Cathy A. E. Bell

Personal Essays and Poems by Cathy A. E. Bell

Category: Memoir

A new essay has just been published in The Rumpus this morning!

I’m very excited to announce my latest essay publication in The Rumpus this morning.  It’s one of the shorter essays I’ve written, so it won’t take long to read. Thank you!


Mom sent my blue baby book to me once in an act of severance.  As I flipped through the musty pages I found where she recorded my first sentence:  “Momma, see!”

Read the whole essay here:

(Photo by Kristin Basta)


My Mother in a Song


My poem “My Mother in a Song” was published at this month, so I wanted to post it here as well. The prompt was MOM.


My Mother in a Song

She is the orchard
and the peaches that come later in a jar.
She is the music playing from the radio, filling the car.

“Seasons in the Sun”
“Hooked on a Feeling”
“Sunshine on My Shoulders”
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”

She is a clean house,
the smell of Windex and the clear pane of a window.
She is the music dancing from the cabinet stereo.

“You Make Me Feel Brand New”
“Shining Star”
“I Can See Clearly Now”
“You Are the Sunshine of My Life”

She is also the black, chilly night
an absence of light, a void without stars.
She is the music blaring out from the bars.

“Dark Lady”
“One of These Nights”
“Drift Away”
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”

And she is the gap in the baby book,
the blank pages after age four (where writing should have been).
She is the music whispering from the record’s spin.

“When Will I See You Again?”
“Day by Day”
“Song Sung Blue”
“If You Love Me (Let Me Know)”

She is blanket laid out by the mountain stream,
roasted marshmallows, fried chicken,
bologna sandwiches—the goodness that picnics bring.
She is the song the artist loves to sing.

“The Best of My Love”
“Rocky Mountain High”
“Jackie Blue”
“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”

In Honor of Migraine Awareness Month, a poem.

Taken with Vignette for Android

When Light Pierces Through My Eyes Like Angry Tendrils

I am a vampire hiding
Hiding from sunlight,
Florescent light, light
Reflected on shiny things.
Even the little blue numbers
On the cable box display
Far across the room,
These are the things that hurt,
Seeking parts of my brain
I’d otherwise not know.

Scents coming through the air
Assault my brain like poison.
We afflicted cry out when
tiny molecules enter the nose:
Pumping gasoline
A woman who wears too much perfume
Car exhaust as the traffic light changes
(Please hurry)
Beautiful, beautiful lilies
Yeast in baking bread
And especially burning popcorn
Scorching in the microwave at work.
These are the things that hurt.

Sirens screeching
Hail hitting the roof
Clank of a dish set in the metal
Kitchen sink, dryer buzzer buzzing
Children laughing, crying, singing
Sharp, biting barks (I love my dog, I do.)
Always the ticking clock
hanging on the bedroom wall.
Another tick. Another tock.
These are things that hurt.
These are the things that hurt me.

“Wash Me Clean” Earns a Pushcart Prize Nomination


I’m so thrilled that this little (very personal) essay is taking on a life of its own! I was informed yesterday by the editor of Hippocampus Magazine, Donna Talarico, that “Wash Me Clean” is one of her six choices for nominees this year. Literary journals and small presses are all allowed to nominate six pieces published in in the last year. You can read my fellow nominees’ work here:  All excellent personal stories.

It’s an honor to be among all the other nominees–writers light years beyond me in talent and craft skills. Even so, it’s a blessing and more than anything I just want my grandmother to be proud of her girl.

Gram and Me

Gram and Me

A Remembrance of My Dear Friend, James Downing: Writer, Scientist, Teacher, and Wisher Upon the Stars

James Downing reading his work at The Draft (Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Denver, CO)  Photo by Catherine Hope

James Downing reading his work at The Draft (Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Denver, CO) Photo by Catherine Hope

Wash Me Clean

An essay about caring for my grandmother during her Alzheimer’s illness. It’s about the way we forget who our loved ones were before they got sick. Please go to Hippocampus Magazine to read it! Thank you!

Gram and Me

My Nemesis

A postcard from the Body World Exhibit.

A postcard from the Body World Exhibit.

I estimate that at least eight years of my life have been stolen by wicked, sneaky migraines (if you add up all the minutes, hours, and days).  The poisoned feeling along with a pounding head first made its debilitating debut into my life in the fifth grade.  I was carted off to an eye exam because my teachers thought eye strain might be the cause.  It wasn’t.

I won Student of Month that year and was interviewed by my motherly teacher for the write-up and photo that hung in the hallway of the school. During the interview, Mrs. Lowe asked, “What is your biggest pet peeve?” I told her it was the headaches.  Always the headaches.

Later that year, our fifth grade class took a trip to Denver to visit museums, the Mint, and the magical Casa Bonita.  Since we came from a small, southeastern Colorado town, we stayed overnight at a school: girls slept in the library, boys in the gym.  While all the other girls were playing and having fun, I buried myself deep in my sleeping bag to keep out the light and noise. My savior, Mr. Nichols, our school principal, noticed I was sick and gently coaxed me out of my bag and took me by the hand to the cafeteria to get me a carton of milk.  In the dark and quiet of the cafeteria I felt better.

Migraines are my nemesis, my angst, forcing me against the grain of who I am.  I use up all fifteen sick days a year at work, plus some vacation, too.  What should be relaxing vacation time is spent, instead, lying in the dark with an ice-pack on my head chanting “Please go away.”   I feel embarrassed when I have to send the email to my boss and department saying I have to go home, again.  Often times, if I’m busy with important tasks, I’ll work through the migraine until I have things under control, and then I go home.  I’m lucky to have a compassionate supervisor and department head, who graciously accept this disabling disease of mine.  Many people who suffer with migraines aren’t so fortunate and suffer job loss.  Studies estimate the economic impact of migraine headache to be in the billions of dollars. I count my blessings.

The disease invades many systems in my body: nervous, circulatory, endocrine, muscular, and digestive. I’m not sure the medical community realizes it’s a systemic devil, but I know.  It took me 30 years to figure out that dysfunctional digestion is a huge factor in setting off a migraine.  Some theorize the body becomes toxic when foods aren’t properly digested or eliminated and that a full colon can cause pressure on the sympathetic nerve centers and on the cerebrospinal system. I don’t know for sure, but I do know my digestion problems are connected—and so are my hormones, blood-sugar, sleep patterns, the weather, and countless other things.  Like I said: It’s sneaky.

Those who have never had a migraine can’t imagine what they’re like. I understand. It’s impossible to know the bastard unless he’s ingested part of your life and invaded your body.  Anyone that’s ever had a migraine, though, even just once in childhood, understands. You don’t forget the misery, hopelessness, need for darkness and quiet, and time ticking past at a deathly slow rate while you beg for the symptoms to lessen–just a little.

I understand now that depression and chronic pain are very intertwined.  When I feel well, I love my life.  I can’t wait to read my latest book, talk to friends, work in the yard, clean up the house, and write.  But when I’m sick, and the for the day after–there’s always a migraine hang-over–the house remains messy, the dog un-walked, the books unread.  Daily chores are beyond my ability and interactions with people seem muted and cloudy. Food doesn’t sound good, either. Life just has a dull pallor to it.  All the little pleasures normally enjoyed are hidden away, out of reach.

But then, after the migraine leaves and the hang-over subsides, life is grand again.  I’ve learned to do everything I can when I feel well, so I won’t be stressed out when I’m sick. As much as I like to get things done, everything is put on hold when the migraine hits and that’s okay.  I’ve learned to take all the pressure off of myself when my head is pounding, and relax.

Once every couple of years or so, I’m desperate enough to seek medical help. Sadly, Migraineurs are sometimes perceived as drug-seekers.  I’m relieved Kaiser doesn’t treat me that way.  The nurses and doctors get me in quickly, turn down the lights, and give me an ice-pack without me saying a word.  Then they ask me what my usual cocktail is for relief. I say, “Demerol and Phenergan.” Soon I feel some relief from the intense pain and nausea, finally able to sleep when I get home.

Thankfully, the triptan drugs like Imitrex, give me reprieve much of the time. I’m not sure how I survived migraines before their invention.  Rarely do I use narcotics.  They make me sick (and exacerbate the digestive elimination problem).  That said: There is a time and place for the pain-killers—day nine of a migraine is one of those times.

Once, over a decade ago, I was denied pain-killers at an urgent care facility.  The nurse said, “Studies show that an I.V. with fluids and anti-nausea drugs are shown to be just as effective as narcotics.”  If I had been in a normal state of mind (another symptom of migraine is not being able to think or speak very well), I might have replied to the nurse, “That may be true when you first get a migraine, but when you’re on day nine of that migraine, you’re lucky if narcotics will even help.”  The whole scene created just one more layer of blame, guilt, and shame that forms tightly around the unbearable pain and sickness.  In my disbelief and feelings of helplessness, all I could do was cry and tell her to call my dad in from the waiting room.

Even at thirty years-old, I needed my dad to fight on my behalf that day. And he did.  He demanded to see the doctor. When the doctor denied me narcotics again, stating they didn’t even carry them in urgent care, my dad stood up and yelled, “Well, can you tell me what to do to help my daughter then?  If you people can’t help her with this pain, then tell me where to go or what to do!”  I hated witnessing his rage, but I needed him to funnel the anger I could never muster up for myself.  Even though I hadn’t told him I was suicidal, I think he knew.  His desperation and fear mirrored mine.

When someone is sick enough to go to the doctor over a migraine, every single blood-pounding moment is too much to bear.  The two hours I sat in the waiting room, hoping for relief, was seven thousand, two hundred blood-pounding seconds too long.  But I was willing to go through it all as long as I knew relief was coming; to be told relief wasn’t coming was heart-wrenching.

Finally, the doctor agreed to get morphine from the emergency room next door.  In the end, I felt a tiny bit better, and that was good enough. Mostly I felt defeated and just wanted to go to bed. Thankfully, that experience was rare and not the norm.  I learned after that to manage my pain better, curbing it any way I could before it got that severe.

I’ve certainly learned a few other things about migraines, too—things that make me feel better. One: I can’t cure myself. I do, however, look forward to menopause when many women report migraines subside greatly.  Two: It’s not my fault I have migraines.  Genetics can take some of the blame. Six genes have now been shown to contribute to the disease.  Three: A trigger is only a trigger sometimes, but if you pile on several triggers, you’re in trouble.  So, skipping a meal, not getting enough sleep, being premenstrual, and then trying to have a drink? Not a good idea.

In my quest for healing, I’ve tried 2 drugs from every classification of preventive medication.  Massage, chiropractor, Botox, colonics, thousands of acupuncture needles, changing my life habits…  And when those didn’t cure me, I tried the more spiritual side of things like praying to saints (begging might be more accurate), talking to psychics for any clues on how to manage them, and energy work.  Maybe one day I’ll even get some of the healing dirt from Chimayo, New Mexico.  Well, it can’t hurt, especially compared to the six inch acupuncture needles I’ve had in my head. And if all else fails, my plan is just to patiently wait for menopause. Growing older never sounded so good.

Also published at

Bat Crazy


“Four Freaky New Bat Species Discovered” reads the headline of a recent Fox News article, portraying a large (much too large) photo of the ugliest creature ever seen. Uglier than a hairless cat, a Naked Mole Rat, or even a Proboscis Monkey with a nose that takes up a third of his face. At least the monkey has a real nose.

The new bat species are a type of horseshoe bat known for their flappy, grooved, wide-open noses called “noseleaves.” They don’t look like noses, though—more like a dog’s ear that’s been sliced a few ways, turned inside out, and glued to the front of the bat where a nose should be. Apparently, most bats emit sonar from their mouths, but these hideous creatures echolocate from their noses. Good for them. Even better is the fact that they can only be found in eastern Africa, which is far, far away from me.

Unfortunately, not all bats are that far away from me. One evening last spring, my dog and I were happily lounging on the couch, I, watching TV (recovering from too much tequila the night before), Izzy, dozing like dogs do. Suddenly, we both caught something in our peripheral vision move from the top of the floor-length curtains on the French doors to underneath the couch. Izzy and I needed no conversation on this one—we were up and off of that couch in one-tenth of a second. I thought, “What in the hell was that? ” I bet Izzy thought something very similar.

I looked down at the floor, and there, at the end of the couch was an extended brown-black bat wing sticking out.

Saying I was horrified might be an understatement.

Bats do not belong in your living space. Period. You can’t compare them to a mouse or a bird or a squirrel. Bats are bats—creepy, ugly, and dangerous if they carry rabies. It didn’t help that I had just heard a story on the radio that morning about a man who died from a bat-bite to the foot. Words. In my head. Rabies, shots in the abdomen, rabies, ten-thousand visits to the doctor for shots in the abdomen with big needles, rabies…

I used to like bats, from afar. I’d enjoy watching them at dusk, swoop out of their sleeping places and dive gracefully after the bugs. I didn’t mind the clicking noises coming from the trees at night knowing those furry, little bats were preventing countless mosquito bites (they can eat up to 1,000 mosquitos an hour), making my night more enjoyable on the patio. Bats are mysterious and intriguing and the basis of so much lore that a person can even be afraid of them and still love them the way we love graveyards, Halloween, or watching scary movies. We like to be a little afraid. The second summer after I moved into my old, Tudor house in the Park Hill neighborhood, I even saw the bats coming from behind the ivy near the peak of the roof. I didn’t care, I’m only renting, and hell, I liked the bats.

But, somehow, having one of them under your couch changes that sentiment pretty quickly.

I took Izzy down to the basement where my roommate lives and asked him to keep her in his room. “Oh, of course! Glad I can help by keeping her company!” Mike is not a manly man. He’s not the stereotypical feminine gay man either, but still, I’m more of a man than he is. Not surprising, he didn’t offer to help me get the bat out of the house.

Returning upstairs, I took a peek under the couch. Yep, still there.

So I did what I always do when I’m scared and don’t know what to do. I called my dad.  (After leaving the house and shutting the door). He wasn’t helpful, unless you call reminding me that people have to get lots and lots of shots in their abdomens for rabies helpful.

Next, I called my big boss from work. He was the man who’d know what to do. “Open all the doors,” Spero said, “and then get a broom and push him out the door.” I hung up, gathered all the bravery I could muster and started opening the doors. As I opened the last of the doors, the French doors, I moved the drapes to the side and heard a hissing noise. I looked up.  There in the folds of the brown curtains was a very well-disguised bat.

I screamed. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. I have two bats!” I ran from the house and called my dad. Again, not helpful.

Eventually, I looked under the couch and there was no bat, so I realized there was only one bat and he was back on the curtains where he’d started from. I felt like an idiot for thinking the whole house was full of bats, but I was relieved nonetheless.

I took a deep breath and grabbed the broom, trying to brush the creature towards the open door, but instead of going outside, he started flying like a maniacal killer in circles around the room not far above my head.

“Ahhh!” I screamed as I squatted on the floor ducking with the broom above me. “Shiiiittt!” I tried to open the pocket door to the kitchen (the closest exit out of there), but the door came off its rail and jammed with only an inch-wide opening. A good sized opening for a bat, but not for me. Now I’d have to go the long way around to the other door to escape.

I waddled around the couch to the stairwell door, opened it and ran down the stairs into Mike’s room. After shutting his door, I leaned against the wall, sliding all the way down until my butt hit the floor, my face buried in my hands. I cried some weird cry with no tears. This must be how you cry when you scared shitless, I thought.

I couldn’t even speak to Mike. I was annoyed. Why can’t I, just this once, have a manly-man roommate to help me get this psychotic bat out of my house? I was also peeved that my boyfriend wasn’t answering his phone, let alone on his way over to save me. Can’t a guy just save a girl from this fucked-up situation?

After five minutes, I regained some sort of composure and went back upstairs giving myself a pep talk as I went. “You can do this, you can do this. Don’t be a wimp.”

Back upstairs I found no bat. Not in the curtains, not under the couch. Since all the doors were still standing wide open, I thought he must have flown out. I looked around the room and it looked like it had been ransacked. I had no memory of trashing the place.

Slowly, I started putting everything back in order. As I was cleaning up bat guano from the floor below the curtains, I heard hissing. Near where I was kneeling, on the floor, was the ugliest, scariest creature looking up at me with his mouth wide open, baring 856 needle-sharp teeth.

“Holy shit! Are you kidding me?” Quickly, I grabbed a box and put it over the bat. He hissed some more. I collapsed on the couch.

Once I slowed my heart-rate, I tried sliding the box over the threshold of the French doors. It was too high. The gap was too big. The bat was really pissed now and I knew if I kept lifting that box over the threshold he was coming for me.

Now what? I called Dad again. This time he actually had something of value to offer. “Slide something thin and strong under the box and then you can carry him outside.” I went to the basement and found a pad used for cutting quilting squares big enough to cover the opening of the box.

Slowly, slowly, so I could give him a chance to hop on the pad, I slid it underneath the box.

I left the bat and the box alone for a while to calm myself down. I just didn’t know if I could take a chance lifting up the box, holding the pad just right so the bat couldn’t escape and carrying him outside. I needed to think on it. Maybe give myself another pep talk.

The gods must have been half-listening in when I asked for a man to come take care of the situation, because just then my (young and very boyish) step-brother called and said he was going to be over in a couple of minutes to borrow my sleeping bag. Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Chen Mi greeted me with his typical child-like enthusiasm. I realized this might be the one and only time I am grateful for his immature bravery. Instead of eating red dirt in Sedona to see what it tasted like, or recklessly climbing pine trees while camping, I could use this to my advantage to get him to deal with the bat.

Really, I didn’t have to manipulate him at all. He “loves” bats it turns out! Fun! I tried to be grateful Chen Mi was there even when he told me that I was being silly to be so afraid of a bat. “Cathy, bats are good luck for the Chinese! It’s good to have one in your house!”

There was no use trying to express my fear to a fearless person, so I just nodded.

I was still grateful, though. Just having another human next to me felt reassuring and I knew he’d do whatever I needed him to do.

I said, “Okay, Chen Mi. Since you’re not afraid, please help me get this box outside and then YOU can lift the lid and let it go free.” We carefully picked up the mat beneath the box, gingerly holding the box in place. I felt like we were on the bomb squad. Maybe we should have protective bat suits, I thought. After stepping over the awkward threshold, we set the box down on the concrete patio very gently.

“Don’t touch that box, Chen Mi, until I’m inside with the door shut. Got it?”

He looked at me like a boy on Christmas about to open the best present ever. “Okay, Cathy! No problem!”

Quickly, I stepped inside and shut the door. Even though there was glass in the French doors, I couldn’t watch him free the bat. Nope. Done with the bat.

Chen Mi came back inside and said, “Wow, that was a cool bat!” I just hugged him. Thank God for little Chinese brothers who find all this scary shit fascinating.

In order to move past this bat-trauma I’ve tried to learn more about bats, so that maybe, just maybe, I can get rid myself of the image of the vampire-toothed creature.

Really, the only thing that makes me love bats now is the nifty fact that I may not have my high-quality tequila without them. Turns out those little bastard bats pollinate the agave plant whose seed production drops to 1/3000th of normal without them.

Good to know. So next time I’m drinking my tequila I’ll toast to the bats, but please, keep them out of my living room.

Ramblings from Taos… (Thoughts on a Weekend Away Alone and Writing)

The 1850s adobe schoolhouse where I stayed

 October, 2010

This morning I walked out of the little 1850’s adobe schoolhouse where I slept last night, into the expansive courtyard, and remembered something I didn’t even know I knew—Georgia O’Keefe made a comment once about the quality of light in New Mexico being different than anywhere else. Yes, I can see that. Yes, I can feel that.

Driving here to Taos from Denver, over and down La Veta pass, I was bathed in copper and gold light.  I breathed the metallic colors into my lungs, hoping I could prolong the experience just a little longer.  Even spring cannot compare to the luminosity of color autumn creates. 

I did a little research and found O’Keefe’s first visit to Taos was in 1919.  Drawn to the “clear desert light” and the mountains (and after a longer stay in 1929), she went back to Taos once a year to paint. She often came to stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan home that is right next door to where I am staying—not far from the square, but at the end of a long dirt road and butted up against miles of open native Pueblo land. I can feel O’ Keefe’s presence as I tour the Luhan home and that of D.H. Lawrence, Carl Jung, Ansel Adams, and all the other historic guests of Mabel’s.


Bell over the gate of the Mabel Luhan home

Taos is so full of old and new art.  And it’s delightfully historic as well—a lovely history of passionate artists and writers. I feel creativity oozing out of everything. Being here makes me want to create: paint, photograph, write, sculpt…  I haven’t felt this artistic for a long time. I wouldn’t have necessarily considered myself an artist before now, but I know I am because I can’t help but to create and that desire is what defines an artist.

And it’s so incredibly beautiful here. I just feel inspired–even just to breath and exist.  If I added up all the beautiful art I’ve seen my whole life it would fill up a dinner plate compared to the Olympic sized pool of art here. How can so much God-made beauty and man-made beauty exist all at the same place?  I keep overhearing conversations around town that last year at this time all the leaves were blown off the trees from high winds.  Nature politely waited for me this time and I do not take it for granted.

I’ve traveled alone when I’ve had to get from point A to B. I’ve planned lots of small weekend trips not knowing if I’d bring someone or not, but then usually at the last minute I bring someone with me. I always thought traveling alone would be a waste because I couldn’t stand next to someone and have them witness the sights with me.  There would be no one to breathe in sharply with me when they looked at the landscape or fall in love with a painting or taste the most amazing baba ghanoush that has ever touched my tongue.   But, I’ve discovered that even alone, those experiences aren’t diminished at all. If I need to share them, I can use that desire to help me write.  Read my words, see my photographs, feel the lightness in my step and hear the deep breaths I take after I’ve been healed and rejuvenated through the beauty I’ve seen here.

When you travel alone you don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone. Are they too tired to keep looking through the galleries? Are they in awe like I am?  Especially for a people-pleaser like me—I constantly worry about everyone else’s happiness.  But, traveling alone is a gift of selfishness and self-indulgence.  Bookstores, museums, historic homes. Lingering strolls through beautiful gardens and galleries that leave your heart stopping every two feet.


A flower, fence, and field near downtown Taos

Now I indulge in two hours of massage and energy work from Mari, who lives a block over from where I am staying.  She counsels me as she baths my body in love and her light…she rids me of energy blocks and tells me that my relationship is good and a gift rather than telling me what others perceive.  Because I know it’s a gift and I know I’m learning and he’s learning. We are learning more together than we have in all the years we combined of dating other people.  And it’s not easy lessons in which we are being schooled. For me, it’s a lesson on how to let go, all the while holding on… For him it’s about opening up, trusting, and accepting the love and compassion he needs so badly. It’s about both of us letting go of the fear that has paralyzed us for so long.  It’s about laughing and playing like children. It’s about adventure and discovery.  We’ve both learned and have grown and I can’t articulate that to my friends and family, but this healer woman–she knows.  

I look around this place I’m staying and absorb all I see, writing it down.  Exposed logs in an adobe ceiling.  Wide wood planks in the floor…my dog curled up into a semi-circle on the futon.  A beautiful tin punched Mexican mirror above the sink in the kitchenette.  Rugs and other hand-made things I purchased earlier in the day from a fair-trade shop—just waiting to be opened and touched again. My new books sit on the table, waiting to inspire me to write. 

I’m wondering why sound comes through this old adobe schoolhouse so differently from other buildings. I’m wondering if it’s wind I hear?  I heard the adobe keeps in the heat once it gets hot. I’m just wishing now it was warm. Izzy and I both get pee breaks when I go outside and walk around the portal to the private, but disconnected bathroom.  When I come back and look into the slanted windows and see the cozy browns and reds of the bed and the warm wood, I am happy that the cozy scene I’m looking at includes Izzy and me.

The next morning, I sit at the desk, looking out the eye-level window in front of me with dog in lap.  The adobe window frames a perfect painting outside. I see it all in layers…just outside the window, a low, curved adobe wall. Behind that low, pink earth wall is a barbed-wire fence marking the boundary of the vast Pueblo reservation. Beyond the fence a bit, a row of yellowed-leaf trees providing yet another layer—and further past those trees, miles of brush and pine, green and gold.  And finally the last layer: the low Taos mountains. A perfectly warm, colorful Indian summer day.

I’m proud that I came here to write and I followed through.  I’ve realized that writing it down is like bottling the magic I feel here. I can open that bottle anytime I need to feel the gold light from the autumn trees on my face or see the hues of red and copper in the adobe, land, and textiles.   I’m sad I must leave tomorrow to go home. I love this land with its mysterious air and light. I’ll be back though, to see more, write more, and live more. And until I come back, I’ll have my bottle of words to remind me.


The Way He Loves Me (A Daughter’s Appreciation of Her Father’s Love)


Some of the most loving fathering I’ve had was not when I was a small child or a teenager.  It wasn’t when Dad said he loved me; that’s only happened a few times in my life.  It wasn’t through hugs; those are rare. He’s not that kind of guy. He’s a serious man—a retired cop who has seen a lot of rough things in his life.  Fortunately, though, he has grown a little softer through the years.  So, when I think of how my father has cared for me and sheltered me, I think back to my late 20s when I moved out-of-state to Arizona for graduate school and then moved back home a couple of years later. 

I made a neglectful mistake by not asking my father for help in driving the huge, stuffed U-Haul with my car in tow when I moved to Flagstaff.  I’m an independent person and I didn’t think to ask for help—or maybe I didn’t think he would help me.  It didn’t occur to me that I didn’t know how to drive a truck while hauling a trailer until my father asked me several times if I really knew what I was doing. 

“I wish I had known sooner when you were leaving. I could have taken time off and helped you move,” he said. 

“Oh,” I paused—the thought just occurring to me for the first time that I could have asked him.  I reassured him I’d be fine, trying to convince him and myself that I could move on my own.       

“Make sure you don’t hit anything with that trailer. Driving a trailer is not easy, Cathy,” he said with a knitted brow. I smiled faintly, looking doubtful, and told him I’d figure it out. But as I was driving away and ran over the curb with the trailer, I began to tear up, cursing myself for not thinking beyond packing the truck.  I had no idea what it was going to be like pulling a trailer.  

A couple of hours later, I nearly took out a gas pump and had to beg the attendant to pull the truck out for me.   After that incident, I made sure to only buy gas where I could pull through easily.  About 11 p.m., desperate to stop for the night, my young sister and I ended up at a motel in Albuquerque.  I pulled into the parking lot and had nowhere to pull through, but didn’t realize it until it was too late.  I was boxed in with a chain link fence ahead of me.  The next morning, it took me 30 minutes to back my way out of the lot, practically t-boning my car in the process.  Eventually, we reached Flagstaff and I immediately dropped off the trailer at U-Haul. I never wanted to see another one again.

When my two years of graduate school in Health Psychology were nearly over, my dad kindly responded to my desperate plea to come help me move home.   A few nights before he came to Arizona, I experienced an incident so frightening that I called him in the middle of the night crying. Late the night before I defended my thesis, I was watching TV because I couldn’t sleep, rehearsing my thesis defense in my mind.  To compound my stress, I was getting sick.  In a couple of days it would be bronchitis and a sinus infection. I was fidgety thinking about whether I’d be able to successfully defend my thesis the next day.   

I lived in a tiny studio apartment, less than 500 square feet.  I slept on a futon in the main room just a few feet away from the front window.  My apartment faced out to a never-ending forest on the edge of town and I had the window open. Even though the blinds were pulled down, I could still smell the pine trees outside.  The apartment was dark except for the light coming from the TV.  Suddenly, a man wearing a baseball cap was standing against my window peering down through the blind slats at me. I could hear the gravel under his feet as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.  I froze.  The gravity of the situation didn’t escape me—I knew he could rip my screen out and get to me in 3 steps. My breathing stopped.  I felt a rush of adrenaline surging from my kidneys, flooding my blood stream.  I was outside myself watching my reaction. I thought, so this is how it feels when something like this happens. 

I knew I wasn’t helping myself by freezing: I had to take action.  After what was only about 20 seconds but seemed much longer, I heard my voice say, very calmly, “You better get out of here, or I’m calling the police.”  He didn’t flinch. He stared. I thought, thank God this is the one night I didn’t put my phone on the charger across the room.  “I mean it. I’m calling,” I said louder.  He still didn’t move.  I slowly reached over and picked up the phone.  I dialed.  “Police.  Is this an emergency?” The dispatcher said.  He was so close he could hear the dispatcher’s voice.  As I replied saying quietly, “Yes, there is a man outside my window,” the man walked away.  The dispatcher told me to stay on the phone with her until an officer arrived.  Once the officer pulled up, I quickly hung up the phone, dressed, and answered the door. 

I tried to downplay the situation to the cop: “Oh, it’s just a peeping Tom. They’re harmless.”  “Oh, no they aren’t harmless,” he said.  “It always escalates. First it’s peeping, then it’s assault.”  He spent the next hour convincing me I needed to be scared by telling me stories of peeping Toms “gone violent”.  It worked and after he left, I was frightened, feeling vulnerable. 

I called my dad in Denver.  I tried to be strong; but as always, I cried as soon as my daddy—my protector—answered the phone.  Sobbing.  “What’s wrong, Cathy?” he asked.  More sobbing.  “Cathy?” he asked again.  Finally I managed a couple words in between gasps for air.  “Some—guy—was just—outside my window—peering in—at me. I called—the police.  I’m—okay.  Okay, I’m scared—but I’ll be alright.  Sorry, Dad—for waking you up.”  Slowly I regained my composure.   His reaction was soothing: “Too bad you didn’t have a gun! You could have whipped that right out in his face and scared him to death! That would teach him not to peep in windows.”   I felt better after talking to him, but still had to make it alone until graduation. 

Finally, Dad arrived. I picked him up in Phoenix and we rented a U-Haul and drove back to Flagstaff.  That night in my apartment Dad said, “I hope that guy comes back and I’ll hurl this front door open and scare the heck out of him. What do you think he’d think about that?”  He threw the front door open and looked outside, rehearsing his imaginary scene.  I laughed and felt comforted. Finally, that night I slept. Dad probably slept for the first time in days, too.  Graduation was the next day and Dad and I had a quiet dinner at my favorite restaurant and then we began packing and cleaning.  Soon we were on the road headed back to Colorado. No more peeping Toms to worry about.  I was moving in with my dad for “a while” while I looked for work. Going home. 

Not only did Dad give me a wonderful place to stay for free, he paid my bills while I looked for a job.  We gardened and fixed up his new house together. I repaid his kindness by cooking home-made meals for him and cleaning.  We were buddies, watching our favorite TV shows together and going to eat dinner in new restaurants. 

One night, we got home late from dinner.  I felt disappointed that it was dark already but was determined to get in my daily run around the townhouse complex.  Dad said, “Can’t you wait until tomorrow?  It’s just not safe to run at night, Cathy.”

                “Dad, you can’t worry about me so much! I’m 28 years old!  How do you think I’ve survived all these years without you?”  I smiled, went up to my room, changed clothes, and started jogging around the huge complex on the sidewalk.  It started to rain.  As I was coming up the last stretch, breathing hard, I thought “I bet he’s worried sick about me.”  After I cleared the last hill, I thought I saw something move under a tree.  I squinted through the darkness and rain and looked again.  There, hiding behind the tree, soaking wet, was my dad—holding a flashlight and making sure I was safe.  And that is the way he loves me.

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