Thursday, June 30, 2005

Tigger, Piglet, and Aunt Betty too

The phone rings. My brother is on the line, Did you read today's obituaries?

No. I hold my breath and stop my heart, Why?

He tells me that Aunt Betty passed away. He's matter of fact, doesn't soft pedal it, but how can you? We discuss the service details, and the phone call ends.

It hits me with the terrific force of a plane dropping in turbulence.

Aunt Betty. I'm not related to her but she and Uncle Willy were such close friends with my parents that I've never known her as anything but my Aunt Betty. My parents being Aunt Betty and Uncle Ed to their children. Growing up, we were as much a fixture in their household as they were in ours. Summers, the families spent together in neighboring cabins in the hill country and I have a pile of memories of evenings spent at Criders Rodeo & Dance - Mom, Dad, Uncle Willy and Aunt Betty sitting at a picnic table drinking their beers and enjoying the music and the darkening blue skies of a Texas evening, while we ran around the area like terrors trying to capture lightening bugs, or pretending to be our parents on the dancefloor.

Aunt Betty was one of those people who refers to you by your first and last names, even when she's just saying hello to you. She always made your name sound like music. She always made me smile when she said my name that way, even the last time.

She had a funny ability to be my friend when I was young, Aunt Betty did, and somehow still be the adult. She did not get mad at us when her daughter Sally and I discovered her mascara one Sunday morning, and applied it again and again to our lashes until we looked something like 7-year old versions of Tammy Faye Baker. Nope, instead she was over-the-top complimentary and told us we were beautiful. And she let us go to church that Sunday as is. It must have pained her to do that but I remember how much it meant to us, how glamorous we felt. I adored her.

As an adult, whenever I saw Aunt Betty, she'd pat the cushion on the seat beside her or point to a chair near her, and say, Sit right down here and tell me how you are. She was always so excited to see you. And she'd always listen.

I think of my father. I think of Uncle Willy, Aunt Betty's husband. I think of Mr. and Mrs. Gaylord. I recall all these giants from my life, now gone. I think of how the best things in life seem to barely brush our awareness when they're going on; we're not in tune to the soft shoe steps of time moving forward. I miss the days when I could never imagine that the cozy magic wouldn't go on and on. I miss the days of life in the Hundred Acre Woods.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Unsolicited advice, but a valuable warning

You didn't ask for it but seriously, take my word on this: If you're at a restaurant with friends and the bill arrives, DO NOT discuss the topic of asking the waiter to pad the tab total to include the tip vs closing the tab at the exact amount and writing the tip in beneath that and summing it up above your signature (which, by the way, is the normal way to do things, that or cash tip). And don't mention debit cards and the whole bit about banks running them for 20% over the amount. Especially - and take heed on this - when it's a table of five women and one has been a waitress in a nightclub, one has been a waitress in a restaurant, one is a manager of a catering company, and two just want to be heard. It won't be pretty. Seriously, go get a tooth pulled or something but don't put yourself there. Against this advice, if you still find yourself there, best to just toss your cash in the pile and keep your trap shut. Because we women have opinions and, more than that, WE ALL THINK WE'RE RIGHT.

O the things of today

  • Today is my first steroid-free day in six months. I've taken them in milligrams from 5 to 100 for ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-FOUR DAYS. And I've got the face to prove it. To me, this liberation is worthy of a celebration that includes a parade and fireworks, and maybe even a few speeches from public figures, and the presence of a movie star or two.
  • Today I was actually able to figure out some math on my own, well, how to use the calculator for it, but I remembered the formula. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but then you were probably born with something in your brain where math calculations take place, whereas in my case there's nothing but a wind storm going on in that particular spot. Sadly, this is also worthy of a celebration, though smaller than the steroid-free gathering.
  • Today I was rifling through my purse and cut my finger on a Dos XX bottle cap. I think I get two points for not littering, but I really need to remember to clean out my purse on occasion.
  • Today my brother-in-law called to ask me to have a license plate traced. That told me that he has absolutely no idea what I do for a living. Either that or he thinks I have connections that I do not. Either way it made me want to hit my head against a wall. Several times. If I weren't so happy about being without steroids in my day, I just might have. But then I'd be bruised at my parade, and that wouldn't be good.
  • Today I found out that one of my friends is actually a Reply All person even though she says she's not. She also says My bad just to rattle my cage. And it works. This, in turn, will rattle hers.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Saturday madness. What were we thinking?

6:00 a.m. - I wake up and wonder why I've made plans to get up earlier on a Saturday than I do during the week.

6:15 a.m. - Necessary cup of coffee in hand, all full of high hopes and anticipation, we set out into the sunrise and post our signs announcing to the world that we are having a yard sale from 8:00 - 2:00 and we would love for you to come over and put your hands all over our stuff and offer us next to nothing for it.

7:00 a.m. - We return to the house and start displaying the stuff on the tables. Five tables. Lots of stuff on the tables. Lots of clothes along the fence. Sweaters and wool jackets. It's already so hot that I can barely stand to touch them. No one will buy these things in the 94 temp we're expecting today, so I think the exercise futile.

7:01 a.m. - The first person who ignores the time on the signs shows up and pretends not to understand when we say "It doesn't start until 8:00," but is capable of asking us questions about this or that and putting her hands all over this and that before walking away without buying a thing. Sharon snaps, "Come back when we're open."

7:10 a.m. - The second, third and fourth person who ignore the time on the signs show up and touch all the stuff, rifling through clothes that I just folded and tossing them back into a heap on the table. Sharon growls, "We're not open until 8:00." They leave.

7:15 - 7:30 a.m. - A nice lady (because she is the first to say "Good Morning" when she walks in) and her son come by. Because we're used to company by now and she's actually picking up stuff and keeping it in her hands - without questioning the price - we let her be.

7:30 a.m. - First sale of the day. She scooped up the goods: two Ralph Lauren purses, a couple platters, some t-shirts, and a pair of boots. Yeah, let the cash box ring!

8:00 - 10:00 a.m. - A fair amount of people come and go, make purchases from .50 to $14.00 totals. Some want to pay .50 for things that are marked a dollar. I know that money is tight but we're only talking a .50 difference. And I know I said yesterday that we'd nogotiate, but today I'm not in the mood for it, so we don't budge because on our end that .50 will buy what I'm not sure but we decide that we need it.

10:00 - 11:00 a.m. - It's slow, maybe one or two groups of people. They do buy stuff but we're getting bored and let our .50 cents go to the wind and start saying "yes" when they ask if we'll take .50 for something that's marked a dollar. A couple friends stop by. They give me $100.00 for the paving stones they bought the night before and return a lock they'd borrowed. I put a dollar sticker on the lock and put it on a table. It's the next thing to sell.

11:15 a.m. - Sharon says, "Only three more hours." I want to cry. We have a lot of stuff left and it's hot and I'm bored with the whole thing and tired of watching people pick up J.Crew dresses or Banana Republic pants and asking if I'll take a quarter. No, I won't. I would give it away before I'd sell it for a quarter, but not to you. They look at me like I'm a bad person and I do not care. I return a look that says, yeah, well you're a cheapskate. In a weird way, the buyer has become the enemy.

11:20 a.m. - Sharon says, "Maybe people can't find the street." I ponder this a moment. We're in a grid neighborhood, numbered streets east to west, named streets north to south. And then her street, which is secret and invisible.

11:30 a.m. - A woman tries on a wool jacket. It's so hot that I have to go inside the house because I cannot watch her do this. She buys the jacket though. Sharon starts putting reduced tags on her stuff, taking a dollar off of everything and even breaking out the .10 cent stickers. I'm starting to sell pants and dresses for .50 without the potential buyers having to ask first. Someone asks if Sharon will take 15.00 for the Baker's rack priced at 20.00. She'll only go so far on the price slashing though and says the price is firm but to come back at 2:00 and, if it's still there, she'll negotiate.

Noon - We sit inside now with the door open and wait for the dogs to bark to alert us there's someone approaching the gate. A few people wander through and they buy a lot of Sharon's stuff; we have to send them away with boxes to hold all their stuff.

12:30 p.m. - Friends come over. Their dog pees on Sharon's luggage beneath one of the tables, then he pees on the box of tee-shirts. While they're beside themselves with apologies and running after the dog and into the kitchen for paper towels, I almost fall off the porch with laughter. We throw away the luggage and box of shirts. We are tired and hot and bored and do not care anymore.

1:15 p.m. - Hunger sets in, impatience rises up. This sale is over. Sharon makes signs "Take what you want, everything free," and tapes them to the fence. Yeah, that's negotiating. We head out for lunch. On the way, we pass two garage sales across the street from each other, just around the corner from her house. There are cars everywhere, and so many people that it looks like a street party more than yard sales. There is actually traffic. The street is a numbered street. I reconsider Sharon's comment about her street.

When we come back from lunch only two things have been taken - a set of Christmas plates and coffee mugs. A few things are put just outside the fence and the rest is boxed up and put into Sharon's car to deliver to the resale shop on Sunday. It's not five minutes later that the Baker's rack has been scooped up by someone. Within an hour the rest of the stuff on the street is gone. It's over and done.

All told, I think we made about $300.00. And I say here and now that garage sales are officially a thing of the past in my life.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Name your price, because it's got to go and WE ARE WILLING TO NEGOTIATE, but bring your own beer

Tonight is Friday and it has been all about talking and laughing and yummy Chinese food and a couple friends who came over for a visit, and then the real topic: GARAGE SALE TOMORROW. Whenever I'm on the eve of a garage sale, I always wonder what in the world I am thinking. It's beyond strange to have people touching YOUR STUFF and looking at you with dead on seriousness and asking if you will sell that particular Polo shirt (that is not stained and still has the dry cleaner's tag on it) for 25 cents rather than 50 cents. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Or (and this really did happen) when someone says to you that they will buy that particular item (in this case a couch) at the price you're asking, IF you give them a beer. WTF? But of course we did give her a beer that day because we were effing tired of that couch. Right, I imagine myself at Foley's trying to negotiate a new Polo shirt and tossing up "if you give me a beer, I'll pay the sticker price." Yeah, that'd be nice.

So I'm sitting here now and on this table are rolls of masking tape, a cash box with $75.03 in it (the .03 is another story altogether), and packets of price tags in five, ten, 25 and 50 cent prices, and one, five, ten and 20 dollar prices. Who made these stickers? Clearly someone who never had a garage sale because if they had ever had a garage sale then they would know that you have to have a two dollar price tag. You just have to, that's the way it is. That's what the masking tape is for. So tomorrow morning at 6:00, not only are we going to be running around like mad people putting the clothes on a line along the fence and moving five tables from the back yard to front (because apparently things sell better when they're displayed properly) and "displaying" on those tables all the stuff that we no longer want, and posting throughout the neighborhood the ten garage sale signs that we made, we're also going to be writing $2.00 on masking tape and sticking it to whatever it was that we at one time paid $50.00 for, all the while knowing that someone is still going to wander through the yard, touch all the stuff and then look up at us and say "I'll give you a dollar for this." Which is fine, we'll take it. We will negotiate, BUT THEY WILL NOT GET A BEER. Trust me on that.


There are some loves that are real and present and breathe a life of their own in your heart without your control, but they're not allowed for whatever reason. And by whatever reason I mean that I'm not going to write it down here but some reasons are valid and right and so personal that you never ever give voice to them. And as much as it hurts, it is what it is and you know that you have to walk away or you won't be able to live with yourself and, if you stay, you'll take a lot of people down. And you won't do that because you know that love should never take people down. So you leave it all and you go forth without it. But you remember. For him, I say that I heard this song today. And I remembered.

Never is a moment

In the vastness of this world
Baby you are so unique
From your pouty little mouth
To your pretty little peaks
From your head down to your toes
You are beautiful divine
And there never is a moment
That you are not on my mind

Circumstances cast our fate
Maybe wrong, maybe right
Though you're dreams and miles away
I try to reach you through this night
If you hear music in the wind
I hope my melody you'll find
Because there never is a moment
That you are not on my mind

Jimmy LaFave

Dogs rule

The new Pedigree dog food campaign, I love it. I love the narrator's voice and I love the way he says the words, we're for playing, romping, gnawing and nipping. We're for puppies. I love the images of the dogs and puppies. And I love the tag line, Dogs rule. I am sitting here with the tv on right now and I'm actually hoping for the commercial to come on.

I haven't done this since the Hallmark commercial around Mother's Day where the little girls are sitting with their Mom on the couch and going through a box of her saved cards. They find one from their Dad where he's signed it Boo Boo or something like that and they just go into giggle fits when they realize it's from their Dad. And he peeks above his newspaper and grins at his wife and daughters, sort of embarrassed and sort of proud. Love that.

Before that commercial, it's a long stretch back to the last one I loved. That was a McDonald's commercial from years ago where the children are wearing golashes and yellow rain coats, walking in the rain (no doubt to McDonalds) saying in unison, Quack Quack Waddle Waddle. That one always brought a smile. I miss it.

The Pedigree one is lost on me for the purpose though - I don't feed Cheyenne Pedigree dog food. BUT, I do agree with them, dogs do rule. Especially this one (at least in my life).

Dogs rule

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Shame on me

It's a natural thing to categorize or classify people based on what we see, but it is not so natural a thing to judge. But that's exactly what I caught myself doing this afternoon. I was at the nail salon and a woman walked in. I looked at her and based on the size of the diamond on her hand, her dark tan, the cute clothes she was wearing and the excellent blonde on her hair, I dismissed her as married to a rich guy, not working, living the life at salon after salon, or shopping. I dismissed her because I assumed based on nothing concrete that she had the easy life. Seriously, all this passed through my mind in about ten seconds. In that short of time, I not only summed her up but dismissed her.

She was seated at the station next to me. On the other side of her was a woman who apparently is in her children's carpool during the school year. They started talking and I started humbling. What I learned from my eavesdropping was that she has three young children, this woman, and she's raising them alone because her husband is in Iraq. She hasn't seen him since December but is hoping to see him this December. They talk when they can but it's not often. One of her daughters wears hearing aids and the summer camp program has been very hard on her because the children are teasing her. She's not at all sure what to do because each morning her daughter is having fits about going to day camp but has shut her out as to working through it. And she's so tan because this past weekend her mother took her and her children to Galveston for the weekend to give her a break and help her out. To top it off, she was not at all complaining about this, not a bit. It just came out in the conversation, stemmed from the other woman's questions.

So, yeah, I'm humbled and I feel selfish and judgmental. I felt about two inches tall when I left the salon. Deservedly so. Walking out of there, I knew with certainty that in that scenario, I was the dismissible one. And I've once again learned the lesson not to judge a stranger, because you just never know what is going on in another's life. You never know.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Can I be spared of this one thing PLEASE

Where did the trend of saying My bad come from? It's not cute, in fact it's just stupid. Why do adults say this? I'm tired of hearing it. I cringe when I hear it. I want to throw things at the person who says it, heavy things that would cause harm. I want to throw a bucket of ice water on the person who says it. Maybe that would make them wake up to the fact that child-speak is not for fully grown people. So, if you are one of the ones who say it, stop. Please stop.

Weatherman Nirvana

I don't know about your weathermen but Houston's weathermen get pretty darn excited about the weather. I suppose it's part of their job, being in tune and excited about change. But in Houston in the summer there isn't much change unless there's a hurricane on the horizon and their excitement over that is another story entirely. So what excites them when there is no hurricane? Lack of change. Seriously. It hasn't rained in Houston this month, except for a few drops. This morning, the weatherman on one station is over-the-top excited about this. No rain in the forecast, BUT we could set a record for June for days without rain. If this keeps up, we'll be in drought conditions by the end of the week. He stands before his area map, a human exclamation point of excitement, grinning ear to ear and near quivering with his euphoria over the possibility of setting a record and moving into official drought conditions.

Monday, June 20, 2005

An orientation of sorts

Friday we drove to Austin. She and I. We had an appointment at her university of choice. We met with the counselor, asked our questions, and got the information we were seeking. We walked the campus together talking about a future day when she'll be walking this hill or coming through the doors of that building, perhaps sitting in the grass in the shade from that tree. I was pleased to be with her, to watch her, to know her and be the one guiding her along this line of change to her future. I was pleased to witness her excitement.

Main building Peace chapel Grotto Campus building

She has a bit of magic to her, this one. She has a wide eye and a kind spirit. She has a laughter that does not edit itself. She knows exactly who she is, and she is herself no matter where she is or who she is with; in other words, she's not easily swayed. She is shy but emerging.

We spent the rest of our weekend discovering the area around her campus, the shops and restaurants and side street surprises. We met friends for breakfast and lunch. We discovered many vegetarian menus about town, which thrilled her to no end. We shopped. We watched the people waiting for the bats to come out from beneath Congress bridge. We walked, a lot. We discovered waterways and parks. We discovered Waterloo Records (if she had her way, she'd still be there). All weekend, she kept saying to me, everyone here is so nice. And she was right, everyone we met or chatted to was friendly and warm-spirited. Just like she is. I think she's going to be just fine in Austin - the city fits her. She'll stretch her wings beautifully.

Downtown Congress bridge Thirsty dog pit stop Glistening water

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Father's Day

I had started to write (lament) about Sunday being Father's Day and there not being a thing I can do about it. But it didn't feel right, wasn't coming out of me very well. There was no stream and no glimmer.

I put my finger on the <-Backspace button and went over every word, watching them eaten up like a game of PacMan, disappearing letter by letter until the screen was once again white.

Starting over, I could tell you a few things with a knowing sadness, how different the world is to a daughter without her father, how I feel that Father's Day will be a floating bubble, colored and fragile, and out of reach. But I realize that there are some who wish for that difference, who would love to be free of their father. Some fathers are cruel and hideous beings. Some walk out the door and never look back. Some wouldn't dream of raising a hand to help, but don't think twice about raising a hand otherwise.

And then there are the rest of them, the gems. Mine was a gem, a hero, a gentleman, a leader, a father and a Dad. That makes him one of the good guys, and us a few of the lucky ones.

I will be happy tomorrow. I will be feeling blessed tomorrow. He may be gone now, but he was here, he was always here. And he made a difference. He taught me how to drive, how to shoot a gun and how to sharpen a knife. He taught me how to fish. He taught me how to listen. He taught me how to tie a knot, make the perfect martini, and appreciate a good story. He taught me the importance of a solid handshake. He appreciated people that made an effort, and taught me that respect should not be expected or handed over freely, it had to be earned and it was worth seeking. He taught me that I could do anything. Anything at all that you set your mind to, Alison. He taught me that if something is worth having, it’s worth working for, and that included relationships, work and pleasure.

The day didn't much matter to him but I loved buying him Father’s Day cards and writing in them how happy I was that he was my father. And as sad as I am that I’m not buying a card this Sunday, truth be told, I’m still happy. I'm happy that he is my Father.

I would not have it any other way.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

My inner Strunk & White

The other night at dinner with friends I made the enormously gross mistake of getting the use of I vs Me wrong. Well, correction and admission - I was incorrectly correcting someone. WHICH I NEVER DO when it comes to grammar because I think it rude among other things. (Well, I do correct one friend but honestly she needs the help.) Something that night, I guess the margarita, made me confidently say, "I" when she finished her sentence. And they pounced, my friends did. Because they're a smart bunch and I had gotten it very wrong and done so out loud. I deserved to be dismissed from the table (reflections on a strict grammar upbringing), but instead they all repeated "No, it's me ... so and so and me." I forget the sentence now but they were right. I was wrong. And the thing is that I KNOW BETTER. I've had the correct usage drilled into my head since being able to string words into complete sentences. I know the test, taking the other person from the equation and seeing if your sentence makes sense. I know it. AND I know to keep my mouth shut. Well, most of the time.

Moving on but keeping on words in general... why do we use utilize and (cringe) utilization when use is a perfectly good word? Why why why? It's not as if the number of syllables equals the IQ level of the writer. And while I'm at it, I prefer to see no more use of prior experience. If it's experience, we get it, it happened before the present. Just a sample of what comes across my desk on a fairly regular basis. And I think a tiny exercise in face-saving.

That said, one last thought on words. I'd like to declare right here and now that I have fallen head over heals for Hep Cat. It was in yesterday's crossword and I think it's just plain cool, daddy-o.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The car is a stage and I'll be back for an encore

The older I get, the more I appreciate Jackson Browne as a lyricist. You just cannot fully comprehend his genius until you've been around the block a few times.

'Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I've been waiting to awaken from these dreams
People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it's later than it seems.

Doctor My Eyes. I was searching for a traffic report on the way to work and caught the song at the first notes. It's been a long while since I've driven to work with the volume as loud as it was, and my steering wheel pulling double duty as a drum set. Oh yeah. It's a damn shame that I have zero musical talent because I really am a rock musician at heart.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Flag day

Fly it, wave it, stick a decal of it to your car, your boat, your trailer or your bike, have it tattooed on your arm or your back, stand beneath it or beside it, sew it onto your jeans, hang it in your window, stick a pin of it in your lapel, pledge your allegiance to it, or, yes, even burn it if you so choose.

All of these you do beneath the freedom that it represents.

She lets me live with her, but letting me on the couch, well, that's another story altogether


Sunday, June 12, 2005


Several weeks ago, I was driving down the road and chatting with my sister-in-law, Kathy, on my cell phone. Kathy was telling me about her afternoon spent with Mom. At all costs to her sanity, she navigated through the mine field of things that can set Mom off. She exercised her skill in patience. She exhibited her skill in mediation. She practiced her skill at knowing when to keep her mouth shut, as well as her skill at bending over backwards. She was wiped out from the afternoon, but pleased that it had gone without incident (something that doesn't happen very often). I commented that she deserved a gold star. And just a moment after I said that, I saw one. I couldn't believe it - there it was, a giant gold star sitting on four wheels, parked on the side street. I told her and we laughed about it. I wished I had my camera. This afternoon I saw it again. And this time I had my camera. So, Kathy, here's your gold star. It's a big one, isn't it? You deserve it.

The shape of yellow

He’s been gone now for over four months. Time does not act the same anymore; days and weeks have taken on a different shape. Sundays are slippery and slow-moving. Their simplicity forever shattered. I try to anticipate it, brace for it. Some Sundays I fill my time, keeping one step ahead of being still enough to get shot point blank by the recall. Other Sundays I’ve placed myself at the cabin, keeping myself surrounded by his world and his handiwork. Today it’s got me and I can’t move very well through it. I keep staring out the window where the world spins on in ways I envy by can't grab hold of.

I go over and over the details of him. The details that day-to-day were not taken account of but were there all the same. The way the hair on his arms laid down, the way a glass fit in his hands, the way he tied knots in fishing lines and ropes. The imprint his feet made in his shoes, evidence he was there. I try to remember how he opened his mail and how he read the morning paper. I try to remember the smell of his neck when we hugged, and the feel of the air conditioning on his shirt collars. And the way his hand felt when he held mine. It's these details of him that I want to gather into a pile like shavings and hold in my hands. I want to hide the pile away like a secret beneath a loose board in the floor. And each day see the light shining through the cracks, and know the secret is there and safe.

But he is not a hidden secret. He is everywhere around me. He is my heart. He is the summer heat. He is the mourning dove. He is the whir of the fan, the pulse of the breeze. The flesh of watermelon, the scent of a strawberry. He is the click of the lamp switch, the tightened screw on the hinge, the key in the lock. He is the smell of good coffee in the morning. He is the smile of the little boy I winked at in the store yesterday. He is the reason behind that wink. That alone is evidence.

I know he would tell me, don’t be sad. He couldn’t stand to see me sad, couldn’t stand when he was unable to fix or understand whatever it was that was upsetting me. And when he couldn’t fix it, he’d tell me, be brave. Tell me or ask me, I’m not sure. It was easy to be brave for him. He was there to be proud of me. But asking it of myself now is sometimes impossible, like someone asking me to act out the shape of a color.

Whether reasonable or not, I used to think that the dead could see us. For instance, I've often found comfort in, and even guidance from, my belief that my Grandmothers watched over me. Does my father now see me? And if so, does he repeat to me, Do not be sad, Alison. Be brave.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Sort of summer morning

The thing about June is that not only does it launch summer onto the scene, but it is when Spring lingers slowly in its final breaths. There is a transfer. The cicadas come out, their sound rising to a cresendo and shrinking back like the rhythm of the tides. Inbetween, there is a hammock lull. Summer doesn't jump out with big changes, it lazily yawns and stretches into being. Where Spring mornings inspire me with the daily discovery of change, summer mornings stun me with their show of early morning light. I watch the honey-colored ribbons stretching across the park to areas that go untouched at any other time of day. I watch the rays pass right over me as a miracle on my skin, and suddenly the day is fully lit, and fully hot. And so the day begins. Good morning.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Sad sack

Look at that defeated face. No doubt she is remembering the days we used to go on morning walks through the neighborhood and to the park where she'd be let off her leash to run and play and sniff about and roll in the grass and chase squirrels at whim. Now she goes outside to do her business and that's it. I hate to step between her and the great outdoors - I do leave a window open for her so that she can plop her head on the sill and at least watch and smell the world around her. Poor pup, she's definitely singing the blues. Six more weeks of this.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

If anyone's looking for me, I'll be on the corner with my cardboard sign up and hand out

Balance. It's not something that I'm wholly acquainted with on the outside. But on the inside, I try to have balance. I believe it requires restraint, steadiness and consistency. It means living the truth. What I do, what I see, and what I talk about not only indicate but dictate what I get from life. If I shortchange, I'll get shortchanged. If I scheme, I've no doubt that time will equalize that as well. Living the truth means staying away from smoke screens, keeping my eyes open, and trying to keep all the factors in balance. We get what we give - good or bad. I understand that. And I believe it, so I try. Everyday I live awareness of it and I try.

So, I'd like to ask the dark cloud that is seemingly intent on shadowing me to get off my ass because I think you've got the wrong girl. But just in case you don't, let me tell you that I think I'm doing very well in this storm you've dropped on me. You're not going to knock me down. I know what I'm made of. And these things that you're putting in my life, I'm dealing with the emotional ones, got it? I'M DEALING WITH IT ALL. And you know what? I'm getting stronger every day. But the others, the ones that require me to pay out the same ass that you keep trying to kick to the ground, the ones that are hitting me so hard and fast that pawnshop has actually slipped through my mind and into my vocabulary several times, well those have to stop. I'm asking nicely. Seriously, because my last name, it is not Rockefeller.

Use three sprinklers, two times a day, for one hour, and repeat as necessary

This is the scene in the newly landscaped yard. Oh yeah, lots of this going on. Happy grass.

water water water

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The scent of the flower lingers on the giver's hands

A week or so ago, I wrote about being afraid of myself and the world. I wrote about realizing that I hadn't gone beyond necessary movements in my life since losing my father. I was realizing how a loss of such magnitude freezes you and makes your life stagnant with grief and fear.

Fear is a lion stalking your path, with steady breathing on your heels. The lion is my imagination; the breath my own. Fear is my enemy - trying to numb my pain, it will numb my mind, my spirit, my life.

This past weekend, I turned around on that lion, said "Boo," and watched it slink away. I had no intention of helping myself this weekend, that wasn't the goal when we tackled the yard. Nonetheless, that's what happened. It happened when I stopped thinking and started working. It happened when I pulled weeds by their roots from the earth. It happened each time I wiped the sweat from my brow. It happened when all it took to satisfy my need was a drink of water. It happened when I patted the moist dirt around the base of the newly planted plants. It happened when I fell asleep Sunday night with an exhaustion that was physical rather than emotional. It happened when I stopped looking inward, and started living outward.

I've learned enough about grief the past four months to know that this will circle back, my fear of living in a world without my father has not really been abated. But this weekend, I also learned that oftentimes the best medicine is to go on living.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

We've been waiting all day for this moment, what do you mean their flight is late?

Their flight was late, their bags checked, and they had to drive their friends home. With each bit of information we received that told us they'd be a little later than we thought, we were all as let down as the discovery of no Santa Claus. We'd anticipated this moment since yesterday, imagining their reaction, knowing they'd be surprised but wondering if they'd like it. After what seemed like forever - during which time each of us picking up this stick or that leaf as if we were polishing the darn place for show - they finally arrived and we finally got to see their faces when they saw our work. To say they were surprised is a bit short of the mark. But they were. And they were happy. And so were we. There were all kinds of tears and hugs going around.

After the lovefest was over, we were very clear to them that we now owned their yard and we expected them to treat it with the best care, plenty of water, fertilizer, weeding, etc. Or we would just have to take it back. Because we will be keeping an eye on it. Acting like a bunch of possessive moms, we were.

All cleaned up Grass! Oh my gosh! New guest

Monday, June 06, 2005

The dogs that ruined the grass that revealed the dirt that Sharon wanted to turn that led to the surprise they'll get when they get home

A couple friends, C&J, went to New Orleans for the weekend in celebration of C’s 40th birthday. While I'm sure they've had a great time, I want to say right here and now before the entire internet world that I don't care how great a time they had, it will be NOTHING AT ALL compared to the surprise we have in store for them when they get home.

Sharon would tell you that it all started with a hoe. But really, it started with two particular dogs running a path in C&J’s back yard so regularly that the grass had long ago vacated the idea of living there, and in its place was a long dirt patch of nothingness. As Sharon was house sitting for them, on Friday she had the idea to turn the dirt a bit and, while looking for a hoe, she connected it with the idea to get some sod to fill in the dirt patches. Before she could say what the heck have I gotten myself into, she found herself on the phone with a guy in Rosenburg, giving him directions to the house so that he could deliver the pallet of sod he rightfully convinced her she'd need. So she spent her Saturday single-handedly putting down the sod. The back yard looks fantastic, and very green.

Let me say right here that, in and of itself, that would be a tremedous surprise birthday gift. But then, a few of us could not leave well enough alone and had to join in the yardwork fun. So, Sunday found Jacqui, Carrie, Teri and me (and of course Sharon) at C&J’s house in about 90 degree heat with not a breeze to be felt, weeding, pulling, digging, uprooting, and trimming. And let me tell you, were we ever sweating and did we ever get DIRTY. And by dirty, I mean to say that we were covered in dirt, head to toe. Well, except for Carrie's toenails which apparently repel dirt. But that's another story.

Phase IA PhaseIB PhaseIC PhaseID

Then it was off to Houston Lawn & Garden where all the plants were half price, so all of us went wholly nuts with the blank-slate potential for the three beds we'd cleaned out. We opted for Hibiscus and Mexican Heather in the back yard bed, and for the front beds it's Esperanza, Cannas, Caladiums, Vincas, Zinnias and Mexican Heather. And 12 bags of soil and mulch.

PhaseIIA PhaseIIB PhaseIIC PhaseIIC

Back at their house, we embarked on planting, potting, raking, bagging, edging, sweeping, mowing, fertilizing, and watering. At this point, we were the kind of dirty that when you were little your Mom would stop you at the back door and make you take your clothes off right there so that you wouldn't track dirt in the house. That dirty.

PhaseIIIA PhaseIIIB PhaseIIIC Phase IIID

But we were also smiling. Because doing this felt amazingly good. It felt good to be working beside each other, and to be doing this for our friends. And for me it felt cleansing - even though I was covered in dirt (by now you should be clear on just how dirty we were). It felt good to have my hands in the earth and not much thought in my mind. It was a relief for me to be working on something constructive, to weed and plant, to nurture life. And if felt real good to every so often get absolutley fizzy with excitement knowing that they had no idea that five of their friends were together at that moment landscaping their yard while they were sipping drinks at Pat O'Briens. No idea at all!

Their flight lands at 5:00 tonight. We're going to be waiting for them at their house. Not one of us wants to miss their faces when they drive up and see this:


Oh, and Teri, Jacqui and Carrie installed their outdoor stereo speakers as well, which really is another story, except for the fact that it involved climbing through attic space, which as you can see in this photo secured that Teri win the dirtiest bird of the day award. And please give a round of applause to Sharon for that lovely grass in the background, the grass that started it all.


Friday, June 03, 2005

The blue ribbon I won tonight

I've done this before, the insanity of trying to convince someone to live. But never before my mother. She doesn't want to go on. She won't admit it, but she has a multitude of problems, and she needs real help, but she won't accept help. She's in pain. So much so that she tries to numb herself nightly with a hefty dose of Scotch. She has no idea what she's saying anymore. But the thing is... I DO.

And I told her as much tonight. I crawled out there on the edge of conversation and dropped a few things... how can I help her? I can't. What can I do? Nothing. Does she know how much it hurts her children that she speaks this way? She wonders if we know how much it hurts her to be without a car? Um, excuse me? She says, if you want to help me, get me a drink. It will your eighth since I've been here. I don't believe that, who is counting? I am. Well, are you going to get me a Scotch? I guess so. I just want to die. And after several more hours of the bitterness that is her tongue, and the craziness that is her mind and our conversation, she is finally ready to go to bed. And I help her there, tuck her in, kiss her cheek, turn down the lights.

And then I crack.

I go to the kitchen and pull out the knives, testing them for sharpness. I glide each one across my calf imagining what it would feel like, what color red is just beneath the skin. I select one. It has a long blade that glistens in the lights. I prop myself on the counter, look at the knife and look at the target. And I think, NO WAY.

And I realize that my bleeding cannot save her, and in the end, it will not release the pain - hers or mine. I can't transfer this problem to my leg or hurt myself into understanding her, and it will not take away the pain of living in a world in which every day my mother tells me, "I want to die," or, "I'm calling to let you know that I'll be dead tomorrow."

I've spent five hours tonight trying to convince her to live, and I'm not sure I've done any good at all. I am sure that she won't be able to recall this tomorrow. But I also know that I didn't slay myself over it. And for now, that's an accomplishment.

It seems like a thousand days

I have a necklace that I wear, a silver locket. It holds a piece of paper with my father’s words to me, “I love you, Dad," cut from a note he’d written me and folded over small. I’ve developed the habit of fiddling with the locket when I’m talking to someone. Anyone really, a co-worker, friend, sales person, pharmacist. Doesn’t matter. I’ve never been a fiddler before. I can’t keep still for long, that's a fact, but that's about getting up, not fidgeting. I don’t tap pens on the desk, or tap my foot on the floor. I don’t twist my hair. And I don't fiddle with my other necklaces, just this one. Although it may appear that I'm fidgeting in a sort of absent-minded or nervous way, I'm actually focused on the action. I’m very aware that my fingers are on a piece of silver that contains my father's message that he loves me. I'm very aware that if I remove the silver and the paper, that it's that love I'm after. That is all.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Talking to the walls

All the photographs I have of my father are not enough. The photos are all imperfect. The images on paper or my mind are not him, but a link to him. They resemble him but are in ways reminders that his presence is not here, just as his presence isn’t really in the photos, just as the photos are not real. They have their use, photographs, and I love their construction, the camera, the image, the print, the success of capturing what you see or saw, or what you were. But they also tell me always that the moment is captured and gone.

I talk to my father’s photos now, one in particular in the hallway. I stop before it in the evenings, look into his eyes and say out loud that I love him, or I’m doing my best, or I miss him. What have I made him in my mind? A piece of paper with the memory of his face imprinted on it, that can hear me as if he is in the same room as me, as if he is going to respond. Or perhaps I do so to have that exchange again, to hear my voice speaking to him, saying “Dad” to him again. Although one-sided, it is comforting.

I've been here before

So many roads lead my thoughts to him. He was my father, my teacher, my friend, my Captain, my leader. All the roads have led to a grief that has opened up again; the desperation, the fluttering in my throat, the unreality of my own presence, the wallowing in vacancy. Nothing stays still in grief. Grief is round and there is always another phase around the bend, and yet everything seems to repeat. Grief does not progress, it circles. And I’m on the cusp of accepting that each phase is not a graduation from the previous, but a reacquaintance and reintroduction to the arc.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A ghost in the fog

It’s taken me a while to realize this, but truthfully I’m afraid of myself and the world around me. For the past week I’ve been more and more aware of a fog I’ve been living under since losing him. Maybe it’s wrong to call it a fog, as if it's temporary and will roll past. Maybe the fog is my life now; it’s different when the changes around you are the forever kind. It’s new to learn that love cannot save. It’s new to know that time runs out and all the memories you have are all you’re going to have. But I’m still here. And so are my eyes. And so is my camera. We have to connect again, my camera and I. I have to face my camera. I’ve waited so long and I’m not solidly sure I even want to. And yet, I know I need to put it back in my life, back in my hands.

I don’t have to wonder why I’m afraid, why I haven’t gone beyond the necessary movements the past several months. Life without him is new, and not what I want. As much as I think I’ve plowed through my heart and my mind, there is still so much of me that cannot fully accept it. It is the part that does not know where I belong, that lives between not wanting to be alone and not wanting to see a soul. The part of me that for a flash of time wants to share something with him, and in an equally quick flash, remembers that I cannot. It is the part of me that feels that if I take new photos, photos beyond digital snapshots, then it will be official. I really am here and he really is not – that is the same reality that is shaped for me by the camera that stands between my eyes and what I see. I see it, I feel it. But I am not part of the picture, and I cannot reach it.