Saturday, December 15, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
we got drunk at three on a wednesday afternoon
we flirted with the waiters
miguel, i like your eyes
chigo, let’s dance
and they stuffed us with free tequila
and we let them have our phone numbers
but we will never answer their calls
we left with some guy she met once
went back to his place
he introduced us to his roomies
and showed us the back yard fire pit
this is where the magic happens, he said
she kissed him a little
and then we waited until he went to use the bathroom
and we made our break for it
nice meeting you
we got thrown out of a club
we were dancing too hard
too many eyes on us
and she called the bouncer a douchebag
so he grabbed her by the back of her neck
dragged her to the door
kicking and screaming
we were crying in anger and laughing hysterically
and we bolted when the cops arrived
just another story to tell someday
you will be
never had leftover sick days in school
never kept one boy around for too long
never had a plan ‘cause we can’t stick to them
we are the ones who bail
the ones who disappear
the nomads of our time
like trying to make a flower keep its color
like trying to pet a stray dog who's been hurt
like trying to nail water to a tree
we are never cornered
its us against the world
Monday, April 16, 2012
Five years. Five years since he’s been gone.
Year one, my life was falling apart. I lost my faith in just about everything and it seemed like nothing would ever be the same again. And it wouldn’t. I wrote, “People would tell me, ‘You just can't understand the way God works. He has a plan.’ And I think that's bullshit. Bad things happen to good people, and there's nothing any of us can do about it, not even God.”
Year two, the shock had worn off and I was just sad. I missed him with a dull and constant aching that never faded away. I wrote, “I don't think it gets easier like they say it does. I feel like my life has stopped in it's place, but the world keeps going around me.”
Year three, life was moving on and I felt guilty. I had stopped thinking about him every minute of every day, not because I didn’t love and miss him terribly, but because it was too painful to keep opening that wound. In quite the opposite fashion of year two, I wrote, “The sadness, it doesn’t go away. And no matter what anyone says, it does not get any easier. But I put it away and pretend it isn’t there most of the time, and I sometimes realize how much it hurts and I cry and feel like life will never be the same, and it won’t. But life, it goes on.”
Year four, I was struggling to remember all the details. After suffering such a grand loss already, it felt like the universe was rubbing salt in my wound as his voice and face faded more and more from my memory. I decided to make an oath of sorts, to him and to myself. I wrote, “I hope he knows I love him and I miss him and I think about him so, so often. In memory of you, Dad. I promise to never forget.”
Year five. Here we are. Doctors and scientists and professors say there are stages of grief. Some say five. Some say seven. I say, grief is a cycle. I have felt anger and shock and unbearable pain and guilt and peace, and I have felt each of them over and over again.
A friend of mine lost his father as well, and his mother wrote about spending time at the beach grieving. As she put it,
“I felt safe in the dark as I sat looking upward into the heavens as they overtook my sense of loneliness. I was not alone; I was being loved by God through the beauty of His creation. The song the waves played as they pushed toward the shoreline soothed me like a mother’s lullaby. I heard an unevenness in the wave song as some make a louder crack sound at times. It was here I realized what I had been saying was true, mourning comes in waves. Some waves crack harder than others, it is the motion of life. I find myself crying harder at times, sometimes less, and sometimes not at all. There is no guilt in the amount of tears and there is no set pattern. Everyone is different. Every wave is different.”
(As an aside, they should really give this woman a book deal. No one can put it into words like she can.)
In a most eloquent way, she describes the grief cycle as I have experienced it. Some moments are harder than others. The grief is constant but life is always moving. Waves come and go and the only way to cope is to ride them out.
I spent yesterday, a beautiful and perfect Sunday, on Jordan Lake. This was an impromptu fishing trip my friend’s husband came up with. We woke up nursing slight hangovers from Saturday night’s bonfire party and Chris thought it would be relaxing to spend the day fishing in the sun. We loaded up coolers and tackle boxes, put gas in the boat, and hit the lake. We joked around and cracked ourselves up and caught a total of two tree branches and nothing else. The sun started to set and we were all a little tired. We fished a little longer (still caught nothing) and in between a few bits of quiet conversation, there was only sunset and the sounds of the water lapping against the boat and the shore. I felt such peace.
As we were heading back to the dock, I told my friends what I knew. How this was the day before the anniversary of my dad’s death. How I used to come to this particular lake on this particular day to think about my dad. How I found it ironic that, one day before the anniversary, people who never knew my father decided we should spend our time on the same lake doing the same thing he loved to do. Chris said it was like a tribute to my dad, and I couldn’t agree more.
My dad was never one for tears. Even being the father of four girls didn’t soften him up in that regard. Crying was for the weak, and he could be heard telling his girls to “walk it off” or “dry it up” anytime we started the waterworks. So I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to sit on the side of the lake, crying to myself. Here is what I think he would tell me: Walk it off and get in the boat.
Life moves on. The grief never does. Both are like the waves. Some moments are harder than others. Some waves will wash over your feet like a healing touch, others will knock you to the ground and pull you under. Climb in your boat and ride them out, the good ones and the bad ones. Let friends and family and memories hold you afloat. Experience the pain and you will feel the peace that follows. “It is the motion of life.”
You are alive, so live.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
People tend to tell me things.
Not just friends.
Even strangers want to show me little glimpses of their lives.
The shiny. The sordid.
I am a keeper of secrets.
Oh, if you only knew the things I know.
I think it has something to do with the way I read people.
I’m good at figuring out what it is you need.
If you must be surrounded by loud voices and excitement,
I will go a little crazy with you.
In the throb of the music, in the heat of the moment,
while we are dancing on top of a bar,
you will shout something to me,
something you never told anyone else before.
If you need a dark corner and shady whispers,
I will sit with you, still and silent, for as long as you want.
And I will turn my head so as to not look you in the eye.
If that’s what you need, I’ll do it.
And you will open up like a book. You will.
You will unlock the chambers in your mind,
and you will share things with me.
You will show me the hidden crawlspaces in your heart.
(Writing poems almost-daily has been a big fat FAIL so far. For me. But not for Amy Turn Sharp. She's still going strong. Still writing every day. Check her out on Facebook: A poem a day for a year. And one more linky link: I save all my most favorite things she writes to my Tumblr.)
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
There aren’t many worse things I can think of than getting old, except not having the chance to get old, maybe. But even that sometimes seems like a better alternative once people reach a certain place in their lives. And as I watch my grandparents deteriorate in front of me, I think a lot about the lasts. Because as their minds and bodies fail them, it’s hard and sad to realize that there are so many things that will never be the same again, for them and for me. So I think about the last time they said or did something and I wonder, will we ever experience that again? Or was that it?
I could blame this on the doctors who are always saying “six more months...” and “one last Christmas...” and “this summer is it...” but the truth is, I’ve been around death and the dying my entire life, so I’ve thought about these things always and often. Probably more than would be considered normal. Probably enough to be considered morbid.
I could also blame it on the fact that I work with children. Adults can get so caught up in the firsts, first smiles, first words, first steps, that we don’t think about the lasts often. But I do. I think about the lasts for children. I wonder about the last time they will crawl. And the last time they will drink from a sippy cup. And the last time they will ask for a hug from you because it can fix their world.
I could blame it on all the things in my life that ended so abruptly and left me wide-eyed and in shock. My parents separation when I was five, my father’s unexpected and deadly heart attack, friends that suddenly moved away. You might say that I formed a habit of looking back on the lasts in life. The last Christmas we spent together, all in the same house. The last Duke game I watched with my dad. The last time I snuggled up next to a particularly handsome boy before he left me at the end of the summer for bigger and better things.
I think about the lasts.
The other day, my grandfather told the new caregiver that he didn’t mind her being around as long as she didn’t try to take his keys. He couldn’t stand by as someone told him he couldn’t drive. When he says things like this, it breaks my heart a little bit and makes me laugh at the same time. Because, really grandaddy? You cannot see. You cannot hear. You can barely walk. Sometimes, you think that branch hanging from the tree outside is a goat standing in our yard, and sometimes you see the tall grass at the top of the hill swaying and you swear there are people standing up there, spying on you. Driving a motor vehicle? Out of the question. And I know it’s tough, this loss of independence. And I know the word tough is the biggest understatement of the century.
As I’m having this one-sided conversation in my head, I start wondering. I wonder when the last time he drove was. And I wonder where he went. I’m sure it was somewhere my grandmother ordered him to go. The drug store? Grocery shopping? McDonalds for a chicken sandwich and some apple pies? I wonder how long it took him to get into the car. It takes about three minutes just for him to fall into the passenger seat, so I’m sure getting ready to drive, the folding of legs under the steering column, finding and buckling of the seatbelt, searching for the ignition, it was probably an exhausting length of time. I wonder if he swerved as he drove toward his destination. I wonder if he slid into the wrong lane at some point, causing some other poor soul’s heart to leap a little. I wonder if they yelled at him, cursed at him, shouted gramps-get-off-the-road-you-old-bastard like I sometimes do when I’m behind the anonymous curtain that is my windshield. Did he remember where he was going the entire time, or did he get a little lost, like the time he went out for groceries and I found him driving up and down a new street on the other side of town three hours later? And did he know, somewhere deep inside, that this would be the last time he would sit behind the wheel of a car? Or did he hope for one more chance, even though driving now scared him, did he want one more taste of what life was like before? I wonder.
About all the smallest things, I wonder.
I think about all our trips to the old Hyco house, and I wonder about the last time we took the boat out on the lake. Was it just a short little trip before lunch? Did we have time to pull out the skis and knee board? Did we park near the power plant and jump from the edge of the boat into that warm water, and did he jump in with us? Or was he already too old, too fragile by that point?
When was the last time he made love to my grandmother? I hope they were already creaky and wrinkled, ancient and still wanting each other. I wonder if they were careful not to hurt each other, gentle and aware, like they were young again. I wonder if he held her a little closer, if he kissed her a little more deeply, if it even crossed his mind that this would be their last rendezvous.
The last time he mowed his own yard before my mother took over. The last day he lived without depending on a hundred different little pills to keep him breathing and moving. When was the last time he danced down the hallway like he always used to do? The last time he took a long flight of stairs? The last time he walked any distance at all without stumbling? I wonder what the last coherent and meaningful sentence he said was, or maybe, hopefully, what it will be. I think about the last time he will say my name, the last time he will recognize my face. And I wonder, will I know? Will I recognize the significance of this seemingly mundane occurrence? Will I know to treasure it, to thank God for one last time? Or will it slip by, unnoticed?
Will it leave me wondering, like every single other last did?
Friday, March 2, 2012
I painted a picture with a four year old girl today. My name is Arianna, she told me, but my friend’s name is Sophia and that sounds prettier so call me that, k?
As Sophia-who-is-Arianna talked about mermaids swimming in a pink sea under a green sun next to an island with a tree, I dipped my brush into the water. And then, as blue and purple swam together across my page, my mind wandered back in time.
Even as a child, the sky at sunset amazed me. I didn’t know much about anything, but I knew that sky, those colors, the way orange turned to red turned to pink turned to purple turned to blue, I knew this was a God gift. I knew enough to appreciate the beauty above.
I knew how to sneak up on a lightning bug, how to cup my hands just right so I could catch one without causing harm. I knew they needed friends, companions and light to comfort them throughout the night, just like me. I knew they needed leaves in their new home, a Duke’s mayonnaise jar, and holes poked through the lid, because they also needed air. Living things must breathe, I knew this much.
And I knew when the sun rose again, I had to release them because freedom, room to fly, space to just be, that is the most necessary of all.
I didn’t know much, but I knew these things.
I like those stars you painted, Sophia-who-is-Arianna told me. I almost corrected her. Almost said no. Almost told her they were lightning bugs. And then I realized she was right. I didn’t know it back then, but those bugs against that perfect sunset sky, they were my stars, guiding me through my childhood. They were teaching me about life before the time would come when I needed those lessons learned. They must’ve known. Known I would lose you, that I would not know how to go on without you. Not until I remembered.
Look up for God. Feel small against the sky. Appreciate beauty. Be gentle, with myself, with others, with this world. Surround myself with friends. Keep a soft place to land and fly when I can. Bring light to others. And make sure I have holes in my jar, moments when I can step away from it all and just breathe. Just. Breathe.
My childhood summertime night lights became my stars, my navigation system for life. This is what you need to survive, they said. This is how to be alive. This is how you live.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
When we are laying in bed
and we’ve adjusted to the dark,
enough so that I can see the moon reflecting in your eyes
and nothing more,
that is when I feel closest to you.
I am most honest in that moment.
I open up my heart to you
when you cannot see my face turning red,
my lips trembling,
my teeth starting to chatter.
And I like that you know what to do,
even if you do not know what to say.
Or more often,
if you know what I want to hear but will not say it.
You care enough to keep lies out of this moment.
I can appreciate that.
Still, you know what to do.
We pretend for a little while.
We make believe this could be real.
When you pull me close
and search for my lips in the dark,
when you are hungry for my kiss,
I finally feel something like love.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
I own a trunk. It is brown with two leather handles and three metal latches that used to lock but no longer do, and if you look closely, you can see the letters MS stamped across the top. MS because it once belonged to Margaret Schroder, my great-grandmother. It journeyed here from Germany, on a ship that carried my great-grandparents to a new life where war was not so close. When I was a child, it lived in my mother’s room. It held spare blankets, or my sister during games of hide-and-seek, or gifts from Santa at Christmas time. Now, it holds my most valuable possessions. People say lifeless belongings don’t matter, that we should not hold them to such high regard, not when there are more important things. And it’s true that nothing is closer to my heart than the living, than the family and friends I love dearly. But sometimes, I lay in my bed and I pray to God that my home would be safe from fire and flood, because I know I would die trying to save my trunk of things.
Every once in awhile, I need to unwind and cry a little. I can’t explain it, except that I am a woman and I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and I must stay strong until no one is looking. Or this is how it feels. And when all eyes are finally averted, I need to break down for a little while. To release tears like they are toxins. So, I lock my door and sit in front of my trunk. I cross my legs, like I am a child again, and breathe deeply.
To any other person who might open this trunk, it’s a holding cell for garbage. I know better. Amidst old concert and movie tickets, bracelets and notes passed between school-aged girlfriends, any pictures my nieces and nephews ever drew, birthday cards and obituaries, amidst all these things, secrets and memories lie.
I flip the three latches that hold my special trunk closed, and lift the lid. The smell hits me, musty and ancient. At first, I am almost repulsed, but then I breathe in my ancestors and calm fills me. Piece by piece, I pull items from my trunk and I close my eyes and I remember.
First, I remove the slim, wooden cane that helped to carry my father, and his father before him, through the ends of their lives as their bodies failed them. I hold the simple handle and run my fingers across the smooth wood and wonder if it’s walnut or mahogany or maybe rosewood that was strong enough to support the men I miss most. I prop my trunk up with the cane that held them, and I continue my journey back through time.
I lift out three blankets, though only I would recognize these scraps of fabric as such. A yellow, scratchy square my nana crocheted for my teddy bear. A purple and green, smaller square she made after I requested a blanket for my teddy bear’s teddy bear. And a gray, almost rope-like piece of fabric. It used to be blue and covered in Care Bears, and I ball it up and hold it under my chin and breathe it in. It still smells like life at eight years old, when carrying a blanket was no longer cool but everything was too scary sometimes, so I would cut small squares from it and carry them to school in my pocket and rub them between my thumb and fingers when my heart got heavy.
I pull out books and open them, one by one. The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon, bargain sale finds that I remembered from my earliest years and bought for a quarter each. I am saving them for the day I have my own children, for when I can sit with them to read the words of Margaret Wise Brown, and I hope they hear the love that I heard in my own mother’s voice when she read them to me. I Love You More Than Anything, the book my aunt crafted from laminated paper, pink ribbon, a magic marker, and photos of us, her heart swelling with joy as she created it and thought of a niece who was the closest thing she had to a daughter. A passport book, containing a picture of my father and two Japanese stamps from 1999, proving that even the most rooted people can still fly away. A notebook full of Pokemon trading cards, worthless now to dealers but priceless to me because they were gifts that bonded a father and daughter, proving that even when people fly away, they can return to their roots. Three copies of The Holy Bible. A tiny, white, cloth-covered New Testament with my name across the front in pink, my first copy of scripture. The giant Reader’s Digest Illustrated Edition, which turned out to be too graphic for twelve year old eyes and gave me my first glimpse of male genitalia. A smaller, NCV International Children’s Edition, which gave me my first glimpse of God, and is still my go-to choice when I need to understand the Word in my terms.
I gently scoop out two corsages from my high school proms. I think back on my junior prom and remember the worry and anxiety leading up to the event, after my date had been in a horrific accident and we almost lost him. And I remember the joy and pride I felt walking through the doors holding his arm, triumphant that we still had one of the best people I’ve ever known and I was going to dance with him all night long.
Sifting through my trunk, I discover I am a collector. I wade through collections of coins, foreign country keepsakes, porcelain dolls, Duke Blue Devils memorabilia, and North Carolina Lighthouse Christmas ornaments. I stop at my stuffed animal collection, and pull each toy out, one by one. Moonbaby, who is just that, a stuffed moon with a baby face, my first love. He still jingles, and the wording on what’s left of his tag is no longer visible, long ago rubbed away between tiny, plump infant fingers. Three elephants, one my grandmother sewed and stuffed for me, one small and full of rice, my first Beanie Baby, and one my mother spent much too much on at Disney’s Animal Kingdom after she scraped and saved and borrowed enough to take us there. I didn’t appreciate it as much then as I do now. I hug each of these toys and picture a little girl who could’ve grown up too fast but had these friends to help her keep her footing in a topsy-turvy kind of world.
I heave out a file box containing the most important papers in the world. More essential to me than bank statements, social security cards, or diplomas. In this box are papers with words that made up my life. Poems I wrote for ones I loved and ones who broke my heart, and a poem someone once wrote about me. A “Greatest Dad In The World” certificate my sister and I created on our first home computer and presented to him on Father’s Day. Copies of every high school and college newspaper issue I wrote articles for. The first testimony I read in front of our entire church congregation. A letter I sent to Seventeen magazine, thanking the editor for featuring a piece on Chrone’s disease and telling her how it affected my close friend’s life. All the words that came through my head and begged to be written down, I read them and cry. I cry for relationships that once were and people who no longer are and all the things that existed a lifetime ago.
Last, I dig around all the paper towel-wrapped dolls and tea cups until my fingers hit something cold and ceramic. A small, hand-painted pond sculpture. And under it, wrapped up like the other breakables, a miniature duck glued to a magnet. When I was a child, my aunt owned this sculpture and it fascinated me. Inside is a music box, and when I would wind it up, flip it over, and place the baby duck on top, he would dance across the pond to the most beautiful music. Before I knew there was a revolving magnet underneath the pond, before I understood any laws of science, before time took over and my imagination clouded with facts, I really believed that when the music would play, this duck would come alive right before my eyes. Years later, my aunt moved away, and she gave me the duck pond. And even now, as the music plays and the duck dances, I am taken back to a time when the twist of a music box latch made miracles happen. I watch and listen and I am calmed.
When the music is over, I replace my belongings, piece by piece. The duck and the pond and the box full of words. The stuffed animals and the flowers. The books and the blankets. I gingerly lay the cane of the mysterious, dark wood down over these things I love, and I close my trunk. My legs are cramped and my are feet asleep. I stand and stretch, and then push my trunk back into it’s corner. I cover it in spare blankets and pillows, and to any unknowing eye, it might be a meaningless piece of furniture. I know better. In the corner it will sit, covered and hidden, until the next time I need to cry and unwind and remember.