“I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” ~ Anaïs Nin

Hurricane Rick, Baja, CA (2009)
Ari Carrington (FCC)

                   

“Strike deep, divide us from cheap-got doubt,
Leap, leap between us and the easy out;
Teach us to seize, to use, to sleep well, to let go;
Let our loves, freed in us, gaudy and graceful, grow.” ~ Marie Ponsot, from “Private and Profane

Sunday afternoon. Rainy and windy, low 60’s.

The wind is gradually picking up, and the sky is white. I can hear the trees outside. We lost power for about an hour, and the storm isn’t here yet. I was scheduling my posts for the week, and was doing my Two for Tuesday when the power went. Of course, I hadn’t saved. Luckily, the autosave kept most of what I had done.

Hurricane Isabel, Virginia Beach Pier (2003)
Army Corps of Engineers/NOAA

I have a big pot of chili simmering on the stove, corn bread in the oven. Seems like good storm food. That’s one of the great things about having a gas range, I can cook even when the electricity goes. Even though my range has electric ignitions on the burners, I can still manually light with any flame, so when the power went, I decided to make chili. It was that or spaghetti, and I decided that chili sounded better. I think I may have left out a spice but cannot figure out which one. I’ll wait until the flavors simmer more and then try again.

Today is my m-in-law Joyce’s birthday. Here’s hoping she has a wonderful day.

“I hadn’t understood how days could be both long and short at the same time: long to live through, maybe, but so drawn out that they ended up flowing into one another. They lost their names.” ~ Albert Camus, from The Stranger

Hurricane Gustav, Biloxi Mississippi (2008)
Kevork Ajansezian (AP)

When the power went, I kind of lost my writing mojo. I was going full steam, and then all of a sudden nothing. The thoughts that had been coming fast stopped as abruptly as the power. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to finish this post. I mean, if I keep going, it will probably just be a whole lot of blah, blah, blah and not substance.

Oh well . . .

Much later that night . . .

I was right; I just couldn’t focus earlier today to write. My mind was going in so many directions, trying to stay focused and calm. I mean, I don’t usually get too worked up over hurricanes, so why this time? And who cleans when a hurricane is coming? Only someone as obsessive as I am, I suppose. I wanted to get laundry done while we had electricity and water, and then I thought that I should probably clean the bathroom, and I wanted to keep the dishes washed just in case we lost hot water, and then . . .

Anyway, the chili turned out tasty, but the cornbread was kind of icky. Usually I just buy Jif cornbread mix, but I had bought a package of Marie Callendar’s mix. Be forewarned, it has that artificial aftertaste to it. Things to keep in mind.

“Tomorrow, if we should drift apart,
I shall find you by this picture.” ~ John Balaban, from “The Painting

One of Eamonn’s friends made an interesting remark: He saw a picture of Alexis on the piano, and asked how old she was when it was taken. Well, it was taken when the family went on a cruise in 2007, so five years ago. He said that she looked so much younger in it. That kind of blew me away. Isn’t it funny how we do not really notice how an individual changes when we see them day to day, how the gradual changes that occur naturally are just filtered in by the eye, processed and come to rest in our subconscious?

Hurricane Irene, Ft. Lauderdale, FL (2011)
daspader (FCC)

It’s like with Olivia, how when I don’t see her for a few days, I notice more because infants change so much in that first year, but when Corey was home back in September, he really noticed how much she had changed since he had last seen her. Which makes me think about all of those service men and women are deployed for months at a time only to return to virtual strangers. I mean, it’s still their spouse or child, but so much has changed in the months while they were gone. Yet another thing that makes such separations incredibly hard for all who are involved.

And my own father, how many months and months of my life he missed while he was on those long hitches, the longest during the Viet Nam war. If I remember correctly, it was almost nine months, three quarters of a year. As a child, I just knew that my dad was gone, and then he was home, and to be honest, my dad aged so very gradually. It wasn’t until that last year when the strain of his illness and his rapid weight loss really changed his physicality that I realized that he had gotten old somewhere along the line.

“The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.” ~ Willa Cather

When I was a child, about seven or eight I think, my dad’s only sister was killed by a drunk driver. She was a nurse in Chicago, and she was crossing the street after her shift when the car hit her and dragged her down the street. I seem to recall that she had a young child.

Hurricane Sandy, Jersey City, NJ (10-29-12)
WCK (FCC)

My dad was at sea when this happened, and when he got home, my mother found out that someone had given dad some kind of drugs on the ship because he was so wild with grief. My dad got hooked. I never knew what kind of drugs he had taken, and I never even knew that there was a problem. I only found all of this out one day when my mother made a passing remark about my dad’s depression and what had happened.

As children, we never really know our parents as people. To us, they are mom or dad. They have no lives beyond our orbit, but that’s simply not true, is it? They are fully fleshed individuals with likes and dislikes, lovers and enemies. They do things that we never ever know about, just as we do things that they never ever know about—perhaps years later there is an exchange of information, when the gap between parent and child has lessened because of the ensuing years.

But what I find sad about this natural order is that as children, so few of us come to appreciate the people who have raised us as people, real people. We view them in light of how they interacted in our lives, how we saw them with others, what they said while we were within earshot. And then when they’re gone, when we hear their friends telling stories about them, it a bit of a shock.

“Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over” ~ John Ashbery, from “Late Echo”

Two things come to mind: When we used to visit my mother’s relatives in Great Bridge on Sundays, inevitably the kids would migrate to one part of the house or outside while the adults would collect around the big dining room table and have coffee. One time, my cousin Butch and I were actually just in the room off the dining room (we called it the breezeway, a particularly Southern term), and I don’t think that the adults realized this. They began to talk about something pertaining to a neighbor who was having an affair.

Butch and I tacitly agreed not to make a sound. We listened as the story unfolded, completely in awe of what we were hearing. We weren’t discovered until one of the adults walked out and saw us and shooed us outside.

Hurricane Bawbag, UK (2011)
easylocum (FCC)

Another time, my mother was on the phone with her sister in Winston Salem. I picked up the extension in the bedroom (remember those) and began to listen to their conversation. I don’t know what I had in mind when I picked up that receiver, probably that I would hear something about me or my cousins, after all, isn’t that what adults always talked about? Their children? Instead, I heard some very adult conversation.

At some point, I made a noise and gave myself away. Needless to say, my mother was not amused.

Families are strange units, actually. We view one another in a very defined way, perhaps in the way we were when we were much younger, or in our particular roles within the unit, never really acknowledging that life beyond the family unit holds so much sway. As parents, we rue some of our children’s’ choices as friends. As children, we do not always like one of our parents’ friends. But do we always know why?

At what point do we acknowledge that our mother or father is a person? I know that it happens for most of us, but it’s the when that I find fascinating.

Oh well.

More later. Peace.

Music by Dan Auerbach, “Going Home”

                   

Advice in the Form of Confusions

I have been watching the young
struggle through their daily lives
and waste the flesh we all remember
and I have seen the gardens they shine
their leaves in, the kind invented
by distraction and devices that run
on little lithium ion batteries, flat
disks that power music and voice
into strong tremble and staccato chain
that barrels into the angelic orders
we raise our heads to see, or hope
to see, but never do, for they have
sprung into louder volumes and faster
rhythms that disorient and confuse.
There are sounds we can no longer
hear, at our age, and we don’t want
anymore to know what we left
behind on that sill or under
that abbreviated sun. I can’t know
wry substitutions. I can’t hear breath
embrace five-minutes-ago or tomorrow
and there must be a word for that,
but I don’t know it. I know the sound
of thinking a hard whistle into the lung.
I know the shape of houndstooth
and the hang of each tag’s pricing
itself out of so many’s reach.
I swoon and recoil at the tresses blowing
in an arbor without glow
or flame. These are reprieves. Respites
in the demands of sensation
and flow. Know this: you can you can
you can you can you can.

~ Margot Schilpp

(every other line in this poem should be indented; WP formatting does not allow for this)

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“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.” ~ Sophia Loren

JS Sargent Repose_Nonchaloire

John Singer Sargent’s “Repose” (Nonchaloir), oil on canvas, 1911: This is how I felt yesterday 

“Sadness is always the legacy of the past; regrets are pains of the memory.” ~ Author Unknown

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ” ~ The Wonder Years

Well, yesterday was an eventful day, so to speak. We found out that one of the avenues of employment that Corey was pursuing is unavailable. Big disappointment there. I really thought that that part of the plan was going to work. Perhaps that’s why I shouldn’t be optimistic: It always ends up smacking me in the head.

Speaking of being smacked in the head, have to say that so far, the massive doses of magnesium are not helping with the usual morning headache. Each morning when I awaken, I have a headache, not a migraine, just a tightness. I don’t know if I am grinding my teeth, but I don’t think so. Corey would have told me by now if I am grinding. So each morning I get up and take 800 mg of ibuprofen and two Sudafed. This usually helps somewhat as I think that part of the reason is my fall allergies kicking in and causing sinus pressure. Oh well.

Another interesting not good thing that happened yesterday is that I had a minor breakdown. Let me explain.

hampelmann
Hand-painted Bear Hampelmann from Germany

I was looking for something for Alexis that I had been keeping for her. I had thought that it was in the small lockbox in which we keep our passports, birth certificates, etc., but it wasn’t there. Then I thought that I might have put it with her stuff from when she was a baby. I pulled down everything in the top left of my closet as that is where I store the things from the kids’ earlier days.

For example, I have a huge Raggedy Ann that Alexis’s Aunt Ann made Alexis for Christmas one year. The handwork on this doll is amazing. I kind of feel sorry for all of the grandkids, nieces and nephews who came along after Alexis. Everyone was tired of making handmade presents by then. I mean, for the first five years of her life, Alexis was it in the family, so she received handmade Christmas ornaments, dolls, cross-stitched pictures, you name it.

Anyway, Raggedy Ann and a much smaller Raggedy Andy are stored in that part of the closet, waiting for the day if/when Alexis has her own children. I also have a bag of puppets from Germany. They are called hampelmann, which are hand-painted puppets of sorts. Alexis had about seven in all, and they used to hang over her changing table. I would use them to entertain her, and then later, her siblings.

(Aside: Today when I got home from picking Brett up from school, the Pluto hampelmann had been eviscerated, torn limb from limb. I’m pretty sure that Tillie did it as she was the only dog that was hiding from me.)

“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” ~ Willa Cather

Sock Doll
Example of a handmade sock doll

Back to the closet. I have kept just a few pieces of clothes from each child, favorite shirts, etc., and I have a bag for each one. There is also a plastic cubed storage container in which I have put several things that belonged to Caitlin. Well, in pulling everything down from the closet, this container also came down.

I made the mistake of opening the container and opening the box that was on top inside of the container. This box holds several things from that hospital, including a sock doll that slept with Caitlin the entire time she was in the hospital.

Let me back up. I’m not a craftsperson. Never have been. But while I was teaching at ODU during that semester in which Caitlin was in the hospital, several of my students brought in things for her. My most cherished gift is a sock doll that one of my student’s mothers made especially for Caitlin. These sock dolls have been around for centuries. They have been called hush-a-bye dolls because mothers used to give them to their babies to keep them quiet in church.

Anyway, I took the doll in my hands, and that was pretty much as far as I got for the next hour. Corey walked in, took a look at the things spread on the bed, and immediately knew what had happened.

“Love lost is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food our tousle their hair . . .But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it. Life has to end. Love doesn’t.” ~ Mitch Albon

I came across an article about two weeks ago on a syndrome that some psychiatrists and mental health care researchers are trying to have approved for insertion into the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association). The disorder is called prolonged grief disorder, or something like that. PGD is a disorder in which the individual simply cannot get over the loss of a loved one within the “normal” time periods.

PGD is different from depressive disorder, and currently grief is not included in the DSM. In one article, researchers contend “that PGD meets DSM criteria for inclusion as a distinct mental disorder on the grounds that it is a clinically significant form of psychological distress associated with substantial disability.”

Apparently, PGD occurs when grief following lingers and become a serious health problem.

I wish someone would have asked me. I could have told them that years ago. I know that my grief is not normal. I have known that forever. It manifests itself unexpectedly, sometimes mildly, sometimes to the point at which I am completely paralyzed. Granted, I do not have these hour-long crying jags everyday or even every month. But I can count on having at least one Caitlin/Dad related episode in a year.

I really don’t need a psychoanalyst to tell me that my bereavement periods are longer than most people. I do not need confirmation that the pain should not be as acute as it still it. And I will freely admit that even I am astounded by just how severely I am affected when it happens.

I also know that a lot of the reason that my grief has hung around for so long is directly attributable to my feelings of guilt over both of their deaths. I had to make the decision on whether or not it was time for Caitlin, and I don’t know that I will ever be able to view that as not being questionable: Was it time? Should I have waited? With my dad, the guilt arises over the fact that I wasn’t with him when he died, even though I had promised him that I would be there.

“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.” ~ Cicero

Logically, you don’t have to tell me that I should have let go a long time ago, or point out my inability to let go. I know all of this. But holding that small, soft doll I could swear that it still smelled of her essence. I know that that is not possible, but grief and despair do funny things to a psyche.

I did look a little more in the storage case: I found the blue smocked dress that I have talked about, which was a real surprise as I have believed for many years that that particular dress is with Kathleen, along with the other dresses that I sent her. I also found the dress that Caitlin was wearing when she had her one and only portrait taken.

Black Patent Leather Mary Janes
Black Patent Leather Mary Janes

Eventually, I was able to put everything away, and Corey put the box back in the top left of the closet. The rest of the things that I pulled down are still in a pile in front of the closet. My accidental encounter with the past left me depleted, bereft, numb.

Too much at once. I’ll get to the rest soon. I think that I am saving it until I can actually enjoy the contents of these bags and boxes. After all, they are filled with items that recall good memories—like Alexis’s tiny Virginia Tech t-shirt. That made me smile.

So I’ll go through the rest, probably tomorrow, refold, repack, and replace on the shelf. I’ll take the time to bring to mind some of the good memories that are associated with these things: Brett’s baby blankets, the various humpelmann, Eamonn’s little cap from the National Zoo, Alexis’s Mary Janes. I find myself smiling inwardly even now as I type about these things. And that’s a good thing.

At times, I can balance with unbearable with the wonderful, the heart-wrenching with the endearing, which only proves that I am human after all. And even if it’s a lie, I will try to believe that it will be all right.

 

More later. Peace.