rising

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I worked all day on writing and organizing chapters. I finished one entirely that was kind of a breath of fresh air, as it was more about the rising out of the mire, than the quicksand of Cindy’s murder, the investigation and trial.

I treated myself in the evening to a dinner at a restaurant not too far away called Mkt. One of the ladies at the flower class had recommended t, and boy was she right. I had just a wonderful time there.

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snapped a couple of pics of myself before I went out to document my attempt at using the curling iron on my new haircut–I look so relaxed, and was–my skin is also really improving with the fasting lifestyle–can you believe I turn 60 in two weeks?

I’ve done quite a bit of solo travel and one thing I’ve learned that works really well for me is to eat at the bar. Whether it’s a sushi bar or in this case “chef’s table” which was a five seater bar overlooking the cooking and prep area. It makes you feel part of things sitting there.

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I had a gorgeous glass of Sangiovese and these incredible grilled green beans with lemon, then their ahi crudo and my third course was a burratta salad. I topped it off with a lime coconut sorbet with shortbread cookies for dessert. I did indulge and had the stomach ache later to prove it, but it was worth it. I just can’t eat as much as I used to now that I started Intermittent Fasting…dammit.

On the way home, these two bugs were mating on my windshield, literally the entire drive home, including on the freeway. They were serious about it.

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Been writing off and on all day. I also planned my next trip to come back in three weeks. Long story, but she got a cancellation, I needed to spend some money on the airline before the year was out and I’m riding a wave of momentum right now. Plus I need to get some more documents that are packed up in our garage at the moment.

Today was one of those days that I had my jammies on at 3pm. I was sitting on my perch–the fold out sofa in the studio–and there was a knock on the door.

My sweet husband sent me a gorgeous dozen roses to enjoy for my last days here. He’s so sweet and thoughtful.

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Well, here is a snippet of a chapter on Michael Apelt’s sentencing that I worked on some today. Still pretty raw, but it’s on paper.

Topped off with my two views–to my front and to my left. I’m sure you can see why I have such a hard time staying away from this paradise.

I sat with my family and Janine in our regular spots–the second row on the right side behind the prosecution.  There were more press in the gallery that day than on other days. The Death Penalty tends to draw that.

I had a perfect view of Michael as they brought him in, clad in the jail’s orange jumpsuit, socks with plastic sandals and shackles–both wrist and ankle—with chains.  It was the first time I had seen him like that, ever.  In the trial, he was always restrained beneath his casual slacks.

I watched him, knowing this was likely the last time I would ever lay eyes on Michael Apelt.  I witnessed him awkwardly sit down.  I watched his always-present interpreter hand him the headphones he wore daily in court.  I saw him pick them up with his manacled hands, clanging, and restrained together at the wrist.

What happened next, is one of those moments you will never quite catch the essence of, in either telling it, much less writing it.  It was a miracle of sorts that occurred in my heart that day.

It was as if the environment around Michael Apelt both paused and went black and white, like a scene you’d see in a movie. He became like some sort of spotlighted hologram, and he was the only thing moving in the room, but in slow motion. The air around me shifted to a stillness the courtroom had never held before. It was as if I could hear his every move, amplified in my mind.

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abundance

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It’s Monday and I’m up early and getting to it! I just have four more writing days while here in Edmonds, so I’m going to make the best of them. I had a little fun last week and over the weekend, so time to buckle down. I read through almost all of my chapters yesterday, editing and making notes and I like how things are coming along. I just have a very few chapters left to write, and I’ll complete one of those today.

Not gonna lie, I’m already dreaming about my next trip here. I just love it so much.

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So to follow up with where I left off last time–the fantastic flower class I got in off the waiting list!

I always do my research, or at least as much as I can, before venturing solo in to a new neighborhood to see what I might not want to miss.  The London Plane is in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle which is kind of between the train station and the happenin area of Pike Market. There are new places popping up around there, so I decided to go early to check out a local happy hour, have dinner and plenty of time to find parking.

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Well, had no idea the traffic going IN to the city on a Thursday afternoon would be so brutal. It took me over an hour to get there and another 20 min or so of roaming looking for parking, so the happy hour I’d planned at a place I’d scoped called Good Bar was out. I squeaked in just in time for the class.

It was amazing. First there was a bar of really nice snacks, which was nice because I had been fasting all day (I’m doing Intermittent Fasting now). They had three selections of wine and delicious cheeseboard type of nibbles.

There were buckets and buckets of flowers, branches, berries, fruits etc. all around the tables that were preset with artisan vases and clippers (that we got to keep!) at each spot.  I switched out the vase at my spot for a white and blue striped pottery vase.

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The women hosting the event were both the owner of The London Plane and a local floral artist. I gleaned so much from just listening to them and watching. The LP is a unique concept which houses a flower shop/wine bar/coffee shop/pastry shop/cafe/boutique with handmade items for sale. It’s like everything I love under one really open and charming roof. I loved it and would totally hang out there if I lived in the area.

We got some intros to the flowers and their backgrounds, while the Jeni the floral artist created an arrangement as a demo.

They then basically set us free to choose what we wanted of probably 50 different varieties of the above options and we all spread out and went to town. I dumped my entire arrangement about half way through and started over…arrgh. I’m still very much in a learning curve. By the end, I was really happy with what I made. They also gave us boxes filled with tissue to easily cart them home (great idea). I learned very much about the direction of my new business and where I want to take it (and myself) in the coming year.

 

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I am really interested in developing my skills as an artist and have decided to break out my easel (well get a new one as mine was lost in the flood) and get to painting again.

Oh! Almost forgot. Pat, my host here, had told me that day that she was planning on taking out her dying fig tree the next morning, asking me to park my car elsewhere to make space for that project. Well….I got a wild hair. I asked the London Plane owner if they might like the dozens of green figs/ branches/ leaves that would be coming off and discarded and she said yes! She offered Pat a $50 gift certificate for her fig remnants which was perfect as I really wanted Pat to get down there to check out the place–it’s totally her, as well.

So the next morning, I pruned that tree to an inch of its life and stuffed my car with figs and branches and toted them back down to the shop. It was a great caper, got me outside and a little bit of gardening as I miss my own garden so much!

 

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After the class, I walked with my arrangement back to my car, kind of hungry still so thought about where I might grab a bite back in Edmonds. The neighborhood felt very different at night, so not a place I’d venture out on my own. As I sat in my car, checking my phone for directions, I glanced up and right across the street, just steps from my car was something that looked familiar. It was the exact type of font as the Good Bar lounge I had been researching earlier and lo and behold there it was! Literally in front of my face!

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Well, that was a no brainer. Popped right back out of the car and walked across the narrow street and right in to this very cool spot in an old bank. The vault is still there even!

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I ordered myself a cocktail and perused the menu. I had read one review where the man said he rarely would go to a swanky bar like that, but the sloppy joe was so beyond, he kept going back just for that. So, that’s what I got.

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I was looking around with this goofy smile on my face, which caught the attention of the owner across the room and she mouthed “do you need anything?”. I motioned her over because I wanted to share with her good fortune in finding her place.

Well, we ended up talking and talking as she joined me multiple times as I enjoyed my cocktail, a “not cocktail” later as I was driving, my sloppy joe and then she comp’d me this delicious “Swiss Miss” ice cream that tasted just like hot chocolate, but frozen. Complete with mini marshmallows! Thank you Nancy!

 

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I’ve found that when I travel alone, I often feel less alone because I’m more approachable and meet more people. Always sit at the bar is my motto.

I’ll end this with a snippet that I edited yesterday. Coming in to the home stretch. Once I get home, I’ll spend time getting back with the agents who expressed interest and likely reach out to new ones. True crime is at a high now, so I think my options are much better than even when I started this four years ago.

Back to writing!

It was all very robotic and infused with denial. I just kept reinforcing the story in my head—that Cindy had gotten a call from Mark, that he was in the parking lot of her apartment, threatening to come to the door, so she ran out to head him off at the pass. He was the “angry man” Michael was referring to. The only person she would run off like that to. Then the two of them went somewhere and were holed up in a hotel or something. This was the only story I could allow myself and I was holding on to it for dear life.

Meanwhile, the Mesa police were making the off-policy decision to forego their policy of waiting twenty-four hours to declare Cindy an official missing person. Maybe it was the fact it was Christmas Eve, maybe it was the life insurance I mentioned, or Michael’s strange drunken story that didn’t make sense. But the police declared Cindy officially missing by 6:00 that morning, just three hours after they had been contacted. And they sent a report to the media. The people of Phoenix were waking up on Christmas Eve morning to my sister’s face on their screens, declared “missing”.

With my permission, my friend Debbie had a key to my house and let the police in. They retrieved the note I left and Cindy’s airplane ticket.

Then they went looking for Mark Maurer.

 

 

 

I’m back!

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Good Lord! It’s been over a year since I’ve posted here. <<spanking myself>>

I have posted a bit over on the other blog Two Innocents.

In case you missed it, Cindy’s case was featured on Investigation Discovery’s new show True Conviction. John and I were flown back to AZ (from PA where I mostly live now, or at least trying to) for the taping. It was quite an experience — not only the being picked up by a fancy car service, etc. part– but mostly it was the unexpected healing that came with it. I was so glad they allowed John to come with me, as I really needed him on so many levels. We hit the ground running, and rushed up to Sedona to retrieve photos and documents for them, before being interviewed the next day.

If you have a provider that has ID, you can watch the show via this link.

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There were also some videos of it available online, if you want to search “True Conviction Deception in the Desert”, you might find one.

The producers wanted all kinds of photos and documents and anything else that I had, which required me to dig through all of that stuff, when all I’ve been looking at for the last 3 years, have been police reports and trial records. Believe it or not, those things were emotionally easier for me to view than the photos, letters and a cassette tape I uncovered that Cindy and I passed between us, before the days of cell phones and internet, when she lived in Minnesota. Sigh…

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I had that tape copied to CD, so I can listen more easily. Chitchat between us, talking about boys we were dating, how much we missed each other, etc. Just hearing her voice again…well, you can imagine. All of the feelings.

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The act of being sort of forced to excavate those things, also forced me past some of my blocks in remembering good times with Cindy. That’s always been the hardest part. I know that sounds macabre in a way, but the deepest pain, for me, has always been remembering the great memories. It just led me down a dark rabbit hole to remember what I’ve lost–never to be again. It has been very, very hard for me and kind of a secret I’ve held. When people say things like “at least you have so many fond memories”, it’s like a dagger in my solar plexus.

Confronting that, through participating in that show, helped clear some of those brick walls of resistance out for me and connected me back to Cindy in a positive way. Yes, it has taken nearly three decades. Grieving has no timeline.

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It was also really wonderful to reconnect with our amazing prosecutor Cathy Hughes and some of the detectives involved, who never knew what became of me. It was so great to see them from a place of happiness in my life. There were so many tears and hugs all around. The producers and host Anna Sigga Niccolazzi treated us all (including Cindy) with such tenderness and respect. It was overall a very positive experience and I’m glad her story got to be told in this way.

I had some revelations, that perhaps I will write about later once I’ve let them gel inside me a little more. They will certainly land in the book somehow.

 

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Speaking of the book, once I was contacted out of the clear blue about this show, I realized it was a sign that I needed to finish the book. There is attention now around Cindy’s case and I need to finish telling it.

Also, around the same time, my dear friends in Edmonds asked if I would house-sit again for them. What an opportunity! You may (or may not) recall, that I have taken two fairly lengthy sabbaticals and have done about 99% of my writing there. I’ve rented their wonderful studio, overlooking the Puget Sound and read, literally, every document I have related to the case–from police interviews to testimony from both trials–and written about 2/3 of the book. I’m at the “Book Proposal” stage now, and over half way through crafting that lengthy document.

 

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So, in about two weeks, John and I will be flying to Seattle together, where he will stay with me in their gorgeous three story house (I call it a mansion because it is to me). He will leave after 5 days, then I will hunker down and finish the proposal, send it out (I have two agents interested in me, maybe more now because of the show) and see what happens. It’s time.

 

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I can’t wait to get to my creative haven again. I’m also glad to have that opportunity, because I also realized that it’s not easy to think about bringing the book in to my peaceful, spa-like home here in Pennsylvania. Did I mention we recently got a hot tub? Heaven soaking out in the snow-filled cold air. I’m really loving this life that I never expected to fall in to in mid-life. It is really, really wonderful and I am so grateful.

 

 

Well, these are my updates for now. Stay tuned. Very shortly I’ll be posting more snippets and book stuff. I’d really like to get this thing completed this year.

Thank you, as always, for coming along for the ride!

 

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sociopathic cross

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Good morning from Edmonds. It’s a beautiful drizzly day here today. Most people don’t understand why anyone would love a rainy day, people from the Northwest anyway. In Arizona we have sunshine most days of the year. We crave clouds and precipitation. I’d be ok with it if it rained here most days this month. It also keeps me cozy inside and helps motivate me to work.

I hit the ground running last year but this time it’s different. I’m a little resistant and sluggish. So I decided to work at my pace and by that I mean get something accomplished each day but it doesn’t always have to be writing. I’ve got lots of reading and researching yet to do.

Yesterday afternoon, I made it through the entire cross examination of Michael Apelt by the brilliant Cathy Hughes. I wish I could put the entire 128 pages in my book, it’s that stunning to read in terms of her skill as a cross examiner. I recently had lunch with Cathy and she said that was really what she felt was her greatest skill as an attorney. I’d agree.

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It’s hard to pin down a sociopath. They will be slipperier than you could ever imagine or foresee. You kind of catch them more in hindsight and distance with some reflection. That was certainly clear with Cindy. He had her in his sights from Day One (as well as numerous other women) so he started the gaming then. She was questioning things but privately in her diary. With him, she was like a little wooden marionette and he was pulling the strings. I remember feeling scared and annoyed at the time when I saw her act like that. I had absolutely no idea what she, or we, were dealing with. Now when I see that kind of glazed over behavior with someone who is in a new relationship–not the in love glaze–the sort of masked affect and tension beneath the surface trying not to be seen kind of glaze, I feel very triggered. I want to yank them as far away from that person as possible.

The truth is though, there are all kinds of personality disordered people out there–from Narcissists to full blow Sociopaths–and the vast majority are not plotting to kill anyone. Many are just playing in the power fields and enjoying the games of manipulation. When something this drastic has happened in your life, one of many legacies left is a state of over reaction to this kind of behavior. Try dating in that kind of swamp. It was pure Hell.

Ok, back to the cross examination. I wore out a highlighter yesterday marking lines. I will share now one of many many exchanges between Cathy Hughes and Michael Apelt that are just mind blowing. It reminds me so much of Jodi Arias on the stand squirming and wiggling under the direct laser of Juan Martinez. Now Cathy’s style is much softer and less aggressive. Imagine as you read this, a very feminine woman with a pleasant face and smile, wearing my sister’s earrings, gradually gaining speed in her cadence but not raising her voice much as she nails this killer to his own cross.

This particular passage has to do with the alibi he’d established at a restaurant/bar (the one where he met Cindy)–going there for Happy Hour and tipping $7 on a $3 beer to be remembered, slipping out to kill Cindy, then returning and “waiting for her” to show up then finally enjoying a post kill celebratory dinner with his killing companions using her credit card.This is about the various stories he told about what he did during the time he thought she was “missing” (7ish to 10pm) and how his behavior didn’t quite line up along with stories he told from jail to another woman he was still manipulating. Sociopaths never get normal human behavior quite right so there is often a lot of cleanup and explanation making on the other end. We saw this for 18 days with Jodi Arias on the stand, this exact cut-from-the-same-sociopathic-cloth style of excuse making.

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Q:  For three Hours you were in there, in Bobby McGees?

A:  I don’t know about the time. All I know is that I called at 10:00 because I didn’t know what was going on. Cindy hadn’t come.

Q: And you left a message on the machine?

A:  No. I hate messages on the answering machine.

Q:  You have had several conversations with Kea Amara since you have been in the jail isn’t that true Mr. Apelt?

A: That is true.

Q:  And you told her on more than one occasion that you left a message on the machine, isn’t that true?

A:  Sometimes I don’t understand Kea on the telephone and sometimes I may give wrong answers when I talk to her.

Q:  Didn’t you tell her that you left a message and you said, “Wife, wife are you there? Pick up, pick up.”?

A:  Sometimes when I talk to her it was people who are so loud in the background that sometimes I gave her wrong answers when I talked to her.

Q: Did you say that or not Mr. Apelt?

A:  I cannot remember.

Q:  You know that the conversations are tape recorded don’t you Mr. Apelt?

A: That is true. I had learned that later.

Q: And you have copies of those tapes, don’t you?

A: That is true.

Q:  And you have read them,have you not?

A:  Yes.

Q: And isn’t it on the transcript that that is what you told her?

A: That is true, but as I already said, there were several conversations where I didn’t understand because on the telephone it’s very difficult for me to maintain and English conversation.

Q: But you did tell her that, didn’t you Mr. Apelt?

A: Yes, I agree.

He used this “I don’t understand English well” excuse over and over, both in his manipulations of Cindy and during the investigation/trial. Yet in another cross examination, using a German interpreter, (which he requested) he answers quickly and accurately in English admitting he has a hard time responding in German now as it’s become his second language. Just after claiming he doesn’t understand English very well. It’s mind numbing the loopdeloo’s they take people on. If it’s not recorded in real time you can see how one would question if they just didn’t hear what they said correctly. This is the sociopaths’ greatest weapon–disarming honest people with their ability to reconstruct reality moment by moment–usually playing victim at the same time demanding their prey take responsibility. This is exactly what we saw between Travis Alexander and Jodi Arias.

This dynamic is all over Cindy’s journal and in conversations she had with me. By that time she was a bug caught in his web and any way she tried to free herself got her stuck even deeper. And her one secret weapon she couldn’t access at the time was her own screaming intuition that knew something was wrong. Which he wiped out with his huge bear claw of words each and every time. Pretty astounding for someone who claimed they didn’t have good command of the English language.

And my sister was smart. Not all his women were, like Kea Amara, but my sister was.

She was smart but vulnerable and one open crack is all they need to slip through.

 

 

beginning again

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Today is my first day since arriving in Edmonds of really beginning this book project. My husband graciously drove me here from Arizona (yes he did 100% of the driving as I relaxed co-piloted) and with one fun overnight in Portland for a Portlandia style Valentine’s Day, we basically high-tailed it up here. Gorgeous scenery by the way through Utah and Idaho–States I’d not visited before except SLC briefly as a child. My thoughtful husband even had roses delivered to our table at the restaurant unbeknownst to me–actually I didn’t even realize he knew the name of the restaurant as I’d made the reservations. A fun tapas place showcased on the crazy show Portlandia.

We rested a day and a half here in Edmonds going to see The Revenant (!!!) and eating Oprah’s favorite fried chicken, then John left yesterday to fly back to PA and for me to begin this writing journey again.

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I’m here for 4 solid weeks this time so can work at a more organized and leisurely pace as I truly feel confident I can complete the major parts of writing this book now. Editing will come later but the vast materials I am sifting through and the organizing/writing part will be doable. I’m also working with a writing coach/editor this time and will be sending out some proposals. Wish me luck.

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With the luxury of more time, I decided to start with reading Juan Martinez’ book about convicting Jodi Arias. As I sat in that courtroom nearly every day with the family, this case is near and dear to my heart. I’ll ease in to the horror of our own case through his story telling of that one. Ironically his book was released the day I arrived here so I had it sent to me in WA. Per my plan I woke up before the crack of dawn this morning and began reading by the dim light of my cozy studio.

The sociopathy of Jodi Arias is so astounding and mind boggling as I read it described again through Martinez’ words. Her initial interview, which I’d watched on video many times, still blows me away. “Seamless” is such a perfect word he chooses to describe her velvety style of moving from story to story manipulated to defend herself while showing absolutely zero sign of anxiety. THAT my friends is a hallmark of sociopathy. And, I believe, evil manifested in this world. No shame, no remorse, no guilt, no fear.

I was also struck by the things Arias was interested in during the initial interviews. She desperately wanted to see crime scene photos and to know how Travis’ family was doing.

I believe Arias is far more dangerous than most killers including the Apelts for one reason: she took pleasure in the killing of Travis and by proxy the pain she inflicted on his family. She was demonstrating that from day one. I think she got a taste for that power and pleasure in killing and was setting off at her arrest toward her next victim with her newly purchased gun and two knives. I believe she was a budding serial killer aborted by her arrest. I just wonder who she was headed for next and also wonder if Martinez has speculated on that. Who do you think she was headed for with her concealed weapons when she was arrested?

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yes those are the roses my husband had sent to our table

I’m about a third of the way through the book and may make more notes as I go along. The sun came up and I needed a break. It’s very heavy material. I’ll continue to make notes here on it as I go along.

In addition to Martinez’ book, I had some other documents delivered to me here. One key piece of documentation was missing from all the case files I brought with me last time which was Michael Apelt’s testimony. Like Arias, it’s stunning in its display of sociopathy so for the book I have to get the exact quotes. It will leave your jaw dropping as it did all of us in the courtroom that day. Sociopaths think they can convince people by making up reality moment by moment as they go along. The sad thing is this does work for them much of the time. They will use terms like “you heard me wrong” or “you are making that up” or “that’s not what I said”  when confronted on their indiscrepancies and move, seamlessly as Martinez notes, to their next oleaginous fabricated stories. This process is confusing to most people but not to seasoned prosecutors like Martinez and our Cathy Hughes. They are expecting and waiting for it. Martinez was doing this research on her from Day One which is what is required. Sociopaths are generally the best at this game in town so it’s challenging to keep up with their slippery maneuvers.

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I’ll get to this file likely tomorrow. I have to be ready to open it all up again but will likely start there, the newest material I have. Plus I have to pick up some more highlighter pens today as I forgot mine ;).

The weather here is partly cloudy and gorgeous. I love it. I feel so peaceful here as I gaze out at the Puget Sound and breathe this lovely humid air.

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I’m for the most part alone here, as planned, so it helps to know you are all out there reading as I go along. For some reason, this is hurting my heart more to go in to this time than it did last time. Maybe it’s because I know what’s in there. Maybe because I’m thinking of Travis and his family. Maybe because this is just all part of the healing through writing for me.

Thanks for being there. ❤

 

 

stepmothering

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John and I spent three beautiful days with his daughter Lillian this past weekend.  We decorated Easter eggs, made Springtime cookies, watched Frozen, played games and went to a town an hour away to see Cinderella (great movie by the way).

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I can’t describe the gratitude I have for this special little girl coming in to my life now. He obviously had a daughter with his ex-wife later in life so now at the time many of our peers are being introduced to grandkids, his life is focused on a 3 year old.  And I love it.

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Not being blessed with children of my own and being in a sliver of a category of women who wanted kids and felt they should have had kids but didn’t, I feel so lucky to land in a relationship with the perfect man for me who has a very young child. I didn’t allow myself to feel all of this right away and the wonderful ramifications of this darling 3 year old are trickling in to my psyche little by little. The thought of travels with her, taking her to Disneyworld, doing fun girl things with her have all started to ignite a maternal fire in me that just keeps burning brighter. She calls me “Kaffy” and asks to sit on my lap and for me to take her to the bathroom and to read to her at night. It’s just ecstasy for a woman like me.

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I woke up this morning without hearing her little voice outside our bedroom door and in that silence contemplated my own journey to land in this role. My stepmother Marj basically taught me every single thing not to do-not to be-in order to create a successful bond with Lillian.

I laid there wondering just when Marj started beating us-how early in our relationship she started to lose it like that. I know I tried to run away from home very early on after she came in to our lives. Within months if not weeks. I remember at around age 11 running down the road in desperation, destinationless with Marj finally chasing me down in our family station wagon. I remember her making me get back in the car and as soon as I did, reminding me I had nowhere to go, no one to run to. The mental abuse had started to ramp up by then. There was no attempt to understand me, just to control.  I had never, not for a second, thought about running from my home before she entered it. I thought about escape plans obsessively after that. I prayed she would leave and never come back.

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Marj had no natural maternal instincts. She was manly in stature and attitude. She was 40 when she got together with my Dad and I believe never had a boyfriend before. Later, when Cindy and I became boy-crazy and would inquire about her dating life, she would dodge those questions and only speak about some gay male friends she once had. We thought she was being private. Now I believe she was being self conscious as she had no names or stories to fill in those answers with.

She had no pets nor close relationships to friends’ children-both of which I’ve naturally drawn myself to my entire adult life. She was childless and her primary child relationships were the institutionalized children she studied at the Children’s Research Center where she worked when she met our Dad.

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I lay in bed this morning thinking although she physically abused me from age 11 to 19 when she last beat me, she did not pound her rage in to me. It just didn’t stick. I looked at the ceiling thinking about little Lillian and anyone laying a hand on her. How I only feel a tenderness for this child and a desire to enter her world slowly. How it’s natural for me to respect her mother and honor her role in Lillian’s life in a non-competitive way.

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None of these attitudes were present in Marj. She blasted right in to our lives with Behavior Modification plans. When those failed, she erupted in to immediate and forceful violence beating us with whatever she could grab nearest–a kitchen utensil, hairbrush, hanger or her hands with fingers cemented so tightly together they became their own version of a steel spatula. My brother John recently recounted a story where he’d placed his clean socks on the kitchen table as he walked past intending to sit down and put them on. How Marj saw this and immediately blasted in to beating him around the face and head with that steely hand accompanied by her vicious and controlled deep loud hiss “do NOT put your dirty socks on the table, you do NOT put your dirty socks on the table”.

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I asked him what his response to that was and he replied “I didn’t say anything, I just went up to my room”. None of us said much. We knew by then that our father would always take her side and/or look the other way and we had to just deal with it. We had somehow normalized this pattern of assault. Years later however I would speak to my father about this and he agreed that in this day and age she’d be arrested. She left marks on our bodies and psyches. Cindy and I often went to school covering extensive bruises.

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Yet she didn’t leave any scars in me that influence my role as a stepmother beyond knowing exactly the rules of what not to do.

Honor Thy Mother is an important one. Marj’s insecurities forced us to only use terminology of “real mother” with her and “first mother” about our natural mother who had birthed us, raised us even while dying, thankfully instilled security and kindness in us at those tender ages. Marj once slapped me in the face in my bedroom repeatedly for not using the term “real mother” about her “in an appropriate tone”. I don’t think anyone would have believed this PhD level educated social worker who worked with disturbed kids had this in her. Trust me, it was the dirty secret lurking in the dark corners of our home almost immediately after she joined it.

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(Marj the only person in this picture, our holiday photo that year, gripping an oar)

Marj was never a “real mother” in any realm other than the legal world after she adopted us. She was a guardian, an enforcer, at times a teacher, sometimes a friend, a caretaker and an abuser. She rarely spoke to us of our deceased mother. Habits we’d adopted after our mother died such as saying at the end of our dinnertime Grace “please keep Mommy happy in Heaven” quickly faded away. Our frequent visits to our mother’s grave became fewer and farther between and Marj awkwardly refused to get out of the car when we did go. When she spoke of our mother it was through thin tight lips and at times snide remarks would leak out. She was clearly threatened of our mother so we naturally avoided the discomfort it would bring all of us if we brought her up. I remember laying in my bed in my teen years reaching my hand toward the ceiling, sobbing, praying for my mother to grab it and reach in to me. Her presence had been nearly erased in our home by then. All the pictures were put away.

dottie(my mother, Dorothy June Schlosser Monkman)

This was Marj’s posture toward a dead woman who couldn’t speak for herself. Her posture also included beating that dead woman’s children.

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I shudder to think of these things. I still deal with anger toward my father for allowing them to occur under his roof on his watch. She was wrong often, her entire orientation toward us was wrong and yet we knew he would side with her every time. This also was wrong. We knew early on we had no one to really trust in positions of power in our home. And we all suffered for it in adulthood.

Yet, miraculously I find myself although traumatized by those years, a person who didn’t go the way of repeating those awful patterns as can often be the case. Abused children can grow up to be abusive parents. Not with me though.

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I know I will not speak ill of Lillian’s mother to her or in her presence as I consider her role in my life from a position of gratitude and respect. It is not in my makeup to compete with her. It is my inclination to follow and not lead. I have one goal which is to learn to bond with this tiny person and learn the family system I am entering as I tread softly following their rules. If I’m lucky and maintain a loving relationship with this child throughout her life and influence her in the ways only I can from my unique personality and perspective that will be enough.

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John corrects me if my instincts aren’t correct in responding to Lillian (I tend, unsurprisingly, to over-permissiveness) and I learn from him. I am here to fit in, not impose my ignorance (I mean that in the literal sense of that word) to their way of raising their daughter.

Marj, if she’d been a different person and undamaged herself, would have and should have walked out of that car with us at our mother’s gravesite and held our hands helping us in reverence to grieve and hold the love of our mother in our hearts.

Instead she tried to beat it out of us.

And she died with none of us near her. And she died with accolades, outside of our family, for her noble role in taking us on in some Saint-like way. And no one knew she’d cut us out of her Will-her legally adopted children who she forced to call her “real mother”.She took every last dime she had of her own and what she’d gleaned from my father, all her valuables and willed them all to her sisters, nieces and nephews.

And my father held that secret for her.

She also went to her grave with no one knowing, or even being confronted herself truly, of the violence she inflicted on “her children”. Or the mental abuse that filled it’s place once she stopped beating Cindy and I.

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There are times in life when the primary lesson someone of influence teaches you is how not to be.

So in this moment, ready to embark upon the sacred role of Stepmother to my fiance’s darling young daughter, I can muster a small bow Marj’s way. For that one critical lesson: showing me now it’s not done.

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And another part of me raises two fists in the air, victorious, declaring “you didn’t get my innocence. My mother, my real mother was and is inside me all along and nothing, absolutely nothing you did took that from me”.

Or in the words of Cinderella in the movie we just saw “you are not my Mother, you will never be my mother”.

photo(32)(this is my real mother, now, then, forever)

 

published!

mejohnferry

My Elephant Journal article has gone LIVE!

Please take a look–it’s called Dating a Smaller (than you) Man

Read here

I’m so psyched!  They even asked me for more in the future.

Grinning ear to ear over here.

mejohnsmiling