Friends, Letting Go, Love, Relationships

Fragmentary

rocky shore onolan

In 2017, my workplace started offering us bereavement leave. Two days per year. I’ve barely noticed it in my benefit package, let alone taken it. With an active tween and a couple of fit and overscheduled parents, it didn’t cross my mind that I would need to use those two days.

Or that those two days wouldn’t come close to covering the need.

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Letting Go, Relationships

Human Pyramid

Moki Green

In the photo, he grins up from the base of a human pyramid. He occupies the exact same spot I did in my last pyramid, which was, oddly enough, just a few weeks ago. Bug’s blonde surfer hair sticks to his flushed face as he balances another boy on his back. Eight kids, two counselors, and a big field of green.

His first day of camp, and Bug had already found his place in the pack.

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Change, Writing

Carry On

taylor-glass-head

Poor as sin, a bottle of wet, two friends dead. A man outside her window. Wallet on the car floor, wheels spitting asphalt, WaWa bathroom, brown tile walls. Lady pushes her girl into the stall, “You go even if you don’t have to.”

First book with chapters: Sweet Valley High. Which one, all the same. Skin dry, skin slick, so pretty before but realized it too late, that’s always the story. She borrows makeup from a friend, color off. Friend is a generous term. They had been small enough to fit on the same block.  Once.  Adults now, those girls, dulled but also steady.  Selective memory to fill gaps.

New shoes she didn’t buy. Two quarters and a dime, a pack of gum gone soft, the name of the baby they took or she gave, who remembers. The recipe for making him stay, the back of a stained receipt, a language she learned to whisper but never to speak. Paycheck stub, proof of value, plastic troll with hair, once blue.

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Divorce, Letting Go, Love, Relationships

Lost & Found

diamond in sand

Six years ago, I lost a diamond. It was a tiny bit from the whole, just one of many fragments — a single round stone from my father’s mother’s wedding ring, chips from my maternal grandmother’s jewels, and a white gold base that had been my own simple engagement ring. A craftsman put all these together and carved it with fine floral scrollwork.

At a December birthday party for Bug’s preschool friend, I glanced down and noticed the hole in this wedding ring. It was one of several small diamonds, easily replaced. Even so, the loss agitated me. In that tilting moment, I felt stripped, even a little ashamed.  The chattering conversation with other parents swirled around me and I couldn’t find my place in it anymore.

Looking around was futile. The dizzying bounce-castle playland reeled with dozens of shrieking children, a mini train, a video arcade, and a vast carpet littered with cake crumbs and rock salt shaken from winter boots.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. The hole felt like exposure, like it was baring some part of my story I wasn’t ready to face or share. I turned the band around to hide the cavity inside my fist.

When the ring came off six months later, it stayed off. By then, the holes in the marriage had multiplied beyond repair.

The ring lives now in my jewelry box. A little tarnished, it still bears the lovely tiny flowers. It still holds my Grandma Francis’ flawed stone. It still has the cavity where the lost chip used to be. For five years, I’ve been meaning to have the thing refashioned. With no unmarried cousins in line, why not turn the raw material into a necklace? A tiara? A bindi dot for nights on the town? This is what the brokenhearted do sometimes. They start their repairs from the outside in, turning burdensome symbols into pretty trinkets.

A wise idea, no doubt, yet here we are. Down in a dark tangle of discarded costume beads and widowed earrings, the ring is silent, holding what’s left of my grandmothers’ gems. It still contains that tiny reminder of something shaking loose, something escaping when I was looking the other way.

In grim or sentimental moments, I lift the ring from its shadowy velvet coffin. It is less fraught now, just metal, stone, and a little bit of history. The hole there no longer chills. In fact, I am oddly fond of that missing piece. That space is where the light shines through.

Back then, the story called for a way, and an opening appeared. This is how it goes with loss.

Now I claim the absence along with the substance.

I imagine the lost diamond out there, carried away in the tread of someone’s shoe, crushed into an icy Glens Falls sidewalk. It rises with the spring thaw and courses along rivulets, down, down, until it splashes into Lake George and sinks to the cold, jagged bottom. It returns to its beginnings. It becomes what it was all along: rock, debris, the stuff of earth churning back into itself.

Freed from the confines of its white gold setting, it expands, morphs, rearranges its atoms.

Eventually, in the full, unfurling expression of the shape it’s decided to take (for now), it returns.

When it does, I barely recognize it.

The messenger, the man, is already kin. I blink until I see in him the resemblance of the generous gift of my family’s love now multiplied. Their glinting progeny reaches for my wrist and draws me – the girl, the woman – into the next chapter. From their place in the wings, the ones who have passed from the story now urge us to carry on. Their part is over. They leave us here to do what we will with what they entrusted to us.

Last night, my grandmother’s diamond returned.

Changed, certainly.

And so much more lustrous than if it had never gone its own way.

 

 

Family, Friends, Home

For This

Kulturgeschichte / Essen / Belle Epoque

For more than one of the eleven around the table, the year left bruises. For more than one, tears choke the blessing. Words that begin as thanks are threaded with veins of dense and nameless matter.

Loss is a removal that adds weight.

Chuckles accompany each small confession. We are older now. Pleasure hits the tongue in the bitter spots too. Years distill gratitude to its sharpest potency.

We round the corner and my turn is seventh. I say that I most often describe myself as a single mother. I say this is inaccurate because a tribe holds my son and me. We are not doing this on our own, we never have been alone. I say that family is like a story. It ends up looking entirely different than what we expect and somehow ends up looking exactly as it should.


Image credit: Otto Günther, Am Tagelöhnertisch (1875)

 

Change, Poetry, Relationships, Things I Can

85. Things I Can Hold: The Promise

Honeysuckle Tag

Months after the last blossom
wilts and lets go, a tendril
of scent unfurls
among the parched weeds
and knotted shrubs edging
the broken road.
Only at night the perfume steals
out to stretch its cramped
wings and lean
into the hum
of cricket’s legs
and streetlamps. It will be gone
by sunrise, tucked
under winter straw
that falls in summer, swathing
thirst and throb in a jacket
of silence.

Music

Happy 100 Days: 13

Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail, too.

“Only six more days until Christmas!” Bug tells me as he climbs into the back seat.
 
Holy cow. Six?
 
My kid has been with his dad since last Friday. We have three half-completed advent calendars in the house and a heap of gifts that may be opened before Christmas and maybe after, but certainly not on the day. Co-Parenting at the holidays is running a relay race: short bursts of lung-popping exertion following by periods of hyper-alert waiting. Now we have six days to get ourselves through the end of the school week, on a plane, and in place for Santa’s touchdown on a Dallas rooftop.
 
I guess it’s time to pull out the Christmas carols.
 
Joy of Christmas
 
The songbook we use belonged to my Grandmother. It was in the piano bench of the old upright she had in her Oklahoma living room. After she passed away and we sold the house, the piano made its way first to Colorado and eventually to upstate New York. There it stayed when our lives imploded and we had to cut and run. We sold it for $150 to the camp director who had just fired Tee. The contents of the bench were among the few items we salvaged. We made it here with several dog-eared hymnals and this yellowing book of carols.
 
Classical paintings of angels and virgins grace every other page. Most of the songs are truly Christian odes. No figgy pudding or “dashing through the snow.” This is all the red blood of Mary when the baby Jesus is born. Still, the tunes are swelling and sweet, and Bug loves to stay near me as I flip through the pages each year around this time. I sing bits of this and that until he hears something that strikes his fancy.
 
“That one!” he says.
 
Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green.
 
I sing the whole song through because all the lyrics are written out for me. I realize I have never made it past the first verse before. It is really a pretty silly thing, to sing about singing. I start giggling when I hear myself asking for the moldy cheese, and I can barely make it back around to the chorus.
 
“Do you know what wassail is, Buddy?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“Wassail is a warm, toasty beverage. It’s funny because the word also means singing for the drink. The carolers are asking for a cup of warm wassail in exchange for coming around in the cold and singing,” I tell him. We are cuddled up close in his bed. He is drawing an elaborate treehouse as I explain. “They are basically saying, ‘Here we come a-hot-cocoa-ing.’ It’s like trick-or-treating at Christmas.”
 
I sing on before catching the small-print explanation under the title. According to a this 40-year-old songbook, “wassail” originally was a Welsh greeting of well wishes. At some point people began to drink from a shared wassail horn for good cheer. That festive Christmas sense of communal celebration became synonymous with the drink itself. Of course, singing for wassail gave an additional layer of meaning to the word.
 
Imagine such a thing. A single word that means good wishes, shared celebration, yummy warm drink, and singing. How is it that six days before Christmas, we all aren’t just shouting this from the rooftops? Who needs “mindfulness” and “wellness” and “community”? Why would we subject ourselves to such sterile terms to capture our joy? We already have more than we need in this language right here.
 
Wassail!
 

Uncategorized

Who Never Grew Up

Memory is a cruel mistress
Who comes bearing the old bones
You buried in a corner of the yard.
She demands proper rites, a recognition
Of the sacred refuse.
She makes a reliquary of your shame,
Polishes it to catch the light.
 
Memory is a puppeteer
Twining her limbs around the skeleton
And shrouding it in flesh as if
New before returning the departed one to
Your embrace
Where you can feel the mass
Pressing again
And again
Against your living heart.
She pulls the string
At its back to play a phrase you know,
As if vibrations from a throat to your ears
As if real
(Was that his voice in the corridor?)
 
Is it any wonder we believe in ghosts?
 
Nimble is the hand of memory,
Steering the doll’s feathered fingers
To trace the arch of your lips,
Willing you to hunger
Then feeding you on what’s left
When the thread frays:
Colored light
And air,
The feast of lost boys.

Uncategorized

Late Last Night, I Heard the Screen Door Slam

The dentist was the last holdout.
 
Henry Wray grew up here. He told me about it in that casual, rambling way a person can when he has his hands in your mouth. His stories were all yesterday. It was just a blink ago that Arlington had more single-family homes than condos. Tilapia risotto may not have been readily available, but you could walk down the block to get your hands such modern-day urban rarities as drill bits, a toilet brush, and practical underwear.
 
When he was little, Henry Wray’s mother took him shopping at Kann’s department store. He remembered standing up on the platform in the shoe department and ogling the caged monkeys kept there, one guesses, for the pleasure of the children and the relief of their mothers. As he grew, he moved and returned a time or three, watching the familiar landscape shift in that way cities do regardless of the potency of memory. Block after block gave way to office complexes, high rises, big-shouldered condos selling for $400 per square foot.
 
Dr. Wray has wrinkles. He wears a bow-tie. After a life of who knows what, he returned to the area and bought up one of the last little houses on North Kansas, a street that is barely a pass-through between the whizzing lanes of Wilson and Fairfax Boulevards. The tiny structure still had the feel of a home. A narrow corridor through the single-story bungalow was flanked by closet-sized rooms transformed into exam spaces and an office. The windows were plentiful. The carpet was brown. His part-time assistant greeted everyone with a booming hello.
 
To one side of Dr. Wray’s lot squatted a black-and-red structure made of what appeared to be oversized legos stuck together at wrong angles. It contained an insurance company and not much else, thought it was hard to tell through the tint of its windows. Behind the dentist’s house was a used car dealership and on the opposite side, a busted-up patchwork of weeds fenced in chain link.
 
From every side, shine pressed in on North Kansas Street. Across from Dr. Wray’s, the glassed balconies of a corner apartment building sipped shafts of light into bent shadow. A little further on, the FDIC’s rippling mirrors stretched the sun aquatic. The brushed steel face of George Mason University’s new Founders Hall burned back the day, its tiny windows blinking blinking against plaza trees that will require two decades of rain to cover its nakedness.
 
Every six months since I started working here, I made the 90-second journey across the street. I loved walking through Dr. Wray’s door (A front door! With a handle that turns!) After hanging my jacket on the coat rack, the dentist himself would call me back. I never had to wait. Henry Wray would reminisce as he hammered away at my plaque. On the way out, I would listen to the receptionist spill over with bubble and opinion as she jotted down my next appointment. I have one in my book for September.
 
Just last week, wrecking crews arrived. They rolled their equipment onto North Kansas Street and unfurled a barbed-wire border between past and future. You can get your visa stamped, but you aren’t coming back. The backhoes roared to life. Dr. Wray’s office, the last of the single-family homes in that long-gone memory of a neighborhood, lay in a heap on the ground. I watched as hot dust settled on the debris.
 
Time for a new dentist, I suppose. The old fellow is unlikely to start fresh anywhere else, unless “starting fresh” means sipping a martini by the side of some Canadian lake. This week, big yellow monsters clambered over the rubble of Dr. Wray’s office went to work on the black-lego building. Now, an entire city block is a moonscape of splintered drywall and shattered glass. Diggers pound deep into the orange dirt to gut the very belly of the earth. An underground parking garage? A sub-basement for HVAC? Anything and everything. It will go down, it will climb up. It will eclipse the sun. It will house the transients who, like me, have little time to spare for memory.
 
A local historian has written that no one can find a photograph of the Kann’s monkeys. People did not have smartphones in 1956, and even if they had, the mothers were too weary. Who captures such mundane things as shoe-shopping? As dental appointments? I did not think to snap an image of the last house on North Kansas Street or Dr. Wray’s red bowtie. I had no idea what was coming.
 
Silly me.
 
Blink, and it’s gone. Even though we know everything is fleeting, we cannot bear to hold that truth up in the front of the mind. We believe in permanence against all the evidence because it would be too frightening to consider how much we stand to lose.
 
Then the world up and blindsides us. Or, perhaps, we blinder ourselves.
 
I do this every day. I mourn the loss of the familiar, but I can’t even draw up an image of the object of my nostalgia. What did he look like, anyway? I gaze at the patch of once-woods where the new houses are going in, trying to discern some trace of the sacred canopy that sheltered a first kiss. What was there before? I wrack my brain. I probe the cavity. Emptied of recollection, the hollow place aches. Loss is the ice water. Better to go thirsty, some people believe.
 
We love so much without even knowing what inhabits the corners of our hearts: a small swath of trees, a giggle with a lover, the rainbow of petit fours in the pastry case at the supermarket. Every bit of it, beautiful enough to make the jaw throb, if only we had a moment, just one more moment, to notice this feast spread here for our senses. So perfect. So within reach.