April Travels Part 1: Things That Never Change

I got on the plane a week ago in hot, windy Liberia, and flew to Harrisburg, PA. USA. I’ve been here for a week in the farmhouse I grew up in, with my parents and one of my sisters and her family. Tomorrow, my sister and I will fly to Ohio to visit our other sister.

April is supposed to be spring in the northern hemisphere, but in Pennsylvania, this year, it is still winter.

I’ve seen a lot of people I love.  A definite highlight was a dinner with friends I haven’t seen in 20 and even 30 years, and another was getting to know a cousin I haven’t really known in my adult life.  It’s all good, but it’s not always easy. Falling asleep and waking up are easy. What comes in between is not. Except overeating. Overeating in Pennsylvania Dutch Country is easy. It’s normal. Then you put on your skinny jeans and feel penitent.

 

The Farmhouse

The farmhouse I grew up in never changes. Part of it is something like 200 years old, which, in the Americas, is old. My parents put a laminate wood floor in the kitchen/living area since Pio and I were here 2 years ago. They got new carpet in the living room. Other than that, everything is the same. When I come home, I sleep in the same bedroom I slept in as a child. The trees are bigger, but since spring is late this year and there are no leaves on the branches, I can look out my windows and over the fields and the pond. Its comforting. Kind of. It’s old. Older than my memory. Older than my loss. I looked out these same windows at the same moon when I was 16 and when I was 2.  I remember that.

Does it make me feel better? “Better” might not be the right word. It makes me feel something different—and that can hardly be bad.

Even though it’s April, it’s cold enough outside to keep burning wood in the wood burning stove in the family room. That’s a big plus. There’s a constant cozy spot in the house where my mom and I go to get warm. The floor creaks in all the same spots it did before, and the doors make the same sounds. This is the safest place in the world.

The Farm, March 2011

Cold Wind

It was windy in Guanacaste when I left, and it’s been windy here, but it’s a different wind. A very very cold wind that pushes me back inside every time I stick my head out the door.  It comes to my skin with a sensation of pain.  The high temperature for today, in degrees Fahrenheit, is predicted to be 43.  Low last night of 25.  The sun is nothing more than a big light bulb.

 

Unspoken

I was not—NOT—prepared for almost no one to talk about Pio. That is so weird to me that I can barely get over/around/beyond it. But I have to behave politely and keep it together, so I do.

But I don’t understand. Not mad. Completely confounded.  I mean, we all know there’s a very noisy, vivacious and unusual person who is NOT HERE, right? So? I did not expect no one to talk about him. I did not expect to be (almost) the only one to say his name. That is SO WEIRD to me. It leaves me speechless.

I know I am not the only person who notices that Pio isn’t here. Is not speaking of him supposed to be a courtesy to me? Because it only feels upsetting and confusing. Not speaking of him makes me feel worse, not better. As if I am the only one who feels this absence. Of course I am the only one who feels it in this way. But I would actually feel much better if somebody else would bust out with, “Well things sure are different when Pio isn’t here!” I would feel much less like I am about to go insane.

I know. People don’t know what to say.  Are afraid of saying the wrong thing, or something silly. Or that I might burst into tears? I might, but probably not. If I do, it won’t be because I became suddenly upset.  I burst into tears all the time when no one is looking, so for me it’s not a new or disturbing experience. And the only wrong thing to say is nothing, like he was never even here. THAT is VERY wrong.

I’m guilty of it too. Now I know. Not speaking of the beloved dead because of not knowing what to say or not wanting to upset a friend or a loved one. I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I have done it too.

Those of us who are left are not more upset when someone offers to remember with us. I never for one minute am not thinking of Pio, so there’s no chance you’re going to remind me of something I had momentarily forgotten.  To me, honestly, it feels as shockingly inappropriate to address his absence with silence as it would be to ignore him personally if he were sitting at the table.  But then again, the PA Dutch are not known for their skill in navigating emotions.

Just thought I’d tell you about it.  If I don’t tell you, how will you know?  All of us are learning how to do this.

 

Suitcases

Now, time to stuff everything back into the suitcases and roll on down the road.

 

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Sand

Ashes

I have some things to say about ashes—human ashes, the kind I live with.  I thought you might be curious.  I was.  Pio’s ashes came to me in a rectangular stainless steel box that the Comune di Milano considers appropriate for traveling.  The box is sealed shut because in Italy it is illegal to spread human ashes. I didn’t bother to find out why.  I don’t actually care why.  I will just say that it took a mighty amount of determination for me to get into that box.   Having him (“him”) sealed in there by somebody who felt is was not alright for him to come out just about drove me nuts.

I got it.   It’s a story for another day—but I got it.

And this is what I want to tell you:  cremation ashes look like sand.  They do not look like wood ashes, and they’re not flakey like that.  They’re heavy like sand.  I asked my faithful friend Google about it and s/he explained that the only thing left after a person is cremated, are bones.  It makes sense.  Everything else is water, and turns into steam or smoke, I suppose.  The bones are then ground to tiny pieces and called “ashes.”  What they really are is sand.

Does that gross you out?  I hope not.  There’s nothing yucky about ashes–that’s the whole point of them.  Does it scare you?  Well.  These are the things we need to sit with.  Starting now, or you can wait until you have no choice.  It makes you sad?  Good.  You’re supposed to be sad about sad things.  Sadness is unsettling when it is a stranger, but when it grows to be familiar, not so much.

Sand

Where I live, the sand is made mostly of tiny pieces of shells.  Some coral.  Some stones.  How long does it take a shell to become sand after the animal that made it dies?  I think that should be a unit for measuring time.  The beach is made up of bones.

Bones

I sit on the beach and run sand through my fingers.  Push my toes into it.  Look at the little bones of all of the things that ever lived.  Think about how everything together equals una sola cosa.  I tell myself it’s ok.

How long does it take for water molecules that rise to the sky from a crematorium in Milan to become a cloud above Costa Rica?  I lie in the sand when the wind is whipping and let it pelt me.  Get in my ears and bury itself in my hair.  Everything that is, is made of everything that was.  I tell myself it’s ok.

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

But you have to find a way to open yourself up wide enough to let it inside you.  You’ll suffocate, otherwise.  The more you’re afraid or the more you fight, the worse.  You have to put your fingers in the ashes and the sand and you have to let all the little bones pour through your fingers.  You just do.  There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Put your ear to the ground, to the sand, and listen to the bones of everything.

 

 

 

Wind

time is nothing
time is
all you have
mark its passage
keep it
let it go

can wind be a
measure of it, or
is time a measure of
how much wind
has slid through
your branches?

where are your leaves?
they have fallen and
wind has
taken them away

don’t look
wait with
eyes closed
hear how much time
fills the universe

catch it
hold it tight
all you have is
nothing

The Illuminated Half

You start getting used to being just you again.  Even if you don’t want to—you do.  It’s not like everything is always a surprise every day like it was at first.  It starts out like “50 First Dates,” with you having to tell yourself the whole story from beginning to end every single morning, but eventually when you wake up, you remember.  And your life slowly starts to resemble what it was a long time ago, before everything.  You liked it, then.  You like it now, sometimes.

You get better at not buying too much food at the grocery store.  You realize that you don’t need the car you don’t have, because a backpack full of food lasts for a week, anyway.  You stop expecting to relax on the weekends, because by the time you run all the errands on your list and do all the things that need to be done, it’s over.  Because you have to do each and every single thing yourself, one at a time.

It’s what happens.  In case you wondered.

Even though you have a good job and spend almost nothing, you are still always running short of money.  Because rent is rent and the bills are the bills.  One person or two don’t change the rent, the electricity, the cost of wi-fi.  But only half as much comes in.  You try not to stress out about it.  Anyway, you have a Jenga towers of tiny containers of leftovers piling up in the freezer.  You make a mental note to that you need more tiny containers.

You’re surprised to discover that even though you want to go out and see people, when you get there and see them, you soon want to leave and go home.  What’s there to talk about anyway?  And people seem possessed by this inexplicable need to talk all the time.  You wonder if there is anyone else on the planet who comprehends the phrase “comfortable silence.”  You realize that if there is, you don’t know them.  You wish you did.  You wish other people had more in common with cats.

You look up at the half moon one evening and suddenly you get it.  It’s the perfect analogy.  The half moon.  That’s what you are.  Half of a thing.  The illuminated half.  The half that reflects light.  The other half is there, but you can’t see it because it can’t reflect light.  Exactly.  But it’s still there.  It’s still the other half.

Then you feel a little bit better.

Four

this is the poem
about 4 months
of silence

you think that is a
long time but
the poem reminds you
it is only the beginning

in it, you can hear
clocks tick
wind
an almond leaf scuttles
through the yard

it is a short poem
but the 4 months
are long

moonlight
drums on the roof
like rain