Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cycles upon Cycles

Over lunch with Uncle Sid earlier in the fall, such a relief to be able to talk about Aunt Ruth and how hard my visit was in September. He said he had been talking with his son about the whole situation and my cousin said, rightly, "What a disaster."

And Uncle Sid told him, "No, son, it's not a disaster, it's just life. And there's stuff to do."

A shifting of perception that has carried me through so much. Non-judgmental, detached and concrete.

On nights where sleep did not return, I called back to those words, and also those of my friend Kerry consoling me gently, but insistent, "There are some problems that are unsolveable." The words help.

To sleep I also tried breathing out longer than I breath in, counting up to four as I do so, or counting backwards by seven from a random three digit number, or picturing myself in a small cave or in a more comfortable bed, picturing a long walk down a gentle stair or hill or wooded path, breathing slowly through the syllables "Om. Man. Ee. Pad. Me. Hum," picturing a giant light switch that I turn off, letting go of words and letting only pictures unspool in my head.

My doctor laughed as I reeled off this list. She offered magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, shots of b12 and okayed my St. John's Wort idea. Sure, they may be helping, can't hurt, right? and I'm a strong believer in the benefits of placebos.

I have done what I can do. That does not mean I cannot do more, and I will, but I have done what I can do. Ruth has some help now and my brother Ron has some help and I'm sleeping at night.

There's still so much to sing and dance about here. Dear Mia caught the three of us girls on her phone on a typical night this tough fall: Post Modern Jukebox's version of "The Heart Will Go On" had hooked me up in the beat and the sweet balm of "you are safe in my heart and my heart will go on" and even though the house was at sixes and sevens for the kitchen reno/first floor painting/asbestos remediation, plastic sheeting everywhere, I still had to jump out of my seat and shimmy because my heart will go on and on and I still get some time with these two amazing girl people. We were all chewing carrots and they were playing on their phones; Nora, thirteen and unimpressed with my moves, says, "I am moving out of this house."

Hope springs eternal and late December (yay, Christmas is done!) and fresh snow and early January (yay! friendly kale and glistening grapefruit!) and the prospect of spring all conspire to nurture that persevering light. Happy New Year and best of luck, dear reader, thanks for being here.

Just one more thing: On Christmas Eve, we went over to Mike and Christina's, peppermint fudge, candied sweet potatoes, arugula-pomagranate-goat cheese salad (it's red, green and white, you see), and Pavlova in tow. Mike complimented the last with, "This is like the kind of dessert they would serve at a Renaissance table" and Steve chimed in, "With peacocks on the table," and I was so pleased though in Midwest fashion, you must admit the flaws and I had to tell how the egg whites mysteriously took an hour to whip to stiff peaks rather than the 8-10 minutes predicted by the recipe and how I had slow-baked the meringue to a gorgeous white snowbank but then I forgot it was in the oven where it had dried overnight and when I turned on the heat for the sweet potatoes, the snowbank cracked and browned a bit, like a toasted marshmallow. But that was just modesty because the cranberry curd was a dream, the whipped cream held on the way over to their house and the blood orange supremes were so pretty. No gooseberries like in the picture, but some halved kumquats might have been cool. Next time.

Christina and I laughed and laughed over the last time we had been together at their house Thanksgiving weekend. Serena and Brent were still here and the three of us women were in a chatting cluster while Serena told us about her plans to work with people in Seattle, helping and counseling and doing energy work and Christina and I nodded and then looked at each other and I replied "But Trump Trump Trump Trump!" in a flurry of outrage and frustration and Christina replied, "And Trump Trump Trump Trump!" in a neighboring match of anxiety, two Americans trying to explain the state of America to the placid Mexico. Much funnier a few weeks later, when we retold it to Randy and Mike.

I was so grateful for Serena and Brent's visit, I was, although we have all changed and I do feel the need to keep apologizing for my bitchiness over our last visit but I don't and then there's more bitchiness I don't apologize for but they stayed, Brent and Serena chose to stay here with us, nestled in our cluster of the couches, next to our plywood island, even though we had got the condo for them, they would rather have been with us and our mess. That made me happy and made me feel forgiven. I showed them how my extroverted introversion makes me feel after a few hours with people, and I fell to the floor and squeezed between the ottoman and the couch, tucking in my head as a rabbit in its hole may, if the shy and exhausted rabbit were moved and able to protect its neck duck-and-cover style.

And now it's the long break with days of baking and movies and working out and then long nights of rest. Nora is working hours at Kinko's making photocopies of a journalist's journals and Mia plays videogames until I cajole her to read a few more pages of The Help and The Color Purple. She'll take three days of drawing and painting at the Evanston Art Center later this week while Nora tries some tennis. Each day flies by but there is still that great pleasure at seeing how many are left. I am keeping this Christmas break feeling for the years ahead, too. It's precious, these few years we have left together before the girls go off to school. And these precious few years of work left, too. Look at what fun we've had! And look what riches we have left before us to enjoy!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Losing It

Depression can cause confusion and confusion is depressing but the which of the two that leads the way makes all the difference. I can overcome the November dive, spring always proves it. But a more permanent decline? Ah, that one is not monthly, hormonal nor seasonal. That one stays. "Some are very happy," said the woman I met Saturday at the Dean's post-turkey Mexican feast. The woman who works at a residential center for memory care told me her merry grandmother would say, "You people are so sweet, I wish you were my family."

"Memory can be stone," said Serena at one of our Thanksgiving weekend gatherings, quoting another. "Or sand. Or water." And we moaned at our sloshing and pointed at the rock hard detail person in the room.

Sunday morning I put thirty hyacinths in the ground under a steady cold sleet. The first bulb was the hardest to put in, bound up in my layers and made awkward by the plastic rain poncho from that time we were caught in a storm at Disney. The ground at the side of the house under the boxwood is part clay and my special digging tool quickly developed constipation and was abandoned for a good old hand spade that turned over some worms, yay! and made the job possible, strangely, (for this is my point) in a fever dream of flow that had me looking in the bags for missing bulbs. Where did half of them go? How did they get in the ground so fast? Mud clogging my shoes, mud on my hat, my gloves caked in wet mud as thick as the waffle batter Nora made this morning but all that spring joy and potential got buried faster than I could comprehend.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Another Chance

Sometimes the time machine appears, magically, without my even calling for it and I am so grateful.

Yesterday the cell phone said I was running out of voicemail space, I didn't even know I was saving voicemails so I started deleting then scrolling backward, how many messages did I have? And I find Nora again from three years ago, asking me to pick her up at the Rock House after practice. Her voice is so pipped and high again, she is nearly chirping. I'm reading the Columbine book by Dave Cullen (against my greater instincts but the writing is so damn good and the structure is so marvelous -- how could he take all this horrific information and make sense out of senselessness but we will remember and know the victims now, thanks to his work) and he says the mothers could not stop hugging their surviving kids, even when that was no longer what the kids needed. I'll never erase these notes.

I can't sleep until the girls turn out their lights, I just can't, I feel anxious until they are out of their bathrooms and in bed and one night it was so late and I hear Nora get back up out of bed and I called out, "I really wanted to go to yoga tomorrow morning!" which was crazy but crazy is the name of the game in this kitchen renovation disarray with all the furniture and boxes and innards of the kitchen and living room shoved into the front dining room which except for the bedrooms and baths, is about all the rooms we have in this house. That night I was trying to sleep on the couch for reasons that are too complicated to get into and are extensions of the general insanity, but I will say it could be a refuge of minimalism in this mess, this tan and velvety piece of furniture left in the empty echoing living room.

Nora appeared at the top of the stairs, silhouetted against the second floor hall light and said nothing and I called out again, not in beddy-bye soft voice, oh no, I'm still shouting, "It's midnight! You should be in bed!" and she comes down the stairs without a word and stands over me and then says, "Can I sleep with you?" and my fatigued anger crashes down in ashes on the floor and I open my arms to her and she puts her head on my shoulder and falls asleep while I breathe in her hair and wonder wonder at my blessed fortune to have one more night with her precious self. My child, my dear child, returned to me from the abyss of sarcasm and annoyance and silence and locked doors and doubt that separates the mother from her teen daughter. Good night, good night, amen amen, thank you thank you thank you.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

I stood like a penitent, head bowed, hands clasped and low. I could see my chest and my shirt jumping from the heart beating within, jagged up on adrenaline and fear.

Go away, September.

Too many awful things to process, unsolvable problems I cannot fix.

Bad bad memories being dragging back into the light.

And dear Rebecca ill.

And Dave Smith's sudden death.

And a child sent away.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Spiderweb Summer

The Saugatuck rental house, the first of two on our August vacation, overlooked a broad expanse of Kalamazoo River wetland and had an outdoor shower on its north side. The morning was overcast but I still wanted that open air chill-hot frisson so I took my towel and the little travel bottles of shampoo and conditioner around the corner of the house. Overhead were trees trees leaves leaves green green and a spider's single persistent strand. His work gleamed like a cord and barely moved in the breeze. So strangely thick and strong it seemed that the next morning I was actually surprised to find it gone, as if I had forgotten that spiderwebs do not last more than a day.

"I'm taking the girls to my childhood vacation spots," I told a friend, "It's healing." Last summer Randy and I ventured into the Ozarks, not too far, but far enough to relive the hillbilly fun of Silver Dollar City. I had fantasies of picking wild blueberries with the girls in the Minnesota Boundary Waters but Campy Gatlinburg and the sleepy Smoky Mountains may be more our speed next summer. Now we were heading up to Crystal Lake where young Sally and I had a sandy idyll with her parents the summer of "My Sharona" and The Cars' "Let's Go."

Our cabin in the Congregational Summer Assembly family camp was a 110 year old Sears prefab with a pocket kitchen, original wiring and that sweet enduring smell of decades of woodsmoke. The current owner brought his three daughters here summer after summer since he bought it in 1959, said the printed history catalog of the camp next to the couch. The echos of the choir practicing for the weekend's production of The Sound of Music drifted up the hill. Every window was filled with the sight of enclosing pines but from the back porch where we had one lunch in our bathing suits, you could peek a sight of blue Crystal Lake through the trees. I could feel the happiness this place had brought its visitors and I could picture little ones scrambling up the built in ladder to the sleeping loft under the rafters and stepping down the steep winding stone path to M-22 and the beach beyond.

Are abundance and loss oppositional or can you entertain them both at the same time? When I took the girls to Gwen Frostic's studio, it was shocking how little had changed. Gwen has passed and the printing presses were still but the gentle clerk said they were only shut down for the afternoon. Here was the same wooden rail where I stood, watching the presses at work, but really thrilling inside at the glance I had caught from a boy in the shop who was not the boy who my stomach had been aching over since the beachside campfire at the Chimney Corners resort where I was staying with Sally and Aunt Joan and Uncle Bob. And this Gwen Frostic boy, a stranger, appears next to me at the rail and I'm rushing with girl joy and we talk side by side, watching the roaring presses for a minute and before he steps away to go away forever, he gives me a quick squeeze, an entirely welcome one-armed hug around my waist. But this was not the boy who liked me at the resort, this was a second miracle. TWO boys!? What wonders! I go from no boy to two in a single August week and it is only much later that I realize that my summer teen vacations may have been planned by the adults to avoid confronting the early August anniversaries of our family Hibakusha, the double bomb craters left by Chris and Nancy's deaths in the August 6, 1976 car accident outside Gravois Mills, Missouri. Now here it is, 42 years later and Nora is one year younger than Chris when he died and Mia is one year older and I take a photo of their playfully insouciant faces at the site of that unforgettable and cherished half-hug from an unnamed boy. And I placed another layer of goodness over the grief.

They will bicker and bitch on this trip, make up and go at it again. I will complain that they are not helping me pack up the car and they will drag themselves off their phones and down the hill to the parking spot with their loads of dirty laundry. We'll spend an afternoon at the ye olde farms of the Port Oneida Fair outside Glen Arbor and my heart will tilt at their few fleeting moments of scorn-free attention as the costumed volunteer helps them rub a wet shirt on a washboard, then squeeze it through the ringer.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Summer Tasks

Stitch. Poke the needle through the fabric, pull the floss taut to the knot. Wrap the thread around the needle three times. Hold the end tight, but gentle, gentle! Pull, pull the thread through its embracing self, pull all the way until a tiny tight rosette appears. Or a loose messy tangle. Either way, keep going because you have promised yourself not to waste time on cutting out the errors. "God hates perfection" said your embroidering mentor and so you go on, warts amid the precision, admiring the way your work maps the progression of your skill as well as your effort.

Peel off the dragon that Mia once wanted on her wall, piece by piece, a blue archipelago of sticker, each tiny piece its own island on the sea of the wall, sometimes an image appearing in the random bits, "Oh look, Mia, a dachshund!" as a silhouette appears. Know the painter could probably strip or sand this off in moments. Resist the urge to care. Make a mental note to reread "The Yellow Wallpaper" to compare the experience.

Weed. Embrace your banning of broadleaf herbicide and enjoy the sound of buzzing bees and the scent of clover as you search for the buried vines of creeping charlie spread across the yard. The long green tendrils are as narrow as a grass blade but tougher and you need to use two hands to keep the narrow stem from snapping as you hold with one hand, search with the other for the snaking path it has laid at the edge of turf and lawn.

Cull the Legos. Sort the toy boxes into a semblance of order, group by game and type, gather enough pieces of Playmobil and American Girl to pass on to another child. Revel in the excited chatter of the little ones who take it all away.

Pack. Empty each drawer, shelf and cabinet in the kitchen as we prepare for a total remodel. Toss as much as you can, sentimentality be damned except for the girls' artwork and those tiny ceramic mushrooms I made in Girl Scouts, the ones that sat on Aunt Ruth's window sill over the sink until my last visit when she urged me to take them home. Wonder if the new window you are cutting into the wall to place a sink beneath is an extreme effort to capture a childhood glimpse of four seasons as the warm water runs over your hands.

Love the days of incremental tasks, undertaken with faith in far away results. Keep going. Keep the faith.