Ria Steele photograph

Where shall I begin?

By Ria Steele

Where shall I begin? I have asked myself that question now for two weeks, wondering what my first column should be about. Well, I know my own story better than anyone, so I feel it is time to clear up many misconceptions of my 4 years away from Ennis, Texas.

In October 1991, someone most of Ennis Texas knew suddenly "took flight" (more like a 3 day bus trip from heck to the huge and beautiful city of Seattle Washington. Arriving on Halloween October 31, 2001 left those back here in this small town with many questions, lots of hear say, and let's just say a great deal of gossip. I, being born and raised here, going through Sam Houston Elementary, then onto Middle School and finally graduating 6 months early, went onto become the "usual" wife, and working Mom of this typical charming small town. Years past too quickly, and along came my 2nd marriage, and then my daughter, who also later took the brunt of the gossip in another small town just about 20 miles of Ennis. Blooming Grove, a town of 800 (and the city sign has said that now for at least 20 years), proved to be "gossip central". I tried to just ignore the "locals" that governed their fair little town as they huddled around their own, whispering about each other behind their backs, and Oh My!, to be the "outsider", not born and raised there, well that definitely put you under a microscope where every move you made was a tale from the torn and tattered minds of those who had resided there all of their lives!

After that tidbit, I will return to the matter at hand, and that was my "ticket" our of this fair town; into the strange, yet wondrous, beautiful, and massive city of Seattle, Washington. I arrived on October 31, 2001, Halloween night of all nights, and the city was just mesmerizing to say the least! It was around 8 pm, and I inhaled the freedom, wonder, alas and the fear of being a small town "girl" in a very large and somewhat overwhelming city of a million people!

All the while back in Ennis, Blooming Grove, and the surrounding small communities, there was the "talk". Where did she go? Why did she leave? Did she abandon her two kids? Was she plain nuts, on drugs, with other men? I am sure the list goes on, but that is the past, so all of those rumors are just that, rumors!

I knew better, my family knew better, my kids knew I did not abandon them, and I never lost touch with my parents, nor my children or anyone that needed to get in touch with me. I left to get out of the horror that I had lived in for almost 17 years of my life. I left to protect my family. I left to get out of harms way. I left because I finally "woke up" one day, after almost dying of a massive heart attack on January 8th, 2001. Seven days after coming out of the hospital, going through all of the tests, the trauma, being scared at the age of 40, I might die, that my life had to change NOW! No more excuses, no more hiding, no more running scared, now it was time to take action, take back my life, and put an end to the horror of the abuse!

YES! I did "say" ABUSE! I had hidden the facts for years from everyone. My own family never knew most of which I endured for almost 17 years of marriage. I never told a soul for many reasons, out of guilt, out of shame, out of the feelings of maybe "I deserve it", from thinking I would "change him", or no one would believe me, to finally FEAR!...Fear of the knowledge if I told a soul, I would not live another 24 hours! More than once I had been told by someone who was supposed to "love" me, within the middle of the emotional, mental and horribly physical abuse, I was threatened that I would not live to tell another soul, if any of his "torture" came out as "public knowledge".

Thus, after doctors warning me the massive and long term stress I had been under for literally years was going to kill me if he did not accomplish it in one-way, then I would certainly be subject to another heart attack, in which a 2nd attack I more than likely would not recover from. Well, I wanted to LIVE! I had and now have so much to live my life for, and against all odds, I left, like a night bird, like "dust in the wind", I just basically up, left everything, and everyone knowing it was my only chance to have my life back!

Four years in Seattle proved to be a challenge in many ways for me. Yet, I learned more in those 4 years than I had learned in the 40 years I lived here in Texas. I learned about people, I learned I could take care of myself, I learned that being in a huge city can still bring wonderful people into your life, and that crime was never a factor in Seattle, even with a population of over one million and growing. I learned to take my own past pain, and make something positive out of it. I dealt with the past, I took on new experiences, from managing an apartment building for a year, to once again trying banking, which was a nightmare all over again, thus after another "spell" in 2003 with my heart, I quit banking all together, after being told "stress" was causing my heart to "flare up". I had to once again make another set of "life-changing" choices. I was alone much of the time in Seattle, although I met several people, made a few friends, dated casually, yet in my heart, faith told me, even after a week's vacation to Lancaster, California to see a dear friend, Aimee, who still remains one of the best people I know on this Earth, that I "belonged" in Seattle. I followed my "heart", instincts, or whatever you want to call "that inner voice", and within a week of coming back from California, low and behold, the answer of a lifetime became evidently clear, as to my "reasons" other than the obvious of why I remained in Seattle.

James Trexler Sheffer blew into my life, like a warm summer breeze on Memorial Day 2003. And I will say yes, we met "on-line". There is a local newspaper, plus an on-line site called "The Stranger" there in Seattle that had been "alive and well" for years. I had placed an "ad", more like a profile about myself, my likes, dislikes, who I was, what I wanted, what I DID NOT want, and above all what I was "searching for" in my life, and that was "true, spiritual, total and complete love". I smile now, because Jim has admitted several times he looked at my ad for well over a week before he could even respond, not even knowing what to say, for he said to me later "You said it all". Days passed quickly, and the days turned into months, and it was evident from just about the very first time we met on the beautiful beach of Alki, there by the Sound, across the way from the breathtaking view of the skyline of Seattle, we had found what the both of us had been searching for all of our lives, honor, and trust, a soul mate relationship, love!

Alas, just after we met, and through it all, the good, the bad, and the indifferent, we remain inseparable. I had the flare up with my heart only 6 weeks after Jim and I met. Bless his heart, when I had told him about it over the phone, during a work day, he immediately left work, and took me to one of the best emergency rooms in Seattle. Thus, they did admit me overnight for observation, for my initial blood work was "off", and Jim not only stayed by my side, knowing I was scared out of my mind, but held my hand, beside my hospital bed the entire night, and into the next day. It turned out not to be another heart attack per se, but was definitely a "flare up" that warranted another change in my life. Thus, after 3 days at home thinking it over, Jim by my side, WE, and I do mean WE, for he was beside me all the way and even encouraged me to quit the job at the bank. It was apparent I was overly stressed, being overworked, and my body was giving me the signs I knew all too well were signs that I again must make adjustments in my lifestyle. So, even though I walked back into the bank, even though I had also came down with contagious conjunctivitis (pink-eye), and again was told I COULD NOT GO BACK TO WORK YET!; I went in, only to by not very well received by the head director, and when the conversation ended, I turned in my resignation, for firing me was just not an option I would have allowed her. Another long story about a very short year of my life, but that is ancient history, thus I shall save that one for another addition. Jim had been in web design, development and hosting since 1996. He at the time we met was working for an extremely well known software developer and no not (MicroSoft), although most know they are home-based in Seattle. So, with time on my hands, and him working part-time remotely from home, I peered over his shoulder for hours each day, enthralled with HTML, web design, development, server technology, web hosting, and the entire gamut of the World Wide Web! You may say within a few days Jim, "threw the book at me", not in a literal sense, but handed me the "Bible" of HTML, which in itself is over 1000 pages in length. I sat down and began to read, then within days was totally absorbed at my own computer learning the "language" of HTML, graphics, fonts, Java-Script, and eventually becoming a part of the world of design, development and hosting on-line businesses.

If I started a list of all of the wonderful things I have learned from Jim since day one, it would take up hundred's of pages, and I truly feel the list would continue to be endless. He teaches me something new each and every day about life, about business, about design, about myself, and most of all about true love.

Alas, I took to web design, hosting, and all of the ins and out's of the Internet and the World Wide Web like a fish in water, and so the story continues, I now have designed several professional websites for clients, done "back-end and development work", and can answer just about any question you could possibly have about Search Engine Optimization and Submittal. Jim and I work best across the desk from one another 24/365/7, and find it difficult to even be apart if one has to run to the local market, while the other stays here to work or watch the other members of our family, our two cats and our puppy.

"D-Link" (named because he sat on our D-link router for days after we brought him home), "Lightning" (named after "Lightning Hopkins" the old blues singer due to him "screeching" like the singer the day we brought him home", and last Tazz, the part Pug, Part Pom, named for very obvious reasons, for she can be just like a little "devil" with her vivacious personality! Never a dull moment for sure, and Tazz was a wonderful Christmas present from Jim in 2004,knowing I missed my puppies that were back in Texas with my kids.

Alas, life in no fairy tale, and we have endured much over these past three years. I lost my Maternal Grandmother, and as close as I was to her, at the time was not able to come back for her funeral. We also knew my Dad was having many health problems, from needing both knees replaced, to diabetes, that sent him into a diabetic coma more than once, and other various health problems that I knew were not good. This was around early 2004, and my daughter was planning her wedding, and knowing things were as they were, again Jim made it possible somehow (by the grace of a Higher Power), to get the finances to fly us down for the wedding, and to also see my Mom, Dad and son for a brief time before having to fly back to Seattle. Just one of Jim's many surprises, from our engagement, (again another story all together), to a laptop the first Christmas we were together; he always seems to know just the thing to do, or say, to make life rich and full. So, at the end of 2004, after the trip to Texas, we began to plan our own "ceremony", something not quite "traditional", much more intimate, just simply different from most "wedding ceremonies". Las Vegas seemed to be the place to go, no worry about family feeling guilty, I had never been there, and Jim had only been briefly one time for a few hours, so we began our quest for the "perfect ceremony", "perfect attire", and spent many hours scouring over the Internet looking for chapels, dresses, and trying to decide about the various and wonderful details of our own wedding day! Of course on a budget especially after the trip to Texas in mid-2004 for my daughter's wedding, so yes we worked with a "shoe-string budget" but had as far as I am concerned the wedding of a lifetime, that until I take one last breath I shall never forget.

But life again threw a "curve ball" at us, after a call from my parents in early January 2005. Dad had finally decided to have his left knee completely replaced, and after going through the entire gamut of tests, the doctors deemed him in good enough health to finally rid himself of the horrible pain in at least one knee, and hopefully the other after months of rehabilitation of the first one. Dad truly seemed "thrilled" at the idea of being able to get up and down the stairs at home again, and possibly work in the yard without horrible pain, and I as a daughter that loves him to the end of time also was elated to know he had made such a wonderful decision. Little did any of us realize what would happen after that fateful day, that happened to be my 45th birthday, February 15th, 2005.

Dad went into surgery that morning with what I felt was a "hopeful but fearful spirit". Somewhere in my heart and soul, I also felt very hopeful, yet deep inside fearful that I may never see my Dad face to face on this Earth again. Alas, from the first complications set in, from pneumonia, infection, horrible pain, huge gallstones, liver failure, kidney failure, diabetic coma, and the list went on of complications involved of course with any one and any surgery, but with Dad's age at 81 and physical problems, he was much more susceptible to the severe problems that set in. It was from February 15th until the following Easter Sunday, that Dad went on a roller coaster of "seeming better", than taking a dive for the worst. Till this day, I cannot imagine what my Mom had to have been going through, for I know the living hell that tortured me night and day, for I knew in my heart, I had seen my Dad here for the last time in June 2004. The call came early Easter Sunday morning, with what the doctor's deemed a massive infection of the brain, and "mini-strokes", I picked up the phone, and called the hospital to tell my own Dad goodbye. Nothing and no one, unless you have experienced it can imagine how I felt for those brief yet seemed like years of moments on the phone. I know Dad heard each word I said, as I told him, "Go Home", "It's Okay", "Mom and all of us will be fine" and most of all my final words to Dad were "Daddy I Love You". As my nephew took the phone away, I barely heard Dad say in a very faint, yet distinct voice, "I love you Pammy", and within 15 minutes or less, my Father took his last breath, and went onto enter the "Pearly White City", he had sang about so many times before. I cannot explain all of the emotions I felt then, and I feel now as I write these words, from relief that he no longer hurt, to the guilt I felt for not being there, to such an extreme loss and emptiness of knowing, no longer would I hear nor see my Dad on this Earthly plain again. All of the feelings and emotions we experience that are so prevalent when we experience the loss of someone we love so dearly and deeply; an open wound to the human heart, I feel that never completely heals. That kind of piercing pain, that comes along every once in a while, no matter how long it has been never really leaves us, and I believe it shall remain until the day Dad and I meet again, on a different plain, where all shall be revealed, and nothing will ever hurt us again. In my soul, faith leads me to believe in that place knowing Dad awaits us all with open arms there, watching over my family and I, and knowing all here that goes on. For that, I can find peace in the fact that he no longer suffers the heartaches, pain, and disappointments of a "human" life, but an eternity long without suffering. When Jim and I left Ennis the Friday after Dad's funeral, both of us knew that it would not be long until we were "home". As we boarded the plane in Dallas, no words had to be spoken; arriving emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, and alas knowing our wedding was planned for exactly one week later from the day we put Dad to eternity's rest. Another difficult decision laid before us, whether to cancel the wedding plans for the time being, yet knowing Dad would have not wanted us to postpone what would make us happy. As we unpacked, cleaned the apartment, caught up on a little bit of email and work, and re-packed it was truly a mixture of tears of pain, tears of joy, laughter amidst the loss, yet in my heart, I felt Dad's presence, and heard him speak to me, telling me to go on with my life, and be happy. So, on Wednesday, April 6th, 2005, at the Garden of Love Chapel in Las Vegas, Jim and I stood side by side, hand in hand, with our own vows written, a picture of Mom and Dad on the front pew, along with a pink rosary my dear Grandmother had given me when I was just a very small child, in front of the world, shouting atop the mountain, our love and devotion throughout this lifetime and the lifetimes to follow, we said our "I do's" vowing to weather life together, until the sands of time were no more. Lots of things happened in the brief months that followed, from my car being broken into numerous times, to finally being stolen once, then recovered thank goodness.

Jim's part-time remote job took a turn of the not expected, and after a "corporate restructuring", he was let go. My health during all of this time had and continues to falter. From a right shoulder and elbow that have been almost totally "frozen" due to chronic tendonitis and bursitis that plague me with almost unbearable pain night and day, to degenerative joint disease of the knees, hips, wrists, neck, and most of my joints. Then there is the battle with high blood pressure, heart medication to take, and continual and extremely unbearable migraine headaches that I have had to endure since the age of 17. I developed kidney stones about 3 years ago, and have battled with the pain of passing those from time to time, usually following a bad kidney infection. The chronic and constant pain leads me to the up's and down's of fighting depression, and then their is the horrible anxiety attacks, that I recently discovered after all these years are from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, caused from the horrible domestic violence I endured, plus the 4-wheeler accident that I am sure led to many of the terrible joint and neck problems I have at 45. The list goes on from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to Fibromyalia, night terrors, with most nights of not sleeping very much either due to the night terrors or even more the horrible and chronic joint pain of my elbow, shoulder and wrist on the right side. If you take any two of those or more and looked at me, you may not realize what pain I endure daily. Without medication and still in desperate need of surgeries, especially on the shoulder, elbow, and possibly my hip and knee, there is no way I have been able to work more than a few hours a week now since August of 2003. Jim is an angel and has managed between part-time jobs, and picking back up with his own design and expertise in web development to keep us afloat, all the while I fight for my complete disability. I know longer between the quick degeneration of my joints, the pain, all of the side effects of the medications that keep me half way "comfortable" enough to try and function without being in massive tears, that I can try to work outfox the house, and even here, my hours of "work" are few. I do well to even shower, dress, or sometimes get out of bed in the morning from pain to lack of sleep, and massive exhaustion that continually plagues my life. My faith and hope is that finally the disability hearing will arrive in 2006, and I shall finally be able to have the medical attention and surgeries I need to be more comfortable, yet I realize that nothing will completely resolve all of my many health issues, and due to the years now of the damage to them, I shall continue to wake up, and go to sleep in some type of pain for the rest of my life, whether physical or mental, the stress and strain most days takes it's toll on me. Yet, I try to do the best I can, hold my head up high and realize I have done what I can to try and help myself, and now it is in the hands of God and the future of medication that shall give me some relief from mental to physical pain.

Alas this past September, in fact the 22nd, which is Jim's birthday, he received a phone call while we were once again in Las Vegas, due to a free trip we had won earlier in 2005. The news seemed great, a job in California, and the company wanted to fly him down the following week for a face to face interview. A mixture of worry, anxiety, relief, joy, and the unknown filled both of us, for we just were not quite sure why California? That was the last place we had even thought about moving to, due to the high cost of living, the city that is filled with crime and violence, which was not the case in Seattle, plus our plans had really been in place to try and wait until my court hearing came through, then move here to Ennis, buy a little house near Mom, and work from home, help her out, and settle down, feeling we were coming "home". Alas, the company offered Jim the job. After much contemplation on both of our parts, we felt possibly a year there, with a great salary and benefits would truly enable us to make the move to Texas, and buy that small home to settle here, be here for Mom, close to my grown children and the rest of my family. In my heart, and in Jim's also from the day we left here from Dad's funeral we knew that was what Dad wanted, and felt him many times surrounding us with reasons to be here, and find Ennis as our own final settling place. Now, no one knows why things happen as they do, even though we often question the reasons why life throws it's own trials and tribulations in our paths. I have never looked at the storms of life as a "punishment", but always felt that my faith becomes stronger, my wisdom grows more sturdy, and without the rain, there would be no sun, without tears falling, there would be no laughter, and without the "thorns" of life that sometimes "prick" our hearts, we would never grow to be the person deep inside we are meant to be.

Alas, things took a turn very quickly after the move to California at the end of October. In the back of my mind, I felt it would never last a year there, but something told me, the good part was we would be "half-way" home to Texas from San Pedro, California. Needless to say, after a horrible accident the day before Thanksgiving to my left hand, and two of my fingers due to a problem with no latches on the screens where we lived, being on the 2nd floor, my cat getting it's leg hung between the loose screen and the outside of the windowsill, I endured several severe bites, as I tried to free him, all the while he was scared out of his mind, in horrible pain, and about to fall from the 2nd floor window, so as he bit clean through my left hand, I finally freed him, as the blood poured from my wounds, swelling and bruising came immediately, all at 7:45 am that morning, just after Jim had left for work, and me not knowing anyone, and without a car.

I called Jim, and he turned around to come home and check on me and Lightning (the cat). Luckily, Lightning was fine, other than extremely scared, and probably very sore, but nothing was broken or torn. I, although was not so lucky. After calming down, getting some of the bleeding to stop, I sent Jim onto work, it being such a new job, plus the day before Thanksgiving, all the while my hand and arm began to swell, turn red, bruise, and the pain became worse, with no use of my ring nor small finger at all. Needless to say this past Thanksgiving was one of physical pain for me, yet due to Jim, he made it possible to have our new neighbors over, have a great dinner, and most of all be thankful for having one another, along with family and friends. To our total surprise (ah yet we suspected something in the wings), things were not at all as they seemed with Jim's new job. At first, he felt "at ease" with projects "thrown" his way, but in a matter of a few days, other types of coding, projects, and many other responsibilities the job was to hold started to become forthright. All of which were never discussed. nor brought up in either of the phone interviews.

The "old story" rang so familiar within my heart. You go in good faith for an interview, take a job offered to you, and the next thing you know nothing as it was told to you in the beginning. We tend to "put up" with people, jobs, the world, the unrighteousness, the indignation handed out to us by the corporations of this "Good Old Nation", our government, and so forth, until we are so stressed and completely fed up that is makes us physically ill, then we may decide to do something about it. We are all susceptible to the grind and nature of the beast we know as "corporate structure". Some of us can allow it to lead our lives and we actually thrive in it. Then there are others of us that just don't cope well with the environment of red tape, we care not about climbing over those around us to gain one more rung on that ladder, so we either quit, give up, or worse allow it to consume our souls. Hopefully, I learned my lesson long ago, and although some see me as a little indifferent, which I feel is a good thing, I never did well in the realms of a corporate mindset.

Luckily Jim and I believe very much the same in that circumstance, yet I must admit both him and I view much of life, jobs, love, and all around us in the same light. I truly feel that is why we get along as we do. "Two peas in a pod, as the saying goes".

Life flows and we move along in faith with it. Sometimes it brings torment in which we cannot comprehend, and other times it brings joy that rings throughout the universe for all of the world, angels and stars to here. We take each day in that faith, knowing it is a good day all in all to be able to open our eyes with a renewed vision.

Rhia Steele

11/30/2006

copyright 2006, Ria Steele

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