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How selfish mourning is.
It neither benefits nor honors the dead.
It will be nine years this year since I lost my father, and eight since I lost my mother. To all outward appearances, I am reconciled to that loss, which is all one can ever be. You never get over it, you just readjust.
Except in dreams.
In dreams, such as last night’s, they live. And they die all over again.
Those are the worst dreams, where you go home, you see them, they give you food and advice, and you talk about when you can get time off work to see them again, the conscious self crossing swords with the unconscious self to accept and deny reality, and then, slowly in the dream, there comes the dawning that they are both dead.
It as if they have died all over again. And in the dream, you have that same sense of endless emptiness that you experienced only then, in reality, except without the comforts of reality to sustain you. That feeling creeps into your waking consciousness and you awake, eyes closed, wondering where in the world you are, and why this weight is filling your closed eyes with tears and if the wind outside that is brushing the chimes is warm or cold.
You remember that your childhood house, now in dreams, strangely borrowed and restored to your memory of it, is now remodeled. The green shag carpet and the books are gone from the living room, the knotty pine cabinets and red cracked ice table are gone from the kitchen. The new owners have the put the refrigerator in a place that does not make sense.
You look out your bedroom window now, on a January day, and see that the snow has melted some, and know that there are daffodils eking their way out of the old ground somewhere, and remember the buttery smell of thousands of daffodils from your childhood.
You do not know what to do with yourself.
So you write about it, before you get up to feed the cat and make coffee. And you wonder about the weight of the human heart.
Once upon a time, a little girl lived with her brother, her mother, and her father in a happy brick house in a smallish sort of town. It never got too terribly cold in this smallish sort of town, but winter still did come, as winter does to every town, not matter how big or small.
The little girl’s father loved to walk. And the little girl loved her father very much. He worked a lot, and most days, no matter how hot or cold or wet or dry, her father would walk to work. He would make his way down the cement sidewalks from the happy brick house, around the dangerous yucca plant by the mailbox on the corner next to the old infirmary, and between the tall pillars in the stone wall that surrounded the university campus. Then he would walk briskly past the acres of green grass and majestic buildings with their white marble columns and tall casement windows, down the little hill, and beneath the dark underpass, where the trains ran clickity-clackity above his head. He kept going still, for miles, past the tangled thicket of woods, past tall, fragrant pine trees, and past wide meadows, until he reached his work. It seemed to the little girl that is was a very long way to walk, but she knew that walking made her father happy.
The little girl and her father used to take walks together on the weekends. She loved their walks, when it was just the two of them, and he would hold her small cold hand in his big warm one, and they would talk about everything. They walked in the spring, when she would see the leaves starting to emerge from their slumbers. They walked in the summer, when she would take her shoes off and feel the soft grass beneath her feet. They walked in the fall, when she would kick through ankle-deep piles of crunchy brown leaves. They walked in winter, when her mother would wrap her feet in plastic bags to keep them warm inside her tall red boots.
One day, the whole family decided to walk together. To decorate the happy brick house for Christmas, they were going to gather branches in the tangled thicket of woods that her father passed each day on his way to work. The little girl wasn’t very happy about taking this long walk, because it was very long, and that day it was VERY cold, so cold that there was even some snow on the ground. Her mother dressed her warmly, in her little red coat, and her white hat with the pom on the top and the black and orange pattern around it, with its matching mittens. The little girl loved her hat and mittens. She thought they were the prettiest things she’d ever seen (after the Easter bonnet and parasol purse her grandmother had given her), and since she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold her father’s hand the whole way (because her brother was there), she was happy to have them to help keep her warm. But she was still grumpy about the walk.
They walked and walked and the little girl was so cold, and exceedingly grumpy because no one would carry her. After what seemed like weeks, they reached the tangled thicket. The whole family tromped across the snow to enter the woods, and began to collect branches and boughs and sprigs in bags to adorn the house. The little girl’s mittens kept getting stuck on the branches, so she took them off and tucked them in her coat pocket. It got colder and colder, and then dusk started to settle into the shadows of the trees and the family started for home. But when they had left the thicket, and the little girl went to put her mittens on…. one of them was gone. She began to cry. She begged her parents to go back and look for it, but to no avail. They promised her a new pair of mittens, but she was inconsolable. She knew that mitten would be cold and lost and lonely and would never know why it had been abandoned. She wept as if her heart would break, and would not be comforted. Not even when her Mother told her that it had probably become a nest to keep some baby animal warm.
Years passed, and the little girl grew and grew, as all little girls will, until she was a young woman. She had never forgotten her lost mitten, and, as a rational person, she found this odd. She knew that she had lost many things over the years. Why had the loss of one small mitten been so profound?
At 17, she found herself walking back to that same thicket, which was much less dense and tangled than it had been so many years ago, to look for the mitten. She knew it was beyond fanciful, but she felt she could not leave the now not-quite-so-smallish town without looking for it one last time.
Of course, she didn’t find the mitten.
More years passed, and the woman, who was not quite so young anymore, had moved thousands of miles away from the town, that was now an actually-pretty-big-town. She herself had a little girl, and the little girl, probably because she was so close to the ground, had a wonderful talent for finding small and beautiful things whenever they went anywhere. She would find coins and marbles and jewelry and all sorts of treasures.
She made the woman remember the mitten.
One day, when the dog ate one of her little girl’s favorite little winter gloves (which were black with bright orange and red flames) and she could not be consoled, the woman went to shop after shop until she found another pair that was exactly the same. She knew just how her little girl felt.
Even more years passed, as years do, and the woman’s little girl became a young woman herself, so the woman went to work in the big city. Because of her daughter, the woman still kept an eye out for treasures that others had lost, and whenever she found something, like a hat, or a nice pen, or a handkerchief, she would put it somewhere up off the ground, near the place she found it, in case the person who lost it came back looking for it. She never knew if they did, but she hoped. She hoped that they did, and that they would be happy when they found it again.
The woman still loved to walk, just like her father had. One day, the woman was walking briskly down the street in the big city, for it was a cold winter day. She was going to meet her fiancé for lunch, and she was very happy because she had been able to stop to pet a pug named Duke, and she was wearing her favorite sparkly earrings, which were old and unique, and which swayed and played softly about her ear lobes and made her feel pretty. When she got to the restaurant, she hugged her beloved, and took off her hat and realized…. one of her lovely, sparkly earrings was gone.
The woman was sad. She knew it was silly to be sad. She had reached an age where she knew that things were just things, and that everything goes the way of all flesh, and you can’t take it with you, and numerous other platitudes that people tell themselves to make themselves feel better when they lose something they were fond of.
She knew in her heart that she was still just a little girl who had lost her mitten.
She kissed her fiancé goodbye and walked back down the busy street, back the way she had come, back to work, with her eyes on the ground, looking for a small sparkly earring among the shiny patches of ice on the sidewalk. She knew the chances of ever seeing it again were so slim that they were nearly invisible. She crossed where the buses ran, looking for a telltale sign of crushed crystal and gold. She passed the planter where she had stopped to pet Duke the Pug. And out of the corner of her eye, on the corner of the last planter in the row, someone had carefully set a sparkly dangly earring, just so, so that in case the person who had lost it came looking, they would be sure to see it, if they had faith, and if they noticed.
The woman knew that there was another kindred soul in the big city who understood about lost things.
And for the rest of the day, the woman (and the little girl inside her) smiled with her eyes and her mouth and her heart.
This struck my fancy. I miss letters – actual letters that arrive in a mailbox, not emails, which are nice, but just not the same. I always used to write my letters on onion-skin paper – does anyone but me remember that kind of paper? It had a lightness, a sheerness to it, that made it seem more romantic somehow, more classic. And of course, I always needed just the right pen. I think that’s a characteristic of most writers, that need for the perfect instrument to spill our hearts and words onto paper. Hope you are all having a lovely week.
Quote of the day: “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Watching a pink sunset at Topsail on the Jolly Roger webcam
That the grass is still emerald green in October
Mr. P, my new travel pillow
Lunches with MKL
Olives and feta
I have books brewing in my head, three of them, and I started work again on my first novel, so I’m excited. I told Kelsea that each book would pay for one year of college. So I’d better get on with it. I had forgotten that when I am in writing mode, I lose track of everything else. I got lost walking down a city block today. Fortunately, I was holding MKL’s hand, so he kept me from getting run over or covered in paint from the workers on scaffolding.
Topsail Beach, North Carolina.
Quote of the day: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth
The man with the turquoise tennis shoes on the bench this morning
Swirls and spurts of creativity
Good hair days
This was (and probably still is) one of my sister (inlaw)’s favorite songs. (I call her my sister (inlaw) as opposed to my sister-in-law because I’m no longer married to her husband’s brother, but she and I are more like sisters than he and my ex-Pat are like the actual brothers that they are. Generally, we just introduce each other as “my sister” and do the explaining later. I guess that kind of makes us like sister outlaws. And we both have some outlaw in us anyway.) Gracious, I am parenthetical today.
My sister (inlaw) and her husband are now living on the road, which is a perfect retirement lifestyle for them. As life currently stands, I don’t get on the road as often as I used to, but I am blessed with a partner who loves road trips. My first “big date” with MKL was a drive. While I didn’t know it at the time, this trip was kind of a test (though I suppose every early date is.) MKL is a car guy. He loves cars. When he is stressed, he lapses into “carspeak.” It relaxes him. I have learned a ton about cars from him. He knows his stuff and he explains it well. We do have a happy agreement that sometimes, he will go past my point of comprehension and it starts sounding like “blah blah blah” to me; at that point, he can stop talking or continue talking, but we both know I won’t be understanding anything. He gives me a warning when he knows he’s about to start going “blah blah blah.”
While he didn’t need a car girl, he was hoping to find someone who enjoyed the road, and who was enjoyable to be in a car with – hence, the test of the first big date. If I had cringed about high speeds, or whined that I wanted to get out of the car, or been a total bore, or not shared some love of music, I don’t think we’d be where we are now. But I do love the road, love to move, love to drive, love to see all kinds of things, love the sound of his voice, love our conversations, and love (most of) his musical tastes. We drove for something like seven hours that day – up to Leadville to see the reclaimed molybdenum (isn’t that the best word ever) mines (which look like beautiful rice paddies now as opposed to the alien public swimming pools they used to resemble) over to Buena Vista (now one of our favorite spots) for lunch at Casa del Sol, and then following the Arkansas River to Canon City and back up to my home north of Denver.
We are excellent travelling partners on the road of life.
My wanderlust has been in high gear this year and due to finances and work, I haven’t been able to indulge it much – our lovely trip to Anna Maria Island in February, and I think we made one trip to Cottonwood Hot Springs (but that could be my wishful thinking) before the fire there – and that’s been it. So I am super eager to get away for a few days, see new places, revisit places I haven’t been to in decades, and spend time with MKL. This will be our first road trip in my truck, which has seen me (and Kelsea) across the country and back, and has proven herself a faithful steed.
I won’t tell you where we’re going, so the pictures will be a surprise! If I have internet, I’ll try to talk to you from the road, but if I don’t, then I’ll see you when I get back!
I am blessed to work across the street from the marvelous Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. The Tattered (as we so fondly call it) has tiptoed in and out of my life in Colorado up until now.
Decades ago, ex-Pat took me to Denver early in our dating years. At that time, the hip, trendy place now known as LoDo was still a long stretch of abandoned warehouses that served rail freight companies once upon a time. There were no sidewalks, only weedy and cracked asphalt streets. He boosted me up onto one of the old concrete loading docks because I wanted to see what it felt like up there. Homeless people were sleeping in ragged heaps in the deserted doorways. It was very quiet. There was a dangerous feel to the place. The two holdovers from the area’s glory days were Union Station, Denver’s railroad depot, and the Tattered. Entering that magical bookstore was like being transported into a fantasy come to life. It felt old and full of treasures, with creaky wooden floors and cushy deep chairs. We didn’t stay, as Pat wasn’t a fan of bookstores, and I suspect we were in search of champagne, but our brief visit remained bright in my memory.
Even though Boulder is only 25 miles distant from Denver, it was not a place I went often, until I started working downtown. About six years ago, I tried taking Kelsea to the Tattered, and I couldn’t find it. It was as if it had vanished. I thought I knew where I was going. I even looked it up on Google Maps. But it completely eluded me, and I decided that it must have gone the way of all flesh – or of many independent bookstores – and closed. The updated Tattered Cover, locate on Colfax Avenue in a former record store, was a disappointing shadow of my memory.
In some secret space of my mind, I believe that it had hidden itself from me on that day, using a building-sized invisibility cloak. I didn’t need it then, and so it was not available to me.
A year later, I stumbled upon it one lovely blue Saturday when I was downtown, after I had turned my life upside-down. I wandered around inside, completely bewildered, because I knew that I had been here before, and I knew that, the last time I looked for it, it had been gone. But yet, here it was. And here I was, baffled, but delighted.
After a cruel turn of events, when my life again capsized, the ropes I tossed out pulled me to this job across the street, where most days, I have the pleasure playing with words, and I am privileged to call myself a writer. I still make the distinction between the writing job that pays, and my own writing, which doesn’t, but I am a writer regardless. A dream come true, even if it is not right now exactly how I would have dreamed it.
The Tattered has played a large role in my courtship with MKL, which really started from another of those lifelines I tossed out back when I was drowning two years ago. We work at opposite ends of the 16th Street Mall, and so we have lunch together nearly every day, which has allowed our relationship to bloom in a different way than if we were having only weekend dates full of playing and passion. We have had a chance to talk more than most couples do when they are dating, perhaps more than most couples who have been together for many years. Tattered, where they now serve soups and sandwiches, coffee and tea, has been one of our favorite destinations, and the staff all know us there, and think we’re adorable. When one of us shows up without the other, we usually have to explain.
This morning, I stopped in to see if I could find an impulse card for him. None of the cards felt right today, but I did. I had been feeling anxious, as I have been feeling for some days now, and being in the Tattered soothed me. I found books to add to my “Desiderata” list, along with a sense of peace and quiet delight.
I have gone there to shed tears and to find silence. I have felt heartbreak and joy within its comforting walls. I have listened to favorite authors, found friends, and reveled in the feel and scent of books.
If a place can be an anchor, the Tattered is one for me. Not an anchor in the sense that it keeps me from moving. An anchor in that it provides me with a sense of timeless security, of stability. It reflects my past and my future, breathes whispers of my parents and the places I was raised, and reminds me that there are always new words waiting to be discovered, some of them my own.
I stepped too close,
found myself looking into a dark hole
that held my future
which looked like nothing.
The edge of that abyss
that is called depression
When hope feels as hard to find
a shards of glass in moving water,
and light is as faint as the echo
of a match blown out,
that edge crawls with seductive whispers,
Never forget that depression lies.
A Frozen Spring
First a winter that would not cool, and now a spring that will not warm.
Snow flies thick as fruit flies on old bananas in summer,
Heavy flakes full of the icy tears of angels crying for the lush heat of heaven.
The cold crushes spirits, makes us walk with heads bowed
not in prayer, but in submission, or perhaps penitence,
as we watch our world disappear in a swirl of unforgiving white.
I am still, crumpled in despair by a garden
never to bloom or so it feels,
the only heat that of my blood as it pulses slower, slower,
through my fading body.
(Note to readers: Even though National Poetry Writing Month officially ended yesterday, I realized that I am seven poems short, so I am going to make up for the missing verses. Besides, I’m really enjoying writing poems again.)
The shadows surround each parked car,
swallowing hoods and fenders,
lurking in front of darkened headlights,
stealing away as my eye
catches their evil.
and have a Mexican stand-off
in the middle of the street,
dashing off angrily in opposite directions
when I approach.
A dog barks deeply
the sound lingering
in my backyard,
spreading out thickly through the
cool, damp, air.
I do not have a dog.
It is snowing in May.
I tremble from exhaustion,
fumble with the light switches
curl up in a soft bed
and live inside my dreams.
Across The Bar
At a certain time of afternoon,
The sun spills across the tops of the mountains
peeking out beneath a layer of cool woolen clouds,
Bathing lucky in souls in rapt light
Turning the ordinary into gold
And each of us – briefly -