An elephant never forgets

“I love you in the morning,

and in the afternoon;

I love you in the evening,

and underneath the moon…”

The Elephant Show, 1984-1989 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

I waited in the tattoo parlor for an hour, nearly an hour and a half, before we were ready to begin, my skin nearly itching with anticipation of catharsis. When I sat in the chair, I watched as he carefully dropped the ink into the tiny wells, fitted the needles to the gun and with an almost agonizingly forced patience, sat still as stone as he prepared the stencil to the whitest part of my arm, the place I hold close in my sleep.

I thought about what I could display, what I could declare, what I could do to shout in polite silence how much this hurts. I wanted to carry her with me, never lose an opportunity to remember her. For 70 days, I have woken up, and she has not. That has been the first thought in my head for 70 days. I cannot wake up another day, and let that be my first thought. So I needed something good to remember.

I have too many words, and not enough skin. I wish the words I felt showed through, words that I could see. I wish I had something left to see. I can feel her, I can almost hear her voice. But I cannot see her. I have waited and I have begged. She has shown her presence in more than a few ways since her death, but I have never dreamt of her.

I miss her immensely. I am sad beyond words. I can sit here all day and think of a thousand adjectives to describe the enormity of it, but none will come close. Some days I am caught between, “please give me oxygen!” and “please shoot me now!” and this is a living hell limbo I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Last week was my 28th birthday, the end to the tremendous disaster that was 27. It was the first year I did not open a birthday card with her shaky writing. Last year, she only wrote “Barb” but I know how much effort she put into it. It was the first year I did not have a birthday cake, or share a piece with her, as we remembered all the good things her mother used to bake. It was the first year I spent my birthday standing in a cemetery, 13 years to the day she buried her mother. It rained, and I cried, and none of it mattered.

I went home, and I crawled in my skin. I slept all night and I woke up angry. I woke up thinking, if this is the first day of the rest of my life, it can be the last goddamn day for the rest of this life for all I care. I wanted to tear off my own face, to rip out my hair, to reach in and pull out the pieces of whatever was rotting inside me that made me feel so wretched.

Instead of going to work, I nearly checked myself into the hospital. I was convinced I was losing my mind. In that moment just before a spinout, as you realize that shimmer in the corner of your eye was in fact, black ice, when you argue with yourself for that fraction of a second whether or not you’re still in control of your own life – that’s where I was.

I went to work. I had to literally remind myself to breathe, to blink, to pick up one foot and put it in front of the other. I thought about my options and rationalized with myself. I gave out my most professional information and kindest advice, and helped as many people as I could. I put my best foot forward and tried to fake it til I felt it.

On the way home, I listened to the same CD I’ve had on repeat for months. The drive is the only place I can cry – so if you see a blonde in a tan SUV talking to herself through her tears, that’s probably me. As I drove into town, I turned it off. I’d had enough. I drove through our old neighborhood and I slowly passed what’s left of her house. It wasn’t the house I remembered and in that moment, I was sick and tired of having nothing left here to remember.

So I stopped at the seedy-looking tattoo parlor between two bars (the kind of place you almost want to take a selfie to send your mom just to freak her out) and I walked in looking for a price on something I’d been thinking about for a while.

Let me take a moment and plug Electric Chair Tattoo in Bay City  – the guy at the counter, Painter, looked over the wall, looked back at me, and said they’d fit me in right then and there. He also quoted me an awesome price (further on that in a sec) and introduced me to the artist, Chris. They asked for my input, asked me about what I wanted and what it meant to me, and didn’t make me feel crazy when I told them I was in a place where I really needed a professional to do the skin tearing, instead of myself.

He took his time, and made sure it was perfect. I told him, “This has to be the very best piece you’ve ever done – this one is for Grama.” I generally don’t watch as they do it. It always hurts at least a little and the thought of watching my skin literally shred in front of me makes me a little queasy. But this one was different. I waited for the sting, waited for the sharp pain that always brought me down from the high of the panic. It never came.

Instead, I found myself watching closely as each needle expertly sliced into my flesh and left behind a perfect line of ink. It was strangely satisfying to see the picture come to life on my body and become part of me. Something I could keep with me for always.

After, when it was complete and my arm was slathered in ointment to protect my new art, I told Chris we needed to square up and I was prepared for the price. After all, this was for Grama. I told him I thought she would like it and he beamed. Then he told me he had fun working on it and gave me a much lower price than he deserved. I tipped him 25% but if I’d had a spare hundred, I would have gladly handed it to him. His work is wonderful, his manner is welcoming and non-judgmental and I can’t wait to go back.

gramatat

It has been a week now since that particular panic attack. Our house has been on an emotional roller coaster, what with a dog scare, then a cat’s miraculous return, to a crashing wave of “how are we going to pay for this?!” to the sweet relief of having at least three things off my plate, having finished them this week. This is it – this is my life. This is my plate, overflowing with good intentions and bad habits. It is mine, for better or for worse, and I have two choices in which I can handle this: I can wake up every morning and remember the things that hurt, and I can go through the day slowly decaying until I fall into bed, crumbling into the mass of nerves that has to do it all again the next day; or I can wake up every morning and find something wonderful to remember to put me back on the path this entire past year has thrown me off.

Three separate people have told me this week alone that they never had a doubt in their mind that I would make something of myself. I have been shown blessings I could not explain, and received some good karma that I have to wonder if I deserve. They say it will get better. It hasn’t yet, but maybe I might start believing them.

-xoxo

Advertisements

barely

I am here. But barely. I am skin and bones, pacing down empty hallways with doors that lead to places I’ve already been. I’m walking in circles and can’t find the way out. I don’t know where I’m going, but this doesn’t seem to be the right place.

So I carry on, with a slight sense of confusion and desperation, feeling like something is always just over my shoulder waiting to come from behind to smother me. I feel as if, any moment, I could fall and there is no bottom, just falling.

I want to talk, but there are so many words. There are so many different needs and ideas and pressing urgencies racing through my head. I lie down to sleep and something ticks inside my ear, calling out, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” and I know that I once again will essentially be sleeping alone. It’s hard to sleep in the center of a racetrack.

So I open my mouth and sounds come out. Barely. I talk to myself and it comes clear, the yarns come untangled. But I gather them up to contribute to a conversation that includes anyone else and all I have to offer are knotted up words, stretched to fill awkward silences and so frayed anyone could see right through them anyway. I’m fine, I say. But barely.

My grandma died in May. Her name was Barb.

My grandma died in August. Her name was also Barb.

My grandma died in September. Her name was…you guessed it, Barb.

I am starting to wonder if God isn’t some deranged serial killer.

My cat ran away this weekend. Presumably, to die.

I found a long-lost friend’s obituary last night. A brother from a past life. I’ve carried a secret from him in my pocket for years and I wonder now if it would have changed his future. I’ll never know – and neither will his daughter.

It has been… a struggle. I want to say I am okay. I have gone to work, I have had good shifts and bad shifts. I have seen others struggle as I have over these past few months, and I have seen some life changes happen to people I care about that have done lasting damage. I feel as if I wake up every day to continue cleaning up the mess that was my life before it stopped in mid-August with that phone call and shifted everything in my known Universe. Maybe Mercury was in retrograde. Maybe my good Karma has been depleted. Maybe I hated God just enough for Him to start hating me back.

The last class of my degree has started. It is confusing and fairly self-guiding, which means I am basically steering without a steering wheel through a textbook and some vague Internet links. It is the last hurdle to cross before that cap is on my head and the piece of paper I’ve been chasing for the last decade is in my hand.

I want to keep going. I know there are things I cannot leave unfinished. I have things to do, so many plans. I want to accomplish things. I don’t have time to grieve. I posted the other night that I was “in a rowboat, on a churning ocean of grief. I know I’m okay, I have a boat. But sometimes I am clinging to that boat for dear life.” I need to get back to shore. I need to set my feet on solid ground again. I can’t remember what it felt like to not feel the spinning of the Earth beneath me. I feel… so indescribable that I can only assume this is what outer space might be like. Vast emptiness – and just when you think you’ve hit the end, you’ve really just found another universe of the same damn feeling.

I am alive. I am functioning. I am satisfying my basic needs – I eat, I shower, I sleep. I feed my children, dress them and clean them and tell them I love them even when I don’t really understand what those words mean right now. I am okay. But… I am barely any of those things, barely myself.

I am sad. I can’t honestly tell you, or anyone, anything else about me at this point. This is who I am, what I know. This is me, on my knees, hands out to the sky. If you can find anything to take, take it from me. I’m about to drop it all.

 

Now that it is in stone

It has been a long hiatus. Not that there hasn’t been much to write home about; it’s just that there has been so much and it has thrown me into a state of confusion so great I haven’t been able to come up with anything to say about it. There has been so much and some of it… some of it is so hard to say out loud that I can’t bear to put it on paper. I can’t bear to make it so permanent.

But now it is written in stone, an expiration date. A date of death. Below her name, etched into a granite headstone adorned with two crosses and two other names. One has a blank space after the dash and there is no one left in this world who cares if that space is ever filled. The other created necessity for the stone in the first place, and set the ball rolling on her own plan to make the next date an easier one.

Easier, as if it could ever be easy. As if it could ever truly be bearable. I am familiar with the heaviness that comes with depression. But grief is so heavy there is nothing but gravity, pulling me lower and lower until I cannot breathe, and after what I have witnessed, nothing is more terrorizing than being unable to breathe.

I don’t know how to say it so I’ll just recount it for you as I’ve babbled to myself over and over again, assuring myself this is what she wanted. This was inevitable. This was the best possible ending. She felt no pain. She told me she felt no pain, only peace. She said all of the magic words I needed to hear before the Book of Her was shut and put up on a shelf so high I could never reach. But I was there and if I can be honest for a moment let me be honest about how raw this ending was for me. I watched the person I loved most in the history of my world choke to death and it dawned on me like an apocalyptic mushroom cloud looming on the horizon that this was what was going to happen to every single person I have ever loved. In the end, we’re all going to choke to death, gasping for redemption from something we are hoping with all of the fight we have left in us actually exists.

I am sitting in my Grama Barb’s chair. It is sitting in my library near the window. Next week, I will sift through her clothes for the last time, and bring home a small box of the last things she will ever give me. I received her thank-you card in the mail, a show of appreciation for attending her funeral two weeks ago. Yesterday, I saw her grave for the first time since the last time I kissed her goodbye. I took a pink carnation from the bouquet that still bore the ribbons “Mother” and “Grandmother” and tucked it into the visor of my car. They tell me it will get easier but I cannot believe there will ever be a day I will not miss her like this.

I am sorry.

I apologize if I have already turned you off. Let me tell you for a moment about the good things I saw. Let me tell you about the secrets that were revealed that gave us much needed laughter as we waited in the lounge of the Critical Care Unit. Let me tell you of the forgiveness I witnessed and please, I hope you’re still hanging in there when I get to the part about her beautiful grin as she woke up and reached for me with both arms.

We waited in the lounge for what felt like forever. When there’s a literal timeline of the rest of your life, you tend to really feel each passing second. Sometimes, it goes much slower than you’d imagine. We waited for change, we waited for news. We waited for someone to come up, to come in, to come over, to come back. We waited for word of improvement. We waited for confirmation of fear. We waited just because we couldn’t do anything but.

We colored pictures while we waited. We ate doughnuts and talked about our favorites. Grama’s favorite was Boston Cream. Meg and I both went straight for the Bacon Squealers. It made me smile to think she sometimes gets mad at me for pointing out all the things we have in common, but during the next week, we all ended up finding at least one thing we shared.

We remembered as we waited. As we waited for the bad thing to happen, we remembered what she was waiting for. Sometimes it felt like Grandma Judy was right there with us. It was the hardest, most necessary evil I’ve ever experienced, recounting history as we waited for it to come to an end. We each had our own rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” playing in our heads, remembering the grandma she was to each of us, the mother she was, the sister. The shelterer, the gatherer, the feeder and the cuddler. The cookie-baker, the secret-keeper, the safety net, the hero and best friend.

She brought us back together. We stood in the room, all of us, for the first time in years. Everyone she had left in the world sat around the chairs and bench, stood hunched around her bedside, sat at the edge of it. The babies she loved, the last generation she started, they climbed right in her lap and she snuggled them close.

I saw more tension, more forgiveness, more fear and more relief than I think I’ve ever felt. I hadn’t seen my father cry since the last date was etched on their gravestone – the dates of his brother’s life. I still had not forgotten that particular shade of olive green, glossed over in tears. Her hand looked so soft, and his so rough, as he cradled hers gently while trying not to squeeze the tears back. I learned that if my father can be forgiven by the one he thought he could not forgive, then perhaps I can find something of that forgiveness in my own heart.

The first day was uncertain. On a scale of 1-10, it was a 3.

The next day was a waiting game. She slept, and we talked. We waited for confirmation of stability. It seemed like that was going to happen. Anyone in the room was willing to sacrifice any semblance of their own stability to lend her, should the Universe need balancing.

Friday was beautiful. I sat up in bed and rubbed my raw eyes. I had not slept. I had binge watched several seasons of Friends as I shrieked inwardly that I could not let myself fall asleep. What if I woke up… and she didn’t? I thought I could stop Time if I could stop sleeping. I check the blinking blue light on my phone. I have never been so afraid of a blinking blue light.

She’s awake.

As I walked through the door, she saw me and the most beautiful smile spreads across her face from ear to ear. An explosion of sunshine. Suddenly everything was in color again, and she was no longer gray. She was no longer that slight blue, that decaying yellow, that deathly white. She was pure sunshine and as she wrapped her arms around me she said, “Everybody loves me so much.”

Yes, Grama. Everybody loves you SO much. You are SO loved.

I wanted a few things to happen in this lifetime before she had to leave. I wanted her to see me succeed. I wanted her to see me do something good for the world, and be proud of me. I wanted her to know how very loved she was. “Everybody loves me so much.” That was the answer.

Such wonderful things have happened to me in the last month. I began my food pantry campaign on August 15. It received a lot of positive response, and I am continuing that push to restore our community. I became certified to talk people off bridges. I trained to become a crisis worker. I am going to graduate college this year and be the first of my generation to get a degree. I got a raise at work and have found so much satisfaction in the other parts of my life that when it came time to bargain with God about this, I almost felt as if I had no right.

Yet there I sat, curled into the chair in my basement, my eyes glued to the screen watching Friends unblinking, I bargained with God. I begged him, please, just give me cancer. Let me slip off in my sleep tonight and give her a little while longer. Take pieces of me and give them to her. Let me make her better. Let me take her place. Please, please, don’t punish me this way. Don’t punish her. Don’t take her and don’t break me like this. Please, God, please show me mercy.

Friday started so well. It was a false hope that carried us through to the worst gut-punch I’ve ever felt. We’ve got to let her go.

Let her go? But it looked so good. She went from a 3 to a… well, I guess I didn’t know, but it was so much better than a 3. There was talk of her going home. There was talk of long-term plans. We went from “make decisions” to “make living arrangements” to “come to Jesus.” My head spun, my stomach sank and my heart broke.

I held her hand more in the last three days than I did in the last twenty years and God, how I wish I could remedy that. I held her hand and watched the machines beep incessantly. Sometimes they beeped urgently, and my heart froze in each silence between those chirps. Was this it? Was this it?

Was this really it?

I asked her, in the quiet moments as we watched Mark Harmon save the day on the television, if she was still in there. I pointed to my head. She nodded. It was true; she was more lucid in the last few days than she had been in the last few months. Maybe she really had made her peace. I asked her if she was okay. I couldn’t bear the thought of her not understanding what was happening, like she might possibly approach the final moment wondering why we’d forsaken her. I could never live with myself if I knew that was how she felt.

So I asked her. I asked her over and over, and each time she squeezed my hand and nodded, almost with earnest. She was okay.

I pointed to my heart. Are you okay here? Another gentle squeeze and nod.

As she fell back asleep into a painless dreamland, I laid my head on the bar of her hospital bed, held her hand in mine, and we listened to Johnny Cash. We spent a long time like that and I willed the world to stop.

But it didn’t, and still we waited. I can’t explain how each minute can pass so swiftly when you’re pleading with the clock to stop – yet when you’re begging for relief, for something to happen to make this horrible limbo end, to stop dragging out what we’re all waiting for – each hour lasts an eternity.

The last night, we had a sleepover. We curled up in her room with her after everyone had left. We talked and we laughed and we waited with the worst kind of trepidation for her to fall asleep. We knew this was it, and so did she. She fought sleep and finally, the nurse came in to help. We kissed her goodnight, and I told her I loved her. She said she loved me too. I told her I loved her more, and she went to sleep.

That was the last thing she said. She said she loved me. I could not ask for a more perfect goodbye, save for no goodbye at all.

I lay over the bar of the bed for hours, holding her hand. I was determined to be with her until the end. My aunt peeled me away from her side every few hours for a cigarette break. Finally, I pulled a few chairs together and carefully laid across them. The darkness that came for a few minutes every hour or so was so very welcome.

I watched her breathe all night, the slow rise and fall of her shoulder as she lay slumped over in her usual sleeping form. I frantically remembered every wonderful thing I could about her, trying to live our time together over for the few hours we had left. Around four o’clock in the morning, I heard a quiet giggle. “Go get her, baby. Go get Aunt Shelby.”

She was on her way. She had found what she had been looking for.

Her body continued to breathe, painful and restless. The sun rose and another day began. Sometimes it baffles me how nervy the sun could be, daring to bring that morning upon us. Didn’t it realize the awful truth it ushered in? Tuesday, August 23rd was the last day she took a breath. At 10:27 that morning, she gasped and we collectively shattered. I held her hand and placed my other on her chest, feeling for a heartbeat. There was nothing but my own, pounding blood into my ears, forcing a guttural sob out of my throat.

On the way home, I pulled to the side of the road for a funeral procession to pass. I went to pieces and flung every hurt I felt at the windshield. I felt my insides churn and wrap themselves into a tangled knot. I screamed at God and I died inside.

So I have not written for a while. The last time I attempted to sit down and write an update, it began like this: Today feels like the first day of a wonderful new life.

I have always measured my life in Befores and Afters, but this… this was never an After I could comprehend and here I am, waking to each new day with the confusion of an abandoned kitten, wondering when the lady with the gentle hand and the saucer of milk is coming. I have woken up and gotten dressed to go have breakfast with her. I have driven down the road to spend a few moments with her. I have listened to the last voicemail she left me over and over and over, and I still cannot believe she is gone.

14124226_10104195383320208_600204614_o

I am a balloon. I am floating, I am weightless. My mind is in the clouds. I am empty inside and floating along, putting in time until I see her again. Just a balloon… and all it would take is one pinprick to destroy me.

I have to stop now. I want there to be more. I want to share everything about her with the world, at least a little bit of the magic she shared with me. It has taken me a few weeks to come up with these words. Today, this is all I have. I hope I shared something to make you think, and I hope you’ll go hug your grandma. Thank you.

-xoxo

The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

I didn’t cry when my parents divorced. Truth be told, I didn’t cry when I filed for divorce from my ex, save for the tears of joy that flew from my eyes when the judge pronounced my freedom. But today, upon reading the news of Kermit and Miss Piggy’s split, I sat down and I bawled my eyes out.

Before you laugh at me, allow me to explain the parallels of their journey in love to my own.

Kermit was a good frog. He was a little different, but hey, it ain’t easy being green. He was a hard-working, reliable guy who’d do anything for his friends. He was a poet, a musician, a sweet and loving gentleman who looked beyond the chaos of his lady and loved her despite her very obvious, um, we’ll call them “difficulties.” (The girl’s a drama queen, but we love her anyway.) He took her in stride and thought of those difficult qualities as valuable elements of her personality. I would go so far as to say he admired her for them. She had wit, beauty, sass and everything a true lady could ever ask for in terms of self-confidence. She was a leader and a role model for girls everywhere, especially the shy girls like me with a little extra chub in their cheeks.

I have been a Miss Piggy fan since I was sporting her face on my t-shirts as a tot. I’ve grown up with that shrill voice in the back of my head telling me, “You go, girl!” What I know about devotion, I learned from her love for a tall, lanky green frog – her complete opposite. When I met my Fair Ginger Lover, the Frog to my Toad, the Gulliver to my Midge, the Schroeder to my Lucy, I knew he was something special. To me, he is everything I could ever find should I go looking for the Rainbow Connection. He is my partner for life, the one who keeps me grounded, the one who talks me down and lifts me up. He is constantly looking past my shrillness, my diva tendencies, my drama, and whenever I’m down, he’s ready to serenade me and bring the smile back to my face. “Oh, Kermie.”

There are some who could argue, as FGL did when I broke this awful news to him that Kermit could do better. She was somewhat abusive in her language, and perhaps her confidence sometimes crossed borders into arrogance, but as her new Tinder profile says, quoting our mutual adoration for Miss Marilyn Monroe, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” No other woman comes to mind when I think of the devotion and admiration that Miss Piggy held for Kermit the Frog. That lady put up almost as much a fight as I did when chasing the man of our dreams.

What this split tells me is, love can die. All good things must come to an end. Nothing lasts forever. Insert your cliché here.

But I am such a firm believer in true love, and no love was truer, at least for me, than theirs. Except my own. Which now has an aura of uncertainty. Everything I thought I knew about love and devotion has now been wiped away with their statements of the breakup. No, they never had children of their own. But they had millions of children counting on them to make it.

We are a broken family today. You can laugh at me, but it will haunt the far corridors of your heart, too. A piece of our childhood has been ripped from us all. What does it mean? Does it mean that the conservatives have won? That a frog and a pig were too unnatural to be together in the eyes of someone else’s God? Does it mean feelings that ran so deep for so long can dry up like a California riverbed? Could it mean that the beliefs we hold near and dear could actually turn out to be false someday?

All I’m saying is, if you’ve found your Kermie or your Piggy, love them with everything you have. Fight the odds. Show the world that a forever kind of love still exists.

I will not be forgotten

I write for me. First and foremost, I write because I need to, because there are things inside me that need to be released and at the same time, captured. I need them to be somewhere that can be reached when I am in another place and time and feel the pull to come back. Everything I write, I write because I feel it needs to be preserved. Even if not permanently, even that moment is important.

That being said, I aim for everything I write to have an audience. Otherwise, what’s the point? If a tree falls in the woods… but okay, I’m not in the woods. I’m screaming in front of people who can’t hear me. But they see me screaming. Understand?

That being said, I’m going to get personal for now because I have something I want to say out loud about all of the things I feel I can’t say out loud.

There’s something narcissistic about being a poet. There’s a wishful thought in my heart that I will be remembered. Knowing the odds are that I won’t be loved as much as I lived to be loved for until I am long gone, I’m okay with that. Just please don’t forget about me.

But when I am going, not when I am already gone, when I am just starting to coast into those last years of my life, I want to be remembered, too. Please don’t forget me. Please don’t consider me gone before I have left, and please don’t rush me out the door. Please remember who I was, who I was until very recently – when you realized the tables had been turned. No longer the source of comfort, or security, or perhaps even stability, I am still going to be someone you assumed you loved.

Some families are quilted together like a patchwork quilt; they’re close-knitted, tight-stitched, and will most certainly keep one warm when the sun is not shining on them. My family could be better compared to a crocheted afghan. There are big holes. It’s a little tacky. But it was made with love. My family is as large as it is because we’ve lived, we’ve loved, we’ve lost and we’re sentimental packrats in every aspect of our lives. We even keep the dirt because at one point, flowers grew there…and someday, maybe they could again.

There are gaping holes in my family’s stitching. I don’t know what caused them, but when I pick at anyone for answers, I feel those holes widen. There are skeletons I’ve yet to be introduced to in my family’s closet and I’m not necessarily eager to meet them, and I couldn’t begin to understand them. I don’t even particularly care that it could answer questions for me at this point, because when it comes down to the basic elements of what I believe to be true about families, this is it: families stick together because we love, and love bears all.

When I was small, I adored my Grama Barb, and I still do. She was the peak of my childhood, every day I spent with her. I lived with her in her modest house on Dean Street and I guess my father did, too, but I don’t remember him being there. Every memory I have of him in that house is him walking out the door, most vividly the time he shook me off his leg to meet his girlfriend at the bar.

(Redaction refused after my second thought because I’m tired of pulling punches.)

After he married and decided to uproot our lives much like I’m doing to my own children now, she disappeared. We never spoke of Grama Barb and when we did it was in tones that reminded us we were not supposed to do that. We visited rarely and only out of severe obligation, and I went from seeing my best friend and constant companion every day to going months without a reminder from anyone but my own homesick heart that she still existed.

We were told to drop it. We were told not to question it, and be happy with the time we were able to spend with her at his own convenience. But it was never enough. They were small reprieves amidst constant oppression at home. I counted the weeks, the days, until I knew I could see her again. It felt like holding my breath underwater.

I always told myself I’d come back for her. As soon as I could go out on my own, I would be with her. I would come back to take care of her and we would live together and eat potato soup and cornbread every day and walk to the library every week and I’d take care of her when she grew old (which was never going to happen) and we’d be happy. Me and Grama Barb. We’d spend our days watching Murder She Wrote and Doctor Who and sampling different kinds of candies at the sweets shop.

So there was a childish sort of hope that I would be able to someday live with Grama Barb again. When I grew up and began looking for places to plant my own family’s roots, it occurred to me that I could make that decision now. I could actually go back and do what I always wanted to do. My first dream was to go home. I’ve had many since then, even ones involving leaving home, but this was my first dream, and there’s something special about the first one.

It was a forgotten promise I’d made so many years ago and now, I had the chance and the reminder. As I have been rebuilding my life brick by brick each day with a better foundation in my marriage and my understanding of my children and my more stable sense of self, she has begun to fade. Her once relentless body has begun to wither and wilt. She is no longer the steely-spined matriarch with gold-green eyes. She is now the brittle and breakable grandmother and great-grandmother we refused to believe for so long would ever take her place.

And it scares the hell out of me, the thought of my world without her.

I am in no rush to come to terms with this. I cannot fathom the idea that she is old. She barely qualifies for a senior citizen’s discount. Yet there are those in our family who tilt their head to the side and remark how sad it is but yet how little of a shock, she is, after all, almost 70. Fuck 70. I see your 70 and I raise you a 90. 95 even. I know she’s on oxygen and I know she rivaled a refinery in terms of secondhand smoke contribution to the environment, but I can’t deal with it so give me more time.

Thus, our decision to move this summer. Naively believing I could, maybe, come home to take care of her. To be there for her and do the selfless things she had done for everyone else for so long. Cooked for, cleaned after, watched and sat with, spent time with that maybe could be better spent – but not really. To be a source of comfort and encouragement. A hand to hold like she held mine. I could never repay my grandmother for everything she made better in my life, not in a thousand lifetimes. But I wanted to come home and try.

I saw her in her new home this week. She shares a room with a sad woman who also suffers from Forgotten Mom Syndrome (the feeling of, or the actual event of having been abandoned by your adult children) listening to the chirpy encouragement from nurses who are there to make the money they thought a quick certification would give them. She has the choice of plain meat on a plain bun with tapioca, or noodles and tomato sauce with canned green beans for dinner. When they bring her the tapioca, she laughs at the whipped cream and a cherry on top. “Like wrapping a turd in tissue paper,” she says. She tries to feed her food to anyone who will take it from her because she can’t taste it. There’s nothing to taste, that paper doll food.

As she shifts uncomfortably in the hospital bed, she slowly lifts her legs with her arms, because every movement is a full-bodied effort. She moves to the other side of the bed and the Tattle-Tale goes off. This is what I call the alarms strapped to her bed and chair, every place she can rest, all waiting to screech to the nurses that she’s being “independent” again. How dare she.

Trapped in her own body, she is. A mind that has always been on its own track, going at its own pace, now running rampant in a shell that can no longer keep up. I wonder what she’s thinking in there, while everyone around here thinks of something else in their own lives. An aunt thinking about the dozens and dozens of hours per week she’s putting in at work, a cousin thinking about the upcoming birth of her newest baby, a father thinking of an excuse to not have to come next week, a nurse thinking about the sleep she can’t wait to have. She’s been here eight hours already, and has eight more to go. This is the same nurse who will be taking care of my Grama at the fifteenth hour, losing her patience and telling her this is all her own fault. This is the corporation that runs her life now. To think that anyone but she could run her own life is ludicrous to me. She has always been my prime example of what it means to muck through, to keep going, to put one foot in front of the other. Now, it takes dedicated thought and much effort to take that step. I never noticed when she slowed down, or refused to admit it was happening. To see it so painfully obvious now, it shames me to think about what I’ve wasted this time doing instead.

Some say it is a part of life, that it is inevitable. Grandmothers grow old and when things grow old or become less useful, we shelve them until we have forgotten them, and when they are rediscovered they are so obsolete in our lives, we throw them away.

I have spent far too much time and effort, blood, sweat, tears, ink and paper to settle for being forgotten. This is why I write. For me, for you, for us and them and for her. I write for her now because I can’t say these things at home. I can’t say these things without someone shushing me and trying to quiet their own guilt. I can’t say these things because the more I say them, the more I understand why she might be better off in a home than at home.

When I am going, not gone, but going, I will be at home. I will be loved and surrounded by my life, my family, and I will sleep in my bed next to my Fair Ginger Lover until the day we don’t wake up, still curled in each other’s arms. If any one of my children have otherwise to say about it, shoot us both because I will have failed as a mother if I have not taught my children to love as they have been loved.

I will not be forgotten, and I will not forget. I never have, and it is forefront in my mind as I make plans to transplant my family back to my hometown. Maybe I can’t save her. But I will spend every day making damn sure she knows I will never leave her behind.

looking at dead houses, visiting with ghosts

I have been on a journey for months, one that has taken me to several different ideas of what Home is going to look like for my family. Today, I went further back than I’ve gone thus far, and while I’m not sure yet of whether or not this is a curse or a blessing, I have seen these different variations of Home with a fresh set of eyes – naked ones. Brave ones, ones that have taken the bold steps up the stairs to look in the windows, to rattle the doorknobs. To see if I will be allowed back in.

Home is where your heart is, and one should always follow their heart…

I started my tour down Memory Lane in front of a big yellow house on South Monroe. I took small steps, unsure of where I wanted my feet to take me as I ventured down the cement driveway. I took it all in: the giant, looming house, the scent of the lilacs growing wild in the alley behind, the broken windows that I knew had not been caused by my brothers, but I remembered the time spent in the backyard and I imagined for a moment that a stray ball had made its way into one of the bedrooms. Then I looked down and my heart fell all over the cement.2015-05-16 11.22.10

My daddy’s hand, and his wife’s. All of our names proudly scratched in the cement, a celebration of the garage he had built with those same hands. All nine of us, his, hers and theirs, while we were still a family. At the very bottom, a little granddaughter’s baby footprint, belonging to my first daughter. He knew all too well our shortcomings and our flaws were painfully obvious, but him being as radically skewed as he is himself, I can say with complete and total honesty that my daddy loves with a love that is more than love. He understands how badly one human can be hurt by another because he’s done his share of the hurting. So when I say he loved us anyway, that big, GIANT word full of acceptance and forgiveness, I mean that he wore us proudly, each burden that we were.

I climbed the porch, recalling the hours of conversations we had there. When I have a home, I hope, more than I hope for a nice kitchen even, that it has a big front porch. A big Bay City porch with wide pillars and room for a swing and a set of chairs. I want to be able to have an entire party on my porch, the way we used to when we weren’t afraid to let our kids play in the front yard. When I sat on the steps, I remembered the day their wedding rings came. That summer changed me. It gave me something to belong to, a family patched together in a pattern that finally made sense to me. None of them were mine, but I was theirs.

The house was achingly empty. There was no trace of my father in the whole place. How big he seemed then; how small he would look now. I stood in his bedroom and I saw a dizzying blur of him in different states. He was angry, he was ashamed, he was drunk. He was sorry. He was honest. He was open, he was laughing. He was swaying. He was holding our baby pictures, sobbing. He was tired, and he was asleep. He was so alive… and yet, in this house, he is dead.

In that moment, I knew I could never buy that house. It doesn’t matter that it fits. It doesn’t matter that it ticks every box we need. It doesn’t matter how many bedrooms, how big a kitchen, how many toilets, how beautiful that big purple tree is. It doesn’t matter that the porch is big, or that it has a full basement. It doesn’t matter that I could afford it. I could never live in that house and fully own it. It will always be my daddy’s house – but it will never be home again.

So I tried again. I went down a few blocks over and across, and stopped in front of a tall brown house that reeked of defeat. The windows were boarded up, the porch was so much smaller and narrower than I remembered. I got out of the car and walked right up onto it, completely disregarding the group of people gathered on the sidewalk across the street. I’m sure nobody has gone through the front door of this house for quite a length of time, so they must have been surprised to see a young woman with a little family there. It’s not a house for a family anymore. The families have left this neighborhood, abandoned it years ago when the giant fire came through and seemingly leveled the block. Oh, but there was no fire, just the sad march of working class families who saw themselves forced out when the economy crashed.

I gazed down the street, repainting in my mind the facades of each of those homes. I hadn’t remembered so many broken windows, so many holes in the roofs. I hadn’t remembered those stairs being so crooked, or so… missing. I remembered a lot more house, and a lot less lawn.

I peered in the window and my insides felt like its insides: filled with garbage. What I saw instead of walls and floors was a wanton disregard for the lives these walls had sheltered. I saw straight through where walls used to be, right out the window I slept in when that room used to be mine. I said that a few times today, “used to be mine.”

It used to be my town. It used to be my street. It used to be my house. It used to be my school. It used to be my favorite. It used to be my _________  insert a precious memory about someone I love here.

For me, it is two places, and I am two people. I am five, and it is a magical place of good memories and innocent ignorance. It is a beautiful place where I can still see the twinkle in my father’s eye, the smile on my great-grandma’s face. It is a place where my uncle still holds my hand and the “rolly slide” is still installed at the park. It is a place where my Grama is young and she’s never going to leave me. It is a place where I still think my father loves me.

It is a broken place, left behind by people who have lost belief. In what, I’m not sure, but they’ve given up. It is a place of disappointment and defeat. Slumped shoulders are carrying my heart. I have a somewhat possibly irrational attachment to places and this place is wrapped around each finger as I scrape furiously in its soil to find my roots. I am not disappointed in my city. I am disappointed in those I left behind to love it near as I loved it far. Don’t they know this is my home? Don’t they care? I wanted to find these people who bruised my city and shake them. I wanted to be like the people I saw scraping and painting and pruning, picking up litter they never dropped, fixing houses they’d never harmed. I thanked the woman whose home I saw today, and told her how much I appreciated the way she kept up the home. I stood in awe of the grandiosity of that house, in the *cue swoon here* ballroom, something that had seemed commonplace when the house was built over a century ago.

Over a century. How many lifetimes have walked these streets? How many people who came together to create the village that is my family, people I will never meet in this lifetime, walked past the same sights I will pass myself? Half of my history is hidden in the cracks of those houses. Maybe to figure out who I am, I can try to figure out who I used to be.

We have six weeks. We can do it. It will have taken me twenty years to get there, but I’m going home.

xoxo

ant races

My head’s been nonstop static. Off to the ant races again. I know there’s something in there and I can’t seem to get it out. It’s shaking and rattling and rolling around, driving me mad. Keeping me sane, over-organized in my head and completely useless in real life. I can’t seem to stop and I can’t seem to go, and I hate this feeling of being in limbo.

I don’t know how it came to this and I’m not sure why it’s taking this turn. I’m not really sure what “it” is, either, but I think I’m just referring to life in general at the moment. My furnace has been running nonstop for hours, for days, really, we’re actually going on weeks here. It is cold outside and everything is covered in snow. Have I ever mentioned how much I loathe that crap? I do. I hate it with all of my heart.

I haven’t slept right in too long. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I seem to be doing okay. I mean, nothing is late yet. Bills are paid, homework is finished, house is clean, kids are still in one piece per… so I’m doing okay. But there’s an itching under my skin and static in my brain and the train won’t stop running and I’m finally learning French!

I have to work in a few minutes and I’m trying to be ready for it. I’m resigned to be awake though my heart begs me slumber.

I just needed a moment. Thank you for listening.

Good morning. Happy Tuesday.

-xo