“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

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“The problem with listening, of course, is that we don’t. There’s too much noise going on in our heas, so we never hear anything. The inner conversation simply never stops. It can be our voice or whatever voices we want to supply, but it’s a constant racket. In the same way we don’t see, and in the same way we don’t feel, we don’t touch, we don’t taste.” ~ Philip Glass, from “Listening to Philip Glass”

“West Coast of Ireland” (1913, oil on canvas)
by Robert Henri*

                   

“The business of words keeps me awake.” ~ Anne Sexton, from “The Ambition Bird”

Saturday afternoon. Cloudy and chilly, low 50’s.

Sitting here in a white sweater, yoga pants, and Christmas socks thinking back on the past week. It’s been a long and tiring one.

“Sea and Cliffs” (1911, oil on board)
by Robert Henri

I did start my NaNoWriMo on Thursday, and have written on Thursday and Friday, but not yet today. This novel business is hard. I couldn’t get to sleep on Wednesday night because I was fretting over what I would write, which storyline I would chase. I came up with something and even came up with a working title, and of course, I didn’t write it down. Dammit, I was completely awake when I thought of it, so you would think that I could remember later, but noooooooo.

So far I’ve written about 1800 words, which isn’t really a lot. One of these posts can be almost that long, and I can fire that off in a few hours. I think that I’m overthinking it, editing as I go, which is not how you’re supposed to do it. I believe you’re not supposed to do any editing, just write, writing down to the bones, as it were.

I already fear that I won’t make it through the entire 30 days, and I’m only on day 3. How completely discouraging.

“I have written down the words
I have long not dared to speak.
Dully the head beats,
this body is not my own.” ~ Anna Akhmatova, from “Evening Room”

I think that what’s holding me up is that I have no clear direction, only an idea, and then as I get going, I want to stop and research this aspect or that aspect, which is not possible under these conditions. I don’t think that this is the best way to write; no. I know that this is not the best way, yet I am determined to try because for me, it’s the best impetus to actually get something down, something more than fleeting thoughts, plot lines, character names, working titles. It comes from that incredibly stubborn part of my personality, the one that refuses to let something or someone get the better of me.

“Rough Seas Near Lobster Point” (1903, oil on panel)
by Robert Henri

It’s just like sewing Brett’s costume, which turned into almost a 20-hour production. Man, talk about painful—and not just in my hand. I had to use my mom’s sewing machine, so she kept wanting to help. It was impossible to make her understand that I wasn’t working from any clear pattern, only an idea if what he wanted. I worked the first day for seven and a half straight hours, only to come home and find that the sleeves were too tight for him. Crying seemed like a good option.

The next day, I approached it in a more linear fashion, and was pleased with the outcome, so I guess that should tell me something about this whole write a novel in a month idea, or not.

Whatever.

“The body is a book and we the words.” ~ Michael Bazzett, from “The Body

I hear rumors of a storm that’s supposed to hit around Wednesday. I hope it stays away until after election day, that whole low voter turnout for Democrats in bad weather thing. All I know is that it’s getting downright cold at night, and there are still people without power, gas, and water in New York and New Jersey. Truly, I feel for them. It’s one thing to be without power during warmer months, but during cold ones, it really sucks. It wasn’t that long ago that we were heating our house with space heaters, and I could never get warm, no matter how many layers of clothes I wore.

“Big Rock and Sea” (ND, oil on wood panel)
by Robert Henri

So here I am blogging instead of working on the novel, and I have to tell you—it’s kind of a relief, just to write aimlessly, or rather with aim but without intention. Do you follow?  I know. I’m being a bit confusing, but I’m confounded, truly.

Anyway, there was the sewing of the costume (which he did not wear to the convention, by the way, but that’s another story), the whole Halloween thing, during which I may have had a total of 20 kids, this after I went out and bought more candy so that I wouldn’t run out. Then Lex didn’t make it to my mom’s house with Olivia in her monster costume on Halloween, so the whole guilt trip thing, which we fixed by dressing her up again on Thursday and taking her over for a visit. So the week was filled with time with Mom, sewing (which I am not very talented in executing), telephone calls with the SSA people, and getting the news that my health insurance is going up next year.

Hooray.

Oh, and Corey will be home probably on Thursday, which is also making me antsy as I feel the need to clean, the need but not the ability. It will be so good to have him home finally, and he’ll be here until after the holidays. The two of us plan to take a mini vacation between Thanksgiving and Christmas, spend some quality time together. We so need a break.

“Our words should cauterize
all wounds to the truth.” ~ Chase Twichell, from “Vestibule”

Lately I have taken to using Alexis’s bathtub for hot soaks whenever I get a chance. The holes in our bathtub make long, hot baths a thing of the past, at least for now, and the water in her apartment is really hot. I’ve only done it a couple of times, but boy did my back thank me afterwards. I only bring this up because I’m sitting here now with one of those heat wraps around my neck.

“Marine Storm at Sea” (1911, oil on canvas)
by Robert Henri

Colder weather, a double-edged change: boots and sweaters versus aching joints and bones. On any given day my love of one is not enough to outweigh the pain of the other.

But getting back to the whole writing thing . . . In those 1800 or so words, someone has been murdered, someone has given birth, and someone has gotten bad news. I couldn’t give you a synopsis of the plot if I tried because it’s unfolding as I write it. I have a vague, very, very vague notion of who my protagonist is, what the conflict is, and where most of it takes place. Other than that, I just don’t know.

This is precisely why I need Corey to come home. He’s so wonderful to bounce ideas off, that, and he remembers everything, ideas I told him years ago. He doesn’t forget like I do, and I have this nagging sensation tugging at my brain that I’ve forgotten something really, really important about this particular story.

Man, I wish that I had a writing shed. Don’t ask me where that came from because I do not know. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

“The world is greater than its words. To speak of it the mind must bend.” ~ Wendell Berry, from Window Poems

Since I began this post, the sky has cleared, and the sun is out, making it a beautiful but cold day. Tillie the Lab is very restless as I haven’t been playing with her daily, and she feels neglected. Shakes is much the same, still wheezing, still having his coughing spells, but he has an appetite, and he still wants to go for car rides, so I take that as a good sign for now.

“Sea and Cliffs (Maine Coast” (1908-11, oil on canvas)
by Robert Henri

I’m really wondering how it got to be November, though. Where did the summer go? It was such a strange summer, so much of my time spent away from the house. Now to most of you, this isn’t a big deal, but remember, I have become a virtual hermit in recent years. Between the baby and Corey’s absence, I have been forced well beyond my comfort zone and back into the world. Some days I like it, and some I don’t. Some days, I still hate the world in all of its narrow-minded stupidity, and other days I feel such a keen sense of loss that life is not as it once was—so full of promise with far more days ahead than behind.

Don’t mind me. It’s one of those days, my thoughts carried of on so many different tides that I cannot possibly contain them or steer them. I’m not being morbid, but I do wonder when I reached my halfway point. I mean, think about it; it’s not something that we ever consciously know, is it? And it’s different for everyone. Someone asked me once if I wanted to live past 100, and I told them quite honestly no. I think that by that age life would be too impossibly heavy to hold, the weight of all the memories, all of the people come and gone, all of the loves and losses, all of the wars, all of the genocides, all of the social change.

So, no, I don’t want to live to be 100, but I suppose I could do 88. But then I remember P. D. James, who was born in 1920 and is still writing.

Hmm . . .

More later. Peace.

*Images by American painter Robert Henri, a leading figure in the Ashcan School in American painting. Of course, I migrated to his seascapes.

Music by Eddie Vedder with Natalie Maines, “You Can Close Your Eyes”

                   

Adios

It is a good word, rolling off the tongue
no matter what language you were born with.
Use it. Learn where it begins,
the small alphabet of departure,
how long it takes to think of it,
then say it, then be heard.

Marry it. More than any golden ring,
it shines, it shines.
Wear it on every finger
till your hands dance,
touching everything easily,
letting everything, easily, go.

Strap it to your back like wings.
Or a kite-tail. The stream of air behind a jet.
If you are known for anything,
let it be the way you rise out of sight
when your work is finished.

Think of things that linger: leaves,
cartons and napkins, the damp smell of mold.

Think of things that disappear.

Think of what you love best,
what brings tears into your eyes.

Something that said adios to you
before you knew what it meant
or how long it was for.

Explain little, the word explains itself.
Later perhaps. Lessons following lessons,
like silence following sound.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

“That is just what I want to do. To learn to watch the passing of time.” ~ Maxence Fermine, from Snow: A Novel

Fog Over Puget Sound
by robert.hamilton (FCC)

                   

From other-wordly:

                   

“And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home. It is a journey we can make only by the acceptance of mystery and of mystification—by yielding to the condition that what we have expected is not there.”

~ Wendell Berry,  from The Unforeseen Wilderness

Music by Lights, “River”