Slowly Like Snow

you said take me home
to the sea and
i promised
i would

neither of us imagined then
on those last days of
pain patches and tireless visitors
the weight
of a carry-on bag
with ashes

i tried to lift it
into the space above
my seat on the plane but
couldn’t
the gentleman who helped
eyed me strangely

when the plane took off pointing
toward the endless Atlantic, i
reached for your hand
i really did
but your hand wasn’t there
it was in tiny pieces in
the overhead compartment
and i had only air
to hold on to

i cried then
as we lifted
everyone could see me

you said take me home
to the sea
and i promised

i went down into the water
with your teeth and
your bones pressed into
my skin
and watched
as the tiny pieces
fell slowly like snow
around me

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Lambrate

Lambrate.

I find it on Google maps. It’s on the other side of Milan.

I’ve never been to a crematorium. The only picture I have in my mind of a crematorium is Auschwitz, and I know this is not going to be like that. But I know what happens in crematoriums and I know that my husband is there. His ashes are there. How is this possible?

I’ve waited for 29 days. 29 terrible days. First the sickness, over in 4 months. Then the death with the futile fight at the end. Then 29 days of waiting for ashes, for the legal papers that will release them to me for international travel. He told me and everyone that he wanted to go home to the ocean in Costa Rica after this was over, for the remains of his destroyed body to end in the ocean. So I wait.

I have an app on my phone that tells me how to get anywhere I want to go in Italy using public transportation. It tells me which buses and metros I need to take to get to Lambrate. The public transport system is easy. I’ve been in Italy now for 5 months–I’m not a beginner. I’m concerned about which side of the street to catch the bus on, but I have extra tickets so if I catch it going the wrong way, I can get off and wait for the same-numbered bus on the other side.  It would’t be the first time.  I am more worried about choosing the right stop to get off the bus. How will I know? And, provided I pick the right stop, how will I find the cemetery where the crematorium is located? I don’t expect giant signs to advertise it. Am I going to have to stop strangers to ask the way? What if I cannot speak?

I find the bus stop. It’s cold here on the shady side of the street. I’m early. I’m sick to my stomach–sick with fear that something will go wrong, that I’m supposed to bring some type of document that I don’t have. I have nothing in my hands except my passport. My brother-in-law told me that the funeral parlor said they have taken care of everything and all I need to do is go with my ID. Everything is ready. I do not have any faith that this is true. But I have nothing to bring. So I am empty-handed with an exploding heart and a knotted gut.

If they tell me I must leave without his ashes I will crumble to the floor and they will have to carry me out. I know it. I have nothing left. I can’t anymore.

My attention shifts back to the present. To the street corner I am standing on, to the thin stripe of sun I am trying to stand in, to the growing group of passengers around me waiting for the Lambrate bus.

Suddenly a chilly wave of relief sweeps over me, something warm like love kindles in the center of my frozen chest, and I know I am going to be alright. I will find the right bus and I will know the right stop to get off. I will find the cemetery and the crematorium.

I know this because I realize that I am standing in a growing cluster of old women. Furrowed faces, pea coats, gray hair, gnarled hands. In their arms, they carry flowers.

On this lost street corner in Milan on the last morning of October, my new tribe surrounds me. These are my people. Each of these grandmothers, one day, has done what I am doing–made her first trip to the cemetery at Lambrate. We are widows. We are waiting in the damp sun-striped shade to go to our husbands. I am the youngest, the newest. I have arrived earlier than usual to this place, to a bus stop on the route to Lambrate. There are men among us also, solemn-faced and wrapped in scarves, but largely, we are women.

The time is wrong. The place is right. I am in good company and will not be lost. I am not alone. My pain, perhaps fresher, belongs to all of us. I am home here in this unfamiliar place.

When the bus comes, I get on and stand in the aisle, allowing the seats for my elders. I stare out the window  at the ancient city as we travel, trying to breathe, envious of the serenity of the women and of the flowers. When the bus slows and the hunched passengers stand, I follow them out the door and down the street, through the gates of the cemetery at Lambrate, and follow signs to the crematorium.

Radar

It’s generally safe to assume that when I’m not posting much it’s because there’s a lot going on.  When I pick up the talking stick, it’s because I’ve had time to think—to transpose everything that’s happened into words.  It takes me a while but you know I get there.  There’s been a lot going on.  I don’t know if I’m there.

THE LIST

For one, there’s my book.

Then, I had to move.

And the 2nd of October marked the one year anniversary of the last day I sat beside Pio and held his hand.

I took his ashes into the ocean on that day.

Also, not specifically related to any of this but happening simultaneously, I’ve started experimenting with intermittent fasting.

So there’s a lot going on inside of me, but I don’t know what to say about most of it yet.  Here’s a feeble attempt to start:

UNSOLICITED ADVICE

I guess I can begin with an unsolicited piece of advice about what to say/not to say to your friend who has lost someone as significant as air.  Do that person a favor and don’t make comments about how fast time has gone.  Have I said this before?  I’m sorry.  I’m saying it again.  Like, for example, “Wow!  Time is flying, isn’t it?  I can’t believe it’s already been one year!”  Please don’t say that.  Because to the person who lost someone, the first week took a year.  I guarantee you that friend of yours feels like they have already lived without their person for 100 years and I promise you they don’t think it’s a nice feeling.  Just so you know.  There’s that.

LUCKY AND UNLUCKY

AMAZING reviews have been coming in about Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie.  I’ve also had touching private conversations with friends who have experienced journeys that are similar to mine in one way or another.  I can see now that I was right:  this book did need to be written.  And it did need to get out of my computer and into other hands.  I’m so proud of it.

And, yeah, I moved.  My landlord suddenly needed his extra house back, so I had to make other plans.  I was SO SAD to get the news that I needed to move, but then something happened that you kind of won’t believe.  I almost immediately (2 days?) found another house.  It’s about the same price and it’s so close to the beach I can hear the waves all night long.  If there is ever a tsunami, I will never know what hit me.  But the best part is that back before I even knew him, Pio built this house.  Can you believe it?  It feels exactly like home.  It is home.  Caramelo and Ambrogio like it as much as cats can like a new house.  Is all of this some random coincidence?  I have no idea.

So again, I’m lucky.  And unlucky.

I’m not ready to tell you about the ashes yet.  I might have to write it as a poem because I don’t know now you make a thing like that fit into sentences.

And the book deserves more focus than what I’ve been giving it.  You’re supposed to blog mercilessly about your new book and drive everyone who knows you insane with shameless self-promotion when it comes out.  I don’t think I’ve been doing that.  That would have been hard for me to do even if this was the only thing on my plate.  It isn’t.

I have a good friend who does intermittent fasting and got me curious.  I didn’t think I could do it.  It sounded horrible. I  thought I would be miserable or dizzy or grumpy or…  I just thought it would be too hard or somehow unbearable.  It isn’t.  It isn’t easy, but what’s easy?  Pretty much nothing worth doing is easy.   And there’s the spiritual/emotional side of it too.  I’m not sure I have words that give this any meaning, either, but I’m acknowledging it.  Either fasting is a spiritual practice that turns out to be good for your body, or it is a health practice that turns out to be good for your spirit.  I don’t really feel the need to differentiate.  If you get curious, you can read about it on line.  If it was anywhere near as bad as you think, I would not be doing it.  I always say I’ll try anything once, and I didn’t think I could live with something as lame-sounding as “intermittent fasting” being the one thing I wimped out on and wouldn’t try.  I’ll save that for something actually dangerous.

I didn’t take all the ashes.  I saved some.  That’s cheating, but whoever does the surviving gets to make at least a few of the decisions.  I made up that rule.

BATS

I’ve been thinking a lot about bats.  How they fly around in dark caves and no, they can’t see, but they “see” with other senses.  Radar.  They turn on their radar and they can tell where they are, where other things are, where they should go.  I’ve been trying to navigate by radar.  Because I can’t see shit.  It’s all fog.  But I try to see and listen with other senses.  Sometimes when I walk or run on the deserted beach, I close my eyes and try to keep going in a straight line by listening to the sound of the ocean to the side of me, feeling the wind in my face, feeling the sun on my back.  It isn’t easy but I can do it.  I keep trying.  I follow my gut, hoping that will teach it to give good advice.

I spent a whole year of evenings, essentially, lying in a hammock on a dark porch in silence trying to take it all in.  Not unlike a bat in a cave, except I wasn’t hanging upside down.  I was hanging though, in the hammock.  Most people are afraid of or dislike bats and dark places and sadness.  Most people run away from the cave.  Not me.  I am trying to see my way around in it like a bat.

I told you, there’s a lot going on and I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the words for it yet.  But I’m trying.  I never stop trying.  I’ll get there.

 

Those Dreams About Having Forgotten Your Clothes

It’s no accident that Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie came out two days before the date when, last year, Pio went into the hospital and never came home. I picked the release date—it wasn’t assigned to me. I had a premonition that this would be a good time to have something to be happy about, something else to talk about. Not hiding from it—I don’t hide—just adding other ingredients into the mix. It gives you something to say when you see me other than a weighty, “How are you?” and we both know what you mean.

How am I? Somehow or other I’m still alive. Most days, mostly alright. Who knew? Anyway, what are my choices? That pragmatic little rascal you just read a book about hasn’t changed all that much. I can go around being alright and not-alright at the same time.

You ask me how it feels to have Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie out there? Partly like a huge sigh of relief. That’s a lot to carry around for 20 years, KNOWING day and night, you MUST say it all and feeling, simultaneously, that you CANNOT. Well, I just did. The rest of it feels like one of those dreams about having forgotten your clothes.  Except I’m not sleeping.  Lucky me, I’m used to running around in public in my underwear (as in, a bikini) so I’m kind of over it. It is what it is. In the end, 98% of us look better dressed, not just me. My parents are going to read it. They haven’t yet, but they are going to. That’s a whole other subject.

Let me tell you about the 1st three people I heard back from about the book, and how they surprised me. All of them are friends from college days; none of them are “in” the book or were my very closest friends. The first thing that surprised me is that two of the people are men. I greatly feared that this would be more of a “chick flick” than what the story deserves to be. Because on the subject of growing up Mennonite, carrying an immense baggage of expectations, running smack into the world, and having to figure out what the sam hill to do about everything is NOT a girl story, specifically. So I was pleasantly surprised that two of the first people to contact me, who found meaning in the pages, were men. The other thing that surprised me is that nobody wrote me to tell me how funny it was—they wrote me to tell me how meaningful. I could, again, not be more delighted. Because many stories are funny (I hope), I feared that it would come off as a bunch of silliness with some complaining mixed in, and that I would somehow not convey the gut-twisting agony underlying what may seem like silly questions if you weren’t there. If they weren’t the ones your life depends upon. I am happily humbled to begin to believe that the book may do, at least in some ways, what I hoped it would: tell not only “my” story, but a personalized version of “our” story. The details are different for all of us. The underlying dilemmas, it is my best guess, are the same.

There is so much more in my head to write about. I will never have to make anything up, ever, because there are so many stories to tell. I didn’t start keeping a journal at 9 years old for the purpose of being able to look up almost any day (for sure any week) of my life, but that is the result. I have the bones of 3 more books in my computer right now. Will I live long enough to write them all? At 20 years a piece, that would make me 107 when the last one is finished, so something is going to have to change here if I’m going to make it through them all. I’m doing my best. What I really need is for a millionaire to fall in love with me so that I don’t have to scratch around for pennies in the dust during most of my waking hours instead of concentrating on The Real Work. I don’t want to rule that out, but in morning I will be up and scratching.

Write me, after you’ve read Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie. Reflect it back to me. Tell me what it says to you. Tell me what made you laugh. Tell me what stabbed you. Ask me a question—I might answer it. Tell me if you think I’ve been unfair. Tell me, even if you didn’t end up as far away as Costa Rica, if you know what I’m talking about.

The first 15 people to receive “Marry A Mennonite Boy and Make Pie.”

 

 

 

Jessica Penner’s Review of Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie

Jessica Penner, author of “Shaken in the Water” (Workplay Publishing, 2013) wrote a thorough and honest review “Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie.”  I’m sharing a slice of it with you today.  For the full review, click the link at the bottom and check out Jessica’s website.

Diana R. Zimmerman’s Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie

I chose to read Diana R. Zimmerman’s memoir, Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie, in a very un-Mennonite fashion. That is, I printed out the entire book, even though she had sent me an electronic version, when a scrupulous Mennonite (for the unknowing non-Mennonite readers out there) would’ve just read it on their laptop. In my defense, I printed it on both sides and shrank the text. Mess of manuscript and pen in hand, I settled down to read the memoir with my Pandora station set to play mostly grunge hits from the 1990s. The music choice was entirely coincidental—but it fit with the memoir and the feeling of the snapshots Zimmerman shares about the summer of 1991.

That summer, Zimmerman, her friend, Beth, and two other young women, Nina and Sheila, decide to stay in their small college town to take summer classes and work. The initial scene of the discovery that none of them know how to cook or keep house is vivid and captivating. Their first meal is peanut butter and jelly after a hotpot is ruined through an attempt to cook rice in it. “Maybe I could have saved the hotpot if I had seen Beth’s preparations,” Zimmerman writes. “I didn’t know how to cook, but I did score in the 99th percentile on an aptitude test for mechanical reasoning. ‘Mechanical reasoning’ 12 doesn’t mean you can fix things—it means you can tell ahead of time something like that is never going to work.” One feature of the apartment they share is the fact that the landlady allows them to paint whatever they want on the walls. What they paint becomes a backdrop to those months of independence. “It didn’t have to be pretty,” Zimmerman writes, after describing some of the attempts at artistry. She adds, “Before long, it wasn’t.” These scenes set the tone for the rest of the memoir. She cannot necessarily correct the problems that arise, but she realizes that they are there, looming, like the damaged hotpot and painted walls.

Zimmerman adroitly shares snapshot after snapshot, giving us glimpses into her life that summer…

Click here to read the full review of Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie 

Released Today: “Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie”

Today is the day that my second book, “Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie” becomes available. If you pre-ordered last week, it will be on its way to you soon. If you didn’t order it then, order it now.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE BOOK

I’m happy, proud, and excited.  This has been, to this point in my life, my “life’s work.”  Not calling it a masterpiece (!), but it has certainly been the thing my life has required of me.  I tried repeatedly to abandon it, but it would not let me.

I’m scared and I wonder if I’ve lost my mind. The book is, as Daniel Shank Cruz says in the promotional blurb he kindly wrote, “fiercely personal.” Fiercely. As in, I can’t believe I just said all that to the world. But I did. I can’t believe my family in Pennsylvania is going to read this. But they are. I can’t believe I’m this old and still think like that. But I do.

I’m sad. Because my husband Pio is supposed to be here for with me for this but he isn’t. If it hadn’t been for him and the self-confidence he gave me and the truth-telling he pushed me into, I never ever would have been able to do this. Write it, maybe. On a page, I can say anything. Publish it, never. Not in a million years. I’m sure he’s watching from somewhere if dead people can do that and I’m sure he’s proud if they have terrestrial emotions, but it’s not the same. It feels imaginary, whether it is or not.

But, CHEERS! To us. To Andre Swartley and Workplay Publishing. To everybody in the book: Beth, Nina, Sheila, Tom, Dan, Curtis, Colin (sorry), Mean Tabitha (you seem a lot nicer now), The Boy in Los Rios, and even Matthew who is in heaven with Pio. We did it–all of us. We made it through.  If you haven’t read the letter I wrote to you, please read it now.

For us, this book will be a little photo album of a time we may love to remember or wish to forget.  I hope, for those on the journey, it will be a guidebook–a map through the jungle.  This is the book I needed the summer I was the girl in it, but I had nothing, only a journal to write it all down.  I hope, if there’a girl who needs it now, she finds it.

Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie