Tag Archives: family

Touchstone [tuhch-stohn] – Noun


  1.  A test or criterion for the qualities of a thing.
  2.   A black siliceous stone formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the color of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.

(Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged, Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.)

 

My mother died a year and a half ago and this weekend my sister and I thought it was time to go through the personal items that my sister had boxed up from her dresser when she died.  My sister brought the box in from the garage and gave it to me to open. The very first item I pulled out of the box was a simple, tiny, plastic stamp dispenser.  Like myself my mother was an avid writer but her writing took the form of letters.  Living over 2,000 miles away from her most of my adult life I’d gotten hundreds of letters from Mom.  Her letters were always engaging, entertaining and filled with humorous stories and vivid descriptions.

She probably wrote a letter to each person in her address book once a month.  So for years she had bought stamps in rolls of a hundred and used her stamp dispenser daily.  That stamp dispenser was such a tiny thing, yet such an enormous part of who my mother was that simply touching it brought tears to my eyes immediately.

I began crying, my sister began crying, and my sister’s little two year old granddaughter began slapping her grandmother on the leg because she thought Grandma had made Aunt McKenzie cry.  It was quite a scene which ended with us laughing at the baby girl and explaining to her that we were crying about our Mommy and that Grandma hadn’t hurt Aunt McKenzie.  We then put the box away to try again another time.

My mother was my touchstone.  She was my mirror to my place in the world. Being Lois’ youngest daughter — the attractive, successful happily married one who lived on the East Coast — was an enormous part of my identity.  She not only took pride in who I had become but reminded me always of where I came from.  With my mother’s passing I felt not only her loss, but without my tether to the past and my touchstone to reflect the purity of my beliefs, I lost a bit of my identity for a while as well.

Mom was a strong and independent woman who rarely asked anyone for help.  She survived a fractured skull in her twenties when she was hit by a car while on her bike.  Until the day she died she had slight hearing loss in one ear and dizziness when she turned her head to a certain angle from that accident.  She survived the loss of an infant child, WWII, the great depression, poverty, the loss of a spouse, raising six children alone, the death of her youngest child before his fortieth birthday, a dog attack, and at eighty was hit by a truck while out walking.  The doctors and physical therapists told us that no one else her age and in her condition would have walked again.  It was her sheer stubbornness that brought on her recovery and ability to walk again six months later.  She did all of these things, and others too numerous to mention, and carried on with a joy that brought tears to your eyes.

The one strong belief that my mother had that she passed on to me was that every day is a fresh start and a chance for renewed hope.  No matter how bad things get I realize that the very next morning I could wake up to a day that brings me infinite joy.  So it was with this belief that I put one foot in front of the other each day after my Mom’s death until the pain subsided and I was able to tether myself to my place in the world again.

I hope that one day very soon my sister and I can attempt to sort through Mom’s personal belongings once again.  Next time we’ll better prepare ourselves for the bittersweet memories we’re sure to experience and perhaps, without a toddler there, we’ll allow ourselves as many tears as we need to get through it and finish the job.

Reprinted below is the speech that I wrote for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration and gave again at her funeral.

My Mom was born on November 10th and shared her birthday with the United States Marine Corps.  These two events may seem to be unrelated to some, but not to those of us who know both the Marine Corps and Mom well.  Let me enumerate just a few of the characteristics they have in common.

 Courage – Whether attacked by the poverty of her early youth, distance between loved ones, government red tape, or the common hardships of everyday life, Mom always faced her enemies with courage and taught her children to do the same.

 Loyalty – Lord knows, each of us children tested the limits of our Mother’s loyalty and love and found it remained limitless and unwavering.

Honor – Mom’s honesty and integrity were beyond questions.  In fact, I’m sure there are those of us who wished at times that she had been a little less “honest’ since she tended to  “call ‘em as she saw ‘em”.  Her straight forward approach and homegrown advice usually hit the mark.

 Endurance – No matter how many times circumstances conspired to knock her down, she pulled herself up and never lost hope that things would get better.  In fact, it was because of her singular determination that many things in our lives WERE changed for the better.  Even getting hit by a truck couldn’t keep that woman down.  After her recovery, she continued to volunteer at St. Alice Parish and McKenzie Willamette Nursing Home.

 Strength – You can’t tell me that raising the flag at Iwo Jima was more difficult than raising six children to maturity (especially these particular children!).  As far as we’re concerned Mom deserves a monument in her honor as well.

 Through her 88 years she maintained a nobility of character that made us proud to call her Mom.  We’re proud today to celebrate her life.  She was a great mother, a great grandmother (in both senses of the term) and a friend to many.

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Bah Humbug!


by McKenzie James

 

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

It’s a Bah Humbug Scrooge kind of year.

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

Silent Night, Ho Ho Ho, Screw the Cheer!

 

Uncle Ned hit his head and it brought on his Tourette’s

and he sadly told Aunt Betty the truth about her Christmas dress.

Now there’s no going back for poor Uncle Ned.

He’s in the dog house and she won’t get out of bed.

 

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

It’s a Bah Humbug Scrooge kind of year.

 

Just last week Mom caught Dad eating lunch with his ex.

Apparently more than lunch had been shared.

Now all Dad’s belongings are out in the street

and I don’t think they were put out to be aired.

 

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

Silent Night, Ho Ho Ho, Screw the Cheer!

 

Zachary wants a high speed racer.

Zoe wants a baby doll that cries.

The house is on the market on a short sale.

Daddy drinks his beer with whiskey chaser and sighs.

 

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

It’s a Bah Humbug Scrooge kind of year

 

Aunt Mary’s been single forever.

No one wants to be her boo boo bear.

She usually buys the best presents of anyone.

But she’s broke, broken-hearted, and glum.

 

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

Silent Night, Ho Ho Ho, Screw the Cheer!

 

Jake had too much fun at the office party and got hammered.

He had fun with a woman he can’t remember.

But now his boss lady is clearly enamored.

He’ll be living down that night of fun forever.

 

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

It’s a Bah Humbug Scrooge kind of year

 

Everyone’s feeing glum, no one’s having any fun.

No one’s jolly, no one’s gay.

No one’s decking the halls, no one’s hanging any balls,

We’re just hoping the holidays will go away.

 

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

It’s a Bah Humbug Scrooge kind of year.

It’s a Bah Humbug year here in Weird Town.

Silent Night, Ho Ho Ho, Screw the Cheer!


Thanksgiving 2011


by McKenzie James

I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving various ways through the years.  Countless early years spent with my dysfunctional family members trying to pretend it would be different each year.  Many years on the East Coast with my best friend’s extended family and friends where I learned that those wonderful, loving, supportive families you see in the movies really do exist.  One year, when my husband and I were living in London, British friends invited us to their home and gave us the use of their massive kitchen where we made a five course meal (using their Aga four oven cooker) for twenty Brits who’d never experienced this American holiday before.  Most years of late my sister and I begin the day with a 5k walk.  This year, however, I’m doing exactly what feels right for me at this particular moment in my life.  I’m doing nothing at all.

I got up this morning (okay, my sister actually woke me up with a phone call trying to guilt me into that 5k–  and don’t tell her but it almost worked!) and took my dog to the park for a long walk.  I will do some writing because it’s simply what I do regardless of the day of the year.  I will lounge around, possibly do some research on my latest diagnosis, watch the leaves fall in the yard, build a fire in the fireplace, and contemplate all that I have to be thankful for and how to get my life back on the right track.

This week has already been difficult for me.  It began on Monday with the “for sale” sign going up in my yard.  Next I received a confirmed diagnosis from my doctor which, although it explains a great deal, is going to be difficult to manage and medicate.  The week then took a turn for the worse when an already difficult employee issue escalated to a point that it caused a rift in the team and had to be dealt with. By last night I was feeling pretty down, especially since I was supposed to be spending this long weekend vacating with someone I truly care about that sadly no longer cares about me (if he ever did — but that’s a topic for an entirely different article).  With all this going on it is sometimes too easy to forget how good of a life I have.

This morning, however, I woke up renewed in some way and thinking about all I have to be grateful for.  So many of the basics we take for granted: I have a roof over my head that doesn’t leak, I’m warm and safe in my home every night, I have enough food (okay – I have TOO MUCH food), my life is relatively free from violence.  These are things that many in the world struggle without every day and yet they are only the beginning of all I have to be thankful for.

I realize that although I have many things “wrong” in my life I am thankful that at least I have the ability to articulate what these problems are and the skill set to figure out the answers or seek help when necessary.  Many people lack even this basic ability and must rely on the rest of humanity’s good will on a daily basis.

I’m grateful that whatever is wrong with me physically I can still walk 5k on my better days and that I still have a strong libido at my age.  (Even if I have no one to share it with I’d still miss it terribly if it was gone!)

Mostly I am thankful that I have friends and family with so many differing perspectives that they keep me always questioning and clarifying my own beliefs.  My loved ones are not only the ones I turn to share laughter and moments of intense joy but they are also the people who have supported and encouraged me through job changes, divorce, cross-country moves, medical issues and heartbreaks.  They all bring their own unique form of comfort to my life and I’m grateful for each one of them.

Regardless what I decide to create out of my life going forward, and that topic will be on my mind a lot today, I’ve already been lucky enough to have access and exposure to many things that the majority of people never will.  I’ve had personal, social, career and political experiences too numerous to count that have enriched my life and broadened my world view.

Life is always a choice.  We have the option to focus on our problems or to celebrate our successes. We can make a list of those who have wronged us or think lovingly upon those who lift us up.   We can count all the things that are unsatisfactory in our life or we can count the things we’re grateful for.  Today I’m counting my blessings and I’m including my ability to write this, and all of you who read it, among them.


Maleena


by McKenzie James

I was going to write a poem today

about agony and grief.

About how life has beaten me down

and I can find no relief.

 

Then I stopped to visit a home

where a two year-old was at play.

I found a bit of hope again

just seeing her that way.

 

Everything she saw excited her.

Everything was a cause for joy.

She stomped across the living room

with an old pot and a wooden spoon as toys.

 

She ran to me and hugged my legs

and seemed so glad to see me.

I couldn’t help but smile and laugh

and soon it wasn’t so bad to be me.

 

She has no sense of life’s problems yet.

She has no sense of time.

She lives within the moment

and most every moment’s fine.

 

Her laughter bubbles up

at the simplest, oddest times.

She thinks the world a marvelous place

and I hope nothing happens to change her mind.

 

I was going to write a poem today

about sadness, grief and pain.

Instead I watched a child at play

and found some joy again.


Friends for Life by McKenzie James Part III


Meredith sat back down at her desk and picked up her pen.

I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve sat alone in this apartment with only the television to keep me company.  Tonight, I came home believing it would be another one of those too quiet evenings but I’ve already had several interruptions.  Sometimes I feel as though I’ve read everything there is to read, traveled everywhere there is to travel, seen everything there is to see, and yet something is missing. 

Listen, when it comes to the obituary…just list Marina as my surviving sister….leave the rest of them out of it completely.  If they couldn’t be close to me in life…they don’t need to be recognized in death.  Do whatever you want about a memorial service.  You know I have never understood why people care what happens after their death.  It is truly the height of self centeredness to try and control things after you’re dead.

The house phone? Carlos must have forgotten something.

—————–

“Thanks for letting me use the house phone, Carlos” Eleanor said.  Eleanor knew Meredith wouldn’t ignore the house phone.   She needed to get through to her and she was fairly certain tomorrow might be too late.

She noticed that Meredith had become more and more withdrawn and quiet lately.  She knew Meredith was saddened that her love life had never gelled but she was such a fabulous friend to so many.  Meredith had been a part of her life for as long as she could remember.  She had changed Eleanor’s life for the better the first day they met.  It was freshman year and Eleanor blushed just thinking about what a techie dork she’d been back then.  Lost and confused on her first day of classes Meredith had helped her find English Lit and then later helped her understand English Lit.

Since then they’d been through everything together from childbirth to planning Eleanor’s mother’s funeral.  She couldn’t imagine her life without Meredith in it.

“Carlos, did you forget something?” Meredith asked as she picked up the phone.

“It’s me, Mer.”

“El, what are you doing?”

“I’m downstairs, can I come up?”

“Well…um…yeah… of course…come on up.”

As Eleanor got in the elevator she found herself thinking back to that day at the campus coffee shop when Meredith decided she’d had enough of Eleanor and Jimmy smiling shyly across the room at each other and got up and invited him to their table.   After that day, it was the three of them against the world.  They got through everything together: finals, Jimmy’s parents’ divorce, graduation and the search for what to do next.  They’d been through a lot and Meredith was still the only one who could make Jimmy smile when he was in his lowest funk.

Eleanor knocked on Meredith’s door.

—————–

“Hey, Meredith, sorry to just pop in but it’s an emergency.  They just hung Jimmy’s last painting at the new gallery and he’s a wreck.  I got him settled down and left him at Louis’ with a drink.  Can you please come out and work your magic on him?”

“’Well El, I had planned to get a lot of writing done tonight.”

“Come on, Meredith, you know you’re the only one he’ll listen to.”

“Okay, okay, let me get my wrap”

As they stepped out on to West 86th Street Meredith took a deep breath and took in the streets of New York in early fall.  She’d always loved this neighborhood with its wonderful, bustling, busy, streets.

As they walked toward Columbus Avenue to make their way to Louis’, Eleanor linked her arm through Meredith’s and spoke.  “Do you want to tell me what’s got you so down lately.”

“I’m fine, Eleanor, really.”

“No, you’re not fine.  I’ve known you for 30 years and loved you for every day of it.  Do you really think I don’t know you well enough to know when the world has you down?  You’re an amazing woman, Meredith, and a woman I can’t imagine not having in my life.  You give so many people so much of yourself.   You normally take on the world with an energy that’s frightening to behold.  You’ve been withdrawn and quiet for weeks.   You haven’t stopped in to see us at home or at Louis’.  Something is terribly wrong.  If you don’t want to tell me about it, that’s fine,  but I’m not letting you out of my site until you can ensure me everything’s okay.“

She looked over at Meredith and saw the tears quietly streaming down her face.  She stopped and wiped them off and hugged Meredith close to her for several long seconds before opening the door to Louis’.  They stepped into Louis’ Place and he greeted them with open arms, planting a kiss of each of Meredith’s cheeks as was his custom.

“My favorite customer returns!  I haven’t seen you for weeks and Jimmy tells me you haven’t been yourself.  I am fixing you something very special tonight of my own creation.  It will make your taste buds burst with joy and make you happy to be alive.  Sit…sit…   Marie!  Bring my guests some fresh, hot bread.”

Jimmy smiled up at her.  “It’s an intervention.  What did you expect?  We love you Babe.  Sit and sink your teeth into these delicious crusty calories.  If my gorgeous face and Louis’ food and hospitality can’t make you feel better then there really is no hope.”

Meredith smiled in spite of herself and sat down between Jimmy and Eleanor.

“Pass the butter,” she said as she grabbed a hot crusty roll out of the bread basket.   “This is no evening to worry about saturated fats.  I love you two, do you know that?  Thank you so much for watching out for me.  Quite a few of my friends have checked in this evening.  It’s hard to believe with so many who obviously love me I was feeling isolated and alone. ”

“You never have to be alone as long as El and I are still kicking, you know that Mer.”  Louis chose that moment to sit a platter featuring a scrumptious, roasted Poulet de Bresse on the table.  There was a group “Mmmmmm……” as they began to dig in and share one of the simplest joys in life.

—————–

Meredith let herself in to her apartment and dropped her wrap on the chair by the door.   She looked over at the clock on the mantel to see it was close to 2am.  They had sat at Louis’ for hours, just like the old days, talking, laughing and simply enjoying the closeness the three of them shared.

She walked over to her desk and looked down at the letter she’d been working on when El had called.  She sighed, picked it up and ripped it in half once and then again and tossed it into her waste basket followed by the pill bottle.

Tomorrow was another day.  Who knew what changes would come with it or what difference the next 24 hours might make?  As long as there are people who love you, and there are tomorrows, the exploration never ends.

THE END


Friends for Life by McKenzie James Part II


(Letter to Eleanor continued)

Well, you’ll know by now that Laura got the part.  Was there ever any question?  How that enormous voice comes out of that tiny girl I’ll never know.  No one hearing her on stage would ever believe there once was a question about whether or not the child would have a normal lung capacity.  That’s one of the things I did right with my life is help out Dottie when she needed help with those babies.  She always thought I was doing her a favor, but you and I know it was the other way around.  I loved mothering those kids.  But they’re all older now and they’ll b e fine on their own.  My work there is done and I rarely see or hear from them now that they’ve been launched into lives of their own.

I know you can’t imagine what it’s even like to be alone every day.  You have Jim and the kids and your house is always bursting at the seams with visitors from all over the world taking advantage of your wonderful hospitality. 

You’ve been a good friend, Eleanor; a lasting friend who has always been there for me.  I thank you for that. I feel badly leaving you this last difficult task to handle for me.

Meredith heard someone knocking on her apartment door.  It must be Carlos, her doorman, because no one else could have gotten by him and up to her floor without being announced.  He knew she was in her apartment so she’d better answer.  She didn’t want him worrying what was wrong and using his key.

Carlos knocked on Ms. Meredith’s door.  He wouldn’t do this for the other tenants, he thought to himself, but Ms. Meredith wasn’t just any tenant.  She treated all of the staff like real people, always asking him about his wife and family, remembering him on holidays and special occasions, not acting as if he was less because of his job.   He had just signed for an international special delivery for her.  The protocol would be to phone and let her know it was there and then leave it on the desk for her to sign for it when she had time to pick it up.  That’s exactly how he’d handle it for anyone else in the building but he thought international special delivery might be really important and Ms. Meredith looked like she needed something to cheer her up when she came in tonight.

“Hello Carlos.  What are you doing up here?”

“Hi Ms. Meredith.  This came in for you just moments ago.  I thought it might be important and I wanted to get it to you.”

“Thanks Carlos.  You know you didn’t have to do that.  I would have gotten it next time I was down.”

“I wanted to.  You’re always good to all of us and I thought you deserved special treatment for a special delivery.”

“Thanks Carlos.  You have a good evening.  Tell Maria I left her some bulbs for the roof garden in the back office.

“Okay, Ms. Meredith.  I’ll let her know.  You have a blessed evening.”

Meredith opened the Express envelope and immediately knew who it was from simply by the beautiful handwriting on the interior envelope.  It was obviously an invitation from Martina and Joaquin.  Martina’s hand writing was exquisite, always had been, even though she’d had no formal education.

Please join us to celebrate the publication

 of Joaquin Aguirre’s first novel:

Evenings in the Vineyard

Saturday, November 13, 2010, 7pm

Aguirre Vineyard

San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina

Inside the invitation was a hand written letter.

Dear Meredith,

You know how upset I was when Joaquin decided to turn over management of the vineyard to Benjamin to spend his time entirely on his creative pursuits.  I was angry at you for a long time for advising him to follow his heart.  I was worried that Benjamin would fail, that Joaquin would fail, and that we’d end up with nothing. Now here it is two years later and both have been successful in their pursuits and none of us have ever been happier.

You must join us for the celebration.  Joaquin listened to you when you told him to do what would feed his soul and the rest would take care of itself.  It’s because of you that he gave himself the time to write the most beautiful and provocative work I have ever read.  (Okay, I admit to being a bit prejudiced.)  It’s a wonderful book.  I know you will love it.  I will let you in on a little secret.  It’s dedicated to you!

So come visit us, my friend.  We love you and can’t wait to celebrate with you.

          Love always,

                   Martina

Meredith had met Martina and Joaquin over ten years ago on a trip to Argentina and they had hit it off immediately.  Two years ago during a visit Joaquin had admitted to her how unhappy he had become.  He told her that the Vineyard, although a part of his family for generations, was not really what made him happy.  They had sat up long after Martina had gone to bed and talked about art and writing and the things that made their hearts swell.  She had told him to feed his soul and the rest would work out.  Thinking about it now, where did she get off telling anyone that?  Had her life worked itself out?

To be continued…


The Black Cloud of the Gypsy Curse


There will be a delay in posting Part II of “Friends for Life”.  Unfortunately my house was broken into and, among other things, my laptop with all of my wrting was stolen.

We have often joked about the bad luck that seems to plague my family and for years I have refused to believe in it.  Now after experiencing two floods, two fires, two robberies, famine (if living on saltines and water counts), and already having been diagnosed with one incurable disease I am slowly becoming convinced that it may be real.

I don’t know if the hospital I was born in was built on an ancient Indian burial ground thereby angering the spirits, or whether my Mom pissed off an old Gypsy woman passing through town who put the Curse of the Black Cloud on her, but clearly something is going on.  Right now I’m just waiting patiently for the plague of locusts to descend.

However, over the last few years several workmen have been forced for one reason or another to enter the crawl space under my house and they tell me they’ve never seen as many different kinds of spiders or such massive quantities as live under my home.  I fight them off daily as they try to take over my house entering through any crack or crevice they can find.  So maybe the plague is already upon me and just taking a different form?

McKenzie James


For Fathers


 He watches her, a pretty stranger standing in his kitchen. She is telling her mother how she is sleeping better now; the nightmares are beginning to subside. Dinner burbles and a house he does not remember building speaks of years passing that elude him.

 He remembers her as a tiny child. Even then something dark would grip his baby girl so she could not sleep. She would crawl onto his lap at night while he read his books, both of them cocooning in the safe cave of words and stories. He remembers placing his hand on her back and feeling her breathing mimic his until eventually she would be convinced of safety. Even then her tiny hands would grip fistfuls of his shirt, demanding protection from those leering monsters.

She is older now and the same exhaustion that haunts him seems to live in the crinkle of her eyes and the restraint of her laugh. He sees so much of himself in her. If he could he would protect her from everything and the fact that the world is corroding her fills him with a desperation he cannot name.

He remembers fights, grounding her when she was 16 and believed she knew everything. He remembers Christmas mornings when he would wake up to his two girls screaming for everyone to wake up, sleepy eyes not catching up with the excitement of presents. He remembers Disneyland, telling her stories, listening as she explained her Lego game of Indiana Jones. He remembers her soccer games and her small little legs tripping clumsily. He remembers taking her to get their first puppy on that brilliantly cold November day, she looked up at him covered in mud and grass and grinned from ear to ear when he nodded and handed her the leash. He remembers her tireless steps in caring for him when his oldest begged for freedom, a pain he still does not believe was possible to live through. He remembers dropping her off at college and as he drove away swearing it was his little 7-year-old bandit that was waving goodbye. He bites his lip and rolls his eyes, at himself not at her. It is unfathomable to love something so much you cannot understand it.

She seems unbeatable now. She is in love with a man but will not admit it to him. He remembers the first time she had her heart broken, she lay on the couch with her sister and he brought them bowls of ice cream. At that moment he considered threatening God for his affront in daring to create anyone that would harm her. He sees her today and realizes she has borne so much more pain than she has ever told him, realizes this need to protect those she adores through silent martyrdom is the same thread that is unraveling him now.

Now he is expected to let her go, his little baby that fit in the crook of his elbow. Now he is to let someone whose face he cannot even hold accountable grab her hand when she can’t sleep, trust that she will have someone love her through those gut wrenching dreams, pick her up when she cries, and protect her from everything he could not. Worse yet, his life is being haunted by demons he cannot control, cannot even describe. For the longest second in the world he has to say words that twist daggers into her limbs. All of a sudden in the space of breakfast she has grown up, and it is him she is seeking refuge from. He realizes with a flash of pride that she is strong enough to handle anything, but breaks with the weight of knowing that what he is saying is hurting her.

The superhero is gone but he adores her and is desperate still to protect her from what he can. When she lifts that bowed head and smiles through clotted tears, he wishes for a second that he could still swoop her up in his arms, laughing as she shrieks and makes him measure her arm muscles in case they’ve grown. It is cruel for men to have daughters, no person is capable of watching small angels grow up, and worse yet, away from you.

She asks forgiveness from him and he smiles at her through his pain, someday when she forgives him it will be with the understanding that she is his whole world, all he ever wanted was for them to be happy. His jaw clenches in anger at himself, for letting the years go by without realizing it, for what he considers weakness and what she calls humanity, for allowing the chasm to open between him and his little one. One too many tragedies have shaken him and he wishes he was the god she always saw him as, all he wants is infinite stretches and no end.

 He blinks, time has crawled across his face and now he does not recognize his life. But he looks at his two babies and knows; with love like this nothing could have been in vain.


Lulu


The other night when Asher and I were preparing ourselves for sleep, I looked up onto his dark wall and noticed a spider comfortably squatting above one of the picture frames. Turning to Asher, I politely pointed out that there was an intruder in the room.

“I know, and when you’re sleeping he’s going to come and crawl right onto your face” he responded.

I’m not particularly afraid of spiders, a trait which Asher and my father seem to think can be broken with enough grotesque images of flesh mutilating arachnids. However both their attempts to instill this paranoia in me have only proven to me that spiders are about as snobby as cats, and generally like to be left alone. In response to Ashers picturesque night time pillow talk of how spiders were going to slowly scavenge parts of my anatomy, I decided to name the spider Leroy.

I have an unfortunate habit of naming most creatures and inanimate objects in my life, thus creating intense attachment to things that were not meant to last a lifetime. My cactus is named John Wayne, my bike Ted. Now there is Leroy the spider and, of course, the one time a slug came in with the garden collection he was promptly named Gary. When I asked Asher if he had seen Gary the next morning, he looked at me curiously and asked who Gary was.

“The slug that was on the lettuce, I put him on the glass and now he’s not there”.

Asher’s eyes just get bigger and he peers at me in utter disbelief.

”Why did you keep him in the house?”

So it goes, with me collecting friends left and right and Asher shaking his head and cursing under his breath as slugs, spiders, and cacti assort themselves like old drinking partners along our windowsill.

One sunny day, I managed to find myself running meaningless errands in an attempt to avoid the cleaning ladies at the house, and while walking up the curb to the grocery store around the corner I heard a faint and distressing peeping from a baby bird struggling for life. The pavement was hot, and from the perspective of the little creature looked like a barren, flat desert being marauded by large screaming figures and metal boxes on four wheels. I kneeled next to the bird and then looked around for its nest. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but returning it to its home seemed like the best idea. I couldn’t find the nest anywhere, so the next step was to call my best friend, who happens to be a biologist, and an avid nature lover, and therefore would know a lot more than me about what to do next.

“Let it die” she heartwarmingly said.

“I can’t let it die its little and bald and ugly! No one else is going to save it!” I was aghast at the idea that nature had any idea of what it was doing.

“Fine. Then find its nest. Don’t touch it, whatever you do. And if you do touch it, don’t bring the diseases over to me”

Horrified I searched my car for some container I could save the little bird in. Finally I found one, and brought it back safe and sound to my backyard. The cleaning ladies were still at the house and tilted their heads in confusion to see me frantically running around the backyard clutching tufts of grass and twigs before kneeling down to speak to a Tupperware container.

In a state of perpetual anxiety, I decided to go back to the parking lot and find the nest. As I was rolling my bicycle down the driveway, Asher was pulling in. He rolled his window down to smile at me and say hello and in response I waved my arms over my head and shouted

“There is a baby bird in a plastic box in the backyard! Don’t kill it!”

He blinked twice and then just nodded, shaking his head slightly in disbelief. I of course could still not find the nest and when I got home he wrapped me up in arms that love me entirely too much and said

“Baby girl, we can’t keep it and raise it, and it’s dying right now”

“Lulu” I sobbed “her name is Lulu”

“Okay. But we still can’t keep her”

I nodded and turned away while he did the hard part, a small tragedy in the blink of an eye. Later, we buried the Lulu in the backyard, and Asher made sure she had flowers. It is his unending strength and steadiness that guide me, and that he loves me so much is a testament to why I am still here. He kept his arm around my shoulders and squeezed me in tighter as I dropped a small note alongside the little bird that read:

Life is a shipwreck, but we must remember to sing in the lifeboats

                                    -Voltaire-

That night he wrapped me in blankets and watched cartoons with me until we laughed. Leroy was still sitting comfortably on the wall and Asher breathed evenly next to me, I thanked whatever forces were at work that I had the capacity to live, and more so, to clutch his hand when tidal waves overtook me.


An Ode to my Mother


An Ode to my Mother

When I was 8 years old, my mother, older sister, and I, rode bicycles to my soccer game. When we were about to cross the huge highway separating us from the soccer fields, a semi truck blew through the red light and came within inches of hitting me on my pink and white bike. The force of the air as the driver drove by knocked me off my bicycle and scraped up my knees and elbows, right in front of my mother’s eyes. I don’t remember that game, but I remember my mothers lap as she cradled me close to her. She didn’t say a word, but that day I learned the meaning of the word ‘treasured’, I remember her arms around me, the way her thin skin barely wrapped her collarbone where my face was pressed.

When I was 11, my father was gone again on one of his endless business trips, and my mom showed my sister and I the movie “Los Desaparecidos”, and explained to us how she had lost her older brother to forces beyond her control, how a part of her soul had been ripped out in his brutal disappearance and murder. I learned the reason of her almost endless sadness, and her eternal pride in her family and her country. She instilled in me the same pride, the same defensiveness. I am, without a doubt, my mothers’ daughter.

When I was 15, my sister left me to save herself, and us. I watched helplessly as my parents hearts were ripped out of their chests and floated away. It was my mother who stood back up, demanded reparation, made me realize that forgiveness follows heartache, that life is messy, that you must always accept people for exactly who they are. My mother demonstrated to me the power of love, and her incredible capacity for it, and forgiveness.  For what seemed like an eternity, what had always been my source of safety, security, and identity seemed to have crashed and burned. It was my mother who took me by the hand and told me “We are what we think, with our thoughts we create the world”.  Love is only love when you are willing to take someone with all the darkness, with all the eternal flaws, and adore them anyway.

When I was in college, my mother sent me care packages and letters, and would buy me groceries and take me to dinner. She listened to me sob when I missed home, and did not berate me when I forgot to call because I finally didn’t. In her Valentines card to me she wrote to me that she loved me, her sweet butterfly, for being able to see the beauty of life down to the last teardrop. It remains to this day my favorite line anyone has ever written me.

Today, my mother holds my family together still. It is my mother who plans vacations, Christmas, Three Kings, and Thanksgiving. My mother remembers birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. It is my mother who puts dinner on the table, who listens when I am crying, who knows me well enough to know when I need to be left alone, who reminds me that I am good. My mother is strong enough to take the blame from me and my sister whenever anything goes wrong, she has taken the burden of our anger, weathered the storms of my father, understands my sisters needs, my loneliness. It is my mom who transplanted from her homeland years ago and has flourished and thrived in her new home as well. I wish I could explain to her the beauty of her every movement, of how I wish every day that I could be a little more like her. I watch as she pours herself into her work and her family.

When things go wrong, when I am sick, when jobs seem scarce and relationships too frightening to endure, it is my mother who brings me soup, tells me money is fleeting anyway and will always come back, and who iterates time and again that grace and compassion are the backbone of my life. Her strength, resilience, laughter, joy, and small reminders to never drink and drive, and always call home, give us the foundation from which we are able to build our lives. From the day I was born onward, it is my mother who has never stopped believing in me, loving me, and who through her own example of existence has shown me the true meaning of being a lady.

Someday I will have a daughter, a small baby girl who will run too fast and too far, who will climb up the wrong side of the slide, who will break her arm and smash her teeth, who will come home with bruises and sawdust in her hair. She will have her heart broken, will leave me for her life to begin, and if I am lucky, I will be able to give her the same home and the same heart that my mother has bestowed upon me.


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