11/15/16

 

There will be time to prepare,
some other time, when gentle breaths puff
the solitary exhale of nearly sleeping chests.
Some other day when reflected back would be
that we had done our best.

When your drowsy eyes slide low, and lower-
till you are cocooned in cotton candy dreams,
spun soft-hearted for exhausted souls.
These defeats do take their tolls.

There will be more coffees sipped,
and taken trips to borders and beyond,
you can be assured the daffodil will follow
unafraid of April’s fickle moods-
and soon it will be safe to plant the seeds
to reap the harvest, of your good deeds.

Did you think the slamming of a door,
would ripple out with such a crack,
that Hatred might take notice and turn its head?
To eye the unrest and sickly stumble from its bed,
were you too, taken aback?

I left the couch, then left the room
and walked out amongst the gloom
of Pittsburgh’s weeping, solemn sky.
I shook my head then shook my fist,
my sleeping children’s heads I kissed,
then sat back and reminisced,
and keened a mournful cry.

I will stand beneath the arch,
and wait for spring to buck the cold.
Wait for the optimistic tulips to take hold,
and weep their frosty corpses come the dawn.
I will hold on.


 

 

 

 

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What I feel and cannot say aloud

 

I: Two days later

I who have been wordless seldom,
reach into the depth of a numb throat
and force the words out like retching.

Chest cavity broken open like a thing prepared for feasting.
My heart; asunder.
This grief has teeth and she gnashes.

This is fear, and flight-
a dinner guest who has expired after dessert,
sits, head lolled to the side,
as people clean up.

Ignore it. Ignore it. Ignore it.

A keening wail that rises like bile,
foams like a wave, over takes the throat
and just like that, it’s out.

Every moaning voice that howls together,
and someone somewhere instead hears a song.


II: Worth

A delicate question
clutched close, beyond the observance
of a quiet room.

Will this happen? Could this occur?

A necklace of red grapes,
sweet collar-bone that beckons your kiss.
You tell me I am safe, you will keep me safe,
but I am not one to be kept.

More like, a rootless tree bearing fruits,
as apt to run as stay.

Your hand, on my back as
I fall fitful into slumber.

Your stability has been the sun,
my beating heart;
the Earth which circles without consideration,
you are the only thing it knows.

This week grief split me open without permission.
A mess, pomegranate seeds and mango flesh on
a cold tile floor.

Anxiety made me heavy with worry,
falling, falling, plop.
All fruit bleeds. My chest is full of it.
Stuffed to bursting, a captive cavity.

My head rattles as if empty,
but instead, full of
orange rinds and lopped off pineapple tops.
The throw aways, like me, like you.

This has happened. This has occurred.

Fingers, blood blister raspberries,
weeping due to worried drumming.

Fruit basket of a woman, carefully arranged,
left at your door step, a gift.
Quickly, quickly, before she spoils.

Now decide her worth.

 

 

1240 words on motherhood for me

I am the trunk of a tree, growing you slowly like a spring leaf. Wondering how far the branch will take you from me, your base. This is what motherhood feels like most days, the knowledge that you are completely mine for such a finite amount of time, and I am watching it click down to zero.

In Pittsburgh, Fall has finally been pushed over the threshold, however unwillingly. Today was blustery, if not cold.  Everything went wrong from go, a car that needed repairs, errands that clearly reproduced and doubled on my list, but at pick up time from school the kids asked to go to the playground and I said ‘Yes’, because that is motherhood also, right? Making your mouth say the word yes when sometimes (okay a lot of the time) you would rather shout No.

I stood apart, considering them, and thought that the saying about parenthood being about ‘watching your heart walk around outside of your body’, it’s not accurate, not fully. It is not just allowing your heart to walk outside of your body, it is ripping open your chest, cracking your sternum, and then tying your heart to a wolf. The wolf will trip over it, gnaw on it, bash it into trees, drag it through mud, it will treat your heart with no more care than anything else it takes for granted. You will be thankful for this. Things we take for granted are things we don’t question going away.

At some point, as adults, they might realize the carelessness with which they treated something so essential to someone so crucial to them. They may find themselves wanting to say, I am sorry for taking you for granted. I have been like a feral animal with your heart, dragging it along without caring for it. I need you. I need you more than I have ever needed anything in my life. But that day is not today. Today what they want to say is a torrent of half-stories, tidbits and tattling, exclamations and angry accusations. Today what they want to say is that I need to stand at the playground guarding them against anything untoward, no matter how much I would prefer a nap.

About Judah:
You tell me that ‘you miss me while you are sleeping’ and I could weep for the truth in it. How long will you miss me while you sleep? I tell you (and your brother and your sister) every night to ‘Sleep Sweet’ and you yell it back to me from the safety of your crib. Your words are the fortification I need before bed, because most nights I miss you while I sleep also.

In the morning you smell like sleep and dreams and warmth. I gather you up when you tumble towards me from your blanket cocoon and I carry you to where we make a nest together and discuss the day. Today we will make coffee and I will give you ‘white coffee’ which is mostly French vanilla creamers and a little whipped cream, but you love it. We will make the beds together and get the laundry and the dishwasher running. Doing these tasks with you gives my life balance. When I sit down later, on the couch without the cup holders (you like this couch best because you sit right up against me, no regard for personal space) you will ask ‘Mommy, you play with me?’ and hold up one of your action figures. Normally I have to be the bad guy who loses, but today you let me be Spiderman and you are Thor. Thor and Spiderman are fighting Venom and The Green Goblin and you tell me that I am your team.  I love being your team, however brief.

About Marilyn:
You still doggedly argue that it is called a steiling and not a ceiling and your argument is solid. Because it steals the sky from your eyes. You once told me, and that is the best description I can make about you. Inside your head I imagine fields of magical creatures and plot lines, I see you as the benevolent dictator to your world, and I watch you daydreaming it to life, when you aren’t aware of my audience. You are creativity unleashed, the wild abandon of reckless ingenuity, and it is my pleasure to watch it crash together into your unstoppable force.

“Did you know” you tell everyone who will listen “that my mommy wanted blonde hair and blue eyes and she got me, and I have blonde hair and mostly green but kind of blue eyes?” and the complete satisfaction in your little voice leaves no room for response, because you are off on a completely different story about another incredible thing that tops the last incredible thing so thoroughly as to erase it from existence. So it goes, until sleep overtakes you (please G-d, let it be an early bedtime some nights).

About Sam:
My biggest kid, and fittingly, everything you feel is big. It seems impossible that although you nearly never stop moving, you are also an insatiable observer, able to connect with anyone you meet. You and I, we did some growing up together.

I have watched you struggle and overcome, with courage, grace and with perseverance a grown adult would be proud of. It has been difficult to not shield you from injustice, to watch you become aware of the world in a way that growing up peels back to ugly layers. I have begun to see skinned knees turned to bruised feelings, and it is hard to not try to shut the door on the future and keep you here a while longer, in this space where only safe people exist.

On my children:
I love them more than I will ever love anything. To quantify that would be impossible. There is barely the flicker of remembered life before them, simply the stasis period of waiting for them.

They are infuriating and still I miss them while they sleep. I miss them while they are at play dates and sports and school but I can’t wait for them to get tired and go to bed when they are here. I find them beautiful, and hilarious and wonderful. When I think that I was their foundation, growing them from this tiny sac of seeds and molecules into a thing with eyebrows and fingernails and the capacity to be who they will become, it is enough to take me down with the awesomeness of it all.

I am most proud of who they are. For the things I can take no credit for forming, but only for fostering. They are kind kids, watchers and protectors and warriors and wizards. They are all of the best things and when I see them stumble, my breath catches with the urge to fix it. It is always amazing how they attempt to dust themselves off first, if sometimes still unsuccessfully. I am flattened by the immense responsibility of them looking to me to show them the right way of things when so often I feel that I have no idea what the right way is. Too often, life feels very much like the labyrinth at Crete, a minotaur lurking in the shadows, but my children are like bright flashes of light illuminating the way things could be, if only I urge kindness to the forefront.

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting Complicated Grief

It has been nearly two years since my mother in law died, succumbing to pneumonia, preceded by many years of medical maladies along with physical and mental suffering.

Not long after her death, wrapped in my own difficult mourning, I wrote a blog post that I titled Complicated Grief and blundered my way through trying to explain our relationship, the fall out, and her death, without seeming like a terrible person. That is where I made my mistake. To write, to foster a connection, you have to be honest. Truthful about both the ugly that was done to you, and the ugly that you did in return. And you guys, it was ugly.

Like so many sad stories it began with hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and insecurity. A puddle that blossomed into a impassable ocean filled with angry sea monsters that would tear apart any ship caught carrying olive branches. My mother in law didn’t have a monopoly on those sea creatures either, some of them were mine. This is what I couldn’t admit while she was alive, or immediately after. That as unwilling as she was to forgive and forget, I kept a tally of each transgression against me, and I stacked them up along the walls of my heart until they were a fortress. I broke off her sharp words and used them as arrows, our acidity became a moat. When she would try to manipulate a situation, I folded it up into itself until it was a heavy cannon ball that I lobbed back. Love may be the thing that requires aim to land true, but pain requires no such thing. You can send weapons in the general direction of someone and they will explode like shrapnel. Pain does not know boundaries, it respects nothing.

I mentioned that I had no relationship with anyone on my father’s side of the family, so my two grandparents on my mother’s side were all I knew growing up. My maternal grandmother passed away when I was five, leaving my stoic grandfather as my sole remaining grandparent. He moved to Florida not long after my parents divorce, and I saw him for our annual trip in the winter, and when he would come to NY in the summer. I never questioned whether he loved me, but I also can’t recall ever being in a room completely alone with him, until I was an adult. I had no expectations of what roles grandparents played in their grandchildren’s lives. So when I came home from the hospital after giving birth to my first child, a boy we named Sam, I thought my mother in-laws near suffocating grip on my life was because she was so thrilled to be a grandmother, and eager to make my life easier.

As evidence of this, she hired a caterer for five dinners a week and expected us to be at the table. It wasn’t a request. Every boundary my husband and I set would be steam rolled by my mother in-laws lawyer-logic. If I said I didn’t want to go to dinner because I didn’t like what the caterer made, she would ask for a written list of what I did like. If I said it was difficult to put the baby down for a nap there, she bought a crib (and a dresser, and a changing table, and a bookshelf, and said it was nicer than what he had at home). If we said the barking dog they owned that begged at the table relentlessly was too much, she would crate her, and then cry through dinner while the dog whined beside her. It wasn’t until I said “Linda, I just need some space for my family” that she turned on me. Abuse often feels like love, at first.

I’m sitting holding toddler Sam on my lap, pregnant with my second child, a girl. We are at Temple on Friday night and an elderly woman approaches me to tell me how sweet the kids are. “You should really let your mother in law see the kids sometimes… she misses them terribly” she says to me after the normal pleasantries are exchanged. I stare at her blankly, sure of myself that this woman is clearly senile because I’ve spent the last four dinners with my in-laws. A second woman walks up as the first leaves and echoes similar sentiments. My in laws are sitting in the back of the synagogue where my father in law, fresh from a knee replacement can stretch his leg more comfortably, and when I turn, she is staring at me, unsmiling, just watching.

It is April 12th 2009, my in-laws anniversary and I am 39 weeks pregnant with Marilyn, our middle child. We all go to brunch to celebrate and I am grateful for the early festivities. While at brunch, my mother in law requests we all go to dinner that same night and I look flatly at my husband, my eyes black holes of desperate and angry deterrent, but he acquiesces. That afternoon my toddler takes a late nap, and Joe and I fall asleep as well. My mother in laws 17th phone call wakes us, and Joe answers to her shrill near-scream that we have slept through dinner. That they came to the house to get us, and not only did we not answer the door but she claims that she saw me standing at the window, refusing to open the door for her. This, was when I realized how sick my mother in law truly was. I went into labor the following day, after an all night fight in which I went to their house to try to calm things down and was promptly kicked out, and told I was no longer welcome there.

At the hospital, despite my monotone consent that she could come meet her first granddaughter, my mother in law wept outside my birthing suite, making a spectacle of herself. I look back at those first photos, holding my precious daughter, and in my eyes I see the resolution of refusal. 2009, the year I became as difficult a person as she.

Like many cyclic illnesses, my mother in law would suffer bouts of paranoia and rage, and then guilt and attempts to buy forgiveness back. Outrageous gifts and promises were outweighed only by the strings she attached to them. Rebuke her and you would know sorrow, seemed to be her tag line. I rebuffed every offer of kindness she tossed my way, knowing the barbed hooks she secured them with.

I packed my husband and my children up in the car, loaded with diaper bags, kisses and well wishes and stayed home when they would visit her, feeling like I had won a round of boxing.  On holidays when I had to attend, I was monosyllabic answers and averted eyes. While I never kept my children from her, I encouraged no love to grow in the sterile garden of our relationship. Whatever love my children have for her, and with my older two, it is much, she cultivated on her own. That is perhaps, the only kind thing I can say.

Inside I was the inferno and the waste land, giving myself anxiety attacks when I needed to see her. If she purchased something for my kids, I gave it away before they could see it. So she began to refuse to give them anything unless they retrieved it directly from her hands. If she brought up something she thought they might like, I shook my head ‘No’ and killed the idea, so she would spring things last-minute, in front of them. If she suggested something that I said ‘No’ to, she would look at them sadly ‘Your mother says no.’ she would say in mock conspiratorial whispers.

If once our relationship was a horse that she dressed up for shows, parading for the public the idea ‘happy’, then I had beaten the horse to death, and now drug it around with me like an albatross to bear witness to her wreckage. Look what she has done. I wanted it to tell people. She has caused this and I refuse to be expected to fix it.

The final six months of her life were spent in cycles of Home, Hospital, and the Charles Morris rehabilitation center. By this time, I had buried the horse, but I still visited the grave to agonize over the irreparable mess we had created. I’d like to believe that we had come to an understanding, that we were two people who both loved the same people, even if we couldn’t get along. But that is revisionist history. If she hadn’t died we would still be two cats in a bag, fighting it out to the death over something long dead. That is why I know I was wrong, because I want to change the ending. When we knew she was dying, I didn’t go see her. I wanted to be absolved without giving her a pardon, and frankly some things, we don’t deserve to be  forgiven for.

The day before she died, when she had been switched to compassionate care and medicated into restless, fitful sleep, I went to the hospital and I told her that I would take care of Joe, and that the kids loved her and would be alright. I felt like a fraud. I meant the things I said, but only went because I was expected to go, because people were asking me if I was going to, and not because I had any stake in whether it comforted her.

If I could re-write history, I would tell her I forgave her. Out loud, not just in my head after the fact. It wouldn’t be part of what I include when, occasionally I go to Friday night services and bow my head for the silent prayer. I would have forgiven her in person, and spent the time going forward forgiving myself. Two years later, my ending line still holds true; “It is hard to end a thought without a moral, without a succinct point made neatly, but maybe that is fitting, grief is a messy thing after all.”