This came to me in the night, and for once, instead of telling myself that I would remember in the morning, I got up and put it down while it was still with me.
Into the night we move
restless, footsteps heavy with grief
and guilt. We do not speak about these things—
these things that enter the spaces between us and hang
like veils of thick smoke: the long ash of a cigarette left burning
intentions not kept, never intended as promises—
We keep the silences of our anger alive, synchronous
with drops of rain on black panes of glass and the second hand
of my favorite old watch, left to wind down from disuse and neglect:
Past caring, we have forsaken the fraying thread of our conversation
at the beginning
where we began—this flaying of words
fraught with sadness. We do not acknowledge these things—
the deep wounds created by the unrelenting intent of our desires
laid bare, left abandoned to heavy-hearted despair and needful disquietude:
Neither touching nor speaking, we pass one another, leave by different doors
for our separate journeys
Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
Outside, the tree frogs are chirruping loudly. The crickets are singing, but it’s too early in the evening for the cicadas.
Inside, silence. For the first time in it seems forever, I am totally and completely alone in the house, well, aside from the dogs. Eamonn is out with friends. Brett’s good buddy Gordon came by and picked him up, and Corey is still in Ohio. Hence, the silence.
I have plenty of things that I could watch on the DVR, episodes of NCIS and Law & Order, and a few movies that might make for a good night, although, no Asia Extreme while I am completely alone. Sleep would be impossible if I did that.
I have very mixed feelings about being alone. By nature, I love solitude. I love time to myself to do what I want when I want to do it. But when the middle of the night comes, I like at least one other person to be in the house with me. It’s not that I am afraid to be alone, per se, but rather, that I prefer to know that someone is nearby in the night.
The irony here is that I have always thought that I would dearly love to live somewhere in the country, away from everything. No distractions, just me and nature and the opportunity to write. But truth be told, I don’t know that I would actually want to live isolated, down some dark stretch of country road, no neighbors around for miles. I could really talk myself into being a nervous wreck in a situation like that.
But I don’t like cities much, any more. Who knows? An island? The tropics? Australia? Alaska? France? All have their special appeal and for such very different reasons.
light like a green latticework of branches,
Something fairly outrageous along the lines of my true nature: On Facebook, I took one of those damned quizzes that are a waste of time. This one was about which Disney character you are most like. My answer: Cinderella.
My friend Rebecca got a huge guffaw out of that one, as did I. Fairy tales and and fairy princesses and prince charming. That would be a big no. I honestly thought that the results would be Cruella da Ville or someone like that. Although I do have to admit that Disney’s Cinderella is actually one of my favorite movies: I love the singing and sewing animals. Alexis and I would watch that particular movie frequently when she was young.
But my versions of fairy tales always ended with a caveat: They didn’t live happily ever after. They had to get jobs to pay the mortgage on the castle. I suppose I felt the need to include that part mostly because of what my own parents drilled into my head as I was growing up: Always make sure that you can take care of yourself. Get a good education so that you don’t have to be dependent upon any man.
on every leaf,
Odd advice from a couple in which one person was the primary breadwinner (my dad), and neither of whom were college graduates. But my dad new the importance of a good education, and my mother knew the consequences of being dependent upon someone else to take care of you.
So in that way, I suppose it makes sense.
At least there was never any question about whether or not I would go to college, and I know that I was luckier than most because my parents paid for both my undergraduate and first graduate degrees. One of the benefits of being an only child and going to an in-state public university. I do wish, though, that I had ventured beyond the borders of my home state, gone to a liberal arts college somewhere out west, maybe. Or perhaps, studied abroad for a few semesters. Something different. But it didn’t happen. For a while, I actually toyed with the idea of pursuing my music, the piano, and I also gave serious thought to going to a school for the arts to pursue acting. But I did neither.
Even without the drama degree I have always managed to keep too much drama going on in my life. My internal monologues and external diatribes never really needed honing in a classroom. And I realized that while I enjoyed the piano, it wasn’t my calling. I was good, but I wasn’t excellent, and just being good allows you to teach but not to play with a symphony.
Little realities that I am awfully glad that I realized in time.
drifting down like clean
Unfortunately, the night sounds outside have turned into the sound of an engine revving repeatedly across the street. One of our neighbors works on cars at all hours of the day and night. Most of the time, I don’t notice the sounds. But it is so quiet tonight that that’s all that I can hear.
And of course, the dogs have to bark at the neighbor—a man who has lived across the street since before we moved here—because they’ve never seen him before ever in their lives. He is an alien and therefore worthy of a three-part concerto: Alfie’s high-pitched yips, Shakes’s midtone arfs, and then Tillie’s deeper, more ominous sounding barks.
That’s what I love about Labs. To hear them, they sound like big, mean dogs. But if someone were actually to come into the house, Tillie would wiggle her butt and roll over to have her belly rubbed. You only buy a Labrador for protection if you want to trip someone in the dark.
A cicada sends its sawing song
high into the empty air.
Originally, Corey was supposed to come home today from Ohio with the new/used van. Plans changed, and now I’m not sure as to when he will be home.
I’m trying very hard not to become too anxious about his job prospects, but it’s difficult. Part of me wishes that we lived in a small college town so that I could apply for a teaching position with a college or university. But other than doing something like that, with the flexible hours that such a position affords, I really cannot think of anything that I can do, not with the limitations that I have.
And besides, there aren’t many employers who would be willing to take me on, not knowing my health background. So ironically, I have ended up in a situation very much like the one my parents cautioned me against: being dependent upon others. In this case, dependent upon my disability insurance coverage and dependent upon Corey. Odd how things work out.
If I dwell on it too much, then I start to become maudlin, pondering the what ifs and whys. Worrying about not carrying my weight in this relationship, fixating on what kind of message it sends my children.
The world is a glass overflowing
See, this post has become dreary, aside from the Neruda, that is. I started out well enough, talking about being alone but not being lonely, and somehow, I ended up in the same place that I too often find myself: feeling sorry for myself. My life is just a sad, country song—one of the old-fashioned kind full of heartache and lost dreams and empty whiskey bottles (where in the hell did the whiskey bottles come from?) . . .
Patsy Cline has nothing on me, well, except for that voice. It seems to me that if you are going to have the life of a sad country song, then you should have the voice to go with it.
Oh well. The car engine has finally stopped. Midnight is almost upon me. The frogs are back. And it’s time to watch some crime drama, especially since I don’t have a new book to read. Speaking of which, I want to read Atlas Shrugged, don’t know why that’s been on my mind, but it has. As has Alice B. Toklas. I woke up a couple of mornings ago and said aloud “Alice B. Toklas” and then spent hours trying to figure out why her name greeted my morning.
Aside from knowing that Toklas was Gertrude Stein’s amour for many, many years, and that Toklas published a very famous cookbook, I have never had any interest in the woman.
Don’t you just hate it when something like that happens and you cannot discern why? Well, I hate it. Bothers the daylights out of me.
I’ll probably awaken tomorrow from a dream filled with frogs that sound like cars, my mother singing Patsy Cline, and memories of trying to fit a glass stiletto onto my foot. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll be able to fall asleep to choruses of cicadas at 3 in the morning—just me, my dogs, and the echoes of night sounds.
“And you would accept the seasons of your heart just as you have always accepted that seasons pass over your fields and you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” ~ Albert Camus
It’s been rainy and cloudy here for days, which is all right considering that my spirits have been rainy and cloudy for days as well. But a few days ago, something subtle changed: It is beginning to smell like fall.
I remember when I was a child, fall lasted longer. And before they were such harbingers of air pollution, the smells of neighbors’ fireplaces infused the night with the comforting aromas of woodsmoke.
The falls that I spent with my family in Great Bridge were especially wonderful. With the longer days, my cousins and I would stay outside as long as possible playing hide-n-seek well past dark, the big Sycamore tree in the front yard serving as home base. The sounds of tennis shoes crashed through the thick carpet of fallen leaves as we all raced home so that we wouldn’t be tagged “it.”
Leaves and sticker balls everywhere. Ignoring calls to come in now. Irreplaceable memories of our innocent days.
On Sunday afternoons, smells of burning piles of leaves permeated the neighborhood. This was before Great Bridge was overdeveloped to the point that trees are almost non-existent. The big trees in my aunt and uncle’s yard were enormous. Someone tied a tire swing to one of the trees in the backyard, and we would push each other so high, high enough to get flutters in our bellies.
My cousins Butch and Sheryl tried to get me to climb the tree with the tire and then jump off a branch while in the tire. If any of our parents knew an iota of the things that we did. Good times.
“Autumn to winter, winter into spring, Spring into summer, summer into fall—So rolls the changing year, and so we change; Motion so swift, we know not that we move. ” ~ Dinah Maria Mulock
Sundays at Great Bridge were such a large part of my life for so long. Being an only child, those times spent playing with my cousins are some of the best memories of my life. We were a motley group. No one wore designer clothes or expensive tennis shoes. We were made equal by our extreme ordinariness.
Of course, I was different—no blonde hair, no ordinary name, the ony one with no siblings—but after their initial mistrust faded of anyone who didn’t know what iced tea was, I was never treated any differently.
In actuality, the younger ones, the ones who were my age, were my second cousins; my first cousins were closer to my mother’s age, daughter’s of my Aunt Ronnie and Uncle Ros. We were all close, until the first divorce, the first move out of the area, the first pregnancy. Time and circumstance, as they always have a way of doing, stepped in and ended our idyllic lives.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw one of them, but I’ll be seeing all of them soon. My Aunt Ronnie died yesterday. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for a number of years. That most unkind of diseases that takes over the brain, erases memories, makes even the most familiar face into the face of a stranger.
The last time she saw me, she did remember me, fleetingly. But it was so long ago
“A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made. The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air.”
~ Eric Sloane
For me, Aunt Ronnie was the closest thing to a grandmother that I had. When my cousins called her grandma, I was always so envious. A part of me wished that I could call her grandma as well.
I used to buy my Aunt Ronnie butterfly pins for Christmas. She loved butterflies.
I never knew my mother’s mother. She died when mom was only eight years old. The youngest of 12 children, my mother was raised by her older brothers and sisters. My Aunt Ronnie was almost the oldest of the 12, so my mother’s relationship with her oldest sister was very close, more like mother and daughter than sisters at times.
I wasn’t as close to Uncle Ros. I don’t really know why, but the first time I met my Aunt Ronnie was when Mom and I were visiting the States while Dad was stationed in London. I remember that my cousin Jeanette and her husband at the time had been in a horrible car accident, and everyone was recuperating.
I was overwhelmed by all of the people and completely unused to so many children in my own age range. It was great. I never wanted to leave.
“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” ~ Stanley Horowitz
Once my dad retired from the Navy and we moved back to the area, visits to Great Bridge became almost weekly events.
Christmas at Great Bridge was such an occasion. We would open presents on Christmas Eve. So many presents everywhere. But Christmas Day we would all get together for Christmas dinner.
I know that I’ve written about Sunday dinners at Great Bridge before, but Christmas dinner was the ultimate Sunday dinner: turkey, stuffing, country-style green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, country ham, homemade biscuits (usually two batches), sweet tea. Homemade banana pudding, fudge and pies for dessert.
And the most amazing aspect of this feast was that until she was in her 70’s, my Aunt Ronnie made almost all of the food by herself. If someone were going to contribute something to the dinner, it was usually dessert.
We would eat in the early afternoon, and then the parents would watch football and nap on the couch, Uncle Ros in his recliner, while all of the cousins would go outside and get into whatever we could, depending upon the weather. If there was snow, so much the better. There was no keeping us inside.
Then later in the early evening, people would snack on ham biscuits, turkey sandwiches, cakes and pie. Sleepy, satisfied and totally at ease in each other’s company
“Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change.”~ Edwin Way Teale
I remember their long driveway would be packed, two-wide with cars, the overflow going onto the street. Leaving was always strategic, depending upon who was parked where and whether or not the car was small enough to turn around in the front yard.
Eventually, we stopped going to Great Bridge for Christmases, long after I had gotten married (the first time), and Alexis was born. Of all of my children, only Alexis really remembers Aunt Ronnie. My mom would take Alexis with her when she would go to Great Bridge to visit. Alexis would play with my cousin Theresa’s daughter who was a few years older.
Christmas celebrations had moved from my Aunt Ronnie’s house to one of her daughter’s houses. It just wasn’t the same.
And of course, we had all grown up, gotten married, moved away, changed jobs, had children. My second cousins still went, but I kind of dropped out of the fold.
I saw many of them at my Uncle Ros’s funeral several years ago. It was an event that I had to attend and then return to work, so I didn’t have time to visit with anyone. Sunday will be different. I have the time now. I have the memories. I have the regret. I have the loss, the second in less than a month.
“Once more I am the silent one
who came out of the distance
wrapped in cold rain and bells:
I owe to earth’s pure death
the will to sprout.” ~ Pablo Neruda
My mother says that she isn’t going to go to Great Bridge for Aunt Ronnie’s funeral, that she’s never going to another funeral again, that she doesn’t want to see Aunt Ronnie in her coffin; it will give her nightmares.
I don’t agree with her method of coping, but it really doesn’t matter if I agree or not. Does it? Her unwillingness to visit the family bothers me tremendously, just as her unwillingness to go to Uncle Melchor’s funeral bothered me.
We are so different, my mother and I. While I love to keep hand me downs from family members, appreciate antiques and the memories that go with them, my mother calls it clutter and sees no point in it. I see a tea service that she bought on Portobello Road in London as something to be cherished, a reminder of our time in London and that wonderful section of booths and shops. My mother has no use for it.
Who knows, when I get to be her age, maybe I’ll feel the same way, but I doubt it.
My memories make me who I am. All of the little nooks and crannies in my mind are filled to overflowing with the sweet and the bittersweet. To me, that is life. Little pieces of jewelry, a china cup and saucer, a silver sugar bowl—each is part of a story, my story.
It makes me sad for my mother who only wants to think about happy things, who won’t watch anything deep or sad, who loves sitcoms and talk shows. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not what she does but what she doesn’t do that makes me sad. What saddens me is that she closed a part of herself off a long time ago, and it has been so long since she went through that door that I don’t think she remembers how.
“There is no answer to any of these questions. It’s a matter of time and timing, of seas and seasons, of breathing in and breathing out. It’s a matter of balance.” ~ Peter McWilliams
Yes, funerals are for the living. My mother wants to be cremated, as do I, as does Corey, all for different reasons. What happens to our bodies after we die is not really the important thing. But memorial services allow a chance for those left behind to say goodbye, to talk about the person who has been lost with fond words, to forget petty arguments, to remember Sunday dinners and sticker ball fights, new bicycles at Christmas and melt-on-your tongue homemade biscuits.
My Aunt Ronnie’s death is like the closing of yet another chapter in my life, a very good chapter, one filled with so much loving and giving. The woman in the casket is not the woman I loved. The woman I loved is already gone; unfortunately, she has been gone for quite a while, ravaged by an unrelenting disease that rips apart everyone touched by it.
But in my mind’s eye, I still see her smile quite clearly. I remember her dining room table, filled to overflowing, and the conversations around it. That was my Aunt Ronnie. The woman who said come and see me sometime. The woman who liked “The Old Rugged Cross” but did not like “Amazing Grace.” The woman who accepted butterfly pins from a young girl with as much relish as if they were rare gems.
These are my memories, the pictures inside the permanent locket of my heart, the ties that bind and make us who we are. The sweet tea of the soul. Piles of fallen leaves. Running as fast as possible when the coast was clear. Touching home base. Being safe. Knowing unconditional love.
More later. Peace.
*Many thanks to Janson Jones for giving me the perfect images for this post. Your photographs help me so much to form the words that I need to say.