Settled

It’s surprisingly warm. I’m sitting on our back deck writing, at a table that we didn’t own when we moved to Colorado in March. We bought the table, six chairs to go with it and a fancy umbrella with LED lights just before Ollie’s first birthday.

We had been living here for about two months when we invited friends and family over to celebrate. The oldest of friends: parents of my childhood schoolmates. Old friends from high school and college. New friends from down the street. A melting pot of time represented.

Ollie sat quietly in her high chair as we sang Happy Birthday and presented her with her very first and very own cake. We all watched expectantly, crowded into our outdated kitchen, eagerly awaiting the moment she would dive in, smearing frosting onto her face and into her abundant, two-toned hair.

Five months have passed since that day and now the leftovers of another cake sit in our fridge. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. The words, “Happy Birthday, Dear Daughter Laura,” half eaten. My mom’s words.

We spend a lot of time together, my mom, the girls and I. At my parent’s house Ruby likes to use Grandma’s fine tip markers to color mandalas made for adults (and Dora the Explorer) or play with the second-hand dollhouse in the basement. Ollie likes to chew on the tiny, plastic toothpick cases that are surprisingly prevalent and any remote control she can find. Both girls like bouncy rides on the big, green exercise ball. It’s now off limits because it’s just too much fun and Ollie has yet to learn the concept of taking turns.

In many ways it doesn’t feel like my mom is sick. It’s easy to live in denial, to believe that we will just continue on in this way uninterrupted, celebrating birthdays and the small, everyday moments of life.

But reality has an ugly way of reminding you of her presence. My mom’s peritoneal cancer, shrunk with chemo, a major surgery and then more chemo, managed to sneak into her brain. Apparently this is not normal. Nor was the appearance of two additional tumors just 6 weeks after treating the first with localized radiation.

A breeze is blowing through our backyard, turning the umbrella in such a way that I cannot find a suitable temperature, the sun too hot on my back every other minute. I’m reminded of a Sesame Street book on seasons shelved in the girls’ playroom:

In fall leaves turn colors, red, yellow and brown.
Then cool winds blow and they fall to the ground.

The seasons are changing. Yellow leaves cling to my neighbor’s aspen tree, the one hugging the fence between our yards. A splattering of dried leaves blend into our deck, the brown of death camouflaged against a muddy red finish, cracked from wear and weather.

Everything is changing. The wind. The weather. Life.

People ask if we’re settled. But there isn’t really such a thing, is there? Our boxes are unpacked, our furniture placed just so. But there’s still a pile of tchotchkes huddled atop a bookshelf with nowhere to go. We never got around to organizing the storage room and I don’t expect we ever will.

This concept of settled is just an illusion. The girls continue to grow up, the rhythm of our lives subtlety shifting each and every day to accommodate their development. My mom drawing nearer to death even as she debates what to have for dinner.

And here I am. Filling my days folding laundry, making peanut butter sandwiches and cutting strawberries into tiny cubes, driving Ruby from here to there and back again, so very settled in this new life. And here I am. Working on starting my own run coaching business, going to yoga teacher training, contemplating the circle of life and my place and purpose within it, silencing my so capable and logical head in order to listen to my gut. So very, very unsettled.

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About a boy

I’m really struggling with this poetry thing. In today’s assignment we were asked to include fog and metaphor in an elegy, a poetic form associated with loss and mourning. You guys, I started writing this poem weeks ago, with the idea of using it as lyrics over Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 3. No joke. It’s actually pretty freaky that this assignment came together as it did.

But here’s the thing. The poem is crap. I worked on it some more tonight and… I just can’t. It’s not right. If I include as much as a hint of rhyme it feels cheesy. If I don’t, it feels disjointed. I just don’t feel like I can convey through poetry what I can through regular old prose. And I want to get this one right. So instead of elegiac couplets I’m going to use paragraphs…

Bay-Bridge-fog

This story is about a boy. Let’s call him Boy. It’s hard to say, but I think I may have loved him. At the very least he was the first boy I had real feelings for. I suppose you could call it a crush. That’s the term we typically use to describe the feelings of a 13 year old girl but, like my poetry, it wouldn’t really be right.

These feelings were not mutual. He liked my gorgeous and exotic friend Jasmine*. He called me at my house exactly one time to discuss Jasmine’s potential feelings for him. And that was like the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It didn’t even matter WHY he called. HE CALLED. ME.

For some reason I feel like I shouldn’t say this, but the truth is he probably wasn’t as well off as most of the rest of us in the crowd we ran around with. I didn’t really recognize or appreciate it at the time, but I do in retrospect. He had a green t-shirt with a picture of a banana made of marijuana leaves on it that he wore most of the time. He sold his fellow middle schoolers Airheads for a quarter that, at some point, I realized he was stealing from the grocery store. He smoked cigarettes and drank liquor and wasn’t that into doing schoolwork.

But so did a lot of kids, and he was a good guy. At least he was always kind to me. This during a time when my self-esteem was virtually nonexistent and even my “friends” got their kicks out of calling me names like Mr. Ed and La-whora Lend-a-hand (which, for the record, was so COMPLETELY undeserved it’s ridiculous). He always made me feel like I belonged. Or at least didn’t make me feel like I didn’t belong. He treated me like a friend, a real and deserving friend.

He was also quite smart. And witty. Hilarious really. I have one very vivid memory of an incident involving a hot pink, blowup flamingo at our local Six Flags. By vivid I mean I remember nothing about what happened. Just the flamingo and how epically funny it was. At one point we had a lot of classes together, and he is arguably responsible for a few of those, “Needs to control disruptive talking,” comments found on my report cards.

flamingo-pink-plastic

Then high school came along and we sort of just went our separate ways. I started hanging out with a different group of friends, and I think he may have transferred to another school. I don’t actually know what happened to him. Just that he wasn’t there anymore.

I saw him one time while in college at a bar in downtown Denver. He looked fairly drunk and was mixed up in some sort of drama with a girl who looked equally trashed. I think he might have seen me too, but I can’t be sure. If he did, he made the wise choice to focus on the job at hand, and I thought it best not to interrupt. Nearly 10 years later I opened Facebook and saw his face plastered on a picture of a flyer under the words:

BOY: MISSING.

Missing? How could that be? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Sure, terrible things happen. But in real life, the kind that happens outside of television, people don’t just go missing.

That was a little over two years ago. Thanks to the internet I know that there was a flurry of activity for the first little while after his disappearance. His family started a Facebook page for him. It was in the news. A candlelight vigil was held in his honor. But then he just stayed missing and the spotlight sort of fizzled out. I checked online periodically, when I saw a flamingo and he crossed my mind, to see if there were any updates. There never was.

Then sometime last month I had a dream about him. If I had written this the next day I would have remembered the dream, but I don’t now. The dream doesn’t matter anyway. Other than it prompted me to look him up once again.

There it was this time. His body was found. The family had been notified. Buried in the fine print. No big headline, just a comment in a thread. A link to an obituary. Enough to believe it, but not quite enough. Was it murder? Suicide? An accident? Drug overdose? I suppose the how and the why doesn’t matter at this point. It’s still just sad.

I haven’t talked to him since we were 13. When I probably loved him. However unlikely it was before, it’s now even less likely that I will bump into him and have the chance to tell him how much he meant to me once upon a time. I would hope that would make him feel good.

I learned about his death in the morning before the fog cleared, and the gray sky just made it all feel that much more depressing. I couldn’t stop thinking about finding his dead body after two years, rotted and decaying. Or rationalize how my heart could continue to beat, the often mundane days rolling in one after the other, while he just ceased to exist. Or lived on in memory, if you can call that living, frozen at age 13. Until even the memory of him fades away into nothing more than the collective knowledge that before us there were others that lived and breathed and felt and hoped and were whole, complicated people just like us. Is that what death is?

*Not her real name.

Photo Credit: Bay Bridge in Fog by cloud2013 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Photo Credit: Plastic Flamingos by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0