Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Am the Biggest Fool



I am fool. I am a fool because I care and love those who are even bigger fools than myself. I’ve always heard a phrase that God watches over fools and idiots. He must have a league of angels watching over me.

I’m not unintelligent. I’m not naïve. I see what’s around me. The world is an ugly mess. People are an ugly mess. I try so hard to be something beautiful in this gray world, but sometimes I get tired of carrying that light.  Yet, I’m a strong person because I’ve been forced to shine that light for myself, find my way out, and put up my guards and shields all my life. Yet, poison still gets in. I open the door to danger. I invite in chaos. Why?  Because of love.

Not because of others loving me, or that I’ve fallen into that crazy, wild love and can’t see what’s around me, or that I’m refusing to see the truth. No, I see the truth and walk in it anyway. THAT’s why I’m a fool.  I’m in love with what can and will never be in love with me, who chooses the company of vampires and leeches over me.

But I deserve better than this.  What about me?

I remember another God moment, where I was on my face, nose in the carpet, pouring my heart out and praying for my kids, my ex-husband, my church, my friends, my job, etc. 

When I was done unloading all that worry, I heard a whisper calmly ask me a simple question.  “If you knew one of your children were starving, hungry, and in pain, what would you do for them?”

I answered, “Anything, well, anything that would help them, even if it was hard for them, hard for me, or misunderstood.”

The whisper replied, “If they were in danger, would you risk your own life to save them?”
Without hesitation, I answered, “Yes. Always.”

There was a long silence. Whisper said to me, “You are my child, and you’ve neglected yourself trying to take care of everyone else.  You’ve ignored your needs, buried your wants, and your soul is starving for the love it needs.  You’ve abused my child long enough. I won’t tolerate it anymore.”

I felt so ashamed, because I had ignored myself. I’ve always done whatever to survive, to meet what everyone else needed, because I was in need. I knew what it felt like to be hungry, so I spent more than 17 years feeding the poor.  I knew what it felt like to be unloved as a child by your parents, so my heart reached out to any unloved kids that crossed my path – I still do. I knew what it was like to be pregnant and alone, so I opened my home to a pregnant stranger. I knew what it was like to not have a friend in the whole world, have someone to help me in a time of need, so I became the kind of friend I needed.  But, it doesn’t come without a cost.

A friend posted a meme on their Facebook wall the other day that said, “I want someone to look at me and say, ‘Damn, that’s mine!’ and just be proud to have me.”  I responded with a simple, “It’ll never happen.” A complete stranger sent me a message that had me crying in the middle of my shift at work. I hid the tears as much as I could, but I couldn’t help feel the pain, a pain that I’ve been stuffing down and trying to ignore.  This stranger messaged me, “…you’re a very attractive woman. So, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even this year, but you’ll find someone who’s proud to call you theirs.”

What this stranger doesn’t realize is that I have MANY people in my life who love me, even more that respect me, and I’m not in want for friends. Remember, I’ve spent my life being a good friend. But, no one has EVER claimed me as theirs – not my parents, not my family, not my ex-husband, not any of ex-boyfriend’s – who are still my friends because they love me as a person.  I’m great to love – as a friend, to depend on, to respect, to turn to, to be there when no one else will, but… to love me – the woman?  I’m turning 46 years old next week, and I’ve only ever felt truly loved once in my life… for just a very brief moment and then he died.  Loved …for ME.  In love …WITH me.  I’ve been in love 4 times, but only deeply, madly, crazy in love once. But, they didn’t want me.  They love me, but not how I love them. They choose their chaos over me.

I’ve been neglecting myself again, putting myself on the back burner to focus on others and their needs. There’s always a reason. There’s always a need.  All the reasons are good, but it doesn’t mean they’re not interfering. When do I matter? When does what I need and want matter? Life is shit. Life is chaos. There will ALWAYS be something – but WHEN do I put me first again?  I have needs too.  I’m such a fool. I’m not naïve. I know the reality of my situation. I know that I’m loved, but unloved.  I’m not blind. I see more than I let them know I see. I’m not stupid, either. Just because I don’t expose what I know is in the dark, doesn’t mean I’m unaware. I just choose to be a light, something positive, and spread a message of hope instead of judgment. I choose to focus on what’s important.  I love because I need love. I help because I need help.  I’m friendly because I’m lonely. I give, because I’m empty.  I go without so others won’t. I have to believe it’s not for nothing. I’m not stupid. I know I will not be chosen. I will be left behind for the vampire, for the leech, for the lotus flower, for the opportunity, for the drug, for the convenience, for the addiction, for the easy way, for the simpler path …. I always have been, especially by those who claim to love me most. It’s hard to love me. 

My whisper, my God, my love watches over me. They have to, because I’m the biggest fool. 

“Someday when my crying’s done, I’m gonna wear a smile and walk in the sun. I may be a fool, but darlin’ you’ll never see me complain, ‘cause I’ll do my cryin’ in the rain.” ~Jaime Ellis

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Whimsical World of T.L. Gray - The Story - My Story - Meeting God


Everyone has their own journey, their own experiences, and their own meeting God moments.  As a human being, there comes a time in our lives when we face our mortality and understand that our time and presence is limited on this rotating rock.  We finally see how small we are compared to the vastness of the universe. Or we finally understand the physics that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Yet “our” worlds do revolve around us, we are at the center of it, and everything that happens to us or comes from us, stems from the center of our being.  We don’t experience what’s going on across the universe – only what is within our scope, our reach, and our influence.  Some of us have a very limited reach, while others have a vast one, but we all have one, even if it’s only within ourselves.

I’ve heard the name of God my whole life. Most often in a damning expression when something went wrong or someone was angry, or when danger was present, which was during most of my childhood.  God was damned about every four to five words that escaped the cigarette or joint-ridden mouths of my parents. The concept that while God gave life to all things, my parents were ultimately responsible for my birth, and they alone had the right to take that life from me should they choose. I do believe the words were, “I brought you into this world, and if I damned-well please, I’ll take you out of it.” Have you really thought about the phrase ‘damned-well’?  That’s an oxymoron.  Nothing damned is well.

I’ve had a few meeting God moments, but one stands out in particular.  It wasn’t when I died after being attacked by a Doberman Pincher at age 5, or when I rode on top of a car through a barbed-wire fence, or when I fell off the back of a pick-up and got ran over, or any of those life-threatening moments. No, Meeting God moment that sticks out to me was a happy moment, a peaceful moment, a vision of beauty and grace, surrounded by nature and probably one of the first instances of human love.

I was about five years old. From my life time-line, this was some time after the burned-down house, the place where my little yellow canopy bed was destroyed and where I was attacked by the dog following my fifth birthday, and some time before we moved to Texas where I started Kindergarten, so sometime before my 6th birthday.  We lived on what my parents refer to as ‘the farm’.  I’m not sure what the farm really looked like because my memories are brittle pieces. I do remember some scenes, such as a log shack with a fold up cot me and my brothers would play in, until we got bed bugs.  This is the place I learned about chiggers, muddy wells, horses, and how to hoe a vegetable garden, and the first time I heard the name William Smith.  I’m still not sure who he was, only that he was on the farm with my family, had dark-curly hair, and couldn’t ride a horse. 

Next door lived an old black couple. I wish I could remember their names, but I can’t.  I do, however, remember their hands, and their smiles, and their chickens, and their red-painted barn.  I remember happiness riding on the back of an old Chevy pick-up truck, (my father hated Fords – so it isn’t ironic that I grew up loving them) through bumpy, dusty, red clay dirt roads and mazes of corn. To this day I still love riding down winding dirt roads among corn fields. Our old neighbors had a bunch of chickens that ran around the yard. I loved chasing them, feeding them, picking their eggs, and then running from them as they chased me back.  It was carefree fun. It was a moment I got to just be kid. I didn’t have many of those moments, but that was one of them.  The old lady, who I will call Henrietta, told me stories about the farm, about her animals, about love, and about God.  I remember her telling me that God was watching me, and watching over me, and sending angels down to protect me. It as a nice thought because I always felt danger. 

I remember my Meeting God moment.  I was lying in the deep green grass next to Fred and Henrietta’s red barn.  A tin pail sat beneath a water spigot that dripped crystal drops in a constant rhythm, creating a harmony with the universe, with the birdsong, with the wind that swayed the tops of trees.  It was like the universe in that moment was singing a universal song and they had allowed me to hear them, to see them worshiping in harmony with the sun, the grass, the wind, the trees, the air, the animals, all of life and all of nature, and even with a little five-year old girl lying in the grass, touching their cool with the tips of her little fingers.  I turned my head to the side and watched a tiny ant meander through the forest of blades and wondered if he knew he was being watched, if he realized how small he was to the world I knew? Wondered if this was how God watched over me? 

I looked into the sky above me, realized how small I was in the universe, and tried to imagine the world beyond the clouds, beyond space, beyond everything – not in distance, but in reality, beyond deeper than what we could see, and wondered if that’s where God lived and if he could see me on this side of the veil, to see little ol’ me lying in the grass. I can still feel the warm tears slide out the corners of my eyes and trickle down the side of my face as I yearned to know THAT God.  Not the god of my father, not the god that damned everything, not the god that people were killing for, but the God that all the universe was apart, the God that watched over me and sent his angels to protect me. I wanted to know him with all of my being, all of my heart, and all of my hope. I believe I met God in that moment. I believe that He heard me, and He touched me, and He smiled because He loved his creation, and his creation loved him back.

After that moment there would be many angry times, hurt times, and lots and lots of doubting. There still are because life is hard, it is complicated, and it’s formed with many different levels and layers. But, anytime I stray too far from my faith, I’m always drawn back to that moment, back to that Meeting of God, and I’m reminded of that experience and my faith is restored. I still have lots of doubts. I still believe with my whole heart that we’ve got it all wrong, for the most part, when it comes to God. I hate religion.  I hate the things men do in the name of God. I hate the way humanity treats one another.  But, sometimes I get a glimpse of the beauty of nature, of the universe, and even of humanity and am reminded that God is love – and love (not the world’s version of love, but pure love) is not of this world, is not of nature, but it is something more, something beyond the veil, something I can’t really describe because it must be experienced to understand.  I’m never afraid to meet God, but of man I am terrified.

The Farm was a brief happy moment in my life.  I always think of it with a smile every time I smell burning wood, or see a corn field, or a red barn, or chickens, or a tin pail, or a water spigot, or a horse.  Many nightmares follow the Farm, but that’s another part of this story. This is where I met God.

This is the story. This is my story.  This is my life.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray ©2017


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Whimsical World of T.L. Gray - The Story - My Story - My Play Time



While my childhood is riddled with lots of darkness, it’s also filled with lots of adventure and play time.  My imagination may be the cause of my greatest pains, but it’s also the source of my greatest joys.  Despite the realities of my situation, when left alone, I was a happy kid.  My happiest memories are playing in the woods across the street from my house in New Caney, Texas. 

I lived at the end of Idlewild Road on a half-acre lot in what started as a two room shack with no running water or indoor plumbing.  A man named Greg from Wisconsin lived next door and the Janosek’s lived on the other side, the Stowe’s lived across the street.  Greg was a novelty, having come from a place that made me think of stinky cheese and maple syrup.  Listening to him talk about how his family harvested the sap from maple trees shed a positive light to a name I had been given and would come to hate.  The Janosek’s were everything I wanted and hated because they had what I didn’t have - two parents that worked ‘real’ jobs and a little girl that played with Barbie dolls, wore pretty little dresses, and had birthday parties, a beautiful yard of green manicured grass, and a vegetable garden.  The Stowe's had about dozen dirty little children with elderly parents that often ran wild and free. We had a dozen pit bulls and a yard full of broken-down cars, and a long list of Mexicans and Rednecks coming in and out on a regular basis as my dad started working his way up the ranks with the cartel.

Though I could see the reality of my situation, I also dreamed of escape.  That house of danger became my playground.  The top of the outhouse became my castle’s keep, the fence my city walls, the driveway my drawbridge. The ditch, filled with tadpoles and crawfish when it rained, became my moat teaming with monsters.  The roads were to the paths to other kingdoms, and the woods, oh, the woods became my refuge, a place I got lost for hours, where I could run among the animals, swing from the, and build  places of safety and solitude where I could escape, where I could hide.  In my woods I wasn’t Sap, the drug-dealer’s daughter. I was a warrior, a king.  I never played a princess, because I didn’t believe in being rescued.  I was Robin Hood, I was Lancelot, I was Elliot, I was Luke Skywalker, I was Wonder Woman, I was Evel Knievel, I was MacGyver, I was Magnum P.I., I was Remington Steele, I was  Three-Eyed Willie, and the Three Musketeer’s, and then I was all the characters I began to create.  I ventured to the Island of the Magic Apple Tree, Magic Island.  This is where Lemuria and Montes Lunae and my Necromancers - Gabriel, Azrael, and Sybil Claire were born.  These were the beginnings of my stories, and the expressions my imagination. 

My play time was my freedom; freedom from chores, freedom from responsibilities, freedom from pain, from abuse, from smoke-filled back rooms and mid-night visits.  I fell in love with Superman, wanting more than anything for him to come out of the sky and fly me away.  No one could hurt him. No one could force him to do what he wanted. He had no parents. He had no siblings. He had amazing powers and strength.  I loved him and Jesus, because I needed to be saved.  Neither saved me; I learned how to save myself.

This is the story. This is my story.  This is my play time. This is my life.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray ©2017

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Messes We Make by the Choices We Choose



We all have our own story, our own epic tale, and our own journey of discovery. We have a beginning, several inciting scenes, character development, a plot line, plot twists, climaxes, and a resolution, and some of us even have a prologue. But, very few of us have an epilogue. That’s something I hope to gain. Just like the vast array of books in a library or bookstore, there are many, many, many stories, and they’re all original. While some may be similar to others, each is individual and unique in their character and plot. Some of us have short tales, while others have many chapters.

Who is the author of our tale? As a writer, I often feel that my characters write the story and I am merely a scribe. Other times, I feel I’m the architect and creator, set the scene, and construct the plot. 

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. That’s the same as with our lives.  While we make our choices, Fate, God, and Karma set their traps and move us across our chess boards. We decide what moves to make, which pieces to act, but they decide how those pieces work, their rules, what spaces are available, and the size of the board.

Oh, the messes we make by the choices we choose. Hey, that’d make a good meme. I think I’ll also make that the title of this blog post.

How much of my story is mine? How much of it is the by-product of another’s story? How much is the mess of my making? How much more do I have? How much more do I want?

Some days I’m tired of my story and want it to end. Other days, there’s not enough pages to hold the tales I want to create, the epic I want to write, or the adventure I want chronicled. Is it a romance, a tragedy, a comedy, a thriller, a horror, a flop, or a hero’s journey? Can I change my course or is my plot set? Will I be saved, or will I save myself? Am I the hero or the villain?

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just a shitty writer. Oh, the messes I’ve made by the choices I’ve chosen.   

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Faith, Hope and Love


Life is hard.  One of the sad realities is that we are often lonely souls, even when we are surrounded by other people.  We are born alone, unless we are a twin, or a triplet, or a quadruplet.  We also die alone, unless we are part of a multiple catastrophe like a plane crash, natural disaster, etc., that takes a lot of people at the same time.   But, you get the point. We are individuals.  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes… I’ve heard all this bullshit before.  What I’ve learned in my nearly 46 years on this rotating ball of iron is that we are social beings and we need interaction with other humans, with other souls, and no matter what we achieve in this life, gain or lose, it’s our faith, hope and love that matter most.  The rest are the non-essential details.

Sex, money, fame, success, the American dream, etc., all of it is bullshit if we don’t have faith, hope, and love.  Sex alone is fucking boring (pun intended). Sex with someone without love, is even worse, it’s empty and does nothing to abate the loneliness inside the soul and attacks the love we have for ourselves.  Money and all the things it can buy is powerless because it can’t buy love, respect, or faith.  I love having money, for the purpose that I can spend it making the people I love happy, or providing what they need, or being there for them if they need me. If there’s no one to spend my money on, it has no value.  Yes, I need a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and clothes on my body to keep me warm or covered.  Basic essentials are important and it takes money to supply those needs.  But, possessing those things isn’t living, it’s surviving.  Surviving is natural, and some of us do it better than others. Some of us are lazy, stupid, and immature and surviving becomes a major importance in life – but what do we strive to survive for?  I’m not living so that I have somewhere to sleep, food to eat, or somewhere to lay my head.  I don’t want to eat to live, I want live to eat.  I want to see the world, but I want to see it with someone who will enjoy all the places we go.  Like Whitney said, I want to dance – with somebody. I want to laugh – with somebody.  I want to cry – with somebody.  I want to dream – with somebody.  I want be someone’s cheerleader and share in their successes.  I want to be a shoulder they can cry on when their world starts closing in on them and squeezing their hope.  I want to have someone I can come home to and share all the exciting or boring things that happened that day.  Life is meant to be shared.  Love is meant to be shared.

I have been hungry, homeless, and in need, but I’ve never been helpless, or lazy, and I know how to survive.  I have loved with my whole heart, and it’s been broken so many times.  I have many people who love me and care about me, but I’m lonely, my faith is weak, and my hope dies a little more every day.  I have to encourage myself. I often feel unnecessary, lost, and unwanted by this world, most often forgotten.  At times I don’t want to be here anymore because I’ve lost purpose, direction.  I’m not wanted or needed and I know the world would keep turning without me in it.  But inside, deep inside, there is a soul that clings tightly to her faith.  Oh, I get angry and feel betrayed by that faith, but don’t you see – those are all evidence that it’s still there. You don’t get angry at what you don’t believe.  It’s because I believe so deeply that I get so angry.  There’s a soul that holds tightly to hope, a hope for a better tomorrow, a hope for peace, a hope for love, a hope for purpose.   And that same little soul is wrapped in love; love for a hateful and selfish world, love for a beautiful  and kind world, love for those who’ve already gone, those who are right in front of her, and even for those she’s yet to meet.

Sometimes I lose focus and allow that loneliness to consume me, the pain of it to engulf me, and I make bad decisions, do rash things, put myself in harm’s way, and fight the thoughts of giving in and giving up.  I want to, but I fight back.  I put on my smile - my armor, my shield, my sword.  I focus on the positive. I give thanks for the souls that are in my life and who take their time to listen, to let me know they care.

Yes, one day I will die and leave this place behind.  The ONLY things that will matter when I’m gone is the love I left behind.  That’s it.  NOTHING ELSE matters.  When James died, all he left me was love, and it’s gotten me through so many years, so many tears, so many times.  Just a little bit of love. I’ve done some AMAZING things with that little bit of love.  Imagine what I could do with a little bit more, fired by my faith, and infused with my hope?

Take all the sex, money, fame and success and all those materialistic and vain things people kill, betray, and abuse themselves and each other to obtain… and shove them up the world’s proverbial ass.  Give me faith – faith in myself, faith in God, and faith in my friends.  Give me hope – something to chase, something to strive for, something of value to achieve. And give me love – the binder of all things.  With these three things I will conquer the world and myself, and the devils that whisper in my ear that I’m unnecessary, unwanted, unneeded, and unloved.

Faith, Hope and Love.  1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, and I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Whimsical World of T.L. Gray - The Story - My Story - My Imagination


The Story – My Story – My Imagination

As far as memory serves, I have loved stories.  I love to hear them, to read them, and most of all to create them in my mind and imagination.  I don’t know where I first heard them, but I remember listening to narrations from an old 45” record player, and the distinct voice of an old British woman telling stories. I was mesmerized.  It’s the same way with music and songs, and how they have the magic to often teleport my imagination to another place, another time, and another life.

Telling stories have helped me over the years with many various things, most of all with entertaining my brothers.  Being the daughter of an international drug dealer left us children often in a strange place, having to abruptly leave in the middle of the night, move away from every one we have known, and leave behind all the things we once had, including toys.  For me, what broke my heart had to be leaving behind my books.  My parents didn’t care that I didn’t have them, or how much I loved them, or how much they helped me escape. My welfare and wants were never their priority.  I learned to treasure the stories of my mind, because those stories could never be left behind.

I believe creating stories and learning to narrate started for me at a very young age because of my father’s blindness. As the story goes, having been a part of a drug deal gone wrong, my mother and father were shot when my mother was six months pregnant with me.  Spray from the shotgun hit my mother all over her neck and chest, barely missing me inside the wound, and my father took direct hits in the face, destroying one eye completely and severely damaging the other.  So, before I was even born my father had lost his vision. I don’t know what it was like for him the first few years, I was just baby and have very few flashback memories. 

I don’t have any pictures of me during that time, except one, a studio picture of me and my brother together.  I was a few months old, he was a year older.  Other than that, while I’m sure there are some family photos stored away in some box somewhere, I don’t remember seeing them, and I don’t have them.  There are no photos, other than that one baby picture of me, before I was sixteen, and only one or two after that until I started taking pictures of my babies.  Even still, most of those pictures don’t have me in them, because I’m the one that took the pictures.  I’m sure my ex-mother-in-law has some pictures of me, but I’m sure she’s put them away so as to not upset the new daughter-in-law.  It’s only been the last few years I started taking pictures of myself because I felt invisible to the world. I wanted the world to know I existed, that I mattered, because no one except my children had ever made me feel that way.  My children are all grown now and it seems they also have forgotten me because they never call me, text me, message me, or come see me.   I often send them ‘good morning’ messages, to never get answered, or never returned.  Then when they change their number, or it’s no longer in service, I never get the new one.  But I still send the good morning messages to the number I had, even though I receive the error message letting me know my messages were not delivered.  Being left behind, being forgotten isn’t new to me – and I feel like many of my old books.

I often wonder about all the books that got left behind. Did the new tenants throw them out, or keep them and wonder who had possessed them before? Did they appreciate the story as I had, or never cracked open their spines? I adapted to not having books to read.  As I mentioned above, my father was blind, but he had not been born that way, so he still had a lot of memory of what things were, how they looked, and so he would listen to television.  But, as we all know, television shows and movies don’t give a play by play of what’s going on screen.  The deaf have closed caption, but the blind only have the sound effects and the dialogue.  My father had me.  Somehow it had become my job to narrate what was happening on screen.  Perhaps it was because I was good at it, could determine what needed to be and what didn’t that I got the job.  I just know it created good and bad habits in me.  Good, in the sense I am able to see the beautiful detail that I feel most miss.  Bad, in the sense visual people don’t like watching movies and television with me because I still often narrate.  

You don’t know how many times I’m told in an irritating strained voice that they can see what’s happening and don’t need my input.  I’ve tried to restrain myself, but it comes naturally.  It’s how I was raised since I could speak. 

While I wish I had experienced a different life, I’ve learned to appreciate the things this one has taught me, the tools that had been sharpened through all my adversity and the opportunities and skills it has created.  I believe it’s made me a better writer, that it’s forged inside me that creativity, and exercised my imagination that now fuels my own writing. I sometimes wish I couldn’t see the details, because while the details are good for the good things, they’re just as bad for the bad things.  Along with sight, comes feeling.  That’s another story, for another page, but there was a long period of time I felt nothing for no one or anything.  Because I had felt everything deeply, I couldn’t feel anything or else it would destroy me.  That has played an ugly role in my life, often hurting the people I love most. In trying to save myself from getting overwhelmed, it seems I’ve created another cycle, another generation of issues.  In my efforts to protect myself from being overwhelmed, I put up a wall to protect me, to protect them.  But, it appears I protected no one. My children don’t understand how much and how deeply I loved them, they only knew the wall, and they now have their own walls – to keep me out.

Every day I struggle with hiding once again behind that wall.  It’s never protected me.  It didn’t protect me from my family hurting me.  It didn’t protect me when my James died.  It didn’t protect me when my daughter ran away, or when my husband wouldn’t love me, or when I fought cancer, or when a family who promised to always love me doesn’t even acknowledge I exist, or when a soul mate tells me they can’t love me because they’re too damaged.  I want to hide every single day because the pain is too great.  But, I get up, I put a smile on my face, I take a picture of that smile and I send it out into the world, and then fight through the rest of the day to keep positive, to love myself, to set goals and dreams for myself, to stay healthy, to stay fit, to love everyone I can, to shove those walls back down that keep slamming up, and to fight my triggers.  I choose to see EVERYTHING, all the details, all the beautiful, scary, ugly, loving, hateful, details of life. 

I’m getting older, I don’t know how much more story I have, but I choose to live it as best as I can. I choose to love myself.  I choose to encourage myself. I choose to forgive myself. I choose to push myself.  I choose to dream.  This is the story. This is my story.  This is my imagination. This is my life.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray ©2017


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What is a Picture of Beauty?



I post a lot of pictures of me on my Facebook, most of them of me smiling or just enjoying life.  I’ve been told that I’m narcissistic, that I’m just obsessed with myself.  For those who think or comment in that manner shows me they know nothing about me. If you scroll through my blog or my Facebook, you’ll not find a picture more than five or six years old.  I personally only have less than a dozen.  Why? I never took pictures of myself because I didn’t feel I mattered.  Others didn’t take and post pictures of me either; they still don’t, because I don’t matter to them, not even my friends today. If I’m on their pages, it’s because I’ve tagged myself in a picture that I took, not one that they took of me. 

I started taking ‘selfies’ when I read an meme that stated, “If you want to see what or who someone values or fears losing, look at who and what they take pictures of.” That hit me right in the heart and deep in my soul.  It was like God whispered in my ear to pay attention.  It had me scrolling through my pictures of beautiful outdoor scenery and activities, my pets, my family, my food, art, simple things I found beautiful, and it was clear to see all the things I loved, because they were right there in front of me in brilliant color, picture, after picture, after picture.  But it didn’t take long before I noticed what was missing in all those pictures - me.  Well, I made a quick excuse, “I’m taking the pictures, so it only makes sense I’m behind the camera, not in front of it.  So, I went to my family and friend’s pages, scrolled through their pictures, and again I could clearly see all the things they loved and valued, but not one picture of me. Not one.  It broke my heart. It still hurts. This was about five years ago.

Before I go any further, the biggest culprit was me.  My family just followed the example I set for them. Because I have problem letting people touch me, my children never hug me, and they tell me it feels awkward when they do.  Who the hell feels awkward hugging their mother and telling her that you love her?  I’ve hugged and kissed my children since the day they were born, and told them I loved them as often as I could. I still do every chance I get.  But, they forget I even exist.  So, how does that happen?

I stopped waiting for someone else to love and value me and started to love and value myself.  I see women posting pictures every day, mostly of themselves in sexually suggestive positions, and it makes me sad.  It’s literally about 95% of the pictures I see. That’s their idea of beauty.  They are complimented my men and women alike and told how beautiful they are, so why should they believe any different?  Why should they act any different? That’s narcissism, posing to get attention, even if the attention is low, perverted, and disgraceful.  These women don’t understand that they’re not displaying their beauty, but their ignorance, allowing themselves to be demeaned as a woman, and viewed only as an object of perversion.  The admiration they receive now will fade once they get a little older; their bodies no longer have the same sexual draw, and then what? What will they have to offer their admirers since their admirers are only interested in their flesh.  But, a woman who smiles, laughs, is pictured living life, appreciating life, loving herself and the world around her are truly visions of beauty.  A woman caught in a moment of compassion, in a nurturing embrace, being a helpmate and friend, those are images of beauty.  Beauty is not her cup size, not in the shape of her boobs, lips, legs or ass, or in suggestive positions so perverted assholes can fantasize fucking her.  She then becomes only an object of their perversion and no longer a woman of beauty. Believe me; while the men appreciate the pictures, they have no respect for her as a woman. 

When I meet a man and start talking to him, if he asks me about my body, or asks me to send him pictures of myself in a bikini etc., then I instantly lose interest in them because it tells me they are not interested in my true beauty.  There are enough women with low self-esteem out there eager to please their narcissistic need for approval by ignorant assholes, but I’m not one of them.  Don’t get me wrong – when I’m in a relationship with ‘MY’ man, I love to be sexual, playful, flirty, etc., because I can share that part of myself with that man because he already recognized my true beauty.  But if I’m not in a relationship, don’t ask me for pictures of my body you fucking assholes! No, definitely ask me, so that way I know who you truly are and can write you off as anyone valuable in my life.

I post pictures of me smiling quite often because I love and value myself.  Those smiles are for me, to remind me that I matter.  This world can’t do that for me. Someone else can’t do that for me. I have to do it for myself.  I post pictures of the people and things that I love and value.  Someday someone else will post a picture of me, and it will truly be a picture of beauty.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Excuses We Tell Ourselves


For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. We forget this often in life because our memories are short and selective. We have lied to ourselves for so long about our responsibilities, and have accepted the lies in order to feel good about our decisions, reactions, actions, and choices we have made. It’s a natural defense system. But, we have to fight that nature if we care to see the truth. That’s the heart of the issue. We can’t often handle the truth, that’s why we accept the excuses we tell ourselves.

We are human. We are emotional, spiritual, and physical people. Our nature is to survive, reproduce, and learn. It’s also naturally equipped to lie, to deceive, and to manipulate. We are not born to be good, we are born to survive. Goodness is a choice and hard battle to fight. It’s natural to be selfish, self-centered, and greedy. It’s not natural to be loving, selfless, considerate, and kind. It’s hard as hell. If someone hurts us, our natural instinct is to protect ourselves and hurt them back. If we see something we want, it’s in our nature to take it. It’s not natural to desire to earn it, work for it, and fights for it. Those are characteristic traits we learn, we choose, and we develop.

We didn’t wake up the way we are, how we think, or even how we feel. These are the results of millions of choices we’ve made to this point. It’s the reactions to our actions. We’ve chosen to either learn from our mistakes or to continue making them again and again and again. We can’t control what happens to us, but we have complete control on how we respond. How we respond is what develops and identifies our true characters.

I didn’t wake up one morning and decide who I am. I have awoken many, many, many mornings choosing to become who I am. Some mornings have been easier than others. But, I decided a long time ago to stop making excuses for my behavior. It wasn’t my physical ailments that defined who I am. It wasn’t society who dictated the person I was to become. I take full responsibility for my actions. I don’t allow doctors, psychologists, friends, teachers, bosses, co-workers, or family to tell me who I am, how I should be, what I should accept, or how I should respond. I’m a rebel that way. I choose who I am. I choose how to respond. I choose what to accept.

Yes, this makes me an odd duck, and 100% percent of the time puts me on the outside of the comfort zone that most people are familiar. It’s hard for people to be around me for too long, because it will show them their own mirrors. It’s painful and lonely to be who I am. I’m most often abandoned, left behind, rejected, or misunderstood. How did I become this way? Having died twice and battled death on several other occasions may have played a part. Having a very tragic and violent childhood may have played another. Having lost my first love to war has played another. Having been rejected so many times by those who are supposed to love me most has played another. Having my own children run away from me or forget me altogether has played another. My faith has played another. All of these combined, with a determination to seek the truth, to accept my responsibility, and not accept the excuses have played another. I am responsible for me.

So, choose to use me, abuse me, neglect me, or reject me – I am going to continue being who I am. Someday someone is going to choose to love me and I want to be able to give that person the best woman possible. I don’t want to give them a broken, damaged, angry, hateful vampire that will only cause more difficulty in their life. I want to be someone’s bright spot in a dark world, to be beacon of hope in this hopeless world, to be an example of love in this hateful world, to be precious to them. I want to be their crown, their pride, their joy. I want to be their peace. But not everyone will be able to handle a woman like that. It would have to be a strong man, the strongest of heart and character. The brightness from me will cause a reflective pool, and only a man who can truly look upon his own reflection… in truth, without excuses, without shame, and with great inner strength and strong faith, will be able to be with me. In truth, I may never find them, and I have to be okay with that too.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Why Do You Smile?


One of my children recently asked me, “Mom, why do you always post pictures of you smiling? Why do send me a text every morning wishing something good for me? You can’t be that happy all the time.”

I responded, “Because I can, and I choose to embrace the impossible and the positive.”

Yes, I do post pictures of me smiling as often as I can, and those smiles are genuine.  They’re hard- fought and heavily-labored smiles. They’re smiles of victory.  Yes, I’m a morning person, because I have chosen to be a morning person. I’m often tired like everyone else. I typically get 4-5 hours of sleep a good night if not awoken by nightmares. I have lots of nightmares.  Many mornings I wake crying, screaming, or afraid, dreaming of those I’ve lost, experiences I’ve endured, things that I’m afraid of losing or enduring.  I’m lonely, confused as to why those I love have such difficulty loving me back, why I’m so easily abandoned, cast away, or forgotten.  I feel unwanted and neglected by the world.  But I don’t let those feelings rule me or dictate how I’m to live.

I have learned to love myself, because I have never been able to depend on anyone else to love me.

I have learned to take care of myself, because I have never been able to depend on anyone else to take care of me.

I have learned to encourage myself, to be my own cheerleader, to be brave and wield my own sword.  

I’m no princess in need of saving. I slay my own dragons.  I wear my own armor and my strongest armor is my smile.

My smile reflects the choice to tell the world to go fuck itself; that it can’t beat me, it doesn’t win.  It may knock me down every day if it chooses, but I will rise, even if I have to do it a thousand times, and a thousand more.  I have died twice, yet I still live.  I have been hurt in every way imaginable, yet I still laugh, and smile, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Call me a fool.  Say I am naïve. Declare I am blind.  Refuse to love me. Continue to reject me. Stand against me. Forget me. Yet, I will smile.

I love me. I love the woman I am. I am proud of her. With my head held high, I look her in the eyes and I smile. The world be damned, for I am blessed.  I smile because I can and I choose to embrace the impossible and the positive.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

Monday, June 12, 2017

Can You Hear Me?

I’m discovering that people really don’t listen anymore. They don’t really hear what you’re saying, only what they think you’re saying, or even what they want you to say, but they’re not listening.  We’ve become such a selfish society, including myself, where everything we want and do is to satisfy ourselves and our desires.  That’s all good and well, but I’ve learned something over the years – true happiness isn’t wrapped up in what we can do and achieve for ourselves.  It’s often found in what we can do and give to another. Can you hear me?

I’ve achieved a lot of great things in this life.  I’ve accomplished many great things, but my most proud achievements aren’t in the awards, the degrees, the possessions, or in anything or anyone I possess.  My greatest achievements have been those moments of love and inspiration that I’ve been able to pour into someone else.   It’s in love – love given, love received.  It’s in real love; not sex, not affection, not adoration, and not praise, but love.  Can you hear me?

God said that there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends.  That love is patient, kind, etc.  I look around at this crazy, selfish world and I weep because of what has become of love.  I am often naïve to the desires of this world, and I’ll get into some examples of that in a moment, but I’m not stupid.  It’s not that I’m simple; it’s that I put so much of my heart in the hope of what I want to see and receive from the world – that I take chance, after chance, after chance… and keep meeting and experiencing the ugly side of love, the empty selfish side of desire, and the disappointing side of hope.  Can you hear me?

I’ve been honest with everyone I’ve spoken or meet.  I’ve recently had two encounters that frustrate me to no end.  I’m single and I’m lonely.  I have all this love inside and no one to share it. I have friends who love me, but I am missing that one friend that I can share everything inside me.  I had that once, and it was beautiful, and I was so happy despite any trouble we had to face.  With him, I could face anything.  I wanted to give him the world, but he didn’t want the same. He wasn’t in the same place as me. Love frightened him, so he ran, and left this gaping hole inside.  He was my bright spot, my warm sun in a cold, dim world.  He seared me, burned me, and left a everlasting scar, but he also showed me that the kind of love I’ve been hoping for my whole life is still out there, that it does still exist.  I thought it died with James on that Somalian battlefield, but it didn’t.  I again thought it died in a Puerto Rican smile, but I hold onto the hope that it’s out there, somewhere for me.
But, hanging onto this hope in this buffet world of instant gratification and self-indulgence is very hard.  I’m a single mermaid in a sea of sharks.  I’m trying to be open to meet someone, to make myself available to find another sun, another bright spot, a best friend, a soul mate.  I don’t need to be saved, I’m not desperate, and I don’t suffer from low self-esteem where I need the attention from predators in order to feel beautiful, sexy, or accomplished.  But, I am lonely and I’m a natural flirt.  That seems to send the wrong signal to these sharks. 

I met a man online recently and was very open and honest about what I hoped to find. He agreed and told me he was looking for the same thing.  So, I gave him my number, believing that I might have found someone who could swim in deep waters.  But, it wasn’t long before the messages turned to sexual innuendo and offers to cuddle.  I cried, probably for an hour, angry at myself for being so stupid and naïve to believe he meant what he said.  When I didn’t respond to his advances, he got defensive and basically told me that if I’m not opened to cuddling that I should enjoy being single.  I LOVE cuddling, with MY man, not a man that hops from woman to woman, to woman, to woman.  Yet, this sentiment seems to be the status quo.  Can you hear me?

I want all those wild, crazy, sexy, kinky, funny, adventurous experiences with a man – one man, My man. It seems men are too afraid these days to put their hearts out there on the line for a woman.  I understand, I see the types of women out there.  But, that’s not me. I want to share my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole being with someone who wants to share the same with me. If it makes me an odd duck.. quack! quack!  And If I end up being a lonely spinster… I’ll get a fucking cat.  Can you hear me?

I’m a mermaid and I swim in deep waters, down where there is no light to sparkle off your hooks. I have to be met where I’m at if a man wants to capture my heart.  If he can hook my heart, my body will follow. My heart is the center of my being; it’s what holds my Siren’s song.  Wound me by trying to grab me or my fins, and you’ll only get a Banshee’s wail, and I’ll disappear into the depths you can’t swim. Can you hear me?

Till next time,

T.L. Gray 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Whimsical World of T.L. Gray - The Story - My Story - My Name



I think one of the biggest misconceptions in faith is that once we accept the concept and authority of God, we expect our lives will to of sudden come together and be perfect, that all our prayers are instantly answered, and when adversity comes God will intervene on our behalf, saving us from the consequences of our actions.  God never promised that we would have perfect lives or that we wouldn’t reap the things we sowed, only that we wouldn’t be alone as we travel through this life and face those consequences.  Nor did he promise that we would be perfect people.  Our hearts, minds and souls are not made perfect by faith, but through the fires and trials of life we have the opportunity to become perfected by that faith; but it’s a life- long transformation.  Just as we are not born to hate, we are also not born to love, forgive, be humble, or to care. These are developed traits made by the choices we make in life.

I live by two concepts.  Number one – I cannot always control what happens to me.  Sometimes bad shit happens that is beyond my control that I did not earn or deserve. Sometimes great things happen that I had nothing to do with.  I can’t control the universe and the decisions of others that affect or directly impact me. However, I have 100% control on how I respond the good or bad that happens to me. Number two – It is not my job to save the world.  God did not grant me the power to save another human being’s soul. It’s not my job to condemn them, either.  It is not my job to make sure they understand the error of their ways, to repent for their sins, or to live their lives in any particular fashion.  God gave me only two commands, and declares that ALL other laws and commands are wrapped in essence of these two commands: Love God, and to love my neighbor AS I love myself

Many of us forget that last part… and I believe it is just as important as the first two.  Just as God is a tri-part being, so is his Word -   Love Him, Love each other, Love ourselves.  So, my job is to focus on myself. I truly believe with my whole heart that if I concentrate on loving God and allowing His love to fill me, I will love myself, and then with the love “of” God, and the love within myself, I am able to love others – my family, my friends, my neighbors – humanity – unconditionally. That is my heart.

But that hasn’t always been my heart. Throughout many times of my life I was lost, angry, filled with hate and rage.  I hated God, I hated the world, and I hated all the people within it, especially myself. But that hate wasn’t born in me; it was made, forged through the fires of adversity, at the hands of abuse, at the devastation of loss.  Yet, I have survived.  I am not perfect, by a very, very, very long shot.  But, I am working hard to keep that love of God inside me, so that I continue to love myself and love the world around me.  I don’t know where this strength comes from, but I have seen it rise within me during many low times in my life.  That love reveres itself within the many names that I have accumulated through the years.

I’ve already told the story of how I received my birth name, now is the time for the story of how I received my childhood nickname, the name known to my family, a name I have attached to a lost little girl. In my dreams she is always the six-year old me – a cute little tomboy with long, straight brown hair, big hazel eyes, and set of dimples. I don’t have any pictures of me as a child, so she’s directly from my memories only.  I can’t really tell you how I truly got my nickname, only how it’s been used over the years. I’ve heard a few different stories of its origin, but I can’t validate any of them.

My name is Sap.  I was once told it was given to me because my older brother had a speech impediment and couldn’t say the word “sissy” correctly, and it came out ‘sappy’ instead.  Another story was that I was so sassy when I was a toddler that my parents called me “sappy” in reference to the sweet-bitter tree gum.  But, if either of those were true, what was I called when I was brought home from the hospital until I got old enough to talk, old enough to be ‘sassy’ or ‘sappy’?  I don’t know, I can’t remember, and as far as anyone has ever told me, I was never called anything other than ‘sappy’ or ‘sap’.  But there is a memory I will never, or can never forget that solidified the name for me. I was about six or seven and I had just witnessed my father beat my mother, yelling at her about flirting with man named William Smith.  This is a name I would hear many times in my childhood as my father beat my mother.  I never knew a William Smith, but I had grown up hating that name.   

Anyway, watching my mother cowered in the corner of the kitchen as my father held her by the hair, hitting her, I grew angry and I ran into the room, jumped on my father and started hitting him.  I knew he would turn on me, but I couldn’t just stand there and be silent.  I only remember how the first hit took a few moments before I could even feel it and the room to grow dark.  I couldn’t open my eyes all the way; they stung when I tried because they had been swelled shut.  But, I didn’t wake up to a mother holding me, telling me everything was going to be okay, that she was going to protect me, or protect herself.  I woke up to meet the glare from another swollen face, one full of anger. 

She threw a cold rag at me and told me to put it on my face and her voice was cold and she said, “You’re so stupid.  Do you know why I call you sap?  It’s because you’re just like tree sap, that nasty, sticky mess that impossible to wipe off.”

That was the moment I began to hate to my mother. I hated her for not protecting her children. I hated her for not standing up to my father. I hated her for not saving me, for being weak, for being a coward.  She didn’t protect me. She never did. For many years she would remain silent and look the other way, and teach my brothers to look the other way. It took me nearly 40 years to learn to forgive her weakness.  It took until the birth of my oldest daughter for me to see her as a victim.  From that day I saw her just as much as my abuser as my father. I believe I blamed her even more than my father.  I believe even to this day, because of her, there is an anger that rises within me when I see a mother neglect her children, acts cruelly toward them, doesn’t put their needs first, or doesn’t protect them. It’s definitely a weak spot in me.

When I became a mother, I didn’t know how to be a mother, not realizing I had been born a mother – a mother of my five brothers. Needless to say, I was confused.  I was lost.  But, the day I put the needs of my children first, and made the decision to leave my old family behind – to walk away from them, was the day I shed the name Sap. I don’t think my brother’s ever understood my decision to leave them, to walk away from that family, to separate myself.  They felt I abandoned them, and I suppose I did.  But, I chose to be the mother I never had, and my first true act of motherhood was to protect my children from that family.

I had always hated the name Sap, but for a long time that was the only name I knew, not until my first day of Kindergarten.  Mrs. Bonnet was my teacher. I can remember she was tall, skinny and had this beautiful long, black hair.  She called my name, but I didn’t recognize the name she called.  She called my name again, looking right at me, but I still didn’t answer. I was confused.  She walked up to me and said, “Tonya, dear.  I’m calling your name. When I call your name, you’re to answer Present.”

“But, you didn’t call my name,” I replied.

“Are you not Tonya?”

“Tonya? That’s not my name.”

“Yes, dear, it is. You are Tonya Lynnette.” Mrs. Bonnet pointed down to the name on top of a packet 
of papers on the desk.  “This is you.”

I already knew how to read and write. I was an early learner, having started reading the newspaper at age four.  One of my earliest memories of reading the paper was reading about the death of Elvis Presley, I had just turned five. My name written in neat blocked letters never looked so pretty in all my life.  Tonya Lynnette was a beautiful name. I don’t know why it was so beautiful to me, but I loved it in that moment, and from that day forward, when I went to school, away from home, away from my family, I was known as someone else, I was Tonya Lynnette.  At school I wasn’t a sticky mess someone hated.  I was praised for being smart, being sweet, being kind, and being pretty. I was the little girl that had lots of friends, and I was the pretty little girl Chris Brown kissed under the table in art class and said he was going to marry someday.  I was the girl that played marbles with the boys on the playground.

Names are powerful. Their meanings are powerful. All my names have power over and within me.  God has given me a new name, a name even I don’t know, that is written in the Book of Life. I have a feeling the day I see that name written in that book it’s going to feel as pretty as the first time I ever saw the writing of my name Tonya.  Tonya means “priceless – beyond praise.” Many times throughout my life, people, even strangers, have approached me and told me that I was precious, priceless.  Prophets have spoken over me telling me God says I am precious, priceless.  Lynnette is derived from Eluned which means rescuer, image or idol.  In the Arthurian tales she is a servant from the Lady of the Fountain who rescued Owain.  I have spent my life rescuing.

All I know is that a name is powerful, but as I stated above, it’s not about what happens to us or what names are given to us, it’s what we do with them and the choices of how we respond that make us who we truly become.  I choose to forgive. I choose to be kind. I choose to love.  I choose to protect.  I choose to fight. I choose to be Tonya, to be priceless, to be beyond praise.  I don’t believe it was an accident that my grandmother chose that name for me, or that it was nurse I was named after.   However, Tonya is not the only name I have, there are few more and I will eventually get to them, too. 

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray ©2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Whimsical World of T.L. Gray - The Story - My Story - My Music



The Story – My Story – My Music

Just as Forest Gump asked his mama about his destiny, I’ve often whispered into the wind asking what destiny has been laid out for me. It’s hard to imagine what’s ahead because there are too many possibilities, and most often we can’t even fathom our true purpose in hindsight.  But if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we might just be able to see some hint of an idea. I envy people who are confident about their purpose and tackle it with all they are, all they have, and with their strength. For me, the things I’ve mostly done in my life were things I had to do, things that were necessary to survive. This has made me strong.  I can look back and see a pattern, a foundation that has led me to the person I have become.  Many times on that path I could have ventured into a different direction and ended at a different destination, but I am here.  I want to be able to bring you here, to see what I see, hear what hear, understand the perspective from my point of view.  So, let’s go back, way back to a different time, a different world, a different era. 

Some people can’t remember much about their childhood. I’m one of them.  My life is comprised of bits and pieces of splintered memories, glued together with facts and timelines.  I often wonder how much is memory, how much is imagination, and how much is real.  Regardless, the pain is real, the joy is real, the love is real, and the hate is real.  So, does it matter? This is MY truth, and it is this truth that has made me who I am. So, as I filter through amber dreams, riding the waves of what was, my first stop will be a time of discovery.

I’ve always had a love for music, all kinds of music.  There’s just something about it that moves me, touches my soul in a way that most people can’t.  It’s always been a part of my life. I can hear a familiar song and am instantly teleported to a different time in my amber vault.  I’m not always sure what was about that particular memory that attached to that particular song, but I just let it do what it’s supposed to do.  MOST of the memories connected to music are good ones, but there are also nightmares and pain that make some songs hard to hear. 

One such memory is back-dropped by Rod Stewarts, “If You Think I’m Sexy”. It was released in 1978, which would have made me seven years old.  I can remember sitting in my parents’ dark red Malibu outside a laundry in New Caney, Texas.  The summer sun colored everything in golden amber, shimmering mirages snaked across Highway 1485, and it must have rained the night before because a mud pooled just outside the back door.  I sat in the front seat of the car, my small feet up hanging out the window, sweat trickling down my face as I pressed the 8-track into the player.  The swilling of the notes of the song’s beginning instantly put me in chill mood.  In one hand I had a sweating Sunkist soda, and in the other a half-eaten Chic-o-stick, as my feet moved to the beat.  “If you want my body, and you think I’m sexy, come on Sugar let me know.”  I had no idea what the song was about, but I knew I liked it. I liked his voice, I liked the beat, and I liked the way the song allowed me to escape the Texas humidity.  Even at a young age I had a knack for song lyrics, for being able to pick out each instrument and follow its progression within a song.  Rod Stewart’s raspy voice comforted me.  I’m not sure why I needed comfort in that moment, I just know that after the song played for a few moments I reached up and wiped the tears that had snaked down my cheeks, because now I was lost in the song. 

The rest of the memory is just bits of broken pieces, the sound of children playing, two little blonde babies running around in saggy diapers, another chubby kid with copper-red chair using a stick to dig for worms near the mud hole outside the back door and another skinny little boy begging me, “Sap, come play jacks with me.”  

Sap. That was my name, or at least that’s what everyone called me. I’ll get to that story soon, as well as the moment I heard my real name for the first time on my first day of Kindergarten.  There’s something about a name. There’s power to the names we are called, or by which we are known, just as there’s power in familiar songs.  To this day I am still teleported to that memory outside that laundry mat every time I hear that song or Rod Stewart’s familiar voice. It seems to be a safe memory for me. Knowing the facts of where I was, what was going on at that age, I believe it’s good I have this memory. 

Other songs that teleport me are Queen’s “We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, and Another One Bites the dust.”  These songs were recorded in 1977, so it’s still around the same time that I first heard them, although the memory of me hearing them didn’t take place in New Caney, but in a trailer park in Huffman, Texas, so this was before the memory above. There was this drainage ditch outside the trailer park that served as a border of where I was allowed to roam, but I never stuck to borders. Inside, the trailer had lime green carpet and orange countertops.  I can remember lying on a linoleum floor, listening to Queen from a record player.  It was one of those big stereos where the player was hidden inside a cabinet top.  The sound of the needle when it made contact with the vinyl is so pronounced, and then the songs… the songs instantly took me away.  The room grew black as my imagination opened and I entered into a fantasy realm filled with flying horses, talking bears, and a single apple tree on a little island.  Island of the Magic Apple Tree was one of the first stories I ever imagined and ever wrote.  For some reason Queen’s rock anthems took me to this place.  Yet, for this one memory there’s also a dark side.  As the song ended, the arm of the record player automatically lifted from the vinyl and returned to its dock.  I looked around the trailer and saw ashtrays full of cigarettes and roach buds attached with feathered clippers, bodies lying around everywhere, some in bikinis, and some in cut-off shorts, empty liquor and beer bottles, and crying babies in a crib. I pulled a chair up to the gas stove, pushed away the bent spoons and empty needles to put a pot of water on the burner.  While the water heated, I mixed powdered milk and placed the bottles into the water.  That memory flashes every time I hear those songs, but so also the story. 

There are many other songs that have both good and bad memories attached to them.  Music is strong. Music is important.  It affects me deeply. I listen to it, I play it, it moves my soul.

Well, that’s enough for today.  But, I’m not done with the topic of music, and I’ve only just begun with telling the story of how I got my second name, Sap.  Stay tuned.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray ©2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

I Have Value, Too

I posted a comment on my Facebook page the other day because I was so frustrated and hurt at the actions of my roommate that I wrote, “My time is valuable too. My space is valuable too. My wants and needs are also valuable. Respect should be mutual.”  I am tired of how I pay the consequences of the decisions of other people without respect and consideration for me.  Not only that morning, but this and last weekend were both filled with even more opportunities where that lack of consideration toward me was exampled. I have value, too. 

These past moments are not the only times where my time, my space, my wants, my needs, and my plans have been neglected, or effected, by the decisions of other people.  It’s happened most my life. It hurts just as much now as it has all those times before.  It’s the main reason why I choose to be as I am, respectful and thoughtful of others time, space, wants and needs, because I know how much it aches to be neglected. I don’t want to upset anyone else, especially those I love, by doing the same in return. I just don’t understand why it’s so easy to neglect and disrespect me.  I have value, too.
I want to share three examples lately that have really hurt me. I may not post this blog when I’m done because I don’t want to hurt anyone else, but right now I’m hurt and this blog is my outlet.  The reason I have this outlet is to release the things that hurt me so I don’t hold onto them and they in turn eat me up from the inside out.  We’ll see if I post, later.  Right now, I want to get this out.

Last weekend, my youngest daughter, who is a twenty-two year old adult and she’s been living on her own for a while now, had called me and told me she wanted to come see me for Mother’s Day and to live with me.  I had bought her a bus ticket and sent her some money to eat while on the trip, and made arrangements at work to use what little vacation time I had left to make sure I would be there to pick her up at the bus station. Over the past several years I’ve constantly worried about her, prayed for her, and stood in the background as she’s made a lot of dangerous decisions in her quest for independence; she never called or texted unless she needed money. This is what most parents have to face when you’ve done all you can to raise them to be strong, productive, moral, and smart adults. We can’t live their lives for them.  We have to let them make their mistakes so they can learn how to stand on their own.  Yet, we can always stand on the sidelines cheering them on and be there with a helping hand to help when they fall. Everyone falls at times. I never had anyone there for me, so I vowed to always be there for my children – to let them go, to let them make their choices, and to stand back and watch them walk into the storms of their lives.   Friday came, I left work excited to find an empty bus stop, an unused ticket, and silence – no message, no explanation, nothing. I can’t get my money, my vacation time, or my hope back.  This isn’t the first time she’s done something like this, but it doesn’t hurt any less.  She didn’t value and respect me, my time, or consider my needs and wants in the decision she made. She hasn’t in a very long time.  I just don’t understand.  I see terrible mothers neglect their children, yet their children love them and give them respect no matter how badly they treat them – and grant them compassion and respect they’ve never earned.  Yet, my own children – all of them – never call me and have completely excluded me from their lives. Was I such a terrible mother?  Why is so easy to leave and neglect me? I may not question it if it was just one of my children, but all three?  Why am I so hard to love? Don’t they understand how much I love them and how much it hurts they’ve shut me out? I know their lives are filled with the things they value. I have value, too.

The second example, the one that prompted my post last week, was my roommate leaving her shit for me clean for the millionth time, upsetting my schedule, invading and wasting my time.  As roommates, her habits affect me, just as mine affect her.  She’s come a long way, and I do appreciate the effort she’s making, but it doesn’t make the times she disrespects me hurt any less. Bottom line she’s lazy.  When she’s focused on something, it’s great and there’s really nothing she can’t do. She’s amazing with technical things and electronics. That’s why it pisses me off when she doesn’t do what she’s more than capable of doing.  She’s highly intelligent and very skilled.  But when she’s not focused or simply doesn’t “feel” like doing something, she doesn’t –  and my plans, my space, and my time all be damned.  It would be a different story if it was something that occasionally happens. I have an occasional lazy day, and they’re wonderful. Her lazy days happen a LOT.  I don’t do what I do every day because they are MY habits. MANY of the choices I make are out of respect for HER, for our place, for our space, to respect BOTH our time.  I clean up after myself so SHE will have a clean and ready kitchen should she need to use it, a clean place to sit and watch tv and entertain friends and guests, an empty washer and dryer, an empty dishwasher, a clean floor, etc. Our mutual agreement was to keep these “community” spaces clean – kitchen, laundry room, living room, balcony, etc. Our private spaces – keep as clean or messy as we want. When she doesn’t clean up after herself in these community spaces  – MY time isn’t valued because it’s spent cleaning her shit instead of doing what I want or need.  HER decision last week took away the time I had schedule to write, to work on something very important to me.  I had a great story I wanted to write, but it’s gone now. Instead of writing I was cleaning. Before anyone jumps to conclusions and say, “Well, why didn’t you just leave it for her to clean up later and go write?” Yeah, I’ve done that… many, many, many, many, many times.  What happens – the mess is even bigger later and she will just joke about it AS I’m cleaning it. “Dishes? What are these dishes?” As if joking about it makes her actions acceptable.  I clean the dishes because I need to use them and the space they take up.  It would be nice if they were already cleaned and ready to use when I need them, the way I make sure they are for her.  Believe me… I get tired too.  I have the same fucking 24-hours a day that she does.  It’s not some miracle that the same space gets cleaned after I use it compared to when she does.  I’m not Mary Poppins and just snap my fingers and things clean themselves.  But, I do it because I value her, our space, and our time.  I have value, too.

The third example is about the value of my time and making plans. This past weekend I made plans to spend with one of the teenage son of my ex-boyfriend.  I love this kid. I love both boys as if they were my own.  I fell in love with them as much as I fell in love with their father.  While their father didn’t value me as a girlfriend and broke up with me, we still maintain a friendship and he allows me to continue to be a part of his sons’ lives because he knows how much I love them. But this family sometimes drives me crazy.  I love them very much and I value the time I get to spend with them. I just wish they would value my time as well.  Anyway, back to the story.  The oldest son wanted to come spend the weekend with me, so we planned a cooking weekend.  I’ve been teaching him how to cook and we always have a great time cooking together.  Well, I had many offers of adventures for the weekend. I had an opportunity to visit one of the lighthouses on my lighthouse journey, something no one ever has time or wants to go with me.  That’s okay. I have no problem going by myself. I’ve done most things by myself. I had an invitation to go flying with someone in a Cessna, and another invitation to go riding on an airboat through the swamps. A group of friends invited me to a card game night (which I went and had a blast), and another friend invited me to go paddle-boarding at the river.  Well, I’m not going to say I didn’t skip that invitation because I’m just not comfortable with the idea of falling in a river where I can’t see through the water.  Kayaking or snorkeling in the springs, hell yeah!  In the river where I can’t see through the water… uh, no thank you.  I’ve also been trying to learn how to body board on the weekends. These may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but they’re my plans, my adventures, the things I WANT to do.  Of course, spending time with this kid, cooking with him, or spending time with this family is very important to me too because I love them dearly. So, I turned down all those other offers and cleared my schedule for them. I went shopping on Friday and got all the ingredients to cook the dishes this kid wanted to cook.  I was so happy.  While most of Saturday was the two of us cooking, his cousin – who lived just a couple doors down wanted to come over and hang out with us. That was great, I didn’t mind at all. Except now my teenaged sous chef wanted to play video games with his cousin instead of cooking. Well, I cooked some things on my own, but I wasn’t going to cook it all by myself. I made him get off the video game and come help me in the kitchen.  He did, for the most part, and learned to cook a few new things.   However, after dinner was consumed and I was getting ready to head to my card game with a few of my friends, he decided he’d rather go hang out with his cousin instead of staying home and watching a movie, but promised to be back in the morning.  I knew I wouldn’t see him again for the rest of the weekend, but plans had been made, and I was going to keep my word, though I could see what was coming, and knew my time wouldn’t be valued.  I have value, too.

Plans had been made  to go the next weekend to Bob’s River Place as a celebration to kick off summer, it is a GREAT place to go with lots of water activities, rope swings, water slides, etc.  I was asked if I could change my plans and go this weekend instead next week because it was more convenient for their schedule. I changed the plans I had made for this Sunday. So, as it stood, I had three plans – I had a teenager who promised to come back and finish our cooking, a day at Bob’s River Place, and the one day a week I would have the place to myself because my roommate made me a promise that she would work in building on Sundays to give me that one day of “me” time– regardless of what my plans were, whether I was home or not.  Do you know how I spent my Sunday? My teenaged sous chef never showed up.  He didn’t call or text me to tell me he had changed his mind. He showed up after I had gone to bed to get the things he’d left the night before that he would need for school. He didn’t ask if I had cooked the rabbit, or had a piece of the pie I spent hours making.  It wasn’t important to him.  We didn’t go to Bob’s River Place either, nor did I get a text or a call to say we weren’t going. I just assumed that by 10am with no word from anyone, our plans had changed.  And instead of getting the place to myself as promised, my roommate took the day off from work and she and her dog were here to invade my space, my time, and my privacy.  So, after crying myself to sleep and taking a little nap while nursing a slight hangover, I got up and spent the rest of “my” day cleaning the “our” whole apartment (alone – though my roommate was there and could have helped), and then spent time hanging out at the pool and playing games together. She was bored, needy of attention, and I love her, and we don’t often get a lot of time to hang out together. I wasn’t going to get my alone time. Even though she tried to stay in her room to give me “my” space, that never lasted more than a half hour before she needed something, wanted something,  or had a question to ask, or had to take her dog out – you know, the typical things that needs to be done when you’re at home.  My time was interrupted, unlike the time she’ll get to enjoy for the next two days she’s off and at home alone.  I have value, too.

I’d love to say I’m not making plans anymore, but that’s not who I am.  I wish I could find a way to make it a bit more difficult for the people I love and care about to ignore, take advantage, and neglect me. Is that asking too much? Don’t I matter? It doesn’t feel like it. It feels like - It doesn’t matter what I want, I’m Tonya, I’ll understand.  “I can neglect her, but she’ll still be there. I can leave my shit sitting here, she’ll clean it up. I can break my word, invade her space, or change my plans, she’ll accommodate.  It doesn’t matter what “she’s” planned, “I” don’t feel like it.  I don’t have to call her sometimes or let her know what’s going on in my life; she should know I love her. I shouldn’t have to tell her. I’m an adult now, I don’t need a mother, or she’s not my mother. I want to be alone. I don’t want the hassle of a relationship, but I do enjoy the benefits without the commitment. It’s good she loves me, but I don’t have to love her back. She doesn’t need it, she’s Tonya.” I have value, too.

I had a woman tell me this weekend that she had been terrified of talking to me because I intimidated her and she thought I was too classy and too proper, that she didn’t think I would want to be friends with her. I know she meant that as a compliment, but it hurt my heart. She’s such a beautiful, friendly woman; I would have easily been friends with her. She’s not the first to tell me that. I don’t know what to do with that.  I don’t understand what I’m doing that makes me loved, but not loved enough, or intimidating, or that I deserve better (but not the best from them - from someone else because they can’t give me what I want or what I deserve), because the next person will tell me I deserve better (but not the best from them - from someone else because they can’t give me what I want or what I deserve), and the next person will tell me I deserve better (but not the best from them - from someone else because they can’t give me what I want or what I deserve). Or so I was told by my last three boyfriends when we broke up. I give my best because I love and value those in my life.  Will no one give me theirs?  I have value, too.

I don’t love and value my kids or my friends because they’re perfect. On the contrary, it is often their imperfections I love most.  I love my children, more than I could ever say. I gave them the best I had.  I wasn’t perfect, but I don’t think I deserve to just be forgotten or shut out completely. I was a good mother. They were my life, my loves.  It hurts me so much they don’t involve me in their lives or care what’s going on in mine.  I love my roommate/sister/bestie more than she’ll ever know. I’m closer to her and have a bond with her like I’ve never had with any of my brothers.  As for my brothers, I sacrificed a lot for them, yet they don’t care about me either. I had to separate myself from them because they hurt me, lied to me, stole from me, and endangered my children.  I love my best friend and his sons. They’re family - they own a part of my heart and soul.  Do I not matter to anyone?  My parents never wanted or valued me. My brothers never wanted or valued me.  My ex-husband never wanted or valued me. My kids don’t want or value me.  I have value, too.

Someday the people in my life are going to look up, but I’m not going to be there anymore – just like my parents, my brothers, and my ex-husband discovered, because “I” value me. I have value, too.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray