Mother Blue

I photo. I take day trips. I lightsaber battle. I analyze the stuffing out of myself.

Category: Endings

40 on 20

“Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true

You stand at the edge while people run you through

And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.

 — Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

• • •

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Dave teaching Jack how to skip stones at the lake after Rosh Hashanah services.

 

SUMMER

What a long, temperate, and very temperamental summer it has been.

Dave and I watched Jack play with his buddies while we sat on the only available park bench. We had just emerged through a difficult winter and spring. It was the very beginnings of the summer.

Dave said something to the effect of “I just can’t do this job anymore.”

Work had been sucking the life out of him and the money out of our bank account for quite some time. Radio sales in Pittsburgh is not what it used to be. Living to work, not working to live. Stress and snippiness. The past two years had been the equivalent of running uphill through tar while wearing ankle weights.

Exhale.

The perfect blue skies of the day contrasted the gravity of our conversation. We lamented over our choices and acknowledged that as of late our lives were more focused on surviving than living. We both agreed that if he was going to quit his job, then the pursuit of happiness had to be one of our priorities. We had to revisit some of the dreams we had planted in our early youth, once cultivated by our glorious naivety. The dreams we let fall by the wayside over the past 20 years. The ones that got supplanted with more “age appropriate, responsible” things. We had to find the road where responsibility and dreams intersect. We had forgotten.

He woke up the next day, made a phone call, and walked away. Things felt heavy and light all at once.

Summer was stressed and struggling. We fought and made up and made the best of things. More stress and snippiness. We took on extra work, odd jobs, and part-time opportunities; job interviews and freelance newspaper articles and board meetings for the both of us.

Jack’s version of the summer was less tethered than ours. It was youth-filled freedom both by design and necessity. Playing outside both in and around the neighborhood. On his own for the very first time. Coming home when dinner was almost ready.

Car repairs and haircuts. Bills and expenses. Sleepless nights. Sunrises that I wasn’t looking forward to be awake to witness.

I lost sight of myself in the midst of all this change. I mistreated my mind, my soul, and my body. I gained and lost weight and gained it back again. I felt the weight of everything that laid on his shoulders and the weight that rested on mine. Were we doing the right thing? We both were working hard at make things work and their was little room (or time) for much else.

August was near its end. I sat at my sister’s kitchen table, fearful of the future. I worried about the person we created and I lamented over all of the mistakes I have made.

And right as the first leaves began to lose their summer green, tiny opportunities came filtering in.

Dave will finally be able to publish a book of his poetry. Twenty years of his work that he has long wanted to see as a compilation is being printed as we speak, all thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, his talent, and some very generous and wonderful people. One of his dream projects is on the way to fruition.

I, too, am finding more work, or new work is finding me. I am creating more things and laughing at myself and with others.

I am grateful we are slowly traversing to the other side.

 

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“Tired Scenes” in color. NYC 2003.

• • •

THE OTHER SIDE IS 40

I arrived at 40 and took on a project.

It originated as my annual birthday art project. A simple social media celebration and a gorgeous reflection of my friends creativity.

I wanted to make 40 a little different than the previous years’ art.

I sent a digital message to the masses: “This year, I turn 40 and I would like to give all of you a gift. I would like to send everyone a word. The word I send to you makes me think of you or is inspired by you. You can do with your word whatever you like. You can print it out and photograph it, share it with others, write it on your arm, or maybe you just want to keep it for yourself. As I approach a new decade, I thank you for being a part of my decades… I would love to see a picture or interpretation of your word post over the next month or so: You holding your word up to the heavens or placing in front of a waterfall or on your desk or on the subway or wherever. It is up to you. It is a gift that asks for nothing in return. I may try to make a book out of your images if you do indeed decide to share them, or at least a blog or Tumblr post of all your word creations.”

I have assigned about 450 words or so out of 700. I am taking my time with this task and really thinking about words, their gravity, and what they mean both in and out of context.

I will keep everyone posted on the progress and I will let everyone know if these creations do indeed become a book.

 

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40

• • •

“Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies

Beyond the yellow brick road.”

— Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

 

40 on 20

 

It’s been 20 years since the course of my life changed. The butterfly effect of September 27, 1994. Twenty years ago, tomorrow.

I think I will visit her gravestone, even though I know it’s merely a symbolic gesture. Maybe I will lay on her stone and pose like Madonna. My mother would be slightly horrified.

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from “Truth or Dare”

I have been thinking in key moments as of late. Those key moments of life peppered in with your own versions of the actual events. A lot is forgotten in 20 years. Just the other day, my sister and I were trying to remember her favorite foods, her favorite restaurants.

I think she liked the dinner rolls at Red Lobster. I know she loved Paulie’s Lookout and Jim’s Hot Dogs.

It all starts to get a little fuzzy.

 

• • •

 

“Sweet freedom whispered in my ear

You’re a butterfly

And butterflies are free to fly

Fly away, high away, bye bye.”

 — Someone Saved my Life Tonight

 

laugh mom

Happier times. Mom and dad on their way to the Poconos after their wedding.

 

20 on 40

My inner strength was reinforced with a value meal.

She said goodbye as he pleaded to stay.

She had had enough. I think in some ways he did as well. He still wasn’t ready to admit it to himself.

I watched her stand with stoic strength and tears of goodbye that somehow, willfully, would not stream down her cheeks.

He wrapped his arms around her waist and begged her to let him stay.

The cabbie came to the door, helped him to the car, and took him to the airport.

The tears started to come, just barely, as I watched her do one of those “hardest things” we all are called to do in this life. A necessary thing. The sadness and the heartache needed to end for the both their sakes.

We watched them drive away. She picked up her dust rag and started cleaning again just like it was a regular Tuesday. My brother and I didn’t say much.

When the divorce was finalized, she showed me and my brother the legal announcement in the papers. One small line announcing the dissolution of their 23 year union. She bought us McDonald’s to “celebrate” — a meal we could afford, a meal that symbolized the future.

I could write about how difficult it was for the next three years and how she struggled to get to the life she had always dreamed of. I could talk of how hard she struggled with depression and anger and with the very notion of her kids growing up. She wanted a do over. She wanted us to be little again. She wanted us to be there forever.

But that stoic moment with the cab driver and that last embrace will always be my symbol. When life is hard sometimes you have to be harder for everyone’s happiness. Even when the tears that won’t come tell you otherwise.

• • •

To all of these ends, I am inspired by the women in my life who have taken the place of my original maternal mentor. I watch you in awe and observe you and listen to how you act and react in the world. I see how your subtle grace and sometimes roaring power encompasses you. It influences and inspires me and allows me to “Tetris” together a cohesive identity. From this Frankenstein monster creation of emotions, I become better.

 

EPILOGUE

 

I was given three words in the 700 Words/Birthday Art project.

• One by my friend, Nique. We met for lunch. We asked for chalk and then we wandered the alleyways of the SouthSide and created this.

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Compassion

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Compassion

 

• The second word was poignant given to me by my friend, Tracy. This post captures that word better than any other image I could possibly create.

• The third word is the one I give myself. It is the one I usually forget to name myself in my list of the many descriptors of me. My tribute to them.

Daughter

Daughter

 

_____________

UPDATE:

I don’t usually write two blog entries this close together, but yesterday turned out to be an epilogue to the epilogue. Enjoy.

40 on 20, a Short Epilogue to the Epilogue

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For all I know: A love letter to my friends who are turning 40

My 1990s Journals

My 1990s Journals

A few days ago, I read through a few of my old journals… until I just could not read them anymore. There is nothing more humbling, more grounding, and more “kick-you-in-the-ass, you-so-thought-you-were-Sylvia-Plath-but-you-really-were-just-a-person-who-used-too-many-lame-metaphors-for-the-emptiness-that-only-YOU-could-understand” than reading your old journals.

In truth, I was just a regular old pathetic girl searching for love in a dysfunctional life who was probably just like every other pathetic 17-year-old person in the same circumstance. I did not understand my family, my friends, myself, and I thought I knew the depths of everything and everyone. Even when freely admitting (even back then) that I knew nothing. If only everyone could be like me, this life would be soooo much easier. I still love that naive girl. But in a disembodied, motherly kind of way.

Case in point. This was the cover of my journal as I entered college, I kid you not.

My Beauty and The Beast Journal. Yes. I loved this show.

My Beauty and The Beast Journal. Yes. I loved this show. Don’t Judge.

• March 4, 1992: “I know I shouldn’t be complaining, especially on Ash Wednesday…”

• August 27, 1990: “Today was my first day as a junior in high school. I thought it was going to be fun, but it wasn’t…”

• September 2, 1990: ” He said he came back to the dance early so he could dance the last dance with me. I think I like him, but I would never say anything.”

• 1990-1992: Some version of: “I am so pissed off/confused/angry at/jealous of/insert life sucks analogy here.”

Oh and there are many, many, MANY versions of the last sentence in my early journals.

Maaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnyyyyyyyy.

Like Twillight Saga level, metaphorically speaking, many.

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Song lyrics usually highlighted most pages. Or at least the back covers.

• • •

I finally found what I was searching for, weeding through all those angsty lines.

• September 1, 1992: “Well, I ‘m sitting here in my dorm room. This whole experience has been a lot different from what I expected it to be. It’s not like high school, but I still feel lost. This feels so weird. I can start over in a sense and just be myself. No prejudging. I can finally start working towards being who I was meant to be. I hope I like it here. I’m kind of scared. I don’t know if I will be doing this (my Journalism major) for the rest of my life. I honestly don’t know if I would want to do this forever… I would really like to try acting… I hope I like it here… I feel like I have changed… I think I am ready.”

This past New Year’s Eve, I started thinking which in turn prompted me to read the journals. As I approach my 40th year, I want to think back on all that has happened and all I have become before moving to the next part.

So I have.

I have started thinking about all the people who have brought me here.

Who grew up with me.

Who sang/lip synched/or otherwise randomly danced in inappropriately venues with me.

Who have laughed/cried with me on stairwells, in movie theaters, and in other inappropriate venues.

Who gave me my first jobs. My first internships.

Who loved me.

Who broke my heart.

Who took road trips and Greyhound bus rides with me to new destinations and  life changing trips.

Who have told me the truth in the kindest and cruelest of ways.

Who have argued with me.

Who challenged me to be better.

I am in awe of you. All of you.

I see how far my almost 40-year-old friends have come. Girls who have become fierce women who I respect and admire, doing things that make me proud to have once shared the same space with them. Starting businesses and starting over. Becoming fantastic parents, partners, spouses, and/or fantastic independent women.

People who taught me lifelong friendship, kindness, and have become my family.

Creative people who have inspired me to try something new. Who make me want to create. To put myself out there. To make art.

To those who have inspired me to be more honest and more authentic.

To the men and women who are role models for my family and for my son.

Even to those who I have lost touch with, grew apart from, who had to be left behind, I thank you for the lessons that I desperately needed to learn. I finally understand the importance of these things. The bad things. The mean things. The other things.

Yesterday, the radio reminded me of you. So here is my gift to you. (I have been singing this all darn day.) You will never know how much you mean to me. I have nine months left of 39. Happy Birthday year to us all. Here is to an even greater rest of our lives.

never-tear-us-apart2

Yes, I made fan art for you people. No, I do not own these lyrics, nor do I have INXS kind of money. Just a simple love letter to all of you that only Michael Hutchence could express adequately.

never-tear-us-apart-1

Yes, I made fan art for you people. No, I do not own these lyrics, nor do I have INXS kind of money. Just a simple love letter to all of you that only Michael Hutchence could express adequately.

• • •

• February 2, 1996: “All this time I thought I was a grown up, but he hit the nail on the head. ‘You are going to be a very strong woman someday — you’re almost there.’ It never really hit me until he said it — I’m not a grown up. I’m not going to be a grown up until I get into that one thing that will make me strong.”

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Excerpt

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Kim Grows Up.

Shadows

There is a story to be told here and I am writing it as we speak

There is a story to be told here and I am writing it as we speak

I was exhausted from this week so I nodded off mid task, mid morning. “I had this dream through a vintage filter.”

These were the notes I scribbled down when I woke, my eyes still partially closed.

_________

I had this dream through a vintage filter…

Walking a long path, in nature, taking photos. Trying to figure out my Photo of the Day. The theme is shadows. My two siblings were in front, talking. We were all both very young and of our age.

We were making our way to a house. Not home, but it felt like home.

I saw an old chair under the stairs that were underneath the back porch. Told my siblings to go on ahead. Apparently my Dad was following us as well, like he belonged there, even though he had passed many years ago. He was skipping and jumping behind us. Aware we were there but not really engaging. (It has been four years since he passed and even longer since we talked. The reasons are varied and necessary.) I wanted him to go on ahead with the rest of the family. I just wanted to get my shot. Dad ignored my requests and subtle gestures. He was climbing around like a schoolboy. Skipping steps. Leaping. Singing “Dad is great, he’s a special boy, la la la.” I don’t know if he was referencing his own dad or calling himself dad. He was doing awkward splits between a stair and the armchair.

I kept moving around the room. The under the stars was both a basement and outdoors simultaneously. He would not let me take my photo due to his goofing around. When he did finally clear the shot, the original photo angle I saw was now terrible.

He somehow took the shadows away.

I kept looking at him and he was still laughing, giddily. I smiled. Then I started crying. I caught sight of my sister’s face. She was tearing up. I said in a very heartfelt way, “I’m sorry, Dad.” He stopped his playing. He looked like someone else. Like a mixture of my Dad and Pierce Brosnan. He said “Don’t be. I’m really happy now.” I grabbed his leg. He was wearing the same brown polyester pants he wore in the 80s. Business suits. The kind he wore for meetings.

Photo of the day

Photo of the day

Interlude

A long two months. Happenings. Elation. Anxiety. Angst. Changes. A cliff of possibilities and choices that might as well be bottomless. I have been away for a while.

I went upstairs intending to take a simple shower before continuing with my work. I soaped my hair and then, well, I just stood there. I couldn’t move. Soap still running down my back, I lifted my hands slowly under the pouring water until the cups my palms made bounced a thousand droplets of spray towards my face. It tickled. It hurt. It was hard to breathe, but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t put my hands down. My brain so full of everything, my heart hurt, my eyes tired. The water turned colder as time lapsed and I continued to stand motionless apart from my slowly moving hands creating an ever-changing mask of water dripping off my face.

I thought of the speeches I had made, advice I had given, of new friends and old. I thought of New York, and colors, and delicious food. Of moments in time with all the people I love, and the deer that continued to move despite being pummeled by a car just moments before we passed. Street fairs and opportunities gained and lost. I experienced so much these past few months and missed so much more. I felt I needed to be cleansed from something; from exhaustion, from over worked-ness, and not feeling quite like myself. I felt like I need to hold onto something as well. But that lies out there… blurry and out of focus.

I heard “Time” by Alan Parsons Project playing in my head. Everything was as slow and dreamy and annoying and painful as that tune can be. Lost within myself in my tiny shower that seems to never come clean. I wish it were November, August, or September. I wish I was not battered by my inner self. I wish I could let everything go from time to time. My patience with myself and my surroundings is wearing thin.

Cold. Cold. Cold. The temperature ran cold as time passed as I heard, “Mom, are you alright?”

The cold water and the tiny yell jarred me into reality. I opened my eyes, still trying to focus like I just woke up from a dream. Nothing is really wrong, everything is just transitional. This moment felt like an alternate reality as if when I opened the doors of the shower it would suddenly be something new. Like some sci-fi novel; some Brave New World.

Tomorrow is bounding toward me. Next stop: dreams.

Summer Skies in Winter

My Reflection in the Dirty Window on the 6th Floor

I spent most of the past year and a half looking up.

My obsession with “up” was born out of another obsession (borderline paranoid neurosis) that was born out of purchasing a home. I am an excessive roof/gutter checker, i.e. I am terrified that I will awake one day to a huge hole in my box gutter, or an even bigger one in my roof. This daily practice has caused me to look more upwards more often than most people should. This habit has gradually morphed into my neck craning skyward whenever I venture outdoors. First it was to check out everyone else’s roofs and gutters and compare their maintenance/deterioration to mine. But all this measured structural analysis led my eye drift skyward on more days. I guess I didn’t realize until quite recently how striking Pennsylvania skies can be; or maybe I just don’t remember them ever being quite as dynamic as they were this year; or perhaps there was just more pollution creating more cloud covers and wacky weather patterns; or maybe I was just paying closer attention than ever before; or maybe I just chose to look up more often.

Clouds Over my House.

Looking up into the sky reminds me of my summers working as a sweeperette at Kennywood Park. Back in those days, I loved having the 4 p.m. shift. The late start to the work day helped me to avoid walking around the park in the wretched noon day sun. And as an added bonus, if the weather was pleasant, it gave me a chance to head to the local water park with a few of my friends who also had my same schedule. We would always dash straight towards the “Lazy River.” We spent the day talking and not talking while floating um, lazily, in oversized inner tubes on this man-made “river.” We held onto the handles of each other’s tubes in order to stay together amongst the long line of tubers. Usually we ended the day happy, sleepy, and near sun poisoned. The following hours would entail sweeping up the remnants of leftover amusement park fun while nursing our pinkish skin with aloe vera, praying for the cotton of our polo shirts to stop scratching at our blisters. Ah, the bliss of young summers.

Parking Lot Sunset.

The memory of one of those “water park days” came to mind the other night. I remembered sitting on the foot of my friend’s bed laughing, joking, and listening to music before getting ready to head out. The Bodyguard soundtrack was playing in the background. As the next track began to play, my friend stopped talking, sat down on the bed, and leaned back on her elbows. She tilted her head back, inhaled and then exhaled and said, almost in the register of a shout, “I love this song.” She belted out that tune like it was written for her. She was looking up when she first belted out her tune, and then she turned her head looked directly at me and began to sing in that jokey way only close girlfriends can. I followed suit. I remember the look on her face and sound of her voice as if it were yesterday.

That was the summer before “devastatingly” serious relationships started to rear their lovely, angst filled heads; the summer before my mother died; the time when college was just beginning, before  momentum of growing up took hold. I loved the innocence of those Kennywood summers, the simplicity of lying on a bed and singing out loud with a close friend. When living in those moments were all you were required to do. I spent most of those summers looking at the ground, sweeping. I barely opened my eyes on the “Lazy River” because the sun was usually quite bright, even on the most overcast of days. I looked for the moments I could peek through and let the sunlight in, but I was often left seeing the imprints the clouds left behind when I was forced to close my eyes again.

Driving back from the water park, the car was usually quiet and listless. Sometimes I would plop myself down in the seat and rest my head on the passenger side window. I was finally able to look up and out into the summer sky without sunny obstructions and daydream into the cloud patterns. Certain clouds would catch my eye and I would stare at them the entire drive, wondering if they would be able to hang on to our speedometer long enough and make it all the way to our destination. The screech of brake dust when we arrived in the parking lot woke me from my fixation. “Sigh. Eight more hours of work.” Summer was calling…

• • •

Excerpts from “looking up”. A few unposted skies from this past year.

After the storm

Cloud that Followed Me After the Storm.

Cloud that Waited for Me After the Graduation Party.

Winter Storm 1

Winter Storm 2

Winter Storm 3

Tightrope to the Clouds.

Waiting for Batman 1.

Waiting for Batman 2.

Jack's Cloud City (reminds us of The Empire Strikes Back).

Requiem for 11 & an Opening for 12

Underwater Surface

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in… do not dwell on what is passed away or what is yet to be. — Leonard Cohen

•  •  •

MOVEMENT

I have never been what you would call graceful.

I used to practice dance routines in my bedroom, trying to find ways to feel graceful, and to gain control of my defiant body. I closed my eyes and imagined I knew exactly what those complicated steps felt like to seasoned dancers. I would watch Gregory Hines and practice my version of the Shuffle, Ball Change. I made up whole routines. I spent weeks mastering my interpretation of Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” in order to audition for a dance part in my high school musical. I channeled my best Liza/Mein Heir/Fosse Style chair dance. Sadly, I chickened out, only mustering enough courage to audition for the speaking, singing roles. To this day, I still remember most of the steps…

My thoughts have been drifting back and forth towards my perceived and actual lack of agility. I end up reminiscing about the two weeks worth of swimming lessons Jack took over the summer. He went farther and was more graceful than I ever was. He swam underwater, without fear, without question. I envy that type of confidence.

Growing up, I never learned to swim or ride a bike, properly. It was all either self-taught or husband aided. At this point, I think I could only swim enough to save my life.

My lack of education was not based on fear. More based on the sheer will of one caring yet over protective parent and the lethargic complacency of the other. I should have fought more for lessons, the same way I begged them to teach me how to drive.

Sinking

I almost drowned in a pool once. The experience was not how I imagined it; that frantic whirlwind of  arms and legs flailing about as it is often portrayed in the movies. At least it was not that way for me.

I was 11. Our family was on a whirlwind journey down the east coast. I forget what hotel we stayed in — it may have been Seven Springs. I had never been to an indoor, in-ground pool before. My dad rushed off down the long, tackily carpeted hotel corridor in order to make it to the pool before anyone else. He was a competitive swimmer/diver in his younger life.

I don’t remember how most of it happened, but I must have not paid any attention to which side was the deep end and which side was shallow. I simply walked in without a thought.

I remember feeling as if I had sunk to the bottom. Sound was muffled. All I could see were the flourescent lights from the ceiling reflecting off the surface of the water. The pool might as well have been an ocean due to how completely small and insignificant I felt. Instead of flailing about, I felt an unbelievable calm. I am not really sure why. My sister said she observed an awkward struggle, but all I remember is gazing above in wonderment.

The lifeguard pulled me out a few seconds later. I was dazed by the whole thing. My mother wrapped her arms around me and took me back to the hotel room. I remember that blur, that haze, that calm before the storm where I was released and pulled out into the air… I became stunted by fear at 11. But it wasn’t my fear. I had adopted hers.

•  •  •

SOLITARY MOURNING

I never expected this past year to have such a profound effect on the landscape of my life. That landscape has evolved both subtly and significantly. 2011 left me gasping, dazed, mesmerized, and longing in much the same way that serenely harrowing pool experience did.

Solitary Mourning

Of course, it was fitting that this past year had one final funeral to complete the bookend in a very long, death filled year. It was even more fitting it was for this particular person. Well, not fitting in the sense that it was the demise of this human being, but more in regards to what he represented. To the casual observer, this man was a rough and tumble person. He was old school, conservative, filled with piss and vinegar, and gruff in voice and nature. But underneath it all were these subtle shades from a man who dealt mostly in blacks and whites. A self-made man; a father figure to most that knew him (including my husband); someone who traversed adversity to a the other side.

I was numb to the feeling of funeral homes at this point in this year. My numbness may have come across almost overly social so I had to dial it back a bit, so instead of really joining in, I sat back and listened a lot to everyone’s chatter. Through all the crotchety stories, the one phrase that seemed to summarized this person’s existence was he was “a tough son of a bitch, but he was always fair” or some variation of that. Perfection. As I sat on the couch and continued to listen to the merging of words, my inner voice began to run through this end of year checklist, this dialogue that spoke to me like an end of the movie monologue. I began typing them in on my iPad simply so I could remember:

MY LESSONS/MY YEAR IN REVIEW/MY SHOUTING INNER VOICE/MY “WHATEVERS” (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

• I’ve said goodbye to more people, places, and things than I was ever prepared for. I’ve welcomed new folks and lamented over the severing of old ties to things that were simply not relevant anymore.

• I’ve learned better usage and application of the word NO.

• I’ve learned to migrate towards the people who have my best interests at heart.

• I’ve learned that some people are just incapable of giving others what I need no matter how badly they or I would like them to.

• I’ve learned that choosing, wanting and needing are sometimes mutually exclusive. At others, they are all perfectly in sync with each other. I have yet to find that trifecta.

• I’ve soul searched and found insight through unexpected channels on how to be a better mother, a better wife, and a better friend.

• An epiphany = nervous breakdown (metaphorically speaking). I don’t mean to make light of NBs, nor do I know the feeling first hand, but I would like to imagine that moment of clarity when you come through to the other side of both experiences may or may not render the same effects on your psyche.

• I just heard someone mutter the phrase “disadvantage is just advantage turned on its ear.” I have never heard that phrase before, but I feel motivated in this moment to make those words ring true when the time or place is right for the seizing.

• I’ve learned that my inner dialogue REALLY can ramble with unending, exhaustive, narcissistic monologues. 

• I’ve gotten to hear so many people talk about so many other people and see so many others people from a new-found, and sometimes skewed, perspective.

• I’ve gotten to appreciate my husband more and have watched him constantly strive to be the best version of himself for no other reason than that deep down, that is who he is, and everything else is who he striving to be.

• I’ve learned that if you don’t spray your coat with Febreeze after every funeral, the next time you put on your coat and for many weeks afterwards,  you will be inundated with a very weird, pungent combination of perfumes, carnations, and lilies.

Roof fixer on the drive home

•  •  •

REQUIEMS, CRESCENDOS, AND $8 EPIPHANIES

I appreciate requiems. They really put a period on the end of a sentence with all the pomp, circumstance, and all the crescendos a moment deserves. Anyone who knows me well, knows just how much I love crescendos; I am a sucker for them in ANYTHING. I thump my chest like Celine Dion when I hear that manufactured, musical fortissimo in all its over the top glory. This love for elevated endings was definitely honed while performing as the “cymbal girl” in my high school marching band. Carrying around 20 pound cymbals for hours at a time makes you really appreciate the crash that comes at the end of a large swell.

Last year was my crescendo, one manufactured by me and heavily influenced by the course of events that transpired. A year of a series of slow and steady rises and falls to the precipice of something. I have been left more empty and more filled by this past year than most any other. I felt such raw emotion as if I just traversed something all too hard to comprehend. The I am still waiting for the final curtain call, for the conductor to close his palms and bow.

Crescendo between our houses

I saw a movie with my family the day before New Year’s Eve. After the morning funeral, we wanted a quiet family afternoon with a little, nondescript, innocuous family film. One that we expected to watch and then forget about. I did not expect it to affect me so deeply. (Damn you Cameron Crowe and that stupid zoo you bought!)

All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage…

The movie was formulaic and sweet at the outset, but as it gathered momentum, there were many moments of “something.” And then there was a moment — a moment that summed up my entire year. A year I felt isolated by and isolated inside of. A year where I felt my struggles were my own and foolishly kept my laments primarily to myself.

After their long and arduous process of trying to build this zoo and all the movie drama that entails, the main character and his son (who of course were at odds during most of the film) have the proverbial blow out to release all the tension they have been building for the last two hours. After some reflections, their relationship slowly saunters it way into the realm of getting back on track. The day before the zoo is set to launch its grand reopening, father and son sit in front the animal cages and talk. Without the benefit of You Tube, I can’t remember exactly how it went, but it was a conversation designed to be a vehicle to get the two of them really communicating again. The father suggests that the two of them say something they have always wanted to say to the other one, simultaneously, on the count of three.

I can’t for the life of me remember the exact words so the impact of this may not be as potent as it is in my head. “I know you did your best, dad,” or some suggestion of that notion was uttered in that simultaneous exchange. It was really a small moment that before I had a kid wouldn’t have even noticed. In a sappy moment that only Mr. Crowe can manipulatively and poignantly deliver, my body just couldn’t stop itself. I felt the tears roll down my face and all that exhaustion at trying my very hardest at everything came to a head. Then I heard the sniffling on the other side of Jack. I looked over at my husband, saw his glassy eyes, and I realized after all this time he was silently experiencing all the same things I thought I only knew the darks spaces of; the same worries, the same self-doubt, the same need to be and do the best for this little person we created who means everything. I realized he was feeling everything, but that I had been taking it for granted that he wasn’t. For some reason it just didn’t cross my mind.

I held Dave’s hand and I understood everything. The hurt, the worry, the unsureness he never shows but somehow a few moments within a beautifully corny film revealed. All this undue pressure to strive to be better for Jack is a hard thing to live up to. We are looking to live this life a different way, a better way, a less exhausting way, but up to and including this point we are not sure how. He is not sure how.

Waiting for the film

On the car ride home, I reached across to the driver’s seat, lovingly grabbed the back of Dave’s neck and asked. “What’s our adventure?” He looked over with tears in his eyes and quietly said, “I dunno.” His honesty was both comforting and complex. He turned off the car, smiled, and the three of us walked hand in hand into the grocery store, putting notions of life changing exploits on the sidelines for the moment. We ran at full speed across the parking lot, Jack holding both our hands as he begged us to swing him onto the sidewalk. We obliged.

Our $8/Junior Mints and popcorn epiphany: we needed our adventure to begin and we were ready for it now more than ever. Maybe we ignored the call long ago. We had both lost parents at the dawn of our adulthoods and losing your parents at that stage in your life makes you forge your life’s path in one of two ways, carefree and without a net, or it makes you wary of all other risks. For me, all my safety nets were taken away and up until this point, I hadn’t realized I was spending my time trying to feel safe again. Moreover, in that desire for safety, I was cheating myself of everything else. I spent most of my adulthood being an ADULT because I was so afraid not to. I was afraid of letting the phantom version of my mother down. That realization hit me like a sucker punch.

But then I thought, maybe this search for safety and its subsequent realization process was how it had to be in order to become fully formed to this point. Life was waiting for us to be ready, and now it is almost time.

Parking Lot Dance

•  •  •

WISHES AND PROMISES

This day started out very cynical and ended up being scared, a little sad, doubtful, and hopeful. I am sure life will chip away again, But I had more resolve than ever to somehow keep the momentum going.

Still waterlogged by our evening film, Jack turned to me and said, “I have never seen a real ocean before and I really want to.” I promised him that we would somehow make that happen this year.

Prior to Jack’s ocean wish, I had spent the day engulfed in negativity, reading negativity, and hearing negativity wrapped in cleverness. But this simple wish and the catharsis of mine and Dave’s emotional moment inspired me to dive headfirst into an art project I have had rattling around in my head for quite some time: one that incorporates the choice we make and the dreams we have. I am convinced, now more than ever, that our dreams are important, our choices are imperative, and that we all start living this adventure instead of working so hard to muddle through.

I promised Jack that if he stuck with swimming and actually swam underwater, I would take lessons as well. I will make good on my promise this year. One step closer to grace.

A blurry walk into the parking lot

•  •  •

SLEDDING

A few weeks later, the three of us went sled riding. Another thing I had never attempted until now. I was afraid but excited. Jack was nervous as well. There was something special about experiencing this for the first time together if for no other reason, we really understood what the other one was going through.

I went downhill with Jack. We started on the small hill and worked our way to the top. He sat behind me, held onto my neck, and screamed with delight. We took it the whole event slow until we eventually sled down the hill from the very top.

I asked if I could head down the hill with Dave. Jack said he would follow behind. I took my seat behind Dave and held on as we started sliding down the hill. I kept trying to dig my heels into the ground on the way down as to slow our pace. Dave lifted my heels and wrapped his arms around my shins to keep them elevated. He knew I needed to let go. I spent the rest of the ride thinking of nothing except that hill, that leap forward, that slide into the parking lot. It was a spiritual moment, blurry, uncertain, scary, exhilarating — our metaphor for the next — a plunge we took together. He seems to have a knack of finding subtle ways to show me bravery without even realizing it. I got up from the descent, laughed, thanked him, straightened out my cheap, end of the supermarket aisle kiosk hat, and trudged up the hill, family in tow.

•  •  •

EPILOGUE ON 11

I realize our “photograph” is still being developed. As much as we want to forge and force destiny, we kind of have to ride things out a bit organically as well. We all wanna to be Kerouac or at least the jazzy, eloquent idea of him. We all want to be graceful like Fosse and fearless like every pioneer who has come before us. Knowing how to traverse our newest adventure is gonna take time to decipher. I want to become less awkward and more sure when I finally reach my destiny. But for now I will still dance awkwardly in supermarkets while singing under my breath, and continue to move past “11.”

Our first sled ride (cell phone pic)

Theater Light

Inside the theater

Spinning Spirals at the Passing Planes: Tension and Release

The end of fall

I realize haven’t written an entry this blog in a very long time. No excuses, just life and the participation in an extremely long two months, filled with too many distractions/projects/illness. Time and a reoccurring flu became the very personification of an enemy. But even when the clock and toxic phlegm keeps a person from their written thoughts, those thoughts still manage to emerge, just in a less linear, more imperfect fashion. Over these past few months, my brain did a lot of scattered thinking and I experienced a few random moments that seemed much more linear at the time.

• • •

View from the Mausoleum

I watched them lower the coffin into its casing before lowering it into the sealed structure into the ground for all eternity. Another funeral. My seventh for the year. I am running out of black clothing. (That is something that this normally dark attired person never thought would transpire.)

I marveled at my shoes in the reflection of the hearse’s hub caps, as I pondered whether or not to take its picture. I didn’t…

I guess this seemed an appropriate ending to this year. It began with a death in the second month and ended with another death in the second to the last month. Little did I know there would be yet another death only a few weeks after this one.

Roadside Flower

I watched my husband and his brother witness the sealing of the coffin into a larger cement box. The process reminded me of Russian stacking dolls. The deceased’s name was etched on the top of the outer box. I didn’t photograph that either… My not photographing these moments is something I regretted at the time but I now realize they weren’t the moments I was meant to/needed to capture. The air was thick with enough final goodbyes and tension. Theses “photo moments” were merely insignificant interruptions no one should dwell on. Someone whispered over my shoulder about the sadness of “said and done” and “being left with nothing but a casket.”

The “box” was transported by a small crane driven by one of the grave diggers, lifted far too high and descended far too quickly into it’s final resting place. I had never seen anything like this set up and delivery. The cement encasing was carried along by nothing but two ropes looped around the left and right sides of the lid. The ropes were taught but could be removed easily. I asked my husband how on earth did he think that casket was being suspended without a hook, wire, or other apparatus securely affixed to it.

What’s holding it up?

“Tension.”

I exhaled as he walked over to someone. That word hung there. There couldn’t have been more perfect utterance of syllables in that moment though neither one of us realized it’s significance but later discussed on the car ride home.

Picking a direction

…I lost track of time and got bogged down in the process. In my quest for simplicity, the simple became complex… Missed opportunities. Missed moments…

After eight funerals and eight funeral home visits and eight reflections and eight observances, I realized the words that were being uttered there were the same words I was uttering to myself.

If we’re lucky, we choose to build our lives on ourselves first, and then on something or someone substantial. Relationships are led by our choices and finding joy within the company you keep. But sometimes we thrive on tensions, and those tensions are the only thing holding our everything together. We can not remove the tension without removing the supportive ropes. And the ropes are our only connective tissue. Observing things now, I have seen tension in place of too much for far too long for far too many, all bubbling underneath the surface.

• • •

Passenger planes outside my window

I watched the planes take off at the tiny restaurant beside the tiny airport. We dined in the Frank Sinatra room. There were pictures of Ol’ Blue Eyes everywhere. I couldn’t imagine Sinatra hanging out in Latrobe. But there he was, looking right at me in glossy black and white. We were the only ones dining that afternoon. The sky was beautiful. I was moving from window to window trying to see as much as I could. I had arrived at a restless sense of peace for a moment for the first time in a long year.

I watched my niece make faces in the kitschy wall-sized mirrors. I knew this transition year was coming to a close, and the Pandora’s box of revelations that have simultaneously surprised, and empowered, and exhausted me on an almost daily basis were temporarily at bay. The recognition of those I love and those who love me were coming into focus.

The food was delicious and the company calming. We drove home full and ready to nap.

Frank Sinatra Room

There are so many other thoughts to have, but they all seem distant and stale. So for now, I leave behind some imagery relating to this entry as well as a few random moments of “somethings” from the last two months. Hopefully I am leaving death behind and coming into newfound words and images in the weeks to come.

• • •

OTHER MOMENTS TOO “SOMETHING”  TO DEFINE: