On the Road Again

My husband and I are driving a Penske truck filled with furniture from our last apartment In the Bronx, NY to Texas. We’ve made this trip before.

Last time, we drove the opposite way with the same furniture from my parents’ home just after we were married 8 years ago, just after my Dad died, a year after my brother died and two years after my mother did.

I was so grateful for that furniture at the time. Newly married, making a home with someone for the first time, I was thrilled to have really nice things to bring to our shared space, a new apartment we’d chosen together.

Having lived in a tiny studio apartment in the West Village of NYC for 18 years prior to this big change, I had no furniture to speak of. My husband had some nice things to bring from his place, but not enough. We were stretching our budgets to get our apartment. New furniture was not in the plan. So my parents was a blessing.

It was amazing how perfectly the furniture all worked together. We chose rich colors for the walls off of the colors in the rugs, and somehow, it all had an eclectic warmth that just felt right. So “us,” somehow. The us we were becoming.

For the first years of our marriage, in those years after those huge losses in which I grieved and lived as best I could, that furniture surrounded me and held me and filled the empty gaping hole their deaths left.

I cherished it all. I had my father’s bronzed baby cowboy boots as book ends. A china cabinet held bluebirds, brown ware and silver pieces from my mother’s collections. We ate off of plates and used pans brought up from their kitchen. Put drinks on coasters from their den.

Our bedroom furniture was from my parents first house. The first expensive rug they bought, a now-worn but still lovely Oriental, sat under their gorgeous dark wood dining table and chairs.

But somewhere along year 6, something began to shift in me, and now, 18 months later, after a Konmari wave that washed away my clutter, a new apartment search, offer, and purchase, a renovation, putting an apartment on the market, a sale, a closing, a move, and a settling in, here I am. Day two of a three day journey to take much of that furniture to a new home.

My cousin, who my parents loved, who has a lovely wife and two young kids and a house, is happily taking the furniture off my hands. Whatever he did not take, others in NY needed and wanted.

Tomorrow we reach Austin, where the pieces will be put in their new home.

And I will let go. Of the grieving time. Of the me that has lived these 8 years in the after-shock, doing my best.

I feel such a mix of sadness and relief and excitement. Sadness because I still wish they were here instead of their things. Relief because something is done that I seem to have needed to do. Some job I unconsciously took on will soon be complete. And excitement is for this next part, whatever it will be.

Today I crave space. I want to be surrounded by things that resonate the me I am today. Our new home in no way resembles our last. And I love it with its new colors and furniture, and kickass river views.

I kept one chair out of it all. And reupholstered it. It looks wonderful there, surrounded by our new pieces, our new rugs.

At the end of the first day’s drive, we were treated to a blazing orange sky. Since my mother passed, I am convinced that beautiful sunsets are her way of letting me know she is there, loving me. It was clear that she, my Dad and brother, approve of this trip.

My parents and brother are still with me. But now they fill my heart space. I carry them wherever I go.

https://guestdailyposts.wordpress.com/guest-pingbacks/

For Laura

I know some incredible women.

It is one of those women’s birthday today.

Some people just blow you away. Laura inspires me daily. She is an artist, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend. A leader. A teacher. An activist. A community contributor. An active citizen.

She lost her 20 year old brother to suicide in 2000. Rather than fall into despair, she has used her grief to create, educate, help and heal.

Read about one of her creations, Arts & Dreams, and the incredible work they do here.

Enjoy her art work here.

Laura reminds me to live creatively, lovingly, with ample doses of self-forgiveness.

I am so lucky she was born and that I know her.

She Is
Scarlet lips
Piercing chocolate eyes
Portals who see your soul
Lives in brush strokes
Of love and thoughtful heart
Colors rich with knowing
Midwife of self-love
Earth angel saving
wretched alone-hearts
One mantra at a time

Soul Tattoo

Allow me to assure you

You are intricately woven into my psyche

I’ve taken elaborate measures to leave you behind

To erase the traces of your affect on my personality –

On my life – to little or no avail

It seems that I carry you, etched into my soulskin

You are colored into the lines of a million needle sticks

Just as a pickle can never become a cucumber again

I am forever altered, forever changed

And yet, that is not the end of the story

I have decided to turn the design you’ve created

Into a whole new pattern of my own creation

Just try to recognize yourself in it

Allow me to reassure you

You won’t

 

 

 

 

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: elaborate

Soul Echoes

Who’s there, yearning, in pain

In the dark of my past

I look behind and see

The silhouettes of the many

From whose dreams I was born

I feel their unrealized needs

In the needs of my present

What they have not let go of

Holds me now, outside of my life

I see you, I say

I’m sorry, I say

This is yours, I say

I lay their burdens at their feet

Look them deeply in their eyes

Thank you for dreaming my life

I’ve got it from here

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt silhouette

All About Joan, Epilogue*

Ten years ago, I finished the second show of our two-show Saturday, and headed home to the actors’ house. I was feeling really unsettled and irritable.

As I walked out to my car, I ran through my day and night, trying to find some logical reason for my mood. It had been a perfectly normal day. Another great show. Nothing to explain the deep dread I was feeling in my gut. The unsettled sense in my bones.

I found myself driving aimlessly through the fairly quiet streets of the city, crossing over the river bridges again and again. This city in Illinois was unique in that you can literally drive across a bridge and be in another city, and then drive over another and be not just in another city, but another state. Without intending to, I was going back and forth, back and forth, from one city to the next, over and over again.

Something about the way the dark water was moving under the bridges in the light of the cloudy-mooned sky seemed to reflect something dark moving through me. At a certain point, I was literally overcome with emotion and had to pull over on the roadside. I felt so utterly sad, so desperately powerless, so…lone.

When I finally hit exhaustion, I drove back to the actors’ house to try to sleep. Just one more show to do, tomorrow afternoon, then I could make the trip down to see my Mom.

The next week was our last week of the show. It was bittersweet. I was sad for the closing, but relieved, too. I was looking forward to being able to just visit Mom for a long visit before heading back to NYC. The traveling back and forth on my days off had built up an accumulated tiredness that lurked just under the surface of my passion for the play and for my mother. My emotional and physical resources were being stretched thin.

Back to the actors’ house. The new cast for the next show had just moved in. We’d been a cast of four, swimming in the abundant space of the big many-bedroomed, two-story house. The cast for the new show was huge, and the peaceful house was now filled to the brim with with people, pep and parties.

My room was right off the common room, and as I made my way through it to my room that night, I did not bother to interact with anyone. Normally, the people-pleaser in me would have mustered up an insincere smile as I passed. This night, not only did the lively chatter and the blaring TV not suit my mood, it grated on my nerves.

I tried to sleep but was restless. Around 1:30 AM, desperate for some escape into sleep, I stuck my head out the door, asking that they have some respect for the rest of the house and take the party elsewhere, upstairs, anywhere, so that I could get some sleep. I’m sure I seemed like the biggest wet blanket ever, but God, did I feel awful. I finally fell into a fitful sleep.

The next morning, I started awake to find a voicemail from my father. I knew when I saw the message that something was up. I will never forget that feeling in my gut, looking at my phone, seeing his name. And before I actually heard his voice saying the words, my body already knew what had happened. From somewhere deep inside, it gave a kind of primal groan – half silent, half aloud. I threw on clothes and grabbed my purse and keys.

I stumbled out into the common room and started lurching in a daze out towards my car. I passed some girl who had awoken early — I don’t know what she must have thought was going on – I am pretty sure I was white as a ghost, and I may have been crying. I waited until I was out on the street before calling my Dad back. It was if the house did not deserve to be the place where I would hear the words that she was gone.

He answered quickly, and we spoke as I wandered in the middle of the street. My father and I decided that since I already had a flight to go home the next day, I’d just keep it…no need to miss the show to get back that night. The funeral home would not be open…Monday morning made the most sense. I’d have a day and a half with him to sort things out, and then I’d fly back to Illinois to finish my contract out that week and drive my things back to NYC after the last show that next Saturday. Then I’d return to Texas.

I hung up with him, faced with getting through the rest of the day and night. I knew I would do the show that afternoon…that my mother would want me to…that I wanted to. That is what you do, as an artist, as an actor. You bring your life to the stage. Your truth. No matter what. But what to do with myself until I had to be at the theatre?

I knew one thing. I did not want to be around the actors’ house with those chatty, happy people who didn’t know me from Adam and had no reason to care about my loss.

While in Illinois, I had met a local woman, who, it turned out, was in town caring for her parents. She’d given me her number for some reason. Midwestern kindness. “If you need anything while you are here…” I barely knew her, but she was my next call.

That woman met me at Appleby’s and sat with me until it was call time. A total stranger, yet she sat with me and got me through those awful first six hours of shock. I hope to be there for someone some day in the way that she was for me. At a moment’s notice, she dropped her day’s plans to sit with a total stranger. I do not remember a thing we talked about, but what an Angel she was.

It’s funny. You can know someone is going to die, but it doesn’t prepare you for anything. The actual death still rocks your world. It’s just as shocking. I’ve since lived through sudden loss and additional prolonged deaths, and there isn’t much difference when you actually get the news in terms of the affect of the actual grief and the loss.

When it was finally time, I went and did the show, which was actually a grace. Having something in my life such as acting — it is an anchor, it grounds me to the world and to my core. It was a blessing to have a show that day. I figured I could either be heartbroken outside the world of the play or take my heartbreak and transform it within the world of the play. You bet I picked the latter. My cast mates and the production team were incredibly kind and supportive. I will never forget their loving kindness.

Afterwards, I quickly went to gather some things, and then I treated myself to a hotel out by the airport so that I could have some quiet and not be in that house! The next morning I boarded a plane and flew down to be with my father and begin to make all the necessary arrangements.

I later found out that my mother had begun to feel distressed that last Saturday evening just around the time I left the theatre. While I was driving across those bridges, over the river over and over, so distressed, she was experiencing great physical distress and fear. And that hour I was tossing and turning? That was around the time when my Mother actually died. It’s strange, but I believe that some part of me knew what was happening with her. They say energy can travel across time and space. I know it did that night.

I miss my beautiful mother every day. But I also feel her in my bones, hear her melodious voice in my mind. Her presence is strong in my heart. Her words come back to me as the years pass. All those talks we had at the end are stored in a bank in the back of my mind. She gave me so much to draw from. I see her in my reflection in the mirror more and more as I get older. And I do not mind at all.

Her death changed my life.

She was the heart of our family. All families have one. The person who is the love center. That was my mother. Our family has had to reconfigure. We’ve had to try to find a new balance. But the truth is, the heart center can never be replaced. You go on as a family, and love as before, of course. But you always feel the absence of that missing heart.

People came out of the woodwork to offer condolences. Baggers at the local supermarket sent flowers to our house. It turned out that she knew all their names, and their kids names, and their stories. Friends from my childhood that I had long since lost contact with came to her memorial because they had felt seen and heard by my mom. She had so many friends from high school and college and beyond…I’m talking real friends, not just acquaintances.

If I can live my life even one tenth of the way she lived hers, I will have lived a life of great value. I am so grateful for all she has given to me. For all she continues to give me.

My priorities shifted as a direct result of losing my mother. She left me with a legacy of living and loving better. Of having true curiosity about life and of others. I saw that all that remains when someone dies is how they made you feel. It made me wonder what I would leave people with when I die. It made me want to be more like her. To make people more at ease. To take more time to really see and be with others. To listen more. To make them feel seen and heard.

Her death made me see people, the world, differently. I grew up buying what was sold to me on TV — MTV was born in my youth, after all. I believed what I was surrounded by in all forms of pop culture: that celebrities and stars were the people of the greatest value. The beautiful people – the movie stars, the models and the rockstars – were the ones to admire and aspire to. It shaped my whole value system.

But after my mom died, that changed. I know now the beauty and honor in the quiet, ordinary heroes, the ones who live lives that maybe no one ever notices or reports on. The ones who love and listen and give for no acclaim. Who give their attention to others with no expectation or need to be adored back. Those people are the real rockstars of this world. I admire them and aspire to be more like them today.

More like my mom, who was one of those. A true star.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: homage

* In the spirit of full disclosure, with one tiny edit, this is a repost of the culmination of a series of blogs I wrote about my mother and how much I have learned from and been given to through her life, her illness and her death.

When I read today’s word prompt, all I could think of was her.

To read more about her, visit the following posts:

Like Joan

All About Joan Pt 1

All About Joan Pt 2

All About Joan Pt 3

All About Joan Pt 4

All About Joan Pt 5.

Broken Lineage

When I was in my mid-20’s, my father made a revelation to me.

In the instant he told me, it was if suddenly, an off-feeling I’d had my whole life until that moment suddenly made sense. Something aligned within me. My relationship to the world felt different. It felt like the earth turned just a bit on its axis and snapped into place after having been off for so long.

I felt like I could breathe just a bit easier after a lifetime of holding it in just a little.

My Dad and my mother sat me down and the story unfolded. My father had been at a work conference in Galveston, TX at which he was to speak. As she always did, my mother went along.

She stayed in the hotel when he actually went to the event that morning. Before the event, there was a meet and greet in the front area of the arena. My Dad had on a name tag, as did the other guests and participants.

At a certain point he noticed an older woman looking at him form across the room. Later, she approached him, and he recalled thinking she seemed hesitant about talking to him. As they began to small talk, he looked down at her name tag, and commented, “Hey, that’s funny. We share the same last name.”

He said the woman sort of paused a moment as if considering what to say next, and then suddenly blurted out, “I’m Rose Curry. I was your father’s first wife.”

She went on to explain that she’d been married to my grandfather and that they’d had a son together, my Dad’s half-brother. They were long-since divorced, and agreed not to have contact or tell anyone about the child, but her son had always known of him had always wanted to contact my grandfather, his father.

She and her son both lived in Galveston, and she had seen in the paper that my Dad was speaking. She had not been sure of whether or not to come.

My Dad says he went into a kind of shock. He doesn’t recall anything else about the conversation or the event. He gave the speech somehow and then afterwards went back to his hotel room.

My mom said when he walked in the door, he was white as a ghost.

He recounted the story to her, and they posited that perhaps it was someone looking to grift some money out of him. He was sure that his father could never have been married before, much less have a child and not tell anyone about it. Surely they were just looking to demand some inheritance or something, claiming to be relatives.

But curiosity got the better of him. He looked through the phonebook and found the name of the man that Rose Curry had claimed was his half-brother, and he called the number. He spoke to the man, and they arranged to meet that afternoon in the parking lot at a McDonald’s.

And my Dad said that the moment he saw the man get out of his car and approach him, he knew that the story was true. He could see the resemblance clear as day.

He spoke with the man for several hours. It turned out that this man, my half-uncle, had tried several times over the years to re-connect with my grandfather. He’d gone to Midland, TX (halfway across the state) to his house and rang the doorbell, only to be turned away in the snow.

He’d even called my Dad’s house once, at holiday time, in the hopes of speaking to him.

He’d had a tough life, struggled with depression and alcoholism.

My parents told me that after they left Galveston that day, my father had talked to my grandfather about the man. But my grandfather wanted nothing to do with him. As he had turned him away so many times over the years, so he turned him away again.

I. Was. Floored.

Suddenly, my whole childhood made sense.

I’d always sensed an indefinable energy around my grandparents’ house in Midland. They were loving people. I loved to be at their house and around them. But they didn’t leave home much. And there was a tension that I could feel as a child, something I could not make sense of. I guess I always felt that something was about to happen. Something bad. It felt like we were always on hold.

Hearing the revelation of this first family of my grandfather’s, it all made sense. That energy was the energy of holding a secret together.

My grandfather had been married and met my grandmother and fell in love. He had left the other woman, and their son, and they’d divorced. My grandfather’s side of the family knew, but were sworn to secrecy. My grandmother’s family and the family she and my grandfather would make together were not to ever know.

My God, that takes a ton of energy, to hold that big a secret.

So every time there was a knock at the door…every time the phone rang…they must on some level had been thinking would it be someone who knew the dirty dark little secret?

I remembered a man coming to my grandparents’ house at Christmas. My grandfather going out and talking to him on the front yard, coming back in angry.

(Now I know it was him.)

I was at the Thanksgiving dinner table when a man called interrupting dinner, asking for my Dad. My Dad came back to the table saying “some guy had just called and as said he was his brother, must be a wrong number, the guy sounded drunk.”

(That poor man trying yet again.)

Secrets are powerful things. They create an energy, they take up space. As you work to hold them in, it takes away from the living of your life. Every relationship feels that weight in some way or another.

As a sensitive child, I sensed it all. But no one would say a word.

I was close to my grandmother, but the one time she ever got mad at me or denied me anything was when I asked her in college for some family history. She refused to help me. I was so confused by her behavior at the time. It was so unlike her.

But once the big secret was outed, it all made sense.

My idea of my grandfather was forever altered on that day. My grandfather and my grandmother, but she had been dead for some time.

I never spoke to my grandfather about it. I had wanted to, but my Dad said not to, and I complied. I guess I have been conditioned to accept the weight of lies.

Sadly, he never agreed to have contact with the man who was his son, my half-uncle. I never met him either. All involved parties are dead now.

I remain. And I seek to be sure that I live life lie-free. Lies cost too much, and they can never be held forever.

I had a half-uncle. I wonder what he was like. I hope his children and their children have also broken the chain of lies. You can only hold the Truth at bay for so long.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: revelation