Monday, January 31, 2005

The glass-blue days are those
when every color glows,
each shape and shadow shows.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

the pieces

"I am not sick, just broken." My mother says this to me over the phone yesterday. It is late afternoon and she is calling because my father has gotten the car stuck in a snowbank and is trying to shovel his way out. "You've got to come over and stop him." I hear her crying. "I have to remember, I am not sick, just broken, " she says again, and in her voice I hear the first timbre of emotional honesty that I have heard in a long time, the bald, raw admission of her state of being, of the rocks that she finds herself shipwrecked on. "I don't want to talk anymore. I just want to make a cup of tea. I'll see you soon."

By the time I get there, she is up and in the kitchen, fixing supper for my father and me again, not ordering us around or groaning, but pushing herself along the counters to get the napkins or the pepper herself. We sit at the table. She eats everything on her plate, swallowing it all. She tells us stories about Duxbury when she was growing up. She laughs, we laugh, and then she goes back to her room to eat her Jello and go to bed.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

oh, pink and frozen earth

The Dog gets me up and out onto the brittle snowpack, my steps and his echoing in the thick and twinkling black of an almost-dawn. I'm limping on a twisted knee and my arm hurts from being pulled too hard too many times by his leash as we make our way back into house under the stars. The coffee is waiting and hot. I start a day again.

The Boy called yesterday bursting with proud news of call-backs from his first auditions. I call his sister but only get her voicemail. I struggle with the enveloping loneliness of deepest winter, becoming a hermit in my house but unable to use this gift of time and health effectively. Waking up with the excitement of all the things I will tackle and accomplish, running out of mental gas by mid-afternoon.

Yesterday, primary care for my mother. My father went to New York for a couple of days. I am claustrophobic there, and guilty because of it. I want to flee the moment I arrive and am impatient both when she sleeps too much and when she wants to talk. I am impatient with the groaning, impatient with the slowness with which she moves, impatient that she can't remember what pills she is supposed to take when. Like gas poured in a line, the anger burns straight ahead, all around me, follows me back home and consumes the night into wasteful, surrendering ash.

Monday, January 24, 2005

my back porch this morning.....

the plow and the stars

the wind and snow have abated although occasional roars can still be heard from the northeast. the snow is up to the windows on the back porch and still no plow for the driveway. did not leave the house yesterday and fought my own anciness, as well as the demons by midday -- be productive, they screamed, this house is falling down around you. work on your novel. you've got a whole day with nowhere to go. do something. i shut them up with a nap, and by then it was time to cook a small dinner,watch the football game (which i don't understand or much like) and knit, which i am uniquely bad at, ripping out hours of work twice in order to get it right. poor Jack -- he was inside all day. we ventured out 2 or 3 times, but the wind was too strong for much of anything, so he hunkered down with me, waiting for the plow which never came. awake an hour or so ago, still not plowed-out. i will work from here for the morning and then head home.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

sunday 1-23-05

blizzard of 05

and so the winds roar out of the northeast at 60+ mph, and the snow keeps on coming, starting yesterday as i left hartford after dropping the Girl back at college after a long break, sorry to say good-bye all over again as our companionable weeks together came to an end. we decorated her room with a new quilt and rug, rearranged the furniture somewhat, stockpiled food on her shelves, and went out for subs before i dropped her off, into the waiting arms of friends as they arrived back, too. i headed towards the Farm, a very long two hours traversing secondary roads, just in line with the gathering storm. bone tired when i got here, but headed out to D's for a warm supper before the roads became impassable. it was a good time, one of the best that we have had together. a chicken. some pan fried potatoes. beans. an agreement as he poured his sambuca that if we were both alone when we were 75 that we would be together, take care of each other, and not die alone.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

later than usual

sunday morning and the only sounds, if there are sounds at all, are mine and the Dog's. the Boy and his friends left for home last night after a lush and savory dinner at a wonderful little restaurant, Nat Porters's, in Warren, Rhode Island. Crackling fires in the three dining rooms, and plates heaped with food. My father holding court at the head of the table, genuinely interested in the lives of the four twenty-something young actors, his grandson, of whom he is enormously proud, being one. I find myself unable to relax, managing everyoe's moods and tastes -- have we travelled too far afield, is everyone having a good time, what should i be talking about in order to connect with these fabulous kids, who am i as someone's mother, as someone's daughter, unable to leave any of these questions long enough to sit back and relish the meal and the moment.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

the days are getting longer

so quiet and so early. six o'clock on a saturday morning feels so much earlier than it does during the week. only the occasional car on the road outside. am headed to the Farm in an hour or so, delaying my usual thursday/friday departure until now because the house is full of my Boy and his NYU friends, sprawling into every corner of my treasured abode. i realize how much of a personal, private sanctuary it has become for me as others use it. having anyone there, even my Boy or my Girl, is making my insides plain, myself known. if the beds are unmade, the furniture moved, (which they will be) the refrigerator full of food i didn't buy, i have to fight the feeling of chaos that hovers over me until i can "put it to rights" again.

what it boils down to

"......This is what so much of life boils down to: How do we bear what we know and go on doing what is right? How do we see right into the heart of people and not go mad? The answer is: We have our devices. We have religion and philosophy and speedboats. We sit on the back porch and whittle, or order escargot. We sing the blues or run for office. We just keep going. ."

Monday, January 10, 2005

snow fog

facing the week. fighting lethargy. trying to step on my internal accellerator to get the work underway that needs to be done. i am seeing a client at noon today, and have a long list of other 'to do's' sitting at my elbow, breathing heavily. focus, i say to myself, focus. it is work that will save you. my father called a little while ago, as he always does around 8 in the morning. his voice was angry and hoarse. he had just spoken to my sister, whose husband, spiralling steadily downward in a vortex of manic depression and who knows what else, has moved out of their house and taken an apartment a few miles away. it is a tone of voice i recognize from long ago, when i was in the first throes of J leaving me and the kids for M, twenty years his junior. hurt, unable to control his rage, his fear for my sister and her daughters. the threat of emotional and physical violence hanging over, under, and in between it all.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

home improvement

torrential rain all day yesterday here at the farm, with D in tow. a ragged night’s sleep since there are no doors on the bedrooms here and she, up and down almost every hour, feeling sick. a companionable day followed. D had her Christmas present massage. I bought blinds for the windows that face the street, and a trip to the yarn store full of magical colors and textures on a whim of mine to knit again, which I never did well, or even completed, several lifetimes ago. D left in the mid-afternoon, to get away from her mother no doubt, in the same way that I embraced the aloneness of this house, still full of her, but mine again, to read masha hamilton’s newest book the distance between us, to sleep, to put up the blinds –a task which I abandoned but will take-up again this morning, trying to focus on doing it right rather than quickly, to silence the home-improvement demons who won’t stop telling me how bad I am at anything requiring a tool. I will try to work today; at least, to get some work-work done in anticipation of a chaotic house full of kids and their friends at home. I miss my pre-holiday routine of writing, working and being here by myself and long to have it back again.

the dunes on a sunday morning

Thursday, January 06, 2005

seeing the wise one

i see the Wise One this morning after a hiatus of more than a month. i am surprised that it has been this long, sitting in the second floor office where I have spent so many fifty-minute sessions over the past sixteen years, since D was two. Two! It is possibly the longest, and certainly the most intimate, non-blood relationship of my life.

About my parents, she says: “can you really accept that they are saying ‘this is the way we want to end it?’” There is nothing, she says, that I can do, beyond what I am already doing.

About JD, she asks me if I am surprised that he has disappeared again. A little, I reply. I describe my daily descent into loneliness and depression most days in the early evening, about the only time of day that I try to will him to appear. Think about it, she says. He has been drinking since he woke-up, and by 4pm is in high gear. He is unable to make a plan, or to stick to any agreements made.

I tell her that I kept my feet on the ground during and after my New Year’s Eve collapse. That is new; that is good. I also tell her of my new-found refuge in work.

I will write about her. But not today.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

buddha in hanoi

read my good friend reg henry's column in the pittsburgh post-gazette about waiting for news of whether his 21 year-old son had survived the devastation in Phuket.

so much of being a parent, it seems to me, is truly terrifying, especially in those moments when we are helpless to do anything, when we are no longer running alongside their bicycles, but waiting at the other end of a telephone for news that does or does not come, waiting for children who we have raised to be independent to somehow find their way home. it is the ultimate act of faith, i suppose, when all you can do is to trust in the unknown and in our own ability to survive whatever it brings to our doorstep.

deep breaths

the beginning of January lull. waiting for snow, waiting for ice, waiting for the unending grey to take hold. i struggle with my role as parent these days as the fragile world that I have created for myself since D left for college in september is upended with both children now home for several weeks. i grab the time when they are asleep or not in the house greedily, as if it were an oxygen mask. i chafe at the mirror they hold up to me. who am i to them, what I am supposed to be? i have no model for this stage of our lives together, can only dimly remember being conscious of my own mother at their ages, and attempt to wrap myself in a shroud of invisibility. make sure the trains run on time, that there is food in the fridge, money in the bank, that the cable bill is up-to-date, laundry soap by the washing machine, a car to use.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

from susan sontag

this, from today's issue of

"Mutual friends told me about an evening they spent with Susan Sontag a few months before she entered her final illness. They were talking about George Plimpton's peaceful death, in his sleep, and my friends agreed that they would want to go that way. Sontag replied that she wouldn't. She wanted to die of cancer -- "I want to experience my death." How resplendently Sontag. The contrarianism, the fearlessness, the romantic infatuation with experience, the almost Faustian hunger for knowledge, the absolute and unfaltering commitment to consciousness and, of course, the sensuality of the intellect: Always, always she wanted to feel -- and to think about what she felt."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

quote du jour

"The only miracle we can perform is to go on preserve the fragility of life from day to day, as if it were blind and did not know where to go, it places itself in our hands......."
José Saramago


today dawns with the sun lying gently on top of the trees. I’m sitting in whatever room I’m calling this – the parlor? the other living room? the main road is quiet and the temperature has dropped backed down to where it should be in January. Jack watches me from the window seat.

My rage and despair of the night before subsided yesterday as I drove to my parents house to visit my mother, an epiphany of sorts as I drove over the little bridge into Adamsville, that my reactions to this last stage of my parents lives were suddenly recognizable as the transformational stages of grief: denial, followed by anger, anger to sadness, to be followed eventually by grace and acceptance. I see, now, that it was my dam of anger that finally burst on new year’s eve, giving way to wave after swelling wave of deep sorrow that I have been holding at bay these last months. The task, as I see it now, is to make both of them comfortable, to suspend judgment, to love them as purely as I can.

My father is a few steps behind and may stay there. I thought that I should say to him, “we’ve got to accept that Mum is dying,” but when we got to the restaurant last night, which was mercifully empty and with JD nowhere in sight, he looked at me and said about the two of them, ‘we’re closer than we’ve ever been.’

Is it my job to take practical control or to accept that the way they are living now is the way that they want it to be? Is this facilitating their denial or helping them to live it out the way as they have a god-given right to do?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

the first

last night i crashed, a kind of small panic attack when i got to my parents house, which, in hindsight, had been brewing all day, like clouds that grow thicker and more ominous until finally they let loose and the rain just won't stop.

i drugged myself with sleep for most of the afternoon, and awoke to a burst of energy and home repair, mounting a shelf in the bathroom and fixing another. talked to DA, in anticipation of going out or at least, being invited to dinner for New Year's Eve, since he had asked earlier in the morning if he and Diana could spend the night here to get away from a teenage party that would be happening into the wee hours at his house. in the end it was kind of a back-handed invite, "or you could come eat here," which made me suddenly very sad, produced a distinct and lasting catch in my throat, and left me marooned and close to tears when i hung-up, agreeing to talk to them after i had gone to check-in on my parents. maybe i would feel better, i thought. maybe i could rally the persona who didn't care, who could go out and get drunk.

when i arrived, my mother was already eating her supper in her bedroom, sitting up in front of her tray. as is her way now, she chews her food and then spits it out into her hand and makes little piles of macerated bites on the rim of her plate. she has no teeth, and when she talks her mouth is full of food. she groans. My father brings in a glass of champagne for me and a plate of smoked salmon. i don't want either. i sit on the edge of their bed, on the stained quilt in the fetid air, as my mother slowly gets up to go to the bathroom, to sit on the hospital chair over the toilet bowl in full view of my father and me. i cannot breathe. i cannot talk. i cannot feel anything but disgust.

I am dangerously close to tears as he and I escape to have our dinner. We sit at the dining room table, with two of the five candles lit, his nose running with a cold which he assures me will be gone by morning. The food is cold, as if it has been sitting there for a long time, and the plate he gives me has a leftover piece of steak, two thin asparagus, and a half a cold baked potato. He doesn’t seem to notice that there is almost no food on my plate—has he just not cooked enough or eaten it all before I arrived? I ask him about whether he’s thought any more about the Cedars and he is non-committal, saying he wants to get my mother ‘stronger’ so that she can cope on her own when he goes to New York. You have to go, I say. I don’t want to spend the money for someone to stay, he says. I’ll do it, I say. We’ll see, he says.
There is a strong smell of gas and when I go to turn-off the burners, one explodes with the loud and frightening, built-up bang.

I flee as he walks upstairs to watch a television show and with my mother sound asleep, the bandanna around her dirty hair fallen down across her forehead. The sobs come quickly as I steer blindly down their driveway, the humid fifty-degree air fogging the windshield. I call DA. I can’t have you stay tonight, I say. I need to be alone.

I am caught in my own maelstrom, hurricane-force winds of grief and loss blowing me over, around and down.