In Massachusetts, where she grew up, Mia had always been a talented athlete and an A student. But after her parents' divorce and her move to Iowa, things were different. There were no more sports to play that fit with who she'd been. There were no more summers at the club, not even a neighborhood to play in because they had moved to a rural area. It was not a bright and cheery world. She fell down a path that headed toward despair.
In Breath of Life, Mia shares her story, a journey through one girl's life as she searched to find inner peace, healing, and forgiveness from a series of events she could never have anticipated, including an unplanned pregnancy during her freshman year in college. Her life changed forever, and she faced years of emotional and physical torment, anxiety, inner chaos, and confusion she simply could not manage.
This memoir narrates her journey of fear and hardship, an inspirational story that communicates the power of the human spirit to overcome the darkness of life and to ultimately master one's emotions.
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iUniverseCopyright © 2015 Mia
All rights reserved.
October 1, 2001
Help me share this journey of mine, so that from my pain, others may find freedom. Let me share this journey from darkness into the Kingdom of Light and Truth. And in the process Lord, most importantly, may Your name be praised and Your Glory raised.
When I was a little girl, I was the queen of magical thinking. I wasn't aware that I was doing this at such a young age, but I used theophany (to make things seem God-like) to the nth degree.
I imagined that my family as a unit was "perfect" and I thought my parents were too. I'm not sure how I reached that conclusion since my dad seemed to drink a lot, but I had him on a pedestal along with everyone else: my mother, brother and sister.
Maybe I felt this way because my Dad would give me his undivided attention every once in awhile. He wasn't around much but when he was he would tickle me and call me "chuggy buggy" and make me feel special in a way that no one else in my family did. For as long as I can remember my Dad drove a Cadillac and he liked listening to his eight tracks in the car. One of the songs that was popular at the time was "Windy," by the Association. When that song was playing he would sing it out loud to me and replace Windy with my nickname - "Shelly."
It wasn't much, but in his own way, I thought my Dad loved me. Sometimes on the way home from the country club in the summers my Dad would stop for a drink at one of his favorite spots. I would get a Coca-Cola or sometimes, as a real treat, he would buy me a Shirley Temple. Maybe it was my Dad's job that led me to ignore his passion for scotch, or maybe it was just the fact that he paid attention to ME once in awhile! I don't know. The rest of my family paid very little attention to me whatsoever, but still I kept them on a pedestal. I was the youngest - I looked up to them all - like I thought I was supposed to.
My Dad was a golf pro - the head golf professional at a private country club. "The Club" had an 18-hole golf course, a swimming pool, clubhouse and banquet facilities and if there was a golf tournament or a wedding reception (or both), on any given weekend, the place would be packed with people. As a young girl I was fortunate to spend many hours of those precious summer days at the swimming pool. I was often one of the last people to leave. It was a haven for me, my safe place, without my even knowing it at the time. I loved the feeling within me, the soothing relaxation in my muscles, after a day of sunshine and being in the water.
I could practice diving or swimming and do whatever I wanted because most of the time it seemed like I was there by myself hanging out with friends and their parents. When I was younger, my mom would come to the pool for the day and hang around with the other moms, but she didn't know how to swim, so I never saw her in the water much. There was a time when we were on vacation once in Florida when I was about three or four (before I could really swim) and she thought I was drowning and she jumped in the water to save me, so I know my mother loved me. It just wasn't reflected in my world enough that it seemed real to me.
My sister would come to the pool occasionally also, but she didn't seem to enjoy it the way I did. And my brother was never around. He was always working in the pro shop, cleaning clubs, caddying, or doing something related to golf. So I never saw him much either. I wasn't aware of it at the time consciously, but I know now that those days left me feeling relieved, yet lonely. Since I was the youngest and usually ignored by my older siblings, I guess I didn't mind. I was relieved that they weren't around, relieved from the additional emotional pain of being ignored - I had enough of that when we were all together. I didn't particularly care for being ignored either. It made me want to crawl inside myself and disappear. Little did I know, that those precious summers would become some of the very best times of my childhood, my most treasured memories.
Away from the pool and the club, we lived in a nice middle class neighborhood, in a small town about an hour west of Boston. Our neighborhood was filled with kids, who thankfully, were mostly MY age. That helped make up for the being ignored at home stuff. My best friend, Sandy, lived next door and we were the same age, born only twelve days apart. She was almost like a sister to me - we even looked alike in some ways. We both had brown hair, and were about the same size. Sandy's house was the 'hub' of Sierra Drive; everyone was always welcome and it was usually a busy place.
Whether it was Kick the Can, pickle, kick ball or softball, we always found something fun to do in the neighborhood. While we waited for the bus in the mornings, we would play jump rope. In the summers sometimes we would all have a camp out and sleep under the stars outside. A couple of the families had pools in their backyard so on the rare summer day when I didn't go to the club, I was still able to go swimming.
I remember these summers with great fondness because I was safe and happy, (so I thought) and as a child, life was pretty carefree. I didn't realize it then, but what I know now is that I could actually feel God's love and presence during those wonderful summer days, which is why I remember them better than anything else. But ever since I was six, my mother had been depressed and even hospitalized once for depression. I don't remember who took care of us or what happened, while she was gone. My only memory of this event, is waving to her from the parking lot as she stood in a window at the hospital. I don't remember asking anything about it, or anyone explaining why she was in the hospital. Nevertheless it remained tucked away in my mind.
As a child, Halloween was never my favorite holiday to celebrate because that meant you had to dress up in a costume which would bring attention to yourself. I wasn't used to that. This particular year that my mother was hospitalized, she had bought me a princess costume for Halloween. Huh. It was the best costume she'd ever gotten me and for once, it did make me feel special, since my Dad had always called my sister "princess."
If summers held lots of fun, the winters matched up just as well with lots of activities. There was ice skating, hockey and plenty of sledding and snowball fights. There were times when we'd get a foot or two of snow and when the driveway was cleared, the piles would be higher than the car. We'd go to the end of the driveway and dig out the snow to build forts on each end so we could have a snow ball war. Of course, I was never any match for the bullets my brother would throw at me, but it was good practice for me to work on my throwing arm.
My throwing arm was pretty good, for a girl. I can remember playing third base and shortstop during my years in softball. Actually I played almost every position over the years, and usually with pretty good proficiency. In the early years I did a lot of pitching, because I was always pretty accurate. I liked second base and I didn't mind the outfield either. I liked catching fly balls. It kind of reminded me of shagging golf balls for my dad - although I didn't catch those, of course.
These are the positive, joyful memories of my childhood. Summer sunshine, drying out from a swim, diving, late afternoons with the sun setting on the golf course, or, warm mittens from the furnace that we would put on for the next round of sledding, ice skating or street hockey. Of course, few of us are fortunate to escape childhood without collecting unpleasant memories as well. That's just life. I can recall as a child feeling so rejected and unwanted that I would go and hide in a corner of the living room behind the couch and wait for someone to come find me, hoping that someone would notice and miss me. No one ever did. Gradually, as I began to realize that it seemed my participation in family conversation was not real welcome, and my presence was not missed, I told myself that no one cared or loved me. What a lie. But from the environment I was growing up in, this lie seemed very true at the time and I wasn't hearing anything differently through church. Because of my mother's own illness and struggle with depression, she was unable to get us to church or Sunday school on any regular basis. When my sister and I shared a room together (I was about eight or nine) she would tell me on Sunday mornings, "Shhhh, don't wake up Mom! I don't want to go to church." Of course, little sister obeyed, even though part of me didn't want to at all. I didn't mind going to church, I actually kind of liked it and enjoyed the peace I felt while I was there, but I was always trying to keep everyone else happy.
Eventually my sister took over the den downstairs when we remodeled the garage and turned it into a family room. We were no longer roommates, which was really to her disadvantage, although she might not have seen it that way. Now, her room was such a mess that there was no clear cut path to get from one side of the room to the other. You just kind of waded through the clothes and piles of stuff. I would get so bad that I'd clean it for her, without her even asking.
I thank God for my sister, Sherry, because if it weren't for her, my mother and I wouldn't have found quite as much to laugh at - because her and I were so much alike. Certain incidents still remain in my memory about the laughter we shared. One particular day that I'll never forget was when we were wallpapering the bathroom in the lower level after she'd moved downstairs. My mom had chosen a really cute black and white print and decided she wanted to do the ceiling as well. For some reason, this had become a three person project, and as my mother stood there holding up the paper on the ceiling, to know where to cut, my sister put her nose right under my mom's armpit and sniffed loudly! Needless to say all the wallpaper came falling down as my mother's arms did too. We all laughed so hard - she was just hilarious.
I was born the favorite, or so my siblings seemed to think. They probably felt that way because I was the youngest and my mother had given my middle name after my grandfather - Meredith. They had both been named by our father. My brother and sister used to try to convince me that I was adopted; at one point they were so successful, that my mother drove to the closest department store she could find to buy a baby book for me, because she'd never made one when I was born. That didn't redeem me or make much difference in my eyes. It seemed to me that a baby book should be something you filled out when the child was born, to mark the joyful occasion when it happened. No baby book just confirmed what I felt deep in my spirit at a young age: I was not really wanted.
Church as I remembered it, was at the Trinity Church in downtown Northbridge. We were Protestant - unlike most of my friends and their families, I remember that every Wednesday night my best friend Sandy, went off to catechism. I never had a clue what that was until I began my own spiritual journey later on in life. It seemed like everyone around us was Catholic or Episcopalian and I didn't know what that meant or what the difference was. I didn't even know that in Protestant denominations you became "confirmed" also, I thought that was for Catholics only. All I remember about church, for the most part, was the fear of fidgeting too much upstairs in "the big church" and my mother making life miserable for us if she deemed our behavior unacceptable. The church upstairs where the adults went was beautiful – with a deep red carpet and long rows of white pews, burgundy velvet padded seats and a wonderful organ. As a young girl I took piano lessons from the church organist and she even encouraged me to sing in the choir. I did sing once, but I was never encouraged to pursue it again - like so many of my other dreams. I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, diver or ice skater. Although I participated in these activities, and was told I was good at them, for one reason or another - my future was never shaped around them.
So, the years rolled by and my childhood passed far too quickly. Those days of innocence and just being a kid were reluctantly replaced with more grown up things. I remember realizing in the fourth grade that one of the boys in my class had a crush on me. I didn't quite know what to think about that. During lunchtime at school, the boys would sometimes tear out the word "sweetheart" from the paper straw wrappers and pass them to me, but I don't recall ever trying to find out who they were from. The wonders of boy-girl relationships were a mystery to me and I didn't put a lot of time into thinking about them. I even stayed home from school on Valentine's Day that year out of embarrassment and fear. I didn't know what it all meant and my mother was not offering any insight into the mystery of it all (which was the same way she was raised).
Once I made it to junior high (sixth grade), I was so excited! At last I could talk to my siblings about junior high. But of course, my sister had just made it to ninth grade - and we had a four year high school system - so the conversation at the dinner table now revolved around high school. I was excluded once again.
I can remember going back to visit my favorite fifth grade elementary teacher, Mrs. Powers after going to junior high. When she asked me then if I had any plans to run for student government I was quite surprised. Huh? What do you mean? ME ... be a leader? Nooo - she must be joking, I thought. That wasn't allowed in my family, or at least that was the silent message I was receiving. It would make my siblings even more jealous toward me ... and I couldn't have dealt with that.
In junior high my friends started to have boyfriends and they used the term "going together," whatever that meant. My mind never really went there and my friends never said anything else about it. Because of the deep sense of shame that was inferred in my upbringing, especially toward anything sex related, I never cared. I didn't want to think about it. I did wonder why I didn't have a special "boy" friend once in a while, but I soon began to reason that it must be because I wasn't very cute. Since no one in my life was telling me otherwise, I assumed this reasoning to be true.
There was one boy in seventh grade who did ask me to "go with him." I was still very naïve about all these matters. Since I knew so little about this whole realm, it seemed kind of scary to me and I told him no. That didn't sit very well with him. The next trimester we were placed right next to each other in science on the seating chart - right in the front row (oh no ... I groaned inwardly). He teased me mercilessly. It was my payback I suppose.
Seventh grade indeed turned out to be a bad year. Not only did I have the experience with this boy, but I was also seriously injured for the second time in my life. The first time I'd fractured my ankle from a bike fall when I was in second grade. This injury was a little bit more traumatic. I was attacked by a dog - not just any dog - a St. Bernard. Man, was he HUGE. We were outside playing hide-and-seek one day after school and I made the mistake of getting within the distance of this big fella's leash. I knew when I heard his chain leash start to rattle across the ground, that I was in trouble and ran. I must have been only one or two more steps away from being outside his range, when he caught me by the leg with his jaw and whipped me around with such force that when I finally got free my clothes were torn and ruined. I was a mess. There was blood coming from my leg and face and grass stains everywhere from being rolled around as this humongous dog shook my leg back and forth with his jaw gripped around my lower leg. It was all I could do to hobble back to where my friends could see me. They went and told my mother and when she showed up, she yelled at me because I couldn't walk and had to be carried. To the doctor we went and about seven or eight stitches later on the front and back of my calf, I was on my way. But the wound was very deep and the swelling was so bad that I had to have crutches. That meant that I had to use the elevator at school. The kids all laughed at me and didn't believe me when I told them I was bit by a dog. I'm thinking "Why would I make this up?" It made no sense to me that these kids thought I was lying.
Excerpted from Breath Life by Mia. Copyright © 2015 Mia. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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Table of Contents
Life In The Country, 12,
Young Love, 21,
Heaven And Hell, 30,
Life And Death, 35,
Real Life, 44,
Finding Faith, 47,