“Life might be brief and transient, scrawled in the sand. But death was written in a much harder alphabet.” ~ Stephen Booth, from Dancing with the Virgins


No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, from Invisible Monsters

Tuesday afternoon. Sunny and 83 degrees, yes, 83 degrees . . . whatever . . .

It’s supposed to be “Two for Tuesday,” but I’m pushing Tuesday to Wednesday because I was up until almost 6 a.m., thinking about words, words that I wanted to say, but I kept myself away from the keyboard because I knew that once I began, it might be days before I stopped. Days, hours, it matters not.

Odilon Redon Closed Eyes 1890 oil on canvas

“Closed Eyes” (1890, oil on canvas)
by Odilon Redon

This is what kept me awake: My mother was the one who realized that something was wrong with Caitlin. Not me. She did. She took one look at her and said, “What’s wrong with her eyes?” She said they were bulging. I didn’t really see it, didn’t want to see it, shrugged it off as my mother being overprotective of her granddaughters in the same way that she was overprotective of me.

She was right.

That phone call I received at my very first faculty meeting? That one? It was because my mother had put Caitlin in the car and had taken her to the pediatrician’s office and made them look at her eyes. You see, after the ER doctor had said that she had a virus, I had taken Caitlin to the pediatrician and said that my mother thought her eyes looked funny. The one doctor, the one I never really liked, poo pooed the comment.

My mother was right. I was wrong. The ER resident was wrong. The pediatrician was wrong. It took my mother taking Caitlin to see the other pediatrician in the practice, the gentle one who listened to every word you said—it took that for someone to finally pay attention and send Caitlin to the Children’s Hospital, the hospital that found the brain tumor.

My mother was right.

How children think of death is how the shadows
gather between trees: a hiding place
for everything the grown-ups cannot name.
” ~ John Burnside, from “The Hunt in the Forest”

Odilon Redon Ophelia

“Ophelia V” (c1905)
by Odilon Redon

Look, you’re probably wondering why I’m going over this yet again, but all I can say in way of explanation is one word: fall. Autumn is my best and worst of times. I love every natural aspect of the  season, yet the way in which my emotional well-being goes into free fall more often than not leaves me tortured. Nietzsche said it best when he said that autumn was “more the season of the soul than the season of nature.”

Example: Yesterday, after getting my fasting labs done in the early morning, and then having my six-month checkup with my PCP, all I could think about were curly fries. Weird, I know. So I had to maneuver the hell that is a major thoroughfare that it still under construction to get to the nearest Arby’s. My timing was lousy as the nearby grade school was getting out at the same time. Parents in their cars lined both sides of the streets. No one would let me turn into the narrow street. The resultant snafu left me in tears.

Yes, tears, as in crying in the car, which, if you’ve ever been in the car with me, is completely uncharaceristic. Crying over curly fries, crying over curly fries that I couldn’t eat once I had ordered them. Then yesterday evening as I was trying to force myself to post something, I came across the story about a journalist who was beheaded by ISIS, and again, I cried.

Bed. Yes, bed would make it better. But bed, not so much. No sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother and Caitlin’s eyes, which leads me to this moment.

“. . . how come sorrow is as heavy, lumpen and impenetrably black as an anvil?” ~ Agnès Desarthe, from Chez Moi

November will rear its ugly head in just a few days, and with it I have to confront once again the losses of my daughter, my father, my friend, and yes, even my dog. Isn’t it time to let go, past time, you ask?

Odilon Redon The Yellow Cape 1895 pastel on paper

“The Yellow Cape” (1895, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

Beh. Of course it is. But that’s for normal people, people who do not obsess and obsess and obsess over perceived failings. Example: I did not clean the portal lines that had been inserted into Caitlin’s chest the day that I had taken her in for a follow-up MRI. Why do I remember this? Who knows, but I remember vividly doing a haphazard job of inserting the flushing material in the waiting room at CHKD before they took her into the MRI suite because I wanted to make sure that I had done this one thing for my daughter that I was tasked to do on a daily basis.

Did that failure to use a one-inch square of alcohol on a gauze pad lead to infection? Who knows? Possibly? Probably? Probably not?

The point is that I REMEMBER. I cannot forget. Just as I cannot forget that I did not go back to the hospital that night before my father died even though I had promised his unconscious body that I would come back and spend the night at the hospital. Exhaustion and relief at being away from the white noise of the ICU gave me a false sense of relief, and so I went to bed, and he died in the middle of the night alone.

“How long it takes me to climb into grief!
Fifty years old, and still held in the dark,
in the unfinished, the hopeful, what longs for solution.” ~ Robert Bly, from “A Ramage for the Star Man, Mourning”

Enough, you say. Stop this madness, you say. No, not nearly . . .

When I left my mother’s room that Thursday afternoon, I secretly congratulated myself on making such a speedy getaway, leaving my mother to talk the ear off the social worker. I had work to do. I needed to get her house ready for her to come home. There was snow to be removed. And so I had a brief visit, long enough for her to bitch at me, and then I left, and then she died the next morning, sometime, they are guessing around 9, alone.

Odilon Redon Closed Eyes c1894 oil on canvas

“Closed Eyes” (c1894, oil on canvas)
by Odilon Redon

And did I mention that that best friend I lovingly wrote about years ago in my Vale et Memini series, the one who had a brain tumor and survived? Her? Did I mention that she died and I didn’t find out until a few years later, that I never even went to the funeral because I didn’t know that there was a funeral, and the other night it suddenly came to me that hell, I was her eldest daughter’s godmother, a sacred honor that I had completely washed from my memory.

And that other anamchara friend, the one who I always thought I’d be bonded to in perpetuity? I haven’t corresponded with her in years, other than an obligatory Christmas card. Yes, I am a careless friend, the kind of person who withdraws so completely that the only interactions I still have with friends occur in the midst of troubled sleep.

And then there is the nagging curse I imposed upon myself when Corey and I first got together: I had been so certain that he wouldn’t have to be burdened with me for years and years because I never wanted him to see me get old, and so I had this feeling, this sense, that I would die when I was 56. And you hear of people who have feelings that they will die young, in their teens, who do, and people who have a feeling that they will not live to be old, and they do not, and so what have I done to myself.

“Endlessness runs in you like leaves on the tree of night.” ~ Anne Carson, from “TV Men: The Sleeper”

Listen, if you recently subscribed to this blog because you found it amusing and slightly entertaining, or if you enjoyed the art or the poetry or the music, if that was your reason? Well I’m sorry. Because this post is really what this blog is about. This endless cacophony of doubt, and blame, and grief, and sorrow, and pain.

That other person, the one who offers up stuff from Takei’s tumblr or other such sites? She’s a phony. She is neither glib nor witty. She masks all of the pain behind little ditties about animals and absurd abuses of the English language because to do otherwise would be peering far too keenly in Nietzsche’s abyss, and we all know what happens when you do that.

Odilon Redon GIrl with Chrysanthemums c1905 pastel on paper

“Girl with Chrysanthemums” (c1905, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

The only good thing about this post is that I did not get out of bed at 4 a.m. to begin it. Had I done so, I am completely certain that the maudlin factor would have been  even worse, if you can imagine that.

I always, always know when the words are going to come fast and furious, when there is no stemming of the onslaught. It has always been this way, since I was but a child, hiding in my room, trying not to let my mother see that yet another book had reduced me to tears and heartache because her solution, of course, was to think happy thoughts, and for a soul such as mine, one might as well say something along the line of “you could be happy if you just tried.”

Oh, but if you only knew the truth of my esse, my life force, that tortured, tormented, and torrid do not begin to encompass the four corners of my heart.

More later. Peace.

All images by French artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916). I am intrigued by how many of the subjects in his paintings have closed eyes or eyes narrowly opened, to which I can relate: going through life with eyes closed, surrounded by beauty . . .

Music by Will Hoge, “When I Get My Wings”

                    

Consider the Space Between Stars 

Consider the white space
between words on a page, not just
the margins around them.

Or the space between thoughts:
instants when the mind is inventing
exactly what it thinks

and the mouth waits
to be filled with language.
Consider the space

between lovers after a quarrel,
the white sheet a cold metaphor
between them.

Now picture the brief space
before death enters, hat in hand:
vanishing years, filled with light.

~ Linda Pastan

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2 thoughts on ““Life might be brief and transient, scrawled in the sand. But death was written in a much harder alphabet.” ~ Stephen Booth, from Dancing with the Virgins

  1. Ah, my dear… It IS fall. And fall brings melancholy…

    And melancholy has you linking all your losses, hand in hand, one long chain of people you loved who have passed through this life into another leaving you behind to grieve. While in the color of this light, you see yourself as the villain, the fallen hero who neglected to save every one of them. But, I don’t see you like that. I see you as someone with a great capacity of love who suffers when her loved ones suffer… Nothing you did or didn’t do figured in any of their deaths. Your father saw your exhaustion and realized that you couldn’t be there at the hospital with him that night. So, his soul came and nestled close to you that night, right up close to your neck.

    I’ve read many things and heard many stories about how our loved ones wait for us to leave the hospital to die. We may have guilt over this, but maybe our loved ones were trying to spare us – if nothing else, spare us the trip home, drowning in tears. They didn’t want us out on the road driving blind.

    We will always have things that we regret… the friends that somehow became distant, the ex-in-law we wished we’d said goodbye to before she died, finding out too late about a friend’s funeral. They probably didn’t spend their last days thinking ill of us. And perhaps, just perhaps, we will see them all again…

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