Tuesday, December 21, 2010

nam myoho renge kyo

I've been trying to embrace the course of my day. Physically and mentally. After so much time in bed, in pain, my first inclination is to take an escalator instead of the stairs, the train instead of walking, sleeping a little later. It's not always wrong. I just have to learn to slow down until I'm ready for each new action. Meditation helps. Not in lotus position or anything, but as I walk, I clear my mind, become conscious of the act as I move through space. Today I was thinking, or rather, became aware of the mantra of Nichirin Daioshin Buddhism, nam myoho renge kyo. You can look up all the sites that talk about this mantra, which roughly translates into 1. the entire meaning of Buddhism 2. the name of the teachings of Buddhism (devotion to the lotus dharma, or the cycle of enlightenment) but I come at it differently. Today I think I had a little breakthrough.

It would be a lot to explain, but think of the idea of grace, as enlightenment. Grace is a gift of spiritual or moral vision, of favor or love, if you believe in God. If nam means devotion, or "I devote myself" it can also mean, "I take refuge in" or "I surrender myself to" the lotus dharma, the path of grace. The path of grace is not something readily apparent, you can't always travel on it. You don't always know whether you're on it or not.

I've written about one of my favorite sayings, from a conversation with the guy who runs my local hardware store: there are two ways to do everything, the right way, and over and over again until you do it the right way. This is an essential spiritual teaching, for me. I want to believe with Buddhism, that all roads lead to paradise. That you can struggle all you want against this or that encumberment, but eventually, you will lean to surrender yourself to the lesson.

I heard a woman tell the story of her near death--- that her first words, on coming out of the coma were about herself in the third person. She had been out of her body for so long that her own life seemed to be someone else's. And after all, if we are spiritual beings on a human quest, how can we know who we are outside of this existence? The batch of chemicals we travel in guides our emotions, our thinking, our every moment. Until we are free of the illusion that the person we think we are, right this minute, is who we really are, we can't begin to answer our real needs. I'm not saying our emotions and thoughts aren't real, our physical bodies, too-- they're all real, but they are only temporary.

If I can surrender myself to the path of grace, take refuge in the cycle of enlightenment, devote myself to learning what can't be taught, where will I end up? All I can do for now is stay open to it. I can't fight and force myself past my own abilities and reach the path of grace. I can't stay still and protect myself from life and pain. I can only move along slowly, eyes open to what I might see, and encourage myself to take refuge in the hope that I might be moving in the right direction.

And so, as I walk out onto the street, I listen to the sounds around me, I see each person who passes by, I try to open myself to the day, to devote myself to the path, and take refuge in the grace of its wisdom. If all I get out of it is some peace before I start my day, the courage to walk up a flight of stairs, well, that's not a bad thing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hello out there

I'm finally feeling better, dug into my savings and paid for botox injections to kill off the migraines and that plus a vicodin and a martini & there's a blissful-ish moment to think. For now. I barely made it through work, I reach a certain point where my whole body is buzzing and my head is a mile across, like right before you ge the flu, but I know it's the migraine trying to come back & it doesn't matter what I have in front of me, the outcome will not make sense. The night editor sent me home. People can see this in my face. Pinched and half focused, and a hundred years old. I drag myself to the curb and a cab. By some miracle I end up at home in bed but nothing helps until I assemble my arsenal.

Un-pain is my fantasy land.

The other day I saw a baby-- a man with a baby in a snuggly thing on his chest; I mean. But I saw the baby more than the man. Because the baby had that shock of fuzzy, staticky blond hair like an insubstantial halo. Like Jesse had as a baby. And I looked at the father, I was behind them, and it was in the subway station-- the father was in his mid twenties, with hair the same curly dark blond Jesse's would be. I'm telling you this because it's gotten to be a regular thing. Guys who look like Jesse. This was the first time that, like a dream, baby Jesse and adult Jesse were together and I thought, that would be life, my life. If we'd been that lucky. I wanted to tell this total stranger: be thankful. Get down on your knees and thank God you are alive in this crowded subway station with your sleepy baby on your chest. You have everything.

I hope he realizes it. I hope I can see my own everything before it's taken away again. I hope you see yours. Because that would make all this worthwhile.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bone Soup

My vegetarian son has been working at a barbeque restaurant that doles out Austin hill country flavor like nobody outside of Austin. It's better than anything I've eaten in Austin, but that doesn't mean it's better than Austin, just that maybe I was at the wrong barbeque places or something.

Anyway, it was his first job, delivering barbeque. I had hoped it would suck mightily and convince him to re-apply himself academically. Unfortunately this job is a great success, and he was made delivery manager after a few months there. He was also made the staff representative for the delivery squad, which he takes very seriously, aware that his position in management requires him to go the extra mile for his worker pals.

The owners seem to like him for all the reasons a mother could wish; but I think they're also kind of proud to have a vegetarian on staff to vouch for the purity of the side dishes. Or "fixins," for the cognoscenti. The cooks seem to like him too, and when he tells them he's bringing home a short rib for his mother, they bring out the biggest, juiciest one. "Carlos" says, "Now I can say I gave your mom the big bone." The previous delivery manager left to have a baby, but her response to him ordering dinner for me was, "tell her to suck my dick!" Which son immediately texted me to ask me if I was interested. I guess he's grown up.

Anyway, I spent a deal of my childhood poor, so these big rib bones are too beautiful to pitch once that juicy, fatty, rich meat is off them. I throw them in my stock pot along with any other bones that find their way onto a plate, and boil the mess, then let it simmer for a few days, adding bones as the week progresses. Beef, pork, chicken, duck. As long as it's simmering, flavor is leaving the bones and entering my broth. As long as the lid is on it stays sterile. What you end up with is a smoky, dark, marrowy broth that hardly needs anything in it but a few bay leaves. I like to cut up any leftover smoked brisket, ham, sausage, duck, and short rib leftover from the week's meals. We live half a block from the farmers market so into the pot go the season's parsnips, carrots, onions, potatoes, green pepper, garlic, green onions, parsley, fresh thyme and oregano. Throw in some lentils and let it simmer.

My grandparents bought a farm right around when the Depression hit, and fed their extended family while growing a family of their own. This is as close as I get, mostly. We're going to be fine.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

why does it have to mean anything?

I have a friend who's very interested in existential psychology-- the search for meaning, how important it is to know yourself, to know why-- as if there is a unifying answer. Why do I like cats instead of dogs, why did J Edgar Hoover dress up as transvestite, what was that weird trail in the sky, what do you see when you look at the moon, and why are we here? I guess it's natural to look for patterns, to want to find them. It's reflexive as the fight or flight response. That doesn't mean it's always useful.

I think it brings him some comfort to think that even if there is little deeper meaning, that we are meant to search for it anyway. The fact that we do it makes it ok, as if questioning existence were like eating or farting, something you probably shouldn't do where camera phones are present, since you never know how really foolish you look doing it until someone posts it on facebook.

It's not that I'm against philosophy, or self knowledge. I just think there's a limit. When you're looking for patterns, you start excluding information. You discard what doesn't fit what you think it's supposed to look like. This may be fine on an IQ test, but the world isn't like this. Sometimes there is no reason why you have five symptoms of whatever the disease du jour is, it's just a coincidence. Sometimes you work so hard to understand how the universe works and whether God is listening or exists or has qualities of any kind, and you forget to just listen.

Another friend went on a 10 day retreat that involved utter silence, and meditation, plus three meals a day and a place to sleep. It made me sad to think it could be that hard to learn how to be here now.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


This is week 4 of an off again on again migraine that won't go away. I can't think straight. The two worst days were last Friday, and last night, but today is about to rival them. I can't stand it, having a thought so close at hand, only to have it swept away by the pain. I have too much to do to go hide in bed for days, but that point is coming. I paid for my own botox injections a couple of days ago, and all I can do is hope they kick in soon. It usually takes about 5 days, but I don't have five days right now. So I sit here at my desk and pretend to function.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Five Ways the Rally to Restore Sanity Sucked.

1. There were lines out the metro station. My sister had to stand in one for an hour and a half just to buy a pass. We had bought ours in advance, but we still sat in the station, watching train after train go by, jammed full of the Sane. The Metro conductor told us that for these large rallies, the organizers have to pay the metro system to put extra trains on the line. It was clear to all of us that no such forethought was employed, as five or six trains passed us before we got the idea we should take the train back to the end of the line, and then we'd actually be on said train when it turned around and headed back.

2. More evidence they had no idea how many people were going to show up: the extra speakers and the jumbotrons only made it to about 1/3 of the way back from the stage; the last of the dense part of the crowd was back at the Natural History Museum, unable to hear much but a few snatches of music, and indistinct yelling. 4 blocks from the stage on 7th St. I could hear Cat Stevens, and even a few minutes of John and Steven bickering. We decided by 2 pm that we'd just have to watch the stage events when we got home. I still haven't seen the whole thing.

3.It seemed like a terrible waste of potential that so many Americans drove/flew here from as far away as California, all pretty much in agreement that we'd like to see more tolerance, more dialog and more cooperation in government, without any power to do anything about it except just to be there. It may be that's the only way we would all have shown up, but I think I secretly wanted a 4th party to arise from the Mall. It didn't.

4. It was too damn short. Woodstock went on for days. DAYS.
5. Even though a large number of the rational folks bused in and out, there were such mobs at the entry to every restaurant in walking distance, and back into the train stations, that the wait to either eat or get on a train was between one and two hours. So we stood in the shortest line, which happened to be a salad place called Chop't, and half an hour later we were eating chopped salad. So very filling, so classically Washington. Hunger does weird things to people. There's a Chop't across the street from us in NYC, that's been there for 7 years, and we've never bothered to go in there.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It doesn't get better, it just changes.

For purple day, I found a picture of Jesse from college, a purple fleece blanket tied around his neck, posing as dorm room Superman. He's got that ironic-superman smile, the kind you would wear if you were posing as dorm room Superman. The intention was to show support for Jesse's gay friends on facebook, but after putting it up I started to feel worried that they might get upset to see it. I don't know why. I liked being able to see him there, but at some point I wondered how his brother would feel seeing it. Does it feel to him that I'm too obsessed with Jesse? It's impossible to compete with a dead brother.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I sang.

I've been terrified to sing. Especially not karaoke, but just-- my voice sucks now. If I raise my voice I cough; I've lost my range, which wasn't very good to begin with. In college I took a class in opera singing, sang in a madrigal choir, and basically traded on what the nuns taught us in grade school, working myself just enough to sound ok at an end of the year party when my freshman crush and his band let me sing backup just one song. I knew almost nothing really. When the madrigal director auditioned me, he said I was second alto and I thought it meant, lower than a regular alto.

Anyway, I know I'm not that good. The songs I can sing, I mean, really, are the ones I've sung a million times so I know where I have to push from the diaphragm, where I can fudge an ascending progression (probably not the right word) with a little bluesy harmonic play on what's expected. It's scary. I'm about as good at it as I am at skiing, that is, who would want to watch but a sadist or someone who really loved me or wanted to get in my pants or both or all three.

But I need to work on it, not just because so many of my business acquaintances and friends are young and Asian or just young and into karaoke. Or just into karaoke. Mysterious shit. So maybe I should take lessons, but not yet. Anyway. The other thread here that matters is that I've been hanging out with the people I knew when I first moved to New York, because I'm lucky they found me again. Last week there was a Max's Kansas City reunion, and I showed up for two of the three nights. Sunday it was kinda slow, but the promoter and stage manager were my friends, Pete and Frank, and when the last band played, they saved House of the Rising Sun for Frank. He didn't know the all words, and for some reason I jumped up and sang backup on the chorus, then started the next verse myself.

I could hear myself in the monitor, so I knew I was on key mostly, and I could hear the power from deep in my chest. I knew I sounded fucking amazing. The hot asshat who'd been trying to pick me up earlier in the front bar had come in to see who was belting one. I saw the look on his face when he realized it was me. You can tell when people are horrified by the spectacle of your shame, and when they're mesmerized by your unexpected success. This poor guy had gone from she's a MILF to IMUSTHAVEHER in 30 seconds.

And then I thought of Meryl Streep in Ironwood, gave the guitarist one of those looks, and we killed it like the dregs of a good bottle. It kinda reminded me of the first time I read my poetry out loud. My first thought had been why are they staring at me like that?

I guess I need to learn to sing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The tragedies destroy us
we fall
or do not fall
When you fell
I tried to catch you up
it was too late to soften
anything like a landing
you wanted to go
It was I who said no


I think of you past judgment
past eyes

What you saw in me
your firstborn child the universe a piece of dust
the last thing you saw
falling away

and my son follows
beyond my reach

I held his foot
as he was cut loose from earth
I kept that last promise
for myself more than him
my firstborn child, my universe, my jar of dust

Here's what I want to ask you both
When we break loose do we drift and die
like fireworks across the sky?
or do we roam
across this planet we once called home?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Yes, I said fuck 9-11

I was standing on 5th Avenue with a crowd of New Yorkers from all walks of life,watching the biggest buildings in one of the biggest cities in the world burn like candles. No one knew what had happened for the first hour or so. Once we knew it wasn't an accident and the city began shutting down like a fort under seige, we began dialing family and friends and the schools where our kids were trapped by untrained administrators, getting dial tones and terrifyingly calm computer voices telling us the lines were down. No one panicked, you can see the footage. We did what we had to do. Boats poured across the Hudson from New Jersey to ferry people out of harm's way. People put their kids' schoolmates up for the night, companies closed, neighborhoods were blocked off, there were lines wrapped around the hospitals to donate blood.

The next day the stench was unbearable and unavoidable. I'm reminded of it today because down the block from my office, a restaurant is on fire as I type. The sickening smell of burning meat and building materials and ozone is all too familiar. We were out on the streets, collecting things to donate to the rescue responders. There were no trucks, no food or supplies could come into the city then. We were in lockdown. On my street, rescue workers walked from store to store looking for bottled water and food, covered to their hips in thick grey dust.

Within days, when the city was running again, but the fire was still burning and ash floating all over us, we went back to work. My route took me past the armory, the local operations for the rescue effort. On the walls of buildings surrounding it, were photos of the missing, smiling out at the camera. I felt myself in the very shoes of the family member or friend who had taken that photo in a moment of joy, and now had to xerox it onto a leaflet begging to know if this happy face still lived. I cried as I passed this part of town. We cried at my office. My kids wore paper dust masks to go outside. The dust and ash blew through our windows. The stench didn't abate for months.

It was March before the fires were completely out. And years before the hole was emptied. New Yorkers flinched at the sight of low flying planes. We stayed away from the site, or trepidatiously peered, in full knowledge that we were walking on sidewalks strewn with the ash of our neighbors' remains. We were angry at photos of tourists taking photos of the site with smiles on their faces. Fuck them. We tried to be tolerant when family members visited and wanted to see it. Like asking to see fresh scars from some near fatal collision.

The annual 9-11 ceremonies were tasteful, heartbreaking, and at some point, too boring to watch. When 9-11 was renamed Patriots' Day, when politicians started using it to scare people into voting for them, when radio talk show hosts and cheap tin pastors started using it to boost their audience ratings, when people who had never been there and had no right to wrap themselves in it began doing so, 9-11 ceased to be sacred. Now it's just another insincere glow in the dark plastic trinket holiday, co-opted by people who say we, who lived this horror, are not real Americans. The people who died on 9-11, and the people who ran in to save them, we're not patriots. The people who died together: Arab, Hindu, Christian, Jew, European, African, Latin, Asian, Indian--every strain of human bloodline, every religion or lack thereof-- and the people who ran in to save them, recover their bodies, and mourn them, all of us, are now the sworn enemies of the people who hold 9-11 up as their rallying cry. We're atheist godless, idol worshiping terorrist lefty liberal New York assholes who hate the constitution and the country and our troops and real Americans, and unborn babies and fuck you.

I'm done with that three ring circus.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


There were two fires today in Staten Island, one surrounded firefighters till a change in the wind opened up an escape. Last week there was another fire, on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River. Whenever fires occur so near each other I think arson, but that's not a professional opinion so much as a personal prejudice. When I was in college in Ohio, there were fires in buildings here and there throughout the years I lived in the town. It wasn't till the middle school gym, that I realized someone was doing this on purpose. The first building that went was an old granary-- my college town was in the middle of cornfields and rolling hills just north of the twon where I'd grown up. I'd seen the granary nearly every weekend when I was a kid. My dad drove us to his parents' farm on Sundays, and the route ran right through the town of Oxford.

At 9, I thought the word painted on the grey board building said "Canary" and wondered about the potential for yellow birds inside. I can't remember when I found out the first letter was a G; but I can remember the building as if it were still there, at a bend in Route 27, just beyond the main part of town. By the time I started school it had stood empty for a few years. And it was gone in a night. My freshman year.

The next building to go was an unoccupied frat house, I think, and then something else, and then the middle school gym. That burned near the beginning of my senior year, in late August, so there were rumors one of the students meant to extend the summer a few more weeks. But the lumberyard. People were working there, unlike the rest of the fires.

I'd been standing out on the street, a humble small town street, with cracked sidewalks and small houses; I was talking to friends whose faces I can't even remember. We were under these two huge trees, still flush with green leaves. An unexpected man in a suit ran past us, toward the center of town. We watched him. You never saw anyone in a suit in Oxford then. You certainly never saw one running. Next it was a group of college kids like us. We stepped out from under the trees an realized the sky was aflame. A crowd had gathered down the block where the lumberyard stood hidden behind a row of houses, on our side of the train tracks. Without thinking about it we were running with everyone else, but by the time we got there, anyone left in the lumberyard had been rescued, and there was nothing to do but watch it burn. The crowd became a bit festive once it became generally known that no one had been hurt. Someone suggested a keg party. The communal sense, the relief and excitement at this contained bit of chaos. It shocked me at first, that we were all so jolly. That was why he did it, whoever it was. He was somewhere in the crowd. Or nearby. But no one would ever be arrested, and for all I know there were more fires after I graduated.

I don't remember the fire department ever showing up, but I'm sure at some point they must have. Everything seemed to blend, one moment into the next, so naturally that, like the G in the Granary sign, I lost the recollection of anything but the most unexpected.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back in the hole

Today I found out that Jesse's favorite oncologist just moved to Sloan Kettering. The article announcing it appeared on what would have been Jesse's 26ht birthday. Welcome to New York, Dr. Tallman. If you'd gotten here 4 years ago, I'd still have Jesse.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Getting better.

There's this feeling I get, nearly every day, when I realize Jesse is gone forever, as if realizing it for the first time and somehow in my mind I am crumpling onto the floor, while I seem to be standing up, perfectly fine. I may not actually be on my knees, but I feel it. I can hear myself screaming in my own head while on the outside I am calm.

And I asked myself today--is this any better? The pain of missing him has become more or less the same feeling as loving him. I see children who look a bit like Jesse did at a given age and there's some relief-- that there are still children? That I had Jesse in my life at that age? I can remember him without sobbing (mostly).

Looking at where I was 3 years ago, and where I am now, well; I can go all day without crying on the outside. It's not that I'm forgetting Jesse. It's just that I can make myself put off thinking about loss for a sustained period of time. It's an act of will. In a way, that's worlds better, but really it just means I have a little more control.

I don't want to forget him. I want to be able to be a full person even though he's gone-- a mother to his brother, a wife to my husband, a friend to my friends, and so on. It's just that every bit of love I feel for the world and the people in it has been touched by Jesse, and therefore, by loss. There is no world with no Jesse in it, not for me. It's just that I can't see him. Otherwise, he is always with me.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Broken Doll

When I was little my mother still believed that we'd move back to New Orleans and my sister and I would go to Cotillion and take turns being queen of her Mardi Gras krewe. She taught us to behave as if we still lived in that tiny sliver of New Orleans society. Our manners were frighteningly perfect. We knew which fork, knife, spoon and funny shaped doodad to use for every moment of a seven course meal we'd never had. We stood out in Ohio like little Lady Fauntleroys, causing mirth and derision with our straight posture and little white gloves. My dad's family cringed when we visited, having now to put napkins in laps and abandon barehanded eating. It wasn't enough for them that my mom towered above them, at 5'9" -- but she sewed her own knockoffs of designer dresses, first Christian Dior wasp waists, then Halston's Jackie look, and wore them to the farm on Sundays. She thought she was showing respect. They didn't take it the right way at all.

She scoured the Cincinnati area to find a ballet teacher who had the right resume. Ours had been the dance mistress for the Cincinnati Ballet and Miss D often sent pupils to local ballet groups for auditions. I was probably about 11, slender and not gawky enough that you couldn't hide it with makeup and a lot of rehearsal time. Miss D. liked the way I was shaping up, rounding my arms into a tidy oval in fifth position. My biggest flaw was a tendency to grimace in self absorption when performing a series of steps. That and a not so secret detestation of barre exercises. Mom got to the point where she was bribing us with a trip to McDonald's for dinner after class, something her French soul rebelled against I'm sure.

I don't know how my sister and I ended up in a performance of Coppelia with a university dance troupe, but it happened. Ms. D. told us very little, perhaps to keep from making us too nervous, but this wasn't our usual dance review and we all knew it. The role was fairly simple. During the night, the toymaker's shop comes to life, and we were godknowswhat-- little Scotch dolls in red tartan topped tutus and tams. Finally, instead of boring me, ballet was fun. It had a purpose. I learned the piece, I smiled involuntarily when we practiced it. I wanted to be that little Scotch doll finally free of its wooden limbs.

Miss D noticed, and gave me a tiny bit of solo work to do. I would be the doll whose mechanism sprang loose when daylight put the other dolls into a coma. I could pirouette across our segment of the stage and flop down like a rag at the end of the piece. I loved it. Not only could I have a solo, but I could make people laugh. It meant that Miss D. understood me and I would never let go of that feeling.

We rehearsed on the stage the day before, to make sure we all had our marks and timing right. I could see all the empty chairs rising in front of us like an impending wave. Tomorrow the seats would be full. We could put on makeup. We could share the stage with the beautiful Coppelia. Whom I would never be as big or as glamorous as. I didn't mind. I had the only solo of all the students.

It came off better than I thought. I kept waiting to be scared but I wasn't. I should have been shy-- wasn't I always shy? I hesitated to look at the imposing wall of chairs filled with judging faces, as the curtain came up, but they'd disappeared. The stage lights had canceled out the audience. I could pretend we were all alone up there. I can still remember my sister and our classmates watching each other to help keep time as we went through the routine, and then a little explosion of fireworks in my soul as the music drew up on my part and I broke away, keeping my eyes on the invisible audience as my body spun 360s past my collapsed cohort, then the dramatic flop, my legs flying up into the air, tutu over teakettle. And the shock of laughter and applause from the darkness. I lay there on my back and laughed till tears came. It worked. I no longer had to be perfect, as long as I could be funny.

The next year I grew too tall to be in a corps de ballet, and not long after that, my dad had his first heart attack, and mom couldn't afford to send us to ballet classes any more. My mother cried when she realized that now we'd never go back to New Orleans, and my sisters and I would never be presented to society.

The irony that I had learned to love ballet just in time to lose it did not escape me, but what could I do? I was changing diapers for the new baby sister while mom drove back and forth to the hospital to visit dad. It was time to grow up, whatever that meant. For all of us.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dishonesty corrodes every relationship it touches.

This thought came into my head on the way to work today. I was thinking about a friend who had been dishonest with me once in a while, mostly by omission, but was the kind of person who, even when asked a direct question, would often tell you what you wanted to hear, rather than risk that you might not like the truth. I didn't realize this was going on at first, and then, when I would find out about a little lie, for example, I asked him if he smoked, and he said no; who cares, right? I would just ignore it, I guess. He was one of those people who always make you feel confident and strong: a booster when you're making a personal or career move, the kind of guy who would pay the bill at dinner just because it made him feel good to be generous.

Over time as we grew closer, more important things came to light: he'd cheated on his wife (but, he explained, he was really separated from her, even though they were living in the same house when the events occurred). He'd lied on his resume to get his first job. He'd lied to his fiancee about wanting to have children. There was always a good reason. He was a good friend, I thought, helpful and kind. Other friends liked him a lot, too. They of course, didn't know he was dishonest. He seemed very much the opposite, the kind of guy you would trust to be there for you when things went wrong.

I was so busy trying to believe my own excuses for this guy's behavior that when my pain medication started disappearing, I honestly believed it was someone else in our circle. I asked him directly at one point and he denied it.

"Of course I'd ask you first," he said. So I started hiding them around the house when friends came over, counting them religiously, worrying that I myself was taking them when I didn't need them and just not remembering. I even started keeping a tally on the pill bottle. Then one day I caught him with his hands in the drawer where I had hidden them. :"What are you doing?!" I asked him, nothing, he said and left the room. I counted the pills and sure enough, two were missing. I confronted him about it, and we had a bit of an argument. He admitted he was taking them "recreationally." Even though he knows I have herniated disks that cause me a great deal of pain, and knows that my doctor could cut me off if it looks like I'm taking too many.

He's since apologized, and says that was a "wake up call" for him. I don't know if I can get over that experience. It still makes me angry to think of it. At one point I was afraid it was my son, who was a teenager at the time, or one of his friends taking them. Thank God I never asked. Just imagine what that would have done to the trust relationship between my son and me.

Is it worse I wonder, that he let me distrust not just all my other friends, but my son, or is it worse that he made me question and distrust myself?

And all because this so called friend wanted to have a momentary rush of euphoria when no one was looking. I believe people can change for the better, but I'd be crazy to assume he really has.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I will not be death's handmaiden.

This week's New Yorker talks about hospice care, and reading the article threw me into vivid recollections of losing family members, not just Dad and Jesse, but my grandparents, and my in laws. Although sometimes I feel I've learned so much about coping with tragedy and death, I can't bring myself to seek out more by working in the field. It's hard enough to cope with what I've already faced, for now.

I accidentally 'went off' the Zoloft for a couple of days, and was starting to see Jesse everywhere, to miss my Dad, to cry at Inception, of all things (I know!). So I guess I'm not ready to go raw, pharmacologically speaking. I caught up yesterday, and now I'm a little more vigilant about the evening's ritual. I'm off the Prilosec, trading forbidden food for a smaller handful of medication. And I'm down to only taking melatonin to sleep, which is somewhat a tradeoff, too I guess. Elaborate story-like dreams that seem real because people's faces, and objects and places maintain their visual integrity, but then an escalator ends at a glass wall and I suddenly realize I'm late for a plane but I can't check out of the hotel because there's no front desk at the lobby, only a bar where I talk to my companion, a small child, who is my guide in this crazy world of my own invention.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back to The Europe

We never do guided tours, but we did 2 in Dublin, because we only had a day to ourselves. We chose the historic tour, run by bubbly, wise-cracking Trinity history MAs, and the literary Pub Crawl, run by ironic, wise-cracking Irish actors. From the first we learned that every historical site in Dublin is ironic, except the Post Office (at least since they removed the statue of the Floozy in the Jacuzzi). From the second we learned that nearly every good Irish writer had a side business in enriching the local publicans. We also visited St Stephen's Green which we learned was a terrible place to attempt trench warfare for the first time.

The next day our friends drove us to Powerscourt where we learned that all the really big Irish homes are tainted with English pelf, then climbed Killiney hill, which was breathtaking in every possible way. The only downside is my friend's carriage house is down a narrow alleyway that the local soccer fans consider their personal toilet. And the floors had just been refinished so choose which reason your eyes will water.

The next morning we were in London, living with my friend, whose ethnicity is so specific I won't name it here for fear she'll find this and thrash me; and her extended family, who have made such an art form of family rows that you'd think you were still in Ireland except that 1/3 of the "conversations" are in their local language the name of which I still can't spell. Which I guess means exactly like Ireland, except with better cooking. Occasionally an English term will slip into the middle, like, "I'll chop your head off, sister," or "I'm not going to Nairobi to meet some man." So you can get the gist and laugh at the appropriate moments.

I made up my own walking tours of London and Paris, intended to wear us out completely and see so many historical and scientific sites that without photos we'd have no way to know where we'd been, and without photos of the relevant street signs and wall plaques we'd have no way to remember what's in the rest of the photos. Luckily, since I mapped the route out on my computer, I just have to match the angle of the sun with the point on the route and argue with my husband about what country it was. Couldn't be simpler.

My English friend was an excellent host, and I apologize to her constantly for our being American. Then I remember that we actually argued less than she and her mum did, and I feel a little better. She set up some terrific dinners, not the least of which was the Mango Room (perfect Caribbean in Camden Town), an Ethiopian family restaurant with a whole ritual built around roasting your coffee beans for you, and our final dinner with the extended family in Zanzi Bar, an actual Kenyan-style Indian restaurant. Her mum was in town to browbeat her for not being married, and to attend a cousin's wedding, more or less simultaneously. So this is why we went to Paris.

Paris. Noon. Jesus. I have photos of the sweltering sun that look like Nat Geo travel stills of the Sahara. My Paris migraine started in the Tuileries, which is essentially a big yellow roasting pan with a side of vegetation. Which means KA will be disappointed to know we barely did anything except sleep, but at least it was climatisée. We woke up in time to race to our dinner engagement an hour late (you MUST GO, Josephine Chez Dumonet in Montparnasse). Fortunately I know enough French to explain ourselves and get seated next to a lady suffering from heat stroke with her feet in a bucket of ice, and the kitchen, which I suppose could feasibly be cooler than the dining room, given the situation. No, nobody in Paris has AC except our hotel. Nor do they appear to own or comprehend the concept of box fans. Decently dressed middle class people were sleeping on the footbridge over the Seine, in the Champs de Mars, on balconies, anywhere to catch a breeze.

We walked from the restaurant to Les Invalides to the Champs de Mars/Tour Eiffel across the bridge to the Trocadero, where we discovered that there are NO FUCKING CABS IN PARIS. We walked up the Rue Kleber or Boulevard Kleiber or whatever, passing the same two American tourists sitting on the bench at every taxi stand along the way. At one point we even stopped and chatted with them, partly to determine their existence and maybe perform triage. I was certain when we got to the circus maximus that is the Arc du Triomphe that we could hail a cab there, but no. Apparently they can tell we want a ride, and are determined not to give it to us. Fortunately there's an M11 bus (I know, west side of Manhattan, but there it was), that runs down the Champs Elysée whose bus driver was about to faint from dehydration so he forgot to notice if we paid, which we didn't even know how to do if we'd wanted to. And it ran all the way to our hotel, so when I got out I took a commemorative picture of the sign pointing to the church across the street from us. Did I mention we could see the Louvre outside our window? And the roof of the church? Charmant!

The next day we went to the Louvre and took photos of Michelangelo's pornographic late works. Since my last visit, they've moved the Mona Lisa from the middle of a hallway across from the Raft of the Medusa (where I believe it had been since da Vinci hung it), to the far end of a large room that funnels her enchanted crowds against an outer bullwark suitable for blurry photos and lit like a pickup bar. I got much better shots of the Roman hermaphrodites. And the Venus di Milo, which I took from behind so it looks like she's hunching down embarrassedly in front of a dazzled crowd of Chinese tourists and their guide.

For lunch we got obscenely bourgie at La Coupole where we ordered the two tiered Royale, which is not a burger but an entire section of the bottom of the Mediterranean that will never recover. I believe the American students next to us were pretending not to be terrified, either of the sea life or our appetite for it, not sure which. The waiters were so thrilled that we knew of the existence of the Arenes de Lutece (thanks KA!), that they fell all over themselves to give us directions there, and insisted we walk or we'd miss the Jardin de Luxembourg, which they were right. It was hubby's favorite over the Tuileries, possibly because there was air.

So we had to run to catch a nonexistent cab in order to get to our hotel, pick up our bags and catch another nonexistent cab to the Gare du Nord and the chunnel train home. This is how we were forced to learn about the Paris Metro, which works fine, and may explain why no one is murdering all the cab drivers of Paris.

Our last full day in London involved small children who spoke French, Romanian and English. I wasn't allowed to take them home. Then we were force-marched (my friend has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, and most of the peaks of the Andes) across Kensington to see the World Music Festival. Which worked out ok because I want to climb Kilimanjaro, too and could use the practice, plus the bands were fantastic and I'm downloading all their mp3s. My favorite was a Moroccan band called Boujemaa Bouboul. Go ahead, listen.

After was the much touted dinner at Zanzi Bar. Mum sat at the head of the table and demanded the chef's head be brought to her for making such a disgusting korma. She told the waitress, he makes it this way for white people. Bring him out here and I'll give him my recipe. This just isn't right. And she meant unjust, not inexact. I said to my friend's cousin, so this is essentially a little pot of racism? And they all agreed, more or less. What, asked her mother, do you think makes it so sweet? Sugar? I say, realizing vaguely that I've stumbled into a rhetorical trap. And she nods her head as if I'm Dr. Watson. Luckily the Tusker was cold.

Anyway. We got home in one piece, I can't figure out what to get my friends as thank you gifts, and it's just as hot here as there except it's raining and I want to go back now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Off topic: The Diaspora and Treme.

I love Treme. It took me a while. I wanted a hard hitting look at New Orleans like the one that dissected Baltimore in The Wire. It doesn't. I realized this week, as I tried to watch it with the sound off because hubby was asleep, that the story is at least half told in and about music. (Duh, you non New Orleanians say-- but come on, fish don't have a word for water.) I wanted it to be about the obvious corruption, crime and racial tension-- all different in flavor from any other city, because of our complicated past, but this is good too. At least now that I understand.

There are annoying sequences, where I'd have preferred less expository dialog and more action. There are slow, aimless sections of narrative (Do More With Lambreaux!) that should be steaming along like locomotives. But with the apparent suicide of Creighton, finally one plot line is starting to come to life, and maybe it can bring the rest of the story along with it.

You had to know when he started crying as he was typing the line about the rain that he was going to jump, but in case you missed the clincher in his discussion with the freshmen in his lit class, that is what Edna Pontillier does in The Awakening. So when he says she's not going toward darkness but toward a spiritual transition, he is idealizing the concept of suicide. It was the best thing that's happened to this show, philosophically. It opens up a whole new range of ideas and possibilities for the characters and plot. Everyone in the story is tied in one way or another to Cray. His wife is Ladonna's lawyer. His daughter is Davis's pupil. His death merges the two other major story lines-- or should I say, the slow uncovering of it will do so, and bring some focus to this fucking narrative. Now if only Davis will jump in after him.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How to help.

Report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information:

Submit alternative response technology, services or products:
(281) 366-5511

Submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity skimming system:
(281) 366-5511

Report oiled wildlife:
(866) 557-1401

The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program is asking for volunteers to be on stand by.

Mobile Baykeeper is also compiling a list of volunteers to be called upon to volunteer. You can call them at 251-433-4229 or email them at info@mobilebaykeeper.org.

The Alabama Coastal Foundation in Fairhope is also looking to build up a group of volunteers. Email or call the group at 251-990-6002

Also, The Pascagoula River Audubon Center will organize training on cleaning wildlife affected by the oil spill. The group says they are being inundated with volunteers, and they are asking that those interested contact them through the internet.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Neil Young on inspiration

Last night I saw Neil Young on Charlie Rose. It was an old show; I'm not a big fan of the CR, but this was worth it. Young said that he believes inspiration is a gift, and when you have an idea, you have to stop everything you're doing and work on it for as long as you need to. He carries a notebook with him for this purpose, and said that when he gets an idea, he excuses himself from wherever he is and pursues it. It may take five minutes, he said, it may take two hours. But you have to respect it. It's a gift, you have to take it. The only thing he would make an exception for is family. If a family member needed him, that takes precedence over art.

Now I'm carrying my notebook again. Thinking of you, not just Jesse, but my writer friends who read here. I hope you're all carrying your notebooks, whether it's to write about family, tomatoes, buffalo soldiers, or your private maze. WRITE. I love you all.

This morning I dug up my little red notebook and saw something from my Bali trip: dreams are like stars- they're always there, you just see them best at night.

And I wrote:

You will notice little things
if you look
a tee shirt
not her size
in the back of the closet
tiny shoes
in a drawer
a cupboard of old toys, notebooks, video games, debate plaques, sports trophies, ribbons,
a shelf of law books
slowly slipping
out of date.
Address books of classmates from kindergarten through--in what order
do we let things go
after everything has been lost

I still remember all the names
of his imaginary friends

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

To other mothers who have lost a child

I see you struggling, and even as a stranger to you I feel the urge to help. I don't know if my experience can help yours. I know that yours seems to follow the same path as mine in many ways. It's not comforting exactly, to know that you are where I was at roughly the same time in the calendar of loss. But it does help me to realize that some of it has passed for me. That my hope of another, less painful day would be fulfilled. And still the thought of talking to you about our lost children leaves me in mute tears. Is it too soon to look back unblinking? Or am I not as far along as I'd like to think?

Sometimes it's easier to bury the pain in words. To intellectualize grief. As if to explain all this well would somehow ameliorate it. If it works, even for a little while, that's all you can ask. How do we know when to tend a wound and when to let it heal by itself? The manual of maternal grief may as well be filled with blank pages.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thanks, brain

Last night I had a great, elaborate and realistic dream about living with Jesse in the same apartment. At one point he was leaning back and talking to a bunch of his friends, just really having fun and I looked at his face and thought, "I don't know how I thought Jesse was gone. He's right here. I should let people know he isn't gone any more."

I can live with this, I guess. Not that anyone asked my opinion first.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A year later

Last year during a conference on positive discipline in the classroom setting, I kept busting up crying during the group activities. It was a particularly intense group of people, as I've written before, including a husband, wife and sister in law triad who had no problem upping the emotional ante for all of us during exercises and discussions. I couldn't get through the closing discussion, and realized I'd never make it through teaching a workshop in my state. I had to put the one thing I love most away for the last year. So I was a little worried about this year's conference on parenting. But I made it. I didn't cry (much), I shared my knowledge, learned new tricks, and met new colleagues. I now have a seven week program all mapped out. The next step though, is putting it out there. That, well. That may take more time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Better living through chemistry.

With ritalin: organized matrix of cost, mileage and time variables in potential trip to see Mom for her birthday, based on airports within 2 hours of each town, rental car prices, gas, length of flight, and number of frequent flyer miles per option.

without ritalin: forget to buy tickets until August, print out the itinerary at the last minute and forget to pack it, get to airport without drivers' license, pay son's round trip taxi fare to find it and bring it to me before the flight leaves.

With zoloft: spent Jesse's birthday at an emotionally intensive parenting education training session, with 25 of my newest best friends.

Without zoloft: spent it last year busting out crying during every class activity at an emotionally intensive classroom discipline training session by the same trainer.

With ambien: fall asleep by midnight, five minutes after telling husband it's not working. Wake up a little groggy but fine by the time I get to work.

without ambien: fall asleep at 3 am, after tossing and turning for four hours. Wake up at five, six, seven, and eight. Drag ass in to work where no amount of coffee will keep me awake.

With botox: one migraine a week, give or take, some that can be treated with a couple of alleve.
without botox: migraines every day, some that flatten me and cause projectile vomiting, and even triptans don't derail them.

With typical American diet: can barely keep my eyes open after meals, feel hungry within an hour of eating. First attack of sleep hits at 1130 am, and coffee doesn't help. Starving and dizzy within 2 hours.

Without starches, flour, sugar: pretty much at normal energy level throughout the day, minor slump when I get hungry. Can go up to 3 hours without eating.

Without meat and salt: actually have passed out from low blood sugar within an hour of eating a meal.

With meat and salt: I don't pass out, ever.

That was my price, Satan. You won.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A box of nothing.

How quiet your mailbox is, knowing you will not return to it. Anonymous spam, updates from a news site you signed up for, that will not unsuscribe. Emails from your school account, labeled "from me." As if you were still sending yourself reminders about alumni meetings, lectures, web sites for law studenmts. Your friends are gone. They know you won't answer. I keep after it, peeking in, pruning the spam; knowing you will not return.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The rock farmer

I was fascinated, while watching a documentary about IM Pei, to learn there is such a thing as a rock farmer. I would like to be one. Apparently it involves cultivating found slabs, stones and small boulders into acceptable pieces for Asian style gardens. Several examples of the type of sedimentary rock used by Pei appear in the new Chinese garden room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The idea, as you can imagine, is to make the particular rock more pleasing artistically, to remind the viewer of mountains or clouds, or vaguely biotic forms. Rocks with holes are especially prized, and rock farmers will often add one where it might enhance the evocative beauty of the stone, which I guess makes them sculpture. I imagine a field of subtly changed stones left out to weather like a crop of corn.

The idea of wandering through the landscape, choosing beautiful geological formations, subtracting the hole that makes the piece art, or if you like, adding the tao, for a living sounds pleasant. But of course I can neither carry rocks nor chisel holes in them.

"This unstable pose imparts a sense of movement to the composition."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Learned incapacity.

I've been in bed so much this last three weeks that it starts to feel normal. Getting up and doing things is a project, even when it's nice out. Worse, even the simplest thing I can do at home becomes impossible when I realize, oh wait, I'll have to take my laptop over to the printer to finish this. What an insurmountable roadblock that is. I think I got here because I usually do too much. Now I'm hesitant to do anything. Last week I had a tooth pulled, one I've been dying to get rid of for at least a decade. There was nothing really "wrong" with it, it's just that my lower jaw was so crowded it pushed this one out so I was biting myself in the lip with it nightly. There was no room for it. When I was a kid my orthodontist pulled out all my bicuspids so I'd have room for the straight teeth he was planning. But even with two years of braces and all that extra space, this tooth kept popping back out of alignment and wreaking havoc on my smile. Now it's gone, and there's barely a 16th of an inch gap left, but it hurts. All. the. time. Healing. The other teeth moving to claim their share of the extra room. I'm out of pain pills. It hurts to eat, to drink, to think. It hurts not to feel sorry for myself, so there.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lesson from the lotus pond in Bali

To the fish the lotus is a shady stalk
mossy, dark
its leaves a shelter from the blistering sun
and hungry beaks
on the other side of life.

To the lotus seed the pond is the world
its surface the unreachable heavens
the bottom a dark and quiet home
safe, soft
a lap from which
it will someday leap
compelled by the flickering lights of heaven
the seed doesn't know what it will become

To you the lotus
was just a flower flashing pink as you passed by.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Just as I was starting to feel a little more able, I realized that the real reason for it is that the cast is on too loose. When I cinch the bandage back to its proper position, I can no longer use the fingers on my right hand. Which is what I'm supposed to not be doing. I've discovered some more little tricks that help in the shower: I stole one of those plastic umbrella bags from the doctor's office lobby (the disposable ones they pass out so you don't drench the floor and kill some unsuspecting guy with crutches or old lady in heels). It slides up the arm much easier than the kitchen garbage bag I was using. If you slip the rubber band up over the cast to your shoulder first, the bag goes on and off easily. Trying to bring the band up and down over the bag is a waste of good standing time.

Yesterday I had to sneak into my office to get my tax forms and pubs, because I'd left them behind, thinking I'd be back at my desk by now. The floor was completely lit because the architects who are redoing the other half of our floor had walled off the lobby where our light switches are so we can't turn them off. I kept thinking I heard one of the editors on the phone somewhere, but there was no one to be seen. Eerie to break into your own desk for your own stuff and half expect to be challenged for it. A ghost in the office machine. I could have gone during the week and said hi to everyone and showed off my cast, but I hate being the center of attention. One or two people, fine, but I never know how to handle a large group unless I'm teaching a class (that's easy). Then it's more like they're all parts of one person who needs to know what I'm saying and won't think badly of me if I misspeak. The last remnant of what used to be paralyzing shyness.

Being injured and less able makes me regress: I'd almost forgotten what it was like to be this self-conscious, to plan an appearance in public like a war strategy for a small tactical force. I am unarmed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I figured out how to shower with the cast-arm resting on top of my head. I still can't wash my left upper arm. Too close to the hand to reach it. I'm not sure how I'm going to make it through the next month with a four pound cast on my right arm, although if I've learned one thing from my life's trials, it's that when you start thinking "how am I going to make it" that's the turning point. The next day you wake up and it's been a month already. I suppose, like trying to watch an electron, becoming conscious of this revelation will change it.

When I woke up from the surgery, I knew my hand had to be on my chest, but it felt as if it were thrown over my head. The sensation stayed with me through recovery. At one point my blood pressure started to nosedive and the nurse started freaking out. She apparently hadn't been told about my blood sugar. A glass of apple juice and I bounced right back. I'm an impatient patient. I wanted to be out of there by 930, after walking in at 5 am. Next thing I knew, it was noon and I still hadn't made it from the gurney to the recliner. I knew the coffee would suck (I've been in that chair before) and the muffin would be a mushy one in a vending machine bag, but I wanted them. They taste like success.

I wonder sometimes why I started having all these joint problems in the last 3 years. Knees, elbow, shoulder-- even vertebrae, disks slipping around like wet flipflops at high tide. I tell my friends my warranty expired. I know, it started around the time Jesse got sick. But the first knee, first slipped disk, started long before. It just didn't seem to be a pattern till now. I could still do most yoga moves then. Now I'm stuck doing Pilates in bed. It's a challenge, and probably not as good as the mat, but bed is where I am most of the time. This weekend friends got me up and out, hubby took me to dinner, gf took me dancing, so I got a little sense of how atrophied I am. Good thing they were there, because they can run interference for my arm, and cut my meat for me. A few hours on my feet seems so small, and it wears me out, but it helps me feel just maybe I can find my way back to work soon. And now that this surgery is out of the way, I can start the long slow road to Kilimanjaro.

Yesterday I was napping with my back to the door (still recovering from dancing). It's one of the few positions I can handle, because the cast won't let me lie just any old way. I woke up because I felt someone behind me, leaning in near my left ear, and heard her whisper to me in an old woman's voice, "I just wanted to thank you for your relationship with Sa..." I couldn't tell if she said Sandra or Sarah. I turned around and there was no one there. And I was not asleep, and not on anything stronger than Aleve. What. The. Hell.

Friday, March 19, 2010

When I was the mountain

to the mountains the stars whirl fast as snow no
sooner do we rise up than we are cast along the sky
our living flanks scored with green and ice the water
shoulders its way in like roots
exhales itself into the sun
then in darkness wrestles its way back inside
springs forth along the promontories
leaps away into the waiting sky
toying with form in changing mine.

i promised

i will keep very quiet. I will
not scream or lay blame only
i had to stay.
They made me hide and gently
pulled loose his moorings
he slipped across the jagged
across the broken flanks
lept bright and falling
I clung on
but he slipped away.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I wish I had a mom.

I mean, I do, I just wish I had the kind that you call up and tell your troubles to, and she listens and understands and isn't afraid of what you're facing, doesn't run away or hang up when you're in distress, but comforts you somehow, and doesn't judge or blame you, or sound insincere when she sympathizes. Someone I could confide in who wouldn't turn around and tell others my secrets, or blurt them out in public in embarrassing and inappropriate moments. I wish I had a mom like me. But I don't. The mom I have would not be happy to know what I think of her, and how I see our relationship but I don't think she'd deny it, not anymore. At least that's a kind of progress.

Do I wish I had a son like me?

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I remember the sound of Estes rockets zipping apart the summer sky. We'd be standing around together, my dad, my brother and sisters and I, my dad kneeling to light the fuse and stepping back. It meant liberation from the earth, power over fire, over gunpowder, over all of us, and all the neighbors who could hear it and looked up to outrace the sound with their eyes and catch a glimpse of the bright needle as it reached its zenith and poppped a tiny plastic parachute. It never occurred to me that we were the only family that did this, and why, not until a few summers later we heard that sound from someone else's lawn, off in the trees, across the endless flat terrain of our subdivision. We searched the sky but couldn't see it. And never found out who else had glued together the tubes and fins and stuffed the little cone with its chute.

My dad was always picking up new hobbies for us to try, rock polishing, glass art, candles, electric trains. Everything was a lesson in how things worked, what they were made of and why they reacted to what you did to them. Why can you cut glass underwater with a scissors? My father knew. He was half a class shy of his masters' in physics. He was nearly finished, out of Loyola in New Orleans, when the money ran out and my parents moved, with me and my baby sister, to Maryland.
(to be continued)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The terrible thing

If I could explain what I feel, I don't know that it would help me at this point. I realize that not-thinking about what this time of year really is, has affected me, hopefully temporarily. I can't think clearly. I forget the most obvious things. I can't tell right from left. Ideas drop out of my head and I'm left standing, grasping for them, in front of my loved ones. They understand. They are patient with me. I am so lucky to have these friends and this family. I know it. Not just the ones who knew me before I lost Jesse, but the ones I only know because I lost Jesse.

I suppose it's possible I would have met these new friends either way, but I wasn't the same person when Jesse was still alive. I didn't have a big hole blasted through me that anyone could look into. I protected myself. Now I can't. I have to find ways to go from that introspective, self-reliant person to one who reaches out to others, who is weak and fragile and open. The terrible thing is that I had to lose Jesse to lose what kept me from the world. That's not to say that Jesse had anything to do with my introversion, far from it. In order to love Jesse I had to change throughout his life. As my firstborn, he was the person who took me from the stupor of my postponed girlhood to full adult parenthood. He made it possible by his existence, for his brother to be born. He made me look at the world, and at myself and take responsibility for my role in it all.

And here I sit, unable to grab a train of thought and ride it, afraid to say what I feel because I know what will come out of me. I already know that what I need is time. And activity. Things I can throw into the abyss until it seals itself. I just want this part to be over. I want to-- I can't say "be myself again" because I've learned that isn't a stable concept. I want to be back on the track I thought I was on, just a few short weeks ago.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The anniversary

Really, it hit me harder last week. I started crying Wednesday at work and couldn't figure out why, till I realized that the next day was the Thursday when we pulled the plug. And for some reason, Thursday morning I felt Jesse's presence all around me. The sense that he would show up if I needed him. That I should already know this. That he's fine. Please understand, that doesn't mean I don't fall to my knees every time I realize I will never see him again. That this isn't some trip he took to another country, from which he will return. He's not just avoiding me, he's gone.

People try to comfort me by saying, well he couldn't have functioned in that body any more so there's no point in wishing he had lived. And what I don't say is, lived? I wish he'd never gotten sick! I spent a lot of last month imagining myself going back in time to early January 2007 and yelling to him to go to the doctor NOW. A week sooner and he might have made it. There's a little thrill to that, as crazy as it is. That somehow my voice can travel back through time and reach him. Not any crazier than thinking he can reach past death to comfort me.

And there's one other thing people say that I hope not to hear again. Last week I was telling an acquaintance about my sister's daughter, how she had been born exactly one month to the day after Jesse died. And the woman said some crap like one dies one is born and goddammit, that's not how it works. One 22 year old doesn't need to fucking die so his cousin can be born. I just smiled and said nothing. Just, don't even think about saying anything like that to anyone you know who has lost someone. Just. Don't.

What made me cry first, last Wednesday, was thinking about his foot. When he was a newborn, baby, we'd make such a fuss about those little feet, that had never touched the ground. And when he died, his foot was what I clung to so he wouldn't feel alone as they pulled the ventilator tubes out of him. Today is the third anniversary of his last heartbeat. I can't know the anniversary of his first. But I can remember like I just took up the stethoscope and heard it a minute ago, that fast flutter of new life in my ears.

I'm trying not to think about what happened. Not sure how it'll work. But I do feel better today than I have for the last three Februaries in a row. So that's something. Just pretend it isn't February.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

The whole cancer thing

When the kids were little, right after I left their dad, they belonged to various ball clubs, Little League and soccer mostly. When my ex wasn't actively trying to mess with me on the sidelines, I'd sit with the other mothers and watch the kids play. Mostly we just shared mom things, but as we got to know each other, confidences slipped out. One in particular was from a woman who lived not too far from me. She had a son the same age as College was at the time -- so six I think. She had a car too, and would sometimes give us a ride if the game was too far away.

The confidence came after we dropped her car off at the garage one afternoon. Apparently she'd had a brain tumor removed about a year before, her husband had left her for a younger woman without brain tumors and was a real ass about spending time with their bewildered son. And now she was experiencing blurred vision and pain in the general location where the tumor had been removed. At the time, nothing was wrong with Jesse. I was sympathetic, and offered to help out when she needed it. I think she just felt relieved to talk about it to another adult. It probably helped to tell on her abandoning jerk husband too.

She never really did move past that moment of revelation, never asked me for anything. I was kind of relieved, not realizing then that most people who offer help don't really mean it, and she was probably assuming I was one of them. I would have done whatever I could. Past the point of it being a pain to accomplish.

I thought of her when Jesse relapsed. I didn't want to be someone whose life was ruined by cancer. I didn't want Jesse to be defined by cancer. It didn't quite sink it that I had no choice. That he had no choice. That it was all headed down the sinkhole. I didn't want to be standing on a street corner in Manhattan, deluging someone I barely knew with the horrible reality of living with cancer. Even now I'd rather use another word.

When I see those ridiculous tv ads for cancer clinics that show happy cancer patients who write defiant letters to cancer, I seize up inside. It's all such a phony Disneyesque prettification of the slow motion horror that has become this person's life. The prostitution of their disease for the profits of the clinic that's making money by not finding a cure, just a very expensive way to postpone death.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yesterday and today.

Of all the days between Jesse's first symptoms of relapse, and his last, yesterday and today are the easiest to look back on. The illness was still a nuisance. The hospital doctors were at turns negligent and annoyingly overreactive. He gently taunted the clowns and finger painting do gooders that showed up at his room, for trying to apply their stereotypes to his undeniable individuality. Even the PICC line was just an inconvenience. They didn't make him wear hospital clothes, so hospital-appropriate fashion and laundry was a chance to reconnect with me. He wasn't interested in shoulder rubs from me, but the girlfriends, as it should be in the natural order of life.

People say death is part of life, a natural outcome of life, a necessity for life. Right now, though I see the point of life as a struggle with death, just as all good drama is a struggle against its inevitable last scene. We love most those stories that fight to the end against fate, the ones that you wish hadn't ended but went on and on. The ones that still live in you when you walk out of the theater, that come unbidden to mind at times in your life long after you can even remember the date of the performance.

Of course there are stories that do continue on, some spectacularly so. Third acts can be the launch into greatness. Losing someone who is ready to go after a full life, while sad, isn't tragic, unless you aren't yet skilled in detaching from misperception that we are eternal. Think of it though. If you live to be 100, you will live to see everyone you know best, your childhood family and friends, to see them all die before you. How much more could you need to prepare yourself to say goodbye? The world exhausts our spirit and puts us to rest.

It was the end of Jesse's first act. We all, on this day 3 years ago, were backstage with him, keeping his spirits high, running his errands, like an eager entourage. We knew his second act would be as astonishing as all that had come before, and we would have done anything to make that curtain rise.

I wonder if my attachment to the suffering of Haiti is somehow related to my experience of losing Jesse. This is familiar, the sense that something must be done, should have been done sooner, something unprecedented, overdue, but morally unreachable unless somehow the world were smacked awake by disaster.

Haiti has never been a country you could put aside mentally and assume things were going well if you didn't hear about it. Like its sister, New Orleans and southern LA, its people came from the struggle between contest and commerce. Spanish, French, African, slave and master, free people of color, social strata created by skin color, income, language, religion, food, dance, blood. We trafficked with each other for centuries.

All our bills come due. When I saw that teams from Iceland, China, Norway, the US, France, Belgium, my God, everywhere, were working together to pull people out of the rubble, to get them water, food, safety, to usher Haiti away from the disastrous curtain drop, I felt something urgent move in me. Haiti had almost nowhere left to fall, unlike New Orleans, unlike Jesse. So the ground opened up and created an unbidden hell. What is it in me that wants to see Haiti, not just saved, but healed? To make this unspeakable into a new and better world?

A friend I met in Bali told me something recently that pissed me off a bit. She's young and beautiful and strong. She willingly lets her skin tan and refuses to dye the two strands of grey in her long, glossy black hair. We were skyping and she saw I was upset about the anniversary of Jesse's loss and she said, shower the flowers that live.

I think what made me angry is that she's right. I can better serve my love for Jesse by sublimating it into service for those I love. It's just that that definition-- those I love -- has itself begun to change shape. The people encompassed by the first word, the self encompassed in the second, and the entire concept of the third. I'm not sure where it's going. I just feel I'm supposed to be here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


People often ask me about antidepressants once they learn I've taken them. I've been on a few, actually, and one thing I've noticed is that not only do they affect different people differently, but they affect me differently in the times I've taken them. The first time I was on prozac (for PTSD) it worked extremely well. The one memorable side effect, by the way, was extremely long and intense orgasms. Go figure? I was on it for about six months, during regular talk-therapy, then tapered off as the symptoms disappeared. Within about a year I was finished with therapy as well. After Jesse died, I had no problem asking the new psychiatrist to prescribe it again, but my response was totally different. It didn't really help. I felt a little better, but the insomnia was wearing me out. I had no appetite, and problems thinking clearly. Instead of switching me to something else, the new psychiatrist added amytriptaline (elavil), trazadone, and gabapentin (neurontin). I gained 20 pounds. I couldn't drink at all, not even a beer. My mouth was dry all the time. I lost interest in sex. On the plus side, the neurontin made my sensitive skin invulnerable. I could wear a wool sweater without an undershirt and think it was cotton. At one point the stress caused one (yes only one) shingle. I didn't even feel it, although shingles are supposed to be painful for months. Hope that means I'm done with that for the next 40 years.

At any rate, I began asking to go off the antidepressants after about six months (just like the previous psychiatrist's protocol), but the new doctor would not let me. I had to threaten to go off them without her help to get her to tell me how to ladder down. It wasn't until 18 months that I finally got off all of them. I fought to lose five of the 20 pounds I'd gained, and I'm still uncomfortably big-- and unable to lose it without getting sick from lack of eating. I've never had a problem like this in my life.

This fall, I ended up on zoloft, but not for depression. It's off-label prophylaxis for migraine. It did lift my mood, and doesn't seem to negatively affect my sleep, but it does cause some nausea. It helped me to restart my teaching sideline, and it's been a huge boon in social situations. Growing up shy and introverted, I have had to learn as an adult how to be a social person, so group activities can stress me out to the point of exhaustion. Gearing up to do a lecture or lead a workshop took months of practice and anti-anxiety strategies. With zoloft, negative emotional states feel, well, padded. Buffered. Kind of like neurontin for my inner skin. It's helped a little with the migraines, but mostly it's helped me suffer less, and over shorter periods, from the loss of Jesse, and allowed me a couple of moments of actual everyday happiness. Not euphoria, mind you, I don't think I'll be there for a while. But that mundane joy in being alive. I'd forgotten what that was for a long, long time.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I can hardly bear to look at him

The sad faced boy in the photos. My heart nearly breaks just thinking of him. He is never smiling. Sometimes he looks off while others smile, as if he's seeing something awful, just off frame. Others he looks dead on into the lens, searching, longing. I know what he did was awful. I would have jumped him too. I don't believe he should be freed. But that's not everything. Who could have saved him? What if we did things differently now? Is he a bottomless pit of need, wishing to die for something, anything to give meaning to his misery? He was a child who was given everything and nothing. The void wasn't filled with hate, I don't believe that. Anymore than it was filled by anything else that was thrown in it. He was committing suicide. They just used that fact for their potential benefit.