Tag Archives: Loss

I’ve Been Traveling Oh So Long

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This time of year it’s so busy busy busy that I just get caught up in it like a branch in a river. There I go, past deadened raspberry brambles and soft sweet pines and peeling white birches. Over leaden brown rocks and sifting sand. Through nameless towns, crusted grey with salt, under bridges bearing the weight of countless souls. I flow on. Buying stuff, wrapping, baking, working, cleaning, working more, writing checks, calling relatives for gift ideas, dodging or not dodging party invitations, sitting through holiday concerts, driving kids over hill and dale, December birthdays, piles of catalogues, trash, more trash, stuff, more stuff.

If I get a moment to stop, to cling to the river bank for a quiet moment, I feel hollow. I am pressing my nose against a steamy glass window where lovely powdery rolls are piled like snow banks and there is a gentle ancient longing. I feel close but out of reach, there but not there. I am untethered and yet entwined in a complex and fractured life. I miss my mother, and realize I have always missed my mother, even when she was alive and in the same room with me.

And so this year, instead of presents, I ask for presence. Let me be in the room with the people I love in a way the says, I am here. I am connected. To you. I picture roots, twisted and strong growing down from my heart to my feet. Eyes open and clear, ready for the throw down where the heavens open up and hurl whatever they’ve got, and I in return, stay. Remain rooted to the earth, to my children and family and friends.

If you, like me, are caught in the holiday pitch and fervor, I hope you find presence. And if you are not there, if Hanukah during Thanksgiving already had its way with you, and you are coming up for a little air and watching us gentiles running around like chickens, I wish you presence too. Something we could all use, no doubt, as the river continues to unfurl.


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I’m A Lot Like You Are

My father has given up on the world. Whenever I talk to him he is wrestling with despair. He doesn’t understand why so many terrible things are happening around him. Why God took my mother and not the alcoholic down the street. Why Uncle Joey, the kindest man on earth, has to suffer with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and now a broken hip. Why my mother’s niece, pregnant for the first time with twins, looked out in the back yard this past Saturday where her husband was mowing the lawn and watched him drop to the ground, dead from a massive heart attack.

Cliche is his only recourse. He says things like, it is what it is. Or, it’s a great life if you don’t weaken. He watches crime shows on TV and eats Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers. On Wednesdays he goes to the grocery store. He chats with the guy at the deli counter, teases the checkout girls, buys a lottery ticket. This takes up half his day. He goes to dinner once a week with a family member, and sits in the back pew at 4:00 mass on Saturdays. But it’s a shadow of a life. His heart is broken. His faith clatters around inside him like a rusty gate in the wind.

We used to talk only briefly. How’s the car running? Is it cold there? OK, here’s your mother. Now we go on and on. I try to sympathize, agree with him, hide my problems. I tell him what I’m cooking for dinner. I tell him work is busy but good. I tell him about the school plays and shopping for Converse All Stars for my daughter and the price of gas this week. I coo like a dove at his complaints and outrage. When I hang up the phone I feel bloated with sadness.

In my father’s high school year book under his senior picture it says that he wants to own a drug store one day. Instead he worked as a service man at the gas and electric company for 40 plus years. Once he spent a month as foreman of a grand jury. Every day he wore a tie and brought the secretaries donuts. When he finally retired, the OJ trial was on. He watched it religiously and took notes on a yellow legal pad. I should have been a banister, he said. I wonder how many dreams he deferred.

Sometimes I picture myself like my father, old and alone. What will I regret, wring my hands over, talk to my children about? It worries me, and yet, I think it will be different because I’ll have books. I’ll have writing. I’ll tell stories. These are my long-time companions For better or worse, I have made a life with them. They will stay with me until the end and keep teaching me, nurturing me and fueling my sense of purpose and hope. I think it will be ok. If I don’t weaken.


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I’m Melting

August. I am seven, eating popsicles with my brother and my cousin RoseAnn. She is a year older than me, skinny and knock-kneed with dark hair wisping out in all directions. At eight she already knows more than I’ll know at fifteen. Her eyes are narrow, hiding things, calculating, shifting. Mine are wide open in a chubby cherub body, big brown satellite dishes unable to filter anything, a constant barrage of beauty, pain, silence, rage, and the static of secrets.

RoseAnn wears denim shorts, a thin green sweater over a tank top and Keds sneakers. I have on a strange  midriff top with multi-colored bric-brac sewn on a ruffled collar. My shorts are red with an elastic waist and my belly sticks out between the ensemble so I look like a cross between Carmen Miranda and Buddha. The popsicles are melting faster than we can eat them. There is slurping and fake burps and we stick out our tongues at each other with lurid exaggerated expressions.  My brother, also a year older than me, tells a joke that I don’t understand but RoseAnn can’t stop laughing so I laugh too. I am sweating. It trickles down my spine and collects in the curve of my lower back and my bangs are plastered to my forehead. RoseAnn is spreading the red dye of the popsicle on her lips, making loud smooching sounds and batting her eyelashes. My brother thinks this is hilarious and he tries it too.

I am about to copy them when I hear a jingle and the click of toenails on the walkway and I see Daisy, a barrel of a hound dog that lives across the street. Daisy’s thick pink tongue hangs from her mouth and her hot breath hits my knees like a dense humid storm cloud. Before I can blink she jumps on me full force and I drop my popsicle. It hits my belly, slides down my shorts and lands on the scorching cement where it begins to melt instantly. Daisy bows her head, shamelessly lapping at the red puddle between us.

We stand for a moment like statues. I can hear insects humming and Daisy’s tongue hitting the pavement and a neighbor’s sprinkler shushing across the lawn and the short tight breathing from my own lungs holding everything in. But I can’t stop it. I start to cry. Big fat tears spill out of me and my nose dribbles snot onto my upper lip and mucus dangles from the side of my mouth tinted pink from the popsicle. I am rubbery and sticky and ugly and alone, choking and hiccuping and letting loose the fury and sadness of Pandora’s box in amazement and in horror. My popsicle is gone.

RoseAnn and my brother look at me with confusion and pity and a little bit of fear. I am alien to them. It is, after all, just a popsicle.

Or maybe it wasn’t.

Maybe it was the shifting and relentless power struggles of childhood. Or the sense of inadequacy, of feeling different and less-than. Or the feeling of being trapped in a body that can’t find comfort. Or maybe it was from the overwhelming glare and shine of perfect moments, and the emptiness they leave behind when they are gone.

Then again, maybe it was just the popsicle.

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