Saturday, December 27, 2008

What were you doing

At Valley Forge
Peering into the cabins where once
your great times 8 grandfather shivered to sleep?
Walking the lawn toward the grey stone
home where Washington watched them freeze
each night remorseful of the snow
you stepped
on that specific patch of springtime grass and cried.
No war was fought here.
When your foot
took up some dark electricity from beneath
lift it and the crushing circuit breaks

what voice did you hear then?

Was it his? Your father's? Your son's?
Or your own echo and how do you tell
one from another
when you don't even have an explanation
for the four of you?

He was the 12th generation.
He is gone.
The line goes on.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I made it.

It's Christmas day. I got home from work yesterday at noonish and sat around watching aimless tv reruns, hoping for what, I don't know. My younger son's room was dark: I had't heard him come in last night. Thought maybe he'd gone out and stayed, knowing I'd banned Christmas. I waivered a little. Ate some homemade cookies. What did I want? It felt odd to be alone. Shamefully passive. I could be hauling out the ladder and fixing that light. I could be working out and losing that extra weight. I could be reading something worthwhile instead of the mindless drone of news and popified science (Ben Franklin would have gotten fried if lightning had really struck his kite; Charles Darwin got seasick a lot). Fucking natural selection and my slender stock of genetic material. Did I push Jesse too hard? Was there something I could have done differently? Oh, that's what I want. Impossibilities.

Then I heard the door open from his brother's room. And I knew that all I wanted, really, was to have dinner with my son, someplace he liked. So we did.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my last post. I'm happy for those I've inspired, that means more to me than I can say. Topazz, artnsoul, thank you for your stories. It helps to know that your experiences are so similar to mine with young adults. I remember feeling the same way about my own mother. How hard it is to flip that mental coin and put myself in her shoes, what she must have felt like trying to reach out to me in my early twenties. I was horrible. I know my own childhood held plenty of justification for it; but she's changed/changing, and those awful memories fade. How much has she changed? She volunteers now, the things that she did that were wrong. At some point I'm not sure it's about forgiveness any more: it's about trying to construct some kind of relationship out of what parts you've got left. We went to Italy for a week and got along fine. That would have been impossible even a few years ago. I can still tell the urge in her to cross boundaries she has no right to cross, I can hear her check herself in conversation. It's a lesson. A coin to flip on myself.

And arch, yes. Worse than a lost limb, but an urretrievable mutilation. I think I'll pour us that drink now. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry fucking Christmas.

I'm sorry, I just don't care if it's Christmas. I didn't even open the box of holiday crap. Christmas cards on the table are the only hint in our house that it's not any other time of year. It's just not in me. Jesse was never a big fan either (of course, you say, he was an atheist. But lots of atheists celebrate Christmas--for that matter there are a lot of atheists in churches, mosques, and synagogues around the world). Or so I thought, until after he died. Turned out that every Christmas, when he was telling us he didn't celebrate it, and wasn't interested in it, every year that he didn't say thank you for his gifts, and didn't get anyone else in the family anything, and pointedly avoided the tree, all those years, that he was going to someone else's house and having the party, the tree, the presents. I saw photos of him from the last Christmas of his life at this family's house. And don't get me wrong, they were a nice family, and I'm glad he found a place where he could enjoy himself, despite the fact that it wrenches my heart to realize that place wasn't with me. I mean, I know why, I guess, and there really wasn't much Jesse or I could have done about it that year. I'm not sure that, even if I knew it was going to be his last Christmas, I could have changed anything. It was his choice, to stay distant; he knew it wasn't mine. I guess we both thought we had the luxury of time. Even a few more months, another year? The last thing he wanted to think about, even on his last day on earth, was dying. It all seems like it happened in the same week: he tells me he broke up with his girlfriend (he stands in his kitchen, looking stern, as if he's saying in his head do NOT hug me). He comes into our apartment to ask us to lower our voices because he's studying for finals. I come to his for some reason, maybe to give him his stocking full of silly things I'd bought for him (they all had resonance for me, with events of his life, our lives together) and tell him I'm sorry we aren't closer and burst into tears and leave (he rolls his eyes and says, oh jesus). He's over at our place, looking for nice shoes to wear to a party, he can't find his own and borrows his brother's. They're too tight, and he comes back from the party limping, with blisters. (I find his later, after he is dead, they were under his bed the whole time.) I walk back and forth from the subway to the hospital at all hours of the day and night. He's afraid to die. He wonders why I am here every day. Why I stay so long. He knows there are times when he needs me there, indispensable things only mothers do, but still, he is cautious with me. The mother in the other family there, telling me Jesse had presented himself to them as not really having a family. She was surprised, maybe even shocked that I was at the hospital as much as she was. Jesus Christ. And then I'm standing just outside his room, and then, I am holding his foot so he won't be alone when he dies. I didn't mean to leave you, Jesse. I meant to take you with me. I fucked up everything.

So, fuck Christmas. You can have it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Stomaching it.

Yesterday I spent the morning having my stomach reamed out through a tube. The doctor found three polyps, one big, two small, and took them all out to be biopsied. Funny how that can drain you. I sat in bed the rest of the day, and skipped my company holiday party because it seemed like too much effort to shower and get dressed, much less step into the elevator and out to an actual street alone. No spouses invited. This morning everyone showed up with hangovers and stories (apparently the place lent itself to misbehavior.

But I wasn't allowed to drink alcohol, or eat anything that might disturb what was left of my stomach lining. So I missed: editors, supervisors and vice presidents of this and that jumping on the catwalks and bars, dancing till they fell off; someone tossing a drink on someone else's head; a vice president falling into a tree planter. Women in high heels falling down stairs. I should have gone, if only because this Boschian scenario suits me drunk or sober. I'm sure I'd be paying for my glimpse into the eternal fate of the souls of my coworkers though. And I don't mean like Young Goodman Brown, because I already kinda know what they're all capable of. I mean I'd feel even lousier if I'd torn myself away from my DVR full of Dr. Phil and Chocolate News to witness their descent into irredeemable corruption.

This morning though, someone asked me if I was worried about the biopsy. It seems so odd and far away: I won't know for a week. And I said no. I have so many things going on, so much has happened these last couple of years, that I just can't make myself worry about it. She asked me what I meant and made a few wrong guesses. I didn't want to tell her, because Jesse is dead and any fear of the possibility of myself getting cancer is wrapped in the same cotton batting as the real loss. My own death just means I don't have to lose anyone else. I love that I will probably be here to watch my younger son start his life and live it, don't get me wrong. I don't love my fear that he might not get that chance.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is this crazy?

Last night I was going through a couple of old address books so I could send long-neglected family and friends our shiny new photo Christmas card. Among the other scribbled names and numbers was the contact information for Jesse's urologist, a guy he saw only for the purpose of preserving his sperm before the chemo began in 2004, on the chance that he'd be infertile afterward. I'd paid $400 a year to store it, until Jesse passed on, and then told them I wouldn't be paying for it further. After all, what would you do with your dead child's sperm? It seemed a bit morbid to keep it around. So I figured it had been destroyed.

Time passes. I start thinking, what if. There were little blond children strolling around the streets of Michigan, with a little of Jesse's DNA? Would that make me happier than if, as now, there were none? It certainly wouldn't be any worse. Still, there's a Pandoran hesitation to open that possibility. What if there were? Would I then be unhappy until I saw one? Knew one? How crazy could I get? So I let it go. Until last night.

Now, I've just gotten off the phone with them. The director I spoke to told me the sperm is still there. Jesse had signed a consent form to use it for experimentation if he passed on. At least, that's what she thought. She said, you can possibly transfer it to a sperm bank, I'm not sure how that works legally. That loosening of the rules of life and death all wrapped up in that word "possibly"-- possibly I could be a grandmother to children he would never know. Possibly there would be beautiful, smart little babies everywhere, or anywhere, at least. Possibly, somehow, all the care and work Jesse and I put into making him himself would be let back out into the world, projected forward one more generation. Possibly all his potential, drive, ambition, love, would spring into the future in the souls of his children. She'd said, "he was beautiful," and I said, oh you knew him? She'd said, wistfully, they're all beautiful, these young men who come in.

As I was typing this, she called back to tell me it had been destroyed, after all.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Maybe if I just make myself write every morning, soon after my walk. Soon enough to remember what I was thinking, if not the actual words. Lately I've felt a buffer grow between my consciousness and my heart. Just enough so I don't cry when I walk through the park. A little numbness, an unreality that lets me believe against rationality that somehow Jesse is still there (and by extension, that we are all still there, somewhere outside time). If we're no longer conscious, self aware, able to make decisions, to learn, to grow, then we are only memories (as in dreaming, as we exist in others). What we were in time, what was known of us lives on a little. It's a bit morbid, really. The memory of that person so easily bends to our will, sends us love, watches over us, whatever we ask of the dead, or the not-present. What say do they have, in what we imagine of them?