Sunhat and Crucifix

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I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow, but a few hours later around 3 am I awoke. My mind running an obsessive marathon took off with no return. I was reliving every damned moment of the worst night of my life despite it being 22 years ago! All of it, the helicopter ambulance, the life support, my crying and begging kids and my beloved toddler lying naked, gone but still being forced to breathe.

 

So, I got up at 4 am and sought comfort in the delusional thought that I might find something helpful. I went to the small old breakfront cabinet, opened it and reached around in the darkness. I grabbed his sunhat with the back flap to keep his neck from sunburn. I knocked two Matchbox cars on the floor. I also took the small wooden crucifix that the chaplain had laid next to his perfect, bald head through that night in hell. I took them into bed and snuggled into the hat. Of course it no longer has any scent of him but just of oldness and maybe dust. I gripped the crucifix tightly praying hard, desperate, pleading-for-sleep prayers. None of it worked.

 

I remained awake, tracing and chronicling the moments as if to torture myself eternally. And then, I whispered softly for the one-millionth time, “I’m so sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.” It has been my mantra for 22 years. I am desperately sorry, but it doesn’t make a bit of difference. I didn’t ever fall back asleep but it’s okay, because now it is the next day and the struggle is over for another whole year. This is now and that was then and I have had a had a decent cup of coffee so I move on again.

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MAY ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR

Gregory with Dad

That very year, the days were the same as this one.

Monday, May 1, 1995 I packed and planned.

Pack baby’s clothes.

Pack his play wallet with expired credit cards

Pack the Matchbox cars

And the chunky book he cannot tear,

Pajamas, toothbrush, jacket, little jeans,

Sun hat, sunscreen for the beach.

We are headed to the Hamptons

Where we used to live.

Wave goodbye to the other three boys and their dad,

As they roll out of the driveway headed north.

 

Tuesday, May 2, 1995

It’s just the two of us.

Who dropped us off at the airport?

I can’t remember now.

It’s important but it doesn’t come to me.

I push the umbrella stroller through RDU

In the Southwest terminal.

He wants the noisy, battery operated truck

I decline and he fusses and cries.

I offer him some chips in exchange.

Doesn’t work but I don’t cave.

We board and he nurses to keep his ears from popping

He falls asleep in my arms as we fly.

We land at La Guardia and the Toyota Previa awaits.

We are so glad to be altogether again,

Nicholas, Peter, Oliver, Shep and now Gregory and me.

We stop at my grandparent’s cemetery because it is close.

Then, to my mother’s house in Queens

Which is difficult because, she is

And typically she is both mean to me

And clawing onto my neck in desperation.

We stop to visit Shep’s aunt in Long Island

Too many boys in a household without kids

Makes for too many nervous moments

And when one gets stung by a bee

There is a trip to the ER too.

I try to keep my cool, but not so well.

We stop to see my lifelong friend in Long Island

And eat a chicken dinner with her family

While Gregory puts his handprints on her wall mirrors.

We finally drive out to Southampton

Where we stay in a house a friend is loaning us

And it is right next to our old house.

Oddly, Gregory goes to sleep snuggled with his dad

In a bed away from mine.

Unusual behavior.

 

Wednesday, May 3, 1995

I want to read The Southampton Press

But kids won’t allow

I am frustrated and resentful

And fight for my rights laying on the sofa.

We eat lunch but Gregory keeps leaning over the deck rails

Which makes us all too anxious so we head inside.

Should have let him fall, in retrospect.

After lunch, we head into town

And stroll on Jobs Lane and Main Street

In Southampton.

We run into the mother of Peter’s Little League friend

His name was Rocco, but I can’t remember hers.

Gregory is trying to push Peter in the stroller

Because his bee stung leg hurts and we’re all giggling.

We head back to the house and try to decide whom to visit first

The choice of seeing newborn trumps all others

Including my best friend.

We will go to Westhampton after dinner.

Shep makes us spaghetti

Which covers Gregory’s blue and white outfit

So I change him into a yellow sweatsuit because it is chilly.

We head out to visit the newborn and her mom

Who I knew from La Leche League meetings.

Her baby nurses, my toddler wanders in and out

He nurses too for a bit but resumes his travels.

The new baby’s brothers and two of mine do same.

Gregory finds a swimming pool

And we all find hell on earth

That appears as a floating yellow sweatsuit.

 

Thursday May 4, 1995

Unplug

Hold tight in arms.

Beg

Scream

Sob

Fall to knees

Nothing.

It is done.

There will be no resurrection.

Six lives lost in the wind.

Unable to stand up.

Damned to repeat the days

Once a year

For eternity.

Though the agony lessens

And the torment subsides,

The unquenchable love remains.

It is the same four days

Once again.

 

Spilled Blueberries

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There’s a new Sprouts Farmers Market store in town. Ironically it is within walking distance of the house we moved from three years ago. It would have been nice but that’s how the avocado crumbles sometimes.

 

We drove up to North Raleigh today because we needed to pick up the corsage for Will to give his prom date tonight. He was busy running “Airman’s School” all day (?) Sprouts is the store of the moment filled with lots of organic produce and all things crossing between Trader Joes and Whole Foods.

 

As we debated between the organic red potatoes and the russets, blueberries came spilling all over the floor. This tall African American woman says, “I am NOT perfect yet and so now I have spilled my blueberries.” She was smiling and we were all scrambling on the floor picking up the berries. “I am 69 years old and I have learned what matters and what does not. Spilling blueberries does not.” Of course I am now staring in awe thinking, “Okay, God may have arrived in my midst with this profound message so I better pay attention.” I am also thinking, “Can you please be my wise and grounded friend?” But, once all the blueberries were retrieved I moved on to the Kombucha sampling trying once again to convince myself that this was a good thing and not like pouring vinegar down my throat. I still hate it by the way.

 

Soon, Shep came over to me and said, “I can’t believe what that woman just said.” “What?” I asked studying the Formaldehyde free nail polish. She said, “ Oh spilling blueberries didn’t stress me out. When my husband was executed, that was stressful.” She said this with a smile and a genuiness and Shep stood there speechless and stunned as I was as well when he related this to me.

 

It’s true isn’t it? I am still mulling this dramatic story over in my mind. We were checking out at the same time as this special woman and I watched her arguing with the checker to make sure she was charged for the empty container of blueberries. The clerk kept saying this was not necessary but this smiling woman insisted. I was so in awe of her that I took her picture. She WAS God, wasn’t she? Right in my midst. I forgot to even genuflect but I should have.

Prom Night 2017

It is with an unbridled love that I watch my 18 year old son dress in a tuxedo to attend his prom. My heart bursts with pride as the hearts of all mothers who go before me have as well. I am not unique but in this moment, the love in my heart turns into tears of sweet joy for this beautiful boy of mine who has turned into a young man before my eyes.

 

His date is cute and nice though they are not really connected more than friends. My son along with the three other boys acts appropriately goofy. I am used to goofy. I have raised five sons and six really if you count the one who was only here for 27 months and obviously never went to prom. I raised him too albeit so briefly.

 

I didn’t go to a prom I was too busy rushing through my life though I cannot imagine what the rush was exactly. I skipped eighth grade along with my smart peers and then graduated from high school in January, a full semester ahead so as to rush off to college at only 16 years old. Why? I’ve no idea now, but I trust there was a reason then. The consequence of graduating in January was that there was NO prom and I have regretted this always. I want that corny prom picture that doesn’t exist.

 

So Will has donned his tuxedo and is off to dinner and then prom with his group of friends. In a few weeks he will walk in cap and gown, which might well undo me completely.

 

There is a another reason my heart is heavy though. Sam is not here. Sam is not in tuxedo. Sam is at a class on Fire Safety instead. He had no desire to attend prom and not much desire to attend anything school related over these last four years. He has not liked a moment of school and not really bonded with anyone in it. It was strictly perfunctory for him and mostly drudgery as well. He sees no reason for attending a dance in a tuxedo or all that goes with it. He has already moved on to his future and it is now. He’d rather be putting out fires than posing for pictures. I’m missing him tonight as he is at the firehouse instead. It’s so Sam. So very, very Sam and I love him for who he is.

 

I just brought these twin babies home from the hospital. I am sure of it because the terror in my heart in that moment is still palpable, so it couldn’t be 18 years ago. I’m not sure how I will absorb the purple cap and gown on June 9th. It is all so real and surreal at the same time. Keep them safe, keep them laughing, keep them sweet, but oh God most of all, do keep them safe.

Some Days it’s Harder to Hold it Together

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For some of us some days holding it altogether is easier than on others. Last week was exhausting for example, yet I felt wise, and cohesive and able. This week, not so much.

I flew into New York last week as a stop off on my way to Philadelphia for a lactation consultant conference. It saved me money on airfare and gave me a chance to do my favorite thing, having time to wander in NYC and seeing my dear friend in Queens overnight as well. It felt just so sweet.

The next day when I was to take a Greyhound bus to Philly, it was freezing and sleeting in New York. Plus, when I took the early LIRR into Penn Station I did so too early, and thus no retail or museum was open. The weather was so bad that I didn’t want to wander too far away either. Where to duck into out of crappy weather when you really don’t want another cup of coffee? I passed the New York Times building and went in there thinking that maybe I’d see reporters trying to tell the truth which is their current raison d’etre, despite our current obsessive liar “so-called” president. There were two reception desks in front of the elevators and tight security so I would not be anywhere near “Spotlight.” In my little, slightly unrealistic heart I wanted to hug a reporter and thank him/her for bravery and free speech under a dictator. I wanted to let them know that I support them with all my heart. Did not happen. Not even close. It was now not even 9 am so where to go? The Asian home store next to The Times would not open until 11 so out into the elements I returned, hatless.

There in the freezing rain and snow, sat a slumped man with a huge umbrella that he held on a slant to try and protect himself from the icy, wet onslaught. He sat on a plastic crate. I could not see his face under the umbrella. He wore only a sweatshirt with his entire body trembling in the cold. I began taking my ski jacket off to give to him when I realized he was about four times my size and it would never work even though I could go and buy myself another jacket. I stood there literally mesmerized wondering what to do and then I began to cry, which of course helped no one and made onlookers stare. I wondered to myself, “Who are you frozen man? Who were you? What did you look like in the fifth grade? Did you have a crush on that pretty girl in your class who sat in front of you? Were you bullied? Were you a bully? Did you marry? Do you have children? Friends? Where’s your mother? Did she die? Did you weep? How did you end up here in front of The New York Times literally freezing to death? How? Why don’t they write about you?“ I once heard the director of “Love Wins” a homeless help group in Raleigh, North Carolina say that becoming homeless depends on how many phone numbers or contacts you have in your cell phone. Because I have many for example, I won’t succumb to homelessness no matter what happens. I will always have someone I could call and ask for help, a bed, a place to stay for a spell until I got back on my feet. I have not alienated too many people, tried to hurt anyone, been arrested or the like so that I still have a decent number of contacts to turn to in an emergency. “Freezing Man” likely did not.

Eventually I gave up and went to the Port Authority expecting the worst, wondering where I would ever be able to go to the bathroom. It was actually so much better than I remembered with a nice clean ladies room as well. However, since I was early I could get on a bus an hour sooner. When I went to the desk to ask if I could take that bus the gruff guy at the counter said, “Nope.” If he’d given into me and allowed me one of the many empty seats, he’d have lost control for the rest of his life and quite possibly, the entire Port Authority might have caved in and collapsed. So, I guess it was better for him to have me wait the 90 minutes doing nothing but staring at one character after another. At least he maintained his authority in the port of the same name.

It was an easy trip and when I got to Philly, my nice new roommate picked me up at the bus terminal and off we went to our annual digs, Embassy Suites. This is always a great conference in that there are now about 200 women (although we did have one male pediatrician this year) learning the newest stuff in lactation research, sharing our knowledge and talking NON-STOP. You have no idea how 200 women in private practice, alone for the other 362 days of the year, want to talk to each other. It is unstoppable and sometimes exhausting but always exhilarating and nurturing. The fact that Embassy Suites has happy hour each evening is even more conducive to the camaraderie. At this years conference I shared a topic that included a most stressful and unpleasant experience in my field. It was very difficult for me and yet was so empowering that I felt like a free bird for the next few days. In sharing my two-year secret a huge weight was lifted from my heart and the standing ovation that my group of four received will never be forgotten.

I took the bus back to New York with one consultant from Ireland and one from Australia so the trip went fast with our three accents. It was dark and cold when I arrived but I subwayed it to my friend’s apartment in Gramercy Park. We were born on the very same day and have stayed in touch all of our lives having been in school together since kindergarten. It was so sweet being with her, finally seeing her cool studio apartment and talking until we fell asleep. She left for work before I did, and being there alone sent a tiny jolt of Mary Tyler Moore through my body.

I was back on the streets stopping for coffee and a kasha knish with a whole wheat everything bagel to keep in my bag for the day. I headed to Bloomingdales to shop for a dress right for mother of the groom for my son’s beach wedding in less than a month. Just like in Macys the week before, I was able to check my luggage in Bloomies visitor center at no charge. When I was down to my undies I got the panicked call from my sister saying that she’d read wrenching email from her younger daughter that had been sent to her older daughter. She was very upset and led me to believe that my niece was in great danger so we met for lunch an hour earlier than planned. I felt pretty panicky about what I would find but we hugged tight and went into a nice east side restaurant for lunch. I told her about the email and she was very upset. We talked about her mom’s plans to go to Tijuana, Mexico for alternative cancer treatment that include coffee enemas, Vit C IV’s, insulin loading, juice diets, and more. All of us feel so incredibly frustrated being unable to convince my sister to at least evaluate what is available at the top cancer centers in the US or even at alternative places in US rather than paying a fortune for what sounds so risky in one of the most dangerous, crime ridden cities in the world. It is a grueling, long flight for a woman down to 103 pounds with metastatic, stage four breast cancer in her bones. We have each tried every way to get her to consider other options even if just in the interim before heading to Mexico, but have only met with her anger. We each wanted to escort her on the trip and she was refusing even that. It has been wrenching for each of us but when my young niece and I tried to eat our lunch suddenly we couldn’t stop crying. There is anger and sorrow, there is loss and dread, there is wanting love in ways it has not been able to be given. There is confusion and history and it all makes you just want to cry until the end of time.

And so, most of my solid good feelings melted away as I got on one bus and then another to head to the airport. A huge snow storm was headed to NY in the next few hours so LaGuardia was a sea of panic with passengers literally fighting for their Florida bound seats. I called my sister and we had more disagreements with me begging her to get another opinion before heading to Mexico, in two months. She became angry and simply dismissed me saying she was tired. I will never know how I actually got on that last flight to Raleigh, but I did and was so grateful.

In my next visit to Facebook I found that in fact my sister was no longer going to Tijuana in two months, she was in fact going in a few weeks right in the midst of my son’s wedding weekend. Today, it turns out she no longer wants either of her daughters or me to go with her as she is instead, going with a friend. I am so puzzled, so hurt, so concerned that I simply cannot get my head straight.

As an aside, today is St. Patricks’s Day AND the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death, so there’s that sort of in a little sad place in the corner of my mind.

So, when I headed to the local Cupcake shop this morning for a video taping by the local news station regarding a group of us who have been crocheting sleeping mats for refugees. I was feeling tender and vulnerable. But I pepped talked myself saying, “Hey look, you’re here, no one was hurt in last nights blaze nearby, the sun is out, you’re okay, so keep it together. Fight like a tough girl. You can do it.” And I did for a good while. I laughed with the other women, chatted with the interviewer, smiled for the camera. I was in fact holding it all in like the best Spanx around. So, why was it when I met this older refugee woman from the Congo, who’d come here in fear and poverty and I stroked her face lovingly that I started to cry? What was it when I saw the pain and truth in her eyes that allowed me feel my own pain? I gave her a mat, sat in my car and wept.

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Macy’s New York

Macys17098558_10211200921072514_1576880642130387986_nFunny thing about Macy’s New York. It IS an institution. It is cutting edge fashion. It is huge beyond huge and really is like a city. There are literally thousands of employees at one time even on a slow Thursday afternoon. But, there are also those old diehard Macy customers, now really old, shuffling along, wandering in a way, but still in Macy’s just like when I left my job there about 38 years ago! The Cellar where I was a manager, is not in the “cellar” anymore but on the 8th floor. The “cellar” is now a junior fashion mecca with electro music and smallish (nothing is really small in Macy’s) boutiques.

 

How lucky was I when I happened upon a tour of fashion students being led around by a Macy’s executive taking about layouts and why things are where they are? Customers like all their things in one area of the building even if on different floors. So, if all women’s clothing is on the Broadway side of the building on floors two-five, then juniors should be near there too. I was fascinated and transformed as I listened to this crowd of about 20 students and then silently answered their quiz questions as well. Turns out that the wooden escalator I rode down to the Cellar each day is actually a historic landmark from 1902 and cannot be touched!   It can only be repaired. All those years I never knew that and wouldn’t still if I hadn’t run into this tour!

 

The one thing I shall never forget about working in Macy’s was the union rules. Every employee belonged to a union. Managers did not. The department I was in charge of was casual china and glassware. It had some groovy name that escapes me now. One of the biggest pains in the butt was the entire wall of “name mugs.” This is an international store, so when I say there were a zillion names, believe me, there were! They had to be kept stacked and alphabetized at all times. So, when one was not in order, I could NOT rearrange the whole display and if a display of bright red strainers or whisks or whatever came crashing down, (which happened on a regular basis) I could not pick them up or rearrange. If a mannequin fell over, I had to wait for the appropriate worker to pick her up and rearrange her! This had to be done by an employee who had THAT job description otherwise union rules were being broken and this would not be okay. Frustrating and unforgettable.

 

The other thing that was pretty awful were the hours. At Christmas time there was no limit to how many you were required to work and the store was open till midnight. We would run non-stop and then collapse onto what was then a dangerous subway at 1 am trying to get home for a few hours sleep before we were back again. My friend Susan Martin and I bitched and moaned to each other on a regular basis and one night at midnight someone was yelling at her and she took an entire carton of spatulas and threw them up in the air cursing her head off. Memorable!

 

I had a grand few hours to wander and try on clothes all by myself. I watched the display people changing up mannequins much to my delight and I did a lot of staring as I always do. All sales people wear black now like in Bloomies and other stores. Makes sense. We just wore white carnations to show our management status. We in management, were called “White Flowers.”

 

Macy’s New York is still cutting edge, lots of clamoring new designers with their own departments along with the Ralph Lauren’s, Calvin Klein’s Michael Kors, etc. If I were who I was then, I would so be donning “Free People.” Love that hippie look I am too old for. Tried on a lot of dresses for my son’s upcoming wedding. Still none that hit the mark. But hey, I have the fifth floor to do tomorrow!

 

Had a great, healthy salad in Macy’s where there are many restaurants to choose from and I got to people watch some more.

 

This is the thing in New York. You need not spend a dime to have a good time. I even got to check my luggage for the day for FREE compliments of Macy’s Customer Service. At least a free good time is still true for me. I had a wonderful time, watching, imagining, reminiscing, observing. And, I still ADORE fashion!

The Gathering – Retreat

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I went to a short retreat this weekend at a local Episcopal church where I am not a member. I have been to this before and always come away with a new awareness, renewed commitments and a deepened faith whether I have heard Glennon Doyle, Kelly Corrigan, Elizabeth Gilbert and today, Heather Lende. It is always a woman author or speaker who has made a difference in the world. The hors d’oeuvres the evening before are always tasty, the women are 90% blonde and as non-diverse as possible. The blondeness and lack of diversity irritates me some though at least this year, there were few high heeled pumps which was an improvement. I can’t fault these women for their genes and their long held southern tendencies. I always have to look past my own inadequacies and insecurities and simply remind myself that I am there for me and to learn and grow. So for the years I have gone alone that has been harder and for the ones like this one when I have attended with a friend, it is easier. Either way it is worth it.

I usually come away with some nuggets each time and if I believed in tattoos I suppose I’d have a good number of them by now because I’d want to remember these for a long time. Here are some from this weekend for example:

There are no atheists in delivery rooms (way better than “fox holes”)

Be kind, be brave, be thankful

Holy moments (not events, not lifetimes, just moments)

Living in the dash (as in your birth date-death date)

What would your days look like if God was in charge of them?

What do you want to become/What does God want you to become?

Don’t live with a manufactured life

Do not be crippled by fear

How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives (Annie Dillard)

The messy middle of the “not yet”

If you want to know my pain, feel my wound

Battling for joy

Guerrillas for grace

I have two friends who are also colleagues who make a lot of fun of me for how busy I am. They say I am always going to some retreat, some political meeting or march, some group that plans to do something to make a difference, some conference, etc. I guess I appear a little crazy to them when I am always trying to squeeze in the next interesting thing. I’ve written before about how much I want to learn, to know, to experience in my short time on earth. I try hard to cram it all in and after all these years of mothering, it is mostly about me and learning about my own heart and life. I cannot live my life for my kids any longer and no one loves their kids more than I. But, I also don’t think they need me to live for them or to constantly stand in their way by either over-indulging them, making their lives too easy or protecting them from dealing with challenges. I would be stealing from their development if I always directed or always influenced every choice they make. I do not pretend any more. I try to live the truth. Life is hard, very, very hard and I try to be as well equipped as I can be for each hurling rock that comes along. I’ve already been hit with several boulders and I never duck all that well.

One of the speakers this morning shared about having lost her young twin son early on. It was a horrific and tragic story that of course resonated with me. I think one of the hardest things I have ever had to learn I have had drilled into my head dozens of times. I have mostly learned it at 12 step meetings. I worry about my kids as much as and maybe sometimes more than, most other moms. I worry and I worry and then I worry some more. Having lost a child I might be even more terrified of this than the virgin moms who are fortunate enough to have never have known this harsh reality. What I have learned though stings like a sonofabitch! I’ve learned that I cannot keep them alive! Charlie has said that at many meetings and I don’t want to hear that. I really, really don’t. I can love them to death literally. I can stay right nearby and never travel , holding onto my phone ready to pounce. I can think that I am in control forever.  I remember when my second oldest son was mostly bedridden for years at the feet of Chronic Lyme disease. It seemed he might die one day after another and I could-not-allow-that-thought though I felt it to my core.Every damned time I left the house I thought, “Oh God, please don’t let anything happen to him when I am away from him.” I realized though that that might happen when I was laying right next to him rubbing his sweating, feverish brow.The fact of the matter is, none of that will keep them alive. I am NOT in control. I am not sure who is or if it is simply a random universe, but it is not in my control to keep them from harm. I sometimes hope that a higher power keeps them safe, but even that is questionable and unreliable. I just know that it is NOT me.

So, the only life I have even remote control of is my own which is why I choose to enhance it and expand it and as one of the speakers shared today, to create a life overflowing in abundance. I am cradled in God’s hands and I do not want to miss the grace filled moments that come. Those I love so dearly are cradled in his hands as well despite their non-believing status. It matters not that they don’t believe in God. He believes in them.

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