Twice in my quickly disappearing forties
someone called while someone I loved and I were
making love to tell me another woman had died of cancer.
Seven years apart, and two different lovers:
underneath the numbers, how lives are braided,
how those women’s death and lives, lived and died, were
Does lip touch on lip a memento mori?
Does the blood-thrust nipple against its eager
mate recall, through lust, a breast’s transformations
sometimes are lethal?
Now or later, what’s the enormous difference?
If one day is good, is a day sufficient?
Is it fear of death with which I’m so eager
to live my life out
now and in its possible permutations
with the one I love? (Only four days later,
she was on a plane headed west across the
Men and women, mortally wounded where we
love and nourish, dying at thirty, forty,
fifty, not on barricades, but in beds of
tell me, senators, what you call abnormal?
Each day’s obits read as if there’s a war on.
Fifty-eight-year-old poet dead of cancer:
laid down with the other warrior women.
Both times when the telephone rang, I answered,
wanting not to, knowing I had to answer,
go from two bodies’
infinite approach to a crest of pleasure
through the disembodied voice from a distance
saying one loved body was clay, one wave of
mind burst and broken.
Each time we went back to each other’s hands and
mouths as to a requiem where the chorus
sings death with irrelevant and amazing
~ Marilyn Hacker
A Morning in April
I meet my mother at the lawyer’s office in town.
We thought it best to talk about my being given
health care proxy and power of attorney for
my father without him initially being present.
The lawyer’s on Main Street. He has new shoes.
He is a very quiet and accommodating man with overly
bushy eyebrows that might crawl off
his forehead at any second. His secretary, the older one,
performs all the small talk about the weather.
The younger is obsessed with eating a bowl of frosted flakes.
We are in there for a very long half an hour,
charged one hundred dollars which I find cheap. Afterwards,
I suggest to my mother that we have coffee together,
but she says she should get back to the house as soon
as possible since my father is being looked after by a neighbor.
So, crossing the street, I walk her to her car. She holds
onto my hand. Her hand is the hand of a woman in her eighties.
It is diminished and bony but still capable of being firm.
She was an exceptionally beautiful woman. Still is. I was always
so proud of the fact, when I was a kid, of just how beautiful
my mother was. Naturally enough, I could never understand how
my father had managed to actually have this woman in his life.
I lived with the suspicions that he could read such thoughts in
my eyes. But, I’m well aware of the fact that their love endures
on a level I may never know. I feel like weeping right here
in the street. I help her into her car. She makes a u-turn and
drives off in the direction rain is coming from. I stand there,
rooted in front of a closed movie theater in a decaying town
that lies between a river and a creek. It is a morning in April.
At some point Alzheimer’s could force us to put my father in
a nursing home. I don’t talk to my mother about this too much.
We know the possibility exists. I dread the day when
I’ll be responsible for separating them. It will be like
tearing the wings off a bird and throwing them up in the air and
expecting them to fly.
“A kiss on the forehead—erases misery. I kiss your forehead.” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva, (trans. Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine)
Sunday early evening. Mild, 60°.
So it’s been two days since Corey boarded the plane that took him to Dulles, and then on to Copenhagen, then to Lithuania. Apparently he was late arriving in Lithuania because of fog. The plan made three attempts to land and then had to return to Copenhagen to refuel. Thankfully, he slept through most of it, and also thankfully, I did not know about it until it was over, and he was safe on the ground.
Tomorrow I have to send him an express package with the things that he forgot, two of which are essential, and I don’t know how—between the two of us—we forgot to pack them: his merchant mariner document and his USB for his laptop.
We don’t know how long he will be in Lithuania yet, still waiting for a decision on where the rest of the repairs will be made. He said that there is a crew of about 16 on board for now.
The last two nights have been as restless as expected. Friday, Tillie was obviously upset and wouldn’t eat. I pulled a dirty t-shirt from the hamper and put it with her, and she settled a bit. Yesterday and today I’ve tried to play with her outside for a bit, and my plan it to begin walking with her tomorrow. I hope that between the physical activity and the extra attention, she won’t go into full grieving mode, leaving me with one less thing to contend with so that I can get about the business of being miserable.
“And this is one of the mysteries, that the mind can speak, and knows nothing; and the heart knows everything, and cannot speak.” ~ Osho
The other two dogs are fine; the fat one never leaves my side long enough to pay attention to anyone else, and while Alfie knows that something is up, he seems fine as long as I let him nuzzle and sleep at my feet.
It really hasn’t hit me yet. I mean, right now it’s just as if he’s away for a transport. We’ll revisit the issue in a week and see how I’m doing.
I took the time yesterday to catch up on my blog reading, something I have been remiss in doing. One of my blogger compatriots gave me a suggestion for a post that I think I’ll tackle soon: the virtual hoarding that I do on Tumblr. I hadn’t really thought about it until recently, but I realize that Tumblr lets me amass lots and lots of things, but in a good way: I don’t have to dust, and I don’t have to make room. Anyway, I’m pondering that for now . . .
Last night, this morning, really, the moon was still big and bright in the sky at 6 a.m. or so. This whole spring forward thing on the time always screws me up; although, I’m not really certain as to why since my nights are my days and vice versa. I mean, I don’t even know the date unless I look at my cell phone or one of the calendars hanging throughout the house.
“It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.” ~ George Eliot
Anyway, I’ve been trying to stay busy the past few days, catching up on reading blogs and Tumblr, and starting the Game of Thrones series of books. It’s hard reading, and I can’t do my usual speed reading as there are so many new names of places and characters, something inherent in fantasies. But I read until 4 this morning, and then made myself stop so that I could attempt to sleep.
Right. That really worked.
Before Corey left, the boys sat down with us, and we came up with a family game plan for chores and tasks. Not too many changes really, just reminders that I can do laundry, but I cannot lift the baskets. I can do the shopping, but I need someone to come with me to carry. Eamonn is taking on the yard mowing, which is good as I can’t do it, and Brett hates to do it.
But we have a plan, and my hope is that I don’t get too much grief when I do eventually ask for help and that I don’t have to be in constant mom-reminder-mode. Such a pain, especially with grown/almost grown offspring. But we’re hoping that the plan will help the three of us settle into a somewhat comfortable existence in Corey’s absence. We’re shooting for a new kind of normalcy.
I remember when Corey worked on tugs and was two weeks on/one week off—it was hard going in a lot of ways. I was still working full time, and the boys were in high school, and Eamonn was at the height of his difficult years and Brett was having so many problems. Some days, I just wanted to hide in my bedroom with the dogs. But there were dishes to do, and laundry, and all of the rest, not to mention I was going to school in DC two nights a week. I really don’t know how I survived that, but I did. I suppose we all do what we have to do when we have to do it.
It’s better if you don’t think too much about things, I suppose.
“The blue river is gray at morning and evening. There is twilight at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark wondering if this quiet in me now is a beginning or an end.” ~ Jack Gilbert, “Waking at Night”
In this most recent mode of no-sleep, I find myself attuned to every little noise. More birds are starting their morning song, so the middle of the night is actually not very quiet.
I remember that when I lived in the mountains the sounds of sirens were rarely heard in the middle of the night. When I lived in northern Virginia, it was the opposite, city sounds all night long. I don’t think that I really notice the sirens around here unless I’m trying to quiet my thoughts, but sometimes in the still of the night I can still hear the train whistle, and when there’s fog, I can hear the foghorns on the bay.
I know that I would be able to quiet my thoughts better if I had the sound of waves or rippling water within earshot. Perhaps, once I get my computer fixed and set up on my new desk, I’ll go back to my old habit of listening to my Sounds of Nature CD collection: thunderstorms, waves, whale songs, even rainforests. It’s a toss up between thunderstorms and waves, pretty much.
Last summer, we didn’t have much tree frog action, and I missed that. Just as I miss the pond outside the bedroom window with the frogs singing. Anyway, with water on the brain, you can see why I chose today’s images.
“That was the strange thing, that one did not know where one was going, or what one wanted, and followed blindly, suffering so much in secret, always unprepared and amazed and knowing nothing; but one thing led to another and by degrees something had formed itself out of nothing, and so one reached at last this calm, this quiet, this certainty, and it was this process that people called living.” ~ Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
So that’s what life has been like in the past few days. I had toyed with writing an analysis of the Kony 2012 fray, even composed some of it in my brain, but then I just didn’t have it in me to delve into such deep political waters. It would take maximal brain cells and concentration.
I suppose I’m keeping my brain on a short-leash at the moment. Subsuming the need to think too much or ponder too deeply. Introspection poses too many problems. It’s that nagging awareness that I’m holding things at bay, not allowing any tears in front of Corey before he left, for example. If I don’t allow myself to think past the surface, if I don’t move past the dust bunnies and the dirty clothes, if I don’t sit alone with my thoughts, then perhaps this ache that is creeping into my heart can be assuaged.
I’m okay, really. I mean, more okay than I expected to be, which is what worries me. I have this tendency to build walls inside without realizing it. I mean, I admit that I exist in a constant state of grief and loss. I would be lying if I claimed anything else. That loss exists in the background of my reality—a thin membrane that cloaks everything without suffocating it. If I allow it to come to the forefront, it can be all-consuming, which is why I usually just feel the subtle vibrations of its existence.
I have taught myself postpone my confrontations with that aspect of myself, to walk carefully on the surface. At least, that is what I tell myself, and sometimes saying things silently over and over does make it so. Sometimes.
More later. Peace.
Music by Shuyler Fisk, “Waking Life”
You Reading This: Stop
Don’t just stay tangled up in your life.
Out there in some river or cave where you
could have been, some absolute, lonely
dawn may arrive and begin the story
that means what everything is about.
So don’t just look, either:
let your whole self drift like a breath and learn
its way down through the trees. Let that fine
waterfall-smoke filter its gone, magnified presence
all through the forest. Stand here till all that
you were can wander away and come back slowly,
carrying a strange new flavor into your life.
Feel it? That’s what we mean. So don’t just
read this—rub your thought over it.
Now you can go on.
~ William Stafford, from The Methow River Poems in Even in Quiet Places
“Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic . . . Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.” ~ John Steinbeck,East of Eden
Wednesday afternoon. Sunny and cooler, high 40’s.
Ann called early this morning to tell me that her father, my kids’ grandfather, had died. She’s lost both parents within five months.
I was never as close to my ex-father-in-law as I was to my m-in-law, mostly because he wasn’t an easy person to be close to. He was a very quiet man who spent most of his time watching sports and old war movies, or sitting in his study looking through his stamp and coin collections. He was a Navy seal before they were called Seals (UDT), and our friends used to joke that he would probably die one day sitting on the couch, drinking a soda and watching a game.
After he retired from the Navy, he became a middle school shop teacher, and it was at the middle school that he met the woman he would leave my m-in-law for after almost four decades of marriage.
Once he left my m-in-law for the evil step-m-in-law, I saw little of him. My ex used to take the boys over to his house to fish when they were younger, but as the years passed, my kids mostly saw their grandfather at Christmas and possibly once during the summer. That is until his health started to decline. Then there were the visits to the hospital.
The man smoked way too much, and his body finally caught up with the smoking—emphysema, COPD, and finally, cancer.
I think that I will miss the idea of him more than the actuality of him, if that makes sense. It’s hard to quantify my feelings as I felt for a long time that he completely abandoned his family. He left before the boys were old enough to know him, but Alexis was the grandchild who was closest to him for the longest time. She loved her Grandpa, and she is feeling the loss keenly.
“I am haunting your dreams, conducting these fevers from a distance, a distance that leaves me weeping, and storming, and bereft.” ~ Katie Donovan, “Yearn On”
It’s very strange, this losing people in your life. I acknowledge that this is the natural order, that people inevitably get older and die; this does not make the process easier to bear.
I find that as I type these words I am more numb than anything. There have been no tears, and I’m not at all certain that I will go to the services as I am unsure of my welcome there. There was never any question with my m-in-law, but this is different. The evil step-m-in-law made it quite clear after my ex and I separated that she was cutting me out of that side of the family.
Perhaps I’ll go and sit in the back. I just don’t know. I suppose that I will take my cues from Ann and the ex. In this, I am only a bit player.
I keep getting flashes of memories, just glimpses, really. Nothing concrete: him sitting on the end of the couch, an RC Cola in front of him. His biggest physical exertion came through golf. Although, I know that he did take up growing roses in later years, which is odd as he never spent any time at all in the yard or the gardens of my m-in-law’s house when they were still together. She did all of the yard work, kept the house, did all of the cooking. The house was her domain, the garage his.
He sat. A lot.
I remember that she told me that he never took care of the kids when they were babies, no bottles, no diapers. I suppose it’s one of those generational things. Instead, he usually showed his feelings through the things that he made. He was a master woodworker, and he built all kinds of things through the years, everything from small Christmas ornaments to blanket chests and coffee tables. He built a set of Adirondack chairs for the evil step-m-in-law that I coveted.
“before I am lost, hell must open like a red rose for the dead to pass.” ~ H.D., from “Eurydice”
Years ago he had promised to build built-in bookcases in the living room for me. It never happened.
Strange the thing one remembers in the midst of trying to remember more significant things. When I was writing about my m-in-law, the memories and thoughts came like a flood, one upon another, unabated. Now, it’s more like staccato, intermittent, jerky.
On reflection, it must sound terrible, like I have no feelings whatsoever about the man, his life, or his death, which is not true. Perhaps it’s more that I loved him as he required love: with more reserve, less open emotion.
I wonder how much guilt he bore in later years, how much he thought about his long marriage, his relationship with my my-in-law, if he realized how much he hurt her, how much disappointment his actions bred. I wonder if it ever even occurred to him. I do not know, yet I do not believe that he was a man prone to serious introspection. I could, of course, be completely wrong about all of this.
“‘Who are you really, wanderer?’ and the answer you have to give no matter how dark and cold the world around you is: ‘Maybe I’m a king.’” ~ William Stafford, from “A Story That Could Be True”
This post isn’t at all what I had in mind when I sat down here, although what I had planned I really couldn’t say for certain.
The pageant of people who travel through our lives is part of what defines us. Some of those people we choose, and others are chosen by fate. Some of them become part of our lives for just a moment, and their departures barely register in significance. Those in whom we place the most significance, those we open our entire hearts to—they are the ones who leave deep indentations in the tapestries of our lives.
The longer they stay with us, the more that they contribute and require, the richer the pattern of the relationship.
My personal tapestry is many-colored, and the fabric is both rough and smooth. At its center are the richest colors and the tightest weaves. Everything radiates from the center. In my mind’s eye, it is crimson and purple and gold; it is as smooth as velvet and as rough as burlap. The stitching is as fine as it is irregular. There are rips and tears that have been mended again and again.
But it holds.
At the center are Caitlin and my father. The births of my children. My marriage to Corey. There you will find the embellishments of first loves and the tears from first heartbreak. Everything radiates from this place of love and loss, truth and lies, poetry and prose.
Somewhere in the bottom right corner is where you will find my father-in-law. Here the fabric is a heavy twill, sufficiently strong to last, without glamor or added decoration. This is not a place of dishonor or disregard, but it is not the center. He is there, firmly enmeshed in that part of my life that is the permanent periphery.
As the song says, “We’re older now and still running against the wind.”
Peace be with you and yours.
(I had a heckuva time figuring out what kind of pictures I wanted to include with this post. I finally found some lovely pictures of mists at sunrise from different places in the UK.)
Music by Bob Seger, an oldie that I heard on the car radio this morning that felt strangely appropriate: “Against the Wind”
It needn’t be tinder, this juncture of the year,
a cigarette second guessed from car to brush.
The woods’ parchment is given
to cracking asunder the first puff of wind.
Yesterday a big sycamore came across First
and Hawthorne and is there yet.
The papers say it has to happen,
if just as dribs and drabs on the asbestos siding.
But tonight is buckets of stars as hard and dry as dimes.
A month’s supper things stacks in the sink.
Tea brews from water stoppered in the bath
and any thirst carried forward is quenched thinking you,
“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.
“We have lived our lives in a land of dreams!
How sad it seems.” ~ Oscar Wilde
I have been considering the whole concept of hope and its opposite, hopelessness, and in the considering, I realize that my entire life has been a constant vacillation between the two, a relentless movement of highs and lows, and the harrowing realities that bespeak such an existence.
Please do not pity me. It is not pity that I seek. Rather, I yearn for the type of even existence that seems second-nature to so many. I ache for the idea of normalcy. I crave a life that does not encompass such valleys and zeniths—one that has the steady beat of a second hand on an old, reliable watch.
“We must take the measure of our own days and bear them out with a truthful eye.” ~ Lolita Liwag, “Just Open Your Eyes”
I have tried to pinpoint the exact moment when our lives began this slow descent into a waking nightmare. It’s hard as there is no certainty, and my loss of hope began many years before Corey’s personal crisis.
I have mentioned many times the loss of my daughter Caitlin. And that loss changed everything about me, even the ways in which I allow myself to feel. For a long time, I did not allow myself to feel anything, and then I did, but cautiously. I worked my way back into an existence that I could tolerate and even at times, enjoy.
When Corey and I came together, I was able to feel pure joy for the first time in memory. I found myself daring to hope that the darkness that had cloaked me was finally receding. And it did, in so many ways: I began to have dreams again. I allowed myself to invest myself totally in a relationship that sustained me. I felt within myself the ability to trust life again, and with that trust, came hope.
But then things began to happen, small, seemingly inconsequential things at first. I had a run of bad luck with jobs. Nothing seemed to fit, or perhaps, I did not fit. That I felt like a failure is a vast understatement. Why could I do nothing right? Perhaps it was because I did not believe in myself enough.
Then, I lost my father before Corey and I had shared even our first anniversary, and I was heartbroken. That my father did not live long enough to see me pull myself out of my personal abyss always dismayed me, but now, part of me is glad that he has not been around to watch my slow slide into stagnation.
And then there was a betrayal by Corey, a lie of such consequence. But we were new in our life together, and Corey did not yet know the weight a lie would place on my heart, and I was trying to learn the concept of true forgiveness, something that had eluded me before. So we were willing to work through this major rift as the prospect of what we could have far outweighed the wound to my heart.
A few years after we were married, I lost my left ovary to a tumor, and our dreams of children seemed to be snatched from us with one small cut. Still, we prevailed, never losing hope in the possibilities of things to come. So we coasted through a few more years together, making our way through normal dips and peaks, like the naturally-occurring lines on an EKG.
But somewhere in 2006, something seemed to break somewhere—a subtle shift in the continuum, so subtle, that at first, we did not recognize it for what it was and what it would come to be: a continual struggle with relentless events so injurious to the psyche and diminishing to our existence that it seemed that we had walked under a dark cloud and never moved away from its paralyzing shadow.
“Looming, the Fata Morgana stung my eyes
crept into my dreams
offered only a cruel discordance,
falsehoods in the night where only truth should reside” ~ Lolita Liwag, “These are the only truths I know“
I made a change in my career in September of 2005, a position on which I had stumbled quite by chance, and fate seemed to be on our side. Corey, too, decided that he wanted a change in his career, and made the fateful decision to return to the Coast Guard Reserves.
While trying to retrain in the reserves, Corey had a freak accident that almost demolished his knee, one misstep, and his knee was torn. His hopes for a new, more fulfilling career were gone in one afternoon. The training that he had done so far was for naught as the Coast Guard would never let him work in his desired field.
Our finances also began to crumble as Corey was out of work for several months while he recuperated. But still we rallied.
Then soon after, yet another misstep, and Corey found himself felled by his own carelessness, and this error of judgment affected the entire family for quite a while in several different ways. However, Corey went back to work as a merchant marine, and our lives seemed to be getting better, but this lull was short-lived.
The increasing pain in my back was not responding to ongoing physical therapy and treatment, and so I made the fateful decision to try surgery.
I had a back operation in March of 2007. By July, it was apparent that the operation had not been successful, and I found myself in constant pain. However, I was not willing to stop working. But it was not a decision that I was allowed to make.
In September of the same year, I made a discovery that literally sucked the air from my lungs and left me broken and completely disillusioned. I had been betrayed again, and my emotional pain had reached a point at which it melded with my physical pain. I was so spent as to be completely ineffective.
I left work full time in October 2007. Corey was laid off in January 2008. Our downward spiral has continued unabated to this moment—unpaid bills after working so hard to gain ground with our finances, continuing health problems (emotional and physical), a constant battle to keep the utilities on, sometimes unsuccessfully.
But we have not succumbed.
“ . . . then you would never have to move into that next second when you know for certain that all possibilities have ceased to exist and that the pain—a pain that you have never felt before, are unfamiliar with, are not used to assimilating and reacting to—that pain has only just begun to consume you.” ~ Lolita Liwag, “Last Possible Second”
In the past 20 months, we have become two shells of the people we once were: both of our lives defined greatly by our careers, the loss of first mine and then Corey’s was a full frontal assault on our sense of worth as individuals. We have floundered about, steadily sliding down a precipice leading to an almost numbing loss of hope.
And each time that we rally, something else seems to happen to weaken the already strained fabric of our existence: another bill in the mail demanding full payment, another snide comment from someone on the outside about not trying harder. But worse, the unkind cuts from those who should have more understanding.
And then, in just the past two months, we have come within a hair’s breadth of losing our home, the only place in which I feel safe. We do not answer telephone calls from area codes that are unfamiliar as we never know who will be calling to threaten us because we have not made payments.
First the truck and then the SUV have failed, until the most recent complete breakdown of the Trooper on the side of a mountain in western Maryland.
We have depended upon the kindness of our families and even strangers for help. I have depleted the minuscule amount available to me in my retirement account. There is nowhere left to turn for help, and it both frightens and disgusts me that we have reached this point of hopelessness.
We cling to each other, but there are times when being together is too painful, each of us consumed by our own feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and despair, neither wanting to let proximity cause grief for the other.
I have tried prayer, pleas to anything out there that will listen, and I have cried deep into the night at the injustice of it all in one instance, and then in the next second, I weep tears of hot guilt for failing to live up to everything that I promised my father I would be.
“I think that you’ll understand
if I tell you
that Barber’s Adagio for Strings
makes me weep.” ~ Lolita Liwag, “Finding My Way Through Our Friendship”
And then once in a while, perspective kicks in, as does reality, and I am faced with more truth than I can bear: My uncle, my father’s brother with whom he was very close, is very ill, possibly dying, and another wound has been opened. My uncle is one of my last surviving ties to my father.
Blue Angel by L. Liwag
Corey’s family is filled with a kind of despair, knowing what we face, and being able to offer only so much solace. My own mother is in denial, moving between blame and worry. The few friends who know offer kindness.
My eldest son wants to begin community college in a few weeks, and I know that this is an impossibility, but I do not know how to face him with this news. And even if somehow he is able to begin classes, we no longer have a vehicle for him to drive.
It’s as if we are caught in a kind of endless mobius strip, chasing our tails, catching up long enough to fix one thing only to have two more crash and burn.
There is a chance of Corey being able to get a job with a shipping company, but we must await his certifications from the Coast Guard for his most recent training.
When we returned from our ill-fated trip to Ohio, Corey received a letter in which all of his certifications were kicked back, prolonging the review process and diminishing the chances of getting a job. Another injustice: the reasons for the denial are all based on incorrect facts, a lack or loss of paperwork by the processing center, as all of the documentation has been submitted at least twice. Yet still they persist in holding out what we so badly need.
We are living a nightmare that will not abate, a living purgatory from which there is no release, and I have to ask: Are we bad people? Did one of us do something, somewhere, at some point in time to warrant this hand that fate has dealt us?
“How did you know that it was time
I didn’t. I still don’t.” ~ Lolita Liwag, “The Final Loss of Hope.”
Is hope not merely a wish, a whim? Do we not invest in hope our deepest, fondest desires to make something that does not exist come into being? And if that is the case, then what is the point of hoping, really, if we know that something is not possible?
How do we continue to hope, to hope for hope when the possibilities now seem impossible?
And in the end, is not hoping for something that isnot possible the worst possible betrayal of self, a delusion that can only wound to the very core of our being?
Or is continuing to hope a fool’s errand, that attempt to wish into being something that rests just beyond the reach, futility by its very definition?