Birthday

It is the birthday of one of my oldest and dearest friends today.  Facebook was kind enough to send me a reminder yesterday-Outlook too.  I had to smirk for just a moment because for the first time in probably the history of our friendship, I had not forgotten. I had remembered it on my own.  He would have laughed at this, he would have appreciated the irony.  The year I finally remembered, is the first birthday he is not here with us.

My feed this morning is filled with his face, pictures of him laughing and smiling with family and friends.  Memories are being shared across the miles.  They are like a quick punch in the gut for a moment, sneaking up on me and stealing my breath.  He is in his uniform, handsome and proud.  He is dancing at his wedding, his face filled with joy as he holds his new bride.  He is on his bike in the woods, jumping logs and racing downhill.  He is hugging his girls and laughing with them.

He was my rock, my constant, from the time I was barely a teenager, to the day he died.  No matter what trouble I found myself in, what mess I made, he was there for me.  Always.

I don’t think that I said enough before he was gone-I love you, or thank you.  It happened so quickly, that I did not even get to say goodbye.  I called, and it was too late.  He couldn’t speak-the cancer had moved to his brain.  My chance to say all of the things I wanted to was gone.  Just like that.

There are so many things in life I do not understand, that I will never understand.  There are things that religion, and spirituality and faith cannot explain to me.  This is one of those things.  I struggle with the why….Why him? Why so soon after he found true love and true happiness?  Why, when he was so good, so kind? What sense does that make? How can your stories, myths, or beliefs make this right?

They can’t for me.

He died just six months after he danced at his wedding. His honeymoon was spent in the hospital.   There is no sense in that.  There never will be.

Today I will remember his laugh, deep and genuine.  I will remember his smile and his absolutely positive outlook on life.  I will be thankful for the years of unconditional friendship he gave me.  I will whisper happy birthday, and let the tears fall, and hope that wherever he is now, he knows how much he is missed and loved.

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Untitled

My dreams have brought me back again

To places I don’t want to go.

With words I shall not say

And foes I would not name.

I woke with a hand on my shoulder

An unfinished hush in the air

And I was looking for someone

That was never really there.

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Dear Santa

My husband and I have moved into the quiet synchronicity that being married close to twenty years has allowed us. We rarely argue anymore, hardly disagree. Of course there are the little things-whether to eat out or in, if the children should do x, y, or z, but for the most part, we have truly become partners. I would be lying to you if I pretended it was always like this. Trust me when I say there have been knock down drag outs that I am both ashamed and embarrassed of now. But today, today we are on the same page about almost everything.

There is still just one tiny thing we cannot agree on.

That thing is Santa Claus.

C is twelve this year, next week actually and still believes. Yes, yes he does. Last year he saw the ‘Santa paper’ in the closet, recognized his father’s handwriting on the note and asked me tentatively if Santa was real. I could see the fear, hurt, and sadness in his eyes as he posed his question, and it tore me up. How could I crush him? How could I take the magic from him?

I could not. Oh, I did not promise he was real, living in a real house in the North Pole with Mrs. Clause and the elves. But I did tell him the magic was real. That if he wanted to believe, then yes Santa would continue to bring him gifts and yes, Charlie the (damn) elf would still appear December 1 and hide all over the house making sure he behaved. I told him that when you don’t believe, you still get gifts, Christmas is still about our traditions and the things we do as a family and that most things would not change at all. Except for the fact that mom and dad would now bring his gifts. He pondered this, big fat tears welling up in his eyes.

“But I don’t want Charlie to go away.”

I do. Of all things Christmas, that is the one thing I would be happy to let go of. But what could I say?

I reassured him once more that we would continue our traditions, Santa or no.

He looked at me for a long time, and I felt my own tears starting to fall. This was worse than watching him walk onto the bus for the first time, his backpack almost as big as he was, his tiny little smile and chubby hands waving at me from the window of the monstrous yellow bus.

This was worse-for both of us.

Our conversation went on for a few more minutes. I gently tried to lead him to his own conclusion, to his own realization of the truth. The wheels in his head kept spinning.

Finally, I asked him outright.

“Do you want me to tell you yes or no? Real or not?”

He looked at me for just a moment.

“No, “ he said. “And I don’t ever want to talk about this again.”

And so it was. He continued to play with whatever toy he had in front of him. I hugged him as hard as I could and went out to the garage to cry.

This year I wondered if he would let it go on his own. I wondered as the holiday approached if he would come to me and tell me he knew, just as he did with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Matter of fact.

But he did not. And as I tested him in tiny ways, he let me know unequivocally, that Santa still lives.

“Do you want to sit on Santa’s lap?” I asked at the Christmas tree farm. He did. A pinch of embarrassment for being one of the oldest kids to do so, mixed with a spot of excitement because even to me, that Santa looked real.

“Do we need to send Santa a list, and let him know we moved?” I prodded tentatively. We do not, because Santa sees everything he told me. “He knows where we are. “

My husband does not believe I should be continuing this charade. C is twelve, he argues. It is time.

But, why? Why is there a time? Why is there a deadline for magic and childhood? I don’t think there should be. I look at my son and I can still see his doughy feet and little belly. I can still curl up with him spooned into my body and smell his stinky boy smell. Why can’t we savor this to the very last? Why do I have to take the last bit of wonder and surprise away from us both?

I snuggled with him this morning, our daily ritual after the alarm goes off, and thought about other families and what they have told their kids and I would be lying if I did not think about the parents in Ferguson and Cleveland, and all of the other communities where violence and is the norm. I closed my eyes. What do they get to hold on to? What magic is still in their lives? Do you still believe in Santa when you watch your friends gunned down in the street? Do you care if Charlie the Elf knows you’re naughty when you don’t have heat, or enough to eat, or your parents don’t have a job? Is there magic in watching drug deals on the corner, or riots, looting, and protests. As a parent do you just tell them, flat out that there is no Santa, no magic man bringing Christmas, that this is life and all it’s ugliness so get used to it?

The thought makes me cringe, and want to cry once again.

This is why I believe. And this is why I let him believe. There is time enough for his childhood to be filled with tragedy and realities that I cannot take away. There are children that I cannot protect, that I cannot hold and comfort. There are parents that have no choice, no way to bring peace and calm and traditions home to their family this year, or any year. I do, I have a choice. So on this one, I will not concede to my husband and his sensibilities. I will diligently move the Elf, wrap the gifts in ‘Santa paper’, and leave out cookies and milk, and I will hold on to our magic just a little bit longer.

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Hidden Treasures

I have a love of antique shops; their dusty windows and creaking doors beckon me from the roadside whenever I travel. I cannot resist their hand painted signs that call out ‘Come in, we’re open!’ as I drive along. I have to stop. I have to go in. They are calling to me. I can hear the tinkle of the tarnished brass bell hanging above the door even before I turn the knob-the sound is that familiar.

The signs outside say ‘antique shop’, as they always do, but they rarely offer real antiques. They are more like junk shops, and honestly more of a shed than an actual shop, but the lure is the same.   Before I know it my hand is on the knob and I am calling out ‘hello’ to some shopkeeper hidden by dust and drapes.

I am comforted the instant I walk in. It is an odd aromatherapy for me inside these shops-the odors surround me and I cannot help but smile, relax and take it all in. Cedar and leather, stale paper, and old book bindings, ink and mothballs. The combination makes me dizzy with reflection.

It takes barely a moment before I am back at my grandparent’s house in CT. The setting sun across the street is stretching through the bay window, and it has lit the formal room on fire. The crystal on the hunt board, the one that now sits in my dining room, cracks and fractures the light and makes it dance on the keyboard of the piano against the wall. The dust is floating like glitter in the air, so slowly it almost looks still. I can see into the living room and my grandfather is there in his chair. It is plaid, the colors of fall-browns, red and gold; worn in the places his bony body sits most, where his elbows rest on the arms. His side table is heavy with his drink and his ashtray and a tendril of smoke carelessly makes its way to the window beside. I can smell the salt of the olives in his martini and the Sound in his clothes. His hands stink of tobacco and fish, of ink and paint. He has drawn all morning at his drafting table, and then fished all afternoon out on his beloved boat.

I can see her too, my grandmother, around the corner sitting on the long floral sofa. It’s garish colors-orange, green, day glow pink, make me wonder if long ago they had bright parties here, entertained their friends and filled the house with laughter. I can smell her perfume, delicate and soft, lightly floral, mixed with a fine dusting of baby powder. I can see her wild gray hair and bright red lipstick. She is doing the crossword, her glasses resting on the end of her nose, tall glass of seltzer on cobbler’s bench she uses as a coffee table. It is sweating on an aluminum coaster, like the very set I place my hand on just then in the junk shop.

I laugh out loud and startle myself, and the shop owner. He looks at me like I am a tad off, and maybe I am. I can’t help it. A set of aluminum coasters! An aluminum tray etched with a floral pattern barely worn! The floral pattern that matches the one on the bowl I have carried with me since she passed. How funny! My eyes start to scan the rest of the shelf and find it littered with memories that make me long for them, make me wish I could be with them both one more time. The Corningware casserole dish, the wooden level and planer, the aluminum percolator, all right here… just as they were there in their modest home and musky garage.

In the corner of the shop is a small cedar chest and I cannot stop myself from opening it. I am not at all curious what is in it-I don’t even care. I want to smell it. I want to take it in. Its contents are of no concern to me, for when I close my eyes and breathe in the richness of the wood, all I can see is corner of the living room where my grandmother kept the ‘toys’. Toys to us, though I am sure not what my children would consider entertaining now. No, these treasures, often scavenged from thrift shops themselves, were books and games, crayons and puzzles. Paper dolls and dress up clothes. And in a cedar chest, just like this, were old rubber stamps and inkpads from my grandfathers office-the most coveted ‘toys’ of all. Hours we spent with playing with them, until the light was too dim to see in that little corner of the house.

How strange I must seem to the man behind the counter. I have bought nothing. I have been in here for 15 minutes, or has it been more, and I have done nothing but laugh and smile, touch and smell the wares he has. I have been visiting with the past, spending time with my memories. The aromas that waft in and out of my mind rock me like the tide and have calmed me. I am leaving empty-handed, but full of gifts nonetheless.

I wonder where my children will go to remember me. What place will they wander when they want to be close to me? Will they too walk into a vintage store or antique shop and remember me, smell me and feel me in the air? I hope so. I remember for a time being saddened that I had no place to visit, no place to feel close to my grandparents. Both of them were cremated, their ashes scattered in the waters they worshiped, and when I moved away from the coast they felt lost to me. But they are not lost. I can find them anytime I want to-hidden in the least likely places. When I need to feel close to them I now know just where to go.

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Dream Dream Dream

I don’t like to dream.

There, I said it. And it is true. I don’t like to dream.

I am not talking about the daydreams, fantasies, wishes we all have. The somedays, the lofty goals, the rewards we work for.  I am talking about the dreams fill the night while we lay unsuspecting in our beds.

The word Dream makes us think of fairies and glitter and all things lovely.  Landscapes that are beyond those we see in real life, where people are painfully beautiful, and everything goes as planned-and then some. But I do not have those, or if I do, they are so few and far between I cannot recall them.

I wonder sometimes if I am the only one that wakes in a mood I cannot describe until much later in the day, when something, anything, brings a glimpse of the dream back into my consciousness. When my hand on a dish held just so will take me back to the moment in my mind and for a second I catch my breath and pause-trying to recall more than a blink of it. But I never can.

My dreams are filled with people I can barely recall, moments I wish to forget, conversations I wish I had, and closure I never got.  They follow me to my bedroom and wait for me in that deep, warm cocoon I make for myself every night.  Is my mind trying to forge endings where there were none?  Or tell me to let go of things that I am still holding on to, if only by a thread?  It is hard to say.  And if I had to write for you one dream or another from start to finish, to lay it out so that we could dissect it and discover its true origins, or find within the folds what message it has for me, I could not.  I am left in the morning with bits and pieces that make no sense, have no pattern, and reveal no secrets.

Much like confetti after a party….

I wake and look around the room for clues, for meaning, for understanding and find there is none. The dream is gone without so much as a waft of dust in it’s wake.  I am left with a mood that sinks to my bones and makes itself at home in my mind. I wander and wonder throughout the day, waiting for the clue to reveal itself when I am most unsuspecting.

Perhaps it is a side effect of reading and writing as I do, that I am in fact the one that calls out to these dreams and invites them to join me in my slumber.  Maybe as I coax the words out and onto the page, I am coaxing them as well, out of the shadows and recesses of my memories where they lay waiting to be set free?

If that is the case, then so be it.  If these dreams are the lost fragments of things I no longer need, that serve no purpose in my subconscious and that I will one day trip over if I don’t shake them free now, then so be it. Let me sleep.  Let me write and call to them by name, one by one, until I am left with none. Let me type until my fingers ache.  Until they dissipate and drift away with the morning sun rising one last time.

Until my dreams are full of fairies and glitter.

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Jane Doe

Does it matter who I am

whose words I dare to speak

whose memories I care to share?

The names are changed

to protect the innocent

and those that are not so much.

But why do I care?

Why should I hide

behind a thin veil

as if you won’t see

the gory bits of me

and the tiniest bits of you

still scattering across the page.

Does it matter who I am

or who I thought you were?

Does it matter how I felt

or how it makes you feel?

Should I change my name

and hide out, keeping my secrets?

would you not still see

the truth I share is as it was to me?

Jane Doe is who I am

Jane Doe is who you are

Leave your name tag on the floor

I won’t be needing it

and neither will you.

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Goodbye Kiss

You come to me in a dream

every morning

as the light starts to touch the windowsill.

A kiss as light as air,

gently on my forehead,

my cheek, my eyelids

So soft it is though I imagined it.

And then you are gone,

like the first breeze of spring,

barely there and then,

not.

I wake and wonder

if I felt it,

if you were there

were your lips on my skin,

did my body stir,

or was it just a beautiful illusion

passing through my sleepy head.

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Willy Wonka Takes Me Back

I have been working on another post all night and had to stop. I keep hearing that song over and over in my head and it is far too distracting.

“Ooompa Loompa …”

“But I want it NOW, Daddy!”

I can remember waiting for Willy Wonka and The Wizard of Oz to come on every year.  Back before Netflix and cable and VHS and DVD and OnDemand, back when you had to wait a whole year to watch your favorite movies and specials again.   Truthfully, The Wizard of Oz was always my favorite, but we could not wait to watch Willy Wonka every year either. We sat mesmerized, glued to the vivid imagery, the irresistible lure of candy, the magical tour of the factory. We had no clue how totally creepy Mr. Wonka was, or what wretched brats those children were. We were just enthralled by the magic that was the movie.

We didn’t mind commercials, those were built in bathroom breaks, a chance to run upstairs to get our dessert, for my father to make us a snack. Besides, without commercials, how would we know what to put on our Christmas list for Santa?

We waited for those holiday specials with almost as much excitement as we had for the holidays themselves. They were part of the whole tradition.

Ah…It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. What a love I have for the Peanuts gang, even now as an adult. Just the music can take me back.  But as I tried to share these things with my children, I realized too much has changed.

My kids thought Charlie Brown was boring.  They much preferred the new Willy Wonka to the old.  The Wizard of Oz was about a girl. Enough said.  Sadly, my husband and I find ourselves watching these classics from our youth by ourselves now. Like tonight.

Technology will always have the upper hand.  It will always offer us new alternatives, different options, and I am a fan most of it. But tonight it is making me just a bit sad.  We had fun watching movies together on the sofa in my parents living room. We snuggled under the afghan my grandmother crochet for us, ate the popcorn my father doused with butter after he popped it on the stovetop in a pot. We turned out the lights and pretended we were at the movies and were glued to our 20″ tv.  It was magic. It was not the least bit boring.

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Reblogged Sort of…

I am cheating tonight because I stayed up way to late last night writing. So I am reblogging sort of.  I actually did reblog, but to my photo site, and now I can’t reblog again, so here is a link.

READ. THIS. ESSAY.

I am going to print it. And highlight it like crazy. And then laminate it.  Because it is amazing. Because she knows just what to say.  Because it took my breath away.

I want to share a quote but I have so many I love, I can’t choose.

Just go. Now.  http://hannahbrencher.com/2014/11/04/this-is-just-the-night-talking/

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On Lessons, Lies and Lena Dunham

I am watching with great interest what I refer to as “Lena Dunham Debacle”.   I was a fan, sort of, of hers until recently. I watched-and enjoyed-Girls, and while I am much older than she, I could somewhat relate to the awkwardness and sadness of all she conveyed in the episodes I watched. (I admit I have not seen them all.) And for some time I followed her on Instagram and other social media outlets. But recently, and by recently I mean before her book came out and the shit storm began swirling, I lost interest in her. Her weirdness was no longer unique an authentic, it felt more like spin, like a persona she was trying on, and while at times I agreed with the message that she was trying to send, her methods were grating on my nerves.

This week she is caught up in the weirdness that she has created and cultivated into her brand. With her new ‘memoir’ hitting the stands she is not just a hero to those that sit a little left of center and the spokesperson for a generation that has no clear identity other than that they just are who they are and that should be good enough, she is now sitting smack in the middle of mainstream America. Perched at the number two spot on the NY Times Best Seller List, her book is being read by housewives and haters alike, by fans and followers, critics and cynics across the globe.

I use the term memoir loosely, since Dunham herself calls herself and ‘unreliable narrator’, and claims that she ‘adds an invented detail to every story she tells’, leaving us to wonder if her memoir should be filed under fiction or not. Regardless, she claims these are her tales to tell and her wisdom should be shared with the masses. And, I should add, while many of her reviews rave about her writing skills, her voice and her craft, just as many wonder what exactly she has learned at the ripe old age of 28, and if she has indeed learned anything, as they were unable to find it in the pages of her book.

The eye of the storm that she has brought upon herself is centered around the admissions that she, by most peoples standards, inappropriately touched her younger sister. That she masturbated while lying in bed next to her, and bribed her with candy for kisses. She even goes on to say that that “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”

The media, social and otherwise, the blogosphere, the tabloids and rags are all abuzz with this scandal, and Lena is perplexed and defensive, claiming it is out of context and completely within the realm of normal childhood curiosity. She seems utterly perplexed at what all the fuss is about, and in a odd rant accused the right wing newsies of fabricating the story.

Maybe in her house it was normal-who knows. But here is the thing about memoirs and personal essays, when you hit submit, or publish, post or print, you are opening the door to your house. You are inviting people in to your house, and introducing them to your family and anyone else you keep behind that door. You are sharing not just your secrets, you are sharing theirs, and in doing so you are bringing the storm down upon them as much as yourself.

It is not that I am not a fan of personal essays, I undoubtedly am. I find them cathartic and medicinal. A way of releasing memories and thoughts that so often hold me back, or keep me down. I find writing about something often guides me back to the path I should have been on, helps me find that thing I wasn’t even looking for. But when I write, I am mindful. I am aware that these are my memories, my recollections, and the mind has a way of altering things. The truths we hold in our hearts are often tainted with emotion, weathered with age, fragile and susceptible to embellishment. While I want to exorcise these things that fester in my head, release them so that I can move forward, I find there are things that I will publish, and things that I cannot. There are things that while they are helpful for me to write, would be hurtful for me to post.

I am fans of and friends with writers that disagree. Their raw honesty is amazing to me, but I cannot help but wonder what happens after.   After they publish, after they share, after their mother reads it, or after their children do. Everything we do, or say, or share and post has a ripple effect and we no longer have the opportunity to watch the waters calm into a glasslike film after a time-all evidence gone. Our words are indelible, etched into the Internet for years to come.   When my youngest son Google’s my name years from now, what do I want him to find? What do I want him to learn about me? I can choose (some of) that, I can control (some of) that, but do I have the right to expose my mother, my father, or siblings to the judgments of strangers and worse yet, my children and grandchildren? Is that fair?

Anne Lamott says “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better” and for the most part I agree. I have ex’s and enemies that deserve no love from me, no words of kindness, but what of those I love and that love me? Is it fair to write of their addictions, their shortcomings, their failures, even if it is part of my story? Do I have the right to open the door to their home, and bring out the skeletons in their closet?

Some days I wonder if this makes me less authentic as a writer or as a person, and I admit the balance can be hard. I recently wrote a piece and for the first time ever I let my husband read it before I posted it-it discussed part of our relationship so I felt like I should share it with him privately. Today, it is still sitting in my saved folder. He didn’t judge, and didn’t tell me not to, he just said very quietly, ‘That is so personal’. I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or not. I was proud of what I had written and it was personal-to me. But all of this is new to me and while I choose grow and heal by writing, I don’t want to destroy and damage at the same time.

I don’t want to filter, I want to own my truth, but with truth comes consequences and this is what I learned from Lena Dunham without ever having read her book. While Lena and her sister and their respective publicists will deny any wrong doing and claim the ‘out of context’ defense and dribble on about normal curiosity (despite the fact that a 28 year old woman just compared herself to a sexual predator), her story is out there and her consequences are just beginning. Just as quickly as she opened her door, she is closing it, telling us to stay out and not examine the skeletons she pulled out of the closet to parade for us, but it is too late. People are looking at her differently; they are discussing her parents, and questioning her upbringing. They are talking about patterns of abuse and signs of molestation. And we will never know the truth-what is going on behind that closed door. What damage has been done to the relationships in her life, with her mother and father, sister, friends or lovers? We will never know if that bit in her memoir was one of those she added fictional details to, or if she was being ironic and sarcastic, a sad attempt at her awkward humor, or if she did in fact molest her sister. We will never know if her sister really is ‘laughing so hard’ or if she will never speak to her again.

The only person that will know the whole truth to all of this is Lena, and it is doubtful anyone will believe a word she says anymore.

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