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

Sunday morning and missing this face from last Saturday night

September 021

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A few of my favorite things

Vermont III 007 Vermont III 022 Vermont III 025

Knowing and loving three generations of this family gives happiness to my heart.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Unwinding and unedited

September 033 September 039 September 044 September 018
These were taken on my morning walk, which actually took place in the early afternoon, but that's only because my afternoon nap took place in the morning, and ended in the early afternoon.
Vermont II 001 Vermont II 004 Vermont II 017 Vermont II 011
These were taken early this evening at the neighborhood park. See that last photo on the right there, the one of my Godchild kicking back as if she's tubing on a sunny day along the Guadalupe river? She's a cool kid, that one. Now, see the second photo, the one where she's auditioning for the funny face competition? She is also a bit of a clown. She is curious and serious and kind. She is loving and happy. Today was her first day of Kindergarten. The picture on the far left, of the little one grabbing the next ring? That one, she's a belly laugh disguised as a little girl. She's stubborn and quizzical and sweet. There's a bit of magic in her. She is independent until the top edge of the minute she needs you, and then she needs you. Now. Tomorrow is her first day of pre-school.

To my heart's delight, they are both very fond of getting and giving hugs these days.

I think I'll end this post with the conversation that just took place between their father and me:

Him [walking into the kitchen]: What are you doing?

Me [looking up from my laptop]: Oh, um, posting pictures of your children on the internet.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Stepping down, stepping away, just for a little while

The gentleman across the table from me in the Presidents Club is heading to Geneva in an hour. The guy next to me on my flight was a little confused and a lot angry that he was landing in Newark and not New York. The Security Agent barked to no one in particular but the whole lot of us in general, If you do not listen to me, I will not look at you.

Noted, tough guy.

All around me a rush to gates, a rush against the clock, an air of self-importance, heavy sighs while the woman jostles her twin toddlers and her carry-on baggage through security. The masses moving through their departure waits and layover transfers.

It goes on around me but I do not feel connected, cannot be bothered by it one single bit. I missed my flight this morning, was told there was a long standby list on the next flight but reassured that I would be able to get out by the afternoon. No worries. I was called on the next flight and surprised by my Business First seat. I've now spent an extra two hours in Houston and the last three hours here getting some work done -- the delay in my schedule provided me the time and distance I needed to focus.

I am midway between the here that is home and the there that is where I will relax for the next week. The past three days have drained me to my toes emotionally. The past several weeks have been draining professionally. To the word, I am tired. Two weeks ago, I picked up the phone to my dear friend and told her, After Labor Day weekend, I need to spend some time with you. She agreed that's what I would need. So that's where I'm going. To Vermont. Where I'll find a nourishing dose of her life and her friendship. I'll be where things move a lot slower than the pace I've grown accustomed to lately. Where I'll have time to sit in an Adirondack chair on her back porch and allow a thought to move from start to finish, uninterrupted, or maybe watch the path of a fluttering moth along the ferns on the hill. Where I can walk a rocky trail and listen to a stream. Where I can pray and be still enough to hear my prayer returned.

Where two precious little girls informed me on the phone this afternoon that there are big sunflowers in a vase in my room. And when are you going to get here?