Dreams of My Mother

Every year around this time when my mother left this earth I have dreams about her. For all the ways she failed me it’s easy for people to think that she was a bad mother but the truth is that she was a delicate soul and when my father left her it tore her down into being a child again. It’s hard for someone in that state to be there for anyone, including herself. She wasn’t like that before the divorce.

baby len with debbie
Despite the fact that she was so injured she went back to school after my dad abandoned her for another woman and humiliated her in every way possible. Despite these horrible, soul wrenching losses, she finished her high school (she was pregnant with my brother when she was fifteen so she didn’t graduate despite being a good student). For a woman who had placed all her value on being a wife and mother, this abandonment and the things my dad said about her and did to her would have destroyed a lesser woman, but my mother kept on despite her pain.

She didn’t stop with high school, she went on to university to become a school teacher. She had little support and she was afraid of the world, she had never been self-sufficient in her life. She went from being a child to a bride. Still, despite the cruelty of the world she graduated school and she worked at Ron Pettigrew Elementary with children with special needs for most of the rest of her short life.
She was a beautiful woman and her past pursued her but she loved me. She just had a hard time expressing it and she saw too much of her young self in me to differentiate what was her and what was me. I was her hopes and dreams for who she could have been and she was terrified to touch me, that her touch would somehow taint me with her own feelings of being a failure.
I found a paper doll she made. It was folded layer upon layer and on each layer she had written her pains, her hopes and her dreams.
At the very last paper doll, the deepest part of her longing, she had written on her paper doll heart, ‘Maybe Ginny will come home’.
I still cry writing these words because I never came home for her. I found out about her death after she had already been buried in an unmarked grave.
I didn’t know how much she loved me, I didn’t know how much she missed me. The blocks between us were mountains and so much was unsaid.
But I have a paper doll and at its heart are the words, written so hard the paper dimples around them, ‘Maybe Ginny Will come home’.
I’m home now, Mom. I’m sorry I was too late. It wasn’t because I didn’t love you, but it was because I didn’t understand.
I love you, mommy. I came home.



Thoughts in an MRI

Thoughts in an MRI

By Virginia Carraway Stark

“I read what you wrote,” She said. Her flame of red hair was ringed in platinum, making her look like an angel as she pulled broccoli out of a shopping bag to make a salad.

I scanned my mind, such a loaded statement, I couldn’t think about which ‘what I had wrote’ my Godmother meant but I suspected. How she would have found it was what surprised be as I rarely saw her around my Facebook page and I had never told her about my blog.

molly and charlie

My Godparents

The machine whirled around me while I thought over our visit with Molly and Charlie.

Chug chug chug chug whir whir whir

mri scanner

I had dosed myself with sedatives and I wasn’t feeling particularly anxious or upset. I had the stoic feeling that settles on me whenever an ordeal befalls me, this too shall pass.

I had always had a huge reserve of stoicism to me, it was at odds with my delicate nature. I’m not build for endurance physically but mentally I have always been unstoppable. The physical world was something that put my will on pause from time to time throughout my entire life. My basic belief structure is that the world is made up of good things, good time, love and beauty that are occasionally disrupted by waves ‘real life’ happening. It happens to everyone and it is always in my mind this too shall pass.

My eyes were closed in the machine. They had offered to put a face cloth on my face and I had looked at them like they were insane. One of the worst feeling of claustrophobia is having your airways obstructed and having my nose and mouth covered and being shoved into a tiny loud tube seemed absurd to me even in my sedated state.


They argued with me and insisted that it was the sight of the machinery was what would be upsetting for me. I had heard a lot of people who comment about their MRI experiences say that it felt like their brains had been ‘rifled through’ and had laughingly said that this must be what it would feel like to be probulated by aliens. One person said that if you listened closely you could hear a robotic voice saying ‘taking picture’ during the loud whirling part of the noisy procedure but I sure didn’t hear anything like that.

All alien probulations aside the machine itself wasn’t as bad as all that and I thought about dinner with Molly and Charlie Mumert to distract myself.

Molly had been referring to the letter I had written to everyone who knew me as a child. It was a hard letter to write and her first words to me were an apology. Uncle Charlie didn’t say anything, he just hugged me extra hard.

The problem with abused children is that there is no way to sweep them up into your arms and away from danger. No matter how much you know or guess, the best you can do is cause a disruption through social services and possibly put the child into strange environments and possibly new dangers that could be worse than the ones that they are already dealing with.

I remember one night when I was very young, only about three or so, we were driving home to Dawson from the Mumerts and my Dad asked what we would thought if anything ever happened to him and mom if we went to live with the Mumerts.

My first reaction was a totally disloyal feeling towards my family. Live with the Mumerts?

It was the equivalent of being sent to Hogwarts or some other magical place. I thought of the regular meals, of the massive library where I was encouraged to read and allowed to read any book on any of the shelves. I thought about their safe hugs and picking raspberries with Aunt Molly I thought of Charlie and his endless patience, not just for me but for every child, animal or human in his presence.

I terrible feeling came over me in that moment. I moment where I wished my parents would die. Just die. Just leave me alone. Just go away. Just be part of this too shall pass.

In the back seat of the car I choked on my ability to speak. My brother Leonard was the first to reply, “I guess that would be okay, I’d rather stay with Emily and Jerry though.”

Emily was Molly’s sister and she had two pretty girls around my brother’s age. I loved my Aunt Emily nearly as much as I loved my Aunt Molly and she too had a library. A narrow staircase made more narrow by being lined on both sides with books, books stashed in every room. The little house with it’s attic bedrooms was filled with books, whole shelves lined the area behind the toilet in the spare washroom.

She taught me how to spin on her spinning wheel and we made cookies together while Jerry smoked a pipe and told stories.

I loved Emily and Jerry but Molly and Charlie had my heart. They were kindred spirits. Their house was filled with quietude and oddities. Molly’s grace and elegance and the love she and Charlie had for each other were hallmarks I held for myself in any relationship I would ever have in the future. I saw the looks between them, the way he held her, the love and trust between them and that was the gold standard of love to me.

grandfather clock molly

Their house was filled with silence, only the ticking of the grandfather clock telling the time and tolling the hour interrupted hours of reading in the many nooks of their house. When we arrived a half wolf dog would greet us. Inside dachaunds ruled the roost. There was a drawer at the bottom of an ancient sidebar filled with coloring books and toys that would change from time to time, but the only time I played with them was when I wanted to listen in on the adult conversation. The rest of the time I was a spirit in their house, roaming from room to to room. Marveling at the wonders on the glass shelves that lit up and lined the hallway to the basements. An ostrich egg that had been collected, a rock with eyes glued on it, a dozen stories inhabited the things that lived in that house. Quiet or loud, the house had a way of silencing the noise and making it a place of hallowed sanctuary.

If I made it past the fascination of the wonders on the hallway shelves I would be sure to be found in the first door on the left where the library hid. Behind one of the shelves was a semi-hidden doorway that I made much of in my mind and played out stories of magic and wonder of castles and forbidden labratories and the libraries of magicians. In reality it was where Molly kept her freezers and her preserves but in my mind it was a secret place that could become anyplace.

secret passsage mother and child

Upstairs was the kitchen, and the heart of the house that beat every minute around Aunt Molly. Her laughter penetrated the walls and her food held her happiness and her prayers in every mouthful.

I would often navigate past the kitchen and into the living room if haunted laboratories and secret castles passages were not what interested me, or if my brother Leonard was being a bother big brothers so often are, and into the living room. This was where the grandfather clock lived. I would watch the chains move slowly as the seconds at them up. They were an invitation to my mind to think of perpetual motion machines and my heated disputes with my brother that you could too make a perpetual motion machine, most of those discussions started by that clock.

In this part of the house it was nearly always dark but there were chairs, couches and lamps placed anywhere a young girl might want to read. A piano sat in one corner and a perfectly sculpted ‘infinity’ sculpture of a mother holding a child sat under the picture of the moon. An owl haunted another wall that guarded the way to Molly and Charlie’s bedroom. A sacred room that I had never been in and had no wish to explore. The owl watching would have warned me off if my heart hadn’t already been happy to leave their secret safe and untainted from the blight of my parent’s marriage that I had no doubt followed me like a cloud. This part of the house was always silent. Even when the adults retired from dinner and on the rare ocassion they went to the den, their voices were quiet and thoughtful. It was a good thinking room.

cozy molly

(Room not actually pictured, it was quieter than this but as close as I could find)

Those were the thoughts that I choked on while my brother prattled on about the benefits of living with Emily and Jerry and I, for one, evil, heartfelt moment, wished both of my parents dead.

Those thoughts, congealed like a jello mold were what flooded my mind when my Aunt Molly apologized after all these years for not doing more. How to explain to her what she had one for me in showing me how love could be. How to explain that I knew, even as a child that there was no way for her to scoop me up in her arms and to keep me.

“There was nothing you could have done,” Was all I replied. All these thoughts hammering at my heart. All the peace she gave me, all the ideas of what a home could be, what love could be. How her example, her grace, her fortitude, her love and her smile and helped me to sidestep the pitfalls that turn children into their parents. How could I explain to her how closely I watched her ever movement when I was a child, how I internalized her as my mother when my own mother failed me. How I would never let a man treat me the way my father treated my mother or how he treated me because of their example.

Meanwhile the machine whirled around me chugging and whirling and being entirely inexplicable. It was like being a child all over again. Subjected to noise, not understanding the purpose of the loudness or discomfort but trying as always to be very very good. Trying not to move, it would blur the image. The surge of happiness when I was told through the nearly inaudible microphone, ‘You’re doing very well, Virginia. Just a little bit longer.’

That was the mantra of my entire life ‘You’re doing very well and the pain will only be for a little bit longer.’.

There were times I admit, when things were very bad for me that I went to a facsimily of my godparents house in my mind. I could listen to the godfather clock ticking and believe in the endless possibilities of perpetual motion machines of mother’s holding their children and having only love in their eyes as they looked down at the baby they held in their arms.

When my own mother refused to move or feed or clothe me I would think of Molly and her endless grace and I would find a way to be my own mother. I would find food, I would find clothes and I would seek out others with the resonance and kindness that she emitted like a beacon to me. She showed me that there was always good in the world and even if I couldn’t stay with her and Charlie forever I could align myself with them in my heart and mind. I could find my own way to grace and love and happiness because I was a good girl and this would be over soon.

mother mary

They finally let me out of the machine. I could barely stand I was so dizzy and as soon as I left the ‘safety zone’ area my husband was waiting for me. The husband I had found for myself that looks at me with the same sort of love that Charlie looks at Molly with. The husband I know I can trust and who would never do any of the things to me that my father did to mother, especially when she was weak and vulnerable like I was now.

I had formed a life for myself that lacked the stability and grace of my godparent’s life. My life is dynamic and terrible and wonderful things are a staple in my life but nearly always, the good things outweigh the bad.

Even after being run over by the minivan people tell me they are jealous of my life. I laugh and ask them if they’re sure of that and to be careful what they wish for.

Maybe one day I will master the peace my godparents exude and that I was never quite able to capture for my own understanding. Maybe one day I’ll figure that part of things out, or maybe my nature is too much to ever be like that. Maybe I will never have an angel’s corona of silver to give my flame a halo. Maybe I’m made of a different sort of substance too dynamic to ever find that sort of quietude.

little virginia

(Picture of Me, too dynamic to be held down for long, my life has an air of the ‘curiouser and curioser’ that  better angels are not cursed with)

Maybe I wouldn’t be happy if things were ever that calm. Maybe my nature is so dynamic that to imitate her peace is to betray myself. Understanding such things, coming to the wisdom that we can learn but we cannot emulate is something else entirely. I have learned that stoics learn wisdom even if it often comes to us the hard way.

On Bravery

A Note on Bravery

By Virginia Carraway Stark

“You’re so brave.”

lions mouth brave

It’s a phrase that is said with envy, appreciation, pride and genuine joy in the ability of the human spirit to recover from trauma and harm or even facing the threat of them.

I am someone who is extraordinarily brave. I have learned this mostly from having it repeated to me by so many people, most of whom have only heard a fraction of what I’ve experienced. I don’t feel like I’m a brave person. I feel like I’m just a person.

author pic fiesty

This is just me. If I can be brave you can do it too.

The difference that I’ve learned between those who are called brave and those who are not is that brave people have limits. Brave people have boundaries and these boundaries are inflexible and will not, cannot be sacrificed. Brave people don’t know how to be any way except brave. To our admirers we are told we are strong, beautiful, courageous and to our enemies we are obdurate, frustrating and devastating. Brave people can still have fears, anxiety, problems and enemies.

brave greek

I have a lot of enemies. I have a lot of people I have said, ‘no’ to. I have a lot of people who I have had to say, ‘I cannot go on this path with you, it goes against my heart’. I have lost friends, I have lost family, I have found myself in danger because my boundaries are what they are and when they are impinged on my heart speaks loudly and I am sworn to follow my heart. I have problems. The Universe may love me, but he’s also not at all concerned with giving me an easy ride.

To those people who are not brave it is confounding. We cannot be bribed, cajoled, convinced or threatened when our heart speaks. We, the brave, will die for our convictions without a second thought because to betray our hearts is to betray our souls, our very selves and to unmake ourselves.

I have been told that I am impossible to understand. Why could I go for years having forgiven my father and my family only to speak up now. The answer is simple: I realized that to not tell my story with the new information I had would be a betrayal of myself. I have to tell the truth now and to do anything else would be to obliterate myself. I have been demonized and shunned by my biological family and I have been abandoned since I was a child by those whose sole duty to their child was to protect them from as much harm as possible.

None of that mattered until I realized that my Dad ‘merely’ hadn’t violated my body and mind, he had also violated my soul and fed others lies about my very nature. That was the line for me. That was the boundary.

boundary brave

There is no trick to bravery. It’s hardwired into you. The universe guides your footfalls and when your heart bids you to speak up against a wrong you must. When your heart bids you to protect someone who is being attacked you must. When your heart bids you to face your enemies down no matter the consequences you do so.

brave girl

It has been a surprise to me throughout life that bravery is a rare quality. Fear is a predominate characteristic and people care more about offending strangers than they care about betraying their own heart. People would rather be ‘friends’ with relatives they despise than speak out and face the danger of creating an enemy even though every minute with the relative is a corruption of your own essence.

Fear is an easy cage. Fear is the idea that different is bad. That ‘what ifs’ are dangerous. Fear is the idea that the only point to living is to live as long as you an despite your circumstances, despite your joy, despite your love, despite your heart screaming in agony inside you. Fear is prolonging life at any cost. Fear is doing the same thing that you hate doing every day because it’s ‘not so bad’ and ‘it could be worse’ instead of taking the plunge and running to see what’s over the next horizon.

brave cat

Bravery. I am me. I will follow my heart and if I die tomorrow I will know that I died without regret or betrayal of myself. Bad things can happen to you and you can still live without regret. You can have deep sorrows in your heart as I do and still know that you did your part. You can live every day making the best choices from where your path leads you.

I want to thank everyone who has told me that I’m brave. It’s so much better than being told that I’m wrong for listening to my heart or that I’m lying for telling the truth.

I also want to tell everyone that you can be brave too. You don’t need to do battle with monsters who abuse you in ways so horrific that they are worthy of being ogres out of a dark fairy tale to be brave. You can be brave by being the person who is kind when others are being cruel. You can be brave by saying, ‘this is wrong’ and not just looking away. You can make boundaries and you can keep them. You can be happy. You can be proud of yourself for making and keeping boundaries.

boudary fence brave

If everyone is just a little bit brave everyone will have a better life. The evil bullies and monsters that infect this world will be shocked to learn that they can’t do whatever they want to you or to anyone else. You’ll make them mad, even if you do it a little bit. Do it anyway. Then do it again.

There are worse things than death and cowardice is one of them. Be brave. Love. Laugh. Don’t be captive to your fears. If you are sad be brave enough to ask why you’re sad and then be brave enough to face the answers you receive.

grave angel

You will face rejection, pain and death no matter what you do in this life. Choose to be the protagonist in your own story and start being just a little bit braver every day.

Walk with me, be fearless.

With much love,


A Postscript:

Are you brave? Have you been even a little brave and it’s made you braver still? Please share your story to inspire others. Sharing your own story is yet another piece of bravery and I believe in you.