Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Remember

My mother keeps this photo of me at age 12 in her Bible. We were living at 37 Paddington Terrace in Jamaica when it was taken. That's the airy front verandah I remember. Seeing this today, I'm reminded of a poem my mother and I once memorized, simply because she loved it so. I can still hear our voices saying the words in unison, eyes locked and smiling.

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn.
It never came a wink too soon
Nor spent too long a day
But now I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

Now that I am grown, I realize the poem is a very sad one. The poet, Thomas Hood, goes on to evoke the end of life, a fever on the brow, mourning all that is past and will never be again, and the loss of the easy grace of an unfettered childhood. At 12, I grasped none of that. My whole experience of the poem was the rhythm of my voice timed to my mother's, and the knowledge that the moments we shared learning and reciting the verses were meaningful to her, and thus to me. Later, I learned this poem had been her mother's favorite. I think she was missing her mother on the day that she taught the verses to me. As I miss mine today.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday Thaw

You're right, of course. Hunky and Dory do not coexist anywhere in unbroken harmony, but I appreciate the supportive comments all the same. I feel dishonest sometimes on this blog, as if I'm not giving the full measure of my life. It's not that I don't write about the hard stuff. It tends to force its way out as I try to make sense of what happens. But the really poisonous flares that pass through on occasion, I don't process those here, not anymore, because I don't want to breathe energy into them, I don't want them to take on a more permanent truth, preening on a stage larger than they deserve. Mostly, I'm just hoping they burn themselves out, or slip away in the night, and mostly they do. But often, before that can happen, there are slammed shut doors and punishing silences. And then the thaw: tears and recriminations and if we're lucky, apologies and fierce forgiving embraces, and rueful laughs at the raw absurdity of us and our so easily bruised feelings. This was how it went last night with my daughter and me. This morning feels sweet and new, with soft smiles holding what feels like a renewed understanding between us. Everything is happening all at once. We are seeking balance on changing ground and we have let it unfold and somehow keep our footing and be tender with one another as it happens. And so we shall.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Eve

But let us not pretend everything is hunky dory over here all the time.

Because it is not.

Mexico and Prom Shoes

You're going to have to indulge me. My girl is flying away soon and so every picture I find of her I want to have and hold. Here are more from when she was in Mexico. There was also a sweet video clip from that trip. If I can figure out how to upload that too, I shall. The black and white photo was taken at school. I think this one is a portrait of the crew celebrating that glorious condition called "Senioritis."

As long as I'm collecting images, here are two more, these of my daughter and my niece after the great prom shoe quest this weekend. There they were, these beautiful young women, walking around the house in their newly-acquired heels, which my husband had driven them from one store to the other so they could purchase. My girl had seen that electric blue suede peep toe number a week earlier and had come to the conclusion that no other shoe would set off her white prom dress quite as well. That she waited a week to decide this was both to her advantage and not, because when she went back for the shoe, the good news was that the price, previously $50, was now $29, but her size was not in stock. The sales lady thought we'd have better luck at their midtown store, so my long suffering husband drove the girls there, and my daughter managed to find the last remaining pair in her size in the city.

My niece decided she needed a pair of snazzy black heels, and bought the same style, hence both girls "walking in" their shoes as they watched TV and read magazines and Facebook'ed and ate dinner last evening. When I took out my camera, they squealed and said, "Let's take prom pictures!" and then as my husband watched bemused from the couch, they proceeded to exaggerate all the cheesy poses that every prom pair somehow ends up doing. A perfect touch was that the tags were still attached to their shoes. It fills my heart with the sweetest sort of happiness to see these two together, and to know that even though I only birthed one girl, my daughter has a sister in the fullest sense of the word.

One more.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

These Sisters

Aunt Fay came over to see Aunt Winnie today, to tell her that her husband had died. As soon as she walked in, Aunt Winnie said, "Keith is gone?" and so she just nodded and didn't mention it any more. My daughter, my niece and I arrived soon after. Aunt Grace was there, too. She had flown down from Toronto to be with her baby sister last week, so that she wouldn't have to attend her husband's end without at least one sister there. Today, when she came to visit Aunt Winnie, she took one look at her and decided she was in sore need of a haircut. I dispatched my daughter to get scissors from our house, and when she came back, Grace set about sprucing up her big sister, determinedly working around the fact that she is bed bound. My daughter held the plastic basket, the home attendant and I helped turn her as Aunt Grace trimmed and combed like a pro. My niece helped hold her head up so Aunt Grace could get the back of her hair. It was a group effort with more laughs than you might think, and after, Aunt Winnie looked as if she had been to the salon. As Aunt Grace worked, Aunt Fay sipped soup and seemed lost in her thoughts. She said she was still on auto pilot. But later in the kitchen, she told us about Uncle Keith's last days. She said they all gathered around him on Friday, fourteen of them in all, including his three children and three grandsons, and after the doctor pulled the plug on the ventilator they just waited. He stayed with them for another hour, Aunt Fay said, and when his breathing seemed to being getting lower, his younger daughter put her finger on his neck, wanting to feel his last pulse. My aunt held his hand in one of hers, her other hand on his head. On his last exhale, my cousin said she felt a warm breath of air pass around her, and in it she felt such peace. "It was a beautiful death," Aunt Grace said, hugging me and crying a little. "We won't all be so lucky. It was a very good way to go."

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Dad

Every new death reminds me of his. To this day, sixteen years later, I have not grasped that my dad is not simply "away." I cannot fathom that this man I have loved so completely could be gone from this earth. After he died, I heard someone say that "death is but a horizon, and a horizon is merely the margin of our sight." Ever since, I think of him out there, on some green hill beyond the horizon. With me still.

Harder Things

My uncle died today, after being on ventilator for two weeks. He had heart bypass surgery two weeks ago, and suffered a series of strokes in the week afterward. Blood pooled around his brain stem. His wife (my mother's 80-year-old baby sister) and children and grandchildren gathered around his bed as he was unplugged from the machines at 5:01 this evening. All the sisters' husbands but one are gone now. Meanwhile the six sisters, each with their ailments, continue on. We all know that when the first one goes, the thread that binds them will be broken. They will all follow as if permission has been given. We know this.

So the family is once again traveling north, this time to New Jersey, to say their goodbyes. The service is in two weeks. Our house will be full of relatives wearing black. My brother, who returned to Jamaica on Wednesday, will be back to pay his respects. So will my cousin who has been deployed in Afghanistan. He will deliver the eulogy.

As all this sadness unfolded, my daughter was having an intense three weeks at her internship. She has learned that restaurant work can be brutal, so many fronts to be covered at once, perfect plates of food to be created on demand, but at the same time, she loved it. She learned so much from the owner-chef, a high-strung Italian woman who actually taught her things, including complicated sauces the names of which I can't pronounce and secret recipes. She and my daughter got along well. She offered her a job at the end of the internship, which my girl was not at liberty to take. But Gaia (the chef) told her she would have a job there whenever she wanted it; she was sad to see her go. My girl was surprised that she had become so valued in such a short time. "Well, you're a hard worker and you have a willing spirit," I told her. My daughter smiled wryly and said, "It's true that I never make the same mistake three times."

All in all, the internship was a good experience, but she came home exhausted and downright cranky each evening, not used to the long hours of unremitting physical and mental work. This shortness was new and hard to take, though in truth, no one found it marked but me. She also has a boyfriend, and he came over most evenings, which was sweet and cosy, and he didn't ask her endless questions about her day the way I wanted to, but it meant we hardly talked at all. I have to deal with that. That is my baggage, not hers. She has three more weeks before she leaves for sleep away camp, where she will once again be a counselor this summer. Before that, she has a week-long senior trip to build houses with Habitat for Humanity in Baltimore, prom, and two graduations. I'm realizing this makes me jealous of every minute, which I have to control, because it is so very normal for her to be choosing her life away from me, choosing bonding time with her young man and her friends over bonding time with her mama. I've had a good run. She really did indulge me for a very long time. But now, I have to let go. It is not a cliche. It is an exact representation of what has to happen. Oh, we still have our moments. I cherish those. I sound pitiful.

My son left to go back to college yesterday. He was completely better from the flu. He is working for the summer as a supervising lifeguard and swimming instructor at his school's fancy smantzy athletic center. This will help pay his tuition in the fall. So that is good. We made reservations while he was here to travel to St. Lucia at the end of July to see my mom. We are all going, the four of us, plus my niece and her mom, and E. (that beautiful now-grown child in the last post). My husband and I call these kids "our four." They are old enough now to sample the island nightlife and will no doubt go off without us during the days. My mom lives in a part of St. Lucia with lots of great restaurants and shops and hotels along a prime stretch of beachfront. The water is literally steps away.

I can't wait. On the phone, my mom sounds more frail every day. Her bionic knees are worn out and she can no longer walk on her own. The death of her brother-in-law today has really taken it out of her. My breath catches. I tell her, Hold on, we're all coming soon. I wish it could be sooner.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Artist in Dreadlocks

I remember this intense looking child, who actually laughed a lot back then, a blur of boy racing around the courtyard between our two buildings with my son, bouncing a basketball almost bigger than he was and engaging in good natured braggadocio with the other kids. This photograph took me all the way back. This is E., my other son, the one the boy I birthed calls his brother, who he knew and loved before he could say his own name. I believe they are soul mates, friends from the time they were babies, an attentive and effortless brotherhood, still now. This child, now 19 years old, was in our home up to yesterday. He's grown into a good man, a light dancing in his eyes. And he has become a fine artist. The last time we visited the boys at college, we found E. in the art studio, making drawings for a painting, happy. Maybe he'll use this incredibly beautiful image to make a portrait of the artist as a dreadlocked five-year-old. I'd hang it on my wall. Or rather, I'd go visit it on his mother's wall.

Women in the Garden

We met when our children were in kindergarten. Within a school that actively forged connections among families, our class was especially close. Fourteen years later, we are still a community, watching as our young ones head off into their almost grown up lives. They—and we—have remained "like family," the title of the class autobiography our children wrote and published in seventh grade. Over the years, our young ones have romped through each other's houses, sure of their welcome on birthday sleepovers, after-school play dates, homework collaborations and teenage hang out sessions. Now, together, their parents are approaching the empty nest. When we gather these days, we plan all the ways we will find to kick up our heels. And as our children have also done through the years, we keep the talk therapy going. We are all in the same place, souls of different temperaments who allow space for one another's continual unfolding. There is such comfort in that. These photos were taken on a recent Sunday when we gathered for an evening pot luck in an urban garden. Fathers and children were also present, but it is the mothers' contemplative faces that grabbed me when I looked at the photos later. I love these women. They know my walk and I know theirs.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Back Home

Last night and this morning, boxes of college paraphernalia were packed for shipping, photos from the weekend were uploaded and pored over, and while the girl got ready to show her sweetheart the town, the boy kept sleeping on his favorite couch, where the TV had watched him all night. My daughter was the first to leave the house today, heading out early to her internship at the Italian cafe, a tired but eager working girl. Me? I'm working from home while waiting for my aunt's visiting doctor. Now my husband is making tuna melts and also scones and my son is making pigs in a croissant crust blanket, just another one of the essential life skills he picked up in college.

Hotel Room

These were the views inside and from the window of our hotel room last weekend. Located on the campus of the college our daughter will attend in the fall, that hotel is her place now.

The Graduate!

Ready for the march.

Proud mama and papa.

He wouldn't have missed it for anything. 

Uncle Owen, who the kids used to climb like he was a tree.

The chemistry majors, her crew.

The speakers around the football field played "Pomp and Circumstance."

My brother, father of the graduate.

My son used to climb Uncle Owen too. Now they are the same height.

My boy wasn't feeling well, but he tried.

Full hearts.

Picking up the degree.

Lunch with the wing nut.

Abbe and Notta land.

On May 20, 2012, on a hot blue day in Ithaca, New York, 
Leisa Dominique Angella received her B.Sc. in Chemistry. 
She made us so very proud. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Notes in the meantime

At work, stealing a moment to check in here. The graduation was lovely, the sun was hot, the graduate stunningly beautiful, a beaming glorious vision, resembling her grandmother at that age. That she brought my mother so vividly to mind was a gift, as if my mom was there with us, looking through her. Her dad and mom and many relatives and her young man traveled across an ocean and drove for hours to watch her walk in her cap and gown, choking up as the speakers struck up "Pomp and Circumstance."

My son was sick with the flu and almost didn't make the graduation, but he showered and dosed himself up with Dayquil and came out for an hour. Afterward we took him back to the hotel and put him to sleep in the plush white bedding, and plied him with liquids and medicines and soup and crackers until the fever broke. We left him watching Myth Busters and feeling headachy and nauseous when we went to dinner in the fancy Tuscan restaurant that was conveniently located within the hotel. Still, that was an improvement from when we first saw him on Saturday, trembling hot and clammy and upchucking periodically, skinny from not eating in days.

My heart seized the way my heart always seizes when one of my babies is sick. This was the sickest he had been since the start of college. Relief flooded me when he said he wanted to come home with us on Monday for a few days because I hadn't yet sorted out how I was going to leave him there, still sick. As it happened, by Monday morning, he was almost back to normal. Today, with no medicine in his system, he is fine. His sister and his cousin knew he was pretty much mended last night when he started teasing and annoying them. It is a deep comfort to have them all home. I will be back to upload pictures from the weekend and the graduation as soon as the work on my desk is moved to the next stage. It piles up quick.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Painting the Town

My son just finished his junior year of college. His grades were good, definitely trending upward. But now he is under the weather, achy with the flu and a vicious headache. Lucky for him, his mama is coming to town. We are heading north this weekend to attend my niece's graduation (she and my son attend the same college). Her dad and mom arrived from Jamaica last night and we will all have a grand time celebrating our successful chemistry major. So grand, in fact, that I am sure my son will soon be up and at 'em with us. He's had a roller coaster week (it's all good now) and his body and heart are probably just wrung out from it. The photo above is from his freshman year, when he participated in an art project for one of his friends. I just felt like reposting it. I'm glad I'll get to see my boy tomorrow.


This was the view from where I sat with my friend, talking about the fact that already a whole year had passed since her ex-husband, the father of her son, took his own life. She reflected that it had taken her the entire year to feel her grief, that immediately after it happened she was so angry, and so scared for her son, and so overwhelmed with details of belongings and estate, that she couldn't focus on anything else she was experiencing. The heavy sorrow happened underground and now it is surfacing. Her son is doing well. He got into a great college. He is touring with his band this week and having an amazing time. We can all tell from the photos being posted on Facebook. He is happy. She secured him. She made sure he would be fine. And now it is her turn. Now we all have to make sure she will be fine, too. Because only now, on the eve of the Sunday when she got that anvil-to-the-gut call, is she becoming aware of her own pain. She has decided that she wants her friends around her on the anniversary, so next Tuesday, we will gather in the park and remember Jim and just be together, a family around her, loving her and her boy through this fact that can never be changed, through the grief that she has now welcomed in the door. It's necessary to welcome grief in the door and to sit with it for as long as it wants to be a guest, I think. Life continues in the spaces around it, prosaic and mundane, and sometimes, as with her son this week on his tour, exhilarating.