Author Sylvia Stone spent many years weeping because of the unfortunate events she experienced in her life. She held too tightly to the past without understanding its true value, and it prevented her from living a joyful life. She started listening to the stories of others and realized she also had a story to tell—her journey to enlightenment and transcendence.
In Seeing the Forest through the Trees, Stone shares a collection of memories from her lifetime and how these helped her become who she is today. She addresses topics such as family dysfunction, sexuality, addiction, sorrow, and betrayal. She tells how she invoked a search for understanding, and it guided her to the path of self-exploration to find balance and inner peace in spite of the challenges she’s faced.
Offering an honest, direct, and sometimes comical explanation of Stone’s journey to hell and back, Seeing the Forest through the Trees narratees her story as a vehicle to offer encouragement to others. She communicates the importance of finding one’s strengths by examining the roots, reclaiming them, and putting all the other experiences to bed.
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It was the summer of love in 1969 when Sharon lay alone in a delivery room far from home in Wisconsin. She was well overdue, and the induced labor was long, intense, and frightening. The joke was that I didn't want to be born as the nurse cleaned me up and put me in my mother's arms. A mistake? We'd have to see.
A deal was made, and the baby was to be given up for adoption. Leif, the father, refused to accept any responsibility for a child. Sharon's mother, Zofie, was afraid for her nineteen-year-old daughter and voiced that a single mother wouldn't have a chance at a good life. The mind-set in those days was very different and full of shame. "What man would want you — already equipped with a kid?"
The attempted abortion earlier in the pregnancy hadn't worked. A hot bath had been drawn for Sharon, and she was fed dangerous amounts of quinine before being led to a plastic-covered mattress that was prepped and ready to receive the aborted fetus. She became violently ill, but something watched over me. I did not die — so it was probably the right decision for her to consider adoption. She was a high school dropout who foolishly chased her first love, Leif, around while she searched for her identity. As he was breaking her heart, she was running from her dysfunctional family. It seemed that all strikes were against her. Taking on a baby would be ludicrous.
The women from the adoption agency walked down the hospital hall and headed to Sharon's room to get her signature and finalize the surrender. As they entered the threshold, they were surprised to find that I had not been taken to the nursery immediately. I had been placed in my mother's arms, which was against procedure.
"Doesn't the nurse know? The baby should not have been given to her," they said as they reached for me.
Sharon didn't let go and informed the staff that she had changed her mind.
My mother later told me that I looked at her as she held me in that room — and she fell in love. She said, "I didn't know what kind of a mother I'd be, but I would try to be the best I could!" She wrote letters to her parents, Loosha and Zofie. She wrote to Leif 's parents, Rita and Teddy, and informed everyone of her decision. She still loved my father and chose to lie to social services, claiming she didn't know who the father was to absolve him from any responsibility.
What now? Even the doctor who delivered me knew that Sharon had absolutely nothing. The day she brought me home to her shabby little apartment, she was greeted by a roomful of flowers and a crib that had been sent by her doctor. Mom was pretty much alone and knew it was best if she made it back home to Ohio soon.
Dad had his own place in Wisconsin, attending college, and he found a little time to meet me and gave me my name. He wrote a letter to his mother: "I'm getting to know her. She's really a happy kid and fun to be around! I'll be coming home soon to visit."
When the time came to leave Wisconsin, the angels watched over me again when a last-minute change of plans postponed my leaving with Dad and his sister in his van. For some reason, my mother and I stayed behind for a few days while the van took a roll and tumble on the highway. I would have surely perished in the crash, taking the title of "baby projectile." When I finally arrived in Ohio, my invisible protectors followed me and oversaw my battle with scarlet fever. Shortly thereafter, Mom got a good scare when a bottle of baby powder I was holding, as she changed my diaper, dumped onto my face and nearly choked me to death. I was definitely meant to be here!
Many details of the next few years are vague. Mom and Dad had somewhat of a relationship. I'm not sure what to call it. Mom was trying to be independent, and Dad stayed with his parents on and off. He kept himself busy with things like photography and building motorcycles, and he put a lot of importance on personal transcendence and meditation. And then there were other hobbies that were not as constructive. My father was an extremely handsome young man with beautifully long, silky, and flowing brown hair with deep blue eyes that attracted a lot of ladies. Though his mother urged him to settle down with Sharon and his newborn, the free spirit in him prevented that. Rather than sticking it out in law school, he decided to take on the lucrative business of drug dealing, started carrying a gun, and made friends in all the wrong places.
Dad never got much support, especially from his mother, on a financial or emotional level, and this led him to act out in a way that any rebellious kid would do. Of course, one can't blame their parents for everything. Some of it was the era. The 1960s were drastically changing times filled with a new generation trying to break away from the old ways of thinking. Dirty politics, murder, scandal, and the Vietnam war were raging in the midst of flower power and the age of Woodstock. The in thing was to transcend your mind and share love freely. It all sounded good until drugs were added to the mix. How unfortunate! It would've been interesting to see how far this great movement would have gone. My parents were caught up in all of this, and they played games with one another, not realizing that this baggage was being passed down to their child.
While Mom's time was consumed with a baby, Dad had plans to go to Woodstock with a date and a couple of buddies, driving in his Cadillac hearse. They were on their way to attend a three-day concert that would go down in history. There were thousands of people, and the roads were completely jammed. It seemed impossible to get his vehicle even remotely close to the site, and then Dad's buddy, Eddie, got a bright idea. Driving around in a hearse was obviously unusual, though morbidly funny and a bit rock star-ish. As they approached a standstill, Eddie put on his top hat, hung himself out the window, and exclaimed, "Make way! Jefferson Airplane is here! Make way!" And like Moses parting the Red Sea, an opening was made. Dad got front-row parking. They rolled out of the smoke-filled hearse and were laughing their asses off. The entire experience was extraordinary for those free spirits, and it would set the benchmark for future generations.
Sharon was at home, learning to be a mother and doing a lot of soul searching. She was a beautiful, petite young girl with long brown hair, hazel eyes, and a smile that lit up a room. Even with a baby, guys were paying attention to her. Her mother, Zofie, had been wrong after all! Sharon loved music and enjoyed singing. She was sweet, sensitive, and expressed herself most effectively on paper through letters and poetry. Mom always seemed her best when she was in love. But during that time, she was heartbroken, confused, and extremely pissed at Leif. Zofie had her back.
Grandma didn't like my long-haired hippie dad or his mother, for that matter. In fact, she couldn't stand either of them. On one occasion, Dad went to her house and sat with his legs spread, sporting holes in his blue jeans, including his crotch. Grandma Zofie, with her wonderfully distinctive Polish accent, said to Sharon, "Tell dat Sanny Claus to shut his legs!" She couldn't help but think that Leif was bad news, and she gave her daughter tons of support. Mom decided to play the field and shop for a man. Why should she sit around while Leif was out with God knows who? Well, she found one all right. His name was Lenny.
In the meantime, Rita continued to hound her son to do the right thing and ask Sharon to marry him. He caved and finally agreed, but by then, the damage was done. The game playing went into overtime. Sharon didn't believe he was sincere, partly because of Rita's strong efforts to get them together. She thought, Why would he need his mother to talk him into committing? I'll show him! Driven by ego, she would marry Lenny because he seemed to care and pay attention to her and her daughter.
Leif responded by marrying another woman he'd been hanging around with for a while. Mom wasn't surprised. She was a cute brunette with puppy-dog eyes that gave her a sexy, sleepy look. It wasn't a wonder that he was totally enamored with her.
Here I was, in the middle of it all, the little thing that tied my parents together. Somehow there remained a love between the two of them that kept their friendship afloat. I went back and forth with visitation, and my stepmom didn't seem to mind my mother's presence. Lenny, on the other hand, turned out to be an extremely jealous man and became quite possessive and controlling with my mother. Consumed with fits of rage, his tantrums were so childish that he felt the need to scribble out my father's name on anything he saw. Once, as my father stood outside waiting to see me and speak with Mom, Lenny picked me up and held me out the second- story window, threatening to drop me as he argued with my mother. Now his true colors were coming to light, and she lived in fear. To spend time together as a family, my parents would secretly plan to meet at the park to talk and go for long strolls. What had she gotten herself into? Lenny was a nightmare! She adored Leif and felt like she had made a critical mistake.
It's times like those when our faith must be at its strongest when searching for solutions. Sometimes problems take care of themselves. Lenny decided to rob a number of banks and talked one of Mom's friends into joining him. When they were caught, Sharon found herself visiting her friend in federal prison. Lenny escaped and fled to Hawaii where he murdered someone before being apprehended and sentenced to twenty years. Mom was granted a divorce and was finally free of him.
Enjoying her freedom, Mom took me to Chicago, made some friends, and got the bug to travel around the country with a band. One of the guys expressed interest in my mother's singing and writing abilities, though I'm sure he was interested in much more. She thought this could be her big break and the chance to go out and make something of herself. Supposedly, she sang backup vocals on one of their albums, but I never heard it. What I know for sure is that she left me behind in the temporary care of my dad and stepmom who were back in Wisconsin, until Zofie and Loosha filed for legal guardianship and took me back to Ohio to keep me from being given away.
As the months went by — and things were not working out for her on the road as she had hoped — Sharon envisioned coming home. She felt guilty for leaving me and ashamed for making another bad decision. Christmas was coming around again, and she didn't want to return empty- handed. She agreed to take part in an illegal activity to make some quick cash. One of the guys stole a checkbook, and they went up and down the eastern portion of the country, sending my mother into the banks to cash bad checks. I don't know how much money they stole, but it was enough to get her home.
As she entered the threshold, she loosened her laces and removed her shoes to quietly walk through the house, nervously making her way to the familiar voices in the living room. She wondered if I would even recognize her as she rounded the corner and stood in the doorway, watching me play on the floor. Her stomach was in knots as she held her breath when I turned to see her.
"Mama!" I said — in love and amazement.
She rushed to embrace me with tears of joy and relief in her eyes.
I had not forgotten her.
Mom stayed close to home, socializing and partying, as she continued to search for herself. This time, she would bring me along to some of the hippie gatherings and motorcycle blessings where there were all types of drugs and naked people floating around. I was introduced to a vast array of interesting characters, including a biker chick who was running for her life from the president of a gang in California after he discovered that she was stealing money. A few folks seemed way out there, lost in the rambling waves of inebriation. Others were calm and cool soul-searchers who were just chilling out to pass the time. Mom's laughter confirmed her well- being, and she was relaxed, but the past tends to creep up on us when we least expect it. Somehow, some way, the bad karma we create always makes certain that all our debts are paid in one way or another.
One day, Sharon decided to visit her friend who had robbed the bank with her ex. When she arrived at the jail to check in, they informed her that since he was in a federal prison, she needed special permission to visit. They made her wait in a room, and when the officers returned, they threw down a stack of checks with her fingerprints all over them — accompanied by her face on a number of bank surveillance photos. Busted! Now she was off to jail, and I remained in the care of my grandparents for the next few years. While she did her time in a couple of southern women's prisons, she had plenty of time to reflect upon her life. Once, she witnessed someone's throat being cut. The aggressor put her finger to her lips as a warning to say nothing. Sharon did just that. Instilled with fear for her life, she withdrew and wrote letters and poetry to pass the time. She thought about her poor decision-making as she spoke with jail counselors and participated in some of the programs offered. She thought about me and wanted to straighten herself out. She thought about my dad, and six months after my fourth birthday, Mom received a brief telegram stating that Leif was dead.
Throughout my childhood, I was told many versions of the story.
"Your dad had a heart attack."
"He was sick and lying on his back as he choked in his own vomit." "He and his wife threw a party, and when he was overdosing, everyone
got scared and left him to die."
"A buddy of his brought over some heroin. His wife got pissed off and left the house for hours as the two guys hung out. Later that day, he retired to his room, lay on his back in his waterbed, and succumbed to an overdose."
Any way I look at it, he did it to himself.
I remember Grandma Zofie and Grandpa Loosha carrying me across a busy street to the front of a white building before setting me down. Holding my hand as we entered the funeral parlor, we walked up a set of stairs leading to a large, open room on the left. All eyes stared at me as I scanned the room and saw my father sleeping. Slowly, I approached the casket, stood on my tiptoes to peer in, saw what he was wearing, and noticed that I couldn't see the lower half of his body. I later found out that only half the casket was opened because he was barefoot — the way he liked to be.
A man crouched down to get to my level, looked me in the eyes, and gave me two flowers. I held them in my little hands and stared down at them as he said a few words that I can no longer recall. I heard Grandma Rita thanking Zofie and Loosha for bringing me before we left. I imagine my stepmom was there, though I can't see her in my mind. Within the next couple of years, she made the newspaper for being involved in buying product to supply a drug lab to make speed with her friends.
I always wanted to run into her again to have a chat, a moment of healing, and a time for forgiveness.
My father's sister told me not to waste my time looking for her. "She won't give you the truth anyways. The woman is pure evil. I never understood what my brother saw in her." Recently explaining more of the story, she said, "One of their friends gave Leif a painting of the devil. It was the creepiest thing I ever saw, and they hung it in their front hallway. There was something about it that wasn't right. It was pure evil — just like her." Then she recalled the day my father died. "It was most unusual. First, she called the house, and then she came over, which was something she never did, saying she thought something was wrong with Leif. Your grandparents and I got in the car and took what seemed to be the longest car ride ever. I just knew something horrible had happened." There was a look of repulsion on my aunt's face as she remembered seeing him on his back. She chose not to give me gory details, but she said that it was absolutely awful. I had no idea that she and my grandparents found him like that. What a terrible memory to carry around — not to mention the disbelief and anger attached to it. They and my mom always blamed my stepmother and thought she was cheating on Dad with the heroin seller. I would love to hear her side of the story. The whole thing seemed shady, but I don't expect to ever know the whole truth.
Shortly after Dad died, Mom was released from prison. We were reunited in the year of my fifth birthday. I have a strong recollection of her buttoning up my shirt in Grandma's kitchen and saying, "Oh boy! First day of school!" I was thankful she was there for that.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Seeing the Forest through the Trees"
Copyright © 2018 Sylvia Stone.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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