Five years ago I published my very first blog post on WordPress (if so inclined, you can read it at the end of this one). The post featured Roger Federer – arguably the greatest legend in the game of tennis during my lifetime and perhaps of all time. In 2003, Federer secured his first win in a major tournament, then went on to dominate the game for the next decade. Fed holds the record for most consecutive weeks at no. 1 in the rankings and many other ATP Tour records besides. I do not really care about the record books. For me, it was all in the way Fed moved.
Kate over at Will Wally Wonder nominated me for my first Blogging Award! 🙂
Merry Christmas to me!
Please take a moment to wander around Kate’s delightful site! I promise I’ll be here when you get back.
*twid–* Oh! You’re back!
I hope you enjoyed your trip Down Under! 🙂
As with all award receptions, there are
protocols, mores, traditions rules to follow. Here are the conditions I must meet, then pass on to you, my loyal readers:
- Thank the person who nominated me for this award. That’s common courtesy – and too easy. THANKS, KATE!! *frantic waving*
- Include a link to their blog. (You have seen this link three times, folks – now CLICK already!)
- Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly and nominate them for the Versatile Blogger Award. Probably everyone I nominated has already received this award, but since I adore their blogs, I could not pass up the chance to highlight them for you! I hope you will visit each and every one of these exquisite sites, and I pinky-swear promise you will not be disappointed!
- Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.
Rules #1 & 2 are done and done (see above). Here are my nominations in no particular order:
Now for 7 things about me.
Probably the most important thing you need to know is how much I appreciate laughter. Your blog always brings a smile to my face, and very often a laugh to my lips, both of which make me very happy to have met you. Most everything else there is to know about me you can find here on my blog, but I will try to think of six things which may not be immediately evident.
- Hmm, well, I once (no, several times, actually) rappelled from a 60-ft. tower at the top of a tree sporting a 30-ft. zip-line into a lake. My fear of heights puts this feat into the exceptional category. I seriously suffer from the kind of vertigo that makes me want to jump – rappelling seemed a better option, don’t you think? 😉
- I grew up playing tennis on a grass court my father built in the yard beside our house. I blame my lack of competitive spirit (my family & friends are laughing out loud – no, seriously, I can hear them from around the world even as I type) on the fact that my family used tennis as FUN, family time. Heckling one another in the middle of a backhand swing was just part of being luved.
- Each of my three children were born in different locations – one of them in another country. Australia, to be exact! Yep, my middle child (lovely daughter) was born in Aspendale, a small suburb of Melbourne. While we were there, I attended my first and only Grand Slam tennis tournament. To tell you how long ago that was, we watched Monica Seles (pre-stab wound) and Ivan Lendl (pre-beer gut) play and win, of course.
- I graduated college with a degree in music education (vocal concentration) which I have never formally used. Instead, I am the administrative assistant with the loudest singing voice in the county (no, not country – well, maybe).
- My favorite thing to do as a child/teen was to sit on the swing in my back yard and stare at the full moon. To this day, I am sure the moon has a face that stares back.
- Finally, my dream life would be to run a B&B on a remote Cliffside in Ireland (something you already knew, and I’m fairly certain will never materialize in this life). Here’s hoping reincarnation is true!
Thanks again, Kate! To you and yours I am sending wishes for a very happy, healthy,
Most of the time I see my sister in waking moments. But on September 30, 2014, I was getting ready for work when the dream I had the night before rushed into my awareness. It was one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had, and although it is rare for me to remember even pieces of a dream, I recalled this one in its entirety.
I had wandered off the streets of downtown Nashville into a sparsely occupied coffee shop. I sat down at a small table to the right of the door and wondered what to order. When the door opened again, I looked up and in she walked. Her bell bottom jeans brushed softly against the wooden floorboards. She was wearing a loose-fitting plaid shirt, untucked at the waist. The long dark brown hair that hung limply from her head was tucked back behind the ears. Her face was troubled. I stared for several seconds. A double-take later, I realized I was looking at my sister, circa 1977. “You cannot be here,” I thought, “you’re dead!” She did not look in my direction as she sat down at the large table next to mine. Her back was to me.
More people trickled in. I did not recognize any of them, but I somehow knew they were friends of hers from college days. They filled up the empty seats around the table she had chosen, and soon an animated conversation about life and God ensued. I was mesmerized by her presence and could not take my eyes off of her. I sat, watched, and listened, resisting the urge to get up and join the group. I wanted to interrupt, to tell her how much I miss her. But I had the distinct impression that she would not have heard me anyway.
The veracity of the New Testament was the subject of the discussion. Of all people, my sister was patiently explaining the texts regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. The young man sitting nearest her commented, “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” She replied in a calm voice, “Of course I do.” I got the sense from her statement that she was talking about something more definitive than faith or belief, something more like knowing. It dawned on me that now she sees and knows clearly, even as she has always been seen and known. For her, there are no doubts or uncertainties, only truth and love – oh, so much love.
I wanted nothing more than to stay there in that room, watching her, listening to her voice. Having a dream like that helps heal the scar of loss. Waking from a dream like that leaves a brand new one.
On the drive home that night, I thought again about the movie, What Dreams May Come and Robin Williams’s dip in paint. My sister adored color. I have known since the day she left this world that she sees it now like never before. That sunset gave me a little preview. She has painted lots more sunsets for me since then – each of them a creative masterpiece. I know that one day we will swim in them together.
One time at the beach, I asked her to draw the ocean for me. She did it, but then kept insisting she had not gotten the waves or the light quite right. I always thought that the waves and the light in her beach drawing had been perfect, but in this life, my sister had never been able to appreciate her own brilliance. The splash of color across that twilit sky on New Year’s Eve told a different story, a story of artistic abandon transcending the need to get things ‘just right’.
~ ~ ~
For many years I have had a vision of a house sitting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. A garden stretches out in front of it, filled with every kind of flower. Now that she is gone, I can see her there, tending to the plants, anticipating my arrival. I should have known all along it was her garden.
Hawks still visit me from time to time. Her way of watching over me, I suppose. Love you bunches & bunches and tons & tons, Ditty.
~ Your Little Sis
On July 22, 2015, I drove thirty minutes to a nearby beach to watch the sunrise.
Darkness shrouded my walk from the car. For all that I wanted to live near the beach, this would be my last day. I would not leave without seeing another sunrise. My phone! I thought. I stopped, turned back toward my car, then thought better of it. No pictures today. No interruptions. This is your chance to take it in, to live in the moment, to somehow find the strength to leave.
The concrete eventually transitioned to sand and I took off my flip flops. A cool dampness greeted my calloused soles. Now to keep the callouses off of my soul, I thought, half smiling to myself. I took my time. This was not a moment to rush. I reached the little bridge that stretched over the inter-coastal stream and stopped again. On my left, the sand grass tilted gently in the morning breeze. Their billowy tops formed feathery silhouettes against the faint light to the east. It was quiet. Even the sand gnats were still. A mercy considering how they had harrowed us the night before.
I crested a little knoll and the path gave way to a wide expanse of sand. Looking around, my first thought was how empty the beach was compared to the last time I had come here to witness the dawn breaking. Had it been only ten days? I approached the water’s edge and felt a sudden rush of sadness. I will not pass this way again, I thought. The magnitude of that truth pounded through me like the waves crashing onto the sand. It was a familiar feeling accumulated over the past twenty-eight years. Had I really moved twenty-seven times? Was I seriously volunteering to make number twenty-eight a mere six or so weeks after the last one? And this time alone?
I set my toes into the warm water knowing I would have to wade out knee deep to discover even a hint of coolness. Despite days of rain and milder nights, the water still felt more like a bath than an ocean. I was used to Virginia waters, so cold that only the Northerners braved it before the pounding mid-July heat had settled in. Even in August, a dip in the water off the Virginia coast was refreshing. But not here. Not in June, July, August, or maybe even September. I wouldn’t be here to confirm my assumption.
I walked then. Following the shoreline, I stepped slowly in the direction of the lightening sky. My purpose was nothing more than just to enjoy – one more time – a stroll through shallow surf at sunrise.
The sky grew almost imperceptibly lighter. I glanced out over the water searching for the birds I had seen hunting just a few days ago. I stopped walking to scan the horizon as well as I could in the near darkness, but my eyes found only empty crests in the choppy, predawn sea. Where are they? I wondered, futilely. I didn’t even know what species of bird they were, Tern, Osprey, or Frigate. It was fascinating to watch their gray forms skim over the water in pairs, threesomes, and more, one straight line of outstretched wings that occasionally beat in no discernible rhythm. Then one or two would break from the flock, rise higher, and plunge headlong into the surf. I was too far away to see the prize held in its beak. I could only watch it rise from beneath the crest to float on the surface of the water. I was struck by the bird’s willingness to abandon itself to the sea in order to survive. In more ways than I could count, I had abandoned myself again and again to the whims of a capricious ocean. Like those mysterious birds, I had no roots, but had flown endlessly over a barren sea looking for life below the surface. Mercifully, I had found it in the most unexpected swells. Now exhaustion dragged at my wings. I could no longer maintain flight. It was finally time to land, but first I would have to leave.
Deep in my soul, I think I had known for a long time that there would never be a landing without first a leaving.
I turned my attention to the water splashing over my feet. As I watched tiny waves form to crash onto the sand in uneven bursts, I noticed how they all began as individual crests, only to merge into one shallow wash of water that moved in an almost circular motion. Pushing forward, the water strained against an inexorable pull back into the unplumbed depths from which it came, only to begin the cycle all over again. The constancy of the syncopated rhythm of the ocean continues to mesmerize me. The simplicity of wave after wave merging into the complex ebb and flow of tides in and out, day after day, year after year, millennia after millennia only makes me and my decisions feel small. That one section of beach and my narrow vision of those few waves represented less than a drop in the bucket of uncounted miles of shoreline around the globe. My mind can barely grasp the enormity of so many coasts, much less the vastness or depth of the sea itself. But even as I feel smaller, as I watch myself shrink in the face of the sheer magnitude before me, I understand that like my tunnel vision of this small stretch of beach, my everyday decisions – small in themselves – when put together, made up an entire life. And there is more to a person than their decisions, their actions, or even their thoughts. As I pondered all of this, I caught a glimpse of the vastness within myself I still had yet to explore.
The sky slowly began to change color. Deep blue gave way to paler shades overlaid with oranges, purples, and hints of pink. There would be no blazing ball today, at least, not for me; only colorful clouds whose outlines continually transformed in the early morning breeze. Every blink revealed a subtle shift of color in the jagged edges of cloud cover overhead.
Around me camera lenses began opening and snapping shut. That had been me a few days back – working hard to capture a memory on the canvas of a photo lens. Somehow I knew that today needed no lens; the memory of this sunrise would live on in me for as long as I could remember. Forgetting would be harder. My failure to stay the course, my inability to love in the end, the hurtful words that had left implacable scars on the soft places left in my heart – these would be much more difficult to forget than the skies’ colors, even my camera, I knew, could not faithfully capture. But forget I must. What bird would ever dare to dive back into the deep dark if it did not forget the promise of a waiting predator below the silent surface? The bird’s only chance is hope – hope that the shadow spied below is nothing more or less than its morning meal.
The sunrise complete, I returned the way I had come. With the light of day behind me, I chose hope and gratitude. The past twenty-eight years had by no means been wasted – rather, they had shaped me into who I was that day, just as that day would shape who I was the next, and the next, and the next. This was not the end of a story, but the definitive close of a very long chapter (that now felt strangely short). In any story, from chapter to chapter, the characters may change, the scenes may shift, the plot may take an unexpected turn, but the storyline continues, and so would I.
Taking one final look over my shoulder, I glanced sidelong at the sun, still hidden in brilliant cloud, and said farewell to broken dreams, hopes unfulfilled, and the shadow of a bleak future. As I crossed back over the inter-coastal, I knew that I was doing the only thing I could do in leaving these shores; and, with my back to the rising sun, I walked straight into the arms of a bright, new day.
Or, I wish life would laugh with me, not at me!
Life has a strange sense of humor sometimes, doesn’t it? You know what I mean. Like the fact that I spent two years trying to rid my yard of Nutsedge, only to move three states away into a neighborhood where every yard uses Nutsedge for grass. Seriously?? I spent $60 a month last summer for Scott’s lawn service to get rid of the pesky weeds before the upcoming wedding weekend, then fired them when the Nutsedge took over my side yard only two months into the deal. Now, all I can see in every direction is that little ‘weed’.
It crawls under ground like Bermuda, only worse! Whatever you do, do not attempt to pull it!! That only makes it grow 99.936 times faster!!
Life. Funny, isn’t it?
At my previous location I had oodles of birds to go with the oodles of Nutsedge. I all but became a bird watcher, right along with my kitties. They used to love sitting in the window watching the cardinals, chickadees, titmice (titmouses??), and colorful finches feed. There were even mourning doves and chipmunks to enjoy the seeds that fell on the ground.
I preferred to sit on my side porch where my next-door neighbor (read: best friend) and I would drink wine, grouse about the other neighbors (or husbands, whichever were most deserving of our snark at the time), and watch the birds come to several feeders I placed in, around, and under the flowering tree that was the central focus of my side garden bed. I never found out what species the tree was, but it bloomed twice every summer and I absolutely adored it. The squirrels, though, the squirrels were my nemesis.
I am not ashamed to confess, I despise squirrels. I’m one of those people who will swerve to avoid a turtle or frog but then aim a tire right at a squirrel in the road. Hey, natural selection. If the critter is too stupid to get out of my way… Besides, birds will not come to a feeder occupied by such a demanding and voracious animal! And, squirrels continually ate me out of house and birdseed (never mind the endless trail of useless bird feeders they managed to either chew to bits or clean out in an hour). I had one feeder with a screened tube that held the seeds, allowing them to empty into a tray at the bottom. Mind you, this feeder was huge – so huge, in fact, that we had to secure a 2X2 piece of wood to the shepherd’s crook to support the feeder when full. (Well,
I’m lazy I worked full-time and did not want to fill the feeder every dang day!) Soon after I put it up, I discovered that screen is a wonderful material for little squirrel claws to hang onto. One squirrel was literally wrapped around the tube – upside-down, mind you – feasting on the never-ending abundance in the tray! Oooh! *&^#@!! Squirrels also adored my vintage feeders. They sat on the saucers and feasted from the cups. How convenient for them. *sigh*
You should know, the birds (and turkeys!) liked them, too:
In an attempt to rid myself of squirrels, I purchased two (yes, two) special feeders designed specifically to keep the squirrels out. But, life has a twisted sense of humor, remember? (Before I continue, you should know that I am cheap.) My neighbor-friend searched online and invested in a caged bird feeder guaranteed to keep the squirrels out. I found the imitation at Walmart. One day I looked out of the window to see a squirrel’s hind legs balanced on the pole of the shepherd’s crook while it’s forelegs reached through the cage bars to steal seeds from the feeder. I’m pretty sure this squirrel should join the circus (and leave me alone!). But the baby squirrel sitting inside the cage took the cake – er, bird seed. All of it! Next I purchased a (slightly) more expensive “squirrel-buster” feeder designed to close the gate to the seeds when an animal of a certain weight sat on the perch. I soon discovered that squirrels are smarter than I (and probably the creators of these feeders). You guessed it, the pesky thief simply balanced on the shepherd’s crook and helped himself to the plethora of seeds from the opening. Perhaps the squirrels in my yard will be able to avoid my tires, too. Evolution at work.
What’s a bird-lover to do?
Well, I moved the squirrel-buster to a tree in hopes that there would be no access to the seeds (it seemed to work, but then, just because I didn’t see a squirrel eating from it did not make it so). As to the cage, I let the baby squirrel clean out the feeder prior to my move. That way, at least I didn’t waste any seeds.
Finding reasons to willingly feed the enemy = cosmic humor!
Last week (at my new location), I hung the cage bird feeder on a shepherd’s crook in front of my bushes. Unfortunately, I am unable to hang it from the one tree in my yard in an attempt to confound the gymnast-squirrels. I have been watching, hoping to discover what kinds of birds will find it. I should probably just ask Mike – he’s a real live birdwatcher, but I’d rather discover this all on my own – a kind of adventure. Today I caved and looked up bird species in my area. I was not disappointed to find that the same birds live here as in Tennessee, but I have yet to see any at the feeder. Thankfully, no squirrels have shown up either! *stows shotgun back inside corner cabinet*
Last night I sat on the porch drinking my daily shot of whiskey. I was sorely missing my Tennessee neighbor (read: best drinking buddy) and wondering if I will ever find anyone willing to join me for
some snark a drink on my new front porch. Suddenly I saw a rather large bird fly into the neighbor’s yard. It was a mourning dove tending to a nest in a little nook above the neighbor’s front entryway. It kept looking back at me as it sang the familiar whoo-hoo song that is so mournful and yet so lovely at the same time. When I asked my neighbor about it, he informed me that this is the fourth year in a row the dove has raised its chicks above his porch. Hooray! At least I will be guaranteed of one feathered friend to entertain my kitties and me. Maybe instead of laughing, life is smiling on me at last. 🙂
I did what I promised her I wouldn’t.
But, please, let me explain…
On December 1st every year, one of our local radio stations begins playing Christmas tunes. The same 10 songs over and over again for 25 straight days (at least, that’s how it seems to me)! Every once-in-awhile I push the button to see what comes out … if I hear Jingle Bells or Let it Snow one more time, I think I’ll go home and stuff myself with fruitcake until I push my body into a diabetic coma. To save myself from Christmas Song Burnout (this is a real and documented condition, trust me), I wait until Christmas week to begin listening to Christmas songs in earnest. There are a couple of songs I downloaded for free from NoiseTrade last year that I hadn’t really listened to yet, so I was looking forward to some fresh tunes. On December 22, in my car on my way to work, I plugged in the i-pod, selected Christmas genre, and hit shuffle. “Could’ve Been Summer” was the second song to come out of my speakers.
Friday, December 19 was the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I had talked to my parents the day before. They planned to take my other siblings plus my sister’s husband out for dinner to all be together. I lived a few states away at the time, so was unable to join them. Friday evening I saw on FB some comments begun by my Mom’s post about the difficulty of the day. It occurred to me then that, for me, Friday had not been a more difficult day than the previous 364 days had been.
Despite the dull, continuous ache, I was doing pretty well. Yes, I felt sad whenever I thought about calling you (every day, half a dozen times), but on December 22, that song opened my grief like a fresh floodgate that had been screaming to break. The entire last week we spent together came flooding back in, totally uninvited. The memory of you saying my name felt like a tender punch in the gut. Through the tears I kept thinking, “I’m sorry. I told you I wouldn’t remember you that way, but I can’t help it.” So I let myself remember – all of it.
Then I made myself remember other things. Christmas things. How you adored Christmas. You didn’t always make the gifts you gave, but you always made the packages look so inviting. Your gifts were the ones everyone wanted (and did not want) to open. The wrapping was always too lovely to tear through. The decorations in your home were tasteful and stylish and different every year. You understood the beauty of nature over the glare of commercial glitter and always managed to incorporate the beauty of the outdoors into your boxes and bows, wreaths and mantlepieces. Everything you ever did was a work of art, with you the most beautiful one of them all.
It occurred to me on Sunday to remind Mom that she may have missed the funeral, but she had been there when you went home. She was able to whisper encouragement and hold your hand and say goodbye in that agonizing moment. I’m so glad for that. Though I could not be there to say the final goodbye, I am thankful for the week I was given the month before – every painful, horrible, gut-wrenching, sweet, precious, lovely moment of that unforgettable week. I am thankful for the many years we had together – the phone calls, the holidays, the Birthdays, the anniversaries, moushie jokes, Mah-Nuh, Mah-Nuh, all the love and sweat and tears and joy. I remember it all. I remember you. And even though it “Could Have Been Summer” when you left, I doubt that would have made this Christmas any easier.
Kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!
LOVE you, Ditty-Boo – bunches and bunches and tons and tons!
– Your Little Sis
It is the first week of November and I am finally getting around to pulling out my winter clothes and putting all that is summer away. It seems kind of late in the year for that, but then, I am always thankful when the warmer weather hangs around a bit longer. No complaints here.
One of the items in my winter clothes box was the down vest I took from my sister’s closet last Christmas. I debated keeping it since it wouldn’t zip up at the time. Well, technically it zipped, but it was quite tight. A couple of months ago, I lost 10 pounds. Lo and behold, the vest fits me now!
Today I laid the vest on the couch as I was getting ready to go to work. Within five minutes Ian found his way onto it. Only two days since it came out of the box and already my cat has reclaimed it. The suitcase it covered last winter has long been emptied and put away, but Ian managed to find his way back to the warmth of it. A bit surprising, actually, since he rarely climbs onto the couch to begin with. For him that vest is probably just a warm spot to cozy-up on, but I cannot help but wonder if my connection to her – my grief – is somehow being communicated to him through this piece of clothing.
Ian kneaded the vest before settling into its folds, and I spent a few moments trying to imagine what my sister would say if she saw it. Of my three felines, Ian is both the most fearful and the most affectionate. My sister dealt with fear and anxiety a lot, and I would have to say that of all my family – including me – she loved the deepest. No, my sister wasn’t perfect, but she always strove to embrace others fully – flaws and all. A whole lot like my cat.
I hated removing Ian from the vest, but truth be told, I need it. Three weeks from yesterday marks the anniversary of the last week I spent with my sister. I am not sure that I will ever believe that time heals all wounds. Somehow time does have the power to diminish the pain. The empty space left in my heart by my sister’s absence is certainly still there. It always will be. I step into it often now. I talk to her there, like I used to. I may not be able to hear her respond, but I always feel her smile.
This month marks the beginning of a season to remember, yet the whole of the end of 2013 was a nightmare I would like to forget. On the cusp of the anniversary of those dark days, I am reminded to go further back in my memories to ponder the good and the bad, to the plethora of shared experiences with my sister. Maybe instead of a season of grief, this winter will turn into one of thanksgiving for the blessing of 50 years with her in my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember to appreciate the loved ones who remain, while they’re still with me. Maybe that’s what memories of the ones we lose are really for.
The windy fall has brought the neighborhood hawks out in droves. I see one almost every day now. And whether it’s her visiting me or not is irrelevant. They remind me of her, just like the vest. So, Ian, while I won’t give it over to you completely, I am willing to share. You can enjoy its warmth and the interesting fabric against your kneading paws. I will remember the one who wore it for a time, because in the end, I don’t need the vest, just the comfort it brings. A whole lot like my cat.
Tuesday, July 22 in The Matticus Kingdom, the gauntlet was thrown. Challenge accepted.
~ ~ ~
Part 3: Faerie
Silence hung over the Grove when Rhys arrived. A few more minutes until midnight, but he could hardly wait another second for the reunion he had never even dared hope for. So complete was the break between them, so final was the taking of Gwenlyann’s memories – or so he’d thought. Time was when only the wizard who had cast a spell of Unremembrance would be able to undo it, and that at great cost to the caster. How had Gwenlyann remembered him? Rhys felt overwhelmed, like he was trying to catch up to events he didn’t know how to interpret.
Without sound or ceremony, she appeared in the moonlight at the edge of the Grove. As she stepped into the relative darkness of the trees Rhys saw that her flaming red hair was covered by the hood of a deep purple cloak. He chuckled involuntarily, remembering how many times his wife had implored her not to wear purple. “Gwenlyann, why must you insist on your clothes clashing with your hair? Green or even blue would serve to accent your flames rather than mock them!” Her exasperation was wasted on a girl who proved to be the most charming rebel in all Eldoran.
Her smile seemed to banish the darkness around them, as well as his uncertainty regarding her feelings about the lengths her parents had gone to for her protection. Would she ever be able to forgive him for stealing her childhood from her? By all accounts she had found a way to regain the memories, but how?
Gwenlyann walked slowly towards him, mist swirling around the hem of her cloak. Rhys reached towards her, intending an embrace, when her face shifted. Emerald eyes turned black like coal … purple cloak melted into gray tatters in his hand.
“NOOOOO!” he shouted in despair. Almost too late he realized his mistake. As the gray strips wound their tendrils over his mouth, establishing their grip on wrists and ankles, he had just enough time to whisper the spell of winking, the one that would transport him out of the ever-tightening grasp of Faerie wrappings and into Oblivion. It would be many years before he could return and continue the search, but return he would. Now he knew for a certainty the Faerie had her. They had tipped their hand for once.
One thought occupied his mind before the spell shattered his soul into fragments, “I will find you, Gwenlyann. Hang on, Daddy loves you and I will come for you!” Like mist vanishing before the rising sun, the man Rhys winked out of existence.
~ ~ ~
Note: This is the final part of a prologue to a much longer story. Stay tuned for more installments to come.
~ ~ ~
Part 2: Remembrance
The hamlet where he found her lay no short distance from the sea. He wondered at that. Gwenlyann had always talked about one day sailing away on a ship bound for nowhere. During his own voyage back to Eldoran, he had half expected to hear tell of a green-eyed piratess wreaking fiery havoc up and down the coast. He had been disappointed to find that not one sailor had even heard of her name. Those dreams belonged to a former life, he supposed. Rhys had done his work too well and knew she wouldn’t remember them.
5 months after escaping the Faerie Storm he found her – a barmaid in the largest pub in the region. Quite a lovely and successful barmaid, he thought with a smile. The flaming red hair would have been enough to attract attention had Gwenlyann’s melodic voice not carried over the din. He listened unobtrusively for a moment to the animated conversation she was having with an unsuspecting patron and smiled a little wider. She may have lost her memories, but her uncanny ability to convince a man he desperately wanted what 1 minute ago he clearly had not remained intact.
The pub, known as Flynn’s, had seven years earlier gained popularity by hiring the best cook on five continents, though how a remote town like Brevis managed to procure such exotic ingredients as saffron or wild Asian boar tusks baffled its more metropolitan neighbors. Flynn’s also impressed as an Inn, boasting several immaculate rooms upstairs and not a few lovely escorts. As to Gwenlyann’s position, he doubted any visitor here had ever ventured to invite her into the bedchamber unless it had been her idea.
Before leaving the forest, Rhys had assumed a more inconspicuous guise. He easily wove the spell that would make him less memorable to anyone who didn’t know how to look. Still tall, his now short golden hair, looking more brown than blond, curled out at intervals from under a worn, black cap. The plain, green woolen trousers tucked into long, tan riding boots were mostly hidden beneath a brown hunting coat reaching the knees. There were extra spells wrapped ’round the sword which hung from a scabbard at his waist. No one in the inn not practiced at seeing – excepting maybe Gwenlyann – would be able to remember his face or his height, hair color, or the prominent nose beneath his shining blue eyes. Fewer still, upon looking straight at him with sword drawn, would even suspect that he carried a weapon.
Rhys leaned down so as to be heard by the nearest patron and shouted, “What’s the occasion, friend? Seems a lively crowd tonight.” The noise from the pub could be heard several blocks away.
The man Rhys had taken the liberty to address looked up with a scowl. “If y’ain’t heard the news ya must not be from ’round these parts! Brevis don’t welcome strangers, y’know.”
“Since when?” Rhys asked with an easy smile. “I heard tell that Brevis welcomes travelers of all races and boasts at least 3 different native tongues. In fact, the sailors living in Shorr assured me that Flynn’s was the most hospitable Inn in all of Eldoran!”
“Aye, and so it is! Who’s sayin’ otherwise, tell me?” He would have known her voice even had he not been intimately acquainted with those flashing emerald eyes.
“This man seems intent on keeping a stranger in the dark. I was just inquiring about the seeming celebration going on tonight.” he said, sweeping his hand over the crowd to indicate the source of his inquiry and smiling slyly at Gwenlyann. For a moment her eyes faltered and she flushed, for once unable to produce an adequate retort.
Recovering quickly, she moved over to him and asked if there was something in particular he wanted from the kitchen. “We have a newly opened aged port which might satisfy even a world-traveler like you,” she said invitingly, though the charm was lost on him.
Before Rhys could whisper the spell that would set her free from unremembrance, Gwenlyann moved to intercept a waiter carrying trays laden with steaming bowls of spice soup, freshly-cut cheese, a plate piled high with fresh melon, and another filled with hot yeast rolls.
“Glin, find this man a table and be quick about it” she said sharply, but her lovely grin and kind eyes worked better than any magic spell she could ever hope to employ to bring compliance to her every request. In the midst of these observations Rhys felt a strange sensation come over him. Suddenly he heard Gwenlyann’s voice speak directly into his mind, “What took you so long? I’ve been looking to your coming for weeks.” Too shocked to respond, Rhys just stared at her wide-eyed, comprehension beginning to dawn. He realized in a rush why he had been hearing her voice in his dreams these past 3 months, and why he had felt such urgency to get here, to find her.
“You remember … ?” he breathed. The sharp look she gave him instantly recalled him to his surroundings. Now was not the time nor place for a reunion. Too many spies might be lurking in such a crowded room.
“Meet me tonight in the Grove. You know the one,” she spoke into his mind again. The men surrounding them heard her listing menu items and offering them more ale. He recalled a stand of trees about a mile south of the Inn. He had passed through it just today on his way into town. “Midnight” her voice echoed and was she was gone, disappeared into a crowd of happy patrons, the charming barmaid once more.
Today in The Matticus Kingdom, the gauntlet was thrown. Challenge accepted.
~ ~ ~
The night howled, sucked at the windows, and rattled fences. Trees, arched with the onslaught, whipped and branches reached out for anything to unleash their frustration and torment on. The wind pushed against everything, a bully on a rampage, the world its victim.
The cloud shrouded darkness ate away at the edges of the dim pools of light cast by the street lamps. The polka dot glows shimmered in the swaying black. They seemed resigned to their fate, destined to be swallowed and complete the end of all things, but too stubborn to wink out quickly. Fading, little by little, the long hours of the night stretched thin.
A single door on the block creaked open, straining against the arms of the storm, and then banged shut. The hunched man winced in anticipation of the sound even though the echoes of the escape were lost below the fury of the wind. His strained eyes swept the scoured landscape and saw nothing but the traces of lights ominously urging him forward.
The way is here.
It is not safe.
Follow the dancing lights.
If you dare…
And now for my part:
Part 1: Change Winds
At least the rain has stopped, Holden thought. The cloud cover made the darkness complete beyond the reach of the street’s dim lanterns. Holden’s imagination began to run wild into the shadowy depths around him. Fighting the wind and fears his own memories incited, he tried to get his bearings. He knew better than to stand still very long on a night like this. He also knew never to follow the winking lights.
He had been a young, arrogant fool the first time he had weathered a Faerie Storm. Laughing at the doom-laden tales warning against the lights, he had followed them into the chaotic mist. His folly had cost him more than his freedom. Time had ceased to exist through long years of agony at the Faerie’s hands. Holden was no longer young, nor was he particularly brave. He certainly wasn’t foolish. He was too smart to be easily caught again. Escaping his cage had been a long, difficult process, and he chafed at the decade lost in hiding, unable to protect his daughter or avenge his long-dead wife. But this storm sparked something buried deep inside him: a hunger for his old life had awakened. Aodhan help them, he would have his revenge!
A flash of lightning showed him the right path to take – away from the bobbing balls of fire strung out before him in the direction of swirling mists. He carefully turned, and as he began creeping soundlessly through the shadows around his hovel, he took the time to dismiss the spell protecting him these last 10 years. He could only hope the rest of the villagers believed he had ventured out and been lost to the storm’s rage.
Rhys stepped into the forest standing tall once more. His long, flaxen hair billowed behind him, seemingly against the winds. No one would recognize him as the stooped, old man the villagers knew as Holden. It had been so long since he had walked in his own skin, he forgot how good it felt to stand upright. As he strode through ancient trees, he worked the kinks out of his neck and questions began forming in his mind.
In the relative safety of Aldain’s canopy he could think freely, without fear, about what the storm’s coming could mean. Had he been betrayed? But who was left who knew him for what he was? Had someone in the village discovered his true identity? No, he had been there too long and was too careful for that. What then? There was only one who could answer that question, but how was he to find her? What would happen to her if he did? Part of her protection had been the severing of every tie between them – right down to her last memory of her former life. Despite years of separation, memories of her still filled him. If Aodhan willed it, she was now strong enough to weather any storm his coming to her might bring.
Muted rays of the rising sun began to stream through the trunks surrounding him as he outdistanced the Faerie winds. He could still barely hear the slam of shutters in the distance as the storm assaulting his former home continued unabated. He felt a pang of sorrow for the villagers he had abandoned to the Faerie lights. Perhaps they would remember his warnings and stay inside until it was over. Most of them thought that Faeries were the superstitious imaginings of the young or ignorant. Poor fools. Well, he had done what he could to bring truth to that one small corner of the Land – in nothing more than vague innuendo, of course. He had never ventured to risk exposing himself. Now exposure became inevitable.
The morning wore on and his stomach started to growl. He would need food and water soon. Turning Eastward, he decided to make for Bryndale. There were still a handful of outposts along the way where provisions could be found, and perhaps even a little news from the wider world might be gleaned. He realized with chagrin that he had spent too long in hiding. Aodhan forgive him; hopefully he was not too late!
A couple of weeks back, after a conversation with my Mom about her grieving process (if you don’t know, we lost my Sister on December 19, 2013), I suddenly had the strange feeling that 4+ months into this gig, I had not even begun to grieve her passing. Never mind the stuff I’ve written about her death, the talk/song I shared at her funeral service, and all of the tears already shed …
A day or so after that conversation, I ran into a wonderful blog site about grief; specifically the post dealt with grief having no expiration date. It occurred to me that being so far from her (in proximity) for so many years prior to her death along with her inability to carry on our normal phone conversations during her final couple of years combined to make it that much more difficult for me to know she’s really gone. While I have no clue what the next step in my process will be, I suspect it involves some intense ‘realization.’ Not something I’m particularly looking forward to.
On Wednesday, the following photo showed up as the Friday Fictioneers prompt (I won’t even try to explain why a Friday photo prompt shows up on Wednesdays):
My gut reaction was how familiar the picture was – not that I’d seen it before, but that I saw myself in a similar photo-memory of what I now think of as my former life. The emotions that boiled up to the surface when I saw the prompt surprised me a bit. A mixture of nostalgia and excitement, fondness and regret coalesced inside me to produce one clear thought in my head: “I can’t write a story about this. Not now, not maybe ever. This isn’t fiction; in fact, it’s too real — it’s me.”
In a conversation with my son about humor I told him that for me to find something funny, it has to be true, to ring true. Fiction for me is quite the opposite. Sure, the characters have to be true – to themselves, and believable – to the reader. But the more fantastical the story, the more I am drawn to it. Maybe that’s why I prefer tales about dragons, fairies, magic, and aliens more than historical fiction (Seabiscuit notwithstanding).
As I’m sure you’ve already begun to grasp, seeing what looked like the scraps of an old life of mine reminded me again of my recent loss. It was as if writing about the picture would have been a step in the direction of dealing with my sister’s death. I don’t feel ready for that right now, for lots of reasons.
First, I’m daily faced with the raging hormones of a 15-yr. old son. Having raised 2 daughters, you’d think I’d have been up to the challenge. Whole. Different. World. I’m literally at the end of myself and my ideas about how to navigate these waters. Most days I throw up my hands and just ask God to take it. Hopefully He’s listening.
Second, there are huge financial outflows facing us right now: my husband has been renovating the upstairs of our house having been out of work for 7 months; June 1, 2014 he will restart his counseling business; my daughter is getting married in October; and I would love to find a way to block my noisy neighbor before then. Being the primary breadwinner (hubby still serves as a Reservist) can be stressful in today’s economy – especially as a woman.
Third, my parents have both had rough years health-wise. 85 and 84 respectively, my Dad and Mom continue to manage on their own, but we all lose the battle against Father Time eventually. With the recent loss of my sister, their well-being is pretty much on my mind 25 hours every day.
Sunday afternoon I did some shopping to find a dress for the wedding. I knew it was a mistake when I looked into the mirror and saw almost the exact replica of the one my sister wore to her son’s wedding:
It wasn’t exact, but the color, the tiers … I said out loud to myself, “I can’t look like her.” Fortunately, it was the last of the 3 dresses I tried. I hung it up with the other disasters and promptly walked out, giving up the search for the moment. So many memories, at every turn they hit me.
I looked back at the photo prompt Sunday night, glad I had left it alone. I want to push myself to write like I want to push myself to get through the grief – I’ve never been known for my patience. I’m not ready. I’m learning to be okay with that, to give myself permission to breathe. Sometimes even that hurts too much.
*Actually, my favorite part of this video is the (probably drunken) man dancing in front of me. 😀
If you read my recent post about my back yard, you are aware that I am in the middle of planning my daughter’s wedding. I now have less than 6 months in which to accomplish this Herculean task. We have (obviously) ruled out my back yard (mostly), but how does one find an affordable venue to hold a reception? Booking a church for the ceremony is relatively easy compared to the other details: flowers, photographers, caterers, bartenders, bands, tables, linens, decorations, hair stylists, Master of Ceremonies, invitations, dresses, suits, hotel rooms, & a reception venue (if you have a daughter and that list didn’t make you start to sweat, you might want to check your pulse).
Sometimes I feel like I have too many choices. Then I remember we have a specific date and are trying to stay within a budget. That’s when the panic attack comes on. This morning I found a venue in our price range that might have the date available, only to find out it’s a historic house that doesn’t allow speakers, DJ’s or a live band inside. Um, have you priced a tent, tables, & chairs for 75 lately? I have, and it ain’t
pretty within the budget. But what if it rains??
I had this all worked out 2 days ago … to the tune of – you guessed it – ten THOUSAND dollars (all told)! Too bad I didn’t win the lottery last week (extremely difficult without a ticket). Last night I decided I did not want to spend the cost of an exceptional used car on a one-day event. Instead, I trashed all of the previous quotes and started over from scratch. I’m pretty sure my ulcer reappeared that instant.
It’s really frustrating because I love my daughter and my future son-in-law (a rarity in itself), but there just isn’t enough room in the national debt tank for me to pull this off. At times like these I start to think about what’s really important in life. These thoughts often take me in two opposing directions:
1. All that matters is the people, relationships, and the fun we have making memories together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or costly for it to be great. My daughter understands this and is as committed to the budget as we are. All true.
2. It’s only money … you can’t take it with you … the Country’s going down whether I add my piddly debt or not … Screw it! spend, SPEND, SPEND!! (My son will probably forgive us before we die for blowing his freshman year of college on his older sister’s wedding.) Also (mostly) true.
I really do want to be responsible and not frivolous. I really do want to honor my daughter and her fiancé with the coolest wedding they can imagine. Unfortunately, these two ideas are in our case mutually exclusive.
So, back to square one. I have sent emails apologizing to vendors who quoted me too high and more emails to new vendors to request (hopefully lower) quotes. All the while my brain is just tired of thinking about it all! I told my daughter yesterday that when this wedding is over I’m the one who’s going to need a
honeymoon vacation in Hawaii!!
Meanwhile, the back yard is looking better and better everyday.
Every year when I was a child my Father’s family of origin would gather together on Christmas Day to celebrate. Part of our celebration always included a retelling of Papa’s (my paternal grandfather) coming to America. As a child, my *Fambly’s Story made its mark on me, especially since I never knew any of my grandparents – all I had of them were the stories.
*Fambly – The First Generation’s distinctive name for themselves and their progeny is believed to have originated as a typo in a letter passed around between the siblings (true story). To this day, ‘Fambly’ embodies the closeness, love, and commitment to one another we all share.
The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.
~ ~ ~
“It is well past your bedtime, Saiad, we can talk more about this tomorrow,” I said. The evening air had cooled along with my temper. As Saiad gathered together his paper and pencils, Watfy looked at me questioningly. Your shame shames us all, her eyes seemed to accuse. She only said, “You know I am proud of you, don’t you, Ahmed? The whole Fambly is proud of you!”
You don’t understand; how could you? I thought. The kitchen seemed to fall away as the memories took hold.
~ ~ ~
I knew every mark on every wall of my prison cell by heart. My life had been reduced to nothing more than the surrounding stone and the memory of what I had done. Even if I had the will to forget, Malik’s family would not let me – each year on the anniversary of his murder, I was taken to an open area of the prison and beaten while they watched and mourned. The next day my mother and brother were allowed in for their yearly visit to bring me news, fresh clothing, and to dress my wounds.
As a kind of self-made penance, it became my habit to spend the days before my beating remembering the deeds that ended my freedom, all the while asking Allah for forgiveness. I knew Malik’s family would never forgive or forget. So, I remembered everything, beginning with the look of contempt on Malik’s face when he saw me in the grove. He knew what I had been sent there to do. “Malik,” I began, “this night need not end in death. It must look like I tried to kill you, but I do not want to do that.”
“Sure you don’t,” Malik sneered. “Since when can the word of a Fakhr-al-din be trusted? Come on, Ahmed, I am not afraid of you. Tonight will be your end, not mine!” Despite his smaller stature, Malik had proven stronger and more resourceful than I planned, but he made the mistake of carrying a weapon. By the time I wrested the mallet from him, I was bruised and bloody enough to know that I needed to make the next swing count. I aimed for his already-injured left shoulder hoping to take the fight out of him. Expecting a blow to the head, Malik ducked. A sickening crunch accompanied the impact, and suddenly blood was everywhere. Malik’s still body lay before me and I knew it was really over.
My flight through the mountain village was even shorter than the fight had been. Malik’s brother discovered me as I crawled between the needles of my cedar grove hiding place. The trial had been a sham. Families for miles around had known what Malik had done to my cousin, Youssef. No witnesses were needed to convict me of a crime everyone had expected me to commit, the bloody mallet was evidence enough. My mother had cried, but my father’s smiling face I would never forget. His pride in my actions haunts my dreams.
Today was the day. It would be the 4th beating in as many years. Each year before, the guards arrived before sunrise; none offered me food or water, only pain. Today my captors were late – hours late. Just as I began to hope I might be overlooked this year – perhaps Allah had forgiven me at last – I heard footsteps approaching my cell. Someone was calling my name. At first, I didn’t recognize the voice. Had they changed my guards again? Wait, was that – ? Could it possibly be my brother’s voice I heard?
“George! Is that you?” I whispered as loud as I dared through the small hole in the door to my cell. “What are you doing here?” The next thing I knew someone jimmied the lock and the door to my cell swung open. There before me stood George with Papa and my Uncle.
“You are free,” Papa simply said.
“What?!” I shouted. “That’s not possible, the guards -“
“The guards are gone, vanished into the night,” Papa assured me. “There has been a coup. Chouff is ours once more.”
~ ~ ~
Saiad shook his head, eyes wide in disbelief. “They let you go, just like that?” he said.
“Not ‘just like that’,” I began, “but yes, I was free … for the moment.”
Watfy tried then, “It is hard for you to understand, Saiad. You did not grow up in Lebanon. It is a different world, not like America. 2 or 3 families fight over who will run an entire region. When they fight, people die. When people die, others take revenge. It is all we have ever known,” she said with a sigh.
“What about the police, the government? Congress?” Saiad asked. I shook my head. “Well, if people always take revenge, how did you survive, Papa?”
“I would not had I stayed,” I said. “That is why I came to America. It took about a year to make arrangements to leave, and going was hard, but I did not want to live my whole life looking over my shoulder for an assassin who would one day come. I was safe as long as I was in prison; once they could not hold me, my life was forfeit.”
“Mama, did you come to America with Papa? What was it like riding a boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean?” Saiad asked, looking at Watfy in expectation of another long, interesting story.
“No, Saiad, I met your father many years after he left Lebanon, but I knew the stories about him since I was a young child. I told you, where I come from, your papa is a hero! But he is right, it is late. I think the story of how we met will keep for another day.”
Giving Saiad my sternest look, I took a breath to scold him, then stopped. I suddenly realized how quiet the house had become. “Children, where are you hiding?” I said softly.
Slowly, one by one, 6 children filed into the kitchen. Watfy smiled as she stood, hands on hips. “And what are you all doing down here? Evelyn, everyone was to be in bed one hour ago,” she scolded playfully.
“I know, Mama. Everyone’s ready for bed. We just couldn’t help listening to Papa’s story. He tells tales of such adventure!” Evelyn exclaimed.
Reaching my arms out to pull Idell and Fred onto my lap, I asked, “Do you want to know the greatest adventure of my life?” I waited until I saw 6 little heads nod. “You!” And planting a kiss on each one, I ordered, “Now off to bed!”
~ ~ ~
Did I mention my daughter is getting married? That’s right! In less than 7 months she will tie the knot. I hear it takes a year to plan a wedding, so I’m starting what – 5 months in the hole? To make matters worse, the wedding is taking place 8 or so States Northeast of me. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to plan a wedding with only 6.5 months left, from 8 States away?! Oh, one more thing. In case you hadn’t heard, they say it costs $10,000 to get married these days. WHAT?!
Can anyone tell me who ‘they’ are? When you finish explaining, please help me re-locate my credit card so I can do my part to drive this country even further towards financial ruin.
Okay, I admit it. This post isn’t really about my daughter’s wedding, it’s about me. Because everything is about me, all the time, right? Of course, right.
Therefore, in the spirit of “it’s-all-about-meeee” (you have to sing it to get the full effect) I have decided to unveil my idea for the perfect wedding venue: our backyard. Seriously. I am convinced that our backyard is THE perfect spot for my daughter to get married. Truly idyllic.
Welcome to my version of The Wedding Venue Blues, a short list of great reasons why my backyard is the perfect venue for my daughter’s wedding:
1. Wildlife abounds
- We have gaggles of turkeys
stea ling food from the cardinalscruising our yard daily. My next-door neighbor buys corn especially for the miscreantsdarlings, guaranteeing they will stop by each and every morning. While I sing the praises of toms flaunting their feathers before the hens, my husband claims they poop disease all over the yard; and, since we’re 10 feet inside the city limits, we aren’t actually allowed to kill one for Thanksgiving dinner … whatever. Aren’t they adorbs?
- Skunks are literally everywhere in my little town. If I’m not running over one in my car, I’m inhaling the sexy musky aroma whenever I open a window. What wedding would be complete without our furry tuxedo’ed friends? As one YouTube Source put it “Pepe le Pew is Odor-able!” True, true.
- Vultures are a local icon. I have friends who take pride in the fact that our little Nashville suburb suffers very few long-decaying animals due to the enormous vulture population. Now tell me, what wedding party wouldn’t enjoy a nice Bevy of Buzzards? Doves, schmuvs!
- Plenty of wasps, hornets, Japanese beetles, and mosquitoes
invadeenjoy the bounty in my yard all summer long. Just imagine the loveliness created by these insects as they perform their acrobatic dances amidst the lightening bugs, all the while being picked off one-by-one by our friendly, local bats! Who needs hanging candles or tiki torches when nature is right outside the back door, ready and willing to light up our lives?
2. My backyard comes with built-in rustic seating and a custom dance floor
- The previous owners of my little cottage believed in using natural
bouldersrocks as borders around the plethora of gardens. (Did you see how I found a way to use ‘plethora’ in this post? Skill people, skill.) These rocks vary in both shape and size, helping to accommodate all of the guests (both large and small), and they come complete with painfulangled edges and plenty of soft moss to give everyone that cushion-y feel we all love in a fine seat.
- As an added bonus, in the little town where I live, if you want to hit solid rock, you simply dig an inch or so into the ground, anywhere, and VOILA, rock-face! It will be a
nightmaresimple task to remove the top layer of Bermuda shizgrass from my yard to produce an instant stone floor on which the Bride and Groom can boogie into their new life together!
- Of course, what wedding party would be complete without a pavilion? Fortunately for me, several large oaks and hickory nut trees provide all of the
head injuriesshade and weather protection one could hope for. Besides, by the time September comes, all of those loose nuts should have fallen already (crazy relatives not-withstanding).
3. Finally, my backyard neighbor will provide entertainment FOR FREE
- At all times of the day or night I hear
horrific noiseslovely tunes blastingemanating from my neighbor’s boombox located inside his concrete garage/driveway ensemble (when he is not revving his motorcycle engine at 2 a.m., that is). The annoyingly uglystately structure provides the perfect wedding backdrop all the while managing to enhance the horse-sizedcharming black dune buggy trailer in the driveway. Because my neighbor’s lot sits higher than my backyard, all anyone will hear are bass guitar licks, drums beating loud enough to shake the shingles off my roof, and the frequentoccasional f-bomb lacing his rebel-screamer-country-rock/rap music. Oh, and when he tries to belt it outsing along – ooohh, shivers, I tell you, right up my spine! Perfect for dancing the night away, I think! At the very least, everyone will have a great reason to drink a little more than usual. Always a plus whenever in-laws are gathered together in one place. 😉
- Let’s not forget the possibility of a dune buggy ride in between musical sets for all our guests, especially those who appreciate the brand new Ah-ooga horn on my neighbor’s latest rebuilt toy which he prefers to
show offshare with us in those quiet moments of peace I savor after work each evening and on Saturday mornings. Sleeping in is overrated, don’t you think?.
Who says a wedding has to cost $10,000??! Pshaw! Besides all the free stuff I’m getting, consider the other amazing benefits I’ll enjoy:
- Food and drink for all the wedding guests? $56.78 (thanks to Food Saver coupons!)
- Airfare from D.C. to Nashville for Bride and Groom? $745.98 (at least I won’t have to walk through TSA’s x-ray scanner anytime soon!)
- Hearing all 87 of my daughter’s wedding guests tell the asshat behind me where to shove his music?
I turned 50 last week. For many, this event would mark an important milestone. For me it passed by virtually unnoticed. The suitcase I carried to my sister’s funeral still sits in a corner of my bedroom. I have thought about putting it away a hundred times, but putting it away would mean unpacking, and what would be the point? You see, after my sister’s funeral service, my brother-in-law encouraged me to pick out some of her clothes to take with me. I knew it was silly. She and I could not have been built any differently. My sister was a wisp, and me? Well, let’s just say I have always been “solid”. I don’t mind my size (anymore), but the reality is that everything in the suitcase is too small to fit.
Ironically, all of the shoes are too big.
The point of unpacking would be to actually wear the clothes in the suitcase. Instead I am holding onto the items that I hope will fit my daughter. One thing I plan to keep is my sister’s black down vest. I wore it for about a week, but I could not zip it up if I had on more than a lightweight blouse. The Polar Vortex of 2014 made such clothing untenable, so the vest is now on top of the suitcase where my cat, Ian, has taken to sleeping. Looks to me like he found just the right combination of soft and warm.
Grief makes a strange companion for me. Sanguines are not usually given to bouts of depression or morose thoughts. I am not sure what to make of the gentle waves of sadness that roll over me when I least expect it. Other times the pain comes as a swift punch in the gut, knocking the wind right out of me. In those moments it feels like she just died all over again.
Supposedly grief comes in stages but I cannot remember what they are. I only know that last week my 50th birthday came and went without a card or call from my Big Sis. In fact, I could not remember the last time she had been able to send a card or call me on my birthday, thanks to the ravaging effects of dementia — only one of the illnesses that took her from us. This year I had to face the hardest truth: I would never receive a birthday card or call from her again.
Probably the best birthday ever was the year that we gave one other the same card!! My sister and I were both in the habit of purchasing birthday cards and gifts way early. Her birthday was in January and mine is in March. That year I had found her card in probably June. It was such an incredibly funny and appropriate card that I could not resist the urge to tell her how perfect her next birthday card would be. She did not hesitate to inform me that she too had found the perfect card for my birthday. One of us joked about how funny it would be if we had bought each other the same card! She kept the secret for 2 whole months but we laughed about it for years to come. You’ve heard the saying, “Great minds think alike”? Well, that was a case of kindred hearts.
What do you do when a piece of your heart gets ripped out? I find it difficult at times to gather my thoughts together enough to write about anything. I often find myself thinking about my own death. I think about where she is now, too, and what she might be doing. I think about that a lot. My sister was a brilliant artist. Everything in her life was a work of art. From a prepared meal to a painting to her garden, she sought beauty in everything she put her hand to. I remember once hearing her talk about the importance of color to an artist. Her wonder at color was fascinating! As she spoke, I knew that a mystery was being revealed to me but despite her words, understanding remained beyond my grasp. I like to imagine that now she is experiencing color like never before.
During one of my last visits with her she could no longer speak in complete sentences. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation I was having with her husband, she mumbled something. Neither of us could understand what she was trying to say. Frustrated, she left the room. We looked at one another, shrugging. When she returned, there was a small picture frame in her hands. She pointed to it over and over saying, “This.” I did not have a clue what she meant. In response to her growing agitation, I stood and followed her through the house saying. “This, this,” she repeated, over and over.
We finally ended up in the room that would have been her studio. Satisfied at last, she pointed to the pictures on the dresser and breathed, “this” one last time. She relaxed. She had found what she was looking for. What I saw broke my heart. On the dresser were six unfinished Botanicals – dried flower arrangements in frames. None of the pieces looked anything like her work. They were thin shadows of the depth of her talent. But even with a mind being slowly eaten away by dementia, more artistic ability dwelled in her pinky finger than I would ever possess in my whole body. Even then, my sister’s talent was beyond me.
I envy my cat. I would like to be able to curl up and fit on the back of a down vest sitting on the top of my small red suitcase. I am certain it would be just the right combination of soft and warm.
Emir Fakhr-al-Din (1572–April 13, 1635): a Druze prince and an early leader of the Emirate of Chouf, a self-governed area under the Ottoman Empire between the 17th and 19th centuries. His period was characterized by economic and cultural prosperity, and he fought other Lebanese families to unite the people of Lebanon and seek independence from the Ottoman Empire. He is considered by some to be the first “Man of Lebanon” to seek the sovereignty of modern-day Lebanon.
The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.
(If you missed it, click here for Part 1)
“Papa, how do you spell ‘puhlitikul priz’ner?” Saiad asked, his pencil poised in the air above the paper. The once-clean page was now filled with words intermingled with smudges of lead matching the black spots on my son’s hand. After writing furiously for a time, he now sat breathless in anticipation. Saiad always had loved a good story.
“And why would you need to know something like that? Are you hoping to become one?” Watfy asked, as she stepped into the kitchen. She looked down at Saiad with raised eyebrows, awaiting his answer. The twinkle in her eye betrayed her delight in her eldest son, undermining her effort to look stern. Saiad looked up, and furrowing his brow in mock suspicion said, “Were you spying on us, Mama?” Laughter broke out of both of them then.
As always, my wife’s black hair was pulled back into a tight bun, accentuating her high cheekbones and large, round eyes. With a wave I motioned her to me, and, placing my hand on her extended abdomen, said, “Any day now, yes?” I flashed her a boyish grin and the weight of 51 years seemed to fall away from me. What man would not be proud to bear 7 children, and with such a beautiful wife? Shaking her head, she batted my hand away, stepped over to the stove and began cooking the thick, dark brew that made American coffee taste thin. How did she do it? Nine months pregnant, with 6 children already to care for, yet she never seemed tired.
I looked at her straight back, strong shoulders, and delicate neckline and wondered again how such a lovely girl had willingly left her home – at 16! – to marry someone more than twice her age whom she’d never even met. “Saiad wants to know why I left Lebanon,” I said, shrugging. “Maybe you should tell him why you left, too.”
“Well, now, that’s a tale worth telling,” she said, turning to Saiad with a grin of her own. “But where to start?”
“At the beginning, Mama,” Saiad exclaimed. “I want to know everything!“
Watfy’s accent was even thicker than mine. After 15 years in America, she still had not mastered the English language. I had begun to think she didn’t mean to. In some way I did not understand she used the language of her homeland to stay connected to the roots she had left behind. It was a stubborn defiance so characteristic of her, almost as if to say, “I left my home to be with you, but I will not abandon what I was or who I am.” Her defiance carried with it implications about what I had abandoned in the quest to leave my past behind. At least, in her mind, too much of the man she had heard about in stories at home did not seem to live in reality here.
I married a proud woman, no doubt about that. Watfy never let me forget that she had the good sense to marry into a royal line. She didn’t seem to understand that no matter how ancient or powerful my lineage had been in Lebanon, it meant little to nothing today, here in small-town Virginia.
~ ~ ~
The news hit hard. “You mean he’s dead?” Papa asked. His deep voice carried an angry undertone as dark emotions boiled up to the surface. The messenger only looked down at the floor and nodded faintly, fearful to be the bearer of such news. “My nephew, dead?! Who do these people think they are?!” Papa roared.
The setting sun sent streams of light through the narrow window slits, casting long, broken shadows of my father’s sharp features onto the wall behind him. His prominent nose only seemed to grow larger when he was angry. The inevitable had happened. My cousin’s recklessness had finally been rewarded with his death. Despite Papa’s display of anger, everyone had known this day would come. The cycle of vengeance between the clans vying for power had been carried on for centuries. There was no way to stop it now … or was there?
“Papa,” I began, tentatively, “what if we make a show of outrage, then demand restitution of some kind? Perhaps a piece of fertile land? What better way to display our right to rule than to put an end to this senseless violence? Besides, imagine what the clans could do united rather than divided.“
“What are you talking about, Ahmed? You know how this works, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!’ There is no other way. Find out who did this and kill him.” Papa waved us away dismissively. You always knew when a conversation with my father was over. Papa never questioned the obedience of his sons; he didn’t even look up to see if I left when dismissed. It was assumed that as head of the Family his every command would be obeyed, and even at 25 I would not have dared to defy him openly. “But I am not a killer,” I thought. “There has to be another way, and I will find it.”
The chosen day was hot, almost stifling. Even in the shade I was sweating under my silk robes. I likely would have been sweating even had there been a cool breeze. My heart was racing. The plan was in place, and I knew it was a good one. Still, I could not stop myself from going over and over it in my mind.
Malik spent every Saturday in his parents’ home and left just after evening prayers. An ambush would be simple. I would follow him until we were out of earshot of the neighbors; his path always took him through the small olive grove on the eastern side of the village. The grove would be deserted on a Saturday night.
Blushing, I remembered the last time I had met Lutfiyah there. Almost 3 months ago, yet it seemed like yesterday. I could still smell the spiced oils she had combed through her hair. I wonder what she would say if she knew I was going to our little grove for revenge instead of love.
Focus! I chided myself back to the present. Once I had given Malik a good beating, I could make my way through the little village of Barouk and be back home before dawn. I would have to deal with Papa, then, of course. Maybe he will believe that I left Malik for dead; surely Malik’s family would know I spared his life. Perhaps we would be able to negotiate a truce, in time. But I had already made up my mind. I would not become a murderer, not even for my family’s honor.
~ ~ ~
“Did you know your papa is a famous man in Lebanon? Where I come from, his name is known in every village for miles around,” my wife declared.
“Really? What did you do, Papa? Were you an explorer? An inventor? Maybe you had riches like a Sultan!” Saiad turned to look at me, dark eyes alight with dreams of the great person he imagined he was seeing for the first time.
The shame in my eyes as I turned away from him was not lost on Watfy. “How can you feel shame for defending your family’s honor? Only a coward would have run from his duty, Ahmed. You did not run,” she said quietly in her native tongue, so that Saiad had to struggle to hear and keep up. “Didn’t run? Run from what, Papa?” he said.
“Your papa would have you believe that he acted dishonorably,” she said, speaking in heavily-accented English once again. “But in the region where we grew up, he is a legend. His family displays a mallet on the wall in their home to proclaim your Papa’s commitment to justice,” she said with obvious pride.
Finding it easier to argue with her in my native Arabic, I said, “What kind of justice does it proclaim, Watfy? Did Malik’s death bring my cousin back to life – NO! Vengeance has no power to restore. ‘An eye for an eye’ only leaves two men blind!” The scraping of the chair legs as I rose from the table could not cover the frustration in my voice. “I want to celebrate life in this family, not death. And where would you be today if I had suffered the same fate and met my end at the hands of Malik’s family champion – ‘a tooth for a tooth’?” The screen door slammed for the second time that night as I stalked out into the darkness.
Taking a deep breath, I looked up and watched the moon slowly rise over the little brick home sheltering my beloved family. What would I do if someone ever took the life of one of my children? My wife? I know what I would do – I had done it before. And my fierce protectiveness had absolutely nothing to do with ‘family honor’.
Every year when I was a child my Father’s family of origin would gather together on Christmas Day to celebrate. Part of our celebration always included a retelling of Papa’s (my paternal grandfather) coming to America. As a child, my *Fambly’s Story made its mark on me, especially since I never knew any of my grandparents – all I had of them were the stories.
*Fambly – The First Generation’s (photo at end) distinctive name for themselves and their progeny is believed to have originated as a typo in a letter passed around between the siblings (true story). To this day, ‘Fambly’ embodies the closeness, love, and commitment to one another we all share.
The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.
Saiad looked up from his paper. I could just make out the words “My Family” scrawled across the top of the otherwise blank page. Nice to see his penmanship was improving.
“Why did you decide to come to America, Papa? What was it like riding a boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean? You had to come through New York, right? Why didn’t we stay in New York? They say that New York City’s gonna have the tallest building in the world! They’re calling it the Empire State Building. Why did they make you change your name, I forget? Papa, please, tell me!”
The barrage of questions left my mind struggling to focus as I met Saiad’s gaze. English would always be a second language to me. My eldest son’s 10-yr. old eyes glittered with expectation in the reflected light of our kitchen while my brain struggled to comprehend the meaning behind his rapid-fire questions.
“The tallest building in the world? Taller even than the Pyramids of Egypt?” I asked with a smile in my voice. After almost 20 years, my thick accent identified me as an immigrant, just in case my Middle-Eastern features and olive skin-tone failed to do so.
“Papa, buildings aren’t the same as pyramids!” his exasperation evident in his sigh.
It slowly began to dawn on me what he was asking. How could I ever tell him the truth? Should I tell him the truth – all of it? I certainly couldn’t risk having him write it down for his teacher to see. What would happen to our little *Fambly if this growing community ever found out what I was … what I’d done?
“I’m going for a walk,” I said as I stepped out into the cool evening. “I’ll be back in a little while and we’ll talk more about the difference between buildings and pyramids.”
“But, Papa—“ Saiad’s protest was cut short by the slamming of the screen door. I really need to fix that, I thought.
The last of the summer fireflies, dim in the twilight, flitted amidst the fig-laden branches in the back yard. Like miniature lanterns the tiny insects etched blinking, broad-leafed shadows onto the ground surrounding my homeland’s favored tree. I could hear the faint voices of children coming from inside the house. The voices grew louder, shriller; yet another argument had broken out between the girls. One calm voice cut through the chaos. I shook my head and smiled, thankful for Evelyn’s seemingly miraculous ability to restore order amongst her high-spirited younger sisters.
Saiad’s questions crowded back into my thoughts and my smile faded. Sighing, I wondered for the hundredth time at the wisdom of my decisions. Were my children ready to hear my story, to know me for what I was? The memories began to flood my mind, vivid and uncontrollable, like a nightmare from which I could never wake.
~ ~ ~
Sultry air matted thick, black hair to my face as I picked my way through the Syrian foothills. It was well past midnight. The little community slept, leaving the narrow streets deserted. A waning moon peeked out from behind threatening rainclouds. The dim light was all I had to help me avoid rocks and pitfalls in the packed dirt. For this reason I traveled at a snail’s pace when everything inside screamed at me to run.
Had I really done it? The scene played over and over in my mind as I tried to understand what had happened. How could my plans have gone so wrong? No one was supposed to die!
I heard them then. Shouts and screams began to bounce across the rocks, echoing between the stone houses nestled in the hills. They followed me down steep pathways like the sure-footed goats who called this region home.
Someone had found the body.
I picked up my pace as best I could on the uneven terrain. I had to get out of there before anyone saw – too late! The light of a lantern cast my silhouette back and forth on the packed ground ahead of me as it swung from the hand of one of my pursuers. Quickly I dodged into a copse of cedars and crouched, catching my breath. Maybe I could blend in with its thick branches.
The shouts came closer now, accompanied by more lantern-light. Angry voices began calling to one another, organizing a search of the dark doorways. I recognized many of those voices from the marketplace. I knew these people, and they knew me. I also knew if I didn’t get out of there soon I would be surrounded. But wasn’t I already surrounded – trapped by years of feuding resulting in blood I hadn’t meant to shed?
It was only supposed to be a beating, I chastised myself. “You let it go too far,” my whispered accusation fell dead on the thick, humid air, heard only by the branches enveloping me. My family had never understood my distaste for vengeance. “How can murder restore a family’s honor?” I had asked again and again. No one ever listened to my objections.”This is the way it has always been” was the only answer my father would give.
Of all people, how had this task fallen to me? Yes, I was tall and strong; as the eldest it made sense for the family to name me Champion. But I wanted the cycle of vengeance to end. Tonight I had proven I was no better than my Fathers. I had guaranteed the cycle would go on unchecked, perhaps for generations to come.
Branches around me began to move. Someone had decided to search the little cedar grove where I hid! A lantern fought its way through heavy limbs. In seconds I would be discovered. What can I do? I asked myself. I knew there was only one thing to do: RUN!
~ ~ ~
Back inside the brick house the cool tiles against my bare feet helped calm my thoughts. I turned to Saiad, resigned at least to make a beginning to my story. After all, my history was the heritage of all my children and their children after them. Surely the meaning of my name – honesty – held weight, even if it wasn’t enough to counterbalance my fear of uncovering old secrets.
“What do you want to know, son?” I asked. Before he could take a breath and renew the onslaught of questions, I added, “But, I’ll thank you to ask one question at a time!” I looked pointedly at Saiad behind a raised index finger. Then, shooting him a half-smile, I took my seat across the table.
At that moment I wasn’t sure I was prepared to relive those difficult years, but I felt as if a weight had been lifted. I knew I had to find a way to help my *Fambly understand why I chose to leave my homeland to make a new life – for me and for them – in America.
*I chose to make “Fambly” part of Papa’s vocabulary because, although he was not alive when the name was born, it was his dedication to and love for his future generations that made the name possible to begin with.
Returning from Thanksgiving break, I saw that Emily over at The Waiting had added a new writing challenge in her Remember the Time Blog Hop series. I had missed it due to my trip East. The theme, ‘last days’ caught my eye. It was a bit uncanny, for I had just finished spending my last days with my sister. Emily’s blog about her father’s death is heart-wrenching, but it hit even harder after the week I had had. I commented that I was not yet ready to write about my own last days, but then I ran into this:
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.
– William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Shakespeare convinced me that I had to at least try to write about the last week while it was fresh. Even though I am too late to make it into the hop, I am very thankful to Emily for pushing me to begin the process. I hope my dear friend Sunny will not mind me stealing her amazing perspective on my words. Hers fit perfectly at the front of what comes next.
Even in such times that you noted below, those memories of times past that are filled with such wonder, laughter and love, I find myself thinking that even they are part of our “..seeing in the mirror dimly..”; just a mere spark of the future sight, when what we now see seems more like we’re viewing through waxed paper and then face to face, we will have the gift of clarity and then see clearly (paraphrase). What a blessing to have hope of the fullness when skin is no longer needed and clay makes no claims. What clarity will be present in the Presence, even in the shadows with He Who Knows No Limits, yet chose to take on skin. On our behalf.
Sunny. Thank you for this hope that passes understanding.
May God bless you all as you share with me my last days. Note: The following is an account of my last days with my sister, not her last days on earth. She is now free from the pain and suffering of this life. Sometime around Midday EST on Thursday, December 19, she gave up the fight and began to experience what we can now only imagine: a face-to-face encounter with the Source of all life. Pure love, pure light. Boundless positive energy. I miss you, Ditty, more than I can ever express! I look forward to hearing about your adventures when next we meet.
~ ~ ~
November 25, 2013, Day 1
I had expected the smell. You know it: the familiar musty odor that pervades medical care facilities. But an unexpected sight met my eyes as my mother and I stepped into the room. My sister sat slouched in a lounge chair, head cocked to one side as if permanently askew. Her arms and legs twitched or shook uncontrollably, something I later understood was the involuntary response to the pain she was experiencing. I tentatively moved closer and spoke her name. She looked up at me sideways. I thought I detected recognition in her eyes, but her gaze immediately gave way to tears, then sobs.
If she understood our words of encouragement and comfort, she was unable to communicate it. We sat on either side of her, aching for some way to penetrate her heart with our love, even if her mind was out of reach. The occasional twitch of an arm or grimace that crossed her features unsettled me, as did the unintelligible words escaping her lips at odd moments.
Lunch arrived. Reticent to be the one holding the fork, I realized how unprepared I had been for this. I knew it was bad … I didn’t know it was this bad. Less than 5 months ago we had visited her home. Wordlessly she had taken me to the bedroom where her art supplies were stored. Several framed botanicals lay atop of the dresser. The work in those frames was but a shadow of her former talents. The tears I watched slipping down my Mother’s cheeks echoed the ones staining my heart.
November 26, 2013, Day 2
Tuesday the whole family came to visit. My sister’s tears appeared again, then ended as abruptly as they had begun. It dawned on me that seeing my once-vibrant sister in this condition was worse than heartbreaking. It just didn’t make any sense! She looked like a person who had been in a debilitating car accident involving a head injury.
How had her 57-yr. young mind & body been so completely decimated?
As we sat and talked to one another, we looked for ways to include her in the conversation. I could not stop thinking about the past 5 years of decline. It occurred to me to blame the last 18 months of cancer treatments for pushing my sister’s mind farther and farther from us. That day, leaving was harder than it had been the day before. When I had planned the trip, I had secretly hoped to find her already in God’s arms, free from suffering. Looking at her on Tuesday, I understood the prospect could take weeks – perhaps months – rather than days.
November 27, 2013, Day 3
Wednesday I tried to lighten the mood. I felt more comfortable with the situation and was encouraged by her lack of tears when we arrived. Her husband and I joked a bit and coaxed a familiar “Shu-up” from my sister’s chapped lips. How much of what we said did she understand? I doubted she remembered either of my previous visits. With her head still cocked to one side, she suddenly fixed me with a side-wise glance, and pronounced my name. My breath caught in my throat. Yes, it’s me. How can I help you? How can I reach you?? “That’s right, I’m here,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.” But of course, I was going. Somewhere. Again I was reticent to feed her, but when I left that day, I promised myself I would sing to her before I went back home.
November 28, 2013, Day 4
On Thanksgiving Day we found her sleeping. Her previous two afternoons had been difficult, so we let her rest. God, please, let her rest, I thought.
November 29, 2013, Day 5
Things never seem to go as planned. And yet… even though I arrived a few minutes later than I had hoped, she greeted me with one of her most beautiful smiles. Alone for the first that week, I held her hand and whispered prayers against the pain. I begged for a peaceful end to her suffering. Then I turned off the television, pulled my guitar from its case, and tuned the strings. I didn’t hurry. There was no need. What place could impatience have in one so oblivious of time itself. My sister smiled contentedly, and murmured, “Yeah, yeah”.
For the next hour I sang the songs I love, while I watched her eyes shine with delight. I stared at her, hardly looking at the lead sheets I usually depended upon. I refused to miss a second of my time with her. I knew it would be gone in a blink, never to return.
My memory drifted back to days long gone … Christmas 4 years ago, surrounded by the family singing carols, while her grandchildren toddled to the music. When we struck up a lively worship tune, djembe and all, the adults began to dance too. I watched with delight as my 81-yr. old Father took my sister’s hand. They danced until they were breathless to a song neither of them knew.
Rewind further back to another Christmas … my sister distributing her intricate hand-made ornaments. Further still … my sister making perfect spoon bread. Further … a late-night excursion to a bar where she brandished her custom-made pool stick and proceeded to trounce us all. Yet further … my daughters prancing about in ballet costumes my sister had made especially for them. All the way to one of my earliest memories … my sister, seated at a drafting table, creating a pen and ink landscape using a technique called stippling. The breadth of her artistic talents will never cease to astound me! Suddenly my mind snapped back to the present. I found myself unable to reconcile the person before me with the one who lived in my memory.
On Friday I wielded the fork, the spoon, and the napkin. In that one small gesture of love for my sister I felt connected with her on a fundamental level that transcended the familiar banter that had characterized our relationship for almost as long as I could remember.
My sister’s youthful brokenness shattered my heart. I simply cannot understand it. But I know it enough to hate it. I hate that my Matron of Honor will never see any of my children walk the aisle; I hate that she will not hold her great-nieces & nephews in her arms the way that I held her infant sons; I hate that the spark in her, once blazing with creativity has gone out. I ache to talk with her about the turn my own talent has taken.
But Friday was our last day.
Since I cannot reach you now and I will not be able to see you when you go, I am making you a promise: One day soon I will stop talking and even thinking about our last days together. I swear that I will not remember you this way. Instead I choose to remember the vibrant loving person, the brilliant artist, and the caring wise older sister you are.
I promise never to forget the inspiration you have been in my life.
X X X O (kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!)
I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons!
Your Little Sister,
6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
– 2 Corinthians 4:6-10