Saturday, December 17, 2016

Journey Dream 12.17.16


 I am walking on the beach.  The tide is out and the beach is a flat shelf.  The sun is shining, the sky cobalt.  Trailing along with me is a small apricot colored cocker spaniel puppy.  I am carrying an old fashioned lantern made of sea glass and rose gold in one hand and a piece of Himalayan salt in the other.  It’s midday and the ocean is full of salt, so I’m not sure why I need either.  But they feel good in my hands. 

The pup and I sit to take a rest.  I put the chunk of salt and the lantern on the beach at my feet.  A man walks by and say, “What a fabulous idea.”  He begins walking down the beach and driving in rose gold hooked poles and small rose gold pedestals.  They extend to the horizon in organic clumps.  He walks back toward me and encourages me to get a move on, “it has to be completed by sundown.”

I stand up, dust the sand off my butt.  The dog looks up at me quizzically.  I shrug and say, “You know as much as I do, Shorty.”  But I go down the beach with the man where we begin hanging rose-colored lanterns on the poles and setting bodacious chunks of Himalayan salt onto the pedestals.  The ones I have been carrying are the last to be installed.  “Hurry.  Hurry.  It’s almost time,” he says as he places my items. 

We turn together, the man, the pup and me just in time to see the sun fall out of the sky and night come.  “Wait for it,” he tells me.  And just as the sky loses all of its day, the lanterns light up and the salt crystals begin to hum.  I am transported. 


We walk back in the glow of the lanterns.  “Such a great idea you had,” he tells me.  “Next time think bigger,” he says and walks off. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lineage #1

"Here are the bits where I am broken," she says and shoves a shoe box into my stomach.

I see what she means.  Inside are bitty bits and pieces.   I poke through them with a finger - delft bone china handle to something, torn sari scraps red-gold and fraying, bits of beach glass, shooter marbles, a Barbie shoe, a strangely shaped acorn, a triangular pebble, puzzle pieces and a red Sorry game marker.

"Can you fix me?"

I shake my head and shove the box back into her hands.  Her box of broken scares me.

********************

I pull out the Sorry man, "Tell me about this."

"Is that a Sorry game piece?"

"You tell me.  It's your box of broken."

"What the fuck is a Sorry man doing in there?"

I say nothing.  I uncross and recross my legs.  I can't put the words in her mouth.  I know eventually she will begin.

"I used to love that game, yunno?"

I nod.  "What did you love about it?"

"I loved being able to slam someone else's man back into start just as they were about to make it home."

"Hmmmmm," is all I say.  We sit in the long silence that follows before I goose her again.  "Why do you think there is a Sorry man in your broken box?"

She sighs and blows the hair up out of her eyes.  For the first time since we began, I can see into them.  They are a warm honey brown, but they are so distant, so closed off.

"My family was always fighting.  Even when they weren't, they were.  People were always fighting.  Fighting to be seen.  Fighting to be heard.  Fighting to be loved.  Until fighting became a thing, became the only thing."  She stops and tears into an already shredded cuticle before continuing.  "I don't like fighting and I could never get them to stop."

"How did you deal with that?"

She shrugs, "I learned early on that I could make it stops sometimes if I apologized, said I was sorry."  She grabs the Sorry man from the box and flings him across the room.  "I spent my whole life apologizing.  I apologized for everything.  I apologized to boyfriends when they broke up with me for not being a better girlfriend.  I apologized to my mother for not being perfect, for not being pretty, for not being born a boy, for fucking being born at all.  I apologized at work for not working around the clock to get funding.  I apologized for every hurt - real and imagined.  I even apologized for being silent.  Can you imagine?  My whole life has been a big fucking apology."

"Have your apologies changed any of those things?  Did a boyfriend decide to stay?  Did you mother love you more?  Did you keep your job?"

"No."  She thinks for a while.  "The words are just that.  Empty words said to make it stop."

"To make what stop?"

"The feeling of losing everything."

"You aren't going to save anything with empty apologies."

"Then why can't I stop apologizing for the world?"

"It's a habit.  Like biting your nails."

She jerks her fingers from her mouth where she has been worrying the nail and hides them under her leg.

"You have to exercise it, like a muscle."

She looks at me crookedly.  "One of my friends just told me the same thing."

"That is a wise friend," I say.  "And this," I hand her back the game piece, "is just a Sorry man."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

It's Thanksgiving.  I'm at work.  My choice.  It will be a short day and I will go home to lounge in my penguin pants, watch movies and eat chicken risotto.  I will not eat turkey or watch football or fall asleep on the couch (OK maybe I will do that).  I most certainly will not be spending it with my family.

It isn't that I don't have anywhere to go.  I had at least five stellar offers from people I adore.

I turned them all down.

 If you are one of the kind people who invited me to join you.  Big thanks.

I used to do the BIG family Thanksgiving.  For 50+ years I did that because it was what was expected.  I endured conversations (term used loosely as no one really listened) at decibel levels equivalent to a Boeing 747 taxiing down the runway.  I endured political diatribes against everything I believe in and hold most dear.  I endured judgment oozing from every dish on the table that felt like poison in my mouth.  I endured pity for my eternally single life.  Mostly I endured sitting at the same table as my abuser and pretending we were one happy family.

I endured - until I couldn't.

Those were a mockery of Thanksgiving.  I was not grateful for a single one.  And every time I had to say what I WAS grateful for - I lied.  There was NOTHING to be thankful for in any part of this day from hell.  (I will make an exception for the invention of the broccoli-pault which was sheer genius).

In truth, I am so scarred up by those past 50 or so Thanksgivings, it's better for me to look at it as just another day.  Less crap gets stirred up.

Some year I may go back to celebrating with friends, but for now I choose to celebrate alone.  I celebrate me.  I celebrate all the things I have to be grateful for.  Including the bad grammar of the previous sentence.  I will be as happy as a hog in slops padding around in my slippers all by myself.  It will be the perfect Thanksgiving.  And it will work its magic to make me hate this day a little less.

Everyone's Thanksgiving should be what they need it to be.  I am finally making mine what suits me best.  I hope yours does likewise.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trippin' with Shel

This is a journey from back in August.  Shel is one of my writing peeps.
It takes some time.  More than usual.  I am out of practice, out of breath, too much about breath. 

Shel meets me.  We are climbing up a granite face using ancient hand and foot holds carved into the vertical face.  I lean into the mountain.  Cool stone beneath my cheek.  Breathing.  Shel urges me on.  I am not afraid.  As we approach the summit, a curving set of narrow stairs winds around the peak.  At the summit, we stand hand-in-hand.

“So.  What’s up?” I ask.

Shel says nothing.

“What am I supposed to see?”

Nothing.

“Why did you drag me up here?”

“Is it not enough that it’s beautiful?”

He’s right.  It is beautiful.  Rolling emerald hills unfurl below us alternately lit and shadowed as the sun ducks behind scudding clouds.  Still I am restless, fidgety.

Shel sighs.  “We are here to call back the pieces you have lost.”

Now it’s my turn to sigh.  Finally, I think. 

“Where do you think they might be?” he asks.

“At work,” I answer. 

He nods, reaches out as a barn owl swoops in and lands on his hand.  He turns and presses the owl into my chest.  There is discomfort as though wings flapped about in the cage of my ribs, but this feeling settles as things shift inside me to make room. 

“Where else?”

“My mom.”

He gestures again and a pelican glides in to his hand and then into my chest.  I name other people, other events other places where I have lost myself, let my energy go.  One by one the pieces wing back to me in bird form.  At some point Shel stops receiving them.  Instead they fly directly into my chest, into my heart.  Each one lands and rocks me back on my heels, threatens to tumble me off the mountain. 

I am not frightened.  Shel is always there to catch me if I fall. 

After the last arrives, I turn toward Shel and ask, “Where are they?  I know there are more.”

“That is enough for today,” he states. 


We stand hand-in-hand once more.  He’s right.  It is beautiful.  And it is enough. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Crone

I have been taking an online class.  One of the exercises has been to cruise Pinterest or some other visual heavy website and lift out images that deeply resonate for us.  So, I have been doing that as prescribed.

As usual with Pinterest, I fell down a rabbit hole this morning looking for images of strong women - especially strong large sized ones.  I never did stumble across that.  What I did get lost in was the sea of portraits of old women.  I find them spell-binding and incredibly beautiful.  Every line, every wrinkle a story of where she has been and what she has done.  I fell in love over and over and over.  I'm not talking about the former models or super pampered Westerners with their long silver-white hair and unlined faces.  I'm talking about women who have lived and scrounged and had a life - a life that shows in their faces.

My mom's face now looks like these and I wondered if this affinity is because they remind me of her or has it been around a long time.  I can distinctly remember loving my grandmother and her sister's faces.  I can remember fingers tracing photos of really amazing older women in Nat Geo.  Seems, I have always found them beautiful.

So, I toddle off to look at photos of younger women, of moms, of young girls.  They are beautiful, too but in a different way that doesn't sing to me.  The are beautiful the way an empty page is beautiful, or unbroken snow.  Everyone finds beauty there.  Anyone can be beautiful, is beautiful, at that stage of their life.  But, once the story is writ upon the page, how many still find beauty?  How many will write a sonnet about slush?  about wrinkles?

I am not interested in the part of a woman's life between childhood and retirement.  I am specifically drawn to women in their cronehood.  I am and always have been a crone.  The same way some people will never grow up and mature beyond childhood.  Maybe I was a child once, but I have been a crone so long, I can't remember.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

FW 10.27.16

DI

Yesterday, I took the ferry from DI to Fort Morgan/Gulf Shores.  It takes about 30 minutes to cross the mouth of Mobile Bay here at it's narrowest.  Somehow my Midwestern head struggles to reconcile the size of the Bay on a map versus the oceanic-like reality I experienced.

During my trip, I finished the last of Stephen King's Mr Mercedes on audio book.  I passed by Lulu's and the Florabama and my Buffet loving heart was happy.  (Hey, don't judge).  I scored a new state in my letterboxing quest - FL.  I drove through Orange Beach, Perdido Key, and Gulf Shores - a swirly carnival feeling series of towns that reminded me of spring break in Daytona, and not in a good way.  The energy of these places was awful and I wanted to scurry back to my tiny island where none of this exists.  But I stuck it out and scored my box.  WHEW!

What I really wanted to write about today was the ferry ride over.  I had a lot of misgivings about putting my car on a boat.  They are all irrational.  I wonder where they came from.  I loved this trip.  The steady wind whipped my hair into rollercoaster knots, my shirt flapped up revealing my fish-white belly or tattooed back.  It made me laugh.  One of the reasons I come to DI is I love wind.  It's been really calm (weirdly calm) the last few days, so having the wind spin around me like a flamenco dancer lit me up.  I don't know why I like wind.  I just do.

There are dolphins leaping and spinning OUT OF THE WATER.  I have seen them feed and ride the wake of a boat.  But I have never seen them do this.  Leap all the way out of the water and spin like a battle top.  I am a goner.  They seem so excited, so joyful.  And so am I.  I am having one of those transcendent moments where I feel one with my surroundings.  I BELONG out here on the water.  Not in it.  ON IT.  I am whole here.  How once I was the water.  How that was stolen from me.  And the joy is extinguished.  I am crying (Yes, on the public ferry).  How dare someone do that?  Now I am sad and furious.  Eventually the joy returns, but it is not the same for having been tainted by the anger-sorrow.  It is less pure.  It is more guarded, more afraid.  And I can see that the theft of joy has happened in my life over and over until I no longer recognize it.  I certainly don't expect it any more.  And in the rare case where the stars align and I am in it, I am terrified the joy will be taken away again.  Sometimes in that terror, I am the saboteur of my own loss.

This is the piece of my life that needs healing most, this separation from source, from who I was supposed to be.  There is still time to be her.  I want that more than anything.  I want to let go of old worn out fears, fears that have no meaning anymore.  I want to embrace the wind.  I want to be the dolphin.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

FW 10.22.16

DI

There's something magical about the island.

The whole drive down I was stewing about something that happened as I left work on Wednesday.  I tried to do my tonglen around the issue and the person, but it just kept getting bigger and bigger with every breath.  The stew getting thicker and thicker until I could hardly breathe.

And then I arrived.  I felt the wind swirl my hair and run up my arms like the hands of a familiar lover.  And the notion of trouble or place or work dissolved.  I smiled for the first time in weeks.  Hell I may have even laughed.

There is a place we all live, where we are all alive.  This place, this tiny island in the gulf is that place for me.  This is home.

FW - 10.19.16

So part of my job is to organize and keep a lab running smoothly.  It's a fair size lab and it hasn't had someone in this position - so there's the expected pushback.  Surprisingly it's mostly from the graduate students who somehow feel it's my job to pick up after them and do all the shit jobs they don't want to because they are beneath them.  Or maybe they resent me telling them what to do.  Which always reminds me of a toddler shouting "You're not the boss of me!"

Today as I was walking out the door, I reminded one of them that the undergrad she was dragging around the lab needed to be added to our protocol.  Yes, I have reminded her previously.  But no progress was being made.  I am leaving for two and an half weeks on vacation, so perhaps I was abrupt with her - I was after all leaving on vacation.  (An action I apologized for).  Still she felt the need to shame me on social media.  She didn't mention me by name, but I'm sure all our mutual (now former mutual) friends knew who she was talking about when she said I was harassing her.  The victim card?  Really?  And social media shaming?

I don't have a place in my life for people who cannot deal with their problems like adults, cannot or will not have a discussion and settle it without this kind of behavior.  This student goes directly to my boss without ever talking to me.  They have never broached the subject with me - despite what they claim on social media.

For two years, I have cleaned up, I have ordered, I have amended protocol after protocol.  I have kept us in compliance.  I have done my job.  Yes, even telling you what to do and reminding you are part of it.  None of that is anything I think is fun.

And today I feel completely and utterly disrespected.  And I am looking at other jobs.  Not a good sign.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

New Ink

Like most women, I have some body issues.  How and when they show up are different.

For most of my life, until my late 40's I had ginormous breasts - the kind that have a letter size that make people go WHOA!  I had them made smaller (and blogged about it here).  I am grateful for that every single day.  My back feels so much better and I have learned to stand up straight - well straighter.  My shoulders are permanently rounded forward after all those years such that I am unable to press them back into a wall when I stand against it.  But I am still grateful.

Having grown up with such big breasts ingrained many behaviors.  And I have been trying to unlearn these.  I am still working on a full upright, chest-forward gait.  I no longer feel the need to carry books or papers to protect them from view.  I stopped looking at the floor when talking to men, so I wouldn't have to see them have an entire conversation with my chest.  They felt no shame in doing this.  On the contrary, I felt shame.  And that's fucked up!

The one that still plagues me is going without a bra publicly.

So, when I wanted to get a tattoo on my back in a place my bra would cover, I knew I would have to just bite the bullet and wear a cami/tank without one.  I knew I would have to sit in full view of people, including men with lots of skin exposed.  I have put this particular tattoo off for years for just this reason.  I was lucky enough to find a shop where the tattooing doesn't happen in a fishbowl where anyone walking by can stop and watch.  I was lucky enough to find a tattooer who is amazing, kind, and a big bad teddy bear kind of guy who puts me at ease and makes me laugh.

There's a little part of me that will, when threatened, jut out its chin and throw the middle finger to the world and forge ahead.  That part shows up when I need it most.  Like yesterday.  I sat in my tiny cami with one strap off and the back pulled way down.  I sat in a room full of men.  I laughed with my tattooer.  And that middle-finger flippin part of me didn't even care when he stood up to get a better angle on the tattoo even though it meant he could see straight down onto my cleaveage.

Let him look.  You don't care.  It said.

And I didn't, not really.  I don't know if he looked.  He probably did.

I laughed as we swapped stories.  He's a good conversationalist.  Even though I sat with a lot of skin exposed, even though he is a big guy and he had his hands on me for hours, I never felt threatened.  I never felt ogled or treated differently.  My skin was his canvas and his focus was always there.  I felt respected and for that I am grateful.  I needed that more than I can say.  To know that I can be exposed and still be safe - that's a hell of a thing to learn in a tattoo shop in the northern burbs of Cincinnati

Saturday, October 8, 2016

FW 10.8.16

I once did a workshop where we were instructed not to touch someone who started to cry unless they specifically asked us to do that.  The facilitator explained that this is something we do to soothe ourselves and not the person who is upset.  I have never been one to take on that role, so it was easy enough to comply.

Until today though, I don't think I understood why.  I was upset.  I am upset.  I am working my way through that to the best of my abilities.  Sometimes I may cry.  That is no small thing for me to allow anyone to see.  To be touched in that moment is the last thing I want or need.  Often it makes me feel worse.  Today was one of those.

When I think about why that might be, I realized there are a host of non-verbal things that come through that hug or arm caress, the key one being - Your grief is making me uncomfortable, please stop.

Suddenly that oh-so-long-ago workshop makes sense.

Emotion is deeply personal to each person.  Only the person feeling it knows what they need.  Only they can articulate what that looks like or doesn't.  Unless otherwise stated, your role is to stand witness.  That is all.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Saturday

My mom is adorable.  There I said it.  Most of the folks around her are adorable.  Not cutesy bows and suspenders.  Nope these people regularly shit their pants, get lost on a locked floor, and dribble food down themselves at an alarming frequency.

There's just something whole and innocent in a person who had lived a long life and come in the end to Alzheimers.  They have lost everything and by every thought in my head are entitled to be belligerent and angry.  They pass through that stage.  It sucks.  But then they hit the adorable stage

My mom has hit the adorable stage.

So last night I cut her hair which came to her waist.  We sat outside in the warmth of an early fall evening.  I helped her into her pj's and we curled up in her bed like we usually do.

I had been to the hospital to visit someone I love like crazy, and he was on my mind while we lay in her bed - practicing relaxing and letting our minds be quiet.

"Have you said your prayers?"

Blank look.  She used to religiously (pun intended) do this every evening.  Her rosary beads were required to go to sleep.  But she hasn't done this for a long time.  I think she has forgotten about god.  She has definitely forgotten about religion - which is OK because religion has certainly forgotten about her.

She shakes her head.  "Do I need to?"

"No.  But I thought we could say a prayer for a friend of mine."

She is eager to help someone in any way she can.  We lie face-to-face across the starched whiteness of her pillow that smells faintly of bleach.

"He is in the hospital.  And we are going to pray that he gets well enough to go home."

I feel the tears puddle.  Home is someplace she will never go again.  We have sold her house.  This place is her home now.  The word home is sometimes enough to trigger the question for her about going home, but not tonight.  I breathe again for having dodged that.

"What is his name?"

I tell her.  A name is a thing of power after all.  I imagine him lying there between us - a miniature version to be sure.

And she begins in a whisper:

Dear Mother Mary,

Please help my daughter's friend.  

He wants to go home.  

Help him feel better
so he can go home.

Amen

A short but more-perfect-than-she-knows prayer for my friend.

"Do you think god would mind if I prayed for something else?"  she asks as if she is allotted only one prayer per day.

"I'm sure god would listen to anything you ask."

Her next prayer is between her and god.  When I push she won't tell me what she prayed for.

Given the fact my friend is going home less than 24 hours after her prayer for him, I hope it was a good one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

FW 9.4.16

There are tables and tables covered with angels, Halloween, Christmas, glassware, odd dishes, and knickknacks.  Scattered across the floor, stacked against chair legs and doorways are framed pictures of tigers.  It could be an estate sale anywhere.  But today it is at my mom's.  She hasn't lived here in three years.

The house is closed and dusty smelling.  And it is sold.  I'm glad that it won't be a burden anymore.  But there's this weird eternally optimistic piece of me that is sad too.  As if it hoped for a miracle.  As if it hoped she might overcome her advanced Alzheimer's and come home someday.  And now that it's sold, it has to come to grips with the truth.  She is never coming home, never coming back here.  There will be no more family holidays with her at the epicenter.  

I am sad that an entire life comes down to this collection of baubles and junk.  Shit she clung to desperately as if it could save her.  But it didn't.  It brought her joy - for a moment anyway.  I guess it was good for that at least.  In the end, it didn't save her, didn't bring her joy.  She worried constantly about her things.  What would happen to them?  Where would they go?  Who would take them?  No one had the heart to tell her that none of it was worth anything to anyone but her, that just because she loved it and made room for it didn't mean that anyone else would.  Most of it will end at Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul or the landfill or some stranger's home.

There are old women pawing through her things, insisting I listen to their stories as they do.  I want to slap their hands away, shout at them to FUCK OFF!  I have an old woman whose stories I have to attend.  They are not her.  They are haggling over items they know are expensive.  The linen table cloth she embroidered from the time my oldest brother was born until he graduated medical school is casually looped over one of their arms.  I want to snatch it away.  I want to hold it next to my cheek as if all the love of all those stitches could be absorbed there.  But I don't.  I grit my teeth and let it go, knowing it will end up in another yard sale ten years from now and no one will know the stories, the love, the care she took.

I can't keep it all.  I don't really want to - not really.  But I would rather give it away than endure this casual haggling over her things.

This dissembly of her things is such a clear physical representation of her life, her mind.  Things stashed and stored in cubbies.  Things lost or missing parts.  Baby food jars of buttons from clothing I remember - all color coordinated.  Knitting patterns from the 1950's.  A pair of blue flannel pajamas still pinned to the pattern pieces.  Hundreds of pieces of fabric, of balls of yarn, or finished, half-finished and never-to-be-finished needlework.  The work of a life spread out for all to see and judge.

I don't know what they see when they look at it.  I suspect they see junk.  That's what makes me angry.  For in every cardinal, every snowman, every feather of every angel's wing I see my mom.  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

August 27 FW

I'm in Hocking Hills this weekend.  I had hoped it would be cool enough to hike a bit.  No.  Hiked anyway - although I kept it to short flat and easy.  Which also means crowded as hell.  Too many people.  Too many little people yelling, screaming and climbing on everything.  Just not the vibe I wanted.  I'm also a bit disappointed in the cabin I rented.  But it was a last minute impulse decision and this is what was available.  It used to be my go to venue when I needed a short vakay.

Today I snagged a few letterboxes (10) and realized it's been almost a year since I did this.  Probably should make sure to do a little of this from time to time.  Feels like the marathon days are over with Sno' leaving town and lil brother losing interest.

It was good to belt out Amy Winehouse and Adele at top volume and off key as I twisted through the back roads of Ohio.

But this trip on the whole has made me a little blue.  Sometimes crying along with Amy.  Sometimes distractifying myself away from poking at the source.

But the source came anyway.  As everything these days does, the sadness centered around my mom.  She and I have enjoyed traveling together for years.  When she was diagnosed with AD, I knew these trips would end one day.  I knew there would be a last trip.  The October before we moved her into Memory Care, she and I took a four day weekend to Hocking Hills.  It was harder than I remember I'm sure.  But I'm glad we did it.  Glad I splurged on the cabin upgrade since we spent most of our time there.

On our one trip out, we hiked to Ash Cave, just like I did today.  It wasn't until I stood there in that bright August sunshine surrounded by all that unwanted noise, I remembered that she and I had done this together.  I could not get out of there quickly enough.

How could I have forgotten that?  Why the fuck did I come back here?  Pretty sure this is now my last trip here.  There are other places I can go that won't make me sad.  This one is being retired.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

FW 8.17.16

One of the comments I hear a lot in Alzheimer's world is something akin to "and just for a moment I got her/him back."  I get it.  I've said it.  Part of me will always yearn for the person I used to know, yearn for how things used to be.

But that is such a deadly way to think.  I just can't stay there.  I accept the thought when it comes.  "Oh.  Mom would have loved that."  "Wow.  Today she is much more herself."  Then I just let it go.  She might echo some part of the person I knew from time to time, enough to make me melancholy.  But that person is gone, locked so tightly inside her own mind I may never see her again.  Will likely never see her again.  And that's OK.  I am OK with it.

I look at my sibs who, eight years into the journey, still stamp their feet like spoiled children and insist that she be the person that they knew, that she always and forever be that woman.  I say that truthfully as a former foot-stamper of Olympic proportion.  Sigh....I'm glad I left that behind.  It hurt.  Oh man, did it hurt.  But it needed done.

And after I let go the image of my strong independent mama, I had room for the huggy-kissy-squeezy mama she is now.  Some days I prefer her this way.  Relationship is simpler, more truthful and taps the core of us as humans without our various crutches and filters.  And after I have had this kind or relationship, I wonder if I will ever be content with one not based in acceptance, not based in truth, not based in love.

Yeah.  Asked and answered in one

Sunday, August 14, 2016

FW - Sunday 8.14.16

The little head bobs by about table height,
circles back and makes to crawl up on the bench
on the opposite side of the booth as she asks,
"Can I sit with you?"

In that question I am immediately smitten.

Smitten by her head of tight springy curls, her cafe au lait skin.
Smitten by her innocence of stranger danger.
Smitten by her recognition perhaps that I am alone and need company.
Smitten by the sweetness that pours out of her eyes like honey.

Dad retrieves her, apologizes and suggests the next booth.

She bounces up on the bench and turns to talk
while mom and dad are ordering food.

I say, "Hey look.  We are neighbors."
She laughs and there is no better food
being served up here than that sound
bouncing around the industrial space.

I ask what she's having for breakfast
and am told "a cindamon roll"
and I wish those were on the menu.
Cindamon rolls with a side of laughter.

There's a little familiar glitch in my heart rhythm
I recognize, a yearning.
It's been a while since I wanted that,
wanted her.
But I chose not and was not chosen
not this time, not this life.

Maybe it's reading Laurie's poems
roughed off the surface of that shell.
Maybe it's understanding the ways that work with mom
would work with kids and
knowing I could have done it.

And on a rainy grey August Sunday
wondering why I ever chose not to.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Peach of a Poem (for Mary Ann Jansen)


 Summer browned legs dangle off the tailgate
     black chuck taylors
     red ball jets
     white keds
kick back and forth.
Sometimes random.
Sometimes in rhythm.
Red-white-red-black-white-white
Red-black-white-black-red

Among them, two tumbled down baskets.
One stained on the bottom from long ago apples
eaten before this trio were born.
A few left forgotten in the bottom to rot and stain.
The aged wooden slats brown and known.
The other is younger
like the tailgate riders themselves
Yellow-white unmarred by fruit or life.
Both piled high with peaches the size of their dad’s fist.

They had come to apple pick
but the orchard man had begged them
to pick the peaches instead before they ruined his trees.
And so they did.

They filled four bushels
and ate their weight in fruit
devouring a sweetness they were starving for
until it dripped from elbows
until grinning faces were runneled
with dirt and sweat and juice.
They laughed as the bumblebees
light and taste and try to decide
if they are fruit or foe
or if they are peaches.

The owner of those red ball jets is old now.
She dare not climb a tree for fear of falling.
Her damaged knees no longer swing without clicking.
And the bees no longer taste her.
She is old and bitter to them now.

She smiles, thinks to herself
Silly bees.
The peaches and I
became one long ago.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Truth Telling FW

I am fortunate this semester to have a young deep diving truth speaking woman in my small group.  She has been a spark to my dried up writing tinder and my internal exploration.  Weird how complaisant I have become on both those fronts where I used to be a rebellious ass kicker.

So I have been pondering that truth telling thing, what has passed for truth, how it gets twisted and distorted to please me and make me look better.  Deep breath.....

Here goes.....

As a child I was a liar.  Not itty bitty lies.  Nope these were huge whoppers.  My need was almost pathological and I would often lie without a reason or benefit.  I would lie easily to anyone's face.  I would lie despite being confronted with overwhelming truth.  I would not waver.  More than once, I made someone drop the truth and believe my lie.  I was a great liar.  I spent some time sitting with that, squirming in discomfort with that.  So much of my childhood is made of lies that it's hard to know what is true and what is lies.

I lied because it was expected.  What happened in the family stayed in the family - we were very Mafia like that.  I lied to protect myself, my parents, even my abusers.  I lied even if I knew the abuse would get worse for not telling.  But I can't blame it all on fucked up family casting.  I'm pretty sure that tendency was there just as it is in most kids where we look at it like a benign form of storytelling.  And I wonder if the abuse arrested me in that stage a little.

It was safer to lie about everything.  No one can get close enough to hurt you if they don't really know you.  And when they go (and they always do) you can console yourself with the knowledge that they never really knew you.  Lying allowed me to stay in the background or come forward as I chose.  I never chose.  Lying was second nature by the time I was an adult.  I became very adept at it.

I think we are all very adept at it.  We exaggerate or hide things to puff ourselves up, to make someone love us, to get recognition.  My version of it was just a bit more extreme.

The pathological lying became harder after I started to speak my story.  I can still remember the paralyzing fear of telling anyone the first time, telling a lover the first time, telling a family member the first time.  I was surprised by people's responses.  Responses that made me more able to tell the truth, to reveal who I am, what has happened to me.

It's interesting to look back over the past 15 years and see the arc of that growth.  The friends I have now know the true me, not just the bits I let them see.  And I am now a sucky liar.  When I try to tell a whopper that would have slid easy from my lips 20 years ago, I turn red, my heart races, my breath quickens.  I am a worse liar now then ever before in my life.  And I'm OK with that.  I hope it continues until there is only truth.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

7.23.16 FW

I post a semi-regular picture of my mom and I on social media.  I call it the Saturday Selfie with the Mama.  I don't know why I do it or how it got started.  And it doesn't really matter.  It's a thing now for whatever purpose.

People leave comments on these and like the hell out of them.  To which I just shrug my shoulders.  More recently I have noticed the comments tending more toward what a good daughter I am.  Those make me growl a bit in the back of my throat.  These folks are all well-meaning.  The response is purely something in me that gets lit up by the words.  

So as my fast write this morning, I'm going to dig around a bit and see why that comment triggers that response.  And because I'm feeling all outline-y and logical I'm going to number them.  

1.  There is something inherently patriarchical in it.  They don't say I am a good child.  They say I am a good daughter.  A true comment insofar as I am her daughter and I am basically a decent enough person.  But it lands inside me like a pat on the head and an acknowledgement that I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and am therefore a "good daughter."  That I am sacrificing myself so that my brothers can go on and do important chest beating man things that will change the world.  Clearly my junk.  And the absolute irony is that those "man things" aren't what changes the world.  Things like Saturdays spent with a rapidly declining Alzheimer's parent are what change the world.  I know this.  And on some level I feel sorry for people who don't get it.  

2.  There is a feeling behind the comment like "I could never do that."  That I am different in some way that allows me to.  Weaker.  Soft-hearted.  I call BULLSHIT on this one.  It's not that you couldn't, it's that you won't.  Simple as that.  Like anything else, you have to be flexible and learn how to be with this person as they change day by day, sometimes minute by minute.  

3.  I am not a good daughter.  Never have been.  Mom herself will tell you my brothers were easier.  I am not like her and am exactly like her.  I am at best an adequate daughter and she an adequate mother.  I was never hungry.  I had a place to live and a shot at a good education (as long as I paid for it).  We weren't nice to each other before.  We fought.  ALOT.  I learned about what kind of woman I wanted to be by not being like her.  Sounds harsh.  But it's nonetheless true.  Thing is, Alzheimers has pulled back the layers of her and I find that I like who she is now (sometimes more than I ever liked the harder version).  She is soft where she was nut hard.  She is fluid where she was fixed.  She is open with her emotions where she was closed off and cold.  And the things that I craved from her growing up fall into my lap unasked.  How could I not snatch them up?  This makes me a selfish daughter.  Only after I got enough of those love-y bits was I able to forgive all the bullshit of my childhood.  Only then was I able to kill the cold, hard shelled, fixed woman I had become.  She gave me permission to just be who I was.  And I returned the favor.  

Somehow by saying I am with her because I am the good daughter diminishes the scope of our relationship to a sound byte.  Diminishes the struggle of two people to love each other despite what their words say.  It simplifies something innately complex and beautiful.  


Or is it there to remind me in the end it IS simply beautiful?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

2 Packages of Saltines

Carp at SGC



2 Packages of Saltines

Heads together, they giggle like conspirators
stuff crackers into the back of the wheelchair.

Weeks later sitting on the deck over the pond
the daughter will remember the stolen tidbits
rummage around, produce two packages of 
stale saltines and wish they were more.

They had been watching tiny bluegill
swirl about beneath them
in lazy Van Gogh circles.
She likes to bring her mother here.
Outside the tiny world that is all she knows.
Outside in the sunshine
they share stories, real and imaginary
as the wind kisses their brows
and cools their cheeks.
Bluegill remind the daughter of her grandfather
and the women, her father.

She will break the crackers into pieces
hand them to her mother one by one
and watch as delight reanimates her eyes.
So many days now her eyes are dead.
Just to see something spark there
even if it does not catch makes her happy.

All the while, beneath them
The blue green circle of fish tighten, frenzy
like the emotions of the daughter
like the thoughts of the mother
Collapsing like both of their lives.
Collapsing into each other.
Collapsing for want of the other.

Just collapsing. 

Mean Girls Are Never Pretty

Mom's sojourn in Memory Care ended when she could no longer stand and became what they term a 2-assist.  She transitioned to Skilled C...