What’s Left to Say

From the recesses

of your clouded mind

there are things

you always find.

You retrieve these things

that I wish you would let pass

into a history

that will disappear

when the book is burned.

You apologize

for whatever it is

that makes all

“not right between us.”

And I tell you,

“there is nothing to be sorry for.”

This life has punished you enough.

I will bear the burden

of all that was

that we wish wasn’t.

I will set the book ablaze

and let the smoke

like memory

fade.

And us

and all that was

and is today,

that is my burden to bear.

It is something you cannot share.

You are too frail.

Your shoulders

too weak.

If it is comfort that you seek

from me,

I am here.

We are okay.

There is nothing to apologize for.

There is nothing left to say

other than

I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

Old Shoes

Old Shoes

In my twenties I had a strange paradoxical relationship with time and the notion of aging, so I engaged in preemptive measures to avoid something that I was certain would never come.   I was a dancer living in a rat infested apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan.  I was broke, but somehow I managed to have enough money for cigarettes and anti-wrinkle cream.  I thought I would live forever (hence my lack of concern regarding my smoking habit as it related to my health), and, if I were to live forever, I had to stave off the ravages of smoking (as they related to my skin) because, hell, no matter how old I was, I had damn well look good.  Of course, my idea of looking good at a ripe old age had nothing to do with aging gracefully and everything to do with preserving my twenty-two year old body so that it remained exactly as it was for eternity.

During those years, I was greatly inspired by my dance mistress.  No, she had not discovered the secret of immortality, but she certainly knew how to age gracefully.  At the time she was in her eighties and still teaching class and running her well respected contemporary dance company.  At her advanced age, she was still beautiful.  Her hair, dyed the same jet-black color it was in her youth, contrasted sharply with her ivory skin.  She was an elegant bohemian, living across from NYU in a dilapidated building.  She resided on the fifth floor which served as both her home and rehearsal space for her dance company and school. When she taught lessons, she didn’t stand in front of the mirror, cane in hand, and bark commands- she demonstrated.  She danced-carefully, gracefully.  And I would be remiss not to mention that she was as kind as she was beautiful.  She called herself a Catholic Buddhist and introduced me to yoga.  It was in her space that dance became a transcendental experience and I learned what it meant to be in spirit.  It seemed that she would live forever…and she almost did, passing away in 2014 at the age of 97.  Unfortunately, I had walked away from dance long before her passing, and, when the curtain fell on my life as a dancer, so too did my belief in immortality.  But a long life…I still trusted in that.

It wasn’t just my dance mistress that led me to believe that life would be long.  Three of my great-grandmothers also lived well into their nineties, and my grandmothers would make it to their mid-eighties. Even as I entered my forties, I was pretty convinced that I had plenty of time.  I still continued to dream about what I would be when I grew up, making plans to one day go back to choreographing dances or writing the great American novel, or, being monumentally immature, both.  Then the winter of 2014 came and everything changed.

I suppose a little backstory is in order.  Both of my parents were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  My father was diagnosed ten years ago, shortly after the birth of my son.  My mother received her diagnoses three years later when I was pregnant with my daughter.  Some of us were never fully convinced that what my mother suffered from was in fact Parkinson’s.  Her lifelong battle with the world to be the sickest, most suffering, most ill-treated person in existence, had us skeptics, thinking, hoping, that, perhaps, her illness might be a bit psychosomatic.  Anyway, over the past few years, my mother also began showing signs of dementia, and this past winter she took a sudden and shockingly severe turn for the worse and fell into a downward spiral, rendering her incompetent and landing her in a nursing home at the age of sixty-nine.  Of course, the extreme stress of situation exacerbated my father’s Parkinson’s symptoms.  And, suddenly, I realized that life might not be as long as I thought it would.  Suddenly I  began looking at myself differently.  I was not a kid.  I was a woman in my forties.  I began to see the signs of age on my face, feel it’s gnarly crooked hand tugging on my body, making all the movements I did with ease in my youth, not so easy anymore.  I began to feel crushed by the heavy burden of stress and sadness over the loss of my mother as I knew her, over the loss of life as we knew it, over the loss my children suffered, for, until last January, they saw my parents, who lived five minutes down the road, on an almost daily basis.   Our already small family had become even smaller, and life became dark.

Over the past year, I have found myself making mathematical calculations and thinking thoughts like,  “Let’s see.  Mom is twenty-seven years older than me.  That means that when she was my age now I was fifteen years old.  But it doesn’t feel like I was fifteen so very long ago. Shit.  That went by really quickly.  What if I only have twenty-seven more years?  That would bring me to 69.  Twenty-seven years isn’t enough.”  How lovely, these persistent thoughts are.

Fixated on the relentless, merciless tick of the clock, not wanting anything to pass too quickly, I also found myself clinging.  Clinging to moments. Clinging to things that I thought would somehow keep time from slipping away-paper with my children’s scribbles, clothes my children had outgrown, toys my children were no longer interested in playing with.  Anything really that related to my children-the great loves of my life-because, as we know, they grow up; they leave. All good things must come to an end, and ends arrive far too soon.  Save everything.  Make things last.  Make things stay.  That was my subconscious philosophy.

So the new year arrived and I found myself, after all this saving, faced with the daunting task of cleaning out our shoe closet-a task I had been avoiding for what are now very obvious reasons, but, given that the door would no longer close, I had no choice other than to begin.  I had to purge it of all old, worn out and outgrown items. So I opened the door fully and took a long look. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  Anyone familiar with panic attacks knows the sensation of a rapid heart beat and shallow breathe.  And then the lump in the throat, the heat rising to the face, the ears.  Fuck. No.  This is getting done.  I chocked it all in.  Forced all that surge of emotion back down into the pit of my gut and set to work.  I told myself I felt nothing.  I grabbed old, dirty sneakers, and tossed them in the trash.  I beat back images of my kids playing in those shoes.  I dismissed very specific memories that would lurch into my mind of my little ones dressed in those very items I now discarded.  I refused to acknowledge any feeling of loss.  I coldly carried out my mission…until I picked up those Minnie Mouse shoes. My daughter’s Minnie Mouse shoes.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t.  For a million reasons and for no particular reason. Those I put away for safe keeping.  I have my limits.

And so here we are.  2016.  Clean closet.  Only new shoes-except for the Minnie Mouse shoes.  Those I will keep.  Someday, when I am very, very  old (hopefully), I will take those shoes out of the box they are now in and feel joy-joy over happy times, for a life well lived.  There should be no sadness in happy memories.

So here’s to you.  Here’s to life.  May it be long.  May it be happy.  Let us walk in light, not in the shadows cast by others, by the past. Let’s preserve our memories in our minds and store a  very precious few in our basements. Let’s throw on a pair of new shoes and dance on and on and ……………..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death in Ten Minutes

“I will die in ten minutes,” she said.

Dead fish eyes –

wide.

Skin-

pulled tight, like a plastic doll.

“Actually,”

she corrected herself,

“I died this morning.”

“No, no,”

I replied.

Impatient.

“You are not dead

because I am not dead.

Here I am

here

sitting with you

here

in the sunlight.”

“Well then, get a priest.

He can save me…and you.”

And I thought-

you’re dead

here

in Hell

and I’m alive-at least I’m fairly certain I’m alive-

here

in life.

Fuck getting a priest.

Fuck this.

I’ll save my strength.

Here-this Hell- Life- Limbo

Your hereafter

My moment

Is it really all that bad?

Just sitting here-

you

me

in the sunlight

dead

and alive?

I guess it’s all just a matter of perspective.

It’s always been just a matter of perspective.

“Happy Birthday,” I said as I took my leave

the bitter sting of irony

and sadness

assuring me that I was correct.

I was not dead.

I was very much alive.

A Midafternoon Lunch in New England on a Gray December Day

I was intrigued by the elderly couple who sat across from us at the restaurant.  It was her, really, that called my attention.  She had to be in her late seventies, perhaps early eighties.  And she was beautiful in a hearty New England way. I would venture that she might not have been considered beautiful in her youth, but at that moment, as the beauty of others her age faded, she was vibrant.   She was robust, not lithe; her face full and happy; her skin porcelain and glowing.  Her eyes were blue, but what struck me most was that the lids did not sag with the heaviness of age.  Those eyes sparkled large and childlike. She drank a cocktail and breezily chatted with the gentleman who sat across from her and whose back was to me. I gleaned that he was older, mid-eighties maybe.  He sat hunched over.  His head was nearly bald.

It was a dreary, gray day, warm for December but winter nonetheless, and it seemed that the only place to be was a warm New England restaurant. The key was to ignore the view from the window and attend only to those who, like yourself, sought refuge from winter under the soft lamplight of that place. As we shared a bowl of mussels,  my husband, children and I chatted about our son’s birthday and Christmas and the wonderful things we planned to do over the winter recess, while the couple across from us appeared to do the same.

There was a gorgeous bouquet of peach and white roses on our neighbor’s table.  Their anniversary I figured.  “How wonderful,” I thought.  How long must they have been married?  Fifty years, give or take?  And still, seeming so much in love. They chatted away, her voice somewhat high pitched and girlish. She reached across the table for her companion’s hand.  She smiled and giggled and sipped her cocktail, and, at one point, she belly laughed.  It was the kind of deep, uncontrollable, sincere laugh that, unfortunately, we seldom experience. She laughed so heartily that, try as she might, she couldn’t stop herself.  It was only after about five minutes that she was able to regain her composure.  Only, you didn’t want her to stop for the sound of her laugh was so cheerful.

Later, a guest from another table, approached the couple to congratulate them on their anniversary. I heard the guest inquire how long they had been married, and I waited for the response, certain for it to be forty, fifty, perhaps even sixty years.  The elderly lady smiled and said, “It’s our one year anniversary.”

Suddenly, the entire narrative I had created for our neighbors dissolved; yet, they were still so captivating, so charming, more so perhaps. Now there were so many questions.   What had her life been like?  Did she spend the first thirty years of her adulthood in a loveless marriage?  Was she widowed while raising young children?  Did she have any children?  Maybe she didn’t have any.  That might account for youthfulness.

The couple continued on, laughing and chatting.   And then she said, “Here we are.  Having this lovely lunch in this beautiful restaurant, then we will go home and sit and it will be over.”  She reached for her partner’s hand again and smiled and looked at her roses and grew silent just for a moment.  The waitress returned and she immediately resumed her happy chatter, commenting that the when she returns she would love it if the sangria had whole blueberries in it. She ordered dessert for herself and her husband-they would share a piece of chocolate cake.

How she worked to hold onto that beautiful late afternoon lunch.  I understood.  I looked at my husband and our two children.  He and I somewhat bewildered to find ourselves in our forties, still with the silly hopes and dreams we shared in our twenties, but different now, tired, worried. And our children.  One who has so many struggles and the other  who seems to navigate through life with ease but who already shoulders the weight of being the one for whom things seem to come easier. The four of us sharing a beautiful few hours. Just us. In that place.  Wanting to stop time.  To remain just as we were in that moment.

As the sky outside the window grew darker we were realized our moment was over.  Afternoon was gone, having slipped away under a cloak of charcoal sky. Our neighbors stood up to leave.  She, tall and straight and carrying her vase of flowers, led the way to the exit.  He, fragile and stooped, followed slowly behind.  I prayed they would return again for another anniversary.

La Vita e’ Triste

photo.JPG JackAnna

Over the past week I have caught myself repeatedly muttering, “La vita e’ triste.” You see, my Roman mother-in-law Anna is visiting for the month of June. Over the years, despite Anna’s broken English and my inability to speak Italian, the two of us have forged a means of communication that works.  Sometimes we speak through silence.  Most times I lean on Anna to translate whatever she wants to say into English, and, on rare occasions, I shamelessly attempt to articulate complete thoughts in Italian.

Despite Anna’s joy over seeing us, there is always an undertone of sadness to her visits.  Her son and her grandchildren live in the United States; she lives in Italy.  Piergiorgio left Italy almost twenty years ago and has not returned home.  He will likely never return to Italy, at least not permanently.  He is American now.  His children are American.  And, while I am blessed to have him, his mother has suffered greatly.  Piergiorgio’s mother and father (who we lost far too early) were wonderful parents.  They gave him and his brother beautiful childhoods.  They were good and loving parents who placed their children above all else, and yet that was not enough to keep my husband with them.  Piergiorgio’s is an adventurous spirit.  There was something that called him here.  Unfortunately, with my happiness, came Anna’s sufferance. Where there is great joy there is also great pain.  Such is life.  La vita e’ triste.

I am so puzzled by life.  Recently my son inquired, “Mommy, why is God a bully?”  He continued, “You know Mommy.  Why does he let us love people and then take them away?  Why?”  I have noticed that Jack has been preoccupied with aging. My father, who will turn seventy within the next couple of weeks, is Jack’s best friend.  He and my mother also suffer from Parkinson’s disease.  This weighs heavily upon my son.  Jack knows that we do not live forever.  He cannot reconcile himself with the fact that, while we were gifted with the capacity for incredible love, those we love will be taken from us.  Why?  I was caught off guard.  How do you answer that? How was I to answer that?  I responded, “Don’t worry Jack, we are all reunited in Heaven with those we love.”  But Jack does worry.  I worry.  What is the point?  Why would a benevolent God allow, nay…create, such a painful life? We are born; we love, we rejoice; we suffer; we lose; we die.  La vita e’ triste. 

Of course, there is great, unbearable, catastrophic sufferance, and then there is the gentle sadness of living.  I wouldn’t dare to even venture into the topic of the former.  That I cannot even begin to comprehend.  I am talking about the small things we all suffer as part of the natural course of life. As young children, we are forced to ride the tides of life.  We change schools and say farewell; we move to new homes and say farewell;  we lose grandparents and say farewell.  As young adults we move away from family and say farewell.  As parents, we devote our lives to our beloved children and then release them into the world, only to be left empty and alone.  We continue to say farewell.  As elderly, we say farewell to friends and spouses.  We witness ourselves become obsolete even as we continue to live and breathe.  La vita e’ triste.

And all the while, despite all this sadness, we rejoice.  Babies are born; friendships are formed; lovers are wed; beautiful music is created, delicious food is consumed.  We laugh heartily.  We enjoy sunrises and sunsets. We cradle our infants and cuddle our children.  We sing.  We dance.  We enjoy this beautiful life.  So how is it that life can be so, so sad?  This is the great paradox of living.

I think of one of my favorite pieces of music,  Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa.  It is a work full of silences, silences which fill the listener with anticipation and excitement.  These silences are followed by the intensely beautiful and melancholy strains of the violin.  The violins pulse like metronomes, speaking the language of love and passion as they count down time.  Everything is finite.  All must end. The music tells us so.   The end of the first movement of Tabula Rasa, entitled “Ludus,” is so dark and forbidding that I almost cannot bear to listen.  And then, like angels whispering from the heavens, the second movement, “Silentium” begins.  And it is peaceful and sad.  As I listen, I picture a lover cradling his dead beloved, all the while, angels sing the sad song of finality and eternity. 

After listening to Tabula Rosa, I feel more human, happier, sadder, more complete and more understanding.  Perhaps that is the point.   To understand this life, with all of its joy and sufferance, we must view it and listen to it, as we view and listen to a work of art.  We must be detached, apart from, yet fully emerged.  We must understand and embrace life’s intrinsic sadness.  We grow old.  We love.  We lose.  We laugh.  We cry.  We live.  This is life.  Such is life.  In our final act, we die and others lose and suffer.  La vita e’ triste.

Yet, there is beauty in our delicate frailty.  Joy, sadness and loss is part of our human condition. In order to appreciate this life we must observe it, as if lying supine under the surface of water, and watch life unfold above, knowing we are hopeless as the currents move us in directions beyond our control.  In our hopelessness, we relinquish control and cherish all of it.  Life is wondrous.  Life is beautiful.  Life is sad.  La vita e’ triste.

Help! I’m Stuck In Survival Mode!

My Arch Nemesis...The Laundry Hamper

My Arch Nemesis…The Laundry Hamper

The other day a very wise person told me that I am in “survival mode.” I found her statement incredibly enlightening because it is true; I am in survival mode. Survival mode in and of itself is not a terrible place to be.  I mean it’ s not as if I’m in Holy Shit! My Life is Crumbling to Pieces Right in Front of My Eyes mode.  I’ve been there before, so I would recognize that awful place.  Nope.  Thankfully I am not there. When you’re in that place, you feel like you’re a peasant from  the Dark Ages, living in a cruck house, suffering from scurvy and lice and just waiting for the Dear Lord, a neighboring warlord or the bubonic plague to take you out of your misery.   I am also not in Wow! Life is Really Freaking Great mode either.  No.  Not there, unfortunately. Survival mode should more accurately be called Just Barely Keeping My Head Above Water, But, Somehow I’m Managing mode, but that is far too long to either say or type over and over again, so survival mode it is. 

When you are in survival mode, you are still able to experience happiness.  You are still able to hold onto your hopes and dreams.  The problem is that when you are in survival mode, you are only able, in fact, you are often barely able, to make it through your day.  You have your hopes and dreams and plans, but you are unable to see any of them through because you are too busy, well, surviving.  I am too busy muddling through my daily life. Sometimes I don’t even do a very good job with those things that other mothers and homemakers seem to do with ease.

My children create messes faster than I can clean them, and, yes, they are responsible with cleaning up after themselves, but they can’t even keep up with the disasters they create.  I feel like I spend my days caught in the aftermath of a hurricane (this hurricane being a perfect scenario where two storms-Storm Jack and Storm Allegra- converge to create optimal devastation).  Meanwhile, I’m being chased by two tornadoes, whipping around and tossing shit all over the place.  It doesn’t help that Jack, due to some visual perception issues, tends to dump things out in order to find anything.  He doesn’t calmly sift through a drawer of clothes or a bin of toys to find a desired item.  No. In order to locate an item, he dumps everything out and spreads it all over the floor until desired item is found.  I have to say, there’s nothing like the sweet sound of an entire bin of Playmobile figures being dumped all over the floor. 

Never mind the kids, I can’t keep up with a laundry pile that has morphed into something like the blob from the 1958 horror sci/fi movie. Before, I can make a dent in the damned thing it grows and expands, dirty clothes oozing out of the hamper and onto to the floor, spreading faster than any human can possibly manage to keep up with.  Oh, and the dishes.  I can wash dishes for hours, only turn around and find that more dirty dishes have magically appeared in the sink .Add to the dumped bins and spills and laundry and dishes the fact that I am homeschooling my son and attempting to teach two college courses.  Now it’s only the beginning of the semester. Just wait until my students start submitting term papers and research projects.  Also add that I seldom say “no” when the kids ask me to play and never say “no” when they ask me to read to them.  Another point that I have to add is that my husband is a chef and pretty much always at work. 

So what does this all add up to?  One frazzled, wreck of a woman who’s stuck in survival mode. Like I said, I still dream of doing really fabulous things with my family and for myself.  I plan to uuber organize my home Montessori style.  I plan to decorate our home in a lovely fashion.  I plan to read the thousands of books I have piled next to my bed. I plan to take my children to beautiful and exotic places. I just don’t know when or how I’ll do all these things.  When will I stop just surviving?  When will I stop throwing myself down on my bed at the end of the day and saying, “Holy Shit!  What the hell just happened?”

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. You don’t have to be a parent to be in this place.  You can be stuck in survival mode at work, in your relationships, in your own unique life.  Again, it’s not that bad.  We are alive.  We are so lucky compared to those who are in true survival mode, as in those struggling to literally survive without clean water, food, money or their health.  Again, what we are doing is really just barely keeping our heads above water, yet we’re managing.  And we should be grateful to be managing.  That said, as humans, we have the capacity for so much more.  If we didn’t, why would we dream?  We want our lives to be extraordinary.  We want the lives of our children and those we love to be extraordinary.  And they can be.  The question is “how?”  What changes can we make?  What improvements can we make in our own lives in order to enable ourselves to fully enjoy all the extraordinary things that are waiting for us.  I am an eternal optimist.  I will figure this out.  How about you?  Any ideas?