Chosen

At night, when I tuck my kids into bed, we say affirmations.  It goes something like this:

Me: Repeat after me.

Kid: Repeat after me.

(Years of doing affirmations and they still laugh at the ‘repeat’ thing.)

Me: I am brave.

Kid: I am brave.

Me: I am kind.

Kid: I am kind.

You get the idea.  A few more generic ones, and then I deviate according to the kid’s personality, something we struggled with that day, or something silly.  I love to make up songs on the spot and they enjoy my goofiness as well, which I know won’t last forever so I’m soaking it in.  We always end with “I love myself, I’m proud of myself, and I can do great things.”

I love myself and I’m proud of myself were not part of my original formula, they came to me a couple of years ago when I was thinking about how to have the kids’ validation come from within, rather than from others, including their parents.  I’m not of the opinion that me arriving on Earth earlier makes me any more of an authority on how to be human, it only makes me responsible for their care, safety, and guiding them with things like manners, potty training, and when it’s acceptable to yell “Go Dawgs” at strangers. (Hint: Always. It’s always acceptable.)

Some nights I thank them for choosing me to be their Mama when they were souls preparing to come to Earth.  I feel so grateful and honored that they chose me, knowing they’d be vulnerable and I’d be so very … well, flawed.  Human.  Ill-prepared for the task.

When I was young enough to have a bedtime, Bonmama tucked me into bed most nights.  My mom worked late nights as a radio DJ, so she was usually gone and Bonpapa was downstairs working in his office or occasionally asleep in his recliner in front of an episode of Dragnet.

We walked down the narrow hallway, Bonmama and I, feet scuffing on the vintage green carpet (it had odd sections that looked a lot like the tops of cauliflower to me and I liked how it felt underfoot) until we reached her bedroom.  I had my own bed in my own bedroom across the hall, but didn’t sleep in it because it was big and I was small and afraid of the dark.

So she had an antique bed brought in from Lacanau – her mother’s home – and squeezed it beside her bed, the foot of it nearly touching her delicate dark wooden vanity, and that bed, pushed back into the corner of her room, is where I slept every night.  That was our room.  Bonmama, Bonpapa, and me.

[[Side note:  Eventually, I acquired an ugly gray radio/alarm clock and I was allowed to listen to the public broadcasts each night until one of them came to bed.  It helped me to sleep and not feel alone.  Usually, my choices for night time listening were the grainy audio from some mediocre stage production of Macbeth, or an opera with commercials interspersed.  I always chose the opera.  It’s so romantic, dramatic, and while I couldn’t ever understand what was being sung about, I could tell it was earnest and urgent.  As an idealistic young dreamer, I loved the sounds of catastrophe, climax, and resignation.   If Bonpapa chose the station – which he sometimes did – it was Beethoven.  I still listen to music when I nap, usually Italian opera or Beethoven.]]

I climbed into my little bed, nestled amongst my “menagerie” of stuffed animals, including a mangy-looking white Persian cat and its equally scruffy black sibling, and Bonmama sat beside me arranging pillows and blankets around us.  Once I was still, she prayed with me, beginning with the Lord’s prayer in French, and sometimes invoking Archangel Michael to watch over me.  “You are special to Michel,” she’d say.  “You’re named after him.”  There was something about the way she said it.  I believed the fiercest of Heaven’s warriors might actually have taken time to check in on me as I slept, if I asked him to.

Some nights she rubbed my back or chatted with me about the day.  Every night without fail, she said to me and I repeated back to her:

Bonne Nuit,

Bonne Reves, and

Je t’aime beaucoup. 

Those are French for Good Night, Sweet Dreams, and I love you.

Not exactly affirmations, but no less affirming to my heart and soul.

It’s been a hard week, mostly due to missing her, and today was a welcome reprieve. I spent all day with my boys, just the three of us.  We began with breakfast, then painting.  We went to the field and kicked the soccer ball around, threw a football, raced, and fell down and laughed with each other.  We shared a pizza for dinner, and they played video games while I sat in my big chair and read a book.

Forgive me if my writing is scattered.  All of these thoughts are strung like twinkling patio lights in my head, a web of love and comfort and tradition.  Tradition in the sense that no one is really gone as long as you remember, and echo, and say their name and – here’s the important part, the reason I’m writing this tonight – pay their love forward into new hearts.

A lightning-strike realization. Another revelation.  They keep coming, unexpectedly, as I think and overthink my life and hers and that sweet spot where they intersected, and I wonder if this isn’t another unrecognized stage of grief:

Epiphany.

Honoring Bonmama is not just about saying her name or making her bread.  It’s about the love she’s given me, that can never be divided, only multiplied, and pouring that devotion into my children so that they meet her, and know the best parts of her, even if they don’t know it’s her they are meeting.

I felt like a good mom today.  A Bonmama – type of mom.  At the end of the day, my kids knew without any doubt just how treasured they are.  Cherished.  That’s a word she liked to use.  I like it, too.  (As I type this, my boys are asleep in my bed, surrounded by 15-20 of their “favorite” stuffed animals. This is the kind of history I don’t mind repeating.)

What I’m thinking about over and over as I listen to them gently snoring is, I am so grateful for the choosing. 

That Bonmama chose to be more to us – and give more to us – than she was required.

That my sons chose me in the “before”, and that they continue to choose me every day despite my shortcomings.

Grateful, too, that I am choosing and choose in each moment to show up for them, to be better than I might have been, to give more than I sometimes want to, to try again and fail and apologize and cry and keep working at it.

The words are a comfort and certainly, we like to say them.  I want to hear the words, repeat the words, have fun with the affirmations.  But the love – the evidence and proof and depth of that love – exists, I think, in the choosing.

Anniversary

It’s been one month. The time has flown but in my heart, it feels like it’s been 5 years.  What does it feel like there?

I get turned around, don’t know what day it is a lot. I can’t do math or count very well, though I have no idea what that has to do with missing you.

Talking to mom on the phone and even as we are talking about your passing, she said: “Maman’s here!” I jumped.  Totally expected to hear your voice.  Gut punch.

Mostly I look forward. Life is a gift, I know.  I remember the Lauren Hutton interview where she quotes King Lear while talking about reminiscing.  “Not that way, never that way.  That way madness lies.”  That way madness lies.  So much truth in that line.

One month down.  All of them to go.  I love you. Je t’aime.

when the night comes

Some days

I can fool myself into thinking

I’m alright.

A walk outside,

A giggle or a conversation,

Pleasant distractions.

Two or three moments

Strung together

That do not wound me.

False confidence, as I think

Perhaps it’s not so bad,

This new life.

Maybe I can live it.

When

Suddenly, quietly,

Like a fox slipping through

The fence at dusk

It comes…

Creeping into me,

Cyphening the light from

My chest and the love

From my bones

I am destroyed

As

Ever so slowly

(Yet somehow all at once)

I die, I die, I die.

 

J’ai du vague à l’âme

Je suis prest pour apprendre le francais.

That’s what I was going to say when I called. We had so many conversations about having those conversations in French if I wanted to try.  I did want to try, of course, but I was embarrassed at how bad I might be and I didn’t want to be bad – in front of you – at something we both loved so much.  Sounds stupid now.  I’d give anything to rewind a couple of weeks and chat with you in your native tongue.

I know people see me drowning in this and they think, “what’s the big deal?  Everyone has lost a grandmother.”  They only think that because they don’t know who you were, who we were.  I won’t attempt to write that here, because I think it would be impossible, but I have gathered a few thoughts to keep for myself.

When other people hear the term “Iron Lady” they probably think of Margaret Thatcher.  Maybe some younger, stupid ones think of the Statue of Liberty.  I always think of you.  Strong and unyielding, a real force of nature.  A woman who would plunge her hands into scalding hot water because that was the best way to wash dishes, walk 15 miles in a day without complaint (and in fact, prefer it to driving), the woman who caught me by my hair and pulled me up when I slipped and fell off an actual cliff.

Having grandchildren softens a person, and I think it made you – as Goldilocks would say – “just right”.  I hear stories about you being conservative with your praise but with me, you gave it so freely.  I felt empowered by your true and steady belief in me.  You were my compass, my North Star, encouraging me to try new things and have adventures.  At the same time, you were an anchor, helping me feel safe in knowing that I always had a home to go back to.  A refuge.

To be known, seen, understood – and to have that revelation of understanding DEEPEN love, not repulse it – is something I have only ever felt from you and Bonpapa.  You did not tolerate me, you did not chastise me, your love was based on nothing that might be taken away or failed.  It simply was.  I could sit next to you and FEEL the love radiate from you. I know that in thousands of instances, you made a conscious choice to see and speak to only the good in me.

You were otherworldly.  We both knew it.  Your psychic dreams, your knowing.  Remember when you called to ask me if I was pregnant?  I lied to you, but you had known.  When you realized I had similar gifts, you pointed to me and said I was witchy like your grandmother but the sparkle in your eye and half-grin on your lips always betrayed how much you liked that about me, related to it.  I wasn’t like her, I was like you.

A tri-lingual translator for the allies who lost her home and family’s title in the war, lost her beloved father at 9, ate grass sometimes to survive and cursed the Germans frequently.  An athlete and raven-haired beauty queen who held every man’s heart in the palm of her hands.  Coy, coquettish, playful, talented, quick-witted, smart.  Strong.  Unyielding.  Unashamed.  Different.  Proud. I didn’t meet this young enchanting version of you but I could see her in your eyes, hear her in your voice.

The version I met was still a beauty, still playful. She had a radio in the kitchen playing Lionel Ritchie while she cooked.  She took me to the symphony and the ballet so I would have a love for the arts.  She made French bread every Sunday after mass, always pointing out that it wasn’t perfect because the “American” ingredients aren’t the same. She took my brother and me to France – twice – so that we could understand and appreciate her history and our own.

There was nothing you could not do, my fiesty fearless conqueror princess.  Not many people know what a magnificent woman you were.  There should be books written about you, epic movies made.  They wouldn’t do you justice but you deserve them.

My sister, the mother of my heart, my partner in crime.  The first – maybe only – person I really wanted to tell about returning to Paris because I knew that you wouldn’t just listen, you would understand. You wouldn’t just understand, you would feel.  Describing that day, when I turned and saw the Eiffel Tower with the sun rising behind it and I wept, we wept together.  I felt happy to have someone to share that with, and a little sad because I knew that some part of that sadness in you stemmed from knowing you would never get to see your beloved France again.  My heart ached for you.

I hope that you are there now.  I hope that you and Bonpapa are together, traveling as you liked to do,  laughing, free.  I hope that being all-knowing hasn’t changed your opinion of me.  I hope that you can feel my love and see my heartbreak and be honored by it.  I hope that you are already planning when you might visit me in a dream.

My whole life changed in a moment.  My reality shifted.  This is the biggest, the most profound loss, and that is why I am drowning in it.  If you are the thing I held myself up to, defined myself with, what am I now?  I am empty, floating, directionless.  I am filled with guilt that I didn’t call you when my intuition provoked me.  I am filled with sorrow that by the time I got to you, you couldn’t speak to me or laugh with me.

I will miss all the secret things that I have not written here.  I will cling to the memories of my childhood, which you built around me from scraps my parents left lying around and your own beautiful love and strong will.  I will be grateful every day of my life for every day of yours.  I will do my best to love my children the way you showed me, and to travel with them and talk to them like grown-ups and empower them.  We will eat pastry for breakfast and send postcards to ourselves and I promise to speak French with them.  I will wear dresses for no reason and rings on all my fingers and I will stop apologizing for who I am.

Je t’aime beaucoup, my beautiful flower.  My soul cries out to yours in separation. I will count the days until we meet again.  xoxo bisous I love you, Bonmama.  Beaucoup beaucoup.

 

DFW

That story –

The one about David Foster Wallace

Winning a prestigious award months after

Stepping into the abyss,

Believing he and his life and his work

Were worthless…

I don’t know if it’s true but

It comes to mind a lot.

I started reading him after I heard that story.

Talented, raw, stunningly gifted.

I am full of rage today

White-hot flame that accompanies

Grief of this magnitude

I’m pissed that my life hasn’t gone anywhere

Embarrassed that you probably

Aren’t proud

And I am ready to be done with

All this bullshit

So. Much. Bullshit.

Maybe I’ll never amount to anything?

That’s where it seems to be headed

All these talented people around me

Some are horrible, liars and cheats who

Got ahead

Some are authentic and totally

Deserve success.

They are my peers.

Am I the exception that proves this rule?

I work and wait and hope and believe

And nothing happens.

I feel stuck here, unloved, ordinary.

And I’m angry you are gone

Angry at life

Angry at death

Angry.

I’m no David Foster Wallace but

I think about him a lot these days.

Eulogy [prologue]

It was one of the most intimate moments we’d ever shared.

I forget what I was in line for.  I guess I had tuned out all the other people.  I do that sometimes – the noise and the buzzing feeling I get in social situations lead me to focus on something else, something smaller, less loud.  Staring at a penny that looked like it might be glued to the ground by my foot, hands in my pockets, I waited in the line.

All of a sudden someone brushed up against me.  Not like when a stranger passes by and grazes an elbow, more like when you back yourself into a wall.  Only this time the wall had backed into me.  Someone was behind me, someone big.  I could feel them, their warmth covered me like a blanket.  Hands – rougher than mine and calloused – slid into my pockets behind my own.  A head rested itself on my shoulder.  I could feel a bit of stubble on the side of my face, hot breath next to my cheek.

It was sweet, not salacious.  It was familiar, and I knew it was you without having to turn around.  What I didn’t know was why it was you.  Why were you there, standing in line with me – with me and in the middle of all these other people?  It didn’t make any sense, and I thought about questioning it but stopped myself.  It didn’t need to make sense.  I’d ask questions later.  For now, I just wanted to stand here staring at a glued-down penny, your big rough hands nestled behind mine in the deep pockets of my overalls, your head on my shoulder.

We didn’t talk. The line didn’t move.  The wind didn’t blow, the birds didn’t sing.  Nothing happened and at the same time, everything happened. We stood there together, me with you and you with me, hands in pockets.

A millisecond later I was startled awake by the loud creaking of my bedroom windowsill.  These windows get to complaining whenever there’s a thunderstorm like the one tonight. It’s hot and raining heavy and the wood is moving around under the pressure.

I smiled at the absurdity of that moment.

A finger-snap ago I had been happy, in a sunny place feeling warm and secure, and just as I’d begun to thank my lucky stars or guardian angels or whoever was in charge of this sort of thing, I had been jerked back.  Back to a cold lonely bedroom on a rainy night, back to lonely insecure darkness. Back to what was real.

It was one of the most intimate moments we’d ever shared, and it was a dream.

This is the nature of us.

 

Again

I have slept a thousand nights

Without the walls closing in

A thousand nights!

I won. I win.

Suddenly, without warning,

The walls are pressing in on me

Again

I can’t sleep

And I can’t breathe

And I will die before I let them crush me

Again

Please don’t let them crush me again.

Running Down a Dream

I’ve been visited by dead people before.  It’s pretty common for me.  When someone I love dies, they will visit me in a dream. We may chat, or have a picnic, or cry together.  It’s a sweet way to get closure, and I can always tell when a dream is not just a dream, but a visit.  I’m grateful for whatever part of me is open enough to let them through.  Sometimes other people’s loved ones come to me in dreams, too, and ask me to relay messages, which I do.  I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t believe in this sort of thing, to which I’ll now respond with my favorite Nicolas Cage quote (from City of Angels) – “Some things are true whether you believe in them or not.”

 

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This is my Sincere Face.

Last night, I had a dream that was a visitation.  It was about Tom Petty.  Yes, the celebrity/singer/songwriter/cowboy/Traveling Wilbury.  That one.   I have always felt a special connection to Tom’s music, since I was a kid I’ve loved his songs and identified with his lyrics. I was sad, as a lot of people were, to hear of his passing and disappointed that I’d never been to see him in concert.  It wasn’t something I dwelled on, though, and as life does, mine moved on.

So the last few nights I have had some strange and colorful dreams.  I attribute it to the full moon + partial lunar eclipse in Capricorn (don’t get me started on Capricorn).  Last night’s dream was colorful and lively, but different. If you’ve had visitations you know what I’m talking about.  It’s almost like lucid dreaming, in that you’re aware something is different and this moment should be cherished, you try to look around and remember things because you know it will be over soon and you don’t want it to be.  At the same time you’re trying to listen and pay attention to whatever wisdom the visitor is there to impart.

I won’t detail the whole dream, but I will say that the part that felt most important had to do with my boots (navy blue Doc Martens with a zipper on the heel) and his boots (unknown brand).  We compared boots.  Tom Petty gave me some tips on how to care for mine, and how to make the leather feel smooth and buttery like his.  (Yes, I felt Tom Petty’s boots, and yes, they were as soft and luxurious as you might imagine.)

The other important part had to do with him having daughters.  One a brunette, she had a little chubby-cheek face and a dress on and she was precocious and chatty.  I mark this as important because it wasn’t something I knew about him.  I didn’t know TP had children at all, and I had to look it up on the internet to confirm it.  Two daughters, according to Google, and according to Dream Tom.  That, for me, is a confirmation.

All of this has left me with a sincere curiosity, and a hope that maybe the great Tom Petty is one of my spirit guides.   He’s not the first person to visit me after passing, but he is one of the most interesting and I hope we get to chat again.

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Damn the Torpedoes. My guides are cooler than yours.

A couple important notes about dream visitations: Our loved ones, guides, anyone on that plane can take on any form.  My grandfather sometimes visits as the “him” I remember, and sometimes as his younger self.  Tom Petty went back and forth between young and old, seeming equally comfortable with all of his different human “selves”.  Also, visitations are not usually romantic in nature (unless the person was a romantic partner, and even then it’s not likely.)  If you dream about making out with Steve McQueen in the back of a limo it is probably a wish-fulfillment dream courtesy of your own subconscious, and not an actual visit.

Strange and Unusual

It was all very The Bridges of Madison County.

You know towards the end of the story, when Francesca is sitting at a stoplight in her husband’s truck, watching the rain and re-living the past few weeks as she contemplates whether to jump out and run to Robert, abandoning her current life in favor of excitement, passionate love, and the unknown?

That’s what my trip to New Orleans was like.

It was like that one time I wandered into a goth bar, looked around, gulped, and decided to stay.  Then, several hours and several drinks later, realizing I wasn’t just surviving the situation, I was enchanted with my surroundings.  The music, the people, feeling my horizons stretching as I breathed in new smells and entertained new ideas.  Infatuated.  Curious. Entranced. Hypnotized. Beguiled.

And I don’t want to let it go.

Some people say that a place like New Orleans, or the French Quarter in particular, allows the visitor to be someone else for a while.  True, there are lots of bars, lots of boobs, lots of interesting characters and avenues for transformation.  In my case, though, the opposite was true.  The New Orleans experience, for me, didn’t feel like an opportunity to be someone else.  It felt like the opportunity to be who I am, authentically.

What does that mean?  Who am I, at my core?

If you must know, I’m an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in bacon.

It’s hard for me to articulate what I mean.  To look at me, you’d see someone who is responsible, clean, not tattooed or pierced, a runner, someone who likes to sleep and read books and pet cats and dogs that aren’t mine, someone who dreams of Paris and plays at photography and likes a nice cardigan sweater.  If I’m totally honest, I don’t look like New Orleans.  I look like White Bread, USA. This is where, as an outside observer, you’d get me wrong if you were to judge based on appearance.

I may not like scary movies.  I don’t enjoy music where people scream at me in what may or may not be an intelligible language.  But at my center, I tend towards the melancholy.  Always have.  Even as a kid.  I like Poe, I like dark art.  I’m fascinated with magick and gem stones, the moon and its power, psychic abilities, and the things that go bump in the night.  Just last week I was researching wolves and skin walkers because I totally believe it’s possible (and I kinda hope it is).  [True Story: The Wolf is actually my animal totem.]

I think tattoos are sexy as hell.  I don’t have one because I’m indecisive.  Piercings, even more so.  I’ve always wanted a few of them, but besides the navel I’ve been a chicken about it.  I want purple hair sometimes, I want to wear a corset, I watch Vampire Hunter D and paint my nails black and weirdos are my favorite kind of people.

Maybe I’m Lydia Deetz – not so hardcore that I wear pentagrams and know which bars the vampires frequent, but genuine in that there’s a part of me that is authentically goth, macabre, gloomy, and intrigued by the people who are deep into that scene and living it out loud.

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Actual Photo of me in New Orleans.

I could have been that, had I jumped out of the truck.  No, I AM that.  Deep inside, past the big smile, GAP tank top and gooey marshmallow center.  I am.  Wandering the streets of the French Quarter was like reading the part of the “choose your adventure” book that you didn’t choose, just to find out what would have happened.  It was also like coming home to somewhere I didn’t realize I had left.  Like meeting a gorgeous, eccentric relative I never knew existed.

It was rad. I won’t ever forget it, and I’m forever grateful for it.  I can’t wait to get back to her – I think the city is definitely a woman – and I doubt a day will go by that I don’t think of her until I do.

p.s. Friends, if you get to New Orleans before I do, there’s a little shop called JEWELS that I wish you’d go and visit.  You’ll be glad you did.

My Own Hemingway

Hemingway wrote, “Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep.  Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

He lived exactly that way.  Loud laugh (and sneezes and snores!), marching to the beat of his own drum, eating the fattening food and always thirsty for knowledge.  Walking in the morning before the sun came up, delighting in life’s smallest pleasures, using every moment as an opportunity to teach and inspire. He left an indelible mark on my heart and my spirit, and he was truly a gift.

Much like Hemingway, he possessed a towering personality, a strong wit, a boisterous laugh, great humility and a zest for life and good food.

He taught me so much:

Shakespeare. Algebra. Kindness. UGA Football. Curiosity. Humor. Responsibility.  Cracklin’ Oat Bran. Perspective. National Geographic. Cinnamon toast. Marigolds. Gratitude. Strawberries. Music. Generosity. Travel. Naps. Puns. Iced coffee. Tradition. Barbecue. Courage. History. Ambrosia. Strength. Classical Music. Individuality.

Love.

So, Happy Birthday to my own Hemingway. I love you forever.  xo, Your Girl.