This is a hard photo challenge for me because I want to say how fleeting life is, which is so cliché. How desperately short life can be, which is also so cliché. I want to wallow in the grief of my daughter’s death. How I search for memories now that it has been 7 years since she was murdered. What I go through every single day, when I open my eyes in the morning. How angry I am that the man who killed my daughter walks free due to a corrupt judge. I want to share to others how hard it is to accept a death of a child that was so senseless it leaves me weak with sadness. All the years that have disappeared like they never existed. I want others who have never had extreme grief to understand. It is difficult to let it go. I try, but I always have it there in my heart. So I just write my feelings down and I take photos of the this absolutely beautiful country that I live in now. Colombia. We have a lot in common. Death, senseless death, which is not something people can just let go of. We survive. We continue. But we remember. These photos are for my daughter, who fades ever so slowly from my memory. I still walk and meditate for her in all the beautiful areas right outside my door. It helps but it doesn’t keep me from missing the woman she could have become.
When I packed up and moved to Colombia I left abuse behind. I had enough of it in my life and I had enough of how it made me feel. I think that I almost felt that it was normal, as I was abused daily as a flight attendant when I worked. Many people are abusive in this world, although they would never think of themselves that way. I started working as a flight attendant at the age of twenty and my job molded me into a person who accepted bad behavior as normal. I now know I allowed it to spill over into my personal relationships. When a passenger was rude and demanding, I had to accept it and hold my tongue. The customer was always right. Not a favorable way to grow into an adult
Abuse is insidious and can creep up in a relationship; it does not have to be your partner or spouse. It can show up in friendships, with siblings, work, and family. When it starts happening in your life, the natural reaction is to hide it from others and let the world see only the good times, especially in these days of social media. We see photos of everyone we know on the many social media sites. The photos usually show good times, happiness and fun. I know, I only posted pictures of happiness for many years in my second marriage. What I have discovered as I look back on my past is this; little events of questionable behavior lead to big events that ruin lives and destroy relationships. Abuse is not just physical, it is verbal and action oriented. By action oriented (besides the obvious physical abuse) I mean deliberately doing unkind things to another or allowing someone else to treat you badly without putting a stop to it. Usually the person doing this has learned this behavior. That is why generations of families continue repeating the same mistakes, and the cycle continues. If you can spot the signs then you can stop the succession. In my case it is too bad it took me so many years to realize that by accepting and allowing these behaviors, I perpetuated continuing this way of life to my children.
The first thing I would say about abuse is Do NOT let anyone invalidate you! If you see or feel something is wrong, no one has power to negate that, ever. No one else has lived through your exact experiences. And so, no one else has the right to dictate or judge how you feel. Your feelings are important. Don’t let anyone lead you to believe otherwise, or make you feel small by demeaning you with words or actions. I lived many years allowing the family of my ex to do this to me and to my children as my ex would not stand up to them. Well you know what? I SHOULD have stood up to them right when it started. I have to bear responsibility for allowing it to continue. It was a thorn that stayed under the surface during my entire marriage. There were many times horrible things happened and I should have demanded the perpetrators leave my house and not wait for him to do it. I can’t tell you how many times my daughter was bullied and physically harmed by her step-cousin, all the while the family excused the act. I have always wanted to be the peacemaker, I regret that now. You can be peaceful, but not wimpy, you should always stand up for what you know is right and correct those who are wrong. I would comfort my daughter and hold anger inside me. That anger still lies dormant, but I have found ways to let go. Writing it down validates my thoughts and helps me see things clearly now that I am out of the situation.
Do not stay in a relationship where you are not valued as number one! When I married for the second time I was quite active in the Catholic Church. One thing the priest emphasized in pre-marriage counseling was the husband and wife need to put each other before anything else, supporting each other’s decisions. My mother and father were always united when it came to my brother and I. If there was a disagreement about something we children never knew. As my children grew up they saw me as the disciplinarian and my husband as the friend who took away any punishment I had commenced. This ate away at my authority and respect, and thus implied I had less significance than him. It caused many problems over the years. If your partner does not support you and you do not support him, then it is time to move on. I wish I had left earlier than I did. I say to myself now; communication isn’t just an important part of a relationship, it IS the relationship.
Don’t allow fear to keep you with anyone who is an abuser. You are not how others treat you. You are not the horrible things they have said or done to you. You are not the person that hears negative things and takes them to heart, making you question your own sanity. Don’t let anyone discourage you, make you feel self-doubt or try to control you because they want you to do what they think you should do. You are your own shining star! Show the world your star and ignore the negative. When I left my marriage it was this last act that caused it. I was being verbally abused by a drunk who had once again gone back on what the two of us had decided was the right path to take in a family crisis. He again said one thing and then turned around and did another. Words became heated, he came at me and choked me in front of my son, who was a young teen. I fear that he will always carry this image in his mind as he screamed “Mom don’t call the police!” I remember the hands leaving my neck and running to my car where I took photos of the marks. I left and never looked back. Now look where I am 6 years later! I’m starting my business and have reversed my life to become a positive role model to others. That weak woman I was, that woman who allowed herself to be bullied and abused is strong now. I will never again allow any person to abuse me or have someone in my life that I see abuses others. I ended a friendship this year because I saw abuse in a home where I had stayed. Abuse ruins lives, I know it is not easy for people to pick themselves up and move forward like I have. This is my message to anyone in an abusive situation, seek help through an organization, family, church or synagogue. There are people who will listen and believe you. The abuser usually turns the story around and tries to make YOU look crazy, stand strong with your convictions and don’t worry about what others think, just get away!
Some people will refuse to accept that you are no longer who you used to be – that you’ve made mistakes in the past, learned from them, and moved beyond them. I found that many people did not realize that I had lived in such a difficult situation for years. I encountered many judgmental people I once thought of as friends. They treated me differently when I would go to a social occasion. Who knows what gossip they heard, or why they felt the need to judge me. Maybe they do not understand I have grown and moved on with my life leaving a past that was unhealthy. Do not help them by acknowledging their begrudging behavior. Let go of their negativity, find peace, and liberate yourself! Show them and others you are not that past! Show them you are living in the present and doing just fine! Show them your courage, your fortitude, your love for others. Show the people who have hurt you that you are better than that, show them you are not the person they incessantly said you were. Make your life a glowing example of courage. For all of you suffering silently in a situation that is slowly killing your spirit; you can change it. Just take it one day at a time.
My last thoughts are you have to forgive, no matter how hard it is. Not for them but for you! Let it go. They know what they did, they will think about it in their quiet moments, their own thoughts will be their tormentor. Let that be enough. Let them see you are not the same as them, that you have no need for revenge, just a need to move on and live your life the way it should be lived. I guarantee the respect others will give you will more than make up for the respect you lost for yourself when enduring a situation that you felt helpless in. I am proof of that. I have survived, I will continue to be a survivor.
I dedicate this blog to my best friend Shannon, for without her I would not have made it to the place I am today.
Visit my Facebook page Villa Migelita. I share my daily adventures and zest for my new found life.
I have opened a Bed and Breakfast and you can book to come visit me in Colombia, the land of Magical Realism. http://www.villamigelita.com
This blog is about life, my life in Colombia. Sometimes I bring in the past, sometimes I am in the present time. I have a lovely home here in the mountains of Colombia. I had no idea when I invested here that Colombia would be moving into its own as a major economic presence in South America, nor that Colombia would be featured in Forbes as a wonderful place to retire(http://money.msn.com/retirement/best-countries-to-retire-to-in-2014-1). My friend and author John Lundin is writing a book that is in development to be a movie that will be filmed here in beautiful Colombia (http://www.prlog.org/12270412-sundance-is-colombia-the-new-hollywood.html). I do know that I have really settled into my life here in South America while enjoying myself everyday photographing nature, making video’s for all to see in real time on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/VillaMigelita) and living amongst the world’s happiest people according to recent article’s written about Colombia. These polls say the people of Colombia have a 75% happiness rating. I would rate it higher, because of my own experiences, but I will definitely agree that this is the place to live and be happy!
Alas, in my last three blogs I shared unhappy stories of recent life experiences, which can happen to anyone in any place. Life is not always beautiful photo’s and happy postings on Facebook. Real life is a mess sometimes. That is why I really give thanks for my surroundings in this beautiful land of Colombia and the blessings I do have. I take photo’s to document daily occurrences in my life that make me smile and hopefully make other’s smile too. I write to help me with a pain I have in my heart from losing my daughter, also the pain I have from difficult situations that can just pop up out of nowhere. I write for healing, I write for my peace inside of me, I write to help anyone who has been following my blog realize we all have difficulties in life. Most people keep the misery of life’s terrible times inside themselves without letting on they are sad, angry, tired, wanting a divorce, recovering from an illness, a lost pet, mean people, death, unkind gossip, disease, family problems, job problems, not having a job, abuse, addiction, I could keep going but you get the point. I have had most of these things at some point in my life affect me in some way but kept the façade of a perfect life to the outside world. Now I no longer want to do that, I want to be authentic to myself and to use that authenticity as a way of helping others to be authentic too. It seems this world is one without a lot of authenticity anymore, not just from people in our lives, but from products we eat, to the need to impress others with possessions we do not need, to worrying about what other’s think, to living a life we can not afford, to spending more time worrying about what other’s are doing than focusing on what we can do to make ourselves better. One thing I do love about life in Colombia, the people are unaffected. They do like drama and can go on and on about the latest community saga, but they forgive and love without reservation. This is what I strive to do. I strive to forgive all the past hurts in my life, and to use this pureness of a heart without hate to live in peace.
Recently I had to become more independent when my partner went through a breakdown and was arrested. I was frightened to be alone, even though my life with him during the prior months had been less than ideal. However, I picked myself up like I always do, trusting myself and my determination to succeed. I used a friend as an interpreter for a month, but realized I could do OK by myself and we parted ways. I hired an outdoor worker full-time and a new maid who has organized my house wonderfully. I started making my own phone calls, I also was receiving phone calls and I realized I could speak Spanish well enough to get on with life just fine by myself. When my battery died on my truck I called my mechanic that lives in La Buitrera and he came up to start my truck, we then drove my truck to town, his wife and 9 month old son came along. He left me at the grocery store while he searched for a good price on a new battery. I had a lovely day with him and his wife, and dropped them back off at their home in the evening after we had done a lot of errands. He not only helped me get my battery but drove me to get my food for the animals and a few other things I needed. You see, this is how Colombian’s are, they do more than is expected, and show what human kindness is about through their actions. I knew after this day I could always count on him for any help I might need. I did not realize I would need his help again so soon. What happened on my short ride back up the mountain to Villa Migelita was the basis for the title of this blog.
It had just turned into night when I left his family to drive home, my mountain road was really dark. I turned on my bright lights and went very slow. We are fortunate enough in my community of El Meson to be getting a paved road right now. The construction of this road is to say the least ‘a bit hazardous’ and I am always nervous when I drive, but nighttime is very scary. I was taking deep breaths and telling myself “just go slow, you will be fine” when I went through the first area of road construction. They are building one side at a time, and the other side is left open for traffic. The road itself is really just the size of one way, and all driver’s have an unwritten rule those going up the mountain have the right of way which means those coming down have to pull over to the extreme side or even back up if they encounter another car on the way up. I got through the first area of construction ok, when I encountered neighbor’s needing a ride up near my house. They had one motorcycle with a young man driving and two women with large full sacks which they tossed in the back of my truck. I became distracted as the ladies started talking to me, and was not concentrating like I had been before. We came to another area of construction, I was on the paved side now, the other side was the rocky original road and there were large metal wires sticking out from the newly cemented road I was driving on. My truck tires are large, the paved road is very small when cut in half. Imagine half of one lane to drive on. It is dark, there are no lights except mine from the truck. I am trying to not hit the wall on one side, shadows making it appear closer than it was, so I over compensate and go a little to far towards the center and next thing I know my tire just barely goes off and then the back tire goes off and I am on those metal wires! I was smart enough to stop immediately and call my mechanic friend who said he would be right there. I get out of the car with my passengers to see where I am, and make sure my tires are alright. I look around and am happy to see I am right in front of a home with a long driveway, but as I am looking another truck comes down the opposite way and stops less than a few feet in front of my truck! I then look behind me and there are at least 6 cars waiting with headlights on to go up the mountain, along with a bunch of motorcycles! The moto’s all had stopped and they stayed to help even though they could have passed by me and been on their way. I have never seen this much traffic ever on my little mountain road, and realize it is because it is the day before New Year’s Eve and all the people who own farms come from the city to spend the holiday in the tranquility of the beautiful mountains. I become very overwhelmed, and just a bit dramatic myself! I guess being in a Spanish country has affected me a bit, as I was speaking Spanish and talking with my hands “Lo siento, esto fue un accidente!” Everyone is out milling around and talking about what they can do to get my truck into the driveway without hurting the tires. No one is mean, no one honks their horn, no one thinks it is my fault. The guy who is driving the other truck speaks some English and talks to me to calm me down. He gets behind the wheel of my car, as my outdoor worker arrives on his bicycle to help too. There are at least 20 men helping at this point. The women are holding my hand, and telling me all is “tranquila”. I watch as these men get hammers and hit the wires down and into the ground, then place a board under my tires and start backing up and going forward little by little. I wonder where the hammers, the board the tools they use come from? This is the way of Colombian men, they have everything and can do anything. It was harrowing, it was unbelievable, it is my life in the mountains of Colombia. Slowly they get my truck backed into the driveway of the house, but then we have his truck that is right there blocking all of the traffic that needs to go up the mountain. Again, very slowly he got his truck into that driveway too, by backing up with the other men helping. Whew. Done. Now I stand there as all those cars drive by, feeling foolish. Do you know every single one said “Happy New Year” and greeted me nicely? Not one person was annoyed or angry.
After the traffic left, my mechanic gets in my truck and drives me home. His brother and the wives are on the motorcycles or in the truck with me and everyone follows me home. I have a car full of groceries and big bags of food. My worker is in the back of the truck with his bicycle along with the original passengers who I had given a ride to. Everyone is smiling, talking and laughing. We all are happy to have gotten me out of that situation without damage to my tires. When we arrive at Villa Migelita, it reminds me of a procession or a parade. Moto’s and my truck all laughing and festive. we enter and everyone pitches in to unload my truck. Then before they leave my mechanic told me he would pick me up for New Year’s Eve if I wanted to stay with his family for the celebration. I say I will call, but know that I want to spend New Year’s alone because of the loss of my dog Taz. I could never celebrate not knowing what had happened to him. So although this is not a Disney movie, I want to say I had a very happy ending that night. I also learned to appreciate that things that happen in the night can also bring new friends into my life and perhaps I should not drive again when it is dark. That my new life in my small pueblo of El Meson has heartache just like my life did in the USA, but I acknowledge all I am learning about myself and the people who live here. Mostly, I enjoy that I am able to use my writing to tell the world of just how sweet it is to live and discover a new culture, a new language and new simpler lifestyle. May God Bless all of you with a very blessed 2014 and may we all have a joyous year with new beginnings and happy endings.
The photo above is me burning the 2013 calendar. This is a tradition here to let go of all the bad things of the past year. In an update to my past blogs, my ex-partner is recovering and I have forgiven him. He has been diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder and is taking medicine that has changed his life. He has been ill for several years, and started using drugs to self-medicate. He is grateful to have his life back, to feel good, and to rehabilitate. We are friends again, and will see what the future holds by taking things one day at a time. My sweet dog Taz was run over by a car. I am still grieving him but at least I know what happened. I am working on trying to forgive the woman who let him go out into the streets of Cali, Colombia on Christmas Eve.
Have you ever thought to yourself “I wonder what it is like to live in another country?” I did as soon as the travel bug hit me. I went on a school sponsored trip when I was ten to Europe. I read that silly book from so long ago “Coffee, Tea, or Me” when I was about twelve and then I re-read it! I was hooked. I wanted to be a stewardess. I relished the thought of traveling all over the world. However, I did all the things my parents wanted; made good grades, graduated early from high school, going right to college when I was only seventeen with a major in journalism. The thought of travel and working as a flight attendant was always in the back of my mind. Then one day I got really sick at college, sick enough that my parents came and packed me up and I left for the Spring quarter to go home and recuperate. I was back home and almost twenty so my mother suggested (because mom’s always know right?) I get some professional photos done and submit some applications to airlines. As it turned out only two airlines hired anyone at the age of twenty, National Airlines and Delta Air Lines. I submitted to both, threw in the photo’s and had an interview with Delta immediately.
At that interview I was a stand out, and not in a good way. I remember walking in with a dress that had a full skirt and Chinese style jacket. It was a very disco style dress with a skirt that would twirl when I danced. I had embraced the disco phase in college, was also a hair model, and I thought everyone dressed like me! As I looked around at every one of my fellow interviewees’ and they
looked back at me, I felt a little bit anxious. They all had on blue suits and white shirts, hair pulled back and black pumps. There I was in platform heels, a hairstyle that was short, wild,stylish and a disco dress! Needless to say I amused the interviewer’s immensely with my go for it “I dance disco in contests” attitude and got through the interview at the young age of nineteen and went on to be in the next class of flight attendants. My mother had always told me to “be an original not a carbon copy” and it worked. To this day I wonder why my mother let me wear what I wanted to that interview, as she never said a word to me about my choice of attire. Maybe she was letting me be an ‘original’ which worked out for me. I started training class and they called me ‘disco’ as I and one other girl were the youngest in the class, and we were kind of the ‘mascots’. I still remember my first years of flying as some of the best of my life as I grew to love travel and grew into a responsible young woman. The years flew by and I had a family but still worked part-time as a flight attendant. Towards the end of my career I flew international, finding these flights and layovers the most rewarding in my career. I had many layovers in South America and found all the countries I visited to be warm and welcoming. I could see myself living there, as the culture was inviting and the people friendly. After thirty years as a flight attendant I was able to retire. I missed the travel and my fellow co-workers but not the job itself. A job that is very hard on the body, not from just the time changes, but long hours and hard work.
Retired life was different, as I had been employed since I was fifteen. Then the worst happened. My marriage fell apart and my daughter was killed in a horrible hit and run. I was no longer that young confident flight attendant that grew up along with her career into a mother and working woman. I became a grieving wreck who did not know what the next day would bring. I was in shock for several months after my daughter was killed. I really do not remember a lot of those months, or how I got through them. My divorce was still going on, and it was nasty! I could never really grieve as something unfathomable was being thrown at me every day by my ex-husband and his lawyer. It was like he wanted to punish me for her death. I would never have thought the father of my children could be so cruel. This was a time I would never want to go back to. I woke up every morning wondering what would be next. During the week of the funeral preparations I saw my ex and his sister drive up to my house and put a note in my mailbox. It said “you did not deserve to be her mother”. I still think about why they did that, what if felt like to them to actually write such a despicable statement down and give it to me 3 days after I learned of her death? The hateful things going on kept me from allowing myself to grieve properly and I did not get real help until I moved and found a wonderful counselor here in Colombia. I became a person who was afraid. Apprehension became part of my existence. I always had been self-assured, very social and always ready to meet new people. Now I worried about everything, my mind would race with so much anxiety and heartache. A change was needed so I started taking little steps to do just that! I knew I had to get away from such a toxic environment, I prayed and meditated for answers. Then one came to me.
Enter my companion and partner. He was friends with a nanny I used for my children while flying. He heard about the terrible tragedy of my daughter’s death. He looked me up on Facebook, asked to be my friend. He is a Colombian American, who spent his first fifteen years growing up in Palmira the area I now live at in Colombia. We got to know one another and found we had much in common. We spent hours talking about life and dreams. Dreams that were similar; wanting a farm, the love of mountains and animals, the beauty of nature and solitude. He told me let’s take a trip to see Colombia. I had never been to this country and thought “why not?”. We arrived on Christmas day of 2010 in Bogotá, a city alight with Christmas decorations in vivid colors and music vibrating around the streets that was festive and enticing. I was impressed with the beauty of the season, a day I had dreaded for my own heavyhearted reasons, became a wonderful memory for me. We spent a couple of weeks traveling and ended up at his aunt’s for New Years Eve and Day. A delightful array of Colombian traditions awaited me. A meal is served at midnight and there is always lots of salsa dancing at any fiesta! New Years Day continued with more family and meals. I found myself embraced by his family that just met me. I wanted to feel alive and happy like this for the rest of my life! It had been too long since I had really smiled. Then off we went to Palmira the city in the Department of Palmira Valle Del Cauca, the agricultural center of Colombia and where my partner grew up. We took a carriage ride through the city, we rode a motorcycle around in the mountains, we visited the tourist areas nearby. I had the most wonderful time and my sadness was replaced for a few weeks with the joy of new beginnings. I realized I could live without fear if I let myself, and that I could live my life while honoring my daughter’s memory in the process. My children spent most of their summers in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, making beautiful memories of our time there with hummingbirds, hiking, tubing and nature. When I returned to the United States, we started to plan on going back to look at real estate. In late February we returned and I actually found a farm I wanted to buy. I started negotiations with the owner and putting into place all that I needed to do to move to another country.
How does one move to another country? Well, I just started researching the internet and found most answers there. I realized it is best to sell all of the possession’s you have and bring minimal items with you. I started selling everything; the house, my car, furniture, everything in my house, jewelry, clothes, basically all my material things that were not of special value to me. I looked into how to get my beloved pets into another country and I just did what I had to do! I look back at that time and wonder how did I do it? I think I was so traumatized that anything that kept me occupied was good. I could think about something other than my daughter being gone. Things began to fall into place as I slowly packed up my possession’s and made the final arrangements for my move to Colombia. I look back at what I accomplished in three months and just shake my head. I had strength I did not know I had.
I moved to Colombia in April of 2011, pets and partner with me and not knowing any Spanish! My belongings were to follow in a few weeks by cargo ship. I did have some problems when I arrived. My two large dogs were sent on a different airplane because of their weight and I could not get them for 24 hours. My dog Colleen was twelve years old and she was hoarse from crying when I finally was able to get them through all the inspections and paperwork. I was able to see them and comfort them, the airport workers gave them food and water, but it was very unfortunate for them and me. We also found out that the farm I was going to purchase had a mudslide near it right before I came and that deal fell through, which turned out to be a real blessing! However, we needed to find a place to live with our animals because my partner’s family home was not comfortable for us or the animals. We rented a little place in Santa Elena, a small Colombian town and the adventure truly began.
My next blog will continue my story. I hope all who read will join my blog and share it. I can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/VillaMigelita. I will also write about my daughter’s accident which I am still waiting for the trial of her killer. It will be four years in January and there has still been no justice. It is a source of anguish to me, I pray for closure soon. The killer was found within a week when he took his car for repairs and is awaiting trial.