Frescoes Unadorned

That I woke up at all was not my intention. I’d reasoned with myself in a depressed state that I had had enough life lessons and experiences that qualified me to take a short-cut to the great beyond.

The Universe had a different idea. In Spring of 1988, I woke up from a two-day coma in the intensive care unit of the UC San Francisco Parnassus campus. During my deep sleep, I dreamed of frescoes in my mind’s eye. There were cherubs alone, with musical instruments, laying on the ground, skipping, leaping and running while holding hands with other cherubs. They were concrete, unadorned bas-reliefs.

To the question, “What should I do?” I awoke, whispering to myself, “Take care of yourself.”

Is that it? An emergency room bill over $20,000 and a loss of two days produced the everyday awareness to take care of myself?

Ambivalent, I didn’t know if I wanted to live or die. If I was clear on dying, I certainly would have not taken any insulin. In hindsight, I’m glad I took some insulin. The pain I suffered from my loneliness was unbearable. The treachery of loneliness that came with people not knowing who you truly are, but what you offer them materially, caused an indescribable hurt. I needed companionship, not death.

Sometimes, that’s what I missed about family. Dad was even-keeled. Mom, on the other hand, disciplined from her frustration. She was emotional and erratic.

Dad died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital in November 1965. Mom never recovered from that loss. Eight months later, she had a hysterectomy that obliterated her womanhood. She couldn’t fulfill her obligations to us, her kids, because of her deep grief.

I slept in Mom’s bed after Dad died, sometimes waking up to her kicking me from her dream state. She lived another 11 years doing her best to raise the three adolescents remaining at home. To her credit, she never gave up. She kept going.

Today, my sisters and I are the only three remaining alive from a pack of seven kids. There is the next generation, and they’re teeming with life.

I was raised to take care of others. When I was in high school, my maternal grandmother, Nanny, was home most of the time. I used to wash and blue rinse her hair; teasing it into bouffants page boy on one side and the other, a soft flip.

From 1963, at the inception of my type 1 diabetes, to 1988, I progressively took one shot, two shots, three shots of insulin a day. At the time of my comatose incident, I was taking four shots of insulin a day, a laborious commitment that drew my attention to myself. I worked a job, managed my diabetes and was recently clean from drugs and alcohol. But, I hadn’t capsized my own self-loathing, so much the fabric of American culture.

For a long time, I worked bottom-rung jobs doing my best to outshine myself, resenting the attention and growth others manifested in the work-world. I drowned my sorrow in alcohol and drugs for 20 years. In August 1987, I emerged from that stupor on a hospital bed, only to face myself prancing around as a victim.

I’m thankful for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which taught me to let myself be guided by a sponsor through the twelve steps to let myself be loved until I learned to love myself. Its principles helped me learn to meet my own needs as a way to love myself before rejoining the community in the service of others.

The basic tenets of AA are to trust your higher power, clean house and be of service to your fellow human beings. You help others only after you’ve learned to love and care for yourself. Then you keep your side of the street clean. This requires not blaming others for your own faulty decisions. It does become your responsibility to steer the ship in all its weather conditions, benign or inclement.

The detailed approach to diabetes maintenance is constant in my life, and it can be grueling. It helped me realize the upkeep of my diabetes is a ritual honoring the physical plane and that my body housed my spirit. I think this life is as spiritual as it is material. Certainly, AA’s twelve step program is a spiritual discipline. It is this practice that saved my ass.

I took the steps and I seriously applied them to myself. I admitted defeat, and I asked for help from the universe. It produced a shift in my thinking. The support I seriously needed, the comfort of belonging to some entity bigger than the global community is divinity, itself.

This divine support helps me look my fears in the eye and walk through them. Fear of people and of economic insecurity gradually leaves, one day at a time.

I pray to do God’s will on the start of each day. I’m not as egocentric anymore; my life isn’t just about me and what I want, it’s more about us and what we need to prosper on all levels. The ‘us’ and ‘we’ are my partner, my family, my AA friends, my work friends, my writing community.

I’ve been in a long-term committed relationship for 24 years – it’s been a slow process of building trust for each other and sharing the intimacies and angst of daily companionship. My partner and I maintain our humor, insight, patience and forgiveness for each other in the life we share together. My partner also lives with an AA program, so we have shared values and processes.

I’ve learned to trust God, myself and my fellow humans, within reason. I’ve learned to articulate my differences of opinions that I’d once bottled up for years. In tiny steps, I’ve learned to speak up for myself.

Through my recovery, I’ve become both my parents. I’ve developed my Dad’s balance and my Mom’s resilience. Gone is the self pity, blaming my family, resenting my friends, wanting to escape forever. In its place is a faith in God that I am cared for, by caring for myself and others. This journey is a freedom and a responsibility.

Kathleen Wallace has been writing since 2013 as a creative outlet and to figure out what the heck she’s about as a person. Frescoes Unadorned has been 10 years in the making and is her first published story. Enjoy!