30 December 2009

One Year

It's been one year since my phone rang and rather than answer right away, I looked to the sky.

I have that habit: don't answer, don't look, don't read, don't ask, then it won't be true.

I read a line in a poem once, "honesty doesn't change the truth."

One year has passed and I still ache now like I ached then, worse, sometimes even.

Like the surface wound has settled into my bones, a permanent ache that is trickier than the others. It isn't necessarily the rain or cold that brings it on, it's sometimes little things: an orange push-up, a dirt road, an accent, a baseball, an old church.

You never know where those little things lie in wait.

After my grandfather passed, within the year, my grandmother lost two of her brothers. She was telling me the other day, tears in her eyes, how she had talked to her cousin and out of habit, picked up the phone to call her brother.

It was all I could do to remain seated, to not run, to quell the panic in my chest, to instead just sit and reach out for her hand and cry with her.

Part of the pain of this grief is the grief that it causes the people that I love the most.

I miss him, still, incredibly.

I don't think anymore that this will fade or ebb or become easier. I hope that one day it will become manageable. I hope that one day I will be able to take an orange push-up into my hands and not want to weep. I hope that one day I won't so suddenly be taken aback by his loss that it renders me to tears, no matter where I am or what I'm doing.

I hope that one day I will only laugh when I recall him; his smile, his eyes, his heart. I know that is how he would want it to be.

And that is part of why I miss him so much.

Always, Gramps, until we meet again.

He had the gift
of stopping time
& listening well
so that it was easy
to hear who
we could become

& that was the future
he held safe
for each of us
in his great heart

you may ask, what now?
& I hope you understand
when we speak softly
among ourselves
& do not answer
just yet

for our future
is no longer the same
without him

Story People, Listening Well

24 December 2009

The Seventh Day of Christmas: Hope

I was trying to clean up my blog instead of actually cleaning my house (It's defensible act: far more people see my blog than my house) and I came across a post that I wrote in January. It took me back a step or two, specifically these paragraphs:

I was driving home on Christmas Day, which wasn't part of the holiday plans. I was going to stay at my parents for much longer, except an extreme case of something awful kicked in, and I've yet to put my finger on what it was. 

Turns out that feeling lonely when you're laying on the couch watching "Love Actually" one more time is an entirely different kind of lonely than the type that you feel when you are surrounded by those that you love. Because that kind of lonely isn't nice like his sister. His sister just sort of settles in and makes herself at home, occasionally sending up a pang or two, but mostly is a good renter. Her brother, more of the violent sort that your parents might ask you to avoid because they are a tad put off by the tattoo on his neck. Doesn't play well with others. Punches below the belt. I tried explaining this to my Dad on Christmas Day when I was simultaneously packing and sobbing.

On New Years Day, I was driving and singing along to "Long December", specifically, "and there's reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last"....

What I want you to know is that if I could package anything up to all of you on this seventh day of Christmas, it would be Hope.

The blogging world is amazing, and what stuns me on a daily basis is how moved I am by what I read, and how connected I feel to those that put the words out there. Not one day has gone by when I haven't thought of many of you and said a little prayer, or dreamed a little dream for you.

I know this time of the year is hard. I know we've all suffered losses and hurts and pains that we think no one else can possibly imagine or know. I understand how isolating and heavy that kind of aching is. I don't deny it's real.

I understand the gasping when you catch a glimpse of yourself and wonder who that is. I have felt your frustration when you're trying to figure out how on earth you're going to make it all work. My cheeks have burned with the same shame over what your body looks like when you glance at someone that has the same number of kids and yet pulls off a bikini while you're wearing your sweats. I've felt the pangs of insecurity when you stand quietly to the side, because you're certain you have nothing of value to give to anyone.

But today, I'd like to give you Hope. Even just a little. Even if it comes in the form of a tear, or a small turning upward of a corner of your mouth, or a "whatever", followed by a small thought of, "well, maybe".

Holding on when you feel there is nothing to grasp is hard, but I'm offering to you that if you just let Hope in, even just a little, it will blossom. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, or next month, or even (sorry) next year, but just try to keep it inside of you, in a small part, where it can get some sun and fresh air and occasional rain. Then I'd ask that once it blossoms, you take part of that plant and pass it along to someone else that needs it. You'll know them when you see them.

On this seventh day: Hope. You don't have to wait for Christmas, you can open it today.

14 December 2009

Long December

"A long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving
Oh the days go by so fast."

Counting Crows, Long December

* * *

Big A's great-grandmother passed away last week and today, in an old church in a small town, I attended her funeral.

I went to pay my respects to her fathers' family and, honestly, to see how Big A was processing, or not processing, her grief.

It wasn't until about two hours before the service that the knot in my stomach set in. The last funeral I'd attended in an old church was my grandfather's.

When I'm in public places and it's not appropriate to tap my chest or rub my neck, instead I move my feet incessantly, crossing my legs, rolling my ankles. In order to breathe, I need to be moving.

* * *

The thought of this Christmas almost paralyzes me; my grandfather gone. With absolute certainty, I know that everyone else feels his loss deeply as well; it is a testament to the man that he was.

It's just that sometimes I wonder if anyone else in the room is feeling the same way I am, if they are finding themselves walking down the aisles of grocery stores and suddenly, a memory, a scent and instantly the loss is so crushing that their next breath is painful.

If they are faking their way through smiles and politeness and days while choking back sobs when his blue eyes and distinct laughter come to mind?

* * *

I've always been like this; always felt a little off from the rest of the world; it's why writing here has been such a relief to me--to know that elsewhere there were people that as children were consumed with thoughts about the animals lying on the side of the road, moths with broken wings, the lives of the most deprived and tormented at school.

It's a blanket of comfort to know that other parents might find it perfectly acceptable that the loss of the last of baby fat might render you stunned; to find kinship among the world, people that feel the same, think the same, people that understand when I say sometimes I feel consumed with how fast this life is passing me by.

"Why would you even think about that," he said when I told him that what was wrong was that I couldn't get my mind off that little girl in Florida.

"How do you not think about that?" I asked.

* * *

Big A and Little A are vastly different when it comes to expressing their emotions. Big A boxes hers up and stores them away, Little A wears them on her sleeves and thinks nothing of suddenly changing topics from laughter to stating, "I miss Smoosh. I miss Jessie. I miss my grandpa up the hill." When she does this, Big A hardens and hisses at her.

I've tried talking to Big A about expressing emotions, but she comes by this compression honestly. Her dad openly admits he doesn't do this easily. I am relieved, to many ends that she has someone so similar to her.

The other day when I was driving, I glanced back at Little A. She was staring up at the clouds, her lips moving, her little pointer finger weaving magic at the world passing by. My heart ached; the thought of that dreamy life, what it might mean for her.

I don't want her dropping to her knees someday to grieve my loss, shattering glasses, staring out windows, weeping in showers.

* * *

"What's going on?" Big A asked me, about a month ago as I was standing at the kitchen sink with tears quietly streaming down my face.

"I miss Grandpa so much," I replied.

"Mom". It wasn't a question, it wasn't an annoyance, it wasn't her mocking me. It was a simple statement, like she could finally see me for me and loved me anyway.

* * *

And here we are, back to December. Back to an old church, a funeral in a small town, snow falling outside.

All in all, Big A did well. Following the service, her grandmother noted that Big A seemed to take it harder than any of them; she had barely wept. Her dad hugged her and said he knew it was hard to be sad around his family.

Part of me was relieved.

Mostly the part of me that walked out to my car, put my head on the steering wheel and wept about a man that I loved beyond words, a red truck traveling down a dirt road, a Christmas without him, a loss I cannot express.

I was tapping my chest as I drove away.

* * *

12 December 2009

First Blood

I'd be lying if I told you it was the first time.

The first time, it was Kirk Gibson. I was sick with grief for weeks, months, years, after the Tigers traded him--what was I supposed to do now with my childhood poster dreams?

Following that my aunt left unannounced for Florida; I still remember running as fast as I could up a dirt trail, choking back sobs, to my grandparents home after my mom told me, only to verify that what she had said was true.

Later my aunt sent home a picture with her and Gibson-she had run into him somehow. It seemed fitting, I knew even then through my tears.

* * *

When I met the one who would wound me next, I was eighteen.

It was a hot, sunny day and we were on a beach in northern Michigan. The introduction was also the end; the blue of his eyes shook me-my knees knocked, my heart raced, I had no idea what was happening, but I went anyways.

Later that summer, I left my innocence there, swimming in the waves of the beach of my youth--again, with the fitting.

I saved the piece of paper that I had written his phone number down on the first time he called me. It was barely legible, my hand was shaking that bad.

I remember, months later, laying in my cousin Mike's apartment, hazy from the booze we'd consumed and ears ringing from the music we'd danced to, smoke hanging on me like a gauzy shirt. Mike was laying on the floor, I was laying on the couch, with one leg hanging off, he looked at me and said, "When you love someone that much, no matter how it ends, it won't end well."

He had an apartment at that time that was right on the beach, his windows were open and I heard the waves pounding on the shore. I remember closing my eyes and the roller-coaster feeling, murmuring, "I know."

The waves grew louder.

* * *

Initially, we thought that there were ways around the end. I'd attend a different college, he could move to a different town.

There are things that transcend all probability and reason; I've seen them.

This was not one of them.

Each day after class, I would walk in the door and the first words out of my mouth would be, "Did he call?" I'm not sure who it hurt more, me or her, each time she shook her head no.

Until the day I woke up and stared at my ceiling and thought, "No more. I'm not asking today."

When I arrived home I complained about classes and political science and papers that I had to write.

The air seemed heavier, but I ignored it when I breathed in. I knew, I know now, on some level, so it shouldn't have rocked me as much as it did that night sitting on the couch.

"What," I said, giving up, looking at her.

She didn't answer at first. A piece of yarn on the blanket, rolling through her hand. I knew, then.

"You didn't ask today." She looked up, finally, at me. There was already a tear streaming down my face.

"He called," I said. "Yes." She looked back down.

I don't remember what country was the destination point of the final letter that I mailed to him. I remember my knees buckling when I got the call that he was getting married; they'd always been my weakness around him.

There were not enough miles to run, stadium stairs to pound, boys in the intramural basketball league to chew up and spit out.

After that, it was I who did the wounding.

* * *

What does that mean today? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

* * *

I remember his dad visiting me, years later...I was braiding Big A's hair. He said to me, "I'm sorry about him. I wish I knew what he was thinking." I laughed him off--it didn't matter anymore, I told him.

Do you understand when I tell you that I was sad that it didn't?

* * *

I don't have an ending for this, I just felt like it needed to be written, it was on my mind when I was staring at the ceiling.

I do know that if the woman that I am today were to meet the girl that I was on that beach, before I met him, with the possibility of sending her off before knowing the blues of his eyes, I would hug her and send her headfirst, running down the dunes anyway.

And I'd tell her to take better care of her knees.

08 December 2009

100 Words

I accepted a challenge from a friend, write a story in 100 words or less. Here is my submission:


So many photos.

Real or created memories?

A barn with basketball hoops.

A dirt road.

A wood truck.

Forts and clouds.

A black mustang.










A line in the dirt, born from my toe stopping the swing the first time I didn't jump. I wasn't afraid of falling when I landed; I was afraid of what people would say if I fell.

Middle school.

The cruelty of girls.

High school.

The cruelty of "popular" people.


The mystery of fate.









What if?


03 December 2009

The Art of Living

"All the art of living is a fine mingling of letting go and holding on."
Havelock Ellis

* * *

I let go today.

For anyone that knows me, they may be surprised. I was surprised, initially.

I was listening to a client droning on about why he didn't accomplish the *two* things I asked him to, again, looked at the files piled up against my bed, and then glanced outside to look at one of my favorite sights: The bird feeder outside my window. The cardinals are back.

As he continued with his excuses, I flipped through his file, through all the work that I had done for him, and thought, "I don't need to save him. I don't need to save him to save me."

Each window outside our home has a bird feeder outside of it. I pulled back all the shades today so that I could see them. Most of them were empty.

The thing about the birds is that they are forgiving. Leave town for a week and return with feeders bare and no chirping to be heard, walk outside with sunflower seed and almost immediately, despite your neglect, you hear them sing.

You say it's primal, it's their own need to feed themselves, it isn't for me, personally. They are oblivious of me. They could care less who I am.

This isn't a new concept to me, I tell you. I know oblivious.

When I offer them things in my out-stretched hands, they sing their praise to me as they circle and finally land upon my fingers. That is something; they see me.

I've many gifts tucked away, gifts I haven't been able to give, things I crafted and perfected and offered, cautiously, carefully, eagerly--oh, when they see this, I won't be invisible anymore! And I pretend not to care when I return, hands still full, heart ragged and I smile and say, "it's not a big deal," and go to my office and turn on my computer and pull out a blue file: Who shall I help tonight?

Because God forbid the person that I help might be myself.

Until today.

Laying in my bed, my computer resting on me, him telling me the stress of having been up late on the wii and losing his bus pass and could I call him in like two hours because no, he doesn't have any of the 17 cards I've given him with my number on it, all those papers in the file!

All those hours of MY! LIFE! that I'd given well beyond the wages I earned for him.

The hours that I handed over to him; far more than any other professional in my field would consider giving and he cannot program my number? He cannot return a piece of paper?

He thinks nothing to think not of me at all.

I told him I'd call him; knowing that I wouldn't, knowing that he wouldn't notice that I didn't.

Instead I wrote his closure recommendation and breathed deep. I would have been crying, before, letting someone go like that, writing I don't believe there is hope for them. Today I just breathed relief.

Within three minutes of sending that recommendation, the phone rang. I smiled at the number.

"Ms. Jenn!" She squealed; my smile spread quickly, too quickly it turned out; I forget the blisters from the fever still, and soon I felt the blood draw to the surface and grabbed a tissue and watched it turn bright red.

"Ms. Jenn! You won't believe this! I have four interviews within the next week! Four! Just like you said, give it three to four weeks and they'd call!"

She named the employers and I continued to smile; I know she will find work soon--good work-- and I know she will be grateful and I know from experience that a year from now, I could pass her on the street and she would stop and hug me and tell me how I changed her life. A stranger, really, she is to me and yet I know she would do this; she will always remember me. She will be shocked to know that I will so easily remember her.

I will hold her always, with many others that I know have genuinely wanted help and a chance and someone to recognize what they were holding in their out-stretched palms.

They are always amazed at my kindness, they say at our last meeting when I give them a card and a hug and tell them anything they need, they can always call. It's never my letter writing, my coaching, my gut-wrenching honesty, my driving them to interviews. It's always my kindness that they say they will remember.

I like that about me.

"I have no idea what the hell you saw in a fuck-up like me," one of my favorite clients said in our closure session. He'd been on the brink of disaster when I first met him; he was 97 days into full-time employment, with benefits, and his house payments were current again the day we said goodbye.

And breaching all protocol, my voice wavering, no attempts to hide the tears spilling from my eyes when I grabbed his hands, looked directly at him and said, "I saw myself."

"Fuck," he said, wiping his face. "I gotta go. Can't be late. Jenn would kick my ass." And we smiled and hugged and when he left, I looked at the tears on his paperwork. At some point this past year, he sent me an email with the picture of his newborn daughter and he told me how "fucking blown away" he was with her. I told him to make sure he told her this. "How could I not fucking tell her?" He asked. "I'm fucking living for her." I'll hold onto him always.

If I've learned anything of late, it is that there are things worth holding and there are things that you just cannot hold anymore because the weight is too much. It is time to dust off those gifts and give them to someone else; they are gifts; they do me no good here; perhaps they were meant for the new recipients all along.

* * *

“One problem with gazing too frequently into the past is that we may turn around to find the future has run out on us.”
Michael Cibenko

30 November 2009

Post Mortem

I drove myself into the ER this morning having decided four days of 104-105 temps with a body wracked in pain was enough. (I remember my sister had a t-shirt with a dead cow depicted, flat on its back, legs straight in the air. It said, "No really, I'm fine".)

Turns out I now have a severe kidney infection. Hospitalization severe, except I forgot that I had kids and wanted to come home. "How? How can I have this? Do you know how many anti-biotics I'm on?"

"You'll need to call your primary care physician, today. He needs these results."
In the meantime, IV Cipro, ten days of Cipro.

I'm tired now.

Not just in the physical sense but tired in a sense that I hate about me this year.

I was looking at my legs shaking on the table and realized how much muscle I've lost since my surgery. I haven't run much since. Hard to do when you are dragging a leg behind you. And I wondered then, "I wonder if he knew. If, in those last seconds, he put a hand to his chest and thought 'my body has betrayed me'."

When I was ten, my uncle died at the age of 26 while playing in a basketball tournament.

It was a cold, cold night in February and my parents had gone with my grandparents to the Valentine's Ball at the Lions Club. We were home with Aunt C when the phone rang.

A raced to get it and, still I see in slow motion, her pulling the phone from her ear, eyes wide, staring into mine, running to me. "It's Aunt M. She's screaming." She clung to my long nightgown (we had matching ones) as I pushed her behind me and turned to watch C fall to her knees, screaming, a howl I've heard from one human since.

I walked over to take the phone from her. M was still screaming on the other end. I quietly, softly tiptoed over and hung it up. C crawled to the couch, picked up her coat and said, "I need to go outside. It's OK, I need to go outside." She smiled, a lie, in our honor, to shield us, to save us. It is now, recalling this, that I weep with her slow transition out of my life.

The Parent Trap was on. We watched the TV in horror, listening to her screams from our porch. I looked out at her, the clear sky, the bright moon shining down, on her knees, rocking, her breath visible in the air as it staggered, jagged and torn, from her chest.

I took the kids and I told them we were going to be OK. We would be safe. I got their pillows and our afghans and put them in the walk-in closet in the front room.

"Nothing bad will find us here," I promised. But it did.

My aunt M arrived, then another. My parents did not. I directed the girls to change their prayers. The damn prayers of a Catholic. My parents were gone because I meant to run over A's foot with the Big Wheel. My parents were gone because I thought bad thoughts about my CCD teacher. I'm angry, still, that I didn't know a kinder God then.

"Please let it be anyone but mom and dad. Please let it be anyone but mom and dad."

Our hands clasped together, murmuring over and over, louder and louder as the sobs outside the door permeated within.

My mother walked in and got us out of the closet and put us into the bed that A and I shared. "Where is dad?" "He's here; he's outside." "What is happening mom?" She told us that our uncle was sick and kissed our foreheads.

A and I took turns crawling down the hall each time we heard a car, a new voice.

"The priest," She reported.

"A man with blond hair," I informed.

"They are talking about what to do with his dog and car," A whispered.

I crept down the stairs and finally saw my grandparents. Gram had on a long turquoise dress. She was shaking. We didn't go down again.

We laid in that bed, hands, arms, legs entwined, waiting. We didn't know for what, but we waited.

My mother gathered us in the morning and took us to the couch. "I have to tell you something hard. Something sad."

I try to imagine looking into the eyes of my children now, to deliver to them what she had to say to us.

"Uncle K is gone." We sat.

"Uncle K died." We wailed.

She gathered us into our afghans and rocked us all.

My father came out, finally, and we watched from the kitchen. A man of little emotion, a rock. He picked up the phone to call the subcontractors that worked for the family business.

"Yeah, Bill, we, uh, we won't be, we aren't..." And the howling, the piercing scream, I heard again as he fell to his knees and my mother took the phone.

We looked at each other and we locked legs under the table.

Now, as an adult, I understand what happened next. The thought, quickly pushed away, the thought of that loss; I understand now.

I understood not then as we were divided amongst our mom's siblings and taken to their homes, screaming, pounding the windows, "No! No! We'll be good. We'll be quiet, please, no!" My eyes went from mom to A, our palms on the windows, our eyes locked.

I thought I would never see her again. I was insane with a new grief.

We didn't know of death until then, so this was confusing. Young people died? Why not Busi? Why not Dzia-Dzia? Why him? Are we next? Are mom and dad next? Who is next? How do you know? How do you sleep again? What if we never left the house? Would you die then? How do you dribble a basketball ever again?

I went back to school ten days later, a shell, I know of what I was.

I was in the third grade.

My best friend, Lill, sat in silence with me on the playground for days until one day we laughed.

I was in the third.grade.

We had selected poems to memorize and read aloud in January, in a different time, a different world.

I had selected "If Nancy Hanks Came To Town", a poem about what Abe Lincoln's mother would ask of him if she came back as a ghost. The opening stanza:
If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Seeking news
Of what she loved most,
She'd ask first
"Where's my son?
What's happened to Abe?
What's he done?"

It was the first time writing made me weep. My teacher, her small frame belying her large soul, pulled me aside. "I thought that maybe you would want to read this instead. You don't have to memorize it, you can just read it and be done, OK?" I nodded and began to read:

Whose woods these are, I think I know,
His house is in the village though....

It wasn't until years later that I understood exactly what she had done for me that day. How she had probably given it so much thought, how she somehow knew that one day I would still love to read so much that I would discover his words, too, spoke of death, of what lies ahead.

I thought of her and wept at her kindness when for the first time, in the first home that I owned, I painted by hand that poem unto my wall.

It took me days.

It took me a lifetime.

I wonder now, my body once one that was strong and hard and muscled, what he thought then. If he ever understood what had happened. I hope not. I hope he thought, "Oh God, I'm going to fall," and began to laugh, never knowing there would be no arising from this faltering.

On my last day of third grade, my teacher handed me a folded paper. "I thought that someday you might understand this. I will never forget you."

In her perfect handwriting, I read:

To An Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

It meant something then. It means something now. They are different, those things, but they still hold me.

So I wonder tonight, shaking as I type, unable to stop the chills, unable to not write, unable to sit on my left leg, unable to recognize the shape in the mirror. Lighter, now on the scale than when at my prime health and ironically, I feel heavier.

But I won't, always. No matter what it takes, I won't. One day, maybe not this week, not this year, not in the thaw of the next, but one day, I will turn from my driveway, my steady pace comforting me and think not of what lies behind, but what lies ahead.

My face will turn to the sun. I am a runner. It is my turn to run.

29 November 2009

I Got Kidney Stones for Thanksgiving & Other Holiday Miracles

This year while my relatives were gathered over a fowl and ten different desserts, I was huddled under my blankets, chattering profusely, willing the narcotics to work already. Oh, and peeing into a screen; I don't mean to leave out the fun parts.

I've yet to eat one single piece of pie and I'm bitter, so bitter that I took a banana pudding cup and mixed it with cool whip and after two bites, decided it wasn't a great idea and gave it to the dog instead.

I bided my time between pee breaks by reading magazines, surfing the net and taking part in telephone conversations that I most likely won't recall, except for my conversation with my sister, who said, "So you're not going to remember what I'm going to tell you then?" To which I told her yes I would and I typed up notes that now are quite humorous to read and were helpful in recollecting our little chat.


One of the last stops on the net that I found one evening was this one: http://twilightsaga.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Twilight_Saga_Characters

I went there because earlier in the week, I had watched both of the movies that are out and learned the following vampire "facts" from Adriana:

  • Vampires CAN go out during the day, but they have to avoid direct sunlight, NOT because they burn, but because they shine, like diamonds, and are easily identified from the beauty of the moment.
  • Despite my old school training regarding vampires, garlic, crosses and getting stabbed through the heart are not effective when killing a vampire or keeping it away. The only way to kill a vampire is to rip it apart, limb by limb, and then burn those limbs.
After sitting through the second movie, I couldn't wrap my brain around the concept that in both movies up to a pivotal point, vampires appeared to be very, very fast, could fly, and traveled the globe within minutes. However, in order to save Edwards "life"(?) they had to drive in a car, to an airport, after which you see a plane flying over the ocean, then drive a second fast car to the desired location. I told Big A I'd be OK with this if she could answer just one of these questions:
  • How did they get through airport security? On two continents?
  • Why didn't they just fly themselves, like through the air?
  • How did they get a rental car that fast, because we all know that is impossible?
  • If I agree to become a vampire, can I too own only very cool cars?
Anyway, back to reading that site: NOT a good idea when addled with narcotics and in a home completely alone. Just not. I doubt that the good vampires would be in my home when I have orchards full of deer that they subside off of, so I could only assume it would be the bad vampires coming for me.

According to my emails, I made only one on-line purchase during this three day period and actually needed what I ordered.


By Friday/Saturday early hours, my thought process was like this:

ME: Need to get up and pee.
ME: I am not moving again. I'll just pee the bed.
ME: How can I have the flu and kidney stones when I'm on a gazillion anti-biotics.
ME: Need to get up and pee.
ME: Fine.
ME: OMG. It hurts to move. Why are my clothes soaking wet? Did I pee the bed?
ME: From your fever, you asshole.
ME: I hope to God there are no vampires out there.

Exciting, I know.


My family that lack the mental fortitude of I went Christmas shopping on Friday morning at like 4:00 a.m. or something. They openly admitted they accomplished almost nothing, to which I laughed smugly until I reviewed my notes and found that A had to wrap Christmas presents, which meant that some were purchased. I suck at note-taking.


Today I am not taking any narcotics to see if I am actually still in pain or just high to the point of assuming I'm in pain, so then manifesting the symptoms of pain upon myself.

And today, the first person that revealed to me that there was a love more fierce than what I felt for those I loved the most turned eight.teen.

From this:

Jennifer Barko Joshua
To this:

Without so much as a warning. A bit of wisdom for you Bosh, as you venture into this thing called adulthood:

It's not the vampires, it's Time.

23 November 2009


What it meant today was different than what it meant two weeks ago. This grief changes shape so easily while I feel so unable to move.

Two stones, in our yard. Two markers, covered in flowers picked from all of our tear-stained hands. Two stones, "Peace" and "Love". Two stones, anchoring a part of me that I've yet been able to express adequately. Two lives, loved so very much and gone so very differently.

One ripped from me by a force that still leaves me with one hand tapping my chest or rubbing my neck or twisting my legs somehow. Anything to avoid the still, the quiet, the knowledge that there will no longer be the "one, two, three. pause. one, two, three. pause" drinks from her water dish at night. There will be no more three circles and a black body cradled to me under the covers, just her nose reaching out for air.

Writer Jennifer Barko Serving The Queens

She would sleep like that all night.

I wish I remembered now if I'd turned her three times before she laid to rest. That thought bothers me a lot. A lot more than it should, I know. But there are parts of my brain that don't stop working no matter how loudly I demand them to.

One broken, willing herself to stay, out of the sheer love that she had for me. I never would have thought that I had it within me--to hold the body of my best friend who doesn't want to leave and look into her beautiful brown eyes and know this is it, this is goodbye? I think now that I didn't have it in me, and I will be realizing that slowly, each time my hand reaches for her at my side, for many years.

She took many beautiful photos, but this was one of my favorites:

Constant Companion Jennifer Barko Serving The Queens

I titled it, "Constant Companion".
Wherever I was, she was as well.
Until the day I sent her from me.

What it meant today as I was facing down deadlines and calendars and thinking of the presents that I needed to buy was that for the first time in 16 years, there will be no gifts for The Smoosh and Jessie under our tree.

And there shall be no gifts for my grandfather under a tree hundreds of miles away, but that is another story.

This year meant to me a lot of loss; painful, wounding, sobbing on your knees loss. So much loss at times that I was afraid to face the next day, wondering what it would bring.

But still, I'm here. Not the same; I'll never be the same. But still, I'm here.

I feel that this year has written upon me "grief", over and over. I believe that I will recall this year always and feel cold and wrap my arms around myself.

I feel that this upcoming year, I shall write upon it instead "joy", over and over. I believe that I will recall next year always and tilt my face to the sky to greet the sun when I do.

I am a writer. And it is my turn to write.

10 October 2009

Signs of Certainty

Signs that a good time was certainly had by you the night before:
  • You awaken from a dream of drinking gallons of water to find yourself on your couch, fully clothed, down to your ballet slipper shoes, and have no immediate recollection of how you actually got there.

  • After squinting out of your contact laden eyes to assess the situation, hazy memories of a party with a band begin surfacing.

  • You check your phone for drunk dials and hit yourself in the forehead, simultaneously assuring yourself you couldn't have sounded that bad.

  • Upon rising, you wonder why your body is so sore. You honestly cannot imagine what you could have done until you go to pull your hair into a ponytail, then recollect making that same motion the previous evening. While you were playing basketball. Outdoors. For at least an hour. In ballet flat slippers. With a tall, athletic twelve year old boy. Who was sober.

  • You drag your butt up your stairs, unglue the contacts from your eyes, have a wrestling match with your clothes while trying to remove them, and wonder if anyone else is feeling this sick as well. You believe it's a sign that you weren't that drunk since you are not vomiting, then recall actually doing that the night before. You blame it on motion sickness from riding in the back seat, and believe that was definitely the case, for when you moved to sit on the center counsel after aforementioned vomiting, you were fine.

  • You lie semi-conscious on your bed and wonder how it was that not only yourself, but other very smart people, thought that another two gallons of margarita's was a good idea.

  • You answer your phone laughing when your friend calls and announces that she's never going out with you again. You note her sexy, raspy voice, but then don't comment upon it when she mentions vomiting several times.

  • Your poor designated driver friend, whom is always looking out for you and your queens, calls to see if you're alright. When you comment upon the haziness of awakening that morning, he tells you he didn't think you were going to make it up the stairs the night before, because when you hugged him goodbye, you almost tipped over. You cannot recall any of that. He notes that his wife is still sick and you wonder how many times he had to stop the van on the way home. You note to yourself that you must nominate him for sainthood.

  • Your mouth waters at the thought of all of the carbs (mac and cheese, coke, french fries) you are going to need to consume today in order to properly treat your hangover.

  • You keep randomly laughing out loud as more and more memories bring themselves to the surface.

  • You thank God countless times that you have been so blessed with the friends in your life.

The Dime Story, Part Two

Today is my first day along my new journey. I was going to post a picture of the sun shining through the trees that I saw this morning, but then this happened.

I was meeting with one of my first clients, and pulled out her brand new file and opened it up, something proceeded to fall to the floor.

"I wonder what that could be? The file is brand new", I said as I leaned over to look under my chair, expecting, perhaps, a paper clip.

Instead, I saw this:The Dime Story Jennifer Barko Serving The QueensYes, it's a dime.

I bit my lip and smiled through the tears that were threatening to spill over.

And now I'm off, to my next appointment, a new keepsake in my planner; yet one more reminder of things so much greater than I written in my heart.

25 September 2009

Goodbye, Again

Goodbye Again Jennifer Barko Jessie Serving The Queens
I don't know how to write about today.

If there are words for this kind of sorrow, I've not learned them yet.

I've willed her to go quietly in the night, but the constant companion and faithful friend that she is, she remains. Not who she once was, but still, who is?

I've finally come to a point where I cannot watch the indignity of what is to come any longer and cannot accept the pain in her life to delay pain in mine. Our vet will be here tonight, after her clinic closes, so that Jessie can be home with The Queens and I when she leaves this world and so much of my world leaves me.

Until then, she and I are heading outside and taking in this perfect fall day together like we've done so many times in the past 16 years, slower, with less ground covered, but together, until Goodbye.

15 September 2009

Small Truths

Turns out taking a running leap from the rocks of faith and attempting to soar was a good thing. I've always said if I could have any super-power, it would be the ability to fly, and if I could be any animal, it would be a bird, so I could soar.

It's just that time is so scarce now that I am struggling to manage it well. I always knew he was a thief--he was always up front about that: a wrinkle here; a brown spot there; a roll of baby fat overnight, vanished; a first step, then, seemingly within a heartbeat, a full-out racing child; a mother holding my hand, then I, a mother, holding my own daughters' hands.

And so it goes, this thing called life.

There are a few things that I kept telling myself while I was swimming through the hard stuff, and I keep telling myself those things still, for they kept me afloat. I haven't forgotten that there is something more that I want to do, except rather than telling myself that I possibly cannot change the world, I am now telling myself that I can--start small, then grow.

Here are a collection of things that I've taped up or memorized and kept close to me that I thought I'd put out there for you now, because I think that we all need those reminders, and if we feel like we don't, I can assure you that someone close to you does--perhaps not personally close, but maybe physically close--look around--I can tell you, without doubt, that you can spread hope, and that it once given to someone else, it continues to grow.

  • "When you're going through hell, keep going" (Winston Churchill; a magnet)
  • "Psst, here's a secret: Your last mortal thought will be: "Why did I take so many days-just like today-for granted"? (My favorite PostSecret card)
  • "Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be" (Celmentine Paddleford)
  • "People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful you will win some false friends and true enemies; Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may resent you; Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you've got anyway You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway". Associated with Mother Teresa, however, it was adapted from The Paradoxical Commandments by Kent Keith (1968)
  • Each day I'm grateful for a body that, despite some creaks and cracks, works, perfectly. I'm not in a wheelchair, I'm not missing any limbs, I might hate to get wet, but I can still run in the rain into the store from my parking spot a hundred spaces back. I can drive myself where I need to go. I can hug and see my children.
  • Despite having been at such a low at one point in my life, I can tell you now that I am grateful for it--I know, without fail, those that will stand by me, no matter what, and those that won't. I'm eternally blessed to be able to share my life with the people that love me, and I'm not going to devote anymore time to worrying about what others that ultimately don't care about me believe. It's a huge weight to remove--you should try it today.
And finally, the poster that I've carried with me for fifteen years:

14 September 2009

With Much Gratitude

Abrielle Barko Jennifer Barko Gratitude Ann Arbor

Dear Readers,

It is with much gratitude that I'd like to update you on my completely corrected and now hardly-existent condition.

Seems that in addition to being a miracle in general, I've managed to have my body grow and heal itself, so there will be no more kidney surgeries in my future, just check-up trips to The Big Hospital.

Following my day of torture and the purchase of whatever doughnuts I wanted (3 of them), we got to go and visit this disturbingly large bird, who was thrilled to be able to be photographed with me.

Thank you, dear readers, for all of the love you sent my way. If you'd like to order a picture, please send $10 and a self-addressed stamped envelope to me and I'll have my minions get on that.

Queen Little A

Posted by Picasa

03 September 2009

Five Feet Tall

We've begun a tradition in our home: On the first of each month, I measure the Queens.

Little A: Yep. I weally tall ta-day. Wike so tall. Hey, Ma, 'member when I was a wittle girl and I went outside and I picked up 'da 'fing and 'den 'dere was a bird and I want ta go see Smoosh in Doggy Heaven, Ma, 'cause I miss her so much. Yep. I tall ta-day Ma.

Big A: (Staring, appalled at the complete lack of structure and point in the above mentioned update) Well, I'm five feet tall.

Jesus Christ, what was that? No, what the hell was that? I recovered quickly from the sound of something moving within by pretending to cough and saying I needed to get some water.

- - - -

I don't think that I wrote about my panic attack? How I calmly said to the sitter that I wouldn't be right home because I was going to drive myself to the ER? Because I was certain I was having a heart attack and about to die and my feet and hands kept turning pure white and aching and I was sure that it was because my blood wasn't flowing properly and I kept telling myself that nothing was wrong, nothing was wrong, nothing was wrong, but my heart kept racing anyways and I could.not.breathe. and since I was able to tell myself that I knew I could physically breathe but still couldn't breathe, then I was probably in the throes of death and I should just get to the ER and hope I arrived in time for them to save me and I did and as I sat unable to stop wringing my hands and tapping my chest the doctor told me that no I wasn't dying that day and what I was suffering from was not a heart attack, but an anxiety attack and this is what sometimes happens to people who are under stress--are you under stress--are you depressed--have you had any life-altering changes lately--and a bitter laugh escaped with my tears and you should see your family physician and take these Xanax and you should try to sleep? No, I didn't mention that?

- - - -

That's probably because I'm ashamed of it, I think. Ashamed that I have this beautiful life and yet I cannot quit crying a lot of the time.

I remember the day that it started; it was cold and wintry and the sun was very bright and I was sitting on a bed, trying to weep quietly so as not to disturb anyone outside the door, but my niece came in anyway.

I was enraged with the concern, (he is fucking dead! can i not sit here and cry if i fucking want to! do i have to explain every detail of my goddamn life to everyone! can i not just have a few moments of peace where i can cry and not answer to anyone!) but I didn't say so. 

Instead I mumbled something and I buried it within me, and at times now I think that on that day, at that moment, I planted a seed and a monster has grown from it.

I had to keep myself in check, for Big A's eyes were upon me--if I acted as I wanted to, it would scare her. It would make her weep harder. It would make her ask questions that I couldn't answer.

As we drove to the church that day, I wept silently in the driver's seat and I sat in the pew and dug my nails deeply within my thigh and bit my lips and pushed away the hand that reached out trying to hold mine because I was afraid of what would happen to me if I held it instead.

About a month later, I was checking my email and realized that, no, there would be no more messages from him; I hadn't even really been aware that I was still looking for them. 

I tried, I really, really tried to stay focused on the good, on all I had, on the memories--but at the end of the day--actually, the beginnings of the days, for that is the only time I could cry, protected by the sound of the shower and the fan and the closed door--the loss was a truth I didn't know how to face: I'd never lost someone that I had loved so much. I didn't know how to explain that I was sadder now than I had been then, and so I explained nothing.

It was a few weeks later that I got hurt and it took weeks before I could have surgery, so in that time, I could blame my state on the pain--it was searing--and the drugs--they altered me. 

The length of my recovery and the well-documented pain that I would be in during that time provided an additional crutch for my tears...you'd cry too if you were in this much pain! You'd cry too if you had to take these medications! You'd cry too if you wanted to get off the medications and were dealing with withdrawals! You'd cry too if you had to go to rehab and be unable to even move your arm one inch! (You'd cry too if you weren't really sure why you were crying.)

- - - -

Then my dog died. The hours that followed: The screaming, the weeping, the frantic calls to my mother, the call to my sister where I just sat wailing into the phone, the call to my other sister, who brought out drugs, sweet drugs, and tried to hold my hand that I needed to keep twisting the fabric of my pants with in order to keep breathing and who had to sit with me on the floor as I told her the awful, gruesome details that I will not repeat again, to anyone, but for some reason needed to keep telling her, over and over, even though I knew each time I said them that it was causing her physical pain, and finally, the the last recollection of that day, her saying, "This hopefully will knock her out," as I swallowed another pill and prayed for the dark.

I stayed in bed for days. I don't remember them, but I know I did. I remember going in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, thinking to myself, "I need to brush my hair," and then saying aloud to the image looking back at me, "Fuck off." 

And I went back to bed.

- - - -

And finally, two weeks ago, I took Jessie back to the vet. She won't quit pacing. Her breathing is rapid. She is in a state of nearly constant panic. I wanted medication to calm her. I wanted stronger pain medications to ease her.

I couldn't stop weeping.

"I think you've really got to consider helping her out soon," she said as softly as possible, her hand on my shaking leg. "I know, it must seem unbearable right now, but I know how much you love her and that you want to do the right thing by her."

"It's too much," I sobbed into the phone. "It's too much."

- - - - 

And so I went home that night, and I rolled a medication bottle in my hand. And I debated with myself over and over and over again. And I put it back in the drawer where I had stored it, and picked it up again a few times.

And ultimately, I opened it up and I swallowed a pill.

- - - -

And so that brings us back to tonight and a scream disguised as a whisper, one daughter rambling of her bygone days as a 'wittle girl, another daughter five feet tall, a decision balancing in the air.

- - - -

Big A is five feet tall.

I miss my grandfather.

Big A is five feet tall.

I miss my dog and everything about her and I wish I could erase the memory of her last minute on this earth, but I can't.

Big A is five feet tall.

I don't want to let go of Jessie.

Big A is five feet tall.

I need to show her how to stand as such, and I cannot do that from my knees.

Big A is five feet tall.

But I am taller. For now. And I'll be damned if she thinks that just because she's going to be taller than me someday that she will ever beat me at a game of hoops.

- - - -

Game on, 2009, you miserable bitch of a year. I'm gonna go barn-style, old-school: no blood, no foul; no clock; first one to "mercy" loses. Let's just see which one of us is standing on January 1st of next year--if I were you, I'd put my money on the chick with the white high-top Puma's who has a kid who is five feet tall.

15 August 2009

The Edge of Goodbye

"There isn't anymore that you can do for her, except care for her. She will probably have a couple of good months left." The vet paused as though she expected me to speak, but I couldn't. "Call me when...call me when you are ready." I nodded my head and smiled, the salt of my tears burning my tongue.

"Let's go, Beauty Queen," I nudged her and she peered at me, rising slowly, but still with the wag of her tail.

12 August 2009

Signs, Hope, Angels-Not Always What We Think

All around us, I know that they are; I just forget that sometimes, especially lately.

Remember him? It's OK, I wouldn't blame you if you'd forgotten--he'd crossed my mind now and then, but as of late, mostly then. I happened to check an old email account yesterday when I came across this message that had been sent to me two days ago:

On Sat, Aug 8, 2009 at 9:37 AM, wrote:
Hi Jenn,
I am sorry if I am wrong but I think you were they Good Samaritan that picked me off of US 127 heading south sometimes around June 2008.
I was going to the court in Ithaca and my engine blew up. I was driving a navy blue Audi Quattro car. You stopped and not only did you take me to Ithaca but you went inside the court house with me to testify as to the fact that my engine did blow up. This was something I will live to remember!!!!
I was going through my files this morning and I saw a complementary card which I guess was the same one you gave me at the court house when you were leaving. If you were not the person I am thinking you are, I am sorry to have bothered you.
I wish you a nice weekend.

After I quit crying, I messaged him back, to which he replied:

Hi Jenn,
I am so glad we were able to reconnect after such a long time. You know people talk about Angels as if they are invisible entities. You were my Angel that day and the fact you went inside the court house with me was like a miracle. I strongly believe in what goes round comes round. There is nothing I can do for you that can repay your good did. No money, which unfortunately I don’t even have (lol) would be enough to show my appreciation. Everywhere you go, I wish you compassion and favor in multiple folds of the one you showed toward me.
I read Physics at both undergraduate and graduate but presently taking graduate classes in Computer Science to have another graduate degree in Computer Science. I also work as an IT person with the District Library. If you ever need my assistance in any way or form, please do not hesitate to let me know.
I also hope we’ll keep the line of communication opened.

Signs, angels, hope--all around--turns out maybe I wasn't the savior that day.

10 August 2009

No More

The thought startled me upon its arrival; appearing without so much as a warning, then taking up room to stay for what appears to be an extended period, easing its way into what was left of the peaceful ruminations in my mind.

I've met the point in my life, I am certain, where if time stopped tomorrow, I would be quite well with it. No longer do my tomorrows hold promises of something new and exciting, or even, honestly, anything that I greatly anticipate or look forward to.

I recall, with great detail, as a child how time was met with such an eager force; the special days on the calendar marked with bright circles: my birthday, the first day of school, Christmas. I also recall, with great detail, the first year that I dreaded the holidays and willed myself to not feel as such. Truth be told, they've been a lie since that year, I just try to fake it for my family. If I could have anything for the holidays, it would be simple innocence again. It would be to believe, if just for a minute, again, with the faith of a child, in anything. 

I am mercilessly aware that without fail, if time continues to be mostly kind and my children continue to thrive, one day soon, Big A will awaken and be taller than me. It will happen as it did the morning that I reached to her wrist to kiss the last of her baby fat, only to find it gone, leaving in its gaping wake a gasp and sob and a woman weeping in the shower who had to leave two meetings that day in order to compose herself.

Little A will become not so little and there will be a day, somehow, despite my strongest wishes otherwise, that I will no longer be able to hold her to me. I will reach to pick her up and it will not be possible and I will try to smile and make light of the fact that she has grown so much as my heart will be breaking into a thousand pieces inside of me.

My two aged dogs will one day very soon, most likely be leaving this home that they have made with me for the past sixteen years, and I am telling you simply: I cannot bear this thought. I will be wrecked, permanently; scarred in ways that will not heal.

My career cannot get better, at least not to me on the levels that matter. My accomplishments are enough, what I want, what I want so very badly is to have this life, for life.

I think of my grandmother, who within this year alone has already buried her husband and two brothers. I think of my grandfather still and cannot remain composed; it is an ache, a wound, a missing piece that I am beginning to recognize will not come to be filled.

I cannot help but think of the progression of time; I try to speak of the beauty of the world to my kids, the gratitude I have for our lives, the love that I have in my heart, and the words come out not as words, but tears. I stare out the window into a place that doesn't exist anymore, Big A asking what I'm thinking about. I'm afraid to answer that I'm thinking of how I miss sleeping with my sister and the sound of her laughter and the comfort of knowing that she was there, even on the nights that I hated her deeply for being such.

I am, most likely, by some outsider and all insider accounts, a verifiable mess. Big A said to me the other day, "Let me know when you're done with your mental breakdown," as I stood sobbing in the kitchen over the thought of nothing in particular, but time in general.

The best, friends, is no longer yet to come.

The best lies asleep in their beds at this moment.

The best sits next to me under our willow tree as we watch the dogs and girls run about.

The best lives in my memory, riding the imaginary school bus in our hallway, towels used as our flowing hair.

The best lives spreading out a blue flowered quilt under the summer sun with a picnic basket and reading to me repeatedly storybooks.

The best exists within Tiger Stadium, not Comerica Park, the 1984 Tigers running rampant around the bases.

The best drives a red lumber truck down a dirt road that exists no more.

Time, you son of a bitch. If I thought it would make a difference, I'd beg and plead and bolt my doors and rip the calendars from my walls and smash the clocks with my clenched fists. But knowing that you are as merciless as you are steady, instead I will continue to try to smile through whatever it is that is happening to me, and hug my Queens and express my gratitude for what I've been given in this lifetime. You've broken my heart and I'm going to wear it on my sleeve, a warrior's badge, tattered and torn, but still mine to wear. You won't take that from me as well.