“That time was like never, and like always.” ~ Pablo Neruda

Anchorage Alaska by Janson Jones

Blue Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones

Ode To Enchanted Light by Pablo Neruda

Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,

 
Van Gogh The Starry Night 1889.
"The Starry Night," Van Gogh (1889)

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.

shining
on every leaf,

Van Gogh The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum Arles at night 1888
"The Cafe Terrace on the Place de Forum, Arles, at Night, Van Gogh (1888)

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
white sand.

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.

Van Gogh Starry Night Over the Rhone 1888
"Starry Night Over the Rhone," Van Gogh (1888)

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
with water.

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.

Infrared Stars
Infrared Stars (Spitzer)

More later. Peace.

 

Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)

Note: this entry was originally posted in January. I am reposting parts 1-3 since so much time has passed between those entries and part 4, which I will post tomorrow.

Part One: Young and Seemingly Immortal

This is the story of three friendships, four little girls, and a box of many beautiful dresses.  It spans over two decades, four cities, and touches countless individuals. Two of the key people in this story are gone now, taken too soon by similar circumstances. One was my daughter, and one was my friend. Both live on in the memory of the dresses. This is the story of  lives left in pieces of fabric from those dresses and how one person has pieced the story together with words, and another person has sewn the story together with thread and fabric, and how both have lost sleep, time, and ultimately, pieces of themselves. This is memento mori and memento amor.

This is the tale of how two women have attempted to complete a Viking story that began long ago.

I once had a very dear friend named Pat Swann. Pat had long brown hair and a big smile. Pat and I first met when we were working at our part-time jobs in a steak house in Norfolk, Virginia. She had worked there for a while, and she took me under her wing and helped me out when I first started. She took karate classes in college, and on the night before her wedding, she threw her fiance over her shoulder with one hand. We all laughed until we cried. Pat had the ability to make people laugh effortlessly. She was incredibly intelligent, hard-working, and did not suffer fools gladly.

I was the maid of honor at her wedding, which was a lovely outdoor affair on her in-law’s land, and she reciprocated the honor at my first wedding. I remember that she had just given birth to her first daughter two months before my wedding, and she was worried about how she would look, but she absolutely glowed. And I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else standing beside me on that day.

Before I got married and went to graduate school at Virginia Tech, Pat and I car pooled to Old Dominion University where she was working on dual degrees in German and Education, and I was working on my bachelor’s in English. During these years we became very close, and when I married my first husband, Pat and her husband Winn were among our best friends. My ex-husband used to go running with Winn, and then we would have cookouts at their townhouse in Virginia Beach. We had parties at our small apartment, and Pat and Winn were always there.

When Paul and I moved to northern Virginia for my big corporate job transfer, we made a few friends, one of whom is integral to this story, but Pat and I remained close. So it was only natural that she was very excited when I became pregnant with my first child. She had already had her two daughters, beautiful girls; one looked more like Pat, and one looked more like Win, which is how it often happens in families with more than one child. Pat was tremendously helpful in calming my first-time mother fears, and she donated a lot of things to the cause because Paul and I were really just starting out.

Pat and Winn and their two daughters eventually bought a bigger house in an older suburban area of Virginia Beach, and when we moved back from Alexandria, we continued with our visits and family parties. We bought or own house in the suburbs of Norfolk and settled into our own version of the predictable “American Dream.”

Unfortunately while we were away, Pat had been diagnosed with a brain tumor; luckily, it was operable, and she seemed to bounce back fairly well. I’ll say this about her, she was one of those people who, even though she had a cutting wit, was genuinely cheerful. I remember that she smiled a lot, and she had a chipped tooth right in the front that she never got fixed, even though she could have, because she felt like she wouldn’t be herself if she changed it. That was Pat: unpretentious, genuine.

The first chance we had to visit her after her illness, I brought her a silk scarf to wear where her hair had fallen out. She protested that it was much too fancy for her. Plain cotton bandanas were just fine. After all, she was certain that her hair would grow back, and she was right. Almost all of it did grow back except for a few places near the front. It was darker, but it was there.

After the incident with her tumor, Pat, who had planned to teach full-time once her girls were older, stayed at home for a while, substituting on occasion, and it seemed that she and Winn had a really good life. Of course there were the usual problems for a family of four with one income, but overall, I always looked on them as an incredibly well-suited couple. Pat’s near-fatal experience had seemed to bring them even closer, and for all appearances, they really were a typical family of four living in the suburbs.

white-and-lavendar-smocked-dressWhen Alexis turned around three, Pat brought out all of these lovely dresses that her daughters had worn when they were younger. Most were presents from her mother-in-law. They were beautiful smocked dresses, with lace around the sleeves, and Peter Pan collars. So many dresses in so many colors. Pat offered them to me, and of course, I accepted. I was actually a little naive, though, because it never occurred to me that she might be offering to sell me the dresses, which she was, but I didn’t find that out until much later, and I was chagrined by my thoughtlessness.

Pat, being the generous person that she was, never said anything to me. She just let me take the armload of dresses home. Most looked as if they had only been worn once or twice. They were very feminine dresses, pale greens, pinks, small floral prints with white pinafores. Alexis looked beautiful in them. She always liked to wear dresses and to be dressed up, that is until the second grade when she had an incident on the playground that caused her dress to flip over and her underwear to show. After that, she didn’t want to wear dresses any more. I didn’t find this out until years later.

But as usual, I am digressing.

My mother and I also bought Alexis dresses, even though she didn’t really need them, and my mother-in-law made her some beautiful dresses as well. So by the time I gave birth to Caitlin when Alexis was four, the collection of dresses was really quite overwhelming, and far too much for one little girl. And again, many of them still looked as if they had only been worn once or twice because in fact, they had.

I have so many pictures of Alexis in these different dresses with her long hair, light brown, pulled back with bows, a big smile on her face. We used to have her portrait made at least twice a year so that we could give pictures to all of the family. She was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and it was obvious in how much attention she was paid. She wasn’t a brat, but she was precocious. She was a very petite child, although her birth weight was average. And her coloring favored her father: she was fairer than I, and interestingly, as she got older, we noticed that she had two different eye colors: one was more green, and one was more grey/blue.

Caitlin was her opposite. Eager to be born, I had to go on bedrest with my second pregnancy, and Caitlin arrived three weeks early. She was a bigger baby, and she was born with a head full of almost black hair and dark eyes. She had very chubby arms and legs in comparison to Alexis’s very skinny ones. Like Pat and Winn’s two daughters, ours were opposites: one looking more like her father, and one looking more like her mother, at least in coloring.blue-smocked-dress1

My friend Kathleen came down from northern Virginia for my baby shower for Caitlin, which we had to have at my house because of my bedrest. It was at this shower that I received the cradle that I had really wanted so that I could put my baby girl at the foot of my bed and rock her to sleep at night. Pat was at my shower as well. I remember wearing an electric blue maternity dress that my mother-in-law had made for me. I felt wonderful, very much at peace with myself and the world. I experienced none of the fears I had had with my first pregnancy. In fact, it was probably the most at peace I have ever felt in my entire life.

At the time, both Paul and I worked at the medical school in Norfolk, and everyone in his office gave him a huge baby shower. I remember this because Paul came home with so many presents, including more dresses. I remember this beautiful sleeveless, baby blue one with smocking on the front. Funny the things you remember after so long.

end of part 1