FROM MY SOON TO BE RELEASED BOOK: ALL THE WALL
"Ten days ago, I began my Great Wall Adventure in Jiayuguan, at the wall's western end. For many reasons, today was an extremely hot and difficult day.
With the shadows of darkness overpowering my last glimpse of daylight, I knew it was time to shut-down. My body was tired; I felt overheated; my body was trembling- shaking.
Back in Houston, with little time, I’d briefly studied the aerial maps of the Great Wall provided by NASA but, somehow, I’d overlooked the section of Wall that crossed the Gobi Desert.
For the past five days I’ve been overwhelmed with a constantly-glaring sun; unrelenting ankle-deep sand; while being ruthlessly ‘whiplashed” with dry, gritty winds. From the map it appears that (barring any unforeseen accidents), I’ll be out-of-the-desert by late tomorrow afternoon.
I simply didn’t have enough energy to open my tent tonight. Besides, with nothing but sand and high winds, I was afraid I couldn’t anchor the tent sufficiently. I couldn't take the chance that the tent might “take flight” with me in it!
“Unpacking” my body took almost thirty minutes: I wore a classic runner’s backpack; then, there were the 15 canvas packs of supplies tied around my waist; plus multiple pairs of extra shoes--all looped together by shoelaces-- hanginng around my neck. Consider, also, that I carried a large,rolled tent in one hand and a full-sized sleeping bag—both bound securely in customized bags-- in each hand.
Taking out a large polyurethane bag from my backpack, I carefully placed my paraphernalia…including camera, sunglasses, and various medicines… inside, then folded it several times before tying it securely with an extra shoelace. It was important to keep the outside elements away from my equipment, necessities, and limited food supply. My compass, whistle, Swiss Army knife, and small flashlight hung on chains around my neck. Those items never left me, for any reason!
I had eaten an energy bar almost one hour earlier and now I eagerly drank one of my thermos of water. Tomorrow, it was essential I find extra water. Only two 16 oz. Thermos fit in my backpack with very-limited room for any extra bottles of water and, that was all.
I hurriedly unrolled my sleeping bag and sat down, too exhausted to care that I was alone in the middle of a huge desert but, what did it matter? There weren’t any trees, or grassy areas, even sand dunes to use for shelter. Besides, why would any wild animals or mean people choose such a wasteland for late-night exploring?!?!?!
I had barely removed my tennis shoes, tucked them in beside me...snuggled lengthwise in the bag before….I was asleep. Then, suddenly I was awake… but why?
Everywhere I looked was darkness. I’d never experienced such complete darkness and-- for a minute or two-- I feared I might have a panic attack then suddenly…there was activity around me. Cocooned in my sleeping bag, I definitely sensed movement--as if small “things” were running up, down, and across, my wrapped body! Oh, no! Something is caught in my hair…oh, I must find my flashlight! This is so scary….
Struggling to unzip enough material to release one arm, I quickly grabbed my flashlight from under my chin, pointed it down the front of my sleeping bag and clicked.
It’s difficult to describe the horror of that moment. I thought my heart would stop because everywhere I looked, there were millions of white, albino mice-- jumping and running across my sleeping bag!!!
Only later….would I learn these rare mice were documented night travelers on the Gobi Desert. Daylight blinded them so they could only move-freely under cover of Darkness. Aiming my flashlight in every direction revealed the alarming facts: The Gobi Desert was alive with massive numbers of stampeding white mice and…for thousands of miles in all directions… I was the only human.
Knowing this frightening nightmare would surely-end with the morning light, I grabbing a scarf from my down vest, wrapped my head with my one free arm, and quickly tucked/zipped/ myself deep-down in the sleeping bag. I prayed for daylight to come quickly. I vowed that, regardless of what happened tomorrow… this would be my last night in the desert.
In the many days to come, I would always remember this night as the most frightening, most challenging night, of my Great Wall Journey….until… the night I encountered The Black Leopard."
But--- I’ll save that breathtaking experience to share with you-- next time.
Ann and I met in Junior High School. She was pretty, had a nice figure, and wore expensive cashmere sweaters with matching skirts, jackets with fur trim, and fine jewelry. We hadn’t met in grade school because she lived in an affluent neighborhood and attended the nearby grade school where almost-all the students were popular, rich, and considered most-likely-to-succeed.
I don’t know about high schools today but, back then, students formed little cults-or groups- much like a “caste system” and students “hung out” with their specific group. Every morning and lunch time, these groups gathered at different sections of the school property to talk, flirt, and gossip. It was a hurtful time for those who didn’t belong to a group.
Naturally, Ann belonged to the number-one group….the one with the most-important, most-popular students, and the group that, for the most-part, consisted of mostly snobs. Looking back, few in the number-one group were able to maintain their important/popular status after graduation.
Surprisingly, Ann and I attended the same women’s college in St. Charles, Missouri. And, even more surprising, we ended up as roommates and, that’s where the surprises ended.
She spent every weekend off campus with her boyfriend, the one whose father worked for the railroad, like my father. But, rather than take a chance on some poor boy marrying his daughter, Ann’s father paid for her current boyfriend to attend an expensive college, drive a fancy car, and live off-campus in a nice apartment. After all, Ann’s family had a reputation to maintain. They weren’t going to jeopardize their “standing” in the Pine Bluff community by letting their daughter marry a nobody with no-future… or, heaven-forbid.....marry a nobody who worked for the railroad!
I well-remember the day I walked in our shared room and found Ann sitting at my desk, reading my letters. Rather than being humiliated, apologetic, or acting ashamed, Ann just looked at me and laughed. She couldn’t believe I was corresponding with some lowly private in the Army, some poor guy from a hick town called Sherrill, who didn’t even know how to spell! I can still hear her words as she held up the small picture of my friend in his military uniform. “My God Sally, you graduated prettiest in our class…. and you can’t do any better than this poor, skinny, uneducated loser?!?!?”
Those were the days when manners defined us. Regardless of being rich or poor, all of us were expected to use our manners….not some of the time... but all of the time. From birth, I’d been taught to respect people, their privacy, and their property. My grandmother, the church’s long-time Sunday school teacher, repeated her most valuable lesson year after year, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and…. I never forgot.
I grabbed my friend’s photo, picked up my personal letters that Ann had rudely scattered acrossed my desk, and left the room. We never spoke of the incident after that day but, I never trusted my roommate again. I hid my personal items and correspondence in an available locker in the music department. I remained cordial, polite, and managed to finish my freshman year at college without controversy but that year….I lost a part of my innocence After sharing a room with Ann for nine months, I no-longer thought of Ann as pretty.
That summer, Ann and Harry married. Of course, she asked me to sing at the wedding and--ever the pleaser-- I said “yes”. After the wedding, I remember standing at the back of the church, ready to leave, when Ann, seeing me, stopped hugging family and friends long-enough to hand me a clumsily-wrapped package. With a quick "Thank You" followed by a fake, goodbye wave, the new bride hurried back to join her current group.
Later, in the parking lot, I un-wrapped Ann’s thank you gift. I smiled when I saw the hand-written card from someone named James Winters, wishing Ann and Harry "Much Happiness" with their upcoming marriage. How typical of Ann to overlook the obvious. Someone had sent her a wedding gift she didn't like or want so--she re-taped the paper around the gift----and passed it on to me. In her haste, she forgot to remove the name of the wedding gift's original sender.
Someone, probably her mother, told her to give me something for singing at the wedding but, like many with no class or integrity, Ann didn't valued me as a person. Why would she waste time or money, thanking me with a meaningful gift?!?!?
That was sixty years ago and today, I still have the ugliest ashtray ever-created. It’s heavy, thick glass, and totally lacking in beauty. I don't smoke but, I continue to keep the ashtray nobody wanted as a constant reminder:
"Looks--like people-- are superficial and, with time, fade away. Real Beauty come from inside. Regardless of age and time, Real Beauty only get better."
We shared the same last name—Miller-- but we had nothing in common. Allen Miller's father was a bank president; his mother, Helen, was proper and elegant; his older sister, Jane, was beautiful and smart…until she reached five years of age. Suddenly, Spinal Meningitis attacked her young body and left her mind permanently-locked in the world of five year olds.
I worked at Emmaus Home for Adults with Disabilities, part-time, while completing my communications degree at Lindenwood University. It didn’t take long for Jane Miller to become my friend and favorite resident.
Emmaus was located on a small hill outside St. Charles, Missouri. It was a horribly-depressing place and, in my opinion, the administrators and its board ignored the residents that lived there. Emmaus was located on a site once-called: The Insane Asylum. From my observation, nothing about the place had ever changed—except for its name.
Jane’s attractiveness, nice clothes, and traditional manners set her apart from the other residents. After meeting her mother, Helen, and her younger brother, Allen, and learning about their background, I understood why. Shortly after our meeting, Jane's mother became seriously ill. Jane's brother Allen-- the only responsible family member left-- placed Helen in an assisted living facility where, after several months, she died.
Jane could walk, feed herself, and was able to use the bathroom alone, but, she needed help showering and with her personal grooming. Jane seemed to identify with me and, overtime, the home’s supervisor-- who considered Jane a spoiled and difficult resident---assigned me to work with Jane, exclusively.
I enjoyed reading to Jane, taking her for short walks, sitting with her in church, and helping her with small chores. What perplexed me was Jane’s inability to talk well or to be understood. And, I was beginning to feel uneasy about Allen, Jane’s brother. Since her mother’s death, Jane kept repeating one name--“Allen”—again and again, day and night. Allen called her on the phone at least once-- every day. Then, one day, it happened. And it continued to happen each time her brother called. Jane would pick up the phone to talk with Allen and immediately, put her hand inside her pants.
From the beginning of my employment at Emmaus, I was told that, as an attendant, I was to ignore those residents who insisted on masturbating in full view of others. Attendants could suggest a resident return to their room but…were not allowed to interrupt them, physically or forcefully. Attendants were told about the rights of every resident and that each resident could, fundamentally, do what they wanted—when they wanted---and where they wanted.
I had an underlying fear that Jane was being sexually abused by her brother so I spoke with Emmaus Supervisors and Administrators about my suspicions. When I wrote my daily reports, I detailed Jane’s obsession with masturbating all day and night… each time she spent a weekend with her brother. I also wrote, in detail, about the afternoon I arrived at work and found Jane (completely naked), in bed with a very-old black resident.
I worked at Emmaus because I needed money. I worked there until the day I received my college degree in Communications, accepted China’s invitation to teach at their Broadcasting Institute, and quickly left America.
Years later, after leaving China and returning to America, I was surprised to suddenly find an email message from Allen Miller. He had retired from Banking and wondered where I was living. He mentioned Jane was still at Emmaus but visited him almost every weekend.
Allen mentioned that Jane kept asking “Where’s Sally?” He insisted I send him my phone number so he and Jane could call me. His request seemed harmless enough so I sent my phone number.
Several nights later, I received a call from Allen. Apparently, he’d been drinking and wanted to express himself. No, Jane wasn’t with him and soon… I learned the reason for his call.
I listened as Allen began describing how he undressed his sister every weekend--- insisting that she wear nothing; how he showered with Jane and personally-cleaned her body; how he taught Jane to “service” him at night so he could sleep like a baby; how he experimented with her, exploring every sexual position imaginable. Allen finished his shocking report of sexual dominance by announcing with pride---that he and his sister made perfect lovers.
Yes, Allen graphically-detailed to me, exactly how he enjoyed raping his disabled sister. After reaching complete gratification, Allen quickly hung up the phone.
The next day, I changed my phone number and created a new email account. Never doubt your instincts.
I've never been much on numbers; math classes scared me. But, I do remember numbers, significant numbers, especially when they relate to special dates on the calendar. Even when I try to forget a few...the numbers insist on taking-me-back to a particular time and place.
I continue to diminish the stacks of boxes in my garage. It appears I have approximately 35 unopened boxes left-- which means I’m nearing the end of my long-unpacking journey. After almost two years of unpacking more than 700 boxes of stored memories—I’ll be so glad when it’s all over.
Today, I opened another box and found my Wedding Book-- with photos of bridesmaids, a well-decorated First Christian Church, a reception in my parents' home, and the big honeymoon "exit".
Yes, SIXTY YEARS AGO this past September 25—was my wedding day. The photo of me with my Father is my favorite picture. Most specifically, this is the only photo out of all the wedding day photos where I am truly-happy.
That day was my biggest lifetime test. Looking back, it should have been my "screen test", Just maybe, with years of pretend-playtime, I should have headed to Hollywood but--my mother wouldn't allow me out of her sight.
Too bad I was the only one who knew I was playing a part on my wedding day, pretending to be happy. Even at the young age of 20...almost 21 years....I was forced to be a convincing actress.
I was well-practiced in the art of pretend. It didn't matter if I was happy...or sad...it was only important that I please my Mother. After my year as Miss Arkansas ended, my Mother demanded I get married, start a new life as a happy bride....and marry the person she picked to be my husband.
The year--1959-- was way-back-when. There's very-little left of that Sally--- the young girl who pretended to be happy that September day. It took a divorce, many difficult times, a very-complicated career, the death of my controlling mother and---the ultimate loss of my daughters before I was finally able to be--me.
Somewhere along my challenging journey I discovered happiness and found it in the strangest place. I'm happy now because I've learned that True Happiness doesn't come from others....it comes from me.
PS. From childhood through adulthood and beyond the grave--I cherish the one person who knows me best and always loves me most. I've never had to pretend with him. The only photo in my Wedding Book that shows me genuinely happy......is the photo of me on the arm of my Father. Today, like every day, I remember him.
My Father was and will always be--my Happiness. I love you, Daddy.
Every Tuesday, KROGER offers Senior Citizens the chance for a small discount on groceries. All those years of working full-time, I bought groceries when it was convenient. I remember thinking that searching for coupons or shopping on designated-discount days was a waste of my time.
Well, fast-forward to the present. Every week, I make a grocery list and, every Tuesday, buy groceries at KROGER, using my Senior Citizen Discount. It may not seem like much of a savings for some but, to me, five to seven dollars off my weekly grocery costs means approximately twenty to twenty-five dollars off my monthly food budget.
It’s not enough to be frugal; people on fixed incomes must shop wisely because basic food costs increase daily. With Kitty-Babies, A Big Dog, and Me… searching for coupons, discounts, sales, and close-outs has become a-way-of-life.
Every Tuesday, I’m impressed with the number of older men, women, couples, and singles, pushing grocery carts. I’m also alert to the fact that more than a few are crippled, carry oxygen bags, use walkers, while a few are leaning on their carts for balance and support. Last week, I saw two women, both wearing glasses but also holding magnifying glasses to help read the writing on various items.
Last week, Tuesday was a particularly hectic day in Kroger's Grocery Store. Vendors were everywhere, blocking aisles, stacking empty boxes...all in a hurry to fill shelves with more products before Thanksgiving. I had trouble accessing the aisles with so many vending carts, so many stockers, and too many boxes. I noted that a few Senior Shoppers were upset with the commotion and inaccessible aisles. To them, the crowded aisles were scary obstacle courses, especially for those with vision problems, balance concerns, and unsteady feet.
By the time I reached the checkout station, I was exhausted. What would normally have been a thirty minute grocery-shopping experience…had turned into more than an hour of playing "dodge ball" in slow-moving, store traffic. Looking for the shortest check-out lane, I was shocked to see only one lane open, and more than 24 grocery carts ahead of me!
I glanced at the shoppers nearby. Most were seniors who were either leaning on canes, walkers, or hanging on their carts. Several women were slumped over their baskets with, what appeared to be, exhaustion. No one was smiling; everyone seemed resigned to their fate---to wait.
But--not me. I left my basket in the aisle, walked to the front of the store and spoke out---loud and clear: “Having only one checkout lane open is unacceptable. It's Tuesday and YOU know that WE are here every Tuesday for our Senior Discounts. Many of us are crippled, short of breath, too weak to stand for long periods, and most of us need to use the bathroom every thirty minutes so….I want to see KROGER Store Managers out here right now! You aren’t too busy or too important to check us out, bag our groceries, and give us some well-deserved customer service.”
For a few seconds, everyone looked at me, shocked at my words, but not for long. I watched as employees closeby began speaking on handheld devices and...suddenly... there was activity, everywhere. In only a few minutes, three store managers and multiple checkers were opening checkout aisles, lights were turned on at every register, and baggers appeared from all directions, ready to service customers.
I moved into action by directing people to form lines at all the checkout lanes and encouraging the weak and crippled to move to the front of each line. Like the parting of the Red Sea….customers perked up, became activated--like young children-- talking, forming lines, and wearing big smiles.
Many thanked me and one lady, almost blind, told me I was her hero. I wasn't a hero but simply an older woman who'd reached her breaking point, her limit. Over the years I've learned we are most effective when we speak out---not with words of anger or frustration--but with confidence, a strong voice, and a simple plan.
I was the last to checkout. I felt responsible for all those customers who’d been standing in that long line-- for such a long time--- like trusting sheep. Bless them all.
Yes, One Person can make a difference-- One Voice above all the rest.
Last week, shopping with other Senior Citizens, I realized-once again- that AGE is merely a number. When I see injustice, experience abuse, or find the opportunity to right a wrong---I can still make a difference. I learned quite a long time ago to:
NEVER WAIT FOR OTHERS TO DO WHAT YOU-ALONE-CAN DO.