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Tag Archives: relationships

7.9- Save yourself Mary (short story about earthquakes and domestic perils))




Mary walked past the kitchen- past the sink- where the old, worn, wooden spoon lay, turned in. She walked past her stove with its old covered hood- just a little grease covered- just a little grease spattered.

Everything in this house is old, she thought, including me.

There had been a time when life was young, full, and fun. Those days forged laughter and possibility.

Like the time when we bought our first house, our only house, she thought.

The Victorian looking house on Woodlands Street didn’t quite suit Mary’s modern eclectic tastes at the time. But something about the little white house, with its wrap around porch, struck her fancy. Back when love reigned over booze- if Mary saw something she liked- Harry couldn’t resist, This time was no different and Mary’s whim won out. Mary’s mother put it best. It was definitely not a planned purchase. They couldn’t afford it, but Harry was like Houdini when it came to tricking others into believing what he was selling. Most often the item on the market was himself, and that day he was selling himself as a reasonable loan risk.

Their very first purchase through the doors of the new home was a bright, azure blue, steel legged, linoleum topped table. Mary and Harold had fallen hard for it, even though they both laughed hysterically when they first laid eyes on it. The reason? It reminded both of them of a party they threw during Woodstock…1969.

Harry and Mary missed out on the real Woodstock, but that didn’t stop them from making the most of that ’69 weekend. Mary may have become a subdued and shy woman, but back before Harry changed- became hard and started hitting her- they were a fast living, fun loving couple. But more often than not their passions included seeking a drug-induced good time.

When Mary first saw “the” table in Sears– complete with its acid tripping artwork inlay- she knew she wanted it… bad. Back then, Harry wanted what Mary wanted, and thus, the table came home and was forever known as Woodstock.

To this day, Mary still loved the table. Tracing her finger around the zany patterns she would sometimes softly giggle. It gave her a sense of hope that someday the old Harry would return.

Today, as she passed the stove, Mary entered the dining area and approached the sixties style table. She began pulling out one of the brighter blue chairs surrounding it. Looking up for a moment she checked for dust on her sage green lamp. She treasured that lamp- a gift from her Mom. The fluting- flowing and smooth. Harry had given her a matching turquoise lamp to go in the living room- a gift for their first year anniversary.

A sweet gift, from a once sweet man,

Not many people in her life believed Harry could have ever been a sweet guy. To friends and family- Harry was bitter, jealous, and just a plain petty man. But Mary knew there was once a time when laughter, love, and romance came easily to him. She longed to have that Harry back. But that Harry lived a long time gone. When he left, the new, not so improved Harry- the angered alcoholic- moved in.

Just four years after they exchanged their wedding vows Harry the horrible came knocking. Mary knew she should have known better. She should have locked the door- but it was too late. Her window of opportunity slammed shut- the twins were on their way.

Now- sitting at the table- lost in the melancholy- she hadn’t noticed the house sounding alarms bells all around her. Her house- the house she had endured so much in- now swayed a whispered warning…

“Mary… it’s your time to leave.”

Looking back up to the ceiling- her normally still, normally static lamp swayed as well, Tilting and lilting- the lamp became a bell- she stared, momentarily mesmerized..

“Harry, ” she said. “Harry!”

No answer.

“Harry!!” she called again.

“What!” he replied angrily.

“The lamp… the lamp is swaying.”

“Who the hell cares,” he growled. Then he mumbled, but made sure she could hear,

“You’re an idiot, you’ll always be an idiot, now leave me alone.”

Harry didn’t like it when Mary interrupted his Wheel of Fortune.

She hesitated. It was almost dinner time. Harry would be mad if he had to wait. She knew she would wake bruised and battered if dinner came late. But something inside her was waking. And the lamp- it kept swinging. It seemed to be saying something more important than the chanced beating she would take. And for the first time in decades she disobeyed.  She didn’t know it yet, but she was ready to live.

“Harry!” she shouted.

“Woman,” he growled, “if you dare raise your voice at me once more I’ll take you and hit you upside the head. And Mary you can bet your ass I’ll kick you harder than you’ve ever been kicked before.”

But this time Mary didn’t fold, didn’t cringe. She didn’t cower or meet his demands. Her world begged attention. The lamp with its yellowed and fading light swung like a bell ringing the house borne warning.

“Save yourself Mary, Save yourself. “

Though she knew she needed to get out of the house, she just couldn’t leave Harry behind. She loved him still- though she didn’t know why. She tried, cried out to him once more,

“Harry for God’s sakes run,”

But Harry- drunk and unaware of the house’s intention towards him turned to look at her with eyes bloodshot and blazing. And Harry- with no use for God at all- in the midst of his drunk- and especially during Wheel of Fortune became… enraged. Enraged that his woman dared shout at him, he yelled back at her in his most vicious voice,

“I’m watching the TV you nag now get the hell out of my life or so help me I’ll kill you!.”

Harry didn’t mean it, at least the part about her leaving. He would have rather seen her dead than leave him. But it didn’t matter- Mary had heard the warnings, from the house, and from him. She knew whether the house shook apart or not didn’t matter. If she remained she would be dead either way. And she knew he would eventually kill her and no love, no love was worth this amount of pain. Standing there, looking at this hollow angry man before her, she finally understood there was no real love left between them, just a cheap imitation, of a cheap imitation.

The house began to shake harder, but to Mary it felt as if she was shaking off the shackles Harry had bound around her wrists. And in the midst of all the shaking- in the midst of mortal danger- she felt less fear than she had in years. Freedom finally seemed real.

And… she ran.

She ran past the kitchen, past the silvered round sinks, past the spoon- worn and dark from use. She ran past the stove- a little off-white and a little bit greasy. She ran down the hallway where her pictures all hung- her children, her family, her dogs. Seeing those faces, the tears dared to flow- perhaps for the first time in years. Oh, how she wanted to see them again. Oh, how she wanted to live. She picked up the pace, and ran for her life.

Down through the hallway, down past the laundry, where babies had played in the basket while she folded tiny clothes. Past the bathroom where her babies played in the tub with rings made of plastic- where soft fuzzy towels wrapped each baby up- their laughter still echoing throughout the halls.

Down the stairs to the basement- just seconds from safety- the house began falling, and she knew she may die. A thought came to Mary as she came down the stairs- she had never felt so alive, so ready to live her own life.

But then she heard Harry yell- not in anger- but in terror. She couldn’t help him if she wanted to- his fate had been sealed when he ignored her earlier plea. She heard him cry out for her one last time…”I love you Mary-Bell,” She stopped for a moment… she knew he had meant it at least for that moment. But she kept on running and running through the basement door she ran straight into safety in the arms of a stranger. He helped her make it those last few yards away from the danger of the collapsing house.

Turning round, as she reached the far corner of the yard, she sought her footing beneath a weeping willow tree. And- as she held on to that sad little willow- she watched her beloved house- with its prison walls- crumble and fold like she had for so many years.

Later when the shaking- the insecurity- ended, she looked back to the house once more. Harry didn’t make it, but at least she knew she had tried to save him. She also knew a new life waited- outside the sadness of those four walls. She didn’t have much, but she didn’t need much, because Harry had died which meant she could start living.

The earthquake registered a 7.9 –  and rescuers told Mary there had been no warning tremors, that the earthquake had started with one large jolt. Whatever she felt before the main earthquake, they explained, could not have come from the 7.9. But Mary just smiled she didn’t need an explanation, she knew her house had been on her side.

This story was inspired from the combination of  writing “NEVER SINGING SINGING” a poem about domestic violence, and the events of the devastating earthquake in Japan 2011. I thought this story would be a good comment on the perils of both, and how each is so alike in their destructive forces.

This story is not completely edited yet and if  you are willing- I am willing to hear any critiques.  I have one question I wouldn’t mind help with- should I end the story at the second to last paragraph – ending in the words “- crumble and fold like she had for so many years.”
I don’t know which ending to choose- the one I have now or the one two paragraphs before. I feel both work but perhaps the second ending is too much of an explanational* ending.(*not a word but works for me LOL) But if you like the current ending please let me know. And if you like the current ending the way it is please let me know as well. Thanks for reading, and thanks if you gave any suggestions.

Mind Over Matter


once healthy

once ready to do their mistress’ will


no command

enticed obedience


Rebellion started in her core

the center of her being

not the center most essential

but the seat of all control


Control Sitting

Control Standing

Control Breathing


She had lost all control


“What do you have to be mad about,

I’m not mad, you shouldn’t be”

I know Mom


Anger came


the chair arrived

fourteen thousand dollars worth of fucking chair

she hated it

lamplighter it was, screaming

lights out!



She screamed back


“Not yet”

She pleaded


Her body

dead to her

(mind over matter, she would say)

gave rise to humour


I never saw that before


Church ladies came and went

Different one each day


“The church will only know me from the ass up,

she said once, while I was taking care of her business end


by the unexpected thrust of humour

we laughed, we giggled

she choked

I adjusted her mask

We laughed some more


“I don’t want to go to the home”

I know Mom


“I don’t want to die alone”

I know Mom


She didn’t

She did

It hurts


Still, she’s with me

mind over matter

right Mom?




Written by me, Colleen Hannah for my Mom,

Milly Hannah

who lived

and died

with and from


My Mom, Milly Hannah, discovered one day while on a journey not wished for, and on a road no one should take, that her body had become irrelevant. Her body was not, and was never, what made her who she was.

It was her mind, her thoughts that made her Milly Hannah, not her legs or arms or any of the body’s wonderful parts. Yes, she missed using them terribly, but they were useless to her now. Her body was just a lump of flesh, nothing but a lump of matter.

Mind over matter, she said.

It took many years for her to come to this truth, but it also came with joyous realization. It was the turning point in her acceptance.

I wish I could have been as courageous and dignified as her while she, we, struggled. We had lived as comfortable strangers before she became sick. While she lived with her illness we were given an amazing opportunity to understand each other. Laughter became common place, as did the tears. I wish our new relationship had not come at so high a cost. I thought long and hard about one thing… if I could turn back time, make it so ALS had never touched our family, and therefore, go back to the old relationship we had, would I? I cannot say. I do not have that power. But I do know that I would never trade the newly formed bond we found with each other, and perhaps, I wouldn’t trade it, even at the cost of losing her. I do know, however, that if she could tell me, she would say she would never trade the knowledge of the greater love around her.

I encourage those taking this same journey with their loved ones to relax into their relationships, and find someway to learn to love unconditionally. Some may believe that unconditional love is a cliché. It is not. Because time is a gift, and although ALS steals time, it also gives us enough of it to learn to relax into the moments we are given. ALS also gives us precious time to tell each other those things that other people who have lost their loved ones too quickly wish they could have said.

I encourage those of you facing the trial of ALS not to waste the time you have, because even though I had almost five years to say goodbye, I never really thought I would lose my Mom, therefore I wasted time thinking there would always be another day to say the things I, sadly, left unsaid.

Mom also used to say, “Don’t live today in a way that will cause regrets tomorrow.” She would tell me, “If you don’t spend time with me you will regret it after I am gone.”

So often I would think (and I am being very honest) I would think, she is just saying that to get me to come over and see her. Yes! She was. Of course she was, because she knew when I didn’t use those times to see her I would regret it later. And I have, deeply. I regret everyday I didn’t go. I was scared to get too close, I knew it would hurt more when she was gone. How very selfish of me. I could have stayed with her the night she died alone in hospital, but I didn’t. It wasn’t out of selfishness. She said she was fine, although now I know she was not fine, far from it. She was doing what she always did, trying to make everyone else feel OK and telling us it was OK to get some sleep. I never thought for a moment she would die that night, I convinced myself each new day that came Mom would still be there. I wish she had told me, “NO, don’t leave me.”  She told us she was scared to go into the home, scared to be alone when she died. I often wonder if she made sure she didn’t go to that home, I wonder because she died the night before she was to go.

Like Mom said, I have so many regrets. I wish I had put her above everything in my life at that time.

It was not up to me whether she went into the care facility, it was up to Mom and Dad. And Dad had come to the end of his ability, and the end of his energy to care for her at home. He had done everything he could, he had cared for her with everything he had, but ALS is a cruel disease, and eventually even the most caring partners have to say, “I’m sorry but I just cannot care for you as well as you need.” By the time Mom had lost all use of core and extremity muscles Dad had slings put up in the bedroom and living room. These were put in place to get Mom out of bed, into her wheelchair, and out of her wheelchair, and into the living room chair. He did this so he could care for Mom and keep her with him. But love sometimes just isn’t enough, and finally they had to give in. Knowing it had to happen didn’t make it easier for Mom or Dad. I cannot imagine the resignation and sadness Dad felt at having to make that decision and I cannot imagine the fear and sadness ravaging Mom as the disease took away so much. To lose so much of her ability to be independent and then to have, in essence, her home and her husband taken away from her, well I cannot imagine the depths of that pain. I pray I never will. For my part I did spend time with her, but not enough. I went twice a week, and on weekends, but I wonder now, with a heavy heart, what would have been, if I had been more help. Dad did everything he could, but ALS does not care.

Below are words I wish I had said, and lived, when Mom was alive. Instead of wasting time worrying about losing her I ended up losing her long before she was gone… if only I had said…

“I love you with all my heart, I will miss you, but we have today.”

There is so much to celebrate, though. It was, and is, not all regrets. I learned to love her fiercely, and she, me in return. I believe we achieved that love by letting go of past hurts, and by learning to understand the old of yesterday was never is important as today and tomorrow.

My Mom and our family’s ALS journey is over now, but I have a deepened love for her that I am privileged to carry for the rest of my life. But for those of you who now walk along ALS’ path my prayers are with you so completely. For those families who have just had ALS turn your lives upside down… Yes, it is one of the hardest uphill paths you’ll ever climb in life, but please remember-therein lies a promise… It is one of the hardest paths- in life. ALS is about living, not dying. And as you live within this new life know I am praying that you will find the laughter and joyful little moments that Mom and I found, not on the outside of ALS, but right smack dab in its midst.

And now, a little gift of words for you to tuck away for the hard days.

After my Mom died, my daughter Ashley, quite young at the time, made me a gift box with a quote on the top. The quote is by Helen Keller, a woman who knew rough waters and rocky paths. She wrote,

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.”

Thank you my daughter, you are learning life’s lessons much quicker than I. Nanny would be proud.