Papa

026.JPG“You’re crown will be so big, you aren’t going to be able to hold your head up.”
“That’s alright.  I’ll ask for help.”

That is part of a conversation my mother had with my papa on what we knew, as well as him, would be his last father’s day. I was sad, but I didn’t grieve. I know the difference.

Grief comes from somewhere deep.  So deep that I cannot put it into words.  Sadness is on the surface.  You wear it easier.  It’s flowy and comes and goes like the wind moving soft fabric.  Others can see you wearing sadness.

But grief, that’s different.  You can’t wear grief because it seeps inside you.  It enters through pours, you suck it in every time you open your mouth, you inhale it with each breath.  You carry it internally and although its invisible, its heavy.  Greif attaches itself to all your vital organs, making it seemingly impossible to do anything but carry it.  Others can’t see it because it becomes you and you it.

I didn’t grieve for specific reasons.

First, I’ve come to learn that grief is a selfish act.  Joan Didion talks about losing her husband and how she dealt with it like it was something that happened to her, not him.  She writes, “When we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves.  As we were, as we are no longer.  As we will one day not be at all.”

My papa was ready to die.  He willed himself to do so.  He put that energy out in the universe, and the universe responded.  Nothing was wrong with him except as he put it, he was tired.  And that’s it.  He was 93 and tired.  And had humbly, lovingly, and non-judgmentally led his life in such a way that he could meet Jesus.  His last requests were of ice cream and a bath (he’d already had one on this day), but he wanted to fulfill his last earthly request and be super clean for when he finally got his chance to meet Jesus.  And if you are a believer, then trust me, he’s there.

What’s to be sad about?

In 1981, Philippe Aries wrote in “The Hour of Our Death,” that “only the dying man can tell you how much time he has left.”

I thought of this quote as my mother tried to bake papa a pie.  He responded that he wouldn’t be here to eat it.

The day after papa ate his ice cream, his soul left.  He didn’t die, but he didn’t wake up.  His body was just doing what it had always done and it took two days for his shell to realize his self had gone to be his heavy crown wearing soul in Heaven.

I also didn’t grieve because I know longer knew this person.  My papa’s life had earlier consisted of beach outings, fishing and clamming, vacations, and many, many hours of socialization to anyone that would sit still long enough to listen and respond.   But due to my grandmother’s agoraphobia, all that had ceased when he started to really age.  My grandmother has reasons not to go outside, reasons to be unhappy, reasons to be mean.  Excuses range from people don’t like her at church, she feels uncomfortable, she doesn’t have the right clothes, she just doesn’t want to go.  Plus she’d have to put teeth in her head, and why do that when one can just sit.  Inside.  And once papa started to get where he couldn’t move like he used to, he didn’t want to leave her.  So he just sat there too.  And eventually needed a recliner to help him stand, then a walker, then diapers.  And the animals inside used the front porch as their personal shitting grounds.  And they fed the dogs table scraps, that if not eaten, remained floor scraps, on a 30 year old balding piece of trailer carpet.  Then the floor of said trailer would sag and eventually give way.  Not once, not twice, but three times in three different areas.  Nothing was ever updated or cleaned properly.  Chicken bones on the floor. Roaches so common that if you sat still for a few moments you’d see something move.  And that’s something I stopped doing there long ago- sitting.  It was filthy.  It hadn’t changed since 1982.  Every time I visited, something bit me.  It was such a necessity to mentally psyche yourself to go through the backdoor due to the smell, that I was ready to go before I got there.  And it all got worse as they aged and sat some more.

My uncle was part of the reason things are the way I describe.  He’s gay and has never admitted it.  And thus he’s done drugs for the better part of his life- I assume due to “hiding.”  He’s not fooling anyone though and I can’t figure out why he tries to.  In being this way, he’s never held a job, bought a car, a home, or really bought anything.  He’s just mad. I suppose at himself.  But he’s lived for so long this way, plus off his parents, that at 90 my grandmother still cooks for him.

I stopped being able to handle these things long ago.

I didn’t grieve for my papa due to his promise to me.  Since he knew his time was coming to a close, he gave those around him advice, pieces of wisdom, and love.

Until about 12 years ago, they were able to do a lot for themselves, others, and me.  I spent a month traveling around China on their dime.  They traveled with my mom and I up the east coast into Canada.  They owned four homes.  I thought they had given to me all they could until this father’s day.  He gave me a gift no one else could.

He was going to hug Daniel.  He was going to tell Daniel how I missed him.

And for that I couldn’t grieve for him.
He was going to see Daniel.

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The bus headed to Washington

I marched on Saturday in Washington. I was one of half a million. All reasons and topics as to why people marched have been touched on again and again. But what I can tell you differently is about my getting there.

My alarm went off at 4:45am. I was driving to my pick up destination by 5:15 when I realized I had forgotten tampons. I was on my second day of bleeding, which means the flow is so heavy I’m not quite sure how I stay alive. Which also means I needed tampons. A lot of tampons.

I boarded a bus, which held 47 people, only 2 of which were men. There was an air of excitement and unrest as most of us had received little sleep the night before. There was also luggage, lots of luggage, and cackeling, lots of cackeling. The over head bins were stuffed with baked goods, a box of ponchos found in a basement from the 1950s, first aid kits, rolls of toilet paper, hand wipes, and tampons. We were women. We were overly prepared.

Sitting in the front row behind the driver so I could watch his every move as I don’t like relinquishing control to strangers, we became backseat drivers. “Michael, it’s cold, can you turn the air down? It’s blowing in my face.” “Michael, the folks in the back of the bus are hot. Can you turn the air back up?” All this back and forth caused fog on Michael’s windows, as well as most others on the bus. Condensation ran down and Michael repeatedly wiped as some of froze and the others sweated. “Michael, can you fix the fog? We can’t see.”

Then there was the bathroom situation. We all know these bathrooms- cramped, smelly from the contents of our bodies not having anywhere to go but sit at the bottom of the bowl and slosh around with every bump of the bus, and really a bad spot to sit for those in the back. I wiped the toilet seat down as I couldn’t hover for the jolting around, and realized I used all the toilet paper to do so. I reached my hand ever so carefully down inside the bowl and tore off the top half which thank god was still dry. I am not a drip drier. As I came out my friend was going in. Realizing she’d have no TP, I asked the ladies for a roll.  As I walked back to give it to her, she was already coming back out, and we were met in the middle by a lady puking in a garbage bag from the stench of the chemicals in the toilet bowl. “Michael, there’s no toilet paper, no hand soap, and no paper towels.  Can you prepare the bathroom better?”

Four hours later we made it to Washington. The streets were cramped and it took several detours to be able to park at Union Station. Along the way, people kept waving to us and we commented how friendly and upbeat everyone seemed. Pulling into the station, an attendant came to the drivers window. Our driver seemed perplexed and held up his parking permit once more and the attendant replied, “I see your permit, but what about your bus?”

Michael knew something had been wrong with the bus for who knows how long, but we’d already proven to him that he probably should keep the issue to himself. We didn’t need the normal step stool to get off the bus because the bus was leaning so badly that the step stool was higher than the door side of the bus, which was about only an inch off the ground. The attendant approached and said us turning was the scariest thing he’d seen all day.


The reason why this was the scariest is because the woman of the march were just as prepared for whatever may happen and excited and cackeling as those on our bus were. The spirit of Washington was lively but patient and happy and far from any encounter being rude.

Our bus didn’t matter to us because we were women. Prepared. Happy. And even on our periods.

2 years of holiday parties

I just got home from an annual Holiday party to which my boyfriend attended, meeting coworkers for the first time.  Driving home one said coworker sent a text of her approval of one said boyfriend and I reflected on the dinner.  My thought process led me to last year’s same Holiday party, same setting, sans any sort of boyfriend-ish relationship.  Which caused me to push further back in my mind to two Holiday parties ago.

Daniel was with me.  I realized that just tonight I had sat at the exact same spot and chair as I had two years ago.  Daniel was on my left, where new boyfriend had been just this evening.

I could not immediately comprehend that Daniel had been gone for almost two years.  I thought about this on my drive home and then it occurred to me that I could not comprehend this particular expansion of time because for the first year, I was simply trying to survive.  Survive through a grieving process and not go insane.  And not to be irrational.  And not to wish myself gone too.  And maintain order.  And be a single mom.  A good single mom.  And not let that kid feel she was missing anything- especially not a dad.  And trying to be that dad too.  And doing laundry.  And feeding myself, cause Daniel loved food and he couldn’t eat food anymore,so neither did I.  And do the dishes.  And learn to live a routine that did not include my best friend nor the future we had laid out.

And then there was this year.  The year where I tried to rebuild myself.  The year that through trying to rebuild myself I discovered what it was like to endure pure panic.  Attacks that would grip hold of me and refuse to release itself until days later. The year that I had to medicate myself because I was now fully, not partially, but FULLY aware of everyone’s mortality that I know to exist.   I explored ways to face tragedy and to speak about my loss so that it did not fester inside of me.  I tried to find new hobbies new friends new projects just newness that did not have anything to do with Daniel, but everything to do with me.  And I tried and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed to find someone that I would be proud to sit beside of at the Holiday party.

Then I thought about while I was trying to survive and trying to rebuild me, that Daniel had missed it all.  Daniel is no more.  And I felt guilty cause in a way I have been selfish for almost 800 days.  Since grieving seems to be such a taboo in America, there are things that nobody told me about- like this guilty feeling.  Like how I might need to be medicated to accept someone’s life has ended and I must begin again solitaire. Like how hard it would be to feel confident again.  Like how understanding things end and can end quickly can corrupt your view.

It doesn’t make Daniel’s absence any easier.  But I no longer carry the weight of grief.  I do panic.  For the smallest thing.  I’ll probably continue to do so at least for a bit longer.  I’ll continue to swallow my little blue pills.

When I put my thoughts in this perspective, I understood why the time took me by surprise.

And this is where I have been for two years.

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An 8 ball and the return of confidence

328My daughter got in the car with a knock off magic 8 ball she picked out with her ‘good behavior’ tickets from 1st grade.  Even though it was blue and had the word Fujifilm printed on the side, I was immediately brought back to the questions I would ask the 8 ball as a young romanticizing girl.

She asked me what my questions were and my mind instantly went to, “does such and such like me- no, does he LOVE me… Will I get married… will I be rich…” Then I realized I was of the age where these things should have happened already.

But in that realization, I discovered that life has fluidity for some people. The answers, for me, are yes. But then they are no. And with each yes and each change of a yes, I have become this amazingly resilient woman. I have become so dependent on myself that a change in the answer can not change me. It just changes the routine that the ‘me’ at the time was in.

But I also realized something else. That there was a small lady in the backseat anticipating my question to the knock off blue 8 ball and my questions must be poignant, must show the fluidity of life. However all I could think of was, “Does Meriwether behave in school?” Reluctantly (which perhaps gave me the answer I was seeking before the knock off 8 ball could be shaken) she repeated my question and shook the knock off. “Outlook not so good.” “Ah,” I said, “so you don’t behave in school.” “This thing is dumb,” she says, “it only knew that I was going to be a princess and have lots of money.” “How do you determine when it’s right,” I ask. “Because I want to be a princess and I want to buy a castle with all the money that i know I want.”

And then I realized something else. At some point as an adult, I stopped believing things would be so because I wanted or felt them to be. I envy the matter of fact lifestyle my kid lives in. She will become something because that’s what she wants. What a great person to turn myself back into. To become this more confident and determined woman because a 7 year old is showing me how to be that again.

And as I’m having this great revelation, I hear in the backseat, “Does my mom behave at work?”

Then at the end of a slew of questions that followed each other, she responds to the knock off, “man, this thing never runs out of batteries.”

Tragically Humorous

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I was in grad school between 2005-2007 studying documentary photography.  While working on my thesis project I discovered the work of David Hilliard.  I fell in love with the first photograph I saw titled, “Susie Floating.”  The images only got better.  I loved Hilliard’s work so much that he directly influenced my thesis show.

Last year, I visited a local house gallery for the first time.  This married couple own it and maintain an extensive artist in residency program with an even more extensive personal art collection.  In that collection were two of Hilliard’s pieces.  I am not sure if I can express what it’s like to be influenced and visually love something from afar, only to have it unexpectedly be before you.  Perhaps it’s like that obscure band you find while perusing iTunes, only to discover a few years later they are playing in your town.  I was fascinated.

Last month, the same gallery had a show for Hilliard.  I went with my six year old in tow as I normally do since I am a single mom.  No bother though, she has a vast knowledge of life from always being in tow.  The first photograph I saw was “Susie Floating.”  It’s so beautiful that I was easily brought to tears, but the best part was, Hilliard was there.  I had know idea he would be.  As I listened to him speak, I decided that I would express to him what an honor it was to be in his presence and how much he had, and continues to, influence me.

But as he spoke, I kept smelling a foul odor.  It would come and go and it was quite uncomfortable as I hoped, as I am sure the others around me did too, that people did not think the odor was coming from me.

My six year old wanted to whisper in my ear.  As I bent down she asked if we could leave as her belly was hurting. Once we got outside, she explained to me that she could not stop farting.  It had been her the foul odor was seeping out of.  As we walked to the car, she told me she was sorry and that next time I could meet him.

What she doesn’t know and I didn’t tell her, was there will probably not be a next time.  But what was most important was that she was uncomfortable and I needed to put aside my excitement and take her home to poop.  That’s what becoming a parent is about.  Having a moment of a lifetime be interrupted by your kid farting at the party.

Released

img_6392I have never liked the beach.  It stems from my family’s love of laying out there for hours, swallowed in baby oil, baking and tanning, whilst I burned.  It was a normal summer for me to have blister bubbles all over the rim of my nose and shoulder lines.  As people were turning a beautiful golden glow, I was getting sun poison.

This past Friday, I experienced a panic attack that felt debilitating.  I soaked in Epson salt, I breathed deeply, and I listened to self-hypnosis recordings for two hours while my daughter watched movies.  I could not find what would release the tightness in my chest and as pain radiated down my arm and side from the tenseness I held within, I thought briefly of going to the hospital.

On Sunday, my mom, daughter, and I drove three hours east to visit my grandparents.  My daughter’s prize for being good in the car was to see the beach.  I created yet another family member who glows in the sun.  She loves it.

It was the first weekend in October at low tide.  The air registered at 83 degrees.  The wind was steady but soft.  There was no chill to it.  It made me feel like I was being wrapped in the blankets of my bed.  It was comforting.  There were people but not close.  Each one of us could sense that we owned a large patch of ocean all to ourselves.  As the water receded, it filled little pools along the shore.  This had been the only thing about the beach I remember loving as a little girl- a pool naturally created for one.  And now they were everywhere and I was the only one.  I visited each pool and let the sand encompass my feet.  The water was calm and warm and I felt as if I was soaking in the tub.

What was happening to me was the nature was grounding me. And as each aspect of this nature touched me in varying sensations, the gripping hold of my chest loosened and the ocean, for the first time ever, released me.

Emotionally Hungover

186Myself and 150 of Daniel’s friends and family celebrated what would have been his 32nd birthday this past weekend.  It’s the second one he’s missed.

The farm he grew up on is 45 minutes from me.  As I drove there the day before the celebration to help I unexpectedly lost it.  I had not lost it like that over Daniel in a long time.  But here I was driving through Pittsboro, loosing every ounce of mascara I wore on my face, feeling as lost and helpless as I had felt a year ago.

And the closer I drove to his family’s farm, the more I lost control.

I met one of Daniel’s lifelong friends at that celebration.   He had struggled just as Daniel did to be free and clean of heroin.  The week before Daniel died, he celebrated his sixth year of sobriety.  And then he died.

Daniel’s dad allowed his struggle with sobriety to be touched on at his memorial.  He said something along the lines of discussing it because you never know if someone will hear what Daniel overcame and need that message for themselves.

It turned out that someone did need that message and that someone was introducing themselves to me, clean, for the first time.

He said to me Daniel called him about a month before he passed and he chose to ignore it.  He chose to not have to make excuses for himself to Daniel.  He chose not to lie to Daniel.  He chose not to answer.  And that he regretted.

He said to me that he was laying in bed the morning of Daniel’s memorial suffering from withdrawals.  He said that he hurt so bad that he couldn’t describe his pain.  He said to go to Daniel’s memorial he had to use.  And that’s what he did.

What I chose not to tell him was that I did see him that day.  He was standing in the back of the standing room only service.  He was crying hard.  And he looked sick.

He said to me he was embarrassed to admit he’d been high that day.  But he also was overwhelmed by what Daniel had conquered.  Was amazed by Daniel who had been in his second semester of his first year in Med School.  So, standing there, he had his reason to change.  And for whatever reason, he became clean within a few weeks after.

He said to me his final regret was that he could not stand before Daniel and say to him he was clean.  And he has been for a year and a half.

I took him to the box Daniel lives in.  He placed his hand on top of the box and said, “hey man.”  He took long, deep breaths.  He cried.  And then he told Daniel he’d been clean.