Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Chorus for Him - My Messy Beautiful


"Do you hear that, Hon?" I can tell it's a question my 90 year old grandfather does not really want to ask.  

"What is it?  What am I listening for?"  I answer him, worried but selling curiosity.

"Tell me what you hear."  He isn't giving me any hints.

So we stand in the hallway of his room, tilting our heads like cockapoos and bending our ears toward the walls.  I hear nothing.




"Is it your radio?"  When he isn't enjoying his beloved silence, my grandfather listens to his radio with an earpiece so he can sleep at night.  Or maybe instead of sleeping at night.  Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy are some of his favorites.  I try not to hold that against him.  At a very young age, I know I'll have to wait to move out before getting anything pierced, tattooed, or dyed purple.

"Not my radio, I turned off all electronics."

"Birds chirping outside?  Maybe squirrels on our roof?"

"No, no.  It's something else,"  he says, discouraged.   His misty blue eyes narrow at me, he is worried too.

We go on and on like this until my dear grandmother comes in to his room to ask him to leave me alone.  She is always peacekeeping and alleviating hurt.  She feels the tone of my voice without hearing any of our words and she asks him to leave me alone so I am not a part of this sadness.  A part of his dying.

But I won't have it any other way.  I won't leave him.

I was very young when my grandparents took my little family in years ago. They never gave us a time limit or a date when we needed to be out.  They accepted all of us:  our laundry, our dog hair, our cat hair, and a volcanic upheaval to their typical orderly way of life.  It had been years since their immaculate home saw a diaper or a crumb.  He was a retired Brigadier General in the Army and she was his classy and hardworking officer's wife.  There wasn't even dust on the floorboards.




Oh, but how quickly we changed all that!  After years of having us live with them, they endured not only cities of crumbs but also:  busted garage windows, rundown mailboxes, teenage meltdowns, astronomical grocery bills, stray animals, ER visits, flooded basements (from washing machine overuse, no doubt), chauffeuring duties to school/work/orthodontist/school dances, and more stress and worry than two people over 68 should ever have to bear.

 

So when my grandfather, whose legs had already begun to swell, asks me to listen to the sound he is hearing, I listen hard.  I want to hear it, too.

"What do you think it is?"  I can hear nothing but my grandmother humming.

"Well, it sounds like..." He really doesn't want to say, "like...a chorus?  Far away."

"You mean a symphony?" I try to negotiate syntax knowing he listens to classical music from time to time but never choral.  

"No.  It's definitely singing.  Many people singing.  A chorus.  And I think it's just for me."

It's happening.  We don't have more time.  All these years of together, how do I say it all?  How do I tell him all my heart has to say?

My grandfather had a spiritual upbringing in his youth but had been a pretty devout atheist much of his later life.  When asked about his stance on God he would tell me by trade, he is foremost a scientist (doctor), and therefore his beliefs are based on proof.  As a smitten granddaughter, I followed suit with a more agnostic tone.  For me (and I suspect for him, too, all along) I reserved the right to change my mind if ever I felt I should.

"It's getting louder, Baby.  You still can't hear it?"

"No, I really wish I could, but I can't."  He knows what I mean.  For the first time, I can see there are tears in his eyes too.  I push mine away.  I want him to know I am strong enough to stay with him.

"Are you afraid?"  I ask, shooting straight from the hip like always.

He looks down at a body that is failing him.  "A little."

With that, I hold his hand and stop hiding my tears.

"I'm so sorry I can't go with you,"  I erupt like a ridiculous lovesick girlfriend leaving her boyfriend for an out-of-state university.

"Wow," he is distracted,  "it's almost annoying it's so loud now,"  and we both laugh.

"Do you think...' I start,  "do you think those are...angels singing?"

All my life he is the logical, practical, authoritative, and respected figure of our household.  Nobody wants to disappoint him and everyone wants to make him proud.  I am not so sure my last ditch effort to throw in heaven-speak is going to be met with anything but disdain from the man who needs proof before all.

"Well, hell," he says looking up at me with that Jimmy Stewart grin.  "I don't see why not.  Nothing else makes sense.  It's like nothing I've ever heard, Honey.  I cannot believe this is all for me.  But WOW is it beautiful..."

I close my eyes and hold his hand.  We have nothing more to discuss.


*********

My grandfather did not live many more hours after hearing "the chorus."  We did, against his will and in a panic, call the ambulance to have him hospitalized, hopeful that maybe medicine would let him stay with us longer. It bought us one more day and night.  He passed with his family by his side.  Ever since that afternoon described above, I have no trouble believing in what I cannot prove.  I have no doubt the chorus he was hearing really were angels coming for him.  Just for him.  I was there and I couldn't hear them.  Only he could.  And apparently they were annoyingly loud.  


This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bringing Him Forward

I had it made as a kid.   Our house was overflowing with the kind of energy that sustains greenhouses and colonies of happy puppies.  It was a sitcom of ages.  Three generations living under one roof.  All parenting done by the person standing in the kitchen at the time;  whomever was closest to the fridge.  Every one of us was at some point the mom.  We each found Tylenol for the other at 2am and a cold washcloth from the same white-chipped metal doors.  All six of us were eventually the dad.  Broken curfews were met with locked doors and bolted windows.  Plenty of us were the children.  It's a pretty sh*tty night of sleep in the back of a Chevrolet.

We had the slow and wise patriarch - grandfather as he checked that windows, doors, and hormonal teenage grandchildren were locked in for the night.

We had the bountiful love of our matriarch - grandmother whose food preparations, constant laundering, and perpetual light singing was the soundtrack of all those good years.

We had a witty and beautiful maiden (my mom) sleeping downstairs by 7pm because she was up with the mosquitos for work in the city.

We had sheer strength and sweet impulsivity of my uncle Jimmy who walked out of his bedroom room playing air guitar with no less than three cats perched on his shoulders.

We had boyish dirt bikes, Samantha Fox posters, and the wafting of Drakkar Noir as my brother flew out the door to meet up with his girlfriend.

We had it all.

The days became months became years and as time so often does, our courses trickled away from home.  Even still, we returned (to live, to visit, to listen to Cat Stevens on the record player) all the time and surged on as pulsing arteries from the same beating heart.

You can't forget a past like that.  You don't want to.

My grandparents have been gone for twelve years yet I still measure out water and oil with my grandmother's Fire-King measuring cup.  So I can hear her singing.   Nobody has been allowed to tune their piano because I haven't wanted it opened up just yet.  Preserving my sacred..

A few Guideposts and an old leather coaster sit atop my grandfather's circular gold-in-lay table from his time serving in India.  Whittled from an artist's hand and crafted so well it has withstood seven of my own military moves.

All these things are just things but I won't leave them yet.  I will bring them all forward with me for as long as I can.   Roots grow stronger as they spread.

Today is the year anniversary of Jimmy's death.  Those words together still look preposterous.  As if anything could ever make him gone.  Not a chance in this imprinted heart of mine.  I will bring him forward with me, in the way I skip dinner, open doors for children, sing when people are crying, and work on behalf of those who need someone.  Nothing will ever change that.  Not even death.













Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Swimsuit Solace

It's time to discuss something I've been avoiding like the dentist.  Swimsuit weather.  While most of the US is still under winter weather advisories, the freaking pool is open here in Louisiana.  To curb your jealousy, I need you to know there are snakes swishing their serpentine bodies through my backyard.  I can't see them but my dogs and I know they're there.  Trade off for not having to shovel snow or bang my head against the pantry for the gazillionth school closing.  

So yes, swimsuit weather is upon us.  

I take issue with the whole idea we need to reveal our pasty underly areas after a toasty and well fed winter. Who's idea was this?  

"You know what?  I haven't seen your hip flesh yet, neighbor.  Let's sidle up to each other in a lounge chair and feign natural conversation in our waterproof underwear.  Don't worry, I can barely make out your areolas. 

Or...

"I'm SO tired of holding in my stomach all day.  It is high time I let that puppy flop over an unforgiving elastic waistband with a crowd of my most active peers. Can't wait!"

Seriously.  Why do we insist on maintaining this antiquated tradition of showing off our vulnerables by way of cups that never fully cup and bottoms that have most likely become see-through upon exiting the stairwell. I'm just asking you all to avert your eyes while I scamper toward my towel, please.  

My daughter cannot wait to go to the pool.  She loves it.  She has no worries about her body staying in place because she's five.  It's totally cute when her bum cheek slides out.  It is a reason to move out of state when mine does that.  Again, I beg of you to save your retinas.  

So I went to Kmart yesterday to peruse today's trending fashion in swimwear.  You will not be disappointed that I spent no less than $60.00 to come home and look like a 1984 gymnast who really let herself go.  The navy blue with pink piping skort didn't even try to cover my ample badonk.  It held high above my waist like an innertube that was going to save my butt's life.   Great, more tire looking things around my middle.  That should distract from all the middle-aged "swelling" happening in my bosom.  I have no idea where these things came from or how I can rid myself of them.  Jumping jacks are not even funny, you guys.

At the bus stop, my beautiful friend - with the body of an 18 year old track star, mind you - let me in on her little secret.  "Swimsuit?  Girl, why you gonna wear a swimsuit?"  

I had no viable response.  

"Naw, see...you just put on some swim trunks with a cute tank top and BOOM."

Swim trunks.  Cute tank top without sewn in mammary cups.  Boom.  Her words hung over me with halos.  

Nothing public happens above thighs anymore.  
It's bad enough people have to see those wrinkly knees.  


Why didn't I think of that?  I'm almost 40 and still body hating come every spring because I don't have hard parts to show off to every other hot body at the pool?  Wasteful.  Useless.  Unhealthy and most of all unnecessary.  

My friend is right.  Ain't nobody got time for swim undies.  I'm going to march my strong, able, and voluptuous self right on up to Customer Service and return the Mary Lou inspired garments pronto.

Then I'm going to shop for a kickass pair of board shorts/swim tank combo so that I can feel like myself:  happy, healthy, and comfortable in my own skin. 

*This post is in no way to body shame those sexy girlfriends who can rock a bikini, tankini, or suit of other kinis.  You go with your hardworking self.  I just want to give myself  permission to deviate from the typical fare becausewhat's going on underneath isn't primed or anyone else's business.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Stirred







All those classroom years
spent holding in
straightening out
working toward
a life I never
believed in.

Every day,
a new cage
to claw up,
bear down,
escape from
with my shaking
and bloody hands.

Little me knew better
patting at mud pies
between steady palms,
feeding all the places
set for dinner.

So many places set for dinner.

I thought it was about being the best of all
Now I see it's about loosening the reins of perfection.

A man I loved once
called me his Nightingale -
and it has stirred in me for years.




Where there is art,
share it
Where there is music
play it
Where there is love
spend it
with no regard to what else you should be doing.


Because that might turn out to be where your story begins.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Forward March

There is contented snoring all around me.  My dogs have been lulled to sleep after a trot around the neighborhood and a quick meetup with a puppy.  Sadie never appreciates youth.  She doesn't relate to their doppy paws or their inability to recognize her as high priestess.  Sparrow whinnies like a small pony, overwhelmed by air, forward motion, and mailboxes.  Their lazy inhales make me feel like a good mom.



A basket of folded laundry waits for me to stop avoiding it.  It will have to learn to snore, too.

Blinds opened for sun on my shoulder, I can see four ducks trail up behind one another to carry on their mysterious geometry while they paddle the pond.  Line, turn, line, turn, line.  Suddenly, they sidle up the bank, following their fearless leader.  He has decided where they will go for lunch.



Abby's happy morning voice is still in my head from preschool dropoff.  Arriving to carline on time, she had a few minutes to unbuckle and play.  She used that time to slowly place one pink and one purple plastic connecting stars on my face to see what I'd look like in star-shaped glasses.  She watches me all the time, I can feel her eyes taking me in and putting me down somewhere for later.  I will always disappoint her.  This is one of those things moms must learn along the way.

Her innocence stares back at me in pictures now.  I imagine her older, her vibrancy taken down a notch, quieted for her peers so she won't stand out.  I miss her impossible shine already.  There is nobody who exists more than my girl.  She is all in.



My boy is soft and cuddly when his father's not home.  There is a gender distinction that never was before in Virginia.  There, Mom and Dad were his parents.  Here, Mom is soft, silly, and safe.  Dad is fun, fast, and revered.  Another thing a mom must learn along the way.  A boy loves his mother.  A boy wants to be his father.



My role is changing here and it makes me want to carve my name in all the trees.

Abby notices her brother doesn't want to play Leap Frog Hide & Seek anymore.  She wants me to hide his Kindle on the weekends.



When Abby and I drove across a long bridge recently, she told me she can feel the earth spinning and see it moving on the rippling water.  She asked me how to slow it down.

Such girls we are.  Both of us trying like hell to achieve stillness...sameness... for just a little while.



Monday, March 17, 2014

Loner Intermission



It's been awfully quiet on this blog for a good reason.  We've had a really nice flow of family visits for two months with about a three day layover for me to bust out my Cleaning Freak Flag again.

I usually spend medium to large chunks of my day alone, reflecting, and, keeping a steady log of my thoughts on this wee bloggity.  The past two months, however, have been quite the opposite.  I've spent time in conversation, planning ahead, and keeping a steady log of things I forgot to do yesterday.

The last few weeks, I've come to understand how being a loner is a crutch for me.  I rely heavily on those solo times to sort through thoughts and file away important things alphabetically.  Being around people often is out of my comfort zone and leaves me feeling disorganized and forgetful.  Not sure why my brain doesn't allow categorizing itself when another person's in the room but it doesn't.  It has serious modesty issues.  It often wears baggy shirts and knows how to remove its bra through a sleeve.

While I miss the ability to collate my thoughts, the missing is overrun by feeling honored my family (First Andy's parents, his sister, now my little brother and his girlfriend) choose to spend their only vacation time here with us in Louisiana.  None of them loves to fly yet they buy airline tickets and hold their breath during takeoff. All of them have very important things going on back home.  Each of them asks what they can do to help out while they are here.  If I respond, "Nothing," they find something anyway and do it better than me. Them there are awesome housemates.

On his second night here, my sweet brother burned off every calorie in his 6 4" lanky frame playing soccer with Grayson in the back yard.  Much like Grayson, my brother is quiet so they commune through play and smiling a lot.  And when I catch him whispering sweet to skittish Sparrow in the hallway, of course my sister heart thumps an extra thump.  This little boy who I remember chasing up a slide and around tree stumps is making adult plans to visit me, 18 years his senior.  

And wait till you see my brother's girlfriend.  She is an absolute living doll, too.  Last night, I found her in our kitchen with her auburn curls piled high, springing themselves from ponytail-holder confinement.  She was stirring brownie dough while swaying softly to something acoustic on her Pandora.  If my brother doesn't propose, I'm going to ask Andy if we can adopt her.  She is art in tiny bare feet.

So while I've not had my crutch to reflect, sort, and make sense of my own brain in the last few weeks, it's pushing me to grow outward instead of inward where it's safe, warm, and filled with chai tea lattes.

Through these visits, I've known familiar warmth, surprising beauty, and love in real time with worthwhile distractions keeping me from myself.

I hardly miss me at all.



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunny Skies with a Few Rainshowers Possible

There's this friend I have back home..  She's my people.  We'll call her Vee. 

Vee's different from most women I know.  She says the F word.  So do I.  From the moment I met her, she seemed safe.  Like it was a waste of her time to know if my kids ate kale or wonder why I had on the same ratty cargo pants whenever we'd see each other. She asked questions about my life before kids like she knew that was the secret to owning my heart.  It is.  You can always tell if someone values their time with you if they ask you questions that show your guts when you answer.  

Vee's kind but not pushover schmaltzy.  She's crazy smart but not a bit precocious about it.  Vee's eyes tighten when she listens.  She's safe for me because I tend to over think a conversation before it even begins. Vee never lets me end a sentence in "but whatever," because she can tell whatever is important enough to solve.

I miss Vee.  It was a mean trick to play on a vagabond sap to rip me away from her accepting air a few short months after being surrounded by it.  We had so much more wine to go.  

But Vee doesn't wallow.  She is a strong working mom who has crafted a creatively-driven life for herself that I admire and aspire for myself.  Vee knows I'm sad to be new again but she urges me to fly.  She allows me tears to grieve but texts me pep talks on Fat Tuesday and names of venues I am not to miss if I care anything about my musical soul.  I do.  She figured as much.

Women are tricky.  I don't readily find many safe to walk next to, drink with, or borrow their dresses.  Bonding doesn't come around a lot because I'm a strange energy field repelling and attracting simultaneously.  Please do come in.  I'll be leaving soon.

The funny thing is Vee and I don't even know each other's middle name.  We are just as much strangers as we are sisterfriends.  Maybe that's the only way this thing works.  Give it your all but take an umbrella.

I miss Vee's air and the way I felt beautiful in it.

I'm so ugly all over again but I'm hoping it won't last long.