A life in threes

Month: November, 2013

Death’s season. (trigger warning)

*****Warning/Caution:  Possible triggers…descriptions of death/dying, death of a child, and grief, from a personal perspective****

(From November 13th 2013)

Last night, I spoke with my older sister who lives in Hawaii.

Over the weekend – while K and I were at FPG – my sister’s boyfriend died.

I know that he had been ill and in the hospital a week or so before, but the last time that I’d spoken to her, he’d been getting better, she had said.  Looking back on it, his illness seemed a weird respite from the appallingly stressful situation that their life together had become.

She had only begun to tell me the story.

She had been thinking of leaving him.

But now, she was telling me a different story.

She told me how he had left her on Thursday night, courtesy of several seemingly sudden multiple organ failures.

He was just 34 years old.

I don’t know, and there is a quality to that that seems surreal.

To think that two, perhaps three weeks ago, she was hiding in the bathroom of their apartment, sounding desperate, whispering hurriedly into the phone about how controlling he’d become, how abusive he was, his incredibly heartless and selfish he had been, and how hopeless her life had become.

She whispered and paused at intervals, because she feared talking about him as he was just on the other side of the wall, and she feared that he’d overhear her plans to leave him come January.


I noticed now, as she spoke of her grief at his death, that there wasn’t a catch in her voice.  One would have thought that, when she begun to tell me the details of how he had died on Thursday night, that she was simply relating the plot of a suspenseful film.  She was immersed in all of the smallest, most mundane details: what he had eaten on Wednesday, what he’d watched on TV, what he’d said just before he lay down less than 12 hours before his death.

Again, it was if she was reciting the details of an interesting television drama, but there was strange denial to her grief, I suppose, in the fact that she still spoke of him in the present tense, He does this….He says that…He is…

But then, then again, there is a catch in her voice there, there it is — when she tells me how she had been praying in that selfsame bathroom, whispered desperate prayers, asking God to help her get through this illness, this latest difficulty with him:  What can I do? Help me, Oh Lord, please help me…Help me help him to get better…

And her voice cracks and finally breaks when she tells me how she had lain next to him on their couch at 9 PM on Thursday night, and woke up to realize that oddly enough, he had fallen asleep holding her hand, with his fingers interlaced with hers.  Her hand, she explained, had been numb with pins and needles — and funny,  how it had frustrated her – but hadn’t struck her as too unusual at the time — that it had taken her several minutes to pry her fingers from his grip.

She began to cry then, explaining how strange it was that his body had been warm, but she couldn’t awaken him.

And then, she broke down in uncontrollable sobs as she described, haltingly, when she realized that she had mistaken the relentless thudding of her own heartbeat for his, and that’s why she called 911:

I looked and looked for his pulse and I listened for his heart, but then I got scared I couldn’t hear it because mine was so loud….I couldn’t hear it!

I devoutly wished that I could’ve comforted her somehow, listening to her sobs over the roar of blood in my own ears, trying to quiet my own heart as it hammered in my chest, as my brain chattered you cannot fathom, you cannot fathom that grief, and hating myself for that, for being so useless to her as she sobbed….

And then, almost as suddenly as she had begun to cry, she abruptly turned the discussion over to other topics, and she began a disjointed rapid-fire chatter about her memories of our father, complaints about our mother….

Then, she asked after the details of my camping weekend.

It was so surreal to find ourselves laughing, twenty minutes away from Death Who had just been standing so close to us.

My sister admits to feeling guilty, feeling scattered, desperate to fill up the spaces in the conversation.

She asks about my failing marriage.

We talk about it as if it is a difficult math problem that we could easily solve together if we follow some sort of prescribed set of steps, and she returns to discussing her boyfriend in the present tense: Oh he does that, too, she commiserates.  That sounds like something he says.

I don’t correct her.  I can’t bring myself to, but my heart breaks a little listening to her ragged, uneven breathing, and her voice cracking in odd places.

We are drowning, she drawls, suddenly suppressing a laugh, Our lives have both gone to hell.

So we talk of our kids.

She tells me about her plans for Thanksgiving, but things quickly devolve into reminiscence again — this week, last year, some Thanksgiving from years ago…and then, some particular difficulties of our shared childhood.

Again, Death returns, and clears Her throat, and my older sister and I are suddenly talking about the inexplicable death of our baby sister, when she was five, and I was three, on a horribly confusing day in August 1974.

We compare our strange, sharp memories of the weight of silence punctuated by sirens, or the useless distraction of the popsicles that we didn’t want to eat that melted down our shirts, and how no one thought to wipe our faces at all that day, because…because Death was sitting at our front porch, surrounded by flashing lights…and our mother was making a strangling keening wail unlike anything that we’d ever heard back then or since….

We agree on the fact that such grief as that can surely drive anyone insane

That is the sort of grief that certainly drove our mother insane, and maybe, she’d never recovered in some way.

Remember how it was, for the longest time after that, when she seemed out of touch with anything going on around her, but how she would shudder and stare off into fixed point just beyond our faces if we spoke to her?

These are the sorts of things we are talking about, the smallest details of that particular Thanksgiving, that haunted Christmas.

I miss him, but thank God it’s nowhere near a grief like that, my sister blurts out suddenly.

Nothing is unimportant, and yet everything seems profound as we talk, before the conversation wheels about again, turning to the mundane, the easy, the surface details of the present day:

Today is a school day, I say.  It is 4 AM here.

I look up and realize that we have been on the telephone for 9 hours.

This is how we get through.



This is the song that has been stuck in my head…




I’ll take it.

FPG Friday: A Koan and its Message – Anoja Seeks the Self

On Friday, I sat by the plug in the dining hall, waiting for my iPhone battery to charge.

To pass the time while I waited, I continued to read the Kindle sample from The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women, as compiled and edited by Zenshin Florence Caplow and Reigetsu Susan Moon.

‘Anoja Seeks the Self’ is the second koan discussed in the sample.  It is listed as being from India, 6th Century, BCE.

The gist of the koan, as I interpreted it:

Anoja seeks Buddha, after her husband, the king, Mahakappina, has left her and all of the kingdom to her, to seek Buddha.

Anoja thought to herself, ‘Surely, Buddha’s message, is not just for men.  I will go seek him.’

When she arrived, she heard the Buddha’s message, and she and her retinue sought and became the first of the four levels of Buddhist realization (‘stream-enterers’).

Meanwhile, Buddha had turned her husband invisible, and then,  Buddha asked Anoja:

 Do you seek the king (your husband) or do you seek the nature of the self?

Without hesitation, Anoja answered that she chose to seek the nature of her self.

Anoja knew that self-knowledge is a richer treasure, and more precious than any other in the kingdom.

More precious than any in the universe, in fact.


Upon reading this koan, several thoughts occurred to me, and suddenly gelled into a coherent whole that hinged upon the concepts related specifically to the word, precious.

Cultivating Le Petit Bonheur.

Oh, today.  I needed to hear this today:

There are times when it is hard to believe in the future, when we are temporarily just not brave enough. When this happens, concentrate on the present. Cultivate le petit bonheur (the little happiness) until courage returns. Look forward to the beauty of the next moment, the next hour, the promise of a good meal, sleep, a book, a movie, the likelihood that tonight the stars will shine and tomorrow the sun will shine. Sink roots into the present until the strength grows to think about tomorrow.

~ Ardis Whitman


And with that in mind, I am focusing on small things that make me happy.

Since our riding lawnmower is broken – its motor won’t start because the battery is perpetually dead – I bought another lawnmower today.

I bought a manual push mower.

Like the kind that you might see in a cartoon.

Like the kind that Ward Cleaver probably used.

The kind with rotary spinny-blades that have to be sharpened with…er, whetstones.

Like the kind that environmentalists (like my dad, or come to think of it, Freyr) could appreciate because they are entirely manual, therefore their use contributes to cleaner air, less noise pollution, and decreases one’s personal carbon footprint.

So.    Yes.

Finding ways towards being a little bit more environmentalist makes me happy.

(And I just think of the workout that I will get, mowing my 1/3 of an acre yard.  I almost can’t wait for it to get here, just for that fact alone.)

I had to order it online.   I was kinda delighted that they still exist – these rotary blade lawnmowers.

And you want to hear something funny/odd?

All the reviewers point out that, while they love the mower, many reviewers lament that their mowers needed to be replaced because manual mowers are more likely to be stolen because gasoline is expensive. 

Duly noted.


Oh, and speaking of my dad…

He died six years ago this October 20th, and being that this is the time of year when one may be moved to honor ancestors – especially in these last few days with Samhain, All Saints Day, Dia Del los Muertos , and the like – it seems almost magically fitting that my sister sent me this picture this morning:


That’s my dad…eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut, one of his most favorite things in the world.

He was dying of cancer when this picture was taken.  It was about three months before he lost his eye, and about two years before he died.

Even though my mother would get angry whenever my father would eat ‘junk food’ – she had him on a strict macrobiotic/organic diet that she believed would halt the growth of his cancer — he would never refuse the opportunity to eat a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Even if it got him in trouble with my mother.  Or made him sick afterwards.

So here’s to you, Dad.

Here’s to you cultivating your little happiness

The foolishness of every day.

Even before my life began to go straight to hell in a handbasket, I try to begin each day by going out for a walk.

Sometimes I will bring my dog, but lately, I have not.

Often, I will listen to music … but again, lately, I have not.

I try to go for these walks within time-frames and within spaces where I’m highly unlikely to run into any other people on the way.

This is why I prefer to walk on grass or dirt rather than on sidewalks or streets.

This is why I have always preferred my walks to occur very early in the morning, or very late at night.

This is why I prefer my prime destination to be the ‘middle of nowhere,’  or the in-between places – in the woods during winter, along deserted beaches in the off-season, or through abandoned parking lots in the economically depressed part of downtown.

(And, yes, I know: walking around the economically depressed part of downtown very late at night is likely to be asking for trouble, as I remember how my parents used to insist.  And, truth be told, the older I get, the less likely I want to risk that sort of danger.  I’m not a city girl at heart, and so I’ve come to prefer living in more rural places, since  I’d rather walk among trees, and underbrush, and dirt anyway.)

And when I’m feeling particularly desperate to be alone, a cemetery is always a sure thing.  (And even if I do see another person, it is highly unlikely that anyone is looking to strike up a conversation, or insist on a social interaction in a cemetery, I assure you.)


(Too bad that Florida doesn’t have very many cemeteries.  It’s hard to bury bodies in swampland.)


And so, with the latest turn of events, I have been looking for a time and a place to walk, and think, and be blissfully alone to sort out the jumble of my thoughts.

I’ve even abandoned listening to music.

Music has always been very emotional for me.   (Up until recently, I would have told you that I’d felt music was my daily salvation that would help me through damned near everything Life could throw at me,  and yet, the latest shufflings of my iPod have done nothing more than emotionally unhinging me at the most inopportune times.)

So I have given up listening to music for now.

Yes, I have been that melodramatic.

Truly, I am heartily sick and tired of myself.

And so, yesterday, I went out for a walk.

From previous experience, I’ve come to realize that to be out walking any time before 8 AM is my best bet.

I’d planned to avoid both the school bike/walker route, and the particularly favored dog-walking /jogging times and routes of all of my closest neighbors, so no walking on the sidewalk on the left side of the street that runs for three miles between my home and Walmart between 8:00 -11:00 AM.

Instead, I resolved to stick to walking in the grass as usual, on the opposite side of the road, weaving a path among the trees and creek that runs 500 feet from the road.   I actually planned to follow and walk along the drainage ditches if I had to, just to avoid any chance interaction with joggers, bike-riders, and dog walkers.

I thought for certain that I’d be alone.

Several months of walks have borne out this certainty.

At 7:00 AM, the ground is wet and soft and very muddy.

I decided to not care if my sneakers got ruined, or if they would take all day to dry afterwards.

I resolved not to care if mud and dead vegetation would be splattered up to my knees, or if  weed sticker pods scraped up my ankles or stuck in my socks.

I didn’t care.  I needed to walk.  I needed to walk and be alone.

Instead, much to my dismay, I was not.  It was not to be.

The main drainage ditch that runs along the creekbed behind the cul-de-sac of my neighborhood is being dug up by a construction company, under request of the town’s HOA, starting this week.

There are workmen everywhere.

Music blares from the cabs of  several pickup trucks; that seems to be the foreman’s truck over here, perhaps that is the crane operator’s truck over there….

That’s an easy-listening soft rock station playing –  which is uneasy listening for me — as I hear love song after love song:

I love you more today than yesterday/But not half as much as to-morrow…

followed by

Have I told you lately/That I love you?….

Or worst of all

When a man loves a woman…

Motown.  Soft rock.  Classic rock.

Yellow tape runs along the grass, several workers wave me over, telling me that I can’t walk over there, nor over here: why aren’t you using the sidewalks, m’am?  Be careful, watch your step…  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry, m’am.

I hear their laughter, their chatter, their arguments and complaints about the heat, and the wet, and the smell of earth as it is turned over and dumped in messy piles, smelling of dead vegetation and sewage.

I cross the street.   Ah, good.  No sidewalk.   Scrubby grass and underbrush, another drainage ditch.  I watch some waterbirds – some kind of spoonbill, some species of egret –  as they are hunting for insects.    I relax a little.

At least, I realize calmly, I can’t hear that damned music anymore, thank heavens.

I wipe my nose, heading off the tears that almost came.

I hate my thoughts.  I hate my raw feelings.

I hear a sharp sudden whistle behind me.  A man on a bike glides past me, apologizing for coming up behind me, startling me.  I step out of his way, feeling shaken and stupid for being startled.

I walk a little further.  A little dog runs out in front of me, having escaped a nearby yard, barking, growling, fronting at me.  I almost stepped on zir.

This also startles me, stops me short.

I hear a woman calling loudly for the dog.   I think that she saw me almost step on her dog.

Her eyes are hard, mouth screwed into an expression of irritation when I look in her direction.  I don’t know if her irritation is with me or with her dog.  I try not to let that bother me.

I keep walking.  I look over my shoulder briefly, and her gaze is still on me.  The dog is now squirming and grumbling in her arms.

I don’t know why I suddenly feel badly.

I am walking, slouched looking at my feet.  I try not to think.  I’m trying to shake a persistent earworm of a song that unhinges me that has suddenly arisen in my head.

I look up, and see a teenage couple holding hands walking up ahead of me.  I think about crossing the street, just to avoid them, just to avoid their laughter that I can hear, their smiling faces that I can see as they look at each other.

I feel stupid and melodramatic for wanting to avoid them.

It is 7:20 AM.

Where are all these people coming from?

On any other day, it seems, 7:20AM would be almost a guarantee that I’d be the only one walking here.

Tires crunching on gravel, yet another bicyclist edges past me, around me, trying to avoid the grass.

I’ve always thought that if I walked in the grass, in the dirt, that that would be yet another safeguard against having to deal with bicyclists, and walkers, and dogs, and neighbors.

But I guess not yesterday.

And today, there are no guarantees, either.

People are walking on the other side of the street.  Dogs nosing the grass.  Bicyclists trying hard to navigate that narrow strip of gravel that edges the pavement, because they’ve been told to stay off the sidewalks until the digging and roadwork are finished around here.




Today, I walked up along behind the school, where a neighborhood had begun to be built a few years ago.    Sidewalks had been put down, and some streetlights had been put up, but no houses yet.

The economy crashed before houses could be put up.

I used to walk my dog up there, because it was empty and quiet, and practically abandoned to overgrowth.

I used to see cows up there in the fenced in fields close by.  I don’t know whose cows they are, I don’t know where the farm that they are associated with might be.

Last week, I even had my driving lesson up here.

The connecting streets that wind around this someday-to-be neighborhood were empty.

There was not another car or person in sight for over an hour last week.

So, there, I thought that I’d have another guarantee.

Another place to be alone, to walk alone.

And yet, today, there were more than a few bicyclists.

And several joggers.

I came upon three teenage boys smoking dope sitting on a crumbling concrete pylon.

All before 7:45 AM.

I gave up.


Where can I go to just walk and be alone?

I look up at the sky, and inwardly wonder if such a place could exist for me right now.

Suddenly this all seems like an unusually cruel joke on me, as I am trying so fucking hard to avoid other human beings.

I’m trying to find a place wherein I don’t have to worry about inadvertent interactions with yappy little dogs, or apologetic bicyclists, or starry-eyed teenagers walking to school…or fuck it…just anyone. at. all.

I’m trying to find a space wherein I don’t have to suffer hearing heartfelt Motown favorites and soft-rock romance classics right now.

In fact, I don’t want to hear any music at all, actually.

I just want silence and peace and the comfort of same.

But how far do I have to walk from home?  Where can I escape to?

I want to get away from people, animals, sights and sounds, all the visual and aural reminders of people, places, and things – and memories! – that I’d rather not think about today, the damage, the mistakes, and the realities that I’d rather not face today…

I don’t want to think.

I don’t want to feel.

Angry.  Sad. Lonely.  Desperate.  Confused. Fragile.

I am crying so much.  I am hurting so much.  Dammit, it feels endless.

And so I pray:

Please.   Give me a break.

( But Don’t you love the life you’ve killed? runs the endless loop of one persistent earworm that I can’t seem to shake)

I find myself whispering aloud: I am dying.  Please.  PleaseStop.

But then, something occurs to me.

And that something is connected to how I can almost hear that low dry chuckle of my sweetest friend (who is not so sweet today), who would most certainly insist:

You are not dying.   But you are struggling.   That much is true.