“And who would want to descend to the bottom | of a silence greater than the ocean?” ~ Francisca Aguirre, from “From Without”

Waves at Dawn by jemasmith FCC

Waves at Dawn by jemasmith (FCC)

                   

“Did I believe that I had a clear mind?
It was like the water of a river
flowing shallow over the ice. And now
that the rising water has broken
the ice, I see what I thought
was the light is part of the darkness.” ~ Wendell Berry, from “Breaking”

Sunday afternoon. Much warmer, 50 degrees.

I have no idea how far I will get with this post, but I feel a need to at least try.

The last five days have run together into a very strange loop, one from which I fear I may never emerge. Last Tuesday morning (January 28), my mother called me at 6 a.m. in a panic; she had gone out to the garage fridge to get some milk, and she heard water running. It turns out the faucet on the back porch was leaking, not a flood, but not a drip. I told her I would be over in ten minutes.

Castle Dunure Waves by overgraeme fcc

Castle Dunure Waves by overgraeme (FCC)

Now first, the really odd thing: I was wide awake. I had awakened at 5:30 and was fully alert. This is not a normal state of being for me. Anyway, I drove over to her house and tried to shut off the valve but couldn’t. As I was working, my mother was standing there rubbing her chest with her fist, which is something that she does when she is stressed.

I made her a cup of chamomile tea and sat her down on the couch while I looked up the number for a plumbing company that we had both used. I left her sitting on her couch watching television and sipping her tea.

“I draw in a ragged breath, the kind you take when the pain is too deep to cry, when you can’t cry because all you are is pain, and if you let some of it out, you might cease to exist.” ~ Ally Condie, from Reached

I got back home and made myself a cup of tea and opened the book I was reading. Around 7:30 I was picking up the phone to call my mother to see when the plumbers were coming, but the phone rang first. My mother was on the other end, and she said that she thought that she was having a heart attack.  I will admit that I did not believe her because she has been saying that she’s dying for the last four or five months, but I told her to hang up, open her front door if she could, and I would call 911, which I did immediately.

Great Egret (Ardea alba) taking flight to avoid crashing waves

Great Egret Avoiding Waves by Mike Baird (FCC)

By the time I put some clothes back on, brushed my teeth, and raced back over to my mother’s house, which is only two miles away, the ambulance was gone, which I knew wasn’t a good sign. I went into her house briefly to make sure the cat hadn’t gotten out, and just as I was going to call 911 again to see where they had taken her, the phone rang again; it was the rescue squad. They were taking her to Leigh ER.

I got back in the car, turned on the emergency flashers, and tried to make record time. Let me pause here to say that people are genuinely assholes. Each time I tried to pass someone, another person would deliberately block me in. One guy in a van next to me even laughed. It is truly a good thing that I do not own a weapon.

Somewhere in between all of this my mother had called the water company, and they came out and shut off her water until we could get the faucet taken care of.

“And so does my life tremble,
and when I turn from the window
and from the sea’s grief, the room
fills with a dark
lushness and foliage nobody
will ever be plucked from,
and the feelings I have
must never be given speech.” ~ Denis Johnson, from “Now”

I got to the hospital and was sent back to the ER. The cardiologist told me that they were taking my mom to the cardiac catheter lab to see exactly what was going on. I was sent to another waiting room where I began to text everyone to let them know what was going on. Eamonn showed up, and we waited together for some word.

The cardiologist came out and said that they were setting up transport for my mother to the Heart Hospital in Norfolk. He was unable to do any angioplasty as she had too many arterial blockages. They inserted a balloon to try to relieve some of the pain. At this point, I was completely on autopilot, taking in information and disseminating it to everyone as clearly as possible.

Crash Down by Mooganic fcc

Crash Down by Mooganic (FCC)

I got back in the car, realized I had no gas, and went to Costco to get gas. Another pause here: This was the day that the massive winter storm was supposed to hit, and in this area, any talk of snow immediately sends everyone into a panic, so I waited fifteen minutes to get gas, then drove to the Heart Hospital only to find that my mother still hadn’t arrived.

Another waiting room, another wait. Luckily, they had a canteen where I could get coffee that looked like it was pure bitterness, or use the hot water dispenser to make tea. I chose the latter, found an empty computer, and played spider solitaire.

“Melancholy, being a kind of vacatio, separation of soul from body, bestowed the gift of clairvoyance and premonition. In the classifications of the Middle Ages, melancholy was included among the seven forms of vacatio, along with sleep, fainting, and solitude.” ~ Ioan P. Couliano, from Eros and Magic in the Renaissance

At some point during all of this I was finally able to talk to Corey, who then had the decision to make as to whether or not to cancel his training and come home early. We put that decision on hold until we knew more about the situation.

I spent the day in the hospital room with my mother, who was obviously exhausted, waiting for one of the heart surgeons to come and talk to us about options. Around 5, one of them showed up. He had an Eastern European accent, and I could tell that my mother didn’t understand him. He told us that mom was not a candidate for bypass surgery because the damage to her heart was too extensive; also, that she had an aneurysm sitting on top of her heart.

When he left, my mother was extremely upset. She wanted to talk to other surgeons because she was certain someone else would operate. In all, we spoke with three different surgeons, and they all said the same thing: she would not survive the surgery—mitigating factors included her age, how very damaged her heart was, and the location of the aneurysm.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve by donjd2 fcc

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve by donjd2 (FCC)

That evening, Alexis, Brett, and Olivia came to visit, and that really made my mom’s day. She told everyone within hearing distance that her great-granddaughter danced, and Olivia obliged. Brett rode home with me, and we stopped by my mother’s house on the way to take care of the cat. Another aside: I locked the keys in the car, which contained my phone, my purse, and the fast food we had gotten at Wendy’s.

Brett has no spare key to his Honda. Two hours later roadside service finally arrived to unlock the car. I decided to drive my mother’s Honda home because it was higher than Brett’s old one. Turns out it drives really, really well on snow and ice.

What else could possibly go wrong? I should not have asked. By the time I got home that night I was emotionally and physically spent. I fell asleep with the television on.

“Because we are not the owners of anything,
not even of our own pain
at which we have looked with awe so many times.
……….

We are the owners of wishing everything: what sadness.
We are the owners of fear, dust, smoke, the wind. ~ Francisca Aguirre, from “The Owners”

The storm hit as we were leaving the hospital, and it did indeed snow for more than 12 hours. When I awoke, I called Mom, who was resting comfortably. I told her I would be there as soon as I could. That turned out to be hours later.

When I tried to back the car out of the driveway, I immediately got stuck. Brett did some digging, but it was really deep. I took Corey’s truck, which has two bald tires and no brakes and skated to the nearby Taylor’s to get a snow shovel and some salt. I skated back on the icy roads, and Brett got me unstuck. I made it to the hospital around four, and by that time, there were no doctors available for me to talk to. Mom said that they had told her she would be going home on the weekend. I left word that I really needed to speak to the doctors about her treatment plan, and I left around six.

Rehoboth Beach Waves by Clearly Ambiguous fcc

Rehoboth Beach Waves by Clearly Ambiguous (FCC)

It was a helluva of a day, but Mom seemed better. I mean, she felt well enough to criticize me over some minor things, so that was a good sign, and I was really starting to believe that this was yet another in a long line of her being really sick but then getting back to her old self. Part of me now thinks that she really did know that something inside was very wrong.

On Thursday, I met Mike over at Mom’s house because he was going to fix the faucet. He did that and shoveled her sidewalk and said that he would clear the driveway before she came home. Then Brett and I went to the hospital. When we arrived, Mom was wide awake and alert. She had gotten out of bed, and they had disconnected everything except for the oxygen cannula. Mom sniped at me about everything, and I could tell that she was getting antsy and wanted to come home. She was talking about just living her life, going to bingo, doing what she wanted to do.

I spoke with her cardiologist, who said that she would probably be released on Saturday. I spoke with the home health coordinator, and mom got mad over that as she didn’t want anyone coming into her home. She insisted that she took her medicine just as she was supposed to and didn’t need anyone’s help. When we left, she was talking the ear off a nurse. I felt more relaxed than I had in days. On the way home Alexis and I made plans to clean mom’s house on Friday so that she would stop worrying about it.

Thursday night Corey came home.

“I’ve become someone’s idea of me.
You can no longer read the wax seal of the sun.
The trees no longer mention anything about the wind.
I don’t see who could play me later on.
It turns out I am buried myself.
It turns out we are all buried alive
in the chamber of someone else’s heart.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “Antigone Today”

I should have known, but I didn’t, didn’t have a clue. It really did not cross my mind after Thursday’s visit that she wouldn’t be coming home. I mean, when she first went into the hospital, while she was till in CICU, I had that talk with the doctors, you know the one: to call a code or not to, a DNR order, morphine for comfort. That talk.

But by Thursday night I told Corey that I was almost sorry that I had asked him to come home because she was doing so well.

Pillar Rock and Big Waves at Sunset Morro Bay, CA 19 Jan 2010

Pillar Rock and Big Waves at Sunset Morro Bay, CA by Mike Baird (FCC)

I should have known. But I didn’t.

Friday morning at 9:15 a nurse from the hospital called. My mother had died.

They had taken in her breakfast tray. She was fine. Then a short time later alerts went off. She had just died. They think it might have been the aneurysm. She was gone and now I am left to pick up the pieces, to try to keep the family together, to find a home for her cat, to cull through over 46 years of stuff. I’m trying to plan an informal memorial service. She didn’t want to be buried, didn’t want a viewing, didn’t want a funeral, so she’s being cremated.

That last day, when we got to the hospital, I sat on her bed and looked at her, really looked at her. That saying, “looks just like she’s sleeping”? Bullshit. She didn’t look like she was sleeping. Then I did something odd: I opened her eyelids and looked into her eyes. They weren’t cloudy. It was the first time I had looked into my mother’s eyes in years and years and years. It was the closest the two of us had been physically since I don’t even remember when. I held her hand, touched her cheek, and apologized for not being who she wanted me to be.

And then I left.

Music by Rose Cousins, “Go First”

                   

The Oracle

You have gone once more to the seashore
and this time you have looked at the horizon
with a fugitive’s lust.
You have asked yourself with sadness
who in Ithaca would notice your absence:
the sea toward which you always look,
the heavens you never question,
the land that waits for you assuredly.
Your bonds are of an impassive nature.
Are you thinking of destroying them,
are you thinking of escaping by denying
that pathway your feet have made?
You feel it, you don’t think about it;
one cannot ponder devastation.
You look at the water with haste:
with tired haste.

You are like an oracle that does not believe in the future.

~ Francisca Aguirre

“Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we’ve ever met.” ~ Marguerite Duras

My mother may fool them all. They have already moved her from CICU, and today she was out of bed. I know that she’s feeling better because she started criticizing me about something. Funny how that can be almost comforting.

Anyway, she has said that she doesn’t want to talk to anyone, doesn’t want everyone to know her business, so I failed to mention to her that I broadcast the news here to my little audience.

The long and short of it is that she has five blocked arteries and an aneurysm on her heart. There’s a lot of damage, and they’re pretty certain that she’s had another heart attack in the past but didn’t know it (she pooh poohs such an idea). However, because of the extensive damage, they do not feel that they can operate without risking her life, so treatment will be a medicine regimen.

She’s already talking about going home and wants to know where her purse is . . .

Many, many thanks to those of you who have sent well wishes. It means a lot. Truly. Thankfully, Corey flies home tomorrow, so perhaps I can take a half an hour or so and collapse.

“Shadow is a fate you involved.” ~ Carmen Giménez Smith, from “Déjà Vu”

Alice Neel The Sea 1947 oil on canvas

“The Sea” (1947, oil on canvas)
by Alice Neel

                   

I feel as if I have been run over and left on rusty monkey-bars to dry in the winter sun.

Is it January 31st yet?

This video made me cry:

Brandi Carlile, “That Wasn’t Me”

                    

Oh well. Poetry for your Sunday afternoon . . .

The National Book Critics Circle Award 2013 Finalists for Poetry:

Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion (Knopf)

Denise Duhamel, Blowout (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Bob Hicok, Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon)

Carmen Gimenez Smith, Milk and Filth (University of Arizona Press)

                   

Carpe Demon

Where is your father whose eye you were the apple of?

Where are your mother’s parlor portieres, her slip-covered days, her petticoats?

In the orchard at the other end of  time, you were just a child in ballet slippers,

Your first poodle skirt, your tortoiseshell barrettes. As the peach tree grew more

Scarce each day, you kept running out to try to tape the leaves back on their boughs.

Once, I caught you catch a pond of sunlight in your lap and when you stood,

The sunlight spilt; it could never follow you. Once, above the river,

You told me you were born to be a turtle, swimming down. Under the bridge

Now you take your meals where the thinnest creatures live at the end

Of the world. Carpe Demon, you told me just before you put down the phone

And drank the antifreeze. This year, the winter sky in Missouri is a kind of cold

The color of a turtle’s hood, a soup of dandelion, burdock root, and clay.

~ Lucie Brock-Broido

                   

O my pa-pa

Our fathers have formed a poetry workshop.
They sit in a circle of disappointment over our fastballs
and wives. We thought they didn’t read our stuff,
whole anthologies of poems that begin, My father never,
or those that end, and he was silent as a carp,
or those with middles which, if you think
of the right side as a sketch, look like a paunch
of beer and worry, but secretly, with flashlights
in the woods, they’ve read every word and noticed
that our nine happy poems have balloons and sex
and giraffes inside, but not one dad waving hello
from the top of a hill at dusk. Theirs
is the revenge school of poetry, with titles like
“My Yellow Sheet Lad” and “Given Your Mother’s Taste
for Vodka, I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Mine.”
They’re not trying to make the poems better
so much as sharper or louder, more like a fishhook
or electrocution, as a group
they overcome their individual senilities,
their complete distaste for language, how cloying
it is, how like tears it can be, and remember
every mention of their long hours at the office
or how tired they were when they came home,
when they were dragged through the door
by their shadows. I don’t know why it’s so hard
to write a simple and kind poem to my father, who worked,
not like a dog, dogs sleep most of the day in a ball
of wanting to chase something, but like a man, a man
with seven kids and a house to feed, whose absence
was his presence, his present, the Cheerios,
the PF Flyers, who taught me things about trees,
that they’re the most intricate version of standing up,
who built a grandfather clock with me so I would know
that time is a constructed thing, a passing, ticking fancy.
A bomb. A bomb that’ll go off soon for him, for me,
and I notice in our fathers’ poems a reciprocal dwelling
on absence, that they wonder why we disappeared
as soon as we got our licenses, why we wanted
the rocket cars, as if running away from them
to kiss girls who looked like mirrors of our mothers
wasn’t fast enough, and it turns out they did
start to say something, to form the words hey
or stay, but we’d turned into a door full of sun,
into the burning leave, and were gone
before it came to them that it was all right
to shout, that they should have knocked us down
with a hand on our shoulders, that they too are mystified
by the distance men need in their love.

~ Bob Hicok

 

“I think my life is of great importance, but I also think it is meaningless.” ~ Albert Camus

George Bellows Churn and Break oil on panel 1913

“Churn and Break” (1913, oil on panel)
by George Wesley Bellows

                    

“Why walk in the eye of a private tornado,
looking as if your life depended on taking cover
sooner rather than later?” ~ Rachel Wetzsteon, from “Questions and Answers”

Wednesday afternoon. Cloudy and mild, sixty-two degrees.

A very bad night, restless, a creeping headache. Then this morning the pain medication caught up with me, and my body began to itch all over. Why am I telling you this? Who knows. A preamble to what is to come? Perhaps.

George Bellows Tang of the Sea 1913

“Tang of the Sea” (1913, oil on panel)
by George Wesley Burrows

You see, my mother is driving me crazy. For the past few weeks she has been calling me, nearly hysterical over her car. Right after she broke her leg she bought a new Honda. I tried to talk her out of it, but she would not hear of it. I think she felt she needed a new Honda mostly because Lex and Mike had bought one. Anyway, I was not involved in the financing of it; why would I be? But she had a balloon payment at the end of three years. Ever since the Honda finance people contacted her about said payment and her options my world has turned to crap.

At one point I intervened and spoke with the general manager of the dealership that sold her the car. We had things straightened out. Then my mother got back on the phone, and chaos ensued again. Now she is calling me, telling me that the stress of this is making her heart race, saying that she just can’t take it.

Which leads me to this: Does the woman ever stop to think that perhaps someone else is having a really bad day? That the person on the other end of the telephone my be a tad overwhelmed with stress?

Short answer: No. Never.

“And somewhat as in blind night, on a mild sea, a sailor may be made aware of an iceberg, fanged and mortal, bearing invisibly near, by the unwarned charm of its breath, nothingness now revealed itself . . . that darkness in which eternity lies bent and pale, a dead snake in a jar, and infinity is the sparkling of a wren blown out to sea; that inconceivable chasm of invulnerable silence in which cataclysms of galaxies rave mute as amber.” ~ James Agee, from A Death in the Family

So today there have been at least two calls and two messages, during which she yells at me and tells me not to argue with her. This when I am only trying to get a telephone number from her.

George Bellows The Gulls, Monhegan

“The Gulls, Monhegan” (c1913, oil on panel)
by George Wesley Bellows

In the meanwhile, I’m stressed beyond belief over Corey leaving Sunday for his training. The trip is open-ended. He may or may not be back at the end of the week. He may or may not go straight to a ship. He may or may not be here for Christmas . . .

Unfortunately, at the moment we are existing on two paychecks from Louisiana unemployment, which is at least $100 less/week than Virginia unemployment, and we just had to drop almost all of that on the plane ticket for him to attend new hire orientation and training. I’m stressed because I hate for him to leave without having sufficient money in the bank for him to fall back on. Who knows what circumstances may arise. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out how to pay the utilities, phone, cable, etc. with imaginary money.

“My stoic, unconvinced world,
world of the paper heart,
is it that you don’t know grief
or haven’t had enough of it
that you let yourself
be governed so?” ~ Katie Ford, from “Overture”

Now that everything is set, and Corey is definitely going to begin a new job next week, it’s time for me to worry. While he was worrying about his medical tests, I was fine. I mean, I wasn’t worried because I just knew that everything was fine (I had that feeling, you know?), and it was. The urine test showed a false positive on his bilirubin levels, but the blood test showed that it was fine. That being said, now that he’s beginning to allow himself to become adjusted to this new phase in our lives, I am becoming less adjusted.

George Bellows Sunlit Surf, 1913

“Sunlit Surf” (1913, oil on panel)
by George Bellows

It’s the yin/yang thing, I suppose.

Mostly, though, it’s worry over bills. With the transition to any new job there is always a hiccup in income, waiting for the new pay period to kick in. For him, the first one is going to be December 20. My disability comes in at the middle of the month, but that is always spent before it ever hits the bank.

Add to this the fact that I am completely unprepared for the holidays, have done absolutely no shopping, and I’m getting that sinking feeling. So let’s just make this state of affairs completely unmanageable by adding my mother’s drama because, gee, why not?

“My soul is so heavy that no thought can carry it any longer, no wing beat can lift it up into the ether any more. If it is moved, it merely skims along the ground, just as birds fly low when a thunderstorm is blowing up. Over my inner being broods an oppressiveness, an anxiety, that forebodes an earthquake.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard, from Either/Or, Part I: Kierkegaard’s Writings, vol. 3

I feel the need to scream, silently, of course because of the head thing. Loud noise = migraine . . . (by the way, did you know that sensitivity to smells is called osmophobia? I didn’t until my pain doctor used the term, but I digress . . .) And then whenever I think about screaming, I think about Edvard Munch, and then I forget because the painting is too good.

George Bellows Rock Bound 1913

“Rock Bound” (1913, oil on panel)
by George Wesley Bellows

Nevertheless, a scream might release some of this pent up anxiety, or barring a scream pounding my fist into something, but it would do nothing about my mother, and I would be left with more stupid pain.

In the back of my mind I have a song refrain playing: “Leave me alone, oh leave me alone, oh leave me alone, oh leave me alone. Won’t you leave me, leave me alone?” So of course I had to hunt it down. It’s an old Helen Redding song called “Ruby Red Dress” (that’s Redding of the “I Am Woman” song), and the actual lyrics are these:

Leave me alone, won’t you leave me alone
Please leave me alone, now leave me alone
Oh leave me alone, please leave me alone, yes leave me
Leave me alone, won’t you leave me alone
Please leave me alone, now leave me alone
God leave me alone, just leave me alone, oh leave me . . .

But while I was looking that up, my mother called again, yelled a lot more, and then ended the conversation by saying to me, “I can’t talk to you. You’re just like your father.”
Have I ever mentioned that my mother has perfected the art of hanging up on people? It’s quite obnoxious.

“This is what it feels like to split the shell of a woman.
Shards of her everywhere. Animal light spread across

the walls.” ~ Raven Jackson, from “My First Lover Speaks to Me as I Sleep With Her”

Sorry this whole post has been a rant. I actually do not feel as if I am in rant mode. Rather, I feel particularly heavy—heavy heart, heavy mind. All of my thoughts feel too heavy for my head. The air feels too heavy to breathe. My neck feels to heavy to hold up my head, and my eyelids are too heavy for consciousness.

George Bellows Green Breaker 1913

“Green Breaker” (1913, oil on panel)
by George Wesley Bellows

At times like these, I wish that I could breathe under water. How wonderful it must be to dwell beneath the sea—stippled sunlight, brilliant colors, muted sound, as dark as you care to go deep, or as light as the space just beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, not a possibility, gill-less that I am. Still, it’s my whole love affair with the sea that holds sway with my thoughts. To that end, today’s images are by American Realist George Wesley Bellows (August 12 or August 19, 1882 – January 8, 1925), who died at the age of 42 from  ruptured appendix. Bellows was well known for his boxing paintings, but I prefer his land and seascapes, particularly the churning sea depictions as they match my mood today. As a bonus, I created a gallery to go along with this post. (Playing with art soothes me.)

I need a vacation from my life.

More later. Peace.

                    

Music by Lucie Silvas, “Cry a Little More”

                   

Untitled

Van Gogh writing his brother for paints
Hemingway testing his shotgun
Celine going broke as a doctor of medicine
the impossibility of being human
Villon expelled from Paris for being a thief
Faulkner drunk in the gutters of his town
the impossibility of being human
Burroughs killing his wife with a gun
Mailer stabbing his
the impossibility of being human
Maupassant going mad in a rowboat
Dostoyevsky lined up against a wall to be shot
Crane off the back of a boat into the propeller
the impossibility
Sylvia with her head in the oven like a baked potato
Harry Crosby leaping into that Black Sun
Lorca murdered in the road by Spanish troops
the impossibility
Artaud sitting on a madhouse bench
Chatterton drinking rat poison
Shakespeare a plagiarist
Beethoven with a horn stuck into his head against deafness
the impossibility the impossibility
Nietzsche gone totally mad
the impossibility of being human
all too human
this breathing
in and out
out and in
these punks
these cowards
these champions
these mad dogs of glory
moving this little bit of light toward us
impossibly.

~ Charles Bukowski

“I would leave here the thick twilight falling upon the land, gravity, hope, enchantment, and tranquility, I would leave here those beloved and those close to me, everything that touched me, everything that shocked me, fascinated and uplifted me, I would leave here the noble, the benevolent, the pleasant, and the demonically beautiful, I would leave here the budding sprout, every birth and existence, I would leave here incantation, enigma, distances, inexhaustibility, and the intoxication of eternity” ~ László Krasznahorkai, trans. Ottilie Mulzet

pour fcc mattcameasarat

Image by mattcameasarat (FCC)

Feeling kind of puny today. After-effects of the trip are hitting hard. Hope to write soon.

Meanwhile, this song has been on my mind for days and days . . .

                   

Lyrics:

Oh, here I go again
walking the line
killing time between my sins
Oh, why do I come here
The ending’s still the same
I’m bringing back old tears
I act like I don’t know
Where this road will go

Pour me something stronger
Pour me something straight
All these crooked voices, make them go away
I can barely stand up
I can hardly breathe
Pour me something stronger than me
Pour me something stronger than me

Sunrise hurts as much as you
You both come when I don’t want you to
Oh, I — can still hear you say
That you and I would both be better off this way
These things that I run to
What I put my heart through

Pour me something stronger
Pour me something straight
All these crooked voices, make them go away
I can barely stand up
I can hardly breathe
Pour me something stronger than me

“She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer, from Everything Is Illuminated

Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy Silence has Settled 1890 drohende Stille oil on canvas

“Silence has Settled or Drohende Stille” (1890, oil on canvas)
by Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy

                      

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” ~ William Shakespeare, from Macbeth

Alexis’s friend Jennifer died today. Jennifer, who had so many reprieves, who lived to share another Christmas and another Christmas with her young son, and even, almost a third Christmas.

When I first wrote about Jennifer it was in September of 2010, and everyone was so certain that she would die before the end of the year. I include myself in that everyone. But Jennifer fooled each of us. She left the hospital, went home, and lived. She lived through two more (three?) of her son Reilly’s birthdays; she lived long enough to come to Alexis’s baby showers and to take a bus to the hospital when Alexis was in labor.

She lived, and then, she didn’t.

As if I needed yet another reason to hate November.

“Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” ~ William Faulkner, from The Wild Palms

You see, I feel nothing but guilt about Jennifer. I was not a good friend to her, and even when Corey mentioned that I might want to call her because she was sick again, I chose not to. I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t put aside my own feelings of dread at facing another young person’s death, couldn’t find a way around my own discomfort to call this sweet, sweet girl. God, she could talk your ear off, and the drugs made her ramble even more. I am not patient with such things, witness my attitude with my own mother.

And the whole time Alexis was pregnant, Jennifer would find things for her that she might be able to use. Jennifer was a world-class thrifter. But that’s how she was, truly, thinking about other people. Looking out for others even when she already bore so much more than she deserved.

I thought about Jennifer a lot since that September in 2010. I was beyond happy when she was around to spend Christmas with Reilly that year and then the next, and then that thing happened that always happens: complacency. Just as with my brother-in-law Patrick: you get so used to the person being in a certain state of health that that state becomes normal. So when Patrick got sick again, it just didn’t occur to me that he would die. Neither did it occur to me that Jennifer might actually die this time, even though within my heart I knew that it was a strong probability.

“How could I have been so ignorant? she thinks. So stupid, so unseeing, so given over to carelessness. But without such ignorance, such carelessness, how could we live? If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next—if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions—you’d be doomed.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Blind Assassin

Funnily enough, today I was watching Sesame Street with Olivia, and I had a flash of memory: When Lex was younger and one or more of her friends had spent the night, I used to go in and jump on the bed and use Elmo’s voice and yell at them to get up. Weird, I know, but true. I thought of that today, before I got the news. And then a few hours later a got a text that Jennifer had died.

And so I wept. I wept hot tears of hate. Hatred at myself. Hatred at fate. Hatred at cancer. Hatred at whatever it is that decides to inflict such pain upon a sweet, talkative young girl who never had all of the comforts that Alexis had, who came from a broken family filled with dysfunctions—how that girl moved beyond that and became a wonderful mother to her son, the kind of mother she never had.

I wept at myself for failing to do the right thing, and then, I realized that my tears were also selfish tears, appropriating Jennifer’s life and death to add to my own litany of loss, and I am repulsed by myself. How can I cry for Jennifer and turn it into tears for my own losses? Who does this? I am sickened, and so I weep more, weep until I cannot breathe and am on the verge of hyperventilating because the overwhelming sensation that I feel is guilt: guilt over not calling Jennifer, guilt over not keeping in touch with Patrick, guilt over not being more patient with my mother, guilt over not going back to the hospital in time to be with my father so that he did not die alone, and always, always, always, guilt over Caitlin.

“Youth offers the promise of happiness, but life offers the realities of grief.”Nicholas Sparks, from The Rescue

I won’t scream and say that it’s unfair, that it’s unfair because she was young. Death holds sway over who it will. Youth’s seeming immortality has no pardon from its sway, is impotent in its presence.

When is enough enough?

I know that I am merely screaming into the wind here, that nothing can change anything, yet I am so filled with self-loathing right now that it just makes me cry even harder.

We are careless. Humans are careless. We make assumptions. We delude ourselves. It is easier this way. We do not want cold truths. We do not want blunt realities. Allow us to coast along with our false certainties, to be comforted by our denial. Yes, that is better, is it not?

My dog Shakes used to get very worried when I had crying jags. He would come in and try to get in my lap and Alfie would bark shrilly as if that could stem my tears. It was harder to cry when that was going on. I suddenly remembered that in the middle of my keening, and then I cried even harder.

Granted, it has already been a very shaky November so far as it was apparent that I was well on my way to a major fall. But now? I don’t even know how to think. I’m just letting my fingers form the words for me as I do not want to think about anything too much. I do not want to see Jennifer’s face in my mind, especially as I cannot recall Caitlin’s face. I know. That makes no sense, but it feels like yet another betrayal.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~ C.S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed

Jennifer was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s lover, and someone’s mother. Jennifer used to put baby oil in her hair when she was a teenager because it was curly and she wanted to make it lay flat. I’m certain that Jennifer is the first person Alexis got drunk with, and for a while I would not let Alexis spend the night at Jennifer’s apartment. Turns out my daughter was probably the instigator all along, but I blamed Jennifer and Amanda. Not my Alexis.

But we do what we can as parents. We try to make the right decisions. Try to guide our sons and daughters into having the right relationships, and even when they don’t, we make excuses for them because after all, they are our sons and daughters.

After today a young son lost his mother. Reilly will not have his mommy to spend Christmas with him, to celebrate his birthday with him, to see him go on his first date, to watch him graduate. His drug addict father hasn’t been in the picture in years. He will have his uncle who helped Jennifer with Reilly after she got out of the hospital. But no matter how much the people in his life who love him may try, they will never ever be able to fill that void. No one can replace your mother, especially when you are young.

” . . . you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.” ~ Mitch Albom, from For One More Day

I haven’t talked much about suicide on this blog for many reasons. I will only say this: that knowing what it would do to my children kept me from making foolish mistakes. Jennifer had no choice in this. And try as she did, the fates were against her. Her death will affect Reilly in so very many ways, ways in which people could never predict.

Caitlin never had a choice, nor did she have a chance, but that never kept us from hoping until hope was taken away.

Hope. That four letter word that is probably more powerful than love or hate. Hope allows us to fool ourselves in ways that love and hate never do. Hope keeps us coming back. Hope carries us to places we might not dare to travel. And then when hope is lost, that my friends, that is the worst loss of all.

Goodbye, Jennifer. I hope you were loved much as you deserved.

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
~ W.B. Yeats, from “The Stolen Child”

A song I used to play over and over on my piano: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

Two for Tuesday: November’s Innate Sadness

Luna Moth L Liwag

Luna Moth
by L. Liwag

                   

“Who can guess the luna’s sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original
clarity?”

~ Mary Oliver, from “The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers”

                   

Nicholas Roerich Sadness paren Two in a Boat 1939 tempera on canvas

“Sadness (Two in a Boat)” (1939, tempera on canvas)
by Nicholas Roerich

Majority

Now you’d be three,
I said to myself,
seeing a child born
the same summer as you.

Now you’d be six,
or seven, or ten.
I watched you grow
in foreign bodies.

Leaping into a pool, all laughter,
or frowning over a keyboard,
but mostly just standing,
taller each time.

How splendid your most
mundane action seemed
in these joyful proxies.
I often held back tears.

Now you are twenty-one.
Finally, it makes sense
that you have moved away
into your own afterlife.

~ Dana Gioia

                    

Akseli Gallen-Kallela Lake Keitele 1905

“Lake Keitele” (1905)
by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

My Friend Says

When my friend says he’s
Walking closer to sadness
I know he means his own
Yet I also know precisely

What he means & he means
The gods he once admired
Because for so long they
Seemed to admire him

Have emptied their quivers
Into his flesh his very flesh
& he says this to me
Because he knows I too stood

In this exact moonlight
Stripped of every possibility
& divine protection
Except for a silver medallion

Of St. Sebastian hanging
Like a noose around my neck
& if the night that night was
A mirror then I believe so too

Was I the plain reflection
Of the long sadness of my friend

~ David St. John

                   

Music by Jessy Greene, “In Crimson”

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