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