.

.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Still here

I'm down
down
down
today and it does no good to pretend otherwise.

Not everything is cast in this dull gray film that descended over me this morning when I got a certain piece of news. There are such good things happening too.

My husband just came home. He looks hot in his black coat and black jeans and black winter boots and the red and white Arsenal scarf setting it all off. I must not be so badly off if I can pause in my mood to notice his hotness.

Glad he's home.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dichotomies



I had a meeting today in that gorgeous building. Imagine going to work every day in a place that looks like that. The architecture is simply stunning, the light streaming in almost celestial. And yes, that's Virginia Woolf watching over it all, Virginia who famously said, "A woman must have money and a room of one's own..."


Giddy in The Giddy House


"This lopsided building is called “The Giddy House.” It was built in 1888 and was the old Royal Artillery Store for the Victoria Battery at Port Royal. The Earthquake of 1907 shifted it to its present 45 degree angle. On entering the building, people often feel a strange sensation of being giddy or off balance, caused by the building’s tilt—hence its name...." —Jamaica National Heritage Trust

I'm feeling a little tilted and off balance myself and I'm just going to go with it, see where it leads. Those laughing full-of-joy young women are my totem for today. I have, count them, four meetings, not all work related, but all life related. Bring 'em on.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Snapchat





Last night I texted her: 

I miss your mug. 

She replied: 

I'm on a bus. The retreat is this weekend.

Today she messaged me these two photos and this series of texts: 

Lol I wore your fave jacket. 

In one of the workshops the woman reminded me of you. i kept giggling.

Gahaha i was imagining you giggling at peoples jokes. i'm having so much fun! 

Off to tai chi.

Life can be so uncomplicated. 

If my babies are happy, I am happy.

Simple.





Portrait of Privilege


I watched Mitt, the documentary of Mitt Romney's two failed presidential campaigns last night. It was released on Netflix on Friday and has probably been streamed millions of times already. I think we're watching the birth of a major network in Netflix; they've been making very canny business choices. But back to Mitt. His family is straight out of All American central casting, and the camera focuses in on them closely, and not much else. This almost total lack of any policy debate or analysis of issues makes for a film that is less about who Mitt Romney the candidate might have been as president, and more about how a family handles the pressure cooker of life on the road and the vampire glare of the media that is modern presidential campaigning. Throughout, you get the feeling that certain members of the family will be deeply relieved if Mitt doesn't win, though of course everyone will be disappointed. Mitt himself appears the most realistic of them all, trying to moderate everyone's expectations. It is a soul crushing dance, but he's got his wealth and his family to cushion the fall we all know is coming.

There are moments when the sense of superiority and contempt he revealed at certain points on the campaign trail peek out—when he's discussing debate format with a producer, for example—but for the most part, he's a genial husband, father, and grandfather in filmmaker Greg Whiteley's uncritical lens, and the documentary goes a long way to rehabbing his image. There's a moment when he talks about his admiration for his father, and the climb he made from humble beginnings to head of an auto company and governor of Michigan. You wonder if Mitt is still trying to live up to good old dad, and maybe shouldn't have been in politics at all. But what struck me most forcefully two-thirds of the way through was the utter lack of diversity in Mitt Romney's world. I was going along with the treacly family portrait, my analytical brain mostly disengaged, when I suddenly thought: Wait a minute, this isn't an episode of The Waltons, just rich and Mormon; this is about a man who wanted to be president, and he appears to know nothing at all about the daily struggles of most of us, and worse, seems not to know he doesn't know—or doesn't care.

The documentary ends up being little more than voyeuristic reality TV, and it confirms the impression I had formed of the man when he was running. Maybe he'd be a good enough president for his own class of business titans, and wouldn't we all like to be that safe and privileged, but we're not, which makes his lack of interest in and possible contempt for my family a very scary proposition. I'm glad he didn't win.

Update two days later: I keep thinking about the documentary, and about the fact that candidates throw themselves into such a race, and what an extraordinary act of courage and will and crazy hope it is to subject oneself to all that comes on the campaign trail. Curiously, that is the part of the film that has stayed with me, that all the candidates, even those whose politics I deeply reject, deserve some measure of admiration for putting themselves out there. The game is brutal. 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday ramble

I've been mostly inside my snow globe of a house peering out at the winter white landscape, but yesterday I had errand after errand to run, and a breakfast meeting and an afternoon one, with an appointment with my lovely doctor in between them for good measure, and when I finally made my way back home, I exhaled deeply and realized how much physical energy it takes just to brace yourself against the below freezing cold.

Yesterday was my mom's birthday. She is 92. We talked several times throughout the day, but when I tried to settle on a recent photo of her to post here, they all made me sad, so very fragile she is now, or rather they didn't do justice to the spirit I still see in her, so I didn't end up posting a photo yesterday, but maybe I'll find one today that speaks to something essential and true in this slow decline that is aging. Or maybe I'll just leave it at this one of her and my children soon after my daughter was born. This was almost twenty years ago now. It shows something essential and true of why my children feel so connected to their grandmother to this day.


My son is back in the gym and his humor has improved accordingly. He and his dad work out together some evenings. When they get back from the gym, they call to me, "Your studly men are home!" I know I should go work out with them, lift some iron of my own.

While I was in Jamaica, I ordered business cards for myself. I described myself as a "Writer, Editor, Book Coach." The cards are beautiful, and should have arrived by now. When I went to check, there was a note that said there was a problem of some sort with delivery. I haven't yet called to find out what that's about. I'm deciding not to see it as a sign.


Above is a photograph of my cousins David and Paul, the younger two of Uncle Roy's sons and the cousins I grew up closest to of his four children. I found the photo this week; it was taken at their older sister's wedding just before I left Jamaica to go to college in New York. They are such tender boys in this photo. Now we are all middle-aged and yet when I look at them, I still see the spirit of these tender boys. It was so wonderful to spend time with them again when I was in Jamaica earlier this month. The bonds you make in a shared childhood can sometimes outlast decades of no contact. I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for that. Here's another photo from that day, this one of my Uncle Roy with my cousin Anne.


It's snowing a bit again and very gray outdoors. Maybe I will stay in bed and watch Nashville on Netflix; it's a perfectly diverting soap opera, no heavy lifting required. Maybe I will watch season 2 of House of Cards (is it out yet?). Maybe I will watch that new documentary Mitt about the Republican candidate's 2012 campaign. There's a lot of talk on Twitter about it. Some people say it makes the man almost likable. I'm curious to see it.

My son is taking one of his hour-long baths with his Jambox playing Mumford and Sons and other artists from the bathroom. He is intermittently singing along. I love hearing his music in the reaches of our house. I feel more plugged in to the world somehow.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Snow Globe


"Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance."

—Yoko Ono


I am having a hard time keeping my mind and heart open to the magic that I know is possible in the universe. I am just one little speck on the planet and most of the time what unfolds seems a bit of a crapshoot. If that's the case, let's hope I'm riding a lucky streak and that my hesitation to hope, much less believe, will not block my greater good from finding me anyway.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Snowland



All day the snow has been swirling down.

This pass I'm in is such a constant education.

All day, every day.

I am grateful for it.


Monday, January 20, 2014

The thing with wings


My son came home tired and frustrated last night. He hates his work situation, hates how limited he feels, hates feeling that he has taken several steps back since the job he did running the aquatics center in college, hates that he enjoys coaching but is paid so little for it, hates that he feels as if he has to find a job and just work work work for the rest of his life. He wants to go away, to live in another country for a while, to travel and see the world, but has not figured out how to afford that. He is torn, too, because he wants to join the FDNY and has to do that before he turns 27; he worries about waiting too late to make that happen even though he's only 22. He's basically impatient about everything in his life right now, though he is hoping that once he is certified as an EMT he will be able to get a job in that field that he will at least feel fulfilled by. He is so cranky right now, and if I offer a suggestion he just about growls that I don't get it, and so I just listen and wish it were easier for him, that his path would just sort of lay itself out before him, the way mine did when I was his age, it really did, but the world has changed, and look at where I am now: I'm in a very similar place to the one he describes and I understand him more than he would ever imagine.

It's cold and bleak outside, and I still have not paid Aunt Winnie's bills so I better get cracking on that before she racks up late fees or goes into default on her reverse mortgage. What am I doing with the rest of my life? My son asks himself this question too. I wonder if he should investigate the foreign service or the peace corps. I found brochures about enlisting in the army on his desk yesterday, and I seriously pray he does not do that. He's doing so well in his EMT course, top of his class. If he went back to school and became a Physician's Assistant or a Nurse Practitioner, he could be stationed anywhere in the world. But I don't think he wants to go back to school. He just wants to pick up and go. I know that pull. When I was his age I wanted to move to another place too. I wanted to write a whole new slate, and by going to school in another country I did. But I enjoyed school way more than he does. He prefers work. He wants responsibility. He likes to be paid.

It occurs to me now that my mother would have dealt with my son's dejection differently if she had been here with us last night. She would have taken his hand in her own and told him gently that his impatience is a lack of faith in the future and maybe also in himself. She would ask him to trust himself to know what steps to take and when to take them. She tells me the same thing when I get anxious. I remember when my son, who at the time was struggling with learning to read, was accepted to an excellent private school in second grade and I didn't quite see how we were going to make the money work, it didn't seem to add up on paper. My mother said with perfect faith, "Send him to the school. Trust your hopes and not your fears. It will work out." And somehow it did. And somehow now, it will.

As Emily Dickenson famously wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul 
And sings the tune without the words 
And never stops at all

And if hope has feathers, then it also has wings. 




Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday morning

My boy went to his new job this morning, his first day there, and my girl left to return to school before the light was up in the sky, and now it's just my love and me, easy and undemanding, him watching soccer and reading on his Kindle and dozing, me visiting you all here, before I dive into the work that awaits me and I am happy to enter into it in this slow peaceful way.

It's overcast and below freezing outdoors, but wryly humorous and collegial indoors. Of course I miss my girl already, but she was happy and full of anticipation when she left this morning and you can't ask for much more than that. I've already tidied the house and cleaned up the tornado that happened in the kitchen last night, and my son will be back home this evening, ready to kick back after a full day at the sports club where he's working as an aquatics coordinator, and it will be sweet to walk by and cup my hand over the perfect curve of his head and listen to him and his dad joshing like the pals they are as they watch pre-Super Bowl football.

Those are our winter trees, so different from Mary Moon's majestic moss-draped cathedral trees in north Florida. We are so different from one another in this virtual place, both in the physical and in the circumstantial, and yet in other respects so very much the same. It is an endless marvel to me and one of the good and fortuitous things in my life that keeps me warm, and keeps me going.




Saturday, January 18, 2014

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie


She went and got her hair did this morning, then bought home a pizza pie so she could enjoy her last taste of a New York slice before heading back to the tundra tomorrow. It's been minus degrees where she goes to school, with thigh deep snow. After lunch, she put her clothes together to do her laundry, and since she's leaving tomorrow, she didn't have to ask me twice if I would keep her company in the laundry room. Of course her phone traveled with her, as all her friends are in feverish contact with one another in anticipation of tomorrow's reunion back at school. That's her in our elevator, fielding a text (and me snapping a picture. My phone came along for the ride, too). Now she's about to bake snickerdoodle cookies as part of someone's promised Xmas gift, and tomorrow morning at six we will drive her to her friend's house in New Jersey so she can travel back to school with her and others in that friend's car. She seems very happy and excited to be going back to school. I think this is good thing. Definitely amore. All around.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Relativity


I've felt light and buoyant all week, but this morning when I opened my eyes, I was aware of worrying about something, or many little things, and the air was heavier than it had been all week. Maybe I am just processing the fact that my lovely girl with her happy spirit returns to college in just two days, she has already begun to pack, and I'm going to miss her. She got offered, not one, but two summer internships this week, both of them paid, and she will have to decide which one she plans to take. This is a good problem to have! The truth is, if that girl walked into my office, all that light spilling off her, I would hire her on the spot. They're getting a good one, whoever she decides to go with.

My son also picked up another job at a sports club, and he starts on Sunday. He gets downcast sometimes at how tight money is, but he just needs to hang tough; his EMT course is almost finished and he'll be able to get a job in that once he's certified. That along with his job as a track and field coach, and now his lifeguarding job, should have him in better financial shape soon. This boy hates to be without his own money. 

Maybe that is what I am worrying about. Money. Everything related to having enough of it to meet our needs. I also have a long to-do list, most of which I punched through very efficiently this week, but now I have to find the doctor and have her call in a new prescription for physical therapy, and I have to send in Aunt Winnie's monthly bills to her disability trust, and my daughter and I have eye exams this afternoon, both of us needing new contacts and glasses, and it just feels as if the horizon is closing in. As if freedom, financial and otherwise, is a cheap tease. 

I just feel blah, and I look it, too. While I was in  Jamaica my skin glowed fresh in the tropical humidity. People even said to me, look at you, you have no lines on your face, but now that I am back in winter, the mirror shows me the lie of that. Aging is so cruel, my cousin Maureen said as she leafed through the program with youthful photos of my uncle at his memorial service last week (was it only last week?). My weight loss efforts have also stalled; it feels like a slog again, whereas I had been sort of sailing along for a while. I did have a sore spot on my gums that I feared was an abscess, but now that has healed and disappeared so no dentist needed, although I do have fond memories of the drugs they give you when they have to do work in your mouth. But they also give you a whopping bill behind that, so no thank you. 

I am wondering this morning what it must feel like to be independently wealthy, to not ever have to worry about money at all. Then again, I probably need to call back the consciousness that compared to many, I am wealthy. It is all heartbreakingly relative.

That photo up there, it cheers me up. I happened across it while looking for a photo to run with this post. My girl was 8 in that picture. She still makes such faces. Her cousin calls it her superpower.



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bright Morning


I woke up eager to get to my computer, eager to start working. Lord, how I will miss this if I have to go back into an office full time. I have been editing for a new online publishing venture and I love it. I adore the writers I am working with, and feel so honored to be trusted with their words, they are such artists, so passionate about their craft. If only this venture could make me a full enough living, I would do nothing else. I am so in the flow when I am doing this work, so humbled and inspired, I have no doubt whatsoever that this is what I am meant to do.

Of course, I can be meant to do this, and other things, too. Like that job I applied for recently, about which I have heard nothing in response so far. I am still in a place where I can tell myself that if I am meant to get that job, and do work that relates to social justice (a dearly held principle of mine, as dearly held perhaps as working from home), then I will get it. If I am not meant to do that, then the universe will frustrate my efforts. I do think, however, that my husband and I are meant to pay my daughter's college tuition. So there is that.

I am also writing again, my own work, and I had forgotten this totally electric alive feeling, the brain noise gone, and in its place a dance of sentences, testing their rhythms, testing their truth, getting closer to realizing the possibilities of the work on every draft. Jamaica gave me this. Being there last week unlocked something in me, a sense of who I used to be. It reminded me of my history, the dreams I once had. I took them out again, those neglected dreams, dusted them off, held them up to the light, and whoa! they still sparkled.

So yes, I am writing again. It is better than drugs. I feel internally occupied when I write, more excited than at peace, and somehow full to the brim. I had forgotten.

I love my life.




Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fifty!


I'm back in New York, our flight having arrived well after midnight on Saturday. Also yesterday, Leslie, my friend of more than fifteen years and partner in Saturday afternoon rambling, turned 50, long after the rest of us. We had a little party to celebrate the baby of the group. I love that snap of her with her son, taken right after he presented the cake on bended knee and she blew out the candles.

MCS kids. So freakin grown. 

The blur is our friend. 

The cake bearer knelt before the birthday girl.

My friend Isabella and I created a little drama when we started a fire by placing a paper napkin on a tea light that we didn't know was there. I grabbed the flaming napkin before it could scorch the side table and tried to blow out the fire. It only bloomed. I dropped it on the floor and Isabella and I stamped on it furiously but the flame seemed to keep dodging our boots and trying to find the curtains. And then in the same thought, hearts racing, we emptied our glasses of Prosecco onto the fire, and that doused it. Everyone in the room watched us with no apparent panic. It was like one of those slow motion things that could have gone very wrong, but fortunately didn't. Isabella said later, "We were fast! We are both always so braced for disaster, we knew what to do!" It's true. She and I text each other down from the ledge almost daily. Afterwards, when the danger was averted and nothing was singed, not even the hardwood floor, it was comical. Isabella and I went around the room surreptitiously putting out all the tea lights after that, because they were tucked in places difficult to notice and we didn't want a repeat. Other than almost burning down our hosts' home (in the same building where we live, by the way) it was a fabulous evening.


Randoms from Jamaica

Guiness Book of World Records 2013

Third morning, Mom and the sleeping beauty

My nephew is so like my brother at this age

"Aren't you going to greet me?"

Wheelbarrow and blue rake

Pool patio

Blue water

"Grandma, let's take a selfie!"

Rain on the hills

Port Royal pirate lore

Giddy House, tilted by the 1906 earthquake

My cousin at Aunt Merl's at Hellshire

Lipstick beauties

Uncle Roy at 17

My brother and cousin

"What did you say Grandma?"

Palms and blue sky

Paddington Terrace sisterhood

Lobster bake

The clear blue Caribbean


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Two brothers

Uncle Roy
I am still thinking about Uncle Roy's send off last Thursday, and the way his four children did not shy away from their father's struggle with alcohol in the years after their mother died. It helped that he was never a mean drunk, but—like my own father—a sentimental one. Also like my father, Uncle Roy did eventually triumph over the bottle.

Hearing Uncle Roy's story told so fully and lovingly, I could not help but think also about my dad. Both brothers had deep veins of responsibility laid in them by their father, an inspector of schools who was also the teacher, police officer, judge and, come Sunday, the minister in the tiny country village of Wait-a-bit where they were raised. For both brothers, work always came first, but after, they would drink to quell the swirl of excess emotion and anxiety that I believe was their genetic birthright, one I have certainly inherited. The drinking did not derail their lives, because the instinct to take care of loved ones was so much their core. Both men rose to the pinnacle of their careers, Uncle Roy in sports management and later music administration and my dad in law. Their work ethic and character were such that people did not hesitate to put their trust and their business in their hands. But it was painful for family members to watch them destroy themselves slowly with alcohol.

Daddy
I know it wasn't easy for my dad to finally quit. I was 14 years old when he did. I remember a night before the end of drinking when I heard my parents arguing in their bedroom, which was next to mine. My mother was upset that my father had been drinking again, and my dad said angrily, "Good Lord, I work hard, I don't womanize, I'm not out at all hours away from my family, I'm not cruel to you or my children, I don't fritter away our money. Let me have this one thing!" I pondered that for a long time. Like my mother I hated my dad sneaking drinks in the evening, and found his insistence on telling me long nostalgic stories when he was inebriated tedious, even though I'm happy to know the stories now. But what he said was true: He was a good husband, good father, good brother, son, cousin, friend. He just drank too much. I realized, hearing Uncle Roy's children talk about him, how similar were their natures and their struggles with alcohol. On the other hand, each of these brothers gave their children a powerful example when they ultimately engaged the battle and emerged the victor. Till the day they died, my dad and my uncle never took another sip.

Uncle Roy's children admired him deeply, all the more so for the way he faced the significant challenges of his life: His two wives, both of whom he loved deeply, died of cancer. He was married to each one for exactly 23 years, and each one died on February 1, the first in 1974, the second in 2006. It happened the same way both times. My aunt, the mother of my four cousins, felt particularly unwell one evening, and Uncle Roy offered to make her tea. By the time he returned with the steaming cup, she had quietly expired. Ten years later he wed a second time, another true love whom his children and later his grandchildren fully embraced. Twenty three years later, again the cancer, again the offer to make tea, only to return and find his beloved had slipped away.

But for all the sorrow that touched his life, my uncle was luckier than most. I looked at his four children and their spouses, his nine grandchildren, and four great grandchildren standing together in celebration of him, and I thought, Uncle Roy did well. He had almost died as an infant, his son told the church. His mother had handed him to a neighbor because she could not bear for another of her children to die in her arms. She had already lost twin daughters and another son. Instead Uncle Roy rallied and lived "a full life touched by immeasurable grace," his son Paul said. It is why I think there was less sadness in the church than there usually is at such send-offs. After 85 years on this earth, Uncle Roy chose his time.






Friday, January 10, 2014

Cousins

That's my daughter and my niece, both with the sun on their skin after having spent Wednesday on the beach at Lime Key with their cousins, the ones on my mother's side. They have a lot of cousins.


Family

Yesterday was so right in every respect. The service, termed a Thanksgiving Service for the life of Uncle Roy, was ineffably tender and true. Seldom have I been to a service where a person's passions, humor, struggles and bedrock goodness were so fully portrayed. His children wrote the most honest yet loving remembrance of a life that I have ever heard. The two middle children, Paul and Anne, read it together, taking turns. It went on for a long time and I hung on every word, everyone in the church was so moved. Afterwards their brother David said, "Thank God for the humor sprinkled throughout, or I would have been destroyed."

Sometimes you just need to put yourself out there to remember what love and connections are there for you. Sustained. My cousins hold as much affection for me and our shared memories as I have for them. This side of the family, my father's side, is marked by constancy and a gentle spirit of acceptance, combined with a lightening quick sense of humor, side-splitting but somehow never mean. At the repast, there were deep rocking laughs as the older cousins regaled the younger ones with stories of the mischief we got up to as children. They laughed along with us, indulging us. There is a whole generation of offspring my children's age that I was meeting for the first time. I felt an ache as I sat in the pew behind Uncle Roy's nine grandchildren, all such physically beautiful young people clearly devoted to family. I wished my own children could have lived nearer to them, and been a part of the closely connected crew. I was sorry I had missed their entire growing up, that I had stayed away so long. But as we introduced the cousins from abroad to the cousins from home, it was clear to us that they embraced one another at once. Oh, we laughed and laughed.

Later that night, as we climbed the stairs of my brother's house after the day-long celebration of my uncle's life, my daughter said, "How did I get so lucky as to be born into this family?" I felt it too.




Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cavorting in the forever


Today we will attend the funeral of my uncle, my father's only brother, Roy, who was 85, and who has buried two wives, both of them dying on February 1, as did his sister Elaine. Uncle Roy disliked the approach of February and decided to go before that dreaded date. In the single week after his diagnosis of metastatic cancer on Boxing Day and before he closed his eyes for good on New Years Eve, he had taken to joking, "So what's going to happen when I get to heaven and have two wives?" His daughter assured him they would both be waiting for him, as would his brother (my dad) and two sisters who have gone before. I like to think of them all together again, waiting for Jo, the oldest, cavorting in the forever.

At the service today and at the repast after it, I will see many family members whom I have not seen in years, some in decades. I am both looking forward to it and feeling some trepidation. To meet the people from one's past after many years of absence is very much like confronting your former self. Oh, I know it's not about me, but today I will be with people who knew me when, and will they know me still? 

Fly with the angels, dear Uncle Roy. Say hi to Daddy for me. Tell him we miss him but we're taking care of his one true love, his inimitable Lady G.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

These Hands


I know what it feels like to have these hands, cool and soft, stroking my brow when I was a child or even a grown woman and sick with a fever. I know what these hands look like when they are wielding a pen, tapping a calculator, accounting books open on the dining room table, ledgers for the real estate business she owned with her brother piled high around her. I know how these hands, thin and elegant, could get lost in my father's square blunt fingered grip, yet gentle his anxiety with just a touch. I know the easy care with which these hands held my children, and guided them, palms light on their backs, through so many years and airports. I know how they folded themselves around a long wooden spoon, stirring Christmas pudding in a large metal bath-sized tub, then pouring the batter into tin after tin, each one papered and greased for the baking. I know what these hands look like when she holds them out for me to fasten her watch, or when she slips off her rings for the night. I know the quiver in these hands now, as she lifts a fork to her lips, not quite sure she will find them. I know how she splays her fingers as her granddaughter, 19 years old to her 91, carefully rubs off the old nail polish and then strokes on a fresh new manicure. I am picturing the way she raised these hands before her face, palms out, admiring the iridescent shell pink of the new coat of polish, knowing she's still got it, she always will.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Kingston Diary



I watched the sun set over Kingston from that verandah yesterday evening. I'm in Jamaica. The days are slow, but not. I feel oddly disconnected from myself, though I am managing to be very social. My mom is as frail as can be. I know this stage. She is traveling the same road as Aunt Winnie so I have a fairly good idea of what is ahead. She's a lot brighter since we came. Her cheeks more plump. her back straighter so I think our company is doing her some good. Her granddaughters sprawl across her bed laughing and talking and showing each other funny videos on their cell phones, and my mother looks across at them with an indulgent smile. She speaks so softly now. She is difficult to understand, but if you lean in close, you can pick out the words. My daughter sleeps with her at night. She says her Grandma turns to her at random points in the night and starts telling her such serious things. Last night she said to her, "My mind is crystal clear but my body is a prison." I don't know what my daughter said in response. It has just occurred to me that I never asked that. My mother's statement stopped me cold.

Went to lunch with one of my very best friends from my teen years. We spent many happy hours cross-legged on her bed or mine, sharing secrets and hearts and not a few scandalous diary entries during the years we both lived four houses apart on Paddington Terrace. She was my brother's first wife, but now they are just good friends and she is the godmother of his oldest child. They were amicably separated for many years until one year at a biochemical conference she met her soulmate and asked my brother for a divorce. Her soulmate turned out to be a German scientist and she has lived in a small town in Germany ever since. I love when our visits to Jamaica overlap. She is the kind of friend that it matters not at all how much time has passed, we pick right up where we left off. Her husband is a gruff genial sort and I adore him as well. The two couples of us get on very well. We have been promising for years to visit them in Germany. Why have we never gone? It never felt as if I had the time, and now I have the time, but not the money. But may 2014 be the year that we actually make good on that promise.

My Aunt Megan, who is like family but who is not blood, turned 90 yesterday. Her grown children, who used to live with us on Paddington Terrace in Jamaica during the school year while their dad worked as a jurist in Belize, threw her a party at her son's house up in the hills over Kingston. I saw so many people I had not seen in more than twenty years, some since high school. They seemed so happy to see me after all this time, especially the two women who went to my high school, one of whom I had been very close to. Her name is Denise and she kept running her hand over my face, my hair, making sounds of wonder at the fact that here we were again in the flesh. She told my husband that I had always had a camera at my eye in high school. "Writing and taking pictures, she did both constantly. You came around a corner and there she was with her camera pointed at you. We got used to it." My husband told her nothing much had changed, it was still the same. But quietly I marveled at how clearly our passions present themselves at an early age, though we don't always know to pay attention.

The other woman had been a younger girl, several grades behind me. She said I was always nice to her, and she used to boast to her classmates that her cousin lived with me and that she knew me well. She laughed and said it gave her some stature to know the deputy head girl personally. She said she had wondered about me often over the years and had seen me on Facebook but didn't try to friend me because she didn't think I'd remember her. I couldn't think why I would have stuck with her in memory but I confess it made me feel as if I had once been a little bit special. She lived in Canada for 27 years after high school, and came back to Jamaica seven years ago when her father fell ill. She has since lost both her parents, but has chosen to stay. I wondered about her reentry after so many years away. She met a man when she came home to Jamaica, a gentle sort who grows acres of heliconias, and the two of them are sweet together. Still, I lay in bed last night wondering if I could ever return. I left at age 18, still a child, and New York claimed me for its own. I belong there now. There is some sadness in knowing that the place where you were made has become, in a myriad indefinable ways, closed to you. As Derek Walcott wrote (the quote might not be exact), "to travel is to return an exile."




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