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.

 

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Watch the Horizon (A Picture of Time)

I go out surfing in the morning. The ocean is warm and crystal clear–so clear I can see the ripples in the sand two or three meters below my feet as I sit on my board. Waiting. All I do is wait. I wait and wait and wait. I had no idea you could wait so long and still have so much time left. To wait.

The sun climbs. Sets of waves come. When I’m surfing I’m thinking about surfing. That’s all. Watching the horizon for a movement or a slight change in color that means the next set it coming. No more, no less. Most of surfing is waiting. For waves. For the right wave. For the right moment to paddle and stand. At least when I’m surfing, I know what I’m waiting for. Maybe that’s why it’s so much of a relief. Sometimes I surf well, sometimes I don’t. Sooner or later I’m thinking about breakfast.

I ride back to the shore and lay on the sand. Above me in the blue are clouds. I think about water. So much water. In me, around me, above me. I think about Pio and how he filled up with water. I think about how ashes are what’s left of a person when all of the water is gone. I wish it would rain on me right now and the water would be him. The same molecules. I supposed it’s not impossible.

Everything aches. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.

Eight months have gone by. Compared to the whole rest of my life, it’s nothing. It’s already been an eternity. I wait and wait and wait. As if, if I wait long enough… What? He will come back? I don’t think so. He’ll send me some kind of sign? For what? I’ll die too? Well there’s hardly any debating that. But is that what I’m waiting for? I don’t know. I’m waiting to find out what I’m waiting for. It’s taking such a long time.

I look at pictures of us and we have the same eyes. We have the same hair. I look at us and now I see why some said we looked like siblings. At the hospital in the last days, Pio’s roommate thought he was my father.

Time is not obeying the rules. Or maybe I’m finally learning to understand it. It doesn’t just go, it stands still, thick as giant waves of salt water. A friend tells me I seem to be moving forward. I say I don’t know about that, but thanks. I say thanks because I can tell it was a compliment. I don’t want to move forward. I want to move backward and I can’t. I don’t want to do anything. So I wait. It doesn’t feel to me like I’m moving any direction. It’s the same day over and over and over. I wait for a different day, but every day when I wake up, it’s the same one. So I wait.

Waiting is hard work. When you don’t know how long you will have to do it. How hard it will rain, how much the wind will blow. When you don’t know what you are waiting for. But it’s the only thing that seems possible, so you do it.

I don’t know what “grief” means, how it’s different than just being sad. What it looks like. How you do it. I don’t know what “healing” means either, how it’s different than “feeling better.” I don’t want to feel better. Except when I’m surfing. It doesn’t go away, but you learn to live with it, another friend says. Wise words. I don’t want it to go away. I want to live with it. If my sadness goes away from me, there will be nothing left of me. I will be water vapor like Pio. Clouds and ashes.

I sleep deeply. On cool or rainy nights, the cats cry to be let under the mosquito net with me. We have the whole bed. I eat. Don’t worry about that. Then the morning comes and it’s the same day again. I don’t mean to say that I am bored or depressed. I don’t think I am either one. I’m drawing you a picture of time. Eight months. Is that a long time? I don’t know. It’s the same as 10 years. Is ten years a long time? Not really. Eight months is much longer. There’s no use asking how long I have to wait. Waiting is just waiting. Watching the horizon for a movement or a slight change in color.

    Pio and a friend waiting for waves on a flat day in 2009.

First Rain

remember last year how we
watched it rain?
remember how we
ran outside the
first night we heard
drops hit the roof
and stood on the front porch
embraced
watching silver gold rivers
pour in stripes
to the ground?

we knew it was lucky,
that the year’s first rain
deserves recognition
I kissed you
the jungle around us
opened its thirsty mouth and
swallowed deep

remember how you
were tired,
achy in the middle?
I didn’t like the
new pallor under your skin
and I bought you
electrolytes for better
hydration

it was already too late then to
stop the storm
that was coming

remember the thunder
so close
the roof peak cringed and
the cats flicked their ears?
remember the lightning?
we hugged each other
tighter feigning fear

remember how you could
warm me then, when
the dampness made me cold?

water filled your body
and finally
everything stopped
remember me petting
your hair as you
fell asleep?

the rains have come again
the thunder, the lightning
disturbing the cats

we sit together
on the dark porch
in silence
watching little rivers
form at my feet,
trying to understand
this distance

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.

 

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