five from the land of first and forgotten things

The first bell rings. There is a slam of a heavy door somewhere that echoes through the church. It's probably not part of the service, but what do I know? Everything is symbolic here. I do not understand most of the words and I do not know these songs and I do not even want to be here, no one does, but the alternative is that he would be suffering, somewhere, in a bed, staring into a corner or sedated or throwing a keychain and refusing to submit to an injection. And I do not have a choice and neither did he, so we are a few feet away from each other and he is colorless and still and bedecked in finery. I stand for hours and listen to the men sing for him, sing him home, beg forgiveness on his behalf.
Winter blew in and froze everything and it feels like Winnipeg again, cold as Mars. I forgot my gloves on Saturday. The wind blew through two layers of pants and two layers of tops and a massive parka, through my skin. It turned my bones blue. My hands barely escaped frostbite. I shoved them into my pockets and paced until the bus came. Fifteen steps east, fifteen west. I stop the processing and grief for a minute because I cannot think of anything else except the cold and how my brain has forgotten it from last January. What else have I forgotten? What was first? 
I send an email: It's kind of amazing how some things never change I say, and I know the woman getting it will hear the fury beneath those words, even though they sound almost winsome out of context. I send an email: I love you and am glad I do not have to talk about dementia with you anymore and these are true things, but I do not trust brains anymore; they feel capricious and half magic and I wonder if I even remember how to talk about other things. I send an email: I was up in the middle of the night so I have been Bowie-sad since then. It is just a further thumb-press on top of the already existing FIL sadness and I do know the difference between the two and I am the kind of person who loves to press her thumb on bruises, so here I go, pressing.
First was this: When I was little, two years old, I asked my mother: Daddy come home now? Daddy come home now? When? She was 22 and had to explain over and over that he was not coming home, what dead meant. And I would get sad and then I would ask again. When? At some point I stopped asking and maybe it was a relief and maybe it was worse, maybe it was all downhill from there.
At the newspaper office, Myron drops off the obituary and a photograph. A woman tells him that the year ahead will be a year of firsts. First Easter, first birthday. You know. The first without. And yes, she is right, but to have watched Papá change over the past years--from the first time I saw him pray, at our wedding, until he became the man who played with my hair when I stood beside his hospital bed--is to have been clocking firsts all this time. The first time I lost my temper with him, the first indignity of an aging body, the first time I was sure I knew the difference between the slipping of memory that comes with aging and the slipping of self. Each one rang their own bell. I remember their pitches and their trailing tones, first, first, first, again, first.

these are pearls

Full fathom five thy father lies; 
    Of his bones are coral made; 
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
                   --from Ariel's song, The Tempest

That quote is too on the nose. But if there were ever a time for noseness like this, it's the last day of a long year, while I am thirty-six hours stunned, while his eyes are still so clear in my mind. I can only remember life with a dead father; now Myron is in the club

The thing, the truth, the cliché about dementia (one of so many), the one that you remember over and over again as if you're learning it the first time, is that the person you love is both there and not-there, playing peekaboo and juggling your love with a pair of fireballs. Or maybe not playing peekaboo but surfacing after longer and longer periods full-fathom-five below, not waving but drowning. When Papá showed himself after a period of not-there, I would seize on it and try to enjoy it as much as I could, because it was as ephemeral as everything else in the world is. But though these moments felt desperate to me, they didn't feel that way to him; he didn't gasp for air like a drowning man because he did not remember there were sharks circling. 

We brought him to the hospital not because of the dementia, but because he had fallen and couldn't walk. His heart, lungs, and other necessary systems were doing fine, especially considering his age. Between us and his doctors, we were planning for recovery and much more time with him. And when I say I am thirty-six hours stunned, it is because I still cannot believe that he is gone. How does it make sense that I thought I had more time with a ninety-one-year-old man? I did, though. And so another cliché, the one where I say it does not yet feel real, because it doesn't.

To face death at the end of a year is to do it with the knowledge that everyone around you is looking ahead to arbitrary freshness and possibility. (This is not my first time doing this.) Instead, I ponder the cool, quiet silence full fathom five might bring to a man whom you could believe might just have gone deaf in self-defense, to shut out the things that didn't make him happy. I ponder the pearls that were his eyes because they twinkled, blue like a baby's. I am considering the necessity of sea change, for all of us, and wondering what can possibly be more rich, more strange, than what we are already doing here, year in and year out. I am working that piece of verse like a good English major and trying to find some solace before the fireworks go off.

I hope 2016 brings you loveliness. And largeness, and wonder, and the company of good people, and laughter. I hope it brings you insight and nerve when it brings you pain, because it's bound to do so. I hope it surprises you, and brings you pearls.

fall 7, stand 8

So, I missed a few days here and there, but most nights in November I sat here in the last hours of the day and thought about what to tell you. As in, I thought about you, invisible multiple you, and wondered what to tell you, and to be honest about half of the time I put a post down that wasn't worth reading just to say I had done it. It was a good practice, though, that weird state between work and play. It makes me think that I won't leave the blog behind for a year again. If I write, I want to write the kinds of posts that were worth reading, which sounds arrogant and I don't mean it to. I'm not fooling myself about quality here--I just don't want to feel like I have to put something down just for the sake of putting it down. Practice doesn't have to be public.

I was shitty at responding to comments and reading other people (because I wound up squeezing this practice in at the end of the night). I maybe should have turned commenting off? I hope you, multiple you, forgive me for not being better at that. Or I hope you say psssh and basically that you didn't expect any different from me, that you were better at this than I am. 


If I don't see you again any time soon, know that my December is going to be full of stuff, mostly good, in a way that my Decembers haven't been for years. (Decades!) It's probably going to be awkward, legs and arms flailing in the air on the way down to the deep end of the pool. I really don't care so much about being awkward anymore because have you seen people, they are just as awkward as I am if not more. And if you find yourself with a hole on your Christmas list and you want to fill it with a book, something beautiful and meaningful, you should choose The Empathy Exams, and this is the last time I'm going to tell you to read it but I will probably quote from it over and over again until you read it and tell me how right I am. (Oh, turn me on, tell me I'm right.) I'm rereading it now in preparation for a discussion and I am loving it even more the second time through. It's a thoughtful and heartbreaking and lovely book, and there are worse things in the world than spending time thinking about thoughtfulness and broken hearts and the ways we are human, especially at this time of year. It reminded me what I am made of, and if you want to be effective at loving other people, you have to have some idea about your component parts. You have to know what you're working with, which toolkit you've got and what you're missing. Then you practice.

put a pin in it

I used to be friends with a girl who was way more into music than I was. I think most people are like that; my tastes are pedestrian mostly and I can go weeks without listening to a song that isn't played on some store system. But she and I were friends and we were the enmeshed sort of friends, and it was exhilarating and troubling and it was the frame of my life at the time. I could not conceive of living otherwise. If you are a woman, you have probably had a friendship like this at one point or another. When someone meets a certain tipping-point level of friend criteria, it's so irresistible to sail in and get all Anne-and-Diana, isn't it? 

The friendship and the enmeshment aren't the point of all this, but the music is. We were friends when David Bowie toured with Nine Inch Nails and she loved David Bowie; he was her forever man and let's be real, this is as much a sign of her good taste as her love for me, right? There was no way she would not go, and I liked Bowie well enough, liked Nine Inch Nails, and yes, I would go with her. I don't remember precisely when or how, but it was in the context of this event that she said something like It's always good to have a thing like this to look forward to, you know? Like "I have to live until the Bowie show, I can't let anything get in my way until that." Then you just find something else a few months away that you have to live for.

This was not a girl given to suicidal thoughts. Of the two of us I was the more dour and cynical. I don't remember how I reacted at the time, but it stayed with me, decades now. (Auld, auld, to be thinking of things on a timeline of "decades" and yet have them feel so close and large and warm.) The girl didn't--didn't stay with me, I mean. I broke our enmeshment myself for a dumb reason. Aren't they all dumb reasons? I was overflowing what I thought was the shape of my life, which no longer had space for the shape hers had become. So ridiculous, so short-sighted, so mean of me. Given the chance now I would break any shape and make room for her, I would be as generous as she always was for me. I remember us driving away from the amphitheater after that show into the dark, wondering what was coming next that would be good enough to live for.

This is a long way of saying that I bought concert tickets today. There are lots of reasons for me to keep going every day besides the obvious stubborn insistence of my body continuing all of its biochemical processes and reactions. I have not taught my mother-in-law the carrot soup recipe! I have book club meetings! I have that stack of paper I have to shred! But when I'm running for a bus and my boots skid on ice and I (hopefully) catch myself before I fall, I'll swear in my head and remember that I have a place to be in a few months. Maybe I'll be more careful. Maybe just better.


Last night I had every intention of writing--I really did! Because why take on a daily writing thing and then flake out? But flake I did. When I looked at a clock it was 1230 and I said a very silent "fuck it" and went on with my Friday night late night thing.

Then came today. Sleeping in, morning at Third and Bird surrounded by shoppers and baubles, then fixing a quick  batch of soup for Myron's dad, heading out for Japanese for dinner, and home again home again. It was dizzying and fun and I should be exhausted, but I'm charged up and blissed out and wish I had a few more hours left of stuff to do. 

What I can do is finish up this bit of a post before midnight. And add in some photos from dinner because that's what you do. Yep. Done. 


shiitake beef
mushroom skewers