I read a poem

written by someone else’s daughter

About her mother, who has Alzheimer’s.

Judy spoke of her mother’s journey,

Of her need

To be let go.

She spoke of clocks, conversations, lunch round noon,

snow bout mid December,

and all the parts of life

that are defined

by knowing what is going on,

what has happened,

and what will likely happen next.

 

A million pieces of knowledge tether

Most of us,

To know the date most days.

Class is Wednesday night,

Colin plays on Saturday at nine fifteen,

I need to be at work by nine,

Katy’s birthday is coming in two weeks.

I am never sure what time it is, and sometimes

I think Wednesday’s Thursday, or I lose an hour or a week.

I’m not sick like her, or like you were.

 

When it took over,

your eyes were clouds,

your lips made shapes,

your tongue made sounds.

Your muddy eyes would take me in,

or the wall behind me,

or a angry nurse marchcing down the hall.

Your lips would purse, then open, close,

more like a fish

Than like a man.

You’d smile when I’d offer up

A cigarette

And smoke it

Unlit and upside down.

Your eyes were clouds,

They belonged inside a winter sky, not on a face,

but I never let them go.

I would

Bring you taboo cigarettes,

I would fix your shirt, wipe your chin

and when his mouth moved

I’d lean close.

I’d smell the spit, the sour breath, last week’s

applesauce, the sweat

And I would listen

Because I knew you

Would never leave without saying your goodbye.

You were a gentleman.

 

I never let my you go,

Not when you’d already left,

Not when you still looked at me

and knew my name,

Not in all those spaces

in between\

And afterwards

And now.

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If I was to step way far to the back of the room, a big room and look at a painting of my life, my whole life-
There would be wrinkled toes and clenched fists, a brilliant green swimming pool littered with nicklels tossed as bribery to slip my face inside the water, my smile on the first day of school in the Simplicity pattern dress my mom sewed the night before. It fell around me like a gown, white and peach daisies, holding my brothers hand inside my own.
There would be Linda Weaver‘s impossibly long legs, tucked under her body while we lounged away the morning in our sleeping bag forts.
There would be birthday parties I wasn’t invited to, and flute music dancing across the canvas, all the way through.
School and homework led me to a lifelong love affair with procrastination,
I’d need to make room for a thousand assignments I started,
and even more space for all of the projects I wish I had begun.
There would be Mountain Lakes, and tan O’Sullivan girls, the Eveleth‘s kitchen ,
The Club would loom over a lake, you’d be able to smell the fried chicken from Sundays.There’d be an inch or two devoted to my red, white and blue sunfish and the time I took a boat out in a storm and didn’t tip. Everyone capsized that afternoon,
or maybe no one else went out that day.
There would be the bathroom at the Tourne,
 the floor would be littered with bottles of Colt 45.
There would be Oniko and Lisa, and a whole lot of boys. (Another canvas, another medium is needed for the boys of this life.)
There would be daddy saying goodbye outside of the Mountain lakes Club and again ten years later.
There was college, and nothing.
There was too much time in bathroom stalls, and not enough listening to the bands we were there to hear.
I love you, Rachel Cohen DeSario. Jeannette de Beauvoir and Paolo Palazzi-Xirinachs,
We’d be hiding in some smoke waiting for Paolo to move his turn in Scrabble. J and I’d be scowling, Paul would zipping Zima.
Fast forward, I’m running out of oil and it’s expensive- you’d see my babies.
My first, my boy, my Collie bear. He’d be high on a rock in back yard in Dorchester
Singing “Circle of Life” from Lion King.
He’d be fencing in gym class, catching snakes outside the pool, Staying awake worrying about where to sit at lunch,
Most of the time, he’d be holding a ball.
Next came Kate.
As an infant, she held onto me, for 2 years, she dangled or clung to wherever I had available flesh.
These days, she smells like milk, her blue eyes smile, her mind is a millions miles away.
When I call her back, she comes back. We hold hands, though these days, not when someone’s watching.
Someone’s always watching.
Blonde, fierce, smarter than all of us put together, Katy is the one in the middle. She speaks to all of us, for all of us.
I’d see the South Shore Y, Walden, Wollaston, Cape Cod, James Paul with a cocktail, a dented mini van, and most recently, Quincy college. Most days, I love to come to work.
In the corner, or behind a moonlit night from last September, you might see Colin, the Colin I will see tomorrow at breakfast. He’d look mad. You’d see me, reaching towards him, and his back, clenched, his fists, clenched.
You’d hesitate a moment at the scene
Then your eyes would take you back
to the sea of color surrounding
the two of us-
Lakes, city lights, bars, stadiums,
rocking chairs, tangled sheets,
Christmas trees and snowmen,
Mountains, oceans, miles of sand,
Stacks of books and record sleeves,
Kitchen tables, covered with platters and pitchers,
and wine and glasses of milk
Surrounded by chairs,
Filled with the people I love.
I am blessed. I am blessed even when I don’t know it.
It’s hard to see-
it’s impossible to step back when I’m bent over weeping
For all the things I don’t know
and all the things I think I know.
I need to find a way back to all the things I know.
Everything’s going to be alright.
I need to take a few steps to the back of a room,
get down on my knees, lift up my head,
Listen.
I have to find the right words for the prayers
and believe the quiet words
from deep inside my shaking heart.
I need to believe.
Everything’s going to be alright.
I need to step to the back of the room
and study the big, beautiful picture.

Tonight was all about dogs, daughters and dads.

I took Sophie the sweetest and a puppy named Gunner to Turners Pond for a ramble under the moon.

Katy and a friend followed behind, i don’t know if they agreed to come along because Katy is kind, and I spend a lot of time alone walking the dog. Or if the simple fact that the wind had stopped and the moonlit fooled her into thinking it was warmer than it was- I don’t know.

Ahead, the dogs and I ran, and slowed and sniffed (they sniffed, I watched them sniff and tried not to think about what they were sniffing) and ran and jogged and trotted and stopped.

I was listening to Neil Diamond.

I grew up listening to Neil Diamond. My dad died when I was 20, yet when I put the headphones in my ears, and put on Cracklin Rosie, and turned it UP, I could hear Dad’s voice, singing along. There was the most subtle hint of the South in his voice, and he stayed right on key.

So I walked around the pond five times. I was watching the dogs, running alongside the dogs, waiting for the dogs.

I was catching little pieces of Katy and her friend’s conversation. They are 12 year old girls and they do not giggle. At least not when I’m within earshot. I think they were discussing a science test, or how Katy never lets the power go below 1% on her phone, or what kind of dog they want when they grow up. Twelve year old girls, smart 12 year old girls, aren’t the most interesting subjects for eavesdropping.

Maybe they were speaking in code.

And right next to me, inside my head, was my dad. He was singing alongside Neil Diamond, and actually sounded better than the pop star. I was listening to one of more recent albums, way after Love on the Rocks.

I thought about switching to one of the records Dad and I used to listen to- Tap Root Manuscript, or Stones, so I could remember what Mr. Diamond sounded like in his prime.

But I wasn’t listening to “Solitary Man” or “Sweet Caroline”. I was remembering my dad’s voice, how he used to always sing “Something” by the Beatles in the shower leave records all over the dining room table, how proud he looked while he watched me play my flute and the night he spent four hours listening to the “Wild and Innocent and the EStreet Shuffle” in attempt to try to understand what I liked about Bruce Spring. “Julie, he can’t sing. I mean, really, he can’t sing.”

I hadn’t remembered my father’s voice for a long time until tonight.

Dogs, Daughters and Dad.

The last song I listened to was “Thank The Lord for the Night Time.” Dad always liked that song, I think it was pretty much his party anthem.

My wild nights are home with kids, or at the gym, or following Sophia around with a bag in my hand.

But I am my father’s daughter. I may go to bed early by his standards, but I never wake up until after dark.

That’s when I’m wide awake. That’s when I make time to listen.

This has been a dark fall.

There are the regular stressors of back to school/oh my god where the f did summer go?

There has been the gradual, overnight change in relationship with my fifteen year old son. I’ve decided to trust him and, with certain boundaries we are currently in the process of working out, give him provisional freedom. If that sounds like I don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s because I don’t have a clue.

I had tried being a proactive parent-not-friend; “this is non negotiable” coming out of my mouth during every single conversation we had. We were living in a war zone. He felt invaded which is not surprising considering I spent all my time figuring out how to sneak into his snap chat.

We share the house with my daughter, 2 cats, a dog and their father. Whenever my son and I were in the same room, every one else took cover. Cats hid in bathtubs, the dog found sanctuary inside the shoe closet, my daughter actually spent so much time outside cleaning the shed, it’s clean.

But I couldn’t stand viewing my son as an enemy that must be conquered, and wasn’t crazy about being seen as a dictator that needed to be manipulated.

We are currently experimenting with- don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t come home wasted, get good grades… and I’ll leave you alone.

It’s a process.

That was the first week of September.

Last week, I got news a girl from my childhood, a family friend, was killed by her husband. She called the police and told them she was afraid for her life. The police kept her on the phone for two minutes. The phone went dead. Her husband called them back and confessed to killing her, and told them he was going to shoot himself in the head as soon as he hung up the phone.

She was 48 years old.

A few nights ago, I went to the wake of a five year old girl that died of leukemia. The little girl was in an open casket  Her twin sister sat in a chair twenty feet away, playing with dolls.

The weather has been hot and beautiful, with September breeze and cobalt blue skies.

I haven’t wanted to get out of bed in the morning. I’m grieving for summer, the days when all I needed to parent was an agreed upon curfew and a secret stash of gummy bears, a good nights sleep, the rise of Donald Trump, the little girl playing with the doll five feet away from her cold, cold sister, and my friend, Laurie.

Sp this weekend, I went to the pond with a friend, and we swam across and around, and then across again. I sang along to the radio with my daughter on the ride home.

I took her and her friends to the dance, and listened to them chatter in the car afterwards, like I might find the meaning of life and how to go on inside their discussions of what happened in the Gaga pit, who likes to dance, who is going to be what on Halloween and how old is too old to dress up as fruit. It was decided that a person is never to old to dress up as fruit.

I took a different bunch of kids to Nantasket Beach today. We were the only ones in the water- it was sixty degrees. I dove under a wave, the cold stole my breath, I sprung to the surface and tilted my face to the sun. We laughed a lot, loud, enjoying how the people on the beach building castles, looking for lost phones or sea glass, looked at us. We were swimming in late September. We were laughing and diving and waiting for the tide to roll in. We wanted waves, real waves, to ride on our bellies, till we flopped on the shore with sand on our face, in between each toe, in the lines of our neck… But the tide didn’t come in and we were hungry.

We ate pizza and ice cream and came home.

This morning, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” came on, sung by the Hawaiian boy while he plays the ukelele.

My daughter let out a sound when she heard his voice, and ran to me. “That is the boy that died, mom, that died because he couldn’t breathe, because he was too big.”

She shivered. I reached over, I pulled her close to me. I put my arms around her shoulders and we stood still and swayed to the beautiful sounds of that boy singing that beautiful song.

I held onto her, she held on to me, and we listened. For a few moments, we were all in it together, I knew it was going to be all right. Never the same, times even harder and sadder are sure to come, but as long as there is someone I love around to hold me while we listen to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s promise that “someday, over the rainbow, bluebirds, fly…” I’ll remember how blessed I am to be sharing this corner of the world with the people I love.

When there are no beautiful moments, or good friends, or sweet songs available to lift me up , there are the daily tasks to be done. There is comfort in the putting away of socks in the right drawer, matched and folded, sweeping the kitchen, rearranging the books, and selecting  clothes for tomorrow at work.

It is both the sweet, unscripted moments with the people I love and the sacred, regular rituals that I need that allow me to move forward, in times of grief and loss-

It’s raining out.

The car is wide open. Have you seen my keys?

Scratch that, can you help me find my keys.

I’m not mad.

your homework is in your backpack.

I love it when you rub my back. I’ll pick you up for dance class at 4 o’clock.

Don’t you love that song? Really love that song?

im sorry I haven’t brushed my teeth, I need to brush my teeth before I talk to you?

You need to comb your hair. Not before you talk to me, before you leave.

Where’s the peanut butter?

You took it the wrong way, you’ll see.

It’ll work itself when you see her in school.

I can’t live without peanut butter.

Oh my God- that can’t be true. What. happened.

Have you seen my black dress?  My dark shoe?

You remembered to bring me coffee.

I love you. I wish you’d stop and just think sometimes.

i love you. I love you. I will always love you, even before you brush your teeth.

I Love You.

Places I Have Been To

September 10, 2013

I went to church last Sunday. It was the first Sunday of the church year. Everyone came early for a pancake breakfast hosted by the youth group. I’d actually been at the church since Saturday night since I had been one of the chaperones for the pre-pancake breakfast youth sleepover.  (I am either a very brave or a very stupid woman.) As I moved around the halls, directed guests to the bathroom, and found a sugar bowl for somebody in the kitchen, it occurred to me- I feel at home here. I am a member of the club.

You know the feeling I’m talking about? When all the sudden you look around whatever space you are in and realize- you know where stuff is. You know the names of people around you, you even know if they are people worth knowing, and you move thru hallways and rooms with ease.

The church is the latest in a long series of places I made my own.  I’m sure for many, school is the first thing that comes to mind.  Not for me. As a matter of fact, for all the time I spent in school, my memories are mostly of feeling lost. Literally. I have a lousy sense of direction, every year classrooms are different, they were usually located on different floors. Kids in classes changed, and every few years, buildings changed. To make matters really difficult, when I was 12 my family moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

I suppose, on a much smaller level, I got a sense of it over at friends houses. Going over to Leslie’s and being able to drink from the water jug in the fridge reserved for family members. Over at my first boyfriend’s house, I was entrusted with the location of spare key, and knew the names of all of his cousins. He only had three cousins, but I’m not that good with names. And of course, the Stanfields. Their home became the back up home to many teenagers in Mountain Lakes. I knew where to find the corn nuts, and what bedroom was likely to be unoccupied, or mostly unoccupied. Of course, so did about seventy five other kids between the ages of 15 and 18. But it was nice, knowing my home wasn’t my only home. Especially since things weren’t always so easy in my home growing up.

Skip forward quite a few years. My first true sense of belonging to a group, and knowing where I fit in, was when I settled in Boston, and discovered the club scene. And the bands. (And the members of bands. Whole nother story.) And the drugs, and the right ratio of drugs and alcohol for just the right buzz. I remember how it felt to saunter up to the front a line, nod at the bouncer and walk in a front door. How I felt so damn special to be granted entrance into a dark, crowded smoky room, with minimal bathrooms, insane lines- to buy a drink, pee, even to grab a seat. I became familiar with the bartenders, did my research and sought out the johns no one else knew about, and became particularly skilled at lurking behind someone getting ready to leave, then swooping in for their spot at the bar before they’d even picked up their keys. I knew where the stairs were, where the elevators were, where the back doors were, who bartended on which night, and who might be willing to pay for my drinks.

And the best part… Everybody knew me. By name. After years of feeling pretty damn anonymous, I had circles and circles of friends. I had friends to go out to dinner with, friends to sleep with, friends to stay up all night with, friends to play scrabble with… I had lots and lots and lots of friends. I spent piles of money, had, from what I remember a damn good time, and woke up from it all when I was pregnant with my first child.

Then I went back to feeling like I had in school, a little bit lost.

When I sat down to write this, I was going to list all of the places in my life that weren’t my home, but that felt like home.

And this is what I found out- there were the clubs in Boston and Cambridge in the 90’s, there is the space between my two kids anywhere in the whole world, and there is my church. My church is a place that practices something called “radical hospitality”, and I guess they really, truly do. At least in my case. My church is a place where we have twenty minute conversations about which class will work for a nine year old who is more mature than most, but needs to make more friends in his grade. It is a place where there is always coffee, though I often have to make it, or find the filters. Where the minister is my friend, and I swim with the Youth Advisor most mornings, (not at the church, it’s not that nice.) And where when the conversation turns to Social Justice, and it often does, it is not in the abstract.

I’m glad I finally found my way there.