Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nursery Narratives

As ice in small hands, she holds.

It doesn't matter that she moved me;
I'm no longer cold.

I feel like a person
humble, gently flawed.

It doesn't matter how she judged me
Or what she thought she saw.

We are more than our stories we write of ourselves.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Greatest Loves

I wasn’t in the room when my father died.

We knew it would be that day. We could tell the night before, when his breath was rumbling up as if from deep beneath a gravel swamp. When he could no longer move his right eye, or blink with his left. His mouth hung open, his chest heaved in quick pants. He lay on his back with his ankles crossed, knees bent, legs splayed. They were so thin beneath the sheets, you could hardly see that they existed. Just a torso. 

Six of his seven children sat around his bed that day. I was on his left, holding his hand. His eyes, for the most part, didn’t focus on us, but, with effort, he could turn his head. My youngest sister came around to my side, to try and be near him. I watched her face. I could see the sick feeling well up, the naked fear and understanding of who and what she was witnessing. The strength she was desperate to muster against the terrible shock of that dreaded moment that was so quickly approaching. She paused, not breathing, and his good eye moved to her face. She said in a small voice, full of selfless compassion, “Hi, Dad…”, then slowly turned and left the room. His eye moved to mine, a flash of fear and concern, a father’s panicked demand mixed with helplessness, to help him take care of her. I whispered, “She’ll be ok. She will. I promise.” His focus drifted again, as if something was hovering near the ceiling.

We took turns then, each having a moment alone with what was left of him.

The night before, I was desperate to do something different – to feel alive and taste air that didn’t taste like hospital. My friend was in town. We had a night out planned for some time. Before meeting up with her, my sisters and I and our mother were in his room, talking about who would stay there that night. To keep watch for final moments. My older sister couldn’t, she knew, and was gently clear. It was Liz, or I, or Evan. Evan hadn’t yet, up to that point, and as strong as he had been through it all, I saw the little brother, first born son, resistant to being alone with it. I have deep regret now, to have stood for what I wanted and thought I needed to do, telling Liz I couldn’t. Her face was so defeated, open, childlike. My big sister.
I suppose mine looked no different.

She stayed the night. Mom relieved her in the morning, called us all to come around lunchtime. It was a perfect sunny summer Sunday. I had been up until 5 or 6am, in a random hotel room with a couple friendly guys my friend and I had met. At one point I stood, I would imagine to them, quite strangely – staring out the window across the harbor, to the hospital. That was the moment dawn decided to break. You could see the other side of the harbor, soft light on buildings and trees, but somehow the sky remained dark, and the brightest stars still shone.

That’s what limbo is. Here and not here. There and not there. In-between everything – death and life, child and adult, innocence and tragedy. It is being at the edge of a cliff, the blackness of an unknown transition all that is visible. That’s what I talked to him about in our last moment. Tried to share with him, I suppose. So he’d be less alone, trapped inside like he was, unable to move and speak. That moment, before a great change. I told him I watched the last sunrise for him, and it was beautiful, and full of a strange clarity.

After we each had some time, we sat on the hospital balcony, quiet, together. Liz spoke with nurses, Laura, the youngest sister, wandered in and out, back and forth from each of us. I was outside when he left. Laura came through the balcony door and released this sound… something akin to a slow break. Almost tangible. She choked on the words that I heard instead through her eyes, while our eldest sisters Andrea and Alayna embraced each side of her. Buried in their arms, her eyes drilled into mine, and the sight of that moment has stayed vivid in my mind like a postcard from another time and place, with colours too bright, too saturated, to ever dull:

He’s gone.

I held her face in my hands, I’m not sure how long, maybe only a second, then moved towards the room. It was so quiet inside. No rattle. No panting. I asked someone to call the funeral home. I remembered that Cyndi was coming, Dad’s on-and-off-again girlfriend, so I took a breath, and made the call to her. I told her I loved her and hung up, when my heart jumped – Where was my brother? He was there, in the room with him. Is he ok? Where did he go? I went back to the balcony, where he stood, apart from the rest, hands on the rail, eyes to the sky. I wrapped my arms around his back and gripped his forearms tightly. I felt him slouch, exhale, choke, then gently pull my arm away after a moment, to stand straight again.

That was the second time that day I felt my heart leave my body for a sibling. 

I turned, hearing our oldest sister let out a sob, like the weight of how much her younger siblings were feeling suddenly slammed into her, mixing cruelly with the part of her that felt separate, different. The part that didn't allow herself permission to feel her own mixed loss for a man she had such a different experience of. I held her too, because I knew those sobs being unleashed from the bottom of her big, beautiful heart held her own personal confusion, but mostly were not for her. She was among her siblings, who just lost their Dad, and she couldn’t fix it. She kept saying, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry you guys have to go through this.”

Then I was outside the hospital, hugging my knees on the curb, smoking. I called to tell the person who had been my partner – a relationship that, from that last close moment over the phone, came to the end of its final disintegration. I texted a friend, who had just lost his own father two days before, who knew like no one else could just how much was behind those words on the screen, “He just left.” I saw the others walking in slow motion towards their cars, like they were dreaming, and their minds were awake in some alternate universe. A question would be posed, that would wake them for a moment, long enough to mumble an answer. "Where should we go now?"
Words wandered between us, something about mom’s house, and I didn’t want to go but I said nothing. They left. After awhile and a few cigarettes, I went back upstairs burdened with the sinking knowledge that I would never see him again after this day.
In his room, soon to be someone else’s, they were getting ready to prepare him. 

"Did we get all of his things?" I asked, realizing they saw someone lost, wandering in, without purpose, and it wasn't their job to deal with one broken person who stayed behind.
"Yes" they said.
... I couldn’t move away.
“Do you need a minute?” the older nurse asked me.
“No… it’s ok…” I said, still not moving.

I stood silent, taking it all in. His face, so different without life. The quiet. I finally pulled my gaze away from him, and said to the nurses, and maybe to him, with all the sincerity my heart has ever held,

“Thank you. For everything.” 

The ten minute drive to mom’s took me over an hour. I kept stopping, pulling over, driving down side streets, trying to think of something or somewhere else, someone that would bring comfort. I kept finding only empty.

It’s been a year now. A year of tumultuous discovery, aloneness, and alarming numbness - Except for an intense admiration and love for my family. I've been simultaneously rife with an opening so complete to life and being alive, and an emptiness that is indescribable - as if I'd severed from myself to survive. Somewhere in all of it, the confusion and piecing together of myself, is a lesson in self-forgiveness. Of beautiful humanness, and imperfection. An understanding that time provides the means to feel what cannot be felt all at once. I could only look to those around me, who grieved more openly, and fall in love with their courage, while aching to relieve it for them in any amount, any way possible.

I didn't know how big my heart was, but it is becoming so clear. As are the things that are important, and have become solid priorities in my thinking and actions:  Staying humble, accepting, grateful - all of which lead to a compassion of indescribable depth, which in turn, leads to being truly free.

The tears I've cried this week, are more than I ever did then, and are profoundly beautiful.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The In-Between Season

There’s something special about the ability to laugh at the unexpected sensation of cold water seeping through socks on the bathroom floor.

It’s a small-scale metaphor for the way the world can jar you out of comfort zones. Out of peaceful moments. How suddenly things can change. The last year of my life was rife with both quiet and loud tragedy. I still spin sometimes. I have moments when a scent or sound or memory – sometimes it’s a word in the crossword - brings up that familiar, indescribable ache. As the season changes and summer approaches, I feel a pull to the garden of the hospital, to sit among the herbs and budding flowers, listening to my Dad spill drug-and-impending-death induced wisdom in long, slow sentences.

“You don't have to talk about forgiveness. You can talk about all the reasons to do it. But we already know why. You just have to walk through it. You gotta forgive."

“When I look at you guys, and how you see the world... I swear I've never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life…”

I feel that sense of limbo creeping back in. That silent, still, empty feeling. (It’s strange how we can feel so empty, and so full of love at the same time.) I remember how I felt separated from the world and myself – and yet so completely attuned and aware of the massive transformation that was coming.
I was not going to be the same person when this was over.
I was no longer the person I was before he shared the news with me.

I remember vacillating between the quiet reality that sometimes, breaks don't come - Instead, the last petal falls spinning, as fast as the world seems to be spinning out. And with that thought, part of that thought, was the welling in my chest of how fucking beautiful the world is, and life, and how deeply I loved everything. They were the same thing.

But then, too, were the moments a panicked child would scream from some depth I never knew existed for someone to please, please come save her dad.

Once I was very particular about where things went and how things looked. Some assume it’s an issue of control, perhaps leftover from growing up in a chaotic household with many kids and little-to-no privacy. But in truth, for me, during times of emotional distress, order in the rooms I find myself in helps my mind stay quiet enough to function when I shouldn’t even be able to. These days, the temperature is rising and sun is slowly becoming a more regular occurrence. It’s all the same. Soon-to-be summer breezes, slow jazz sounds, saxophone buskers, old-friend-run-ins, on-the-water views... all except the hospital visits. And my residence, that’s changed. I live alone now, save for my canine BFF. My home is in disarray most days. And I’ve noticed, I don’t care. I’ve learned, part of this transformation is valuing the time spent away from creating order. The freedom of not needing to fix something. The acceptance of all these human tendencies to become annoyed or disgruntled on the fly at a look from a stranger, or a confrontation at work, or a bad driver. Or, the most baffling of all - what I think someone else might be thinking of me. I catch myself carrying that one around and it gives me a good chuckle, now. The fact that I can come home from running 3 days full throttle at work for a special occasion, step in dog faeces, groan and genuinely laugh out loud about it…
it doesn’t fucking matter.
None of it.

What matters is how you see the world. 

My friend mentioned last summer, regarding our family and my father’s final days, “I know the world can't stop, but sometimes it could slow down a little to let those who need more time have it.” It was a beautiful thing to say, and I felt the love sent through it. But the truth is, the world doesn’t do that. We have to find the balance between feeling the things we need to feel and sucking shit up to be present.
This moment will never come around again.

Someone at my work who has borne witness to this life-changing loss of a parent, as well as other hardships of the past year involving difficult loss, described me as one of the most “durable” people they know. It makes sense that he used a word to describe long-lasting home appliances, given that in large part I’ve intellectualized a lot of what’s happened while delaying the process of feeling it through. I would say the term “robotic” would also apply to the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. I hear this is normal for people experiencing fresh grief. Now that I have thawed out somewhat, I’ve discovered this ability to laugh at the small misfortunes I see others getting strung-out over. I’m seeing myself more social, and although in some aspects I’ve become more self-conscious, I’ve also come out of my shell, so much I don't quite recognize myself some days.

Although I’m still figuring out who exactly I have become or am becoming, mostly I’m learning how to stop figuring that out, and just be. Because Dad’s parting gift was teaching us that as terrifying as it can be, it's ok to show some of your messy.

He taught us how to die with grace and dignity - which is to say, he taught us how to live.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Love Letter to Hundreds

I had to lose nearly everything
to uncover what was missing.

This is a love letter to hundreds.

If we crossed paths and spoke,
if our eyes met in interesting conversation
or silence,
and even, especially, if they didn't -
I looked for you.

To those of you who may not know me well,
you'll learn it's true,
I do find you beautiful.
In the way our combined space, our differences, our humanness
makes room for forgiveness
of all things;

My too-quick-judgements.
My self-absorption.
My tendency to isolate
despite knowing I could probably, maybe trust you.
The reckless side that forgets to open my eyes,
Who stumbles through getting to know you,
Who trips over the knots tied in childhood
that I've yet to undo.

The fumbling,
From months, maybe lifetimes,
with barely any hand holds,
or fingers on forearms while speaking.
The world needs more touch.
I'll strive to find the balance between
showing all my affections,
Without being misleading.
I know well that some can mistake me,
And any power gained isn't worth the pain of your beautiful heart.

I'll strive to stay open,
Even if it means opening to the side of me
that sometimes has to close.

There is a kind of freedom found
in being surrounded by others
who let me in.
Even more in understanding
That not everyone can -
Granting me permission to have my own
so-called flaws,
to accept the whole.

There's the entrance.

I see you.
I love,
And will always keep my eyes raised
to your lovely faces.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just Before The Green

Spring makes the Earth soft,
like a new thing,
Soon to be budding,
While the woodsmoke fades.

We uncover our tender places,
Roots that rise through warm mud.
I was a post for new antlers
And you took off my skin.

If only we'd been less thinking,
More, deeply listening,
The way I know what I don't want,
I am unwanted, too.

The way, we both already knew.

I'm glad for what I didn't show,
And what it taught me of you.
As grateful for the smoothness
Giving us both
More room to grow.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

If I Were Anyone Else

If I were anyone else, I'd say,

Dear lovely thing,
Open your eyes!
All around are encounters of the universal kind.

Some say magic,
Some say fate,
I say the world is a beautiful place.

And when the 'need' to know arises,
Consider it's a liar,
Convincing you it's safer to see all you can in advance.

You don't need to know when and how to dance.
Just close your eyes, slow the mind,
Open your hands.

Yes, you're still a little shaken.
A little less collected than expected.
Brief connections show you this;
All of it,
Is just what is.

Although you love to make it so,
There is no line between the world and you.
Here is what's true:

There is no outcome worthy of your fear.

Just be here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

If I Were More Myself

If I were more myself today...

I would say I am hopeful, a little locked inside, a bit afraid,
but mostly in the midst of a healthy hesitance
to let go or be foolish, despite a powerful intrigue,
and youthful desire to do so.

I'd tell you I have a fierce desire to make a space for you,
where you'd be comfortable with me
as you are with your own thoughts at night.

I'd like to know the side of you that's safe in silence and space between us.
I'd like to be calm enough to be present for those, and not want to distract.
Be still.

I'd like to be close friends.
In the way that when you're excited about something, pleased or proud,
I'm one of the ones you think to tell.
I want you to understand enough of me that you'd be interested in the same,
because any seemingly superficial reasons for excitement come from a deeper place,
and have a lot of healing weight.

I'd like to kick your ass in something.
Except, I kind of don't...

I'd tell you I'd like to come out of my shell, talk to you the way you want,
find words in person
and in bed
to drive you mad -
and equally as much, I want you to lie quiet, no talking allowed,
no persona or fantasy to hide behind.
Take my time, slowly, completely present to each body part I touch,
each contact of my skin on yours,
each breath and wave of desire I can sense and respond to.

I want to watch you go all the way over the edge
to a soulful, moaning climax,
and feel your weight fall after.

I want to know your facial expression when you're at your most vulnerable,
with no attempt to cover, fade or fix it.

Above all, I want you to be
wherever you are, at any moment.
For anything less than real would leave us both with the slight, haunting taste of dissatisfaction.


If, when we meet and have learned something of eachother,
And you don't fit the above, let's be friends.
True ones, who love and are brim with understanding - but not to be confused with in-love.

If you do... let's not be such fools
As to keep our face to the ground for a too-long timid minute -
there is no dawn that shines in shyness.

Let's be brave and unabashed, but only if we're ready,
because timing isn't part of what's within our own, albeit powerful, grasp.

Let's be kind, and true, regardless of bruises to the ego.
Let's be vulnerable,
And let what's right and natural come as it may, no forcing, no longing -
When you long, keep your feet to the ground, your seat in the cushion, and stay present.
Look around.
Be happy where you are now,
and natural outcomes will be sure to surprise you.