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She looks at me through blue eyes matching his—intent, searching, knowing eyes.
“Grandma,” she says. “Will you be happy again when Uncle Dood comes home?”
“I’ll try to be happy before that,” I tell her.
And in the next moment, she places both hands on her heart, those blue eyes watching carefully. She drops one hand open, toward me, like a flower extending snow-white petals. “Right now, your heart is like this, Grandma. In half.”
Such an amazing demonstration of love and understanding, from a child who has barely turned five. And I think, how? How can she know this much already?
But I know the answer. It’s the closeness, the love surrounding each of us in this family.
When one has a year to prepare for a disaster, there’s enough opportunity to do so. Yet we knew it would be near-impossible to bear.
I can’t cry all day, I can’t impose the burden of grief on the rest of your world. So I learn there’s an astonishing strength to love—humor, as well. They carry you.
Looking back is tempting, feeling pain, regrets, anger. But there has been enough of that, and love survives them all. In her fictional story of the artist Emily Carr’s life, Susan Vreeland said, “When you love, you’ve got to love through and through,” meaning that you accept them through thick and thin, failure and success.
Words like Vreeland’s jump out at me these days. That has always been the way God has worked in my life—images, words, voices that magically pertain to the need inside.
My son’s face is like a reminder from God. I hear his voice and see his grin, willing me to go forward, not look back at what’s already finished. He becomes pure motivation. I swim ten laps in the pool, saying his name as I tire, knowing how much of a cheerleader he’ll be for my workout. I meet a writing deadline, knowing that he would, no matter what—we are both driven to express what we see, what we feel or know to be true.
He is already planning his future, taking the steps. If he can be so courageous, so can I.
So now I have my own little fat-cheeked Buddha in my head—his face, smiling; his blue eyes, beaming, his cheeks pumpkin-like with the carbs he loaded on to prepare for prison diets. Set against feeling sorry for himself, sad only because he leaves family and friends for so long, he inspires me to do my best every day, and to move ahead with life. His last words to me, on that awful dark-suited day, were “Write a new book, Mama.”
I stared into the mirror as I sat in front of the makeup table …
NO! That’s no way to start a story, my writer friend insists. Never start by staring into a mirror. Or dreaming.
But that’s what I’ve been doing, so it’ll have to be a mirror. Let’s make it more interesting, though. Switch tenses.
I look into the mirror and every seam, every small scar and tight line around my lips looks ten years older and teen times deeper this morning. Oh, posh–I’d like to go to bed with a bottle of gin and the remote control and just can this day. I don’t want to face the real world.
I must, though, so I coat my cheeks liberally with rose blush and cover it over with foundation, trying to create a youthful aspect, and add an extra line of mascara. I’ve fixed the lighting so that I will no longer go out with eyeshadow up my forehead.
I’m doctor-bound today for my macular degeneration shot. Nothing like a needle in your eye to start the day off with a giggle. The iodine the nurse puts in first is enough to kill me. After, Ruth and I will do lunch with Jane and Dot. We used to play bridge, but we can’t see the cards anymore, so we’ve switched to lunches. Once in awhile, we take in a movie, but they’re such dark places, with so many steps, Ruth and Jane can’t move about safely.
And you can just forget about drinks with lunch, because none of us can drive sober, much less tipsy.
I didn’t sleep last night, again. I woke up six times to go to the potty, and then lay there until I could fall back to sleep–I probably get three hours if I’m lucky. How is a woman my age supposed to look like something still breathing–instead of a saltine cracker under a wig–with so little sleep? I tell you, everything is downhill after eighty. My seventies were just a warm-up.
So I have to put some clothes on; I’m not old enough to get away with a robe and slippers in public. Another couple years and they’ll get me nightie and all when we go out.
There’s a lot to choose from–I have the same sweater set in all my favorite colors, and I pair it with one of the skirts I’m wearing this week.
Sometimes, if we’re doing something special, I’ll go down to Brown’s Department Store and pick out a lovely new outfit. I make a day of it, trying on as many dresses as I can stand before my sciatica hits and I can barely stand.
Then I buy something. I usually bring it back again after I’ve worn it. I can’t afford a new outfit everytime I go out, for pete’s sake!
Bathed, dressed, armed with my pocketbook and much resolve, I step outside just as Ruth pulls over the curb, tramples my mums and stops without hitting the garage door.
It’s the thrill of my day riding with Ruth.
I like to live on the wild side, while I can.
Starting with four bags of books removed from my husband’s antiques space–he has no room for them now–I began to cull out the books I no longer need to have. Notice, I didn’t say “want” to have, because I generally want them all. But I’ve watched enough episodes of ‘Hoarders’ to recognize that my connection to books is a little unhealthy, and that I won’t likely live long enough to read them all either.
So I’m thinning out the shelves, selecting some for re-sale elsewhere, a bunch for the library and a bagful for a friend who likes mysteries of a certain kind.
Such paring down will barely dent the collection, but it’s a good start.
I get rid of popular novels and paperbacks first. They have the shelf life of bread, and they sell fast. To the consignment store go old Nora Roberts and Mark Higgins Clark books, two barely touched cookbooks (my family is snickering now), “Islands,” a great beach read by Ann Rivers Siddons, a hardcover of Amy Tan’s “Saving Fish from Drowning,” good–but I can part with it, Sandra Dallas’ “Prayers for Sale,” a touching story about a young mother-to-be and the old woman who befriends her in a mountain town during the Depression. The “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is going too… I have no real prospects of giving that to a friend in the near future.
And there are a handful of books I hoped to read, but don’t believe I’ll get to in the press of more compelling possibilities. My taste changes every few years, and these haven’t made it. But someone else will enjoy them, I’m sure.
To the library go a couple of dozen thrillers my husband whips through like dessert–Connellys, Ludlums, Cussler, King, Lecarre, Baldacci, Clancy and the like. He pulled back a James Lee Burke, whose writing he loves. He doesn’t part with anything by Ivan Doig, either. Doig’s, I agree, is a unique voice spanning genres.
The library also gets cookbooks, master works I bought but couldn’t really enjoy because of style or content, top-sellers I read but won’t keep, like “The Lovely Bones” and “Life of Pi.” Nothing wrong with them–just won’t read them again.
Sorting through books forces one to prioritize, bowing to the real needs and preferences when there are simply too many books to house. I have a dozen bookcases of varying shapes, each packed to the edges with classics, signed editions, favorite authors, best-sellers, histories, biographies and special interest nonfiction.
I would dearly love to trade them for new ones.
But sadly, there isn’t enough time to organize something like that and, even sadder, books are easy to get and lose monetary value as soon as they leave the store.
I love books. I disdain mass-produced cheap paperbacks in favor of the larger, more attractive editions so many authors are published in today. Hard covers don’t have much appeal unless they’re truly beautiful, or signed, and I keep only the ones I will read, re-read or share.
Of course, this may sound very austere. Realize that I have more books than a small bookshop. If I had my druthers, that is also what I would be doing, offering free wi-fi, coffee, tea and tidbits, and lots of books. And if we ever buy a place with retail space for my hubby’s antiques and my books, that is what I will do, setting up my own computer on a nearby desk to keep at my own fiction.
And I would stop writing freelance articles about things that don’t really interest me, and write only about the things I love. Like my T.C. Boyle book review (“When the Killing’s Done”) just published on the Head Butler blog.
Bookshelves hold books, but more than that, they hold lives, inspiration, and dreams. Not for me the Nook, or anything like it. They’re good tools, but not the stuff of imagination.
I hope for a long, healthy life, so that I can enjoy them all, and write to my heart’s content.
I don’t want to sound old or too good for goodness. Really.
I’m a ’70s college grad, a hippie when I married, a mother of two really wonderful kids, a loving grandmother, a lifelong journalist.
But I’m fed up.
Fed up with killings and rapes as a prime-time menu (and vapid comedies for dessert).
Fed up with politicians who play war games with our country while they’re not worrying about pay or benefits themselves.
Fed up with a court system that jails pot growers and frees rapists and molesters.
Fed up with the entitlement so many non-deserving people expect from an already over-taxed federal budget while those who’ve worked all their lives have to fear for their next Social Security check–after losing their pensions to corrupt financial investors.
Fed up that community theaters and orchestras have to cut programs or go out of business because no one appreciates art, good theater and classical music, since they’ve grown up on pop poop and TV shows about serial killers or reality show megalomaniacs.
Fed up with an economy that dumps people who deserve a retirement party and a good pension, leaving them to find their way through the unemployment system of a nation uninterested in hiring older workers.
Fed up with unkindness, insensitivity, selfishness and greed.
Aren’t we better than this?
Don’t our children deserve more from us?
I want my babygrands to grow up in a world that’s kinder than this one, and to give and find loving acts among their peers.
I want people to help when others are starving, not look the other way because of color, nationality or breeding.
I want to be proud of my country, not ashamed of the myriad acts of corporate excess and government bullying that have allowed the U.S. to become a powerful nation at the expense of the rest of the world.
I want God back in the world, with a louder voice and more powerful thrust–I just don’t want those who profess to have the only creditable God to punish those who think differently.
I want justice and peace, but also courage to face the world as it’s likely to be for some time.
Many holy people remind us that peace and love start from within. As I look at my neighbors, and see the troubles each of them faces in their homes, I know they have courage and strength. I know they are kind, and willing to share, as well as help, others.
I expect many of your neighbors are the same.
But somewhere–in the workplace, in corporate headquarters, in an expensive suite at the top of a hotel, and who knows where else–people think differently about what’s important.
They think with their pockets full, their bellies amply fed, their greed never quite satiated, always grasping for more.
And I know they don’t see themselves that way. Not at all.
Just trying to work up the courage to step forward, and make my words and actions count.
We all need to do it, before we no longer can.