Tuesday, December 25, 2007

On my nose and eyelashes

Merry Christmas, from me to you. It's Christmas morning as I write this. I'm sitting at the dining room table in the little cabin we rented. Out the window, the snow is falling. I've forever dreamed of waking up on Christmas morning to snow falling outside my window. Until this morning, the dream has gone unfulfilled. What I've learned is that sometimes you can't sit and wait for your dream, you have to go to it.

The children and my friend are sleeping. It's deliciously and peacefully quiet and I'm deliciously and peacefully content. I'm also spiritually uplifted. Hard not to be with these surroundings, but I believe it more to do with the Christmas Eve Service I attended last night at a tiny Episcopal church that opened it's doors to me and let me sing Christmas songs and get on my knees in prayer and open my heart in celebration and joy. It was the first time I've worn jeans to church, but that's all I had and that's okay because I fit right in with the rest of the people there.

Earlier this morning, I took Cheyenne for a walk, first putting on her jingle bell collar and her new coat that she loves and does a little dance around my feet whenever I hold it up to put it on her. While out there in the snowy elements, I took this picture. It's peaceful, and that's why I'm posting it. I want to share it with you. I hope that your Christmas is filled with peace and joy.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

And we're off (soon)

Saturday morning at the very early hour of 5:00, my neice, nephew, friend, Cheyenne and I will pile into the car and begin the first leg of our drive to Colorado. Woo hoo! We're going to Colorado for Christmas! One week in the guest house of a ranch just north of Durango. We'll ride horses, the nephew will ski, we'll ice skate, we'll take a train through the snowy mountains to Silverton. We'll drink hot chocolate with marshmellows. We'll make snow angels and have snowball fights. We'll warm our hands and feet by the fire.

I have absolutely no idea if I'll be able to access the internet, so on the chance that I'm unable to do so, I leave you with the wish that I hope you have a very happy and safe holiday. And I hope that into your life falls a bit of the magic that this time of year holds in the air.

Christmas Ornaments

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Coal in her stocking, no doubt

There’s not much I can get my mother for Christmas. Her needs are taken care of, and she’s unable to express her wants. I decided this morning to get her music. She loves music and does not have access to music in her room, so I set out this afternoon during lunch to get her a CD player and some CDs from Target. Going to Target seven days before Christmas is a brave thing to do. It’s also foolish. Maybe not as foolish as going to Target the weekend before Christmas, or on Christmas Eve, but it’s right up there. People begin to turn not so nice when they shop the week before Christmas. They become more driven with running-out-of-time purpose and less driven by the spirit of the season. I shop early each year to avoid that very thing.

Except I couldn't decide until this morning what to get my mother.

During lunch, I happily strolled through the store, picked up a couple things for my niece, some socks for myself, and went to the electronics area for the CD player. I found that and then headed towards the music selection. Three CDs later, I headed to the checkout lanes. On my way, one of the CDs slipped from the cart and hit the floor, just in front of the woman who was tailing me with her cart that was laden and heavy with all sorts of things, presumably for her grandchildren. I fumbled, put my hand up in the air to give her a heads up that I was stopping and to please not run over me, and said, Oh, sorry, excuse me, as I bent down to retrieve the CD. The woman looked at me, saw me, and then ran over the CD with her cart. I quickly moved my hand from the CD so as not to be caught beneath her mean wheels, and looked up at her with I guess surprise on my face because as the CD case cracked, she said to me: Don’t blame me, you’re the one who dropped it. I would have doubted myself that she saw or heard me until those words spewed from her mouth. That's when my face went to Huh, what?

Standing up, CD in hand, I regained composure and smiled at her back as she mowed her cart through the crowd. You have a happy holiday, I called out. Because what was in my mind could not be spoken out loud in public. And because you're supposed to take the high rode. And because it's the holidays, for darn sake.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Oh what a night

Friday was my good friend's thirty-seventh birthday. It naturally follows that on Friday night I attended her birthday party. And oh what a party it was! There were old friends and new friends and co-workers and bosses. There were parents and Aunts. We even met a couple strangers. There was a birthday cake in the shape of a Fleur de Lis in the gold of her favorite football team, the New Orleans Saints. There were rings and necklaces and feathery bracelets that blinked. There were balloons in the air and gifts on a table. And smiles and hugs all over the place. My friend gave a touching speech about her love for those of us there, before slicing into the cake she'd been eyeing most of the evening. There was fun conversation and a lot of laughter. It was one of those warm and memorable nights where everyone and everything comes together just right, where everything sparkles and shines.

IMG_0194 IMG_0191 IMG_0221 IMG_0217 IMG_0222 IMG_0203 IMG_0207 IMG_0208 IMG_0210 IMG_0186 IMG_0226 Wellies!

Do you love those boots? I do. They were my gift to her. When she opened the box, she was delighted and she pulled off her shoes and wore these rubber boots for the rest of the night. On Saturday morning she told me they were right beside her bed when she woke up.

Update: Birthday girl's Sunday brunch of cake with a side of bacon:


Friday, December 14, 2007

People's Choice Award - Mother approved

I won an award this week. I was nominated by my colleagues weeks ago, without my knowing it, and our Board voted on it, also and obviously without my knowing it. So, the past couple of weeks, I've gone about my daily business blissfully clueless. On Tuesday I got clued in. I was presented with my company's Award of Excellence. The award itself is sort of a paperweight maybe, I don’t know, but a thing you put on your office desk or bookshelf. It is made of recycled glass, which I appreciate, and has a round medal, like a silver dollar, atop it that has the name of the man who founded our company as well as our logo and “Excellence Award.” Although very surprised, I felt good about receiving the award. It’s for doing my job above and beyond expectations. (I think it's fair to say here that I have been in a new role since April, one that is yet to have an officially written description, so to be above and beyond, is a bit of a shock since I don't yet know the benchmark. Or perhaps I do.) In partnership with the trophy / paperweight / thing, was a check, a nice check. I was stunned by all of it, completely surprised. Thank goodness I didn't have to give an acceptance speech. I fear I would have gone all Sally Fields You love me, you really love me on them.

When I got in my car after work, I turned the engine over with anticipation of going to my parents’ house and telling them all about it. Dad would bring out some champagne and say, I’m very proud of you, Cat. His blue eyes would shine at me and we would talk about the importance of good service. Mom would remind me that I was right to stay with this company even when they (my parents) wanted me to find a different job way back when. I would feel good that they felt good about me.

It's true, that’s what I was thinking. It happens sometimes and it happens so fast, that sort of thinking and excitement, that it out runs reality for a bit. It’s fantastic, the forgetfulness, the purity and the energy in my heart. In a way, that thinking makes the scene happen, stages it and lives it in another place and time. And that's okay.

I stepped back to the present, put my car in drive, and headed towards Mom.

Mom, she was all smiles at me when I told her about it. Her eyes smiled at me. Her mouth smiled at me. Then her words told me she was proud of me. I sat beside her bed, my hand over her hand, the bright lights of her Christmas tree glowing, and let the moment and her smile and words fill me to the brim. My Mom, she loves me. She really loves me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

No camera

It was not cold this morning, it wasn't even chilly. In fact, it's muggy and hot and nothing at all what I think December 11 should be like. Doesn't matter what I think, the weather is out of my control (Global Warming notwithstanding).

Cheyenne, on the other hand, set out this morning with the same bounce in her step usually only brought out when frost covers the grass. Maybe it's the excitement of her jingle bell collar, I'm not sure, but she circled and butt-tucked and kept her brown tail wagging at egg-beater pace the entire walk.

When we approached two neighbors, Cheyenne circled them and snorted and butt-tucked ran between them and me, and one commented that she was the happiest dog he'd ever seen. I thought about that a minute as as I watched the blur of her movement and I told him it was the same with me. That dog, she is most certainly happy. She takes to each day with such excitement that one can't help but smile. Cheyenne has "live for the day" fully ingrained in her genes. I find that to be a delightful reminder to do the same.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I don't feel like coughing up the details because I'm not sure that anyone but she and me and possibly her would understand. But I will say that Saturday night, a certain friend of mine, me, and this beautiful logo became permanently connected.


Friday, December 07, 2007

This is a love song

In my heart, there's a dream here. Atop her head, floating. Floating higher than my memories that she's mine, I'm hers. In my heart, she's young. She is before my being her daughter. Eternally young and perfect, she is. We are friends, she and I. We play hockey, she tutors me in Economics. I stand outside her dorm, gaze into her window. And sigh. I love you, I say out loud, I will always love you.

Nothing moves but for the falling snow, the moon light shifting the shadows.

No one can reach her.

I am her daughter, not her friend. I didn't know her then, when she danced and played competitive sports, and rode trains to dates, and wrote in the journals that I now have, discover, trace my finger along every loop of her script. I'm trying to be her, understand her, sit beside her as she dreams her future.

Did she dream me?

Mom, did you wish for me? I know she wanted me, we've had that conversation. But I forgot to ask her if she dreamed of me, if she wanted me.

Too late to ask.

I walk into her room, arms laden with Christmas. The tree, the ornaments, the skirt, the colors. I'm not comfortable with this. Christmas outside of our house, Christmas in a room, in a bed. How can we do this? How can I?

I string the lights, one by one, through the tree. I have a purpose, insane focus. This tree must be perfect. My eyes defy me and I cry.

Mom, thank you for letting me do the lights this year. I know, it's your job and my job is the ornaments, but for tonight...

We broke it down. My father and I would get the tree; she would string the lights; I would decorate.

Thursday night, the tree was not eight feet, it was three. The tree was not Pine, but plastic. Or some other simulated something fiber.

I tug and push each light. It has to be perfect, because this is my Mom. I hang the ornaments, adjust the balance, step back, make some changes.

I lean onto her bed beside her. Mom, look at your tree!

She looks outward and nowhere.

I kiss her all over her face, hold her hand tight. Mom, look at the tree, it's Christmas.

Mom, it's Christmas. I kiss her cheek.

She smiles at me, moves the focus of her watery cinnamon eyes to the tree.

Quietly, in a breathy whisper, she says, That's nice. It takes energy for her to say those two words, for her to say something I can understand, to convey meaning, string a sentence. Yet she does it.

Her smile and her words, That's nice. It's the Grammy award, the Emmy, the Nobel. It's approval and delight.

She closes her eyes, flutters them open again, searches for the colored lights and focuses on the bulbs. I think it's focus, but I know she sees them.

She rests. I watch her, move my hand across her arm, whisper to her, I love you, Mom. I love you.

My Mother? She knows I've put a Christmas tree up for her. Somehow she knows.

That's nice.

For today, Pearl Harbor Day

This photo was taken from the Pearl Harbor Memorial, built over the sunken USS Arizona, this summer. My friend emailed this photo to me this morning. I love this photo so am going to share it with you. You might love it too, or you might not. Maybe you'll just like it. But whether you love it or like it or don't feel anything either way about it, I bet that a little rush of something will run through you when you first see it. Did you feel it, that little rush? What do you think that is?

hawaii 163

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It makes me smile

Message left on my cell phone the other night:

It's a beautiful sunset but what makes it more beautiful is that I am watching a tornado-size group of geese circle and fall into the field. It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I haven't seen this in... I don't know, I don't think I've ever seen this many geese in one spot. I'm wishing your Dad was here. But he's probably watching.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Isn't he lovely?

Normally when I speak of Stevie, one could be safe in the assumption that I mean Stevie Nicks. Since I'm pretty much a freak about Fleetwood Mac. But not today. Oh no, today's Stevie is Wonder. Stevie Wonder. I saw him last night. Second row from the stage, a little off the center to stage right. My oh my can that man sing. And he can control a packed house. He made us laugh, made us listen, made us sing and made us dance. My feet are a little displeased this morning with that dancing part since my heels were so high, but you know what? I was dancing to Stevie Wonder. Live in concert. In the second row. The feet? They can get over it.

That was some kind of spell going on at the Toyota Center last night. Oh yeah.

Postscript: What made the night all the better was that I had no idea I was going to a concert until my phone rang at 6:15 and I was invited because the person with the fourth ticket was unable to go. Now THAT makes a fun evening!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Morning Sun

Shelves in my living room at 7:30 this morning. Look at that sunlight coming in through the windows! I love this room in the morning. It makes me feel warm and happy.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Not to be outdone by the frog

The Ladybug, she says Merry Christmas.


I know, I know, I need to find something constructive to do with my time. Something valuable and worthwhile. I just can't help myself. It's Saturday morning and I'm sitting here with a stack of bills to my left and on my right is a stack of catalogs with folded pages for Christmas gifts I wish to purchase. The garage needs to be cleaned, and I need to take the clothes from the dryer. But I can't be bothered to do anything beyond put Christmas hats on teeny tiny animal life.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Never better

I'm never quite sure which one of us enjoys the cabin more, her or me. But if she had had the camera Wednesday, the grin she would have captured on my face would be the same as hers here. Save the tongue. And the ear. But other than that...


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A very little Feliz Navidad


Has a teeny tiny green frog every wished you Feliz Navidad before? No? Not ever? Not even one time? Well, welcome to a new experience.

I could not help myself, I just couldn't. Happily, the little guy has no idea.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The break of morning

The morning air is cold, frost covers the grass, save for the footprints Cheyenne has left behind as she's torn across the land, sprinting, circling, pausing to look back at me. I delight in the crunch of her feet running through the fallen Sycamore leaves; the sound is one of my favorites. The sun rises across the river and peeks through the trees, about to take the grey blue of the dawn into the gold of morning. So many birds chirp and call, pop and twitter, coo and caw. A formation of Geese travels overhead, high above the hawk sitting on a Live Oak branch surveying the land beneath. The big river moves slow and deep, cold and quiet, swirls of steam rising here and there. As I breathe in this scene, I remember. Nothing is permanent. Everything is in movement; nothing remains the same save the constants of faith and love. I realize that peace takes work, and I am humbled by the beauty before me, and ashamed that I've thought the gift of my burdens to be handicaps that hold me down rather than challenges to move me forward. I am tapped on the heart and told I do not walk alone.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

This is about my loving you and you not listening

Every time you say you will call and you do not, everytime you make a promise and you do not keep it, you break my heart. Every morning, I pray. For you, for me. Every morning I call for your savior. Every morning, I try to find a new door, into your life. I try to understand how your mind works, how your heart works, how inside of each, it's apparently acceptable, the things you do. Every morning I know, no matter where you go, I'll go on loving you. No matter how much it takes from me. That's how it is with you. I hope you never know, but one day you'll understand. It's bigger than me, bigger than you. It's how life works.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fresh brew

For about four years now, I've quietly pursued the perfect cup of coffee, available to me in my own kitchen. I've tried this coffee maker and that -- percolator, drip, you name it. I've gone through mesh filters and paper filters. And I'm sure fifty brands of coffee as well. During my search, I became convinced it's not the coffee so much as the coffee maker. Good coffee is abundant these days, but the same cannot be said about good coffee makers... wait, good affordable coffee makers. But on Friday, I found the one. The perfect coffee maker, providing me with one perfect cup of coffee after another, cup by frothy cup.

Life is good

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Late yesterday afternoon, I had lunch with a friend. After lunch she wanted me to meet a guy she's dating, so we went to the restaurant he manages and had a drink. When I met him, my eyes bugged out of my head and I may have even backed away a bit. Why? Because his eyebrows meet in the middle. Besides not liking that look, it creeps me out and actually frightens me a bit. I blame that on a movie, In the Company of Wolves, I saw years ago.

It's a dark movie, adapted from a short story of the same name by Angela Carter. On the outside, it's Little Red Riding Hood gone film noir. It's actually several stories woven together, of a girl's transformation into a woman and of sexual initiation, veiled in metaphors of several fairy tales, and taking place is an other-world forest.

A particularly memorable line for me was this one: Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle. Meaning, in the context of the movie, that the brow is the sign of the wolf within the man.

My friend asked me what I thought of the guy, who honestly was nice enough, but rather than tell her that, I told her about the movie and my concerns for her, and added that since she has red hair I was particularly concerned, to which she shook her head in a way that said, You need help.

And then I recited to her my favorite lines from the movie, when Granny was explaining to Rosaleen (LRRH) brow meeting in the middle signified:

Little girls, this seems to say
Never stop upon the way
Never trust a stranger friend
No-one knows where it may end
As you're pretty, so be wise
wolves may lurk in every guise
Now as then, 'tis simple truth
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth

Unbelievably, my friend still was not afraid.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Altered view

The title of the holiday does not escape me. I didn't always approach this day with an inventory state of mind. When I was younger, my father called upon us at dinner to say aloud what we were thankful for, and it needed to be real, mind you, not something like, say, Um, I don't know, not having to go to school until Monday? Which, truthfully, I was thankful for, but it wasn't a deep gratitude, and it wasn't in recognition of the many blessings in life.

Today, I awoke to a cold snap in the air, bright sunshine through my open windows and the sound of rustling leaves along the driveway. Despite the emotional struggles of the year, I have much to be thankful for, and as I considered my blessings, I thought what I would say today if my father called upon me to speak: I am thankful for:

- the struggles, for one, because they alter the perspective and bring on a deeper appreciation

- being adopted by my parents

- learning from my father what unconditional love really is

- my mother being safe and here

- my niece and nephew together and safe

- my brother's slow but definite recovery from surgery

- my sister, against all probability, finding love again

- the group of friends I call my own

- my dog, Cheyenne

- having a secure job

- the ability to pay my bills

- having a roof over my head

- my desire - and ability - to help others

- this day

- this glorious morning

Happy Thanksgiving to you. May you too know your blessings.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Say what?

Since he was five hours old, I've loved him. I fed him, burped him, changed him, held his hand when he toddled his first steps. When he was two, I helped him sort shapes into letters and numbers. When he was four, my father taught him about fishing while my friend taught him about climbing trees and t-ball. When he was five years of age, he'd smile and hug me when I told him I loved him. And we taught him how to ride a bike.

When he was seven, his life changed and his tricks and tests began. I responded by loving him more, hugging him more, but he didn't trust that, or wasn't interested in that, and he developed an incredible skill for lies over the next couple years. And those lies forged a path he still travels, still suffers. What I did at the time was respond by telling him that it would always be okay for him to tell me the truth. I said over and over again that I might not like what he had to say but that I would always respect his right to be himself. I told him that I wanted his honesty and would always be open to his words as long as they were true. I said it so early in his life because I wanted him to trust it, to recognize the safety as much as he recognized me. Later in his years I explained to him that without his truth, I would never know him, and later still in his life, I explained that without his truth I would never be able to help him.

Through the years, I based my trust in him on his response to that open door. For the most part he understood me and would confess pulled hair or homework undone. When his behavior was more, well, ill-behaved, when his life's challenges became more than ultimately harmless poor decisions, he'd shut down. He would not respond with anything beyond what he thought I wanted to hear. Meaning, a thick line of his big lies began to separate us.

For years the separation.

He tested me, to be sure. But that's how it is when you love a child, when a child launches your heart, when everything good about you and everything right and wonderful that you know keeps you up at night because how the hell can you possibly be worthy of raising this young life and how can you possibly give him the magic that was given you? That's what you ask yourself when you say the Lord's Prayer, holding his little hand and wondering if it's wrong that the two of you giggle because you are running back and forth between his and his sister's room and they laugh at your pace. And all you want to do is scoop them both up in your arms forever, for these are the shining moments of your life but you know that you want them to be the saving moments of theirs. I remember those days, my crossing that risky bridge between what I knew about their little lives and what I hoped for their enormous futures.

Never did I think he'd test the belief I'd expressed to him his entire life, that I'd doubt my ability to accept his truths, that he'd throw me upside down by his confessions, his tears, by the whole of his present expressed, or the courage it took for him to risk our relationship by speaking his truth out loud during lunch on an otherwise meaningless Sunday afternoon. Never did I think that my gift would be returned with such weight and need. I could not have imagined the trouble he would be in, the behavior he would embrace, the tears of his confession, or the moment which he chose to reveal his life to me, his concerns for that life, and his fears that tomorrow or the next day he might not have a life.

How he got here, I don't know. What I can do to help him? I don't know that either. But I know I have to and I know I will.

I've never really known fear before today. I've walked through a dark alley at midnight. I've stood frozen and hidden (at six years of age) behind the curtains while my house was being robbed. I've seen a pistol held to my father's head, a knife held to my niece's throad, and I've stared at the worst of myself in the mirror and had the worst of me tell her to just Fuck off. I've held my father's lifeless hand, and I am right now watching the sparkle of life leave my mother's eyes, but nothing, nothing I experience or can drum up in my mind can measure up to the terror I felt when I heard his words today, to the chill in my spine on hearing them.

When you ask for the truth, it might be years and years before you hear it, but you need to brace yourself for the day that you do. When you finally do hear it, all the fears that you've imagined the worst to be, they are kitten paws. They are Barbie dolls writing love letters in the sand compared to what you hear.

When you hear the truth, when it spills from his mouth onto the table and the floor and the room and your ears, put your mind not on how he got here but how in the world you can get him safe again.

And then crawl in bed, pull the pillow over your head and think about when he weighed all of ten pounds and you held him and burped him, about when he was too young for words or lies. Think about when saving him meant holding his hand during the Lord's prayer and reminding him the words. Think about that night you took him for a walk and he exploded your heart with joy when he decided to re-name all the stars in the sky.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Business hours or emotional/proximity scheduling

Sign taped to front door of restaurant in my neighborhood:
We will be close on Thanksgiving day and Christmas day.
On Christmas Eve we will be close at 6:00 p.m

I stood at the door and wondered, But what if I want to be close the day after Thanksgiving? Or at 7:00 on Christmas eve?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fool in the rain

Come on, talk to me. Be honest with me. I see you, peeking out beneath your sulk, looking towards me, shoulders low, brow angry in defiance. Heavy heart hidden beneath your baggy t-shirt. Waiting for someone to save you, something to hatch in your head and heart, something to click and make sense.

You wait for home to find you, for where you belong to find you. None of this makes sense. How did you get here? You sit beside me and wonder. I sit and wonder too.

How can I save you? How can you save yourself?

Your insistence is loud. It will be you who saves you, or doesn't. I could do it, I could, but you won't let me. Nature won't let me. You make me understand my parents more than anyone ever has or could, or hopefully will again. You make me understand what I did, how I hurt them by defiance I thought was individuality, by my insistence on doing things my own way. You will not understand this until today is a memory, until you've loved a child as your own.

You, you cannot read a book for the truth, listen to words for enlightenment, or wrap your arms around your faith. You cannot skip over the lessons by carving them into your heart, tattooing words into your skin. You cannot own what you have not learned. You have to put your toe in the water, touch the wet paint, pet the rabid dog, love the wrong girl. Just to see, just to learn for yourself. Just to see if you fit where you already know you do not belong.

I hurt for you, for your loneliness. People line up to be near you and not a single one worthy of you, no one to open the door for you, to thank you, to see you. No one to ask who you are, how you are.

You text me that you are the only one to fix your happiness, that every time you get away from someone who brings you down, another person comes into your life and you try again, to trust, but it never works. You tell me that I don't know. I do know, love, I do know. I know you now. As I knew myself then. We roll the dice, all of us. We risk, we pray, reach and we trust.

We hope that what we believe in is true. Even when the leaks seep through the cracks. Even when we get soaked by the evidence. We drown in that hope. We do.

Lacing up

I'm getting out there again. Out on the road. Feet to pavement, as it is. I've slumbered through so many early morning hours over the past several months that I'd forgotten how breathtaking the morning at sunlight. This morning, there it was, that velvet hour of the breaking dawn. That hour where the trees have no shadows, where their great limbs make lacy patterns above my head, where everything is quiet. Where the world is a joy forever.

Good morning!

Friday, November 09, 2007

House guest

These two are two peas in a pod. They are Frick and Frack. She is Jenny to his Forest. They drive each other nuts, they do. But every now and then when he's visiting, I come home, go upstairs, flip on the lights, and discover their secret. They love each other.

It's kinda cool.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007


The distance between hurdles is getting shorter. I sit beside her in the OR Waiting Room. The clock ticks. Tocks. Ticks. The hands move but time does not. We've been here for what? One, two, three? Four hours. She's been in surgery for longer than that. There are four of us sitting here, thinking about her, here for her. One more so than the others, for this one, it's her love in there, her heart and her life, her partner. Maybe we're here for that one. The one in surgery, after all, doesn't really know who sits outside, just so that someone is, so that someone will be there.

We wait.


I sit beside a friend I've known for almost half my life. I sit with her brother. I sit with another friend I've know almost as long as the one we're here for.


It's not what you want to imagine, a friend's body cut open, pieces being removed, surgeons hovering. I can't help but put my mind in the room, imagining the surgery. Get it out, get every bit of it out. I say it over and over again in my heart.

Tick. Tock.

Another group of people, a large family, fills a corner of the room. They spill from the chairs and the couches, eat dinner, feed the babies, sleep. They await the announcement of a birth. They're joyful, hopeful, warm, connected. In contrast, we are quiet, pour coffee, read, glance at each other, bits of conversation and an occasional laugh, then falling back to the quiet. We are solemn.



The surgeons enter the room and they and my friend disappear behind a close the door.

Tick. Tock.

It was bad, but they got most of it, my friend tells me, it's grains of sand left. The doctor says that Chemo should get that. I look at her, fragile and tough, standing strong. It's a long road, this one. This is the beginning.

Driving home, I turn left onto a side street to avoid the traffic. Did I do this on purpose when I set out, going down this street? I look at the apartment complex still standing after 20 years, and it was old then, remember a keg party I went to, one she and her roommate threw. I remember sitting on the couch, drunk and laughing. I remember the neighbors complaining. I remember being young and not having a care, not knowing that one person in the room would travel my life with me, or that one day I'd sit in a waiting room with her while her heart balanced between breaking and hope. I look over at the building, think of the long journey between then and now, how far I've gone in age and experience, how much of this life I've held, how much of this world I've tasted, and yet here I am again, on this street in front of those apartments.

I pull from the little street onto the main road, leave that memory behind, focus on the present day and hour, reality and hope, prayers.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lone Star Pride and Prejudice

I am often in denial when I travel. Usually, it's outward. Like for instance with cab drivers. Cab drivers always want to know where I'm from. When I travel internationally, I used to casually say the states, and those cab drivers, they would know the exact collective body of states to which I was referring. And when I was in the mood to chat up the cab driver, I'd answer with Texas, because everybody loves Texas and wants to talk about the cowboys, and the horses and the guns that each and every one of us carry in our holsters.

After our questionably-elected leader of the land of the free squashed an entire world's full of post-9/11 sympathy and support with amazing and swift deftness, I stopped saying the states, because that got all sorts of grumbling. I would grumble back, saying, I'm not here representing the Government, I'm just here on business. So I started responding with Texas again, but I'd still get grumbling. Seems that unbeknownst to me, when a cab driver hears that you're from Texas, what he also hears is that you're related to (and responsible for) the President himself. This past June, I answered, Rhode Island. It did not invite continued conversation.

[Side note: In Boston a couple years ago, walking downtown, an elderly woman said, Excuse me dear, and asked me for directions to a certain restaurant. I told her that I did not know how to direct her because I wasn't from there, and then I foolishly added, I'm from Texas. To which she spat back with disgust, What do you know then? Bush is from Texas. And then she hissed at me and stormed off, as much as an elderly lady with a cane can storm off. And I yelled out, I'm not representing the President! I'm just here on business!]

Yesterday, on the way to the rental car lot from the airport, the shuttle driver complained to me of the cold. I hadn't been out in it long enough to know I should be complaining as well, and told him I liked it, that I was from Texas and it was warm there right now, so the cold was a nice break. And then I realized what I'd said, that I'd just admitted I was from Texas. I braced myself for his response.

He smiled and said, I like Texas.

Relief fell over me. He continued, Do you know why? Ask my why. Ask me why I like Texas. I pushed back in my seat a bit, wanting to avoid his eager ask me, ask me, ask me excitement.

Why do you like Texas?

He smiled at me again, said It's not because of the horses or the cowboys.

I played along, Is it the cowgirls?

No, not the cowgirls.

He sat there looking out over the road, waiting for me to ask him again.

An unwitting participant in this volley, I went ahead and again asked, Why do you like Texas?

He flashed a big grin, and proudly stated, Because of Mr. Bush, our President. Smart man. Good man. Religious man. Good President.

I shook my head, said, I'm not here representing the President. I'm just here on business.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Lessons not yet learned, still

I'm in Chicago, yes I am. It's cold here. It's lightly snowing here. I wish I would have brought my coat here. My brain is apparently unable to compute that different locations around the country or around the world have different temperatures than what I have at home the day I pack my bags. How can it be cold in Chicago if it's 80 in Houston? How cold is cold, anyway? It cannot be that cold. They must be wrong. And off I go in my soon to be freezing my behind off idiocy. Ah, denial. A cold cup of coffee, it is.

People let me tell you 'bout my best friend


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Anjou, or maybe Bosc

You were in my dreams again last night. We were in Brighton, sitting together on the rocky beach between the two piers. You were wearing a white button down shirt, untucked, and faded loose jeans. Your feet were bare. I was looking at you, studying you, not sure how it was that I was there with you, and you turned to me and kissed me.

I smiled and told you that you taste like pears and sunshine.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


In my email this morning, from a friend. It makes me smile.

I had a dream similar to the one I wrote about last year.

I remember it was night again, the kind that creeps up on you and keeps you looking over your shoulder. We did something, like shopping for something in particular though you would not tell me what you were looking for. I acted like it didn't bother me but I was lying.

This time you looked like you, yet even though you were right beside me you were kinda indistinct like I was looking at you from far away. We took a cab to a book store and I told you one of my dreams was to be a cabbie in New York sometime before I die. You laughed and asked me not to do it.

After the book store I was alone with a piece of cheesecake and one of your gloves. It smelled like cinnamon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm sure he's there now

When I was a young girl of five or six, I had distinct musical preference. Two albums, or 8-tracks, if you will, and only two were on my rotation list. The soundtracks to The Sound of Music, and Camelot. I recall when the family drove to our house in the hill country for summer vacation, I would sit in the front seat of our station wagon, between my father driving and my mother wishing I was not sitting in the front seat. Right between them, and right in front of the car stereo. I'd put The Sound of Music 8-track into the deck and when that was over, I'd pull it out and replace it with Camelot. When that was over, in went The Sound of Music again. I liked Julie Andrew's voice, I still do. And I liked Richard Burton. But I really liked Robert Goulet. I really liked Robert Goulet's voice. I had a bit of a crush on his voice, and Sir Lancelot, and Camelot in general was a place I wanted to visit one day.

Camelot came through Houston years ago and I took my mother to see the musical. Goulet had by then moved from his role of Lancelot to very successfully fill Burton's role of King Arthur. It was thrilling to watch him up there on the stage, absolutely thrilling. My face hurt from smiling for so long and my hands hurt from the long applause and standing ovation after the show. Afterwards, we milled about in a Meet the Stars area but I was too awe-struck to approach him. He was Lancelot and King Arthur rolled into one, after all.

Robert Goulet died yesterday. When I read the news in the paper this morning, I was struck with the musical memories and happiness this man provided me through my years. But I wasn't struck with the feeling of loss. I have no doubt where he is, where to find him.

In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Monday, October 29, 2007

What would you do?

Silly to write that for the post title. I know what most of, if not all, my friends would do. For their dog's birthday. Probably not much. Because most of my friends are normal line-separating people.

What I did was take Cheyenne to the park for a long time this evening. We stayed until she bored of every furry bottom available to her nose, and had sniffed out every scented message left behind for her on fallen leaf, barrier post, table leg. We stayed until I threw the ball to her and she watched it arc in the sky and fall beside her foot, then looked at me as if throwing the ball for her was so yesterday and didn't I know that she was into food for pleasure these days?

After she cooled down, I fixed her birthday dinner. This is where I'm pretty sure I crossed the line from healthy pet owner to over-the-top. Her birthday dinner consisted of the following:

~ Normal amount of her dog food
~ Two broccoli florets
~ Large spoonful of beef stew
~ Large splash of low sodium chicken broth
~ Quarter cup of water

And then...

I stirred it all together and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to give it a nice warm temperature.

While she danced in excited circles around my feet.

In the grand scheme of things, I figure that spoiling a dog is a tiny thing, the likes of which no one will keep track and which causes no damage, but giving happiness, even over-the-top happiness, to an animal who depends on me and gives me so very much in return? The spoiling and the wag of her tail tonight, they make my small world a very happy place to be.

Seven years old today

In my memory this morning, a morning years ago. At the cabin, cup of coffee in hand, standing on the back porch, throwing the ball to Cheyenne. As the normal tireless insanity of her breed, she chased it down the hill, ran back the hill and up the stairs, dropped it at my feet and ran back down the stairs again, excitedly waiting for me to throw it again. My father stepped out onto the porch, cup of coffee in hand, and smiled at her eagerness and play.

You've got a good dog there, Alison.

Yes, yes I do.

Birthday girl

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


A gorgeous afternoon. One table outside. Two friends. Me.

The conversation relaxed and pleasantly unspectacular until this:

Friend One: Yeah, that'd be like a bull in a china cabinet.

Friend Two and Me: ???

Friend Two: Shop.

Friend One: ???

Friend Two: China shop. The bull isn't in a china cabinet, he's in a china shop.

The three of us then laugh. Just a laugh over something silly imagined, just a moment spent in mental simplicity. Our laughter takes rise on the air, through the trees, is picked up and carried away on the breeze. It's easy, this afternoon is. Unless, of course, that poor china cabinet is yours.

Monday, October 22, 2007

One word on the card was World

Sunday morning, going through the tall pile of mail I'd brought in and put on the dining table Saturday afternoon. Half the mail belonged next door, which turned out to be a lucky turn of events for me since in order for me to deliver the neighbor's mail, I had to walk out my front door, something I don't usually do since I park in the garage and use the garage entry to my house. There on my red brick doorstep was a complete surprise in the form of a tall and bright arrangement of flowers. I checked the card and, unlike the neighbor's mail, these were delivered to the correct address. Lilies and Gerber Daisies, Daisies and Sunflowers, all of deep yellows and Fall reds.

All day Sunday, those flowers were a big part of the smile on my face.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Four words

I sit beside her while she eats the fresh strawberries, blackberries and grapes I've brought her. It's peaceful here, pure, quiet, our own space, own time. Something is on the television, something in the background, filler we both ignore. I hold the plate, attentive to her needs, wipe her mouth. She turns her head to me, opens her mouth round. I lean in. She says in a voice just above a whisper, I love you, Alison.

My world, it's full of plans and details and what next. But it snaps clear, it gets perfectly clear, when she speaks.

I remember who I am when I hear her. I know what's important when I hear her. To hear her voice again!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Might be my favorite email this year

Received this afternoon from my friend in San Diego.

We have, as a society, absolutely lost our minds. Accessory lap-dogs, ten-year olds with cell phones, sixty dollar trucker hats, two-thousand dollar purses, reality television, daytime television, prime time television, "Music" Television, heck, all television; our decline into utter mindlessness has been swift and steady. But the capper, what has convinced me that we truly are without brains, that my impression of the universal idiocy of mankind is not merely a product of my admittedly limited patience is today's announcement of the release of the Spice Girls greatest hits album.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Between the two of us

At the end of the hall, rounding the corner of Room 417, I see her. In bed, immobile. Her head turns my way, eyes take a moment to focus, then a grin tears across her face like the sun splitting the clouds.

Hi Mom!

Her smile widens.

I sit beside her, hold her hand, kiss her, kiss her, kiss her.

She gently but purposefully pushes me away, eyes the fruit containers I've placed on the buffet.

What Mom? I tease her, Would you like some berries?

She brightens, widens her eyes a bit, shakes her head up and down.

We are learning how to communicate, she and I.

She hungrily grabs handful after handful from the plate. I hold the plate, waiting for her hand to reach for more, move the plate each time like a target for her reach, so that she always succeeds.

She looks at me, focuses on me, says Thank you. Out loud, her voice thanks me. Her words! Her voice! I smile at her, lean down and kiss her. Anything Mom, anything you need. I love you.

After the feast, I rest my feet on her bed, tell her about the day, the world, my dreams. She smiles at me like she holds a secret, moves her hand along the top of my foot, my ankle. At this moment, she is giving, rubbing, loving. More than feeling the heart-joy of her hand on my foot, I am thrilled to observe her, watch her hands move along my skin. Watch her alive and loving, listening.

Mom? I love you.

Welcoming the Lazy

This past weekend, rolled up with this morning, are rolled out in my mind like a carpet of Fall leaves, shared laughter, comfortable places. For the past four days, I have been able to make my decisions on how to fill my time based on what I felt like doing, what I wanted, no demands, no schedule, no obligations. Beyond the normal and the necessary, I mean to say. I have no problem with those two demands and obligations. All the details and scheduling and here-we-go-again-hold-on-tight emotional upheaval that comes with monumental change, those are gone from me now. This past weekend was filled with little things, simplistic things, most joyous of all, uneventful things. A manicure and pedicure with my niece, buying a corsage for my nephew to give his date for a homecoming game. My rear end on my couch. Ironing a shirt. The Sunday newspaper and Cheyenne at the park for two hours.

I think my head and my heart napped throughout the entire time. A much needed nap, a happy nap, a damn good nap.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

Unfolding as it should


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Half full

What gets you through, for lack of a better word, a transition such as selling your parents' house, is first of all you. It's your faith, your spine, your heart. Your energy. Oh Lord, the energy it takes. But after all that, it's the continuity and the belief in what will remain the same, what will move forward and what will circle back.

She's coming home. Her text says that she'll be here in an hour. That girl, my niece, she is pure delight. She'll be here this weekend, her stuff will be here, her shoes on the floor, her slumber in the guestroom, her laundry in the washer, her life throughout. We have meetings tomorrow. All of you must be present, I'm told. We'll squirm. The pages and pages of details are necessary but also necessarily beyond us.

I'll take her and her brother to lunch; they'll appease me, allow me to do so, to feed them, slip twenties in their hands, push them off. Go, I'll tell them, be young, have fun.

Please check in and let me know where you are; that you are safe.

Back home, I'll grab the glass she left on the kitchen counter, open the dishwasher, hesitate, and put it back on the coutner. What's the hurry for the dishes anyway? I like the signs of her.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

See it stream down your face

In the transferred-from-8mm-to-videotape images, I am no more than three years into this life. My finger-sucking habit is boldly evident, even switching hands when necessary, when the other hand is needed to balance or reach or touch, the switch is quick and seamless - so attached was I at the time to the security. The neighborhood children, Santa's presence, and even Santa's lap seem to be simultaneously thrilling and intimidating. I watch myself clamor to the front, put my hand on Santa's lap, jam my fingers in my mouth, switch hands, pick up an ashtray and spin it around, put it down and switch hands again. From the looks of it, the ashtray was empty. Good thing, that. The other children swarm around Santa, hungry for their turn. One child brings him a shiny package from beneath the Christmas tree. She's trying to cut in line, that one. She is told to return it. She pouts at the camera. Santa pulls me onto his lap, and I say something that he couldn't have possibly understood since I nervously jam both hands in my mouth, pause, jerk my head to my right, and hold my glance there.

There are five seconds of the grainy black and white film in which I jump from Santa's lap and run across the room to my father, place my hand on his knee, lean into him, and from that safe spot, turn my head to survey the chaos and excitement that was Santa in our living room.

That night and those five seconds, they tell the story of my entire life.

Monday, October 08, 2007

That house, this heart

My friend calls me Sunday, says, Your blog is boring lately, it's only photos.

I take an audible breath to fill the silence. Yeah, I tell her, sometimes that's all I have to say, the pictures. It's not a cop-out, it's just all I can do at the moment.

What I don't tell her is how tight my chest feels, just above my heart. And how rotten my stomach feels, just below my ribs. I don't tell her that this is making me more sick than poetic, more ill than wistful. I don't tell her that there are times in my life that I cannot put into words, or, better yet, even I recognize the futility in trying.

The last time my chest felt this tight, I cried for hours. I railed against my world, my life, my reality. I let it go, and where it went was safe but not pretty, pure to be sure, but still feeling weak. It's not impossible but it is challenging, to walk the rocky road without the one who used to support my fall.

Had my friend called on Saturday, I don't think I would have a word different, no argument. What do you want from me, I'd ask? You have my number, you can call if you want to know. This or anything. On Friday as well. Can you imagine a life, a home, blown apart? Blown to bits without any damage? Without anything breaking but you? That is what this move is like. We are breaking apart a whole: this goes there, this in that box, the ornaments we'll save for later, Do you want this, Someone should take this, What do we do with this? I've always loved that.

Everything lands someplace, somewhere, even if behind.

The things no one chooses, the things no one wants, they are left behind. They wait for the Estate Sales Company to arrive, separate, touch, highlight, sell. I feel guilt like heavy blocks on my heart and shoulders when I realize what I do not want, cannot store. But that, that is the sweater she like somuch, or that shoe polish smells like him. There is no more room. In my house, in my brother's house. We let some things go. We have to do so. It does not feel good, the decisions we make to keep or let go.

It tosses me awake at night. I should have kept the tray. I should have kept those buttons, that coat, the shoes.

You can't do that, you cannot. You have to let go. Trust me, or let me trust these words... it's impossible to keep everything and keep yourself as well. I know this is true.

We cannot go to the house until Tuesday night. Forbidden to go home. Other people manage the house now, manage the contents now. It's that Estate Sale. I want to toss a ball through the window, just to startle them, just to let them know that I know they're looking through our stuff. Just because I am me.

I think of Mom, in her room, open-mouthed like a baby bird waiting to be fed. I look at the photo of her young self, standing beside her horse, open-eyed, waiting for the magic of life to enter her bones and take her.

I wonder what it would have been like to be her friend, to know her then, through her journals she left in my hands, through the photos, on that camping trip where they went topless. Would I be there? Would she like me? Would we fill dance cards together and giggle the next day? Would I have teased her about the dance she went to with my father, and, very unlike her other dance cards, did not dance with another man?

I look at my watch, at the calendar. The days are ticking off. On Friday we close. On Friday, the familiar left from the freeway, stop at the light, right at the next stop with the blinking light, left at the next stop sign, past the elementary school, mine, the kids, don't pause just keep going, stop, go straight, and then right at the next, first house on the corner to the right -- will no longer be my path. I've driven home along those roads, those turns, so many nights I've driven that way home. How do I train myself to keep going, remind myself that road is no longer my drive on Christmas morning?

It's an empty house now. Vacant of life, echoing, swirling circles of dust and memories throughout. It's mysterious and magical, lonely and full, hungry to be filled again. It's everything we put there, and everything we pull from there. It's just a building, just bricks, but it's our bricks, hers and his, and we saturated them with our lives, our love. And the house we built, it looks at me crestfallen, asks for life again. I wouldn't deny the seeds we planted.

Our home, soon to be another's. Goodnight kisses, all around. Hugs across the air. Ssshhh, goodnight, love, go to sleep.

I stand on the street, beneath the Pines, the Oaks, the Moon. I look at the dark house. Goodnight, love, I breathe, I'll miss you. I will always miss you.

And then I let go, just let go. And I do not look back.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Linens and china

Wednesday afternoon, late, my sister-in-law and I met at the rapidly vacant house to go through my mother's massive collection of table linens and equally massive collection of good china.

I arrived at the house before she did. I walked through the rooms, down the halls, touched the wall paper, flipped the lights on and off and marvelled at how the illumination is harsh in a room without furniture. Off. On. I was tempted to fall into the emptiness again, but I did that Friday night. And to be honest, although the temptation was there, I am just too tired to entertain expectation of emotions, to feel anything other than what I feel, even if - especially if - I'm feeling okay with it all at the very moment.

I pulled out all the linens, placed them on the long dining table, stacked the hand-embroidered tea towels in matching sets, by color, by holiday, by my Mother and by my Grandmother. I pulled boxes from the attic, opened the cabinets in the Butler's pantry.

Then my sister-in-law arrived, and in her hands were a couple bottles of champagne. In her arms was a big hug for me.

We popped a cork and decided to sit on the back patio for a spell before we began our task. And on that back patio we sat for the rest of the night. Chatting, laughing, dropping a few tears, telling and retelling stories, clinking our glasses. It's was a scene my family has played out on that porch for years. Sometimes there was an occasion that brought us together - Christmas, my brother's wedding, the largest lobsters we'd ever seen - and sometimes it would simply start with one person sitting out there, joined by another, and so on, friends would stop by and before we knew it, we were all sitting out there, relaxing, talking, enjoying each other and the evening.

The night was cool, the breeze was slight, the company familiar and good. The linens and china? They could wait.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Definitely bragging

Led Zeppelin Reunion Concert. November. London.

I'll be there.

Monday, October 01, 2007


I sat with her Sunday. She reached for, grabbed for my hand. She held it, let it go, grabbed the fresh strawberries and grapes I brought her, fed herself, then rested her hand in mine. A moment later, she shook my hand loose and rested her hand on her stomach. A moment later, back to the fruit. Again and again the pattern.

Cheyenne was there. Cheyenne licked her face and Mom giggled while pushing Cheyenne away. That she giggles, even when inconvenienced, gives me joy.

Last night she stood before me in the hallway of her new home. She wore a blue and white striped, boat neck shirt, blue pants, her blue Sperry Topsider shoes. She spoke. I was sleeping when she arrived, very groggy, asked her, Mom, what are you doing?

She said she wanted to talk to me.

Nothing serious, just talk. Normalcy.

She was standing there before me, wearing blue and white. Her posture straight, her hair fixed, her image the same as in my heart. She was magical and impossible.

We stood face to face, mother to daughter. I questioned how she was standing. How'd you do it Mom? All of a sudden! She questioned why I would ask. I heard her. This wasn't real but I went along for the ride.

It was so easy, that ride. Who wouldn't want to see her mother standing?

It was a good dream, good to see her, hear her talking. Shocking though, surprising. Then accepting and warm and exciting.

Look at you! You can walk again. You can talk again!

I have no map for this journey I am on. I can only tell you that when she visits me in my dreams, when she comes calling, I believe I get a glimpse of the path along which she wants me to stroll with her, to lead her. I get a glimpse of her life and my life. I don't know where we are going, how could I know? But she shows me the way, she does. She takes my hand and makes our hands golden, she locks her cinnamon eyes to my heart, to my care. And I have no idea how, but with her, I know the way.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chiming in

On one or another mantle in the three houses I lived in with my parents, stood a wooden clock. At the hour, the clock chimed the time; at the half hour, one chime would ring. It's a sweet sound, that chime, full and yet light, round and brief. I do not know where the clock came from, whether it was a gift to my parents, or from one parent to another, or something they purchased on their own. It's been in our lives though for as far back as I can recall. Growing up, I was soothed by its sound down the hall or downstairs on the nights I'd wake up in the middle of the night. When I'd return home for weekends when in college, it was the comforting sound that would help me fall asleep.

The clock now sits in my house. Last night when I turned the lights out in the living room and started upstairs to bed, it chimed nine times. I stopped on the stairway and purposefully listened to the sounds. And I smiled a bittersweet smile.

Of all the furniture, prints, silverware, books and other cherished items that have been moved from my parents home to my own, that wooden clock and its wonderful sound is the one thing above all that I'm happiest to have in my life. It takes brings the present back, and brings the past forward. It is the sound of home, no matter where the house or who is in it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

This is now, that was then

When I open the front door, it resists and screeches on the brass plate at the base. The familiarity is comforting. It used to be annoying. Someone should fix this, I used to think. Someone.

The piano is gone, the Grandfather clock is gone, the rugs relocated, her desk is in my office now, his desk has a bright green post-it note on it to tell the movers tomorrow that it goes to my house. The house is wooden floors and echos now. There are no paintings, no prints, no framed photos on the walls, but the hooks remain. Their presence yells at me, screams that they used to have a purpose, and now nothing. Vacancy. The empty spaces are loud with absence. The house is so loud without them, without us. Loud like a hole in the window, like the wind when you're alone. Loud like the silence you didn't notice before that moment when you realize sound is gone.

In the corner of the formal dining room is a cluster of small tables, two lamps, four boxes of books, two mirrors neatly stacked, a vase. These will go to my house. Last weekend I packed 35 boxes of books, opening each one, touching the pages, saying goodbye, a part of my parents and a piece of me packed with each. Parts never to be reclaimed, parts always gone, sent forward, set alive again when another cracks open the book. Ghosts will flutter but no one will know. Is that magic? I think so. Is that perfect? Yes. Oh, yes.

When I look at this move as if it were a project that I am called to manage, I can handle it. Easy enough, yeah? Just organization, direction, management. When I look at this move with the realization that I'm breaking down a home, it's on the south side of difficult. It's hard, it's taxing, and it hurts.

Tonight, I will sleep in the empty house, and it will be my last time. I will bring my life and my heart and my memories there. Cheyenne will swim in the pool and I will sit on the patio and sip champagne. I will play the stereo at a volume I choose, and I will sleep in my parents' bed. Before it's broken down, before the room changes. On the last night their room remains in tact, whole, them. It's a tall order I'm asking of myself, but also something I want to do. There's a need in me that marks change this way, celebrates, honors it, dedicates myself to it and place myself there.

I believe in my faith, believe in magic, and I believe in the comforting and healing power of memories. I want to absorb everything tonight. I want to sleep with them, one last time. Sleep in the arms I remember and can bring forth, sleep in the shadows of their presence, sleep in this home that was theirs, ours, one last time. I want to hear the voices, see the memories, recall the life we put into that house. I want to be stripped raw by the emptiness and put myself together again by the love. I want it to touch me, become me, absorb and digest me, while I sleep.

I want to walk through the halls and cry out, I miss you. I want the drama, the pain, the whole of it. That house and I, we have a date tonight. A very personal, painful, beautiful date.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


It was a funny place to stop, wasn't it? I was quite interested in your words, the way you were describing the colors in your house. I could see each room. Then how we ended up talking about the tattoo on your back, I have no idea but I'm quite intrigued.

The problem with a battery-operated alarm clock is that I can pick it up and shove it under a pillow to shut it up. Which I did several times this morning but once it went off, you were gone and stayed gone. And I could not find you.

Seriously, what's up with your blue eyes? Where were we?

When I see you in the office this afternoon, and my face gets red, you'll notice it but you won't say a thing. But I want you to know that this is why. This right here is why.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Right this minute

There is a tree outside my office window, and in that tree is a bird. The bird is singing and chirping the sweetest song, he or she has so much joy or so much something to say out loud that there is a feeling of urgency in the song. Beautiful, bubbly, but urgent. I feel that I'm being serenaded by someone trying to make a point.

Me being me, I take it as a reminder to pause, pause long enough to see the beauty, to smell the roses (as it were). But that's me putting myself into this little bird's song. In truth I have stopped. Long enough to look at this little bird and feel the window of separation between us.

Hello little bird, what's on your mind?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Step by step

As I write this, my mother is in her bed, eyes open in the dark, wondering who if anyone is thinking of her, is coming to see her. Who will tell her where she is? Who will bring her strawberries? And if not who, when? At least that's what I think she's wondering. Who can tell me what that look in her eyes means? Who can tell me what she means when she doesn't reach for but instead grabs my hand, doesn't hold but clings?

I walk through a disrupted home today, talk with the mover. That goes, that stays. That to this address, those to that one. We're taking a castle down, brick by brick. We're taking a family down, person by person. I'm holding this one, encouraging that one, shocked by that one, sighing over another. I'm grieving my father, and heart-broken over my mother.

What I've learned these past few days, weeks, months... what I've learned is that my father, he did walk on water. And even though every day I understand and through that comprehension admire him even more than before, I still don't know how he did it. He always told me to be brave. I don't think I ever realized how well he knew of what he spoke.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday, Bad Dog Sunday

When I come home from work or a trip to the store or even the mailbox, I am greeted by a big brown body of hair and joy, a chocolate blob of happiness that overwhelms me sometimes because I'm not sure what to do with all the love she throws on me. For the most part though, I am overwhelmed by the heart-joy I feel that this four-legged personality, this 80-pound girl of mine, gives me on a regular basis. Sometimes though, I'm overwhelmed by a face that says, Oh no, you're home and I'm not at all sure what to do with what I've done. I've learned through the years of our relationship that a look like that means I'm going to find something she's been into. It means something like, OHGODMOMWHATHAVEIDONE?

BadDog 002

Seriously, it was nothing, she just wanted a snack and there it was on the desk right where she could get it if she jumped on the chair and stretched to the back where something smelled edible. If she did that, she'd get the two bags of organic granola I bought my niece from Vermont.

It would have been so much better if I hadn't come home to catch her.

BadDog 005

She can't stand it. She hates it when I put an empty wrapper in her face, when I hold the bag up and say, NO, Bad Dog.

Every now and then though, she gets tired of my reactive drama.

BadDog 008

Oh, Mom, it was just a bag of oats, Come on!

And when she's that way, that sort of way that says she's blowing me off and I need to get over it because there are lots toys and treats and fun to be had in the world and really I should just let it go, I mean, seriously, you're going to get upset over a bag of oats, that's LAUGHABLE. When she gets that way, well, I find that I laugh too. I can't help myself.

This girl of mine, she can be so bad sometimes. It's one of the things about her that delights me.

BadDog 010

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tip for challenging times

I know, I know, it's been very solemn around here lately. I'd be something other than human if this time in my life was not challenging. It's been so much challenge, sometimes I feel as if I'm staggering a bit. It's as if I walked into a bar and said to the bartender, Give me a challenge, neat. Make it a double. And keep 'em coming.

But I have a little antidote. It sits in a file on my hard drive and I open it up when I need to smile. It's a photo of my dog and her strappingly handsome boyfriend Isaac... if they were meerkats. This is exactly how they are when they're together -- him minding his own business and her attacking him just because he exists.


If this picture doesn't make you laugh, there's something seriously wrong with you. As in, maybe you need to go to the doctor and get it checked out. Are you looking at it? It's funny. It's 6:00 in the morning and just looking at it one more time has me walking out the door laughing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Like a window on my heart

It's my lunch hour and I drive to the house. There are things to pull from that house and push into mine, things that are dusted with, no saturated with their lives, my memories, and also my sadness. I think I'm numb but know I'm not if I can still identify what I feel. Each time I get into my car to go there or leave there, I pause and feel the swelling and the tightness.

Walking through the hallway to their bedroom, my brother tells me he's taken my father's things to the Open Door Mission. It's what we both wanted, what my father would have wanted, what my mother would not let us do after my father died. I think sometimes she was hoping he'd come back, hoping and convincing herself that indeed he was on an extremely successful fishing trip and was just late. Very late. And not only would he be disappointed but also terribly surprised if we'd removed his things from his closet. If he came home, he'd need his clothes. It turns over on itself. Somehow in her mind, if the clothes were gone, then he would not be able to come home.

When is your father coming home?

After a while, I started telling the truth: He's gone mom, Dad is gone. He is not coming home.

No, he's late, she'd assure me. Her brow would furrow, she'd pause, sigh, look to the floor and say, but it's not like him to be gone this long without calling.

Those three lines a thousand times the past two years. Who can blame her for her hope? I cannot. And as she began to worry, so would I, because hope is more powerful than knowledge.

I walk into his closet and finally, completely, realize he is not late. The space is empty, save for a few hangers, shoe trees, a vacant laundry basket. I look at the poles where his suits once hung, the pole where he would place his ties. I look at this shelves that held his shoes, the space that was his, this empty space that with the absence of his clothes in turn loses the echo of his presence. It becomes a closet, period.

It looks like my heart. A shock of absence, save for a few hangers.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The stunning shortness of time

In my hand, the two of clubs. I look at the table, recall my father placing his drink on a coaster there, and I place the card down.

In his hand, the nine of hearts. We discuss it, and he tucks the card inside the edge of the Grandfather clock in the foyer.

We are at the beginning, just in the front door. To the right, their office, to the left, the formal dining room. We walk on, unsteady but called on. We have to do this. It comes down to red and black. It comes down to a delicate awareness of emotion. He should have the leather wing back chair in the den, the one my father claimed as is own, save for Christmas morning when she took the throne. He tells me that I should have the tea set. I tell him that he should have the duck prints. I tell him that he should have the paintings of the boat. He says that I should have the silver.

Neither of us want anything in the house. What we want is them. Mom, Dad, their lives, our memories. Back. We want them back. We want the past but must face the present.

We stumble, struggle, both wanting to be anywhere but here, doing anything but this. But our family truth comes to this: we are dividing the contents of a 55-year marriage. Both of us are pale, uncomfortable. In all the value, it's a matter of emotional connection. The duck prints hanging on the walls of the den, the wedding plates in the Butler's pantry. The tangible details of stories we don't know, forgot to ask, will never learn. But try to cobble together.

We stand among objects we are called to divide yet remember when they were the moment lived. We stand among objects that stood solid as the backdrop of our lives, of mornings, laughter, parties, arguments, lessons, forgiveness, love. Moments of a family. Moments that wrapped around us and held us together.

In August, my brother and I had a conversation that I wanted to avoid and would have been quite happy to crawl under a rug and stay there for the rest of my life if my doing so would have meant my being able to avoid it. But you cannot avoid or deny the inevitable. The fact is that my mother's mental and physical health were at a point where she needed more care than we or the caregivers or the house could provide.

No matter how we tried.

She's in that place now. Safely, securely, well cared for. She seems happy when she holds my hand. She also seems lost and looks at me as if I'm the red star on the map that says You are Here, but the star is across the world from where it is she wants to be. I hung a painting she painted in 1971 on the wall where she could always see. A painting of Winnie the Pooh. I point it out to her. She looks at me and smiles, then drifts to sleep. I do not know if she knows that Winnie the Pooh looks after her. But I know. I've put it there and I know.

We moved her two weeks ago. The house was listed a week ago. Two days ago we went into a contract. In three weeks, we close. We have twenty-one days to dismantle, re-arrange, discover and figure out fifty-five years of marriage, while breaking down and spreading out those fifty-five years.

It falls on his shoulders and mine. We started at the beginning tonight. We looked at furniture with emotion, paintings with passion. We made it about colors. What memory falls upon that table? What conversation took place there, or there? What book was opened to illustrate a lesson or a point? What memory of his or mine saturated that otherwise meaningless table?

What to you is Mom and Dad? Place a card. Red, Black, and notes. These books should be donated, these golf clubs donated, this piece sold, this table to her, this couch sold, this mirror, but wait I love this mirror. A card is tucked beneath the frame and the glass. We carry on. These minks should be sold, these suits donated. This moment taken and held.

When I left the house, my brother reached his broad arms out for me and said, Well, give me a hug. I fell into those arms and I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me too.

For the longest time, neither of us could let go. For the longest time.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Point blank

Letting Cheyenne out, turning the porch lights on, the hall lights off, happy to be leaving a good day and heading to a good night's sleep, the phone rings. I glance at the caller ID, don't recognize the number but do recognize the area code, decide it can wait.

Curiosity gets the best of me and I check the message. I've not heard the voice since I was in single-digit years. My sister's old boyfriend. She's amazing in that way and I'll never understand it but for witnessing and knowing it exists, this darkly magic whatever she has with men. She buried her seventh husband today. Tonight her first boyfriend calls me looking for her. How's your Mom, he asks, And how's your Dad? I was hoping to get hold of Marianne? It's a statement, but he makes it a question, the last word, her name, an upward lilt in his voice.

He does not say a word about the nerve it takes to dial my number. Maybe it doesn't take any nerve for him, I do not know. He's all Hey, how are you? It's been a while...

My brow furrows, knots in recollection, tangles in thought. I shake my head. I don't believe the message, so replay it. Yes, indeed, he says he's looking for her, misses her, hasn't seen her in over 30 years.

He was her first love, her first drink, her first drug, her first bruise. At nine years old, I walk in on them having sex, my father behind my young self, shotgun in hand. My sister was just 14, understand. The boyfriend was 18. I don't think the gun was loaded but he wasn't going to hang around long enough to find that out. I remember the brief blur of their bodies. His white ass and tan legs running through our front yard, my sister sitting up in her bed, her young breasts small and high, her eyes and heart sagging, crying, screaming, pulling her hair, imploring us to understand that she loved him. At 14, understand?

I was as confused about her then as I am today. I witness her life now as I did then. She's crying, needs understanding. She's angry, needs peace. She's thirsty, needs a drink. The math is simple enough but never really comprehensible.

Do I call him back? I don't know. I have my own story about this guy of hers. It's the way he always came to the house with full and unopened cans of beer in his pockets. It's the night they decided I needed to know what having a boy kiss me was about, and she held me down while he showed me. I was nine. I kicked my foot through the glass coffee table, ran out the back door, through the back yard to my pony, jumped on his back and together we galloped through the dark and through the neighborhood, along the bayou trails and away from them. I never once stopped to see if I was bleeding.

Hours later at the hospital, Mom and Dad grounded me for two months for my behavior that night.

Where were you?

I was riding Ajax.

Where did you go?

I just went for a ride, okay?

It was not okay. They wondered what happened. As my foot was stitched, I was crying for the night, for her, for me, for all I did not understand. But I was silent for them.

Snotty nosed and in tears, I never said a word in my defense. Would you?

I'm not quite sure why after so many years, a voicemail can unnerve me so. I'm not sure why her life is always the first one knocking on the door. This one really doesn't have anything to do with me. Jeez, it's been over 30 years. Except it does have something to do with me because he found my phone number and dialed it in effort to find her.

Would you pass it to your sister?

I want to stand on the porch and warn her that something is coming up the river, something I'm not sure of. As then, as is now. There is no place, no reason, no reaction but to hang on through the discovery of the answer to the question, What next?

The view

I spent much of last week and the weekend sitting in an Adirondack chair looking at this.

Vermont V 001

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Using my words

When either the five- or three-year-old struggles to find a word in their individual vocabulary, my friend, their mother, listens patiently and gently provides encouragement by calmly saying, Use your words. And then my friend waits while little eyes search upward and little minds scan inventory until the word they want to say is recalled. Last night for the five-year-old, it was ambiance. I had taught her the word the night before when, sitting beside me, she was telling me how nice the room was, how much she liked the table setting and the burning candles in the silver candle stick holders. I taught her the word ambiance.

At dinner, she told us how nice the room was, dramatically waved her small hand across the scene and... paused. We did not turn our attention away but waited. She looked at me and I at her. Then, proudly, she announced that it had a very nice ambiance.

It naturally happens that the three-year-old is eager to catch up with her sister's vocabulary. Oftentimes, you can see her face change when she hears a new word from her sister's mouth, you can watch her wanting to try it out for herself. Big sister says a word unfamiliar to her ears and the little one pauses a moment then enthusiastically sighs and says yeah, and follows it with her own echo of the word. In this case it was, Yeah. Pause. And then she rolled it around in her mind, unfamiliar and new, testing its shape in her mouth before letting it go with glee and excitement, Awneeeawnce!

There are stars in the sky that I do not know and cannot name and yet when I sit beneath them on a dark sky night as I did Thursday night, I feel at home. I am both comforted and amazed by them, that they exist and that from my little spot in the world I can see them and feel a sense of wonder and perspective.

Using my words, I want to tell you that my life is changing, because the lives of those I love are changing. There are waves and rolls and ripples, there is softness and gentle connection. There is a texture I cannot name, a feeling simultaneously unfamiliar yet still recognizable.

Right now my friend roasts a chicken for our dinner, her husband watches football downstairs, their girls play in the living room. It's cold outside, and the leaves flirt with change, each day a bit of red, a dash of yellow. There's a fire in the fireplace. Summer has relinquished to Autumn. The season changes, the stars appear, reminders everywhere that life begins, discovers, enriches, broadens, leaves a mark and circles back. There's a calm here, around me, within me, a calm I sought and knew I'd find by coming here. How can I use my words to explain it to you? It is the slow-earned peace of sitting still and allowing change rather than resisting or trying to orchestrate and direct where it will fit, or dodging or denying, or desperately scrambling to find a place to put it. The calm I feel right now, it's like the momentary pause between cool and cold, between green and red. It's like a child speaking a word for the first time.

Or like kissing the nose of a two-week old calf.

Vermont VII 010