the thump of feet on floor and a shadow in my doorway… my youngest daughter arrives with a bad dream in her arms for me to hug away. i tuck her in again and she presses her eyes shut but cannot sleep. the noises of the world frighten her this night, the night after the attacks. i bring a radio to her room, a thing virtually unknown to my children. i turn it on, and love the slight pressure of dialing the big knob to scratchy low classical music. i tell her a story against the backdrop of some beethoven and pat her back until she breathes easy and her eyes droop low into a restful sleep.
* * *
when i was young, i went to sleep to the sound of the radio every night. i’m not sure how it started but maybe it was just like this – a bad dream child and a sleepy head parent both looking for a path to comfort and rest. my father set up the heavy glossy receiver in my room and each evening i would turn the big round knob to a radio station on which a low throated man was gently calling out songs all night long. sometimes i memorized the more popular evening lyrics and wrote down snippets the next morning before school. when a massive ice storm struck town and we had no electricity for several weeks, my dad bought a generator to run essentials at home. and even though power was precious and we otherwise sat huddled around the gas stove in our small kitchen and took frosty cold showers, he hooked up the radio so i could sleep at night. it was one of my father’s most affectionate gestures and i never forgot it.
* * *
now, my father has been dead a good long time and my mother has died too. my recollections of their love are small and dim and i strain to hear these distant memories through the static reception of the radio speaker.
all of this i remember aloud while i sit with my daughter. i’m not even certain she hears all of my story.
i leave the radio in her room for several days in case she wants it again, in case she wants this memory too. but she does not : she has her own happy memories and many more good nights than i did as a girl.
at week’s end, i tuck the silent radio into storage.
I am forever caught off guard by the beauty of the light of each fading day – with my heart caught in my throat, knowing that what I witness cannot be contained in words or photos, even if I were to make the effort – and tonight it was so true again: the autumnal sun sank in a slow deep blaze that lit the sky with fierce red hues.
In this busy life, I almost stopped the car on the turnpike simply to watch time pass.
I think in the coming days I will try to act on that impulse more often : to stand still and let natural grace unfold before me. Even if I find it on the side of a road.
half empty, still too crowded
I sit separate yet with others,
not by myself.
swaying with the rhythm of
I think out loud
and say inside my head:
when there is nothing left
but the words
then – and then – I will be what I am,
stripped down essence
but now I sit alone not by myself
burdened by what I cannot shed,
working toward losing
swaying to the rhythm of
unhappy voids for the perfectionist:
above average but
never the best and
occasionally just not good at all
Children at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris several years ago…..
Nous sommes unis, my dear friends. May we turn the hearts of the lost and the wicked with the courage of our love and the bravery of our joy.
She fell in love with the sounds of baseball in late fall –
those of the game itself: the thick crack of a ball against wood,
the crunchy grind of dusty slide to base,
the smack of fast leather into a catcher’s mitt.
but also: the quiet commentary of the local announcers,
with their odd turns of phrase – analytical slapstick –
the interesting but completely irrelevant statistics, and
the slow steady pace during which fans learn
so much about each player, the sum of his life story
unfolding with each run or pitch or swing of the bat
to be tallied forever on a grimy scorecard.
I traded texts with my sister
about her furitive plans to honor
our mother, a Buddhist
in a Baptist land of hellfire and brimstone.
I read of her rebellious triumphs, now mine too,
small things with significance only to us
and to our dead mother:
The direction our mother faced in death.
How to hide her prayer beads on her corpse
so the evangelicals wouldn’t take them away.
The dress my sister wore.
And I sat in my office, in black, while
a fragile bird crashed into my window
over and over again.
My mother died – though, as a victim of Alzheimer’s, she had been lost for months already. I felt some relief at the news of her death and her release from a confused and isolating suffering.
And then, I felt nothing – a numbness to this sharp finality – my usual protective defense. I went to work. I even laughed a bit. I felt like I was hiding something that everyone could see. But no one said anything, of course, and I was comforted by the veil of normalcy to my day.
In the night, however, old unshaped fears gripped me : and I lay awake wondering how to grieve for the loss of a mother I never really felt I had. This was a grief I had already carried my whole life; only now there was a literal loss as well and a layer of unspoken public expectation about how I should feel.
I pondered the future state of my fractured relationships with siblings. I played out my immediate interactions – the funeral – on a cranky movie reel in my head and shuddered at the idea of mourning with them. In fact, by dawn, I had decided I could not attend the funeral and could not continue to try desperately to mend broken family bonds with the freakshow that was my biological lot in life. I didn’t have articulate reasons and I didn’t care. Could not was going to be enough for me now, no matter what kind of criticism might come with that.
That long night : all the anxieties of my entire childhood lay in bed with me all through the dark, twisting up around my neck in a chokehold and somehow – for once – I didn’t even really have words to form properly around my thoughts and emotions. Just a big fog of s c a r e d
But I woke up like I always do and I got ready for the day, like I always do. Except in the final minutes of the night, I had resolved not to let myself be numb to it – even though it was frightening and left me wordless. I wanted to accept it and let it go – if for no other reason than to get some rest for the next chapter of my life.