scanned the horizon.  I could see the two oldest boys whose heads bobbed above the displays, over by the deli.  I assumed Boo, the youngest, was with them.

“Come over here please!”  I whisper-yelled.

They did.  But there was no three-year old Boo.

“Where’s Boo?!”  I asked my oldest.

“I dunno.  He went over there.” He said passively and pointed toward the entrance.

My heart stopped.  I grabbed their hands and left my cart with my purse open, wallet sitting inside invitingly.

I dragged them behind me as I weaved in and around the multiple displays and shelves in circles making my way toward the entrance.  And now I was not whisper-yelling, I was yelling… “Boo!  Boo…where are you?!  Come here now please!”

Nothing.

And here is what went through my mind, in no particular order:

  • He was close enough to the door that someone walked out with him easily, lured with candy.
  • How charming and funny he is.
  • He was being harmed or killed in a van in the parking lot.
  • His funeral.
  • His beautiful laugh.
  • I bet it was that shifty-looking man in his mid-fifties who looked out-of-place when we walked in.
  • What was the shifty man wearing?
  • What was Boo wearing?
  • The State taking away my other two children due to my extreme negligence.
  • How would I keep the other two kids safe while I beat to death the person who was trying to shove my son in a van in the parking lot?
  • How my remaining children would forever grieve the loss of their mother because I would be sitting catatonic in an institution or prison for the rest of my life.
  • His big, gorgeous eyes.
  • Quelling the scream which welled up in my throat.
  • His pleading for me to save him.
  • How much I loved him.

By the time these thoughts had run through my head at the speed of light, I saw the colorful, tethered and slightly bouncing helium balloons in the floral area near the store entrance.  I don’t even really remember how I got there.  The two boys locked in my grip were whining.

I walked around the back-end of the floral counter, and there he was.

I stopped and just stared at him.

“Balloons Mommy!”  he exclaimed.

I let go of the other two kids’ arms which now owned my hand prints emblazoned in red.  They ran to the balloons too.

I leaned my arm against the counter and just kind of…shook.  Tears welled up in my eyes but did not fall.  I felt light-headed.  I felt stupid for losing sight of him and guilty for everything that just went through my head.  I felt incompetent and as if I had no control.  I felt the head-rush of immeasurable relief and thankfulness.

I picked him up and he was annoyed.  He squirmed to get down.  I obliged, knelt down to his eye-level and turned his head toward me and said “Never, ever, EVER walk away so that Mommy can’t see you.  Do you UNDERSTAND?”

“Yeah!” he yelled and went back to the balloons.

I pulled myself together and now I was pissed.  At myself of course.  But to them I was just angry-for-no-reason-Mommy.

I picked up both of the youngest boys and squeezed them into the basket of the cart.  At first they were thrilled, and then complained there wasn’t enough room as they kicked each other.  “Too bad!”  I snapped.  My oldest ran alongside of me as I grabbed what little I could fit into the tiny front of the cart and we got in line, checked out, got in the car and went home.

Six years of pre-planning and pie-charting…for nothing.

I couldn’t see or hear my son for what was approximately one minute.  One. Damn. Minute.  In that time my life and his flashed before my eyes.  It was one minute of sheer, unadulterated panic.

Overblown?  Perhaps.  Over-thinking?  Perhaps.  Overreacting?  Never.

What must it take for a woman, a mother, to live through 31 days of not knowing where her child is?  What must it take for a mother to not only live, but to live it up, during those 31 days?  What must it take for a mother to ignore the screaming panic in her head and heart if she believes her child to be missing, somewhere in the world with God only knows who?  What must it take for a mother to ignore the screaming grief in her heart if she knew her child was already dead, by a tragic accident or not?

Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murder.  Not guilty of manslaughter. Only guilty of misleading law enforcement officers with her countless lies about what happened and when during those 31 days.  I did not watch the entire trial, only the synopsis here and there on the news every night.

I’ve been on a jury.  Not a murder trial, but a simple personal injury trial with only some banged up cars and a slight injury settlement at stake, and I can tell you that all twelve of us jurors took that job very, very seriously.  I have no doubt that the twelve ordinary people chosen as jurors in the Casey Anthony trial took their jobs seriously to the Nth degree.  They had reasonable doubt that Casey actually murdered her own daughter.  I believe they did what they had to do despite what seemed like a very circumstantially damning case for her.  I believe the State couldn’t prove she murdered her daughter Caylee.  And the jury couldn’t convict.  I accept that, regardless of what my personal opinion is.

But….oh, the “but”….she was found “not guilty” on the count of “Aggravated Child Abuse”.  How is that possible??  Casey Anthony never reported her own daughter missing, she allowed her mother to do that.  How can you not report your child missing for over one month…one month…and not be considered a child abuser?  Yes, I know…someone will tell me it’s the wording of the law, the charge should have been more suited to the circumstances. Blahblahblah. Bullshit.  I don’t want to hear any of that.

Casey Anthony is the worst kind of child abuser; the kind who truly doesn’t think she is, that her inaction was justified in some warped and twisted way.  The kind who is devoid enough of even the basest of human emotions…grief and guilt…that it allowed her to completely erase her own daughter from existence.  Whether she knew Caylee was dead through murder or tragic accident or believed she was alive but missing during those 31 days is irrelevant.  In any of those scenarios, Casey Anthony is a pathetic excuse for a human being and an aggravated abuser of her nearly three-year old daughter…at the very, very fucking least.

She abused her daughter’s chances for survival if she was indeed missing and alive.  She abused her daughter’s right to be found dead, murdered or not, in a timely manner so that enough evidence could be gathered and justice and/or closure could prevail. And she abused her daughter’s very existence…extinguished it…if she knew her to be dead through a tragic accident and disposed of her tiny body in a garbage bag.

I don’t know a single mother, not one, who hasn’t had their own version of my grocery store incident with one of their children;  experiencing soul-screeching panic at not knowing where their child is for thirty seconds, one minute, five minutes…let alone for 31 days.

There is no excuse for Casey Anthony:  Not fear of the law.  Not fear of punishment.  Not fear of acceptance of her daughter’s fate.  Not trauma for alleged abuses by her own father twenty years ago.  Not insanity.  Nothing.

She abused everything human about her daughter; abused her dignity, her life and her death for over one month by not reporting her “missing”.

The jury was wrong.  They should have convicted her of aggravated child abuse…even if the letter of the law didn’t strictly apply in that they couldn’t prove some sort of physical or mental abuse.  They should have convicted her of that at least because it’s the truth.  And Casey Anthony’s complete callousness and flagrant living as if life was wonderful and unchanged…proved it beyond a reasonable doubt.

I convicted myself within one minute at that grocery store.  I’m willing to bet a lot that I’m no different or better a human being than any of those twelve jurors.  So I want to know how they came to the conclusion that she didn’t abuse her beautiful, little girl.  The whole world wants to know.

Maybe those jurors and the entire defense team ought to be made to take a small child they love and care for to the grocery store, and lose them for a minute…or two, and multiply the panic they feel at that perceived loss by a billion. Or 31 days.

Then I want them to tell me that Casey Anthony didn’t abuse her daughter.

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