The Sorrow of Today

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.

Daily gratitudes:
Jasper the Great Pyrenees
Two horses playing “I’m gonna eat your face”
Wind chimes
Having Ice Melt on hand for our upcoming snowstorm
Sending presents

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

The Dog Bar

I am dogless and have been so for over a decade. But I love them passionately, all of them, regardless of age or breed. I (like most dog owners) had the absolute BEST DOG IN THE WORLD a number of years ago — Tug. He passed away as a consequence of cancer and I miss him every day. There have been others – J.T., Champ, and Roscoe, with Roscoe being the only remaining pup. He lives with his Alpha Dog ex-Pat, and he’s getting on in years. I’ve never been home enough since I’ve lived alone to feel like I’d be able to give a dog the care he or she would deserve, though I’d be overflowing with love.

When I lived in the Cottage, we had the pleasure of the Big House’s pug, Poppie, for company. He would wander in whenever he wanted and explore the delights of the garbage. Since I’ve lived in the Bungalow, I’ve co-habitated with cats, so no dogs were allowed. As we move to the Retreat, we expect that our travels will take us away from home too much for a dog. We should also learn how to live together (and get our cats to live together) before we introduce another living being into the mix.

In a perfect world, I’d win the lottery, buy a huge tract of land, and make it a home for senior dogs, giving them all the comfort and adoration they deserve in their golden years. That’s the dream. Living in reality, however, I find that I need that my spirit needs the company of dogs and since I don’t have my own, I must seek them out. They have the best souls, so pure-hearted. The dog park is within walking distance, but I feel like a real creeper when I go to the dog park without a dog to interact with other people’s dogs (not the people, just the dogs). So that’s out.

There are often dogs at the wonderful coffee shop two blocks over, but without fine weather, sitting on the patio, where I can interact with the dogs is not an option. Besides, people keep their dogs close by when they’re there. There’s Home Depot about 10 miles away and I can sometimes get a dog fix there, but again, people are there with a purpose and usually don’t want to dally about with a woman who just wants to pet their dog.

Fortunately, we are blessed with a Dog Bar at the far end of our Main Street, run by a lovely couple who are alumni of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The place has opened up some as COVID-19 restrictions are eased, although it still has a lot of rules that apply to people, but not to dogs. I was lucky enough to score a seat at a barrel in the outside dog yard the other day, when I realized that one of the reasons I was out of sorts was because I had not pet a dog in at least two weeks. Unacceptable.

Entering the dog yard, I was immediately greeted joyfully by no fewer than six dogs. They acted as if I was an old friend that they hadn’t seen in years – it was lovely. (I’m going to believe that they saved that greeting just for me, not for any other patrons.) I do think they instantly know that I, being an animal shaman (in training), understand them. I smiled more broadly beneath my mask than I could remember doing for weeks. Dogs just have that effect, don’t they?

It was impossible to get all of their names. Cooper, the beagle mix, did not leave my knee for most of the time I was there. There was a lovely black and white fellow who nestled between my thighs. Two corgis (brothers), one with a tail (which I had never seen on a corgi before), who could walk under the picnic bench seats without being aware of their lack of height. A shy greyhound rescue who was quick to get a little panicked when overwhelmed, but who had made great strides in socialization. Domino, an imp with a harlequin face. A small rat terrier. A Bassett mix. I could go on and on. Everyone raced about playing, occasionally marking territory or pooping. Owners were quick to hand with their little green bags before any other dog could snack on such deposits.

Bliss. I sat nursing a glass of wine and petting dogs until the sun went down and it was too cold to be outside. My faith in the ways of the world according to dogs had been restored. We’re expecting somewhere between 10 to 40 inches of snow between tomorrow and Monday, so I doubt I’ll be venturing out there again for a while. Oh, but I do so look forward to my next visit, with all the best dogs.

Cooper.

Daily gratitudes:
Blue skies
The five-second rule
My truck
The return of the birds
Saving veggie scraps to feed the bunnies in the snow

Quote of the day:
“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” — Orhan Pamuk

Losing My Father: 16 Years Later

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.

Daily gratitudes:
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

The Weekly Friday Poem: Gone

Since this seems to be how things are flowing, weekly original poems will now appear on Friday.

Gone
My feet have walked these streets
these paths
these hills
Climbed this mountain.
Does the soil remember
the imprint of my sole?

This town no longer knows me
nor I it,
its open earthiness drowned
in vats of chic microbrew pubs
and the inch of wine called a glass
in expensive eateries
where pretentiousness is
disguised as humble entrees.

The elders here are as hidden
as the sun sinking behind the peaks,
the shadows of their light
highlighting brief, vivid
memories across the cold snow.

There is no place for any of us
here now.

Daily gratitudes:
Canadian geese laying in the snowfields
Pigeons snuggling atop the lamp post
Lemon ginger tea
That I had the privilege of knowing Millie
Blue skies

Quote of the Day: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” — Elie Wiesel

The Death of an Appliance

While I am accustomed to charring things accidentally in the kitchen, I’ve never actually killed an appliance. I did accidentally destroy a china monkey hanging from the ceiling in the Cottage during the Great Smoke Detector Debacle of 2010. And when I moved out of the Cottage, my landlady inquired as to whether there had ever been a fire in the oven — I had to hesitate because there had been a fire or two ON the stove, just not exactly IN the oven. Yesterday, though, the microwave died.

In my defense, the microwave was old. At least 11 years old. So I’d prefer to think that I was its Death Doula (part of my future career plan), and not a murderer responsible for its demise. I thought it was having a glitch three days ago, when I put a cup of coffee in it and after a minute and a half, it came out cold. Later in the day, I tried heating soup, and it came out warm, but not hot. In the Bungalow, there are a myriad of eccentric electrical systems. For example, when I plug in the television in the living room, the ceiling fan comes on, but the television doesn’t. So I just assumed it was another transient house quirk. Those happen all the time.

Yesterday, when I put some soup in the microwave for lunch, there was a startling POP as it started running, but it ran for its required three minutes. And then it died. The soup was lukewarm. I checked that the breaker it was still on (that’s been an issue before). Walking into the bathroom, which shares a wall with the location of the microwave outlet, it smelled like an electrical short. I made sure the wall wasn’t hot, hoping there was no fire smoldering in said wall, and the scent of burning wires dissipated. The microwave was finally gone. It was a good appliance and served me, and Niece 1 before me, well.

I was raised in an era when microwaves did not exist. When you wanted to reheat something, you put it in a pot on the stove, or a dish in the oven. I didn’t have one through college either. But now (decades later), we are a society that can’t wait for things to heat on stoves. It has to be hot in minutes, when we want it, without delay. Shifting back from that mentality is a challenge, and one I’m fully prepared to admit that I didn’t want to face, partly because I don’t have a dishwasher and hate doing dishes. Who wants more dirty dishes?

Fortunately, I had been banging around in the garage just before lunch, in search of M’s and my Blue Willow china to take up to the Retreat, and had come across the microwave that I had when I lived in the Cottage over a decade ago. What perfect timing! Digging it out from behind the bicycles, over the ottoman, and off the shelf from underneath empty moving boxes, between the heavy bag and the BMW, I had hope. It was tucked up in newspapers, with its little round tray intact (the whole unit is a tiny thing, especially compared to its predecessor) and when I plugged it in, it was perfect. Not as strong as my old workhorse but completely serviceable.

The nicest thing about this experience, aside from the fact that my need for immediate food gratification can continue to be fulfilled, is the newspapers Li’l Wave was wrapped in. At first, I crumpled them up to put in the recycle bin, but then a headline caught my eye. A near drowning at a public pool that no longer exists in a nearby town. No victim named, and the three-year old girl was already well on the road to recovery when the paramedics arrived, but this was still the small town newspaper headline. Next to it, was a large, lovely color picture of a mare and her new foal, with, essentially, a birth announcement from a local farm. All ten years ago. I wonder what those horses look like today? That little girl is in middle school now. Does she remember?

I am unfolding the packing newspapers to look through them to see how things have changed, for a glimpse back to what was a simpler time, even though it was only a decade ago — not that long. It was a time when I was trying to rebuild my life and I had a lot of hope. And Spring was coming. The world doesn’t look at all the same now. My life looks very different, and it’s a happy different. The snow is blowing outside the picture window tonight, and I’m cuddled up and warm. It’s all good.

Daily gratitudes:
The older gentleman’s shock and joy at the price of asparagus
Beating the snow home
Talks with K
A good night’s sleep
Wind chimes

Quote of the Day: “A trip ends. A journey doesn’t.” — Mr. Boehmer

Rona Fatigue and Wordlessness

I seldom find myself at a loss for words. Truly. I’m nearly always ready with a sassy, salty comeback or quip. I can remember only one time when words failed me, at the Buena Vista in San Francisco, on a dreadfully rainy day, after quite a few of the Irish Coffees for which they are famous, when the bartender blatantly propositioned me. (Once I found my words, I declined.)

Throughout the duration of this virus, which K and I call The Rona, and its in-and-out quarantines, I’ve been inside, with the exception of walks when the weather was nice, seeing M on weekends, going to the grocery store, four dining out experiences, catering at three or four weddings, a little thrift store shopping, and appearing at my second job once a month. We did travel three times over the last 12 months, twice by plane and once by car. Looking at that list, maybe it’s more than some folks and less than others. It sounds like more than I thought. But it doesn’t feel like a lot for 12 months. It doesn’t feel like “normal”. I don’t feel like “normal”.

I was not the most social person to start with, but being told I can’t do a thing is the surest way to make me want to do that thing, and make me grump about not being able to do that thing. I may have mentioned my mulishness before, as putting my ears back is a well-known trait of mine. At this point, as we’re entering Year Two in Life with a Virus, I am over it. I’ll repeat for those of you in the back. I. AM. OVER. IT. Because I’m caring and responsible, I still wear a mask everywhere I go. I’m not seeing friends because I don’t want anyone to get sick because of me. I didn’t think I went that many places, but apparently I’m missing the places I didn’t go. Because that’s a thing. M wonders if we’ll ever get back to normal, and I tell him that, as with any loss, we will find a new “normal” but I doubt we will be quite the same as before for a long time.

My Rona fatigue is showing up as more anxiety, more tension, more frustration, and less motivation to do things that I was doing, like eating well and exercising and learning a new language, all the things that I did so well at the beginning of quarantine. I also feel like, as I said at the start of this piece, I’m at somewhat of a loss for words. Uninspired. Though not free of thought. Just a lot of rambling thoughts that aren’t organized or interesting enough to share. This could also be some of the “brain fog” that is a long-term side effect of having had the Rona, which M and I both had last March. At least I had enough words handy to write this.

I’m currently reading John Berry’s “The Great Influenza”, which provides perspective on the political and social situations of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which actually originated in Kansas. It has been an eye opener. I had no idea about the severity of that pandemic — much more severe than ours — nor did I know anything about virology or Woodrow Wilson. It’s been quite an education and I recommend it. The parallels between the public messaging about the Spanish flu and the messaging about the Rona are remarkable. But one point the author makes is that it took a long time from the first victim fell ill to the time when the country settled into its new normal. I think that’s how it’s going to be for all of us now, 100 years later.

A different kind of mask for this crazy world.

Too Close for Comfort

I am not the greatest of airplane passengers. It’s the taking off and landing parts that make me anxious. Once the inconceivably heavy airplane gets off the ground and up in the sky, straightening itself like an arrow to float through the clouds, I’m fine. But I’m worse with landings than with take-offs. On landing in Costa Rica a few years back, exhausted from lack of sleep and anxious as usual, we discovered that I had left a neat arc of fingerpad-shaped blue bruises around M’s bicep. Being wonderful, he didn’t say anything at the time, and he supports me through all of our white-knuckled (on my part) landings. He always had the dream of being a pilot himself, a dream which I hope one day will become reality.
Long ago, in a different career, I was a road warrior. I flew all the time. I was gone at least 50% of the year. And I loved it. But after a couple of years and a few hundred flights, I had the sense that my luck was running out. That I’d beaten the odds, but that wasn’t going to be the case for much longer. There was nothing that precipitated this feeling. It just gradually crept up on me. Strangers sitting next to me would ask me if I was okay during landing, and I’d always tell them I was fine, but they knew better. Then I decided to have a baby, and my road warrior life came to a close. It was an awful lot of fun while it lasted.
Since then, as I say, my anxiety about flying has grown. K is also an anxious flyer, through no fault of mine; she has experienced some unbelievably bad flights during her time flying alone, which have rather put her off of it. I will still always go, because that’s just who I am. I want to go. I want to move. I want to see. All of it.

And then things happen, like what happened today in my own backyard, or rather the next town over. United Airlines #328 took off from Denver on its joyful way to Hawaii. Not more than 30 miles after takeoff, one of the engines exploded. People’s dashcams captured the flames on the plane as it flew above them. Ring doorbell videos showed pieces of engine debris dropping out of the sky, falling into the middle of residential streets. In the park where K used to play Ultimate, people were taking videos as they ran for cover from chunks of metal dropping from the sky. I heard the plane as it turned to the left over my house – it sounded a little like thunder, and I didn’t know what it was at the time. By the skill of the pilot and the grace of God, the plane made it back to Denver International Airport, with no injuries.
There’s a video out in the cyberworld that a Denver resident’s parents took of the engine as they flew back to the airport. It’s shredded on the outside and flames are burning on the inside. Everyone seemed exceptionally calm in all of the snippets I’ve seen. Had I been there, I likely also would have been calm, because panicking never helps anyone or anything, and it’s not in my nature. However, had I been there, I suspect it would have put me off of flying again for a long, long time. Here’s a still from that video (credit to @michaelagiulia).

I mean, yikes. Seriously. Not something you see every day. Or hopefully, ever.

Daily gratitudes:
That everyone on that aircraft was safe
The sound of snow slick roads when you’re cozy inside
Blankets
Flexibility

Quote of the Day: “When I don’t sleep, it’s not that I feel tired so much as assaulted.” — Samantha Harvey

Holding Fast: A Weekly Thursday Poem

Holding Fast

Hold me as the stars fall
into the sea blue pools of your eyes,
edged with aspens in the fall.

Hold me as the Milky Way shines
its burnished light upon the waves
while lanterns drift into the night sky.

Hold me as the moon changes
its passionate face from full glowing
to reckless, rigid sliver.

Hold me as the steam rises
from the heat of the waters
and the warmth between us.

Hold me as the planets gaze
back at us in envy,
longing to be paired as we are.

Just keep holding me.

Daily gratitudes:
MKL
Homemade soup
Blue skies
The waiter at Efrain’s
Wrapping up in a warm robe

Quote of the day: “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” — Helen Keller

Unicorns and Rainbows

Well, only unicorns because M has been describing himself as such lately, and that seems to be a fine accompaniment to rainbows. He was sitting with me during this one. As we slog through the asshole month, I have shoveled the walk twice in four days and tried to keep the temperature in control in the Bungalow. After stepping in an ankle-deep puddle at the grocery store, I felt like Spring was farther away than ever. Others have it much worse in places where such cold is not expected during winter. It helps to know that places and days and moods, as shown in this image, exist. Stay warm, y’all.
Oh, the weekly poem will be a day late again this week.

Daily gratitudes:
The little old cart man at the grocery store
Finding a kindred mermaid spirit
Hot, deep baths
Warm, snuggly Mr. Man
Oatmeal with blueberries

Quote of the day: “From my earliest memories, I was one of those who wanted to go places. When I couldn’t go, I would have my dreams about going. And, such wild dreams were seldom conceived by any other child.” — Anna Williams

Why True Crime?

One thing you didn’t know about me: I can’t tolerate horror movies. I don’t even like the energy of them in my house. I know they’re fictional, but one of the things I’ve learned in the life is that if someone can imagine something, then someone’s probably done it. That opens the door for all manner of terrible acts and all sorts of terrible people to commit them. I’ve probably watched four modern horror films in my life: Halloween (the first one), Nightmare on Elm Street, one from the 1970s or 1980s with a dummy (maybe Child’s Play? Or Magic?), and Jeepers Creepers 2, which I watched by myself in the Cottage alone late one night for no reason that I can fathom. I like bad sci-fi B-movies from the 1950s but those aren’t graphic — they’re more silly and psychological.

That’s it. That’s all. My mind always seems to go to the mothers of the children or teenagers terrorized and killed in the course of horror movies. I take horror movies personally and to heart, even though I know they’re just movies (and not snuff films, which I remember my Boston boyfriend telling me about as we took a walk in the Mews one early spring day.) It seems horror movies don’t bother most people (including K), and for the life of me, I can’t understand that.
But…
True crime is another thing entirely. It makes zero sense that I can manage true crime documentaries — in fact, immerse myself in them, as I did yesterday. These depict actual events that happened to actual people and you know that these kinds of programs try to make you feel the horror that the victims felt. Why do I find that more tolerable? I have no idea.

Yesterday, it remained too cold for anything, so I watched ”The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel,’ followed by the ‘Night Stalker’ (not the 1970s series, but the Netflix series). It passed the time., It also creeped me out to realize that one of the two Hillside Stranglers lived in Bellingham in the late 70s, and went to what K tells me was known as the ‘Murder Bar’ in that college town, a bar that has hosted the likes of Ted Bundy and the D.C. sniper. What draws serial killers to Bellingham? And to one particular bar? And why did K never take me there when I visited? Those are all thoughts for another day.

I know that many people find serial killers fascinating. I suppose we want to understand their state of mind, the rationale behind such brutal actions. In doing so, we can assess our own minds and (hopefully) reassure ourselves that we are not capable of such acts. It reinforces our belief in the good within us, that we are not monsters. At least most of us aren’t. Creepy.