ready, set, pow

This morning I wondered why a brunette isn’t referred to as “Bombshell.”

Blondes are called bombshells.

But everyone knows Archie wants Veronica, not Betty.

Then it hit me.

Blondes are bombshells.

I, a brunette, am not.

I am not the encapsulation, I am not the shell.

No, that’s not me at all.

(and you can have it)

I am the substance. The thing within that detonates.

I am the explosive.

And I am ok with that.

Dichotomy

The number two is important. I don’t know why yet.

Interesting to me that people would rather be told a lie in a calm and soothing manner than have the truth passionately presented at high volume. It’s the yelling that offends such delicate sensibilities, not the insidious nature of the lie.

If you are triggered by a person, it’s because something about them resonates with your shadow. The part of you that disgusts you. Worth looking at.

The number two. Sides, partners, compliments. Balance, reciprocity, light and shadow, black and white, gaining momentum. Solidarity, brotherhood, twinship. Somehow significant, according to my dreams. Perhaps the message is to embrace both sides. Embrace each other.

grits and graham crackers

I have favorite words. Eviscerate(d) is one. Trepidation is another.

I have favorite numbers, too. 222. 11:34. 86.

Saturday was a test. I felt great about it. I passed. Now I’m on pins and needles to see what comes of it.

My kids taking yoga class is a balm to my heart. How lucky I am.

The grief is beginning to wane, knock on the big wooden door that leads to the netherworld…

Today I didn’t feel like she was dead, I felt like she is alive and with me and in all things. I’ve been working on parenting like she would, spending time outside, appreciating the gift that is life and not lamenting what I can’t change. It is helping, some.

When Bonpapa died (on 7.7) I visited his grave every month on the 7th for a year. It was a devastating loss and I feel things to an approximate depth of 1.2 trillion times more than the average human. So, as felt appropriate to me at the time, I found a way to honor him and who he was to me in dramatic fashion. On the last day, July 7th one year after he passed, I stood over his headstone crying, and I heard:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen.” It’s Luke 24:5 for those of you not figuratively waterboarded with scripture by old nuns in Catholic school growing up. I got this message, and it was a revelation, and I walked away from the place we buried my beloved jolly wordsmith with a sense of peace I hadn’t known since he died.

Impetus for today: The woman who gave birth to me said that my grief made her look bad, it is disrespectful to her that I refer to my Bonmama as my mother. This went on for days, messages flooding my inboxes. I didn’t respond I just went inward. I blocked her on all but one channel. Later I found out that when she couldn’t get a rise out of me she went to my brother, screaming threats and insults into his voicemail box, calling us ungrateful, threatening to tell people about all the ways we’ve hurt Bonmama before. I mean… yeah. She was enraged. Unhinged.

By the way, if you’re a person I flaked on in the last two weeks, this is why. I just kinda shut everything up, out, and down. I had to. I’m sorry.

If you’re a reader here, you know how much my brother means to me. You know that I am the big little sister, and I watch out for him. My brother is the firstborn, the sensitive caring emotional highly intelligent high-performer. Perfectionist, a little OCD, a lot generous, and a lot genius. He was a sweet, sweet, kid. I won’t pour out our childhood on the page today but I would say that most of his issues fall squarely into the lap of our mother. Bonmama used to say “it’s a wonder you’re sane”.

Bonmama was the closest thing to a mom I had, loving and funny and nurturing. My mom is like a jealous, narcissistic sister.

But I digress…

Today I was driving my kids home from an impromptu trip to Barnes and Noble. You know the kind – where each child has earned around $8.25 doing household chores and somehow it’s enough to buy the $22.95 thing they want so badly it’ll be lost between the bed and the wall in two days time? Yeah. It was good. So they were happily occupied in the back seat and I was lost in thought about Bonmama. The feeling was similar, the thought was similar:

She is alive, and she’s with me, and I can do this.

This whole thing continues to be such a roller coaster but I am learning when to hold on and when to throw my hands in the air, and throughout I continue to be grateful. Gratitude. Another favorite word of mine.

Protected: Death and Rebirth

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a million billion

Can I call this an epitaph if it’s lengthy?

Your obituary did not become you. It was neither celebratory or fittingly mournful. I hated the picture they chose. I know I’ve mentioned before, but it doesn’t even look like you. Tonight I wanted to write something that is more reflective of the extraordinary person you are and the life you lived.

Elyane Marie Therese Ghilaine de Dron (Richards)

April 13, 1927 – June 30, 2020

Born April 13, 1927 in Dunkirk (or Dunqurque) to Rene, a Frenchman in the Order of Dragoons who loved football, and Jeanne, a strong and intelligent Belgian woman. You were a girl of noble birth who had a humble and curious spirit. Popular in school, you loved to draw and doodle in your journals.

When your father died unexpectedly of cancer, you were heartbroken. Devastated. At seven years old, you became an adult. You tried to be strong for your sister and helpful to your mother. Secretly, it was a wound that never completely healed.

When the Germans invaded France in 1940 you were only 13, but very clever. The Nazis took your family home and used it as a base of operations, making you homeless, and many days you and your sister ate grass and leaves to survive. (This is why later in life you joked about disliking Germans.) Memories of the bombs and missile sounds gave you nightmares, even later in life.

You exited university a tri-lingual asset to the allies, speaking French, Italian, and English. You and your sister worked as translators in the field. Jet black hair and olive skin, you were a ravishing beauty and you could have had any soldier for a husband. You chose the kind one, the Captain, the one who spoke softly and smiled with his whole face. He was handsome, in his way, and he was steady. I bet you really liked that about him – his steadiness. You chatted and laughed over picnic lunches and afternoon bike rides, and slowly the two of you fell in love. It felt destined. After so much turmoil in your life at a young age, here was someone offering you peace.

The two of you wed in the yard of a breathtaking cathedral in Marseilles. I have the picture from the steps, both of you radiant and young. I hope you feel as glorious now as you did on that day.

Shortly after, the allies won the war, and you followed your soldier into the unknown, and into your new life as an American. Like many immigrant military wives at the time, you had to travel separately, registering at Ellis Island and then slowly making your way all the way down to rural Alabama.

Back then, Phenix City was known as “Sin City” (Vegas hadn’t been built yet), was working to clean up its organized crime issue, and was undergoing massive transformation. A fitting place for you to begin your own metamorphosis.

Life in Alabama was a challenge. The brutal heat and oppressive humidity were a new experience for you, and the “country cooking” your mother-in-law served made you violently ill. The pressure to be a good homemaker in this new country weighed heavily on you. You missed your old life in France, your friends, your culture. The elegance of every day life. You lost a lot of weight. No one would have blamed you if you had thrown in the towel and returned to the familiar, but that isn’t who you are. It never was. You are tenacious and determined. In all my life I’ve never heard of anyone grabbing a hold of their circumstances and building, and climbing, and forcing them to work in her favor the way that you did. You dug in your heels and began to adapt to life as an American, a military wife, and a mother.

You were a social person, and when you couldn’t find groups to join you created them. The local French Club that still meets every other Wednesday for lunch owes its very existence to you. I remember going with you a few times. I sat with the husbands, because I could understand what they were saying. Remember Bob? I loved him. He always made sure to say hi. And he gave me pennies. I wonder if Bob is there, where you are. What was his wife’s name? Genevieve? Is she there, too?

When your children went off to school, you decided to go to work. After all, you were good for more than just cooking and cleaning and you had always been career-minded before coming to America. Instead of asking someone to hire you, you went to work for yourself as an Avon lady, setting up your office in the basement. True to your upbringing, you preferred to walk all over town, going door-to-door to chat with ladies about your products. Eventually you became known as the “walking lady” of Phenix City. It was a job you cherished and were truly passionate about and your customers became lifelong friends.

Athletic and lithe, you also found time to walk, bicycle, and practice tennis. Mom says you were very good at tennis and I wish I could remember, but maybe it was before my time.

Psychic and superstitious, you had sacred little rituals and talismans you held on to.

Ever the sophisticate, you wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of pants. Culottes were the closest you’d get, and those were only for bicycle riding or some similar. You didn’t even own a pair of jeans. Modest dresses were your signature style. Hair always done, makeup always “just so”. Lots of jewelry, a la Coco Chanel. One wrist and hand for gold, the other for silver.

You even found a way to parlay your childhood love of doodling into a hobby, and your wood-burned art pieces won several awards at state fairs. You seemed to will yourself to be good at everything you tried. Baking, painting, gardening, knitting. Was there anything you couldn’t do? No, I doubt it.

When your children were all grown up and you found yourself reprising the role of mother, this time to two of your grandchildren, you didn’t moan or complain. In fact, you delighted in the opportunity to teach and guide them. You tucked them in to bed and made them clothes by hand and lathered on the Skin-So-Soft in the Summer time to keep the mosquitos away. You took them on trips to Callaway Gardens and let them have ice cream at bed time. You paid for field trips and tuition and took them to mass with you. You prayed with them, and laughed with them, and talked with them in that magical way that grandmothers sometimes do, that let them know their secrets were safe in your heart.

You even took them (us) to Europe – twice – in order to share your history and heritage with them. I remember funny things like how much we disliked Spain (Barf-elona and My-dread, we called them) to meeting Edith and her daughter and eating Moroccan food for the first time, to the quaint bed and breakfast in London, to Aunt Nini’s house (my favorite) and learning to command her dog, Ulo, in French. You put some of the most treasured parts of my life – of my soul – together carefully, generously, deliberately. I know Jason would agree.

Sometimes you were hard. Not cold, not distant, but tough. I think it’s fair to say I never saw the depths of that toughness but every now and then I got a glimpse. I hope I have an ounce of the courage you had.

Sometimes you were cheeky. You liked to play jokes (but not mean or dirty ones) and you loved to make people laugh.God, you had the best laugh. When you were angry you’d yell Zut! Alors! (damnit) or ayayay.

Water is for the fishes, you said. You loved your daily glass of wine. Grocery day was always Friday and you let us eat things before checking out just so we’d behave. Friday was also the day you cleaned bathrooms. You washed clothes inside but then hung them out on the line to dry, so your towels were extremely scratchy and stiff. Someone bought you a dryer a while back but I don’t think you ever used it. You liked mystery and detective novels best. You wore curlers in your hair and for very special occasions you would curl my hair at night, too. I always got a dress for my birthday and one for Christmas. You cooked every night. You fed the hummingbirds and hated the squirrels. (bb guns! drowning!) You braided my hair with all your rings in and told me “pain is beauty”. You tucked me in at night, fostered my imagination, made sure I did my homework. You went to every recital, every game, every event. You helped me with Halloween costumes and science projects. You bought me Star Trek books for Christmas one year and I felt so seen by you.

I remember visiting you in rehab a couple of years ago. The doctors said something to you that they likely would not have done, had they known to whom they were speaking. You laughed at them. “Watch me!” You said. I laid in your hospital bed beside you as you told me you were going to walk out of there unassisted, and you were going to make them watch you do it. What a spitfire!

There are a million billion little things I know about you. A million billion things to miss.

I can’t write them all here (and this, despite my best efforts, will not come close to doing you justice).

If I assigned one thing to every star in the heavens, I’d run out of stars before I ran out of you.

If I spoke one memory to every wave in the ocean, the water would quiet long before I did.

You are so much more than anyone around me can or will understand. I hope you can see this. I hope you are with us, with my kids. I hope you hug Jason when he cries for you because I know he cries, but he won’t tell me because he is trying not to crumble. I hope you’ll hug me, too, and remember all the million billion things between us, and never ever let them – or us – go.

In the end, you got what you always said you wanted. No long sickness or suffering, no old-folks home, no doctors. You were quick-witted and charming and brave even at 93. An inspiration. You fought against death himself so that Jason and I could get to you. Who argues with death, Maman? Who? You are extraordinary in ways most people dare not dream of.

In transforming, I hope you are reunited with your dear father Rene, your mother Jeanne, your loving husband Warren (hi Bonpapa!), your sister Monique, your niece Silvie, your witchy grandmother, the children you lost, your many many friends and family and numerous small yappie dogs. I hope your soul feels more complete and satisfied than it ever did here on earth, and I hope you’re saving a place for me for the day I get to see you again. I love you. Je t’aime, je t’aime. xo

indiscernable

It’s in everything.

Grief is like my secret ingredient.

What’s your secret to such meaningful work? (Grief. I have to focus on something so I don’t die.)

What’s your secret to dedicated workouts? (Grief. Lifting weights channels my anger.)

What’s your secret to Momming so hard? (Grief. A tribute to the parent she was, the kind of memories I want my kids to have.)

Let’s see… basically I’m sad as fuck and at the same time trying to make you proud and at the same time grasping for it to have some kind of purpose and at the same time wishing that loving you hard enough will make you materialize in front of me.

Why did I yell at my kids? Well, because they weren’t listening for the fifteenth time and I’m tired and ready to call it a day, and because I dreamed that you died while I was driving you home and I can’t remember what you told me.

Why did I just argue with my husband over something stupid? Because I had to stick my hand in the toilet tank and now I want to boil it… and we had a joke about boiling hands and EVERYTHING is you and you are in everything. I can’t escape it but I don’t want to run away from it, I want to run towards you. But I can’t. And then I can’t breathe again. So I yell. Or, you know, find something else to do.

I felt so French today. You would have liked my outfit. You said I was “the most French” of your kids and grandkids. You said I was like you. I felt like you today.

You said we were your favorites. I know how much everyone else in the family hated hearing that but I loved it. I knew it was true… and you were my favorite, too.

I need to be able to call you. Hear you tell me I’m a good mom because I “talk to them like grownups” and make them play outside. Tell you about all the mundane happenings of the week, eventually ending the chat with Paris talk because when are we (you and I) not dreaming of France?

Maman.

I miss you sofuckinggoddamnmuch.

Every time I get myself glued back together, a memory or a scent or a story I want to share with you comes flying at me like a baseball through a glass window and I’m on the floor again, in a million pieces.

Please come get me. Please wake me up. Please give me just one more day with you. Please.

just like that

i am staring at the screen.

supposed to be writing, making notes, putting the sheets back on my bed but i’m not doing any of that. i’m staring at the screen, frozen. blank. not empty. oh no, the thoughts are racing. frozen in place, the wind knocked out of my lungs, unsure what to do or say next.

a woman i have known for 15 years ‘virtually’ passed from an aneurysm months ago and i just found out. she was a runner, a member of a long-dead running forum i began to frequent in my 20s. she was an encourager, a real leader, and an inspiration. my chest hurts.

i woke up this morning and thought, why haven’t i seen that huge, beautiful smile on instagram lately? but that’s the trouble with social media and thousands of followers and constant streams of information – they replace our methods of human connection with artificial friendship, with disconnection masquerading as keeping up with our loved ones in real time.

i lost her in a sea of information and ads and book reviews and pretty seasonal table settings.

she was 45. fitter than me in a way that was motivating, always positive, and such a great mom to two beautiful children. she delighted in them, and they were both lucky enough to inherit her megawatt smile. her whole face lit up when she smiled. her smile was one of the best things on my feed.

i struggle to breathe, struggle to understand. in my mind i get a vision of someone trying to climb a mountain in full gear, but the mountain is made of mud, or milkshake, and there’s no gripping and no upward progress. all the effort in the world only keeps me in the same place, it takes all of me not to slide down one more inch, and after so much fighting and flailing about, the fatigue is setting in.

what a time this is, what a journey. roseann, i am honored that you chose to spend any energy or happiness or conversation on me, you were so much more ‘grown up’ than me, and i admired you so much as a mother. i can’t believe it, and it will probably take me a while. i love you.

Help

I can do hard things.

It’s an affirmation I’ve added to my daily routine. I don’t want to do hard things, nor do I like to do hard things, but I CAN do them. I had to do a hard thing last night.

In the evening, after dinner, we had to tell our son that his best friend’s dad passed away. As a mom, I try to strike this invisible balance when it comes to topics like death – I want to give accurate, straightforward information without inciting fear or chipping away at his precious innocence. The balance is elusive and so much harder to attain (or even recognize) than it may sound. (There’s really no way to know if you’ve said too little, or too much, and mostly I hope that leading with the heart and being honest and gentle is going to be the right approach.)

I studied his little face as he tried to process the information, what it meant for his sweet buddy, what it meant in general, why we were telling him. We talked about death as a part of life, and about what his friend might be feeling or thinking right now.

Then, I tried to give him some actionable items. Like me, my son does well with a plan. In times of crisis, look for the helpers. Isn’t that what Mr. Rogers said? In times when we feel powerless or out of control, it’s good to look around and ask, “How can I help?”

School starts back in-person on Monday, so my son will get to see his friend. We went over things to expect, like moodiness or meanness. We talked about how our hurts sometimes make us hurt others, and not taking it personally. Giving a wide berth to his friends’ emotions, which are probably all tangled right now.

He suggested ways he could help his friend feel better, like making art with his friend and helping him to laugh or find fun in his day, or even just sitting next to him on the playground swings.

I went to see my hairdresser today, who happens to also be my friend. She’s been through more in the last two years than some people endure in decades. She is so strong, so resilient, and I am in awe of her tenacity and positivity. We talked about a lot of things (hairdressers can be like bartenders, who are like therapists, if you don’t know) and particularly about loss, as she lost a friend at the same time I lost my grandmother.

She told me about him, showed me video of him doing a back flip on a trampoline, and then talked about her immediate response, which was to contact his partner and offer her apartment to him. She said she knew she couldn’t really do anything for his pain, but she could be there, and she could remind him she was there, even if he just wanted to come and sit on her couch and stare at her.

What I know and appreciate about pain, and grief, and anxiety is that nothing can be something, when everything is too much. That might sounds like the kind of nonsense that Winnie the Pooh would say, but if you know, you know. You don’t have to spend money to help. You don’t have to make some grand gesture. Most of the time you just have to show up.

My hairdresser, she gets it. She’s a helper.

St. Francis of Assisi wrote the words in the following image, and my calligraphy teacher gave me a print of it a long time ago, which I still have. It’s a good reminder for us all right now, who look around and feel a little lost in the world that used to feel so much like home. The best way, I think, to deal with our own hard things is to walk other people through theirs.

Image from Google Images

interiors [just thoughts]

I’m in my room. My little Paris apartment. The cars on the highway echo against the brick outside my window and mimic the roar of the ocean.

There are books, candles, and seashells on the floor by my complimentary Architectural Digest canvas tote. Dried flowers on the dresser and a daisy charm I found in the field out back.

Bric-a-brac, she’d call it.

Moving towards minimalism, at least in aesthetic. I like the clean lines and simplicity of it, but I’m not sure I am truly a minimalist at heart. I prefer layers, depth. It’s much more compelling.

Arch Digest is the only magazine I subscribe to. Sometimes I think about studying design and architecture. I think I could get lost in it or perhaps if I’m lucky, absorbed by it.

I danced this morning. It was glorious. Many times I’ve wondered who I’d be if I hadn’t quit ballet. Quit piano. Quit school. A part of me hopes that in my next life I have high opportunities and the good sense to accept them and see them through.

On my mind: What can I do this week that I’ve never done? How can I stretch myself, expand, suspend my disbelief?

We’re All Strangers.

It’s a hard realization that no one will ever really know me. They all have their notions but those are just illusion. Many times people close to me make wildly inaccurate projections. It does make me curious to know what each person in my life would say, if asked to describe me. What am I like? As a person, parent, friend? What are my dreams, hopes, fears, delights, motivations? No one knows. No one can know. I suppose I’m going to try to make peace with that.