I told you in A Long Goodbye that my mother was ill. That’s been the reason that I have not been actively posting on the blog for the last several weeks. All of my focus has been there.
Last Tuesday morning, I lost my mother. It was peaceful, and she had been able to see so many of the people who meant so much to her before she passed. I am incredibly lucky that up until the end, she knew me. And I’m more grateful than I can articulate to the staff of her hospice for being so good to her and to me and my family over the last several weeks. I am also lucky that I was able to say what I needed to to her- She knew it was OK for her to go.
Things are still a bit of a roller coaster for me, so postings will continue to be sporadic for a while. Please know that I am reading, and if I have agreed to a review, it will come eventually, but right now, I am finding it very hard to concentrate and do new books justice. I’m re-reading a lot of old favorites with beloved characters, when I am reading at all.
Please know I appreciate your patience and understanding and I will be back reviewing some, but I need a little downtime right now.
Megan Cyrulewski’s memoir Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again is loaded on my Kindle app and I have it in queue to read. Megan is on a blog tour now for her book, and since I’m excited about reading it, I wanted to tell you a little bit about it. At the end of this post is an excerpt from Chapter 1.
I’m generally a big fan of memoirs, so when Megan contacted me about a potential review and this synopsis of the book, I was intrigued:
Megan Cyrulewski is an ordinary person who has faced extraordinary challenges and now wants to inspire people and show them that hope gives them the power to survive anything. Who Am I? is about her journey into post-partum depression, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, visits to the psych ward, divorce, domestic violence, law school, and her courageous struggle to survive with her sanity intact—and how a beautiful little girl emerged from all this chaos.
I couldn’t commit to being able to read and review the book in the timeframe of Megan’s blog tour, but since I am interested in the book, I wanted to give you some teasers about it so that if you’re interested, you can get your copy now.
What we as people can get through often amazes me. We don’t really know what we can survive until we go through it. Sometimes, it’s called being strong; other times, it is just doing what needs to be done. Real people with real stories fascinate me, and that is what has drawn me to Who Am I?
Here’s a little about the author, Megan:
Megan Cyrulewski has been writing short stories ever since she was ten-years-old. Eventually she settled into a career in the non-profit sector and then went back to school to get her law degree. While she was in school, she documented her divorce and child custody battle in her memoir, Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, which was released on August 2, 2014. Megan lives in Michigan with her 3-year-old daughter who loves to dance, run, read, and snuggle time with Mommy. Megan also enjoys her volunteer work with Troy Youth Assistance as the Fundraising Chair on the Board of Directors.
Here’s how you can buy the book, then scroll down for an excerpt from Chapter 1, and check back here for my review.
CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT:
Chapter One: Ahhh…Young Love
Envy. There is a reason why it’s one of the seven deadly sins. It can kill you. It almost killed me.
The summer of 2004, I was 26 and just got out of a long-term relationship. Good man, he just wasn’t the right man for me.
I had just found out that my old college roommate had recently gotten engaged. The two of us were always “competing” during college: who was skinnier, who can pick up the most guys at the bar. Stupid girl stuff. Other friends of mine were either married or having babies. I think the last straw was finding out my high school sweetheart had gotten engaged. Somewhere in fantasyland, I always thought it was possible we might get back together. Needless to say, I was definitely envious.
That summer, my roommate, Jessica, bought a house. At the time we were sharing an apartment, but she asked if I wanted to move into her house. Jessica and I had known each other since high school and she was the best roommate, and one of the best friends, I have ever had. Without hesitation, I agreed. A month after moving in, we had a house warming party. That’s when I met Tyler*.
I knew Tyler slightly because he was engaged to one of Jessica’s friends, Natalie. Tyler and Natalie and been together for about three years. They had even come to a couple of parties Jessica and I had thrown at our apartment. I had never really talked to him, though. Tyler and Natalie had broken up around the same time I had broken up with my-long term man.
Jessica didn’t want to invite Tyler because she didn’t want any tension between him and Natalie. A few days before the party, though, we found out Natalie was going to be out of town. Coincidentally, Tyler stopped by that same night to give something of Natalie’s to Jessica. That was the first time I had really looked at hime and I liked what I saw: good-looking, goofy smile, and deep-blue eyes. The attraction was instantaneous. So, I decided to invite him to the house-warming party. Why the hell not? Natalie wasn’t going to be there. After getting the eyes of death from Jessica, she reluctantly told him the day and time.
The night of the party, Tyler knocked on the door. When I opened it, I gave him a hug and told him I was glad he was there because at least I had someone to flirt with. I didn’t really pay attention to him too much during the party. But after everyone had left, he and I ended up talking until five in the morning.
A couple of nights later, we went on our first date. We went to dinner and then back to his house to watch a movie. We were very open with each other. I told him about my anxiety disorder, he told me about his drug addiction and how he had been clean for years. Five months later, I moved in with him, four months after that we got engaged and a year later, we were married. Needless to say, the relationship was on overdrive from the beginning.
The relationship wasn’t perfect, but whose is? Tyler didn’t like his current job and was looking for a new one. Tyler was trying to quit smoking because he knew I didn’t like it. Tyler was a recovering addict and going to NA meetings. It’s a stressful time. That became my mantra. Tyler got angry. “It’s a stressful time.” Tyler screamed at me. “It’s a stressful time.”
I was an independent woman in my mid-twenties, in a stable job making $55,000 and climbing up the corporate ladder. I understood stress. I was also in complete denial. This was the beginnings of what I would later understand was a domestic violence relationship and a relationship with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). There were the signs of these disorders, of course, but I didn’t recognize them at the time.
My paternal family is 100% Polish. In my grandmother’s generation, girls were expected to get married and have babies. A lot of babies. My grandmother was one of six children. After I graduated from high school, on Christmas Eve, my grandmother would pray that the next year I would get married and start a family. I always smiled and told her maybe. I loved my grandmother very much. She was the only grandparent I had ever known.
After Tyler and I got engaged, we went to my grandmother’s house to tell her the news she had been waiting for. When we told her, she stood up, pushed me aside, hugged Tyler and said, “God bless you.” The memory still makes me smile. Three months later, she had a stroke. In February 2006, seven months before the wedding, my grandmother passed away. Devastation doesn’t even coming close to how I felt. I called in to work, stayed in bed and cried for two days.
The night of the funeral, my dad’s company catered dinner at my parent’s house for our family. On the way to their house, I noticed that the car was low on gas. I stopped at a gas station and asked Tyler if he could pump the gas. Tyler was on the phone and told me to pump the gas myself. We were only two miles from my parents’ house. I was still upset and crying from the funeral. I asked him again to please just pump the gas. He didn’t even bother to answer me. I got out of the car and pumped the gas myself. When I got back into the car, I told Tyler that I was upset and a little angry. What happened next was my first glimpse into the emotional abusive side of domestic violence.
“You are such a spoiled little bitch who expects the world to be handed to you,” Tyler screamed at me. “Turn the fucking car around.”
Not saying a word, I turned the car around and headed back home to drop off Tyler, who kept spewing vile words.
“You and your family think you’re so much better than me. Did daddy pump your gas for you all the time? Well guess what? You actually have to do things yourself now. It’s time for you to grow up and live in the real world.”
Tears streamed from my eyes. I still had not said a word.
“Your grandmother probably killed herself because she didn’t want to deal with you anymore. She probably got tired of your spoiled behavior and decided death was better than you. I’m glad I’m going home because I don’t want to watch your fucking family cry all night.”
When we got back home, I parked in the driveway and finally let loose.
“How dare you!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “I just lost my grandmother! Get out of my car! Get out!”
Tyler started laughing. “Look at you. You’re a joke. You should get some help for those anger issues of yours. Don’t bother coming back, bitch. Your shit will be on the curb.”
I left and went to my parents’ house. When my dad asked about Tyler, I said we got into an argument and he’s at home. My dad, who is the family peacemaker and almost never says anything negative said under his breath, “What a night for him to pick a fight.”
About an hour into dinner, Tyler called me. He said he wanted to come over and apologize. At this point, I was so emotionally drained I really didn’t care. When he arrived, he waltzed right into the house like nothing had ever happened. He pulled me aside and told me that he blew up because he was under so much stress from taking care of me the last couple of days. Looking back at the moment, I wonder how he even had the audacity to blame my grandmother’s death for his behavior. At the time, I was just glad he wasn’t mad anymore.
The next couple of months were calm. No arguments and Tyler and I were having fun planning the wedding. Obviously, the argument the night of my grandmother’s funeral was a result of stress. We got through it and according to Tyler, it wouldn’t happen again.
Early June 2006, I was in bed reading and waiting for Tyler to come home from a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting. When he got home, he came upstairs and walked toward the bed. He stopped and asked if I smelled anything.
“No,” I said, a little confused.
“It smells like cat piss.” (We had a cat that sometimes urinated outside the litter box.)
Tyler looked around the room and picked up a bed pillow off the floor. He smelled it.
“She pissed on this pillow.”
I laughed. “It’s sad when the pillow is right next to me and I can’t smell the pee.”
Tyler didn’t laugh. “Clean it up.”
“I’ll put it in the wash tomorrow. Just throw it in the basement.”
Tyler picked up the pillow. “Bitch. You waited until I came home because you knew I would fucking clean it.” He ripped the book I was reading right out of my hands and threw it across the room. “Get off your fat lazy ass, get some paper towels and clean it!”
I started to shake. The monster had emerged again. I couldn’t say anything. Tyler picked up the pillow and shoved it in my face.
“Smell it!” He screamed. “Can you smell it now, bitch? Now your face smells like cat piss. You’re disgusting. Who would want you anyway?”
Tyler threw the pillow back on the floor and stormed downstairs. I just sat in bed, paralyzed from fear. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even cry.
I don’t know how much time had passed before Tyler came back. Without saying a word, he picked up two water bottles I had sitting on the nightstand beside me, unscrewed the tops, and poured water on me. He laughed and went back downstairs.
I took off my pajamas, turned out the light and rolled to the dry side of the bed. Before long, I heard Tyler come up the stairs again. I began to shake. He ripped the covers off of me.
“You would sleep in a wet bed. I should have poured cat piss on you and let you sleep in that,” he laughed. “Get out of my fucking bed and sleep outside.”
I got out of bed and put on dry pajamas. I took off my engagement ring, threw it on the bed and left. I went to Jessica’s house and asked if I could spend the night. I didn’t talk about what happened. I just told her that the engagement was off and I just needed to sleep. Jessica never asked any questions and I love her for that.
Before long, my phone rang and it was Tyler. He asked me to come back home. I was hesitant, but he convinced me to come back home and talk. I left Jessica a note and went back home.
When I got home, Tyler was sitting on the couch. “I’m going to get a six-pack of beer, drink it and kill myself.”
Shocked, I sat down next to him. “Do you want me to call someone? Should I call your sponsor? I don’t know what to do.”
Tyler kept repeating. “I’m going to kill myself.” He was crying, but there weren’t any tears.
I hugged him. “We’ll get through this. We’ll get help. Please don’t kill yourself. I love you too much.”
“Thank you,” Tyler smiled. And just like that, he got up, told me he loved me, and went to bed.
Looking back, I now realize that this was Tyler’s way of manipulation. Tyler knew he let his anger get out of control, to the point that I walked away. To get me back, he subtly blamed me for what happened by alluding that he was going to commit suicide. At the time, I felt guilty for not cleaning the damn pillow. If I had cleaned that pillow, this never would have happened. I promised myself to be more careful in the future.
The next morning, my engagement ring was on my nightstand.**
The story of the FLDS and Warren Jeffs has long fascinated me. With a plethora of books to choose from about the sect/cult and it’s deranged leader, what drove me to Prophet’s Prey was Jon Krakauer’s affiliation with the book. I enjoy Krakauer’s books and respect the research and detail he puts into them. While Sam Brower is the primary author of the book, Krakauer gave it instant credibility.
This is one I listened to, rather than read. Jonah Cummings, the narrator, is great- the right intonation and inflection in telling the story, and an audiobook listening experience I recommend.
Brower pulls no punches in exposing Warren Jeffs for the manipulative bastard he is. He is, probably to some extent, mentally ill. But that in no way excuses his manipulation and exploitation of his flock. He’s a megalomaniac, a liar, a thief, a rapist, a pedophile, and a false prophet. Brower, a private investigator instrumental in exposing and ammassing evidence against Jeffs, presents his account in a straightforward manner, providing details to authenticate his account without exposing details in an overly salacious manner.
Prophet’s Prey itself is simultaneously engrossing and nauseating. Brower presents well the level of indoctrination the members of the FLDS have been subjected to. And to me, that was the hardest part of the book to digest. It is so hard for me to identify with a group of people the truly cannot think for themselves. It was stomach turning to me that so few people questioned the acceptability of girls as young as 12 marrying men four or more times their age. But it also provided insight into why cases against the FLDS have been so hard to prosecute, and to life inside the sect. But the best, most compelling part of the book is hearing the courage it took for people to stand up to Warren Jeffs and the church leadership, to take control of their own lives, and to tell horrific stories to the courts to ensure Jeffs is locked aways (hopefully for time and all eternity).
This one gets a recommendation from me.
Remember the days before GPS? Before even mapquest? When you actually had to pick up a map or an atlas to figure out where you were going? Did you ever think about maps much beyond that- a mechanism to get you from “here” to “there”? I hadn’t. But reading Michael Blanding’s The Map Thief has made me look at maps with an entirely new perspective.
From the publisher’s summary: In 2005, the respected and esteemed antiquarian map dealer E. Forbes Smiley was caught red-handed while delicately exacto-knifing a rare map out of a book at the Yale University Library. He would later confess to the theft of 97 maps valued at more than $3 million total, and would serve 42 months in prison for his crimes.
It almost sounds stranger-than-fiction, or like the beginning of a really good mystery novel, but it’s all true, and Michael Blanding delves into this fascinating story of high-stakes crime in THE MAP THIEF (Gotham Books, May 29, 2014, Hardcover and eBook).
THE MAP THIEF explores our fascination with maps and how they went from being practical instruments in the days of the New World explorers to highly coveted objects. Through interviews with all the key players, including an exclusive sit-down with Smiley before he went quiet, Blanding uncovers the story of the man behind the thefts, the cutthroat industry that consumed him, and the implications of his crimes on dealers, librarians, collectors, and map lovers alike. And although Smiley swears he has admitted to all of the maps he stole, libraries claim he stole hundreds more – and offer intriguing clues to prove it.
I thought The Map Thief a fascinating read. The arrogance of Forbes Smiley, the audacity with which he stole and resold these maps made for some compelling reading. I still have mixed feelings about Forbes Smiley. I’m not sure if he’s truly reformed or not.
Blanding provides some historical perspective of the stolen maps and atlases, and a thorough appendix of illustrations. He also puts a human face on the impact of Smiley’s actions on the his friends, colleagues, and competitors.
This is not a book I would normally have picked up to read, but a publisher who’s recommended a number of other books I have enjoyed suggested this one, and she is spot on.
This is compelling non-fiction. Not action packed, and subtle in many of its observations, Blanding manages to portray the very humanness of everyone involved. Equally compelling to the story of Smiley himself is the map collecting subculture and the negative-publicity-adverse museums and libraries who were Smiley’s victims.
If you’re looking for a read that is a bit off the beaten path, but tells a truly fascinating true story, The Map Thief is one I recommend.
American Angst is a tightly woven set of vignettes about Lucy, trying to balance her life and her relationship with husband Monty; and Robin, who is trying to balance herself. We get Lucy’s political posts from her 2012 Election blog, and we get some details about how Robin found herself on The Holdout. We get the drama of extended family and holidays and the messiness of life, but doused in snark, humor, and all-too-relatable emotion.
It bears repeating from earlier posts that I think more people should be reading Laurel Osterkamp. I believe most women will recognize some of herself in her characters, which is a big part of why I like them so much. She writes women I feel like I could call friends.
It’s a treat getting some of the behind the scenes details from the previous books. American Angst could be read standalone- I think it would make a new-to-Laurel reader curious about her other books- although I am glad I read them in the order they were published.
Laurel has a day job, so I know she can’t spend all her time writing, but I am looking forward to her next book!