Monday, March 31, 2014

Rain, again.

For the first time, the rain today doesn’t suit me. This morning I woke happy, actually happy. For a few minutes, I have everything I EVER wanted. Everything. I heard that lonely dissatisfaction that’s haunted me for as long as I can recall stop talking. But now it’s back, the damn rain, the rain and the lonely sadness that I am not willing to accept as my personality because of its otherness. It is entirely separate from me but it lives inside me, feeding off me, and I off it. 

Bone-chilling cold, damp cold, mixed with a pinch of sadness (but not enough to draw real tears) alienates and comforts me.  I tried curing it in a hot bath, but the water grew cool and my mind went wandering, restless, expecting more of me than I had to give.

 Dull sadness yells again. I resist the urge to call someone to stamp it back into the safe place I hide it whenever I need to do anything at all. I wrap myself in a cashmere sweater – thin warmth. It’s tough softness blocks most of the cold, letting in just enough to make sure I remember the chill. Cold grounds me.

When I told Ellie that I’d be working from home and asked if she wanted me to do that she replied with a definitive, “No.”
I shook my head like a dog shakes waking up from a nap. Before making this about me, as I am oft to do, I ask, “How come?”
She says, “Because you’ll miss your friends and be lonely.” Ellie’s generosity of spirit astounds me. Magnanimity in her still takes me by surprise, though it no longer should. This pure person, whose whole life is lived without affectation - she passed right through me and shares that with me. 

Cole just came into my office and looked at me with that quizzical, “humans make this whole thing way more than it is,” expression.  It’s not confusion or pity but wisdom. He’s dying and it’s killing me. He has cancer. He’s been there with me thorough everything, through the Evanston years, when things were really bad, the other year when I only thought things were really bad, and now. Cole never let me be totally alone. He sits atop the couch, just close enough for an introvert to feel him and not feel crowded. I try not to miss him yet. But I do.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Imaginary Friends - or whatever it takes

Today while I was writing, I remembered that I had a lot of imaginary friends growing up. My friends included a diverse cast that, at one time or another, included Major Houlihan who was a character from MASH, “Closet girl” who lived in the huge walk-in closet I shared with my mother, and “Andy” who was the mission commander from the movie Space Camp.

My best and closest imaginary friend was one that looked exactly like me. She was my reflection in the washing machine that took up way too much space in the master bathroom of my parent’s New York apartment. There was a time when I talked to her everyday. I imagined that there was another entire world, identical to ours, but different. She lived there. All this happened through a tunnel, on the other side of the washing machine. A washing machine as a gateway to another world? We work with what we know, I guess. Alice had a Looking Glass.

In that world, nothing bad ever happened. When something bad happened in my world, it went the way I wished it had in her world. I didn’t envy her; I loved her. A place that was perfect and safe should take up infinite space in a child’s world. No one had allergies, no one was sent to their room for “talking back,” no one felt lonely.

In retrospect, I’ve always been a lonely person. It’s not something I would change about myself though.  We’re taught to run from loneliness and solitude, forgetting that it serves a purpose. It’s the time to develop our relationship with ourselves.

My washing machine friend is something I’ve never admitted to anyone. It’s likely I was worried what people thought of me, having imaginary friends WAY beyond the time when it was “developmentally appropriate.” I still talk to myself when I’m sitting in traffic- no one can tell because they think I’m on the phone (thank you to the inventor of Bluetooth).

Hiding my imaginary worlds from others was unnecessary. I am grateful for my imaginary friends, for they taught me how to believe. We all have a parallel self, in a perfect world. It gives us hope to think about how things should be. If we don’t imagine the way things should be, how can we change how things are?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Musings from Sunny and 70 degrees in Northern California

For those of you still following along, I thank you. There are so many days I’ve forgotten to be grateful.

As I keep chugging away at writing (10,000 words not ready for public consumption), I find myself apologizing. I apologize to my father, to myself, to something or someone unknown, and to you, kind readers, for the plethora of typos Brian keeps finding- EVERYWHERE. Apparently, I suck at proof-reading.

I’m sorry that Daddy never saw me grow up. Parents aren’t any more happy than non-parents in the grand scheme. The difference is in moments of sublime joy which only happen when your child astounds you. When our children discover the world, we have a chance to re-discover the wonder of seeing something, even something ordinary, for the first time. This lasts for a brief moment until the next adventure (read as tantrum), but its brevity takes nothing away from its magic.  The thought that he missed out on so many of those moments makes me really sad for him. For that, I am monumentally sorry.

My mother told me that my father was in the play, Our House by: Thornton Wilder. It’s an amazing work, both for it’s modern simplicity and for the sheer philosophical depths delivered in a regular small town – Grover’s Corners. I think because I knew that (and because Kirk Cameron played the lead in Growing Pains), I was aware of it and dove into it more deeply when I’ve seen it staged and read it in English Class.

Consider the question:

“Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?

Stage Manager: No. The saints and poets, maybe--they do some.”

Based on some of the things I remember my father saying, I believe he was like that.

When I was an undergrad, I took a Hegel seminar spring of sophomore year. My father and I both went to Holy Cross (not the junior college across the street from Notre Dame in case you're thinking of Rudy). Sometimes I wonder if my undergraduate education was really a search for connection with his life and experience. Other days, I am quite sure it wasn't.

I thought a lot of Phenomenology of The Spirit could be summed up in this play. Yet, I digress down a path only Philosophy majors dare to tread (the divine living through a continuous cycle of creating and becoming…I can feel normal people’s eyes rolling into the backs of their heads). For the final paper, I researched Thornton Wilder’s journals and biographies. Sure enough, Wilder read and commented on Hegel. There was I, a silly undergrad, making a connection that made the others in my seminar laugh at me (pretension is sometimes a by-product of studying philosophy), but that was a new idea for many. I came up with a new way to think about two seemingly different things.  This is something his legacy gave me – the chance to think and see what others may not. I’ll spare you the rant on why liberal arts are relevant in today’s world – if you don't see it, I can’t make you.

Phew, enough for today.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Children whose parents die know that adults are full of it long before they should

Today and yesterday, I've been trying to write down everything I remember about the days surrounding my father's death. The things I remember surprise me. Equally surprising are the things I am fuzzy about and the total blank spots. There are about 15 pages written and it's all far too raw to share yet.

Memory is an interesting thing. Who knows why we remember some things and completely forget others? Moments that stay with us from childhood are mundane and quotidian but they shape who we become. It worries me as a parent. One word from me could be the main memory Ellie will have of me thirty years from now. I have to forgive myself in advance.  We all must forgive ourselves that.

When my father died, I learned  that adults are really children. They are scared, lonely, insecure, and lost most of the time. They don't know what to say to a child normally, let alone to one who lost a parent. None of them should feel badly about my recollections years later. It just was.

Most adults are full of shit. Children don't say it that way, but they learn it. They see adults re-neg on promises, compromise values, and wallow in ineptitude. It starts when someone lies to you. For me, the lie was that my father would get better. I was seven and I knew. I don't know how I knew, I just did. They were thirty-seven and they didn't. Or, so I thought at the time. At the time, I thought they were naive or even dumb. A few years later, I thought they were liars. Now, I realize that they weren't lying to me, they were lying to themselves. The lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous. So that's it, adults were either dumb or liars - not a great place to start. 

What about other children? That's a topic for another day, but I always felt the need to protect them from this knowledge. It made for some lonely moments.

My mother lost her mother when she was eight. Years later she told me that the day her mother died, no one told the children right away. "But I knew," She said. That's when I knew why my mother never lied to me. Ever. Even when Daddy was in a coma, she never gave me false hope, or worse, a reason not to trust her.

Maybe that's the sad part about his death for me now. It just happened and the world kept turning. I grew up, but the world should have stopped, even for just a moment. That is the time I am taking now - letting my world stop to better understand something that happened so long ago.

I want to talk to the child I was at the time because she had this knowledge of the adult world, while still very much a child. She didn’t understand that at the time. Not getting the right slice of cake could elicit a stronger emotion than someone dying. The child in her still expected people to keep their promises and to hold her as important as her mother and father did. They didn't and they couldn't. Once that’s gone, so is a huge part of childhood.

So, as a child, I took responsibility for being my own adult. That's something about children who lose parents that makes them fundamentally different people. Not only are they mentally old compared to their peers, but also they are older than most adults.  

I assume that the experience is different than losing a parent as an adult. Not only have they lost one of the two people in the world who will love them unconditionally and keep them at the center of the Universe, they lose the trust that children have in adults. They are always aware that the bottom could drop out at ANY moment, because for them it already has.

When I was much older, my husband lost his grandfather. His mother and her siblings were acting in similar roles to the ones I imagine they took as children growing up. I watched this dynamic and felt so sorry for all of them. They watched their father and their life as children fall away. Mine was never there to begin with. I remember saying to my father -in-law, "You have to understand they've lost their father and they are in the house where they grew up. They are children for today. Let them behave as you would expect children to." He understood me, but gave me a look as if he was confused that I, the twenty-something, could explain this better than anyone.

After all, I’ve seen this movie before. To this day, I’m "good in tragedy." I move through it; there is no choice to fall apart. Falling to pieces is for other people.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's Easier to Ask for Something for Someone Else, Instead of for Yourself

I’m finished with silent reading time and I am going to Sr. Salisbury’s office. This must be important. She’s the Head of the whole school, even more than Sr. Bayo, who is just head of the Lower School. I walk the whole way there, down the marble stairs, through the rotunda and across the lobby, by myself.
When I get behind the big wooden door, her office is huge and very fancy. The walls are mauve. Aunt Bridget taught me that word because that’s the color of her nail polish. A huge desk is in one section across from a living room set. The tall windows look out onto Fifth Avenue. I sit in a chair facing her desk.

She says, “Kate, I want to talk to you and to give you something.”
“Oh, ok.”
She comes out from behind her desk and hands me a black box that looks like a jewelry box. I open it.
“Do you know what that is?”
It’s silvery metal but too small to be a necklace. It has a cross on the end and a picture of Mary. “A Rosary?”
“Yes, it's a fifth of the rosary. The whole rosary is much longer. I want you to have this. Someone gave this to me when I was a very young nun.”
“Thank you.” I am not sure if I am supposed to say anything else.
“On each of these beads, you say a Hail Mary.”
She shows me how to hold it and we say a “Hail Mary” together.
She goes back behind her desk. I sit in a huge chair, careful not to swing my legs even though my feet are nowhere near the floor.
“God asks a lot of you, you know.”
“I guess so," I hadn’t thought about it this way.
“You must be feeling that this is very hard. Not many children your age have to handle all the things you do right now. Sometimes, when God asks things if us, it doesn’t feel fair. It’s ok if you feel mad. Did you know it’s ok to be mad at God?”
“It is. In fact, I get mad at God sometimes. Especially when I can’t understand what he’s doing.”
“Really. So, are you angry at God? It’s ok if you are.”
“No. I don't think so.”
“Have you asked God for anything?”
“Do you pray for your father to get better?”
“No. I pray if God has to take Daddy, that Daddy will be asleep when he dies so he won’t be scared. I’ll never ask for anything else, if he can let Daddy be asleep.”

She looks at me and says nothing. I think she’s never going to say anything again. I’m opening and closing my fingers. I pick at my cuticle.  Finally she says, “That’s really amazing, Kate. Absolutely amazing.”

“What is?” I can sense she’s proud of me or happy with me.
“With everything you’ve been asked, you didn’t pray for what you wanted or what you needed. You prayed that your father wouldn’t be scared.”

“I love him and I don’t want him to be scared.” I look at her and she knows that I know he’s not going to wake up. I close the huge door behind me and walk across the lobby back to the Lower School.