Tuesday, October 29, 2013


“And the last thing the boy heard was the sound of the worms coming to get him …”

In elementary school, my parents were key players in my education. My mother was my primary teacher and my father was my principal and my science and social studies teacher. He also had an uncanny ability to scare the living hell out of you. Which has left me scared of failing grades, worms, dark hallways, the movie “Alien” and all spiders.

And utterly terrified of placing a body in the ground.

In elementary school, on a particularly gloomy and windswept October, he treated us to a ghost story in which the hero of our story goes out of his way to crush every slimy invertebrate he can find post-thunderstorm only to wake in the middle of the night to find everything around him coated in the slimy suckers, sending him careening off the top of the stairs in a panic and leaving him completely paralyzed at the bottom. Except for the very tip of his little finger, which he wags to no avail as the doctors proceed to drain his body of all fluids and place him in a coffin six feet under. He continues to wag his pinky finger in vain and once the last shovelful of dirt is laid that last sound he is left with is that of the worms coming to get him.

Implausible, I grant.

Living in Arizona ensures that I no longer lurch back and forth across sopping sidewalks to give creepers a wide berth. But the very fact that I am living means that I cannot escape its counterpart, dying. And dying means bodies. And bodies mean eternal rest. And while the dead might sleep peacefully for eternity, the very thought of a body in the ground leaves me restless.

And so it is not without a bit of irony that October 30 – the eve of All Hallows Eve – is the day on which I buried my husband.

I have heard that there are those in my little corner of Wisteria Lane who find it odd that my children were allowed to trick or treat that year, and that they still do. And Halloween seems to jog my neighbors’ memories that the house on the corner, the one that looked abandoned and unkempt for so long, might just be the spookiest house on the street. My own children wondered if their Dad had grown to resemble the half emerging corpse across the street.

Halloween has never been my holiday. But I will never ever deny my children something that is a rite of childhood for most, even if it does happen to coincide with our own private season of macabre.

Which is why I have my hand full of pumpkin innards.

Which feels like a hand full of worms.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

And the Clock Struck Five.

Sometimes I wonder.

Are you out there somewhere? Is there really something that comes after, or was your light extinguished forever and eternity when the last breath left your body? Did you dream before you died? Did you feel it happening? Was it simply the quiet and peaceful passing that I need to desperately believe in?

The kids have grown so much since you left us.  

Your mischievous little boy has an old soul, one far wiser than his years should be. He shouldered so much pain after you left us. He remembered what you told him, that when you weren’t there he was the man of the house and he had to protect his sister. He is still the loving boy you knew, but there is anger within. I see it simmering when you should be there, watching his games and joining the other fathers in the locker room. He reaches out and touches my shoulder when I lace his skates and when I look up, there is an amused sadness in his eyes. If you are there, can you find a way to let him know?

She is still the devilish little girl that turned our world upside down, and I see in her the strength that I have found in myself. She cried and raged and I was helpless to calm the storm. All she knew was that you were no longer there and that I couldn’t fix it. She is terrified of this house that took you away and I have tried so hard, endless nights of tearful bedtimes and midnight terrors, to soothe her pain and her fears. She tells me you won’t be there when she turns 16 and she makes plans for her brother to walk her down the aisle. Are you there when we lie in the dark and she cries in my arms? Can you watch over her?

They will carry their sadness and anger and grief with them forever, a wound I cannot heal and a mark on their souls that I cannot erase. Do you laugh when you see them, bickering like close-knit siblings do? Do you watch with pride when they protect each other against the wrongs that life and others inflict? Do you listen as your daughter talks about her eyes and how they are yours? Do you wonder as I do what his passions in life will be? Do you shake your head and remember when I told you he would love hockey above all else? Do you see that I was right?

Do you see me? 

I am so very tired. In losing you, I lost myself. Their grief was all consuming and we spiraled into a cold grey existence for so long. I gave up everything, walked away from the path we had chosen. In my heart I know that there was no other choice to taken and if there had been I would have taken no other. But in saving them I failed myself and five years later I am still adrift. I’ve devalued myself and allowed myself to be devalued. I’ve let everyone else come first, draining me in a perpetual state of exhaustion. I’ve let others push me in directions I would not choose and I’ve fought the battles we weathered together on my own.

Where were you when I needed you? Didn’t you hear me screaming?! Where were you when I was drowning in the dark, hours of sobbing into the pillow so that they would not hear me?

But you weren’t there. You left me there in that bed alone.

For weeks the tears have fallen again. Over what we lost. Over moments that you will not be there and pride they will not see. But when the clock struck on the fifth year, I watched the life I’ve lost flash in front of my eyes and I cried.

For me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cocoa Puffs.

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. You do seem to have bad luck.”

I am very much Type A. I like to know where I am going, how I am getting there and when I will arrive. I make plans and lists only to cross things off and create new plans. Before making a decision I take a 360-degree look at my options. All of them. I second guess my decisions and I see all the grey between the black and the white.

I don’t like to be left in limbo.

But that’s exactly what’s happened. I’m left with a life unorganized, unplanned and undefined. And recent months have left me without plans and timelines and answers, turning limbo into an uncomfortable lurch. I have a life to live and hiccups, headaches and headwinds have grown tiresome and teary.  

After my husband died our dog … his dog … spiraled into a vomit, feces and urine-soaked decline that added insult to my injury. Because another death in the house wasn’t an option, my bank account hemorrhaged while we sought answers and allowed him to leave peacefully and comfortably until we were ready to accept his departure. And with one last sigh he laid his head in my lap and closed his chocolate brown eyes for the last time.

Our vet has guided us through the loss of three dogs in eight years. The first, mine, trotted happily around the neighbor until cancer took him and was partially responsible for my son’s premature arrival. The second, a Christmas gift that refused to stop giving, treated us to endless nights spent keeping his seizure-addled brain from going for a midnight dip from which there was likely no return. And then there was my husband’s dog, whose untimely decay reflected that of our own lives and his death a reflection of our own liberation.

And now this.

For two years I stood firm against the onslaught. Mom, when are we getting a dog again? I want a puppy and we’re naming her Hot Cocoa! We’ll walk her and pick up her poop. We promise.

In a moment of puppy-breath weakness I caved and for 10 months our life and our home have been a free-for-all that no amount of rawhide bones can save. Hot Cocoa is Coco-nuts. But watching her puppy love as she devotedly follows my daughter around the yard in the rain for hours, I remind myself that we’re halfway to normalcy in puppy years.

“Well, the tests are all negative, and her gums are starting to grow back. If she ate an electrical cord, you would know and she’d probably be dead. The only other cause might be that she ate a black widow or a brown recluse and it bit her on the way down.”

“And she’s still alive?”

“I hate to tell you this, but you could hit her with a truck AND chop her leg off and she wouldn’t even notice.”

Yes. I’ve noticed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Wrinkle in Time.

Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.
Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
I remember the moment you entered our lives.

I was standing in my kitchen and as I cleaned up the aftermath of the day he sifted through the day’s mail, his impatient eye skimming the headlines.

“Did you hear about the accident?”

An accident. That’s what it was. Something that shouldn’t have happened but did. Something that we couldn’t make sense of because there was no sense to be made. A cataclysmic event that ruptured your world and reverberated into the periphery of ours, the accident touched us in a way none had before.

“They’re our age, and our kids are the same age. They even have a son and a daughter like we do. I can’t even begin to imagine.”

And then 11 days later I knew.

That evening my thoughts kept returning to the woman and her children, and deep within my heart I knew that she was drowning in a sea of her own devastation only to be crushed by waves of mother’s guilt knowing that she could not remove your own pain.

We did not know it, but our lives changed that night with yours.

Someday you will come to understand everything that your mother has meant to so many who have come after her, the remarkable and deeply profound changes she has championed because of you and in honor of him. Someday you will understand that the love your father had for you was not defined or bound by the time you had with him. Someday you will look back and see how many lives you’ve touched and how many people you’ve inspired, if even for a moment, to live without regrets. Someday I hope that, regardless of the paths you each take, that the four of you, her children and mine, cherish the friendship you forged in the face of insurmountable loss.

I search for the bright spots more than I did before all of this happened to us. And, somehow, some way, your father and theirs dazzle amongst the rest. Because of them, you entered our lives and we are better for it.

I never had the chance to know him, but standing in the kitchen that evening I wondered what kind of man he was. Did he laugh easily? Did he love deeply? Did he risk everything to do what was right, and good and necessary? Did he look forward or did he look backward? Did humor dance in his eyes? Was he reserved or was he the one that brought life to the room? Five years later I know the answer.

Because we know you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Of Knives and Words.

Mid-way through my boarding school career, I spent several months in confinement. 

Lest you have visions of chains and dungeons, this wasn’t the confinement of the Man in the Iron Mask. I was simply banished to the dreary, dusty walls of my dorm room when I wasn’t at meals, classes and required activities. But to an eleventh-grade student it was a social death knell that ensured I was the ignominious center of attention and speculation. It brought my father to my boarding school doorstep and the very real possibility that I would either be expelled or pulled from an environment that I, despite all of the misguided and foolish mistakes I might have made, truly loved and should never have risked.

And yet that pivotal moment in time would resonate across time – the eleventh-grade me was a hint of the woman I would have to be.

At the very moment that my father gave me a choice – start fresh or stay and persevere – I did not balk. I would stay and defiantly look them all in the eye. And I would dare them to look back. And I would watch as they whispered in corners and behind my back. I would hear the stories and the exaggerations until I didn’t recognize any truth in it. And five years later I would return and hear the fiction that had grown to become a story of humor and ridiculous impossibilities, and silently remind myself that I was better than the foolish and uninformed storytellers.

Tonight is the eve of October and in 24 days the clock will once again read 8:38 a.m. Tonight I am reminded.

Of the grieving fog that entrapped me and the seething anger that enraged me. The endless tears that fell in the dark and by the roadside and in the shower and on my running shoes as I tried to outrun the shell of I had become. Of the hours and days and months and years of loneliness. The outward defiance and the inner weakness. Of the fear that I would fail them and that I would lose them. Of the whispers and the stares and the subtle and not-so-subtle questions. Of the stories and half-truths and curious speculations.

Of fictions told without any care for the characters they maim and distort.

We are on the cusp of a new life. We have transformed our painful reality into a life filled with hope and love and celebration and adventure. We have chosen to live in spite of death and to love in the face of loss. We have chosen to take control of the pain and choose what we share and who we share with, learning and recalibrating against our missteps.

And yet the curiosity seekers linger. I silently dare them to ask the questions they long to ask, watching them as they watch me and I silently remind myself that I am better than the foolish and uninformed.

For years I have searched for the words that would give shape to the pain we endured, knitting together syllables and vowels in a lyrical catharsis. But tonight the rage at the gossipmongers has resurfaced on the eve of October, leaving me with but a few.

Fuck you.