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/

Estate Wagon Dreams

Francine was beyond tired. The kids were being brats in the back seat and she had more important things on her mind than who was putting buggers on who’s arm.

Just one more errand to do, and then she could drive back home, get the kids started on their homework, and head back to the bedroom to have some alone time. She had a new mystery she was dying to start, and she just wanted to lay there, read, and finish the half-eaten jumbo candy cane pole hidden in the bedside table drawer.

Just as she was about to make a left into the library parking lot, some car from the next lane over pulled in front of her. She jammed on the brakes, which sent the kids flying into the back of the front seat and her heart into a flip-flop. After the shock wore off, she rolled down her car window, and honked the horn, yelling after the car, “Freak!!”

Hearing the shrillness of her own voice, she was surprised that that was what had come out of her mouth, but it was the worst thing she could think of to say in front of the kids. She looked back to see if they were OK, only to find that they were actually more than OK. They were cracking up over it all.

As she rolled the window back up, she quickly decided that they could forego the library for today. She gunned the gas, heading straight home to that bed and that candy as soon as humanly possible.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: honk

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.

Sun Tea

If my mom liked something, she went all in. She had collections that would have challenged the Smithsonian. Beanie Babies, Spode china, Brownware, cut glass, Santa Clauses, pumpkins, witches, rabbits…anything holiday related, really.

And if she thought you liked something, she'd get it to give to you. In multiple. One Christmas I got 4 pairs of Jellies, a brand of shoe in fashion at the time after I had mentioned in passing that they were cute! I learned to watch saying I liked anything around her.

So it was no surprise that after she was introduced to "sun tea," it became a big thing.

Texas is Southern, therefore iced tea is considered a staple food and flows in every household and establishment. Many folks like it sweetened, but my mom was an iced tea purist. She took hers straight.

Usually, she relied on Lipton Iced Tea, a powder that made instant iced tea. Mix in some scoops. Add ice, and maybe a sprig of mint or a slice of lemon, and you had a delightful beverage to cool off from those humid Houston summer days. No one was making hot tea. Got the kitchen too hot.

Then, one day, some DIY crafty friend introduced her to sun tea.

My mother's life was transformed!

She began buying Lipton tea bags! And a big plastic gallon jar.

To make sun tea: Throw some tea bags in the water, screw on the top, leave the jar in the sun, and voila! Delicious brewed tea ready to become iced tea!

She thought it was the greatest thing. (And you know what? It really did taste pretty darn good.) I remember playing in the yard, running around the strategically-placed-in-the-yard sun-tea-in-the-making jugs many a hot Texas day only to find in the fridge by evening and in glasses on the table at dinner.

At a certain point, those jugs stopped being planted in our yard. Perhaps she lost interest, on to the next big thing. Or maybe, if I recall, she had to stop the tea-drinking altogether because of all the caffeine.

I wonder if anybody makes iced tea that way anymore.

Maybe I will find a patch of sun (on the fire escape?) and make some sun tea in her honor. But it'll have to herbal Roobius…

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: tea

Carry On

Things That Are Traditional in My Family That I Inherited (Whether I Like It Or Not:)

Grandmother’s Thanksgiving Stuffing

Disbelief in Good Things Lasting

Aunt’s Pumpkin Bread Served at All Gatherings

Serving Dishes and Calling Them “Salads” Even Though They Contain No Vegetables Unless You Consider Miniature Marshmallows and Jello Vegetables

Dad and Uncle’s Christmas Chili

Finding the Least Trafficked Back-Routes When Driving Places Even If It Takes Much Longer Just Because “It’s The Back-Way”

Spode Christmas Tree China On the Table at Major Holidays Whether It Is Christmas Or Not

Distrust of Strangers & Non-Family People, Too

Gradma’s Green Bean Recipe

Waiting for The Proverbial “Other Shoe” to Drop

Watching Longhorn Games on TV No Matter What the Occasion (Funeral/Holiday)

The Avoidance of Heavy Traffic and Bad Weather At All Costs Even If It Means Not Going Out

Keeping A Stiff Upper Lip/Never Let Them See You Cry/Keep It In The Family

Inspired By The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: traditional

 

 

 

 

Lickity-Split

There was a time…

When a lollipop really did make the hurt go away

After the shot at the doctor’s

Sweet, cherry goodness soothed my tears

Sadness-saliva mixed with sticky sugary-sweet licks

Heartfelt draws between sobs quieted the fray

As tongue and closed lips suckled the hard sucked-down nib

Playing with the stick, biting off the final flavored bits

A forever-imprint of the equation: sugar=comfort

Makes me long for lollipops to this very day

But it is really my mother that I crave

It is really her love and solace that I want

But all the lollies in the world won’t bring that to me

It is mine to give me now.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: lollipop