When I was little, I worried a lot. About things that had a .000001% chance of ever happening where we lived, like tornadoes or earthquakes. Things my Father called non-questions. He shut me down with that statement whenever I’d finally driven him to the point of exasperation, though he was still kind about it. But there was one fear that neither parent could ever quell.
For my first 14 years, we only took driving vacations, and only within North Carolina or to West Virginia to see my grandmother. (Except for a few train trips down to Florida to see my other grandparents when I was very small.) As my Father worked at the University, we took Spring Break when school took Spring Break, which was usually in March. My parents would load up the car and drive to the Outer Banks, staying in Buxton where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse sat on the point, shining its beacon as a warning to ships far out in the treacherous seas off the easternmost point in the state.
It was a drive that felt like forever. We didn’t have a big four-lane highways back then. We took two-lane state highways, passing through rural farmland. I remember seeing so many old white abandoned houses that I wanted to grow up to rescue. We would stop in Willamston and have lunch at the Shamrock (it’s still there), and I always had stuffed flounder (it’s no longer on the menu), which was one of my “special occasion” meals growing up. I can still recall the wood of the captain’s chairs at our four-top, and the art on the paneled walls after all this time. After lunch, the drive turned from farmland to swampland, trees deep dripping with moss in uninterrupted mystery. What we were skirting is now the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve and the Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve, but back then, to a child, it was just the creepy swampland. Then suddenly, the swamp ended and we were heading over the bridge, through Manteo, across another bridge, and onto Whalebone Junction, where we turned right on Highway 12, which runs the length of the upper Outer Banks.
And that’s where the trouble started. Or more accurately, where I started being a particular pain in the ass.
By now, it was usually dusk. Not only was it a long drive from Durham, when you added trying to pack the car and two kids, stopping for lunch, and keeping to the speed limit, which my Mother did, the day was well faded by this time. Car headlights approached us as we traveled the 60 mile stretch of oceanfront road that was frequently washed out by Nor’easters or hurricanes. And therein lay the cause of my fears. Always, all the cars — all of them — were coming towards us. And we were the only car heading in our direction.
I was frequently near hysterical about this, absolutely convinced that something disastrous had happened at our destination, and that’s why everyone was coming towards us. They were all sensibly running away from the tragedy/monster/peril. But we were going towards it. Here we were, an innocent family, blithely travelling straight to our doom. Driving unknowingly right into the greedy, vicious maw of the beast. From my shotgun position, I kept swiveling around to see if there was anyone behind us, but no, there wasn’t. Just a long string of refugees from the terror ahead, passing by us, unable to gesture or indicate what was out there. My parents had enough of my nonsense after about 20 miles, so I would shut up and sit silently, staring into the darkness and girding my loins for our fate. As I recall, my brother, E-bro, was singularly unhelpful in this situation, but that’s what older brothers are for.
Of course, we would always live to tell the tale, reaching our haven of the Tower Circle Motel without being devoured or destroyed. Mr. Jack Grey would have left the light on for us and the door to our unit unlocked. There were no monsters or secret storms, just the sound of the crashing waves and the reassuring beam of the lighthouse flashing in its silent, trusted rhythm. We went on to spend a week with books and games and music and walks on the cold beach, times that I treasure. But every year, I went through this anxiety, without fail, until I grew out of it. I can’t remember how old I was when that happened. Curiously, my nephew had the same fear when he was small. That takes my mystical mind a-roaming to things like soul families and past lives. Did my nephew and I share a life long ago where we had a legitimate fear of something that destroyed us? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but one can’t be sure. I’m just glad that fear is a memory and that I’ve done a complete 180, going anywhere fearlessly and perhaps too often disregarding what might lie ahead. Roads, day or night, are made for adventure.
No change fees on plane tickets
Nearing vaccine eligibility
My baked salmon
Getting called for Jury Duty!
Quote of the day:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” — William Shakespeare
Today, my youngest stepson would have turned 26. We lost him to suicide almost two years ago, another date that we mark with grief as we pass through the years. He was a complex and magnificent soul, with so much to offer. But as we all do, he found it hard to get out of his own way. The hopelessness and futility that feeling can engender became too much for him to bear.
M marks his birthday by dining at our son’s favorite restaurant, accompanied by his picture. He buys our son a glass of wine, and leaves it untouched. To date, M does not want me to accompany him on this modest pilgrimage.
I feel somewhat detached from my own grief about his loss. I think that’s defense mechanism that I have built, particularly around losing him. I have seen my hopeless, raging grief spill out at sunset by the side of a mountain river. I know it’s there. I just don’t know how to manage it, particularly in the face of M’s deeply painful, life-changing sorrow. My grief lives tucked away on a shelf so that I can be strong with him, for him, in the face of his.
Losing a child, at any age and regardless of the relationship you have with them, means losing so much more than just their being, their day-to-day existence, your interaction with them. It means losing the future. Your hopes, prayers, and dreams for your child vanish in an instant. You grieve that loss as well. I chastise myself for the opportunities I missed with our son, the promises I didn’t get around to keeping, the unintentional hurts I may have caused him. It’s impossible not to ask myself if I contributed to his choice. Or if there was something I might have done that could have prevented it.
His joy in his life was as real as his struggle. I hope with all my heart that where he is now, he can freely feel all the joy, and that the struggle is gone. As my belief supports, I trust that he and I will have a chance to get it right in some other life. In the meantime, M and I honor the day of his birth in our own ways, and honor him daily with remembrance, and prayers that his spirit has found some peace.
Jasper the Great Pyrenees
Two horses playing “I’m gonna eat your face”
Having Ice Melt on hand for our upcoming snowstorm
Quote of the day:
“May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.” — Chief Dan George
Today is the 16th anniversary of my Father’s death. It feels strange to call it an anniversary, because I associate that term with happy events, despite the fact that I’ve lost an inordinate number of people I’ve cared for in my life, disproportionate to my age. My body is aware of today. I have felt ill for a week. This is not new to me. My body has a physical memory of events, moreso than my conscious mind. There comes a point, usually before the anniversary of the event, when my body and mind catch up with each other and I figure out why I’m feeling like a cow turd in a remote Highland field.
I remember most of this day as it happened 16 years ago. I knew Daddy (yes, I’m a Southern girl) wasn’t well. I had talked to him the day before, and the last thing we said to each other was “I love you”. That’s as it should be. I was still in bed when ex-Pat came in with the phone, and said it was Larry, my parents’ best friend. I knew then. My Mother couldn’t talk to me. I don’t even know if she called my brother or if Larry did. K was going to up to see ice sculptures in the mountains with her aunt and uncle that day, and to a classmate’s birthday party. I was supposed to go with her, but we decided we didn’t want to spoil her much-anticipated day. So I stayed home and her dad went with her.
What I don’t remember is what I did after they left. Did I cry? Did I call my brother? Did I talk to my Mother? I don’t know. In the afternoon, I called my friend Denise. She is one of those friends who you know will always be there for you, even though now we’re quite distant. (But my phone Facetimed her about a year ago, all on its own when she was trying to talk to Comcast, and we caught up after a decade. It was lovely.) When my Father died, she dropped everything, and came and drank martinis with me in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel. She helped. I wish I could have been within a thousand miles of her when she suffered a similar loss, but that’s life. Or death.
I was a Daddy’s girl, for sure. I still miss him every day. I wish he could see who I am, what I’m doing, what I’ve become. Who I’ve become. I’d like to think he’d be proud of me. Neither of my parents was ever effusive with pride over me, to me. In the course of the last year, I’ve thought about that a lot. Been angry about it sometimes. And recognized that there are things that just are, that I can’t come to terms with, not without a dialogue with them about it. That’s how it is, and I think that’s part of how I grow as a person as I continue to age and look through the glass darkly at my past, my relationships, my perceptions. I also think that’s an important step to take as I move through the years towards the next place. Acceptance. Of my parents. Of relationships. Of myself. We can’t always have answers or fix things. Sometimes we just have to settle for an unfinished peace.
The sense of loss of Daddy never leaves me. It’s not at the forefront of my days as it was for a long time after he died, but it’s always there. When I make a huge change in my life, he (and my Mother) are the first people I want to tell. I think it’s important that I’ve had to make changes without their guidance and input. I think that’s a sign of strength, of growing up, which is a journey not limited to our childhood or teen years — it is a lasting adventure in our lives, if we’re lucky.
My life looks nothing like what it did when Daddy was alive. But I know he’d support me in the changes I’ve made. I know he’d have so much to talk about with M. I think M would be one of those guys he’d actually have approved of. And he’d be so proud of K.
He didn’t want to go, and he made that clear to me after he died. It took some time for us to work through that. I may write about that later. We talked a lot in our lives. We had a unique relationship. Ex-Pat always thought that we were too close. He didn’t understand how a father could tell his daughter that he loved her so often, that he would always look out for her. That’s a refection of the relationship he had with his own father.
I try hard not to catch the grief train when it pauses at the station these days, but I still step aboard, look around, feel. It’s how and who I am. It is woven into my curious relationship with death and the afterlife, a thing which I am still holding close, trying to feel how it nestles into my daily existence. I don’t wallow as I did a decade ago. But while years according to the calendar have passed, my partnership with my Father, and what today signifies, are still as fresh as they were 16 years ago. My heart, today, around this, his death, is like a statue that has stayed in place outdoors through seasons and weather for all these years. It has changed in appearance, grown mossy and tender and tougher all at once, but with its core solid and intact.
How did I celebrate my Father today? I worked. As he always did. I had a couple of glasses of wine that he would have liked. He was not a drinker, but he enjoyed trying wine with me. I went to my local library’s book sale and bought 11 books in honor of his lifelong career as a librarian. I picked up some yellow roses at the grocery store, which were my Mother’s favorite, but he would have approved. I wrote this post, which he also would have appreciated, because he always loved my writing, and he was the first person to introduce me to the blogosphere, when he asked me, “What is a blog?” and I didn’t know, so I looked it up. And while he so very seldom visits me in my dreams, I will fall asleep tonight thinking of him, and having recited the prayer that he always said with me at my bedside when I was a child.
Love you, Daddy, and I hope you’re having a marvelous time.
Birds in the out-of-place tree, a sure sign of Spring
The squirrel that made it across the road
Cooper the Beagle mix at the Dog Bar
A clean oven
My red shoes
Quote of the day:
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” — Jorge Luis Borges
I am not much of a singer, being very shy about my voice, which is something that a therapist would no doubt have a great time unpacking. I actually think I have a pretty nice singing voice, judging from my enthusiastic performances during The Drive. I especially like it when I have a bit of a cold, because then I get my sultry 900-number voice and sound like a torch singer. Only once in my life have I ever done anything like karaoke. It was in Dallas, on top of a grand piano, after much alcohol, and the evening ended with the police recommending that I leave town and not return (though not because of my singing).
If I sing in someone’s presence, it means I trust them with some deep and sensitive part of me. I sing in front of M, which reflects the strength of our relationship. And I sing unconsciously in the kitchen when K is home, because I’m happy she’s there and I feel I can be completely myself with her. I hope she remembers when she gets older that her mother used to sing incomplete versions of The Lumberjack Song, among other ditties, in the morning as she lay in bed. I usually add my own lyrics when I forget the actual ones. My Mother also sang snatches of songs in the kitchen. That’s where a lot of my kitchen songs (and ones I used to sing to K in the car) come from. They’re all old songs, and when I say old, I mean from the 1940s. Think Fred Astaire movies and Cole Porter tunes. My Mother had a lovely, sweet, singing voice
I sang to K at night when she was little, as my Mother did to me. Every night when I was small, my Mother would sing Rock-a-Bye Baby to me. If I had bad dreams, she would cuddle me in the big rocking chair and sing to soothe me. My two favorites were “I Wonder as I Wander” (fitting for the little wanderer that was me) and “The Cherry Tree Carol”. I’m sure there were others. In fact, decades ago, my Mother made me a tape of herself singing my favorite lullabies. Even though I treasure it, I have had a very hard time keeping track of it. But I know that the tape will reappear when I need it most. Of that I am certain.
The songs I sang to K were not the same as those my Mother sang to me. My favorites to sing to her were “When Halley Came to Jackson”, “Down in the Valley”, “End of my Pirate Days”, “Go to Sleep my Zoodle”, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”, “Meet Me in St. Louis” (which is a song that saved her life when she was very tiny because she had been crying for six straight hours and I was home alone with her and called the doctor because I wanted to drop her out of the second story window into the snow and I discovered that singing this song to her over and over made her stop crying), and a lullaby that I created when I was pregnant called “Go to Sleep, my Little Love”. Again, I’m sure there were more. She doesn’t recall the songs too well, but I think that’s a factor of age and where she is in her life. If she has a child, she will remember my singing to her, and find her own songs to sing to her wonderful little person.
I’d love to know what songs you sing (or sang) to your children, and what songs your mother sang to you. I have a dear friend who is having her first child in May and I’d like to put together a little collection for her. She and her husband are exceptionally musical, so I know they won’t be shy about singing to their little guy who will, as so many children before him, feel the love in those songs.