Posts Tagged ‘loss
it doesn’t seem possible, does it mother, that in just a few short days it will be 30 years since you left this world? how to account for the intervening years, then, the years that i wish i could have shared with you; the failures, the small triumphs, the love, and the sadness, the gossip, the weather, bill clinton, george w. bush, and a trip to france? in just a few paragraphs today there is no way we could cover all of that ground is there (water under a bridge, but actually more like virginia woolf wading into the rill that last time, her sweater pockets filled with rocks)? how then, to explain my life to you; all those little things in my life that went undocumented because i could not call you on the phone and tell you, “i got the job!” or “i think you’ll like him, mom, he means the world to me.” the time pneumonia put me in the hospital, so sick there was concern that i might not make it through, the white cyclamen my boss sent to me sitting on the window sill of my room (all remembered with the hazy soft filter of time and morphine.)
and even more so than the peaks and valleys are the tiny little moments that you experience on a daily basis when the road is level, like when i was a teenager and you asked me what happened during my day and i would respond, “nothing.” those are the nothings that you do share eventually, unprompted, it spills out of you as we recount the week behind us, you on the stool in the kitchen under the wall phone, me, well me, wherever i was living at the time. how could we catch up on all that love? what of it, hmm?
a few days ago, m. introduced me to the “long island medium”, a “reality” show (how to explain reality tv to you, you who left before its onslaught, lucky you) about a woman living on long island in new york who communicates with the dead. i wouldn’t have thought to bring it up were it not so close to this time marker, this anniversary of three decades without you, although it’s probably silly not to, all things considered, since your mother was as psychic as they come, but it appears that this woman really does talk to the dead. (if it’s not true, my hat’s off to the producers of this ‘unscripted’ show for pulling off such amazing acting turns from ordinary people.)
m. and i spent a lazy sunday afternoon and early evening watching, actually more like completely absorbed by, this phenomenon, this woman reaching out to strangers to tell them (she can’t seem to hold herself back from intruding on other people’s lives) that their loved ones are watching them, are with them when the grandchild was born, the birthday was celebrated, the high school graduation, the wedding, the death of another close relative, the dog that died.
the medium insists that she only shares happiness, and the people whose lives she touches seem to be at a point in their grieving where this interruption, this communication from their ghosts is most needed. she paints a picture of “the other side” as one of all roses and harps and eternal bliss where those who’ve left us frolic together, each and everyone coming together to watch over you, the living.
there are so many joyous tears and looks of incredulity at the minutiae she apparently knows about your intimate life that you can’t help but believe that she has touched on some element (the 5th? or was that just some silly movie with bruce willis and brad pitt?) that i have to ask you, mom, have you been here all along?
as lovely as that seems and as much as i would like to believe that you are here, now (and it’s true i may unconsciously believe that you are) it does not put you physically in front of me as much as i might yearn for that. if the long island medium were to communicate for you to me, yes, it may offer temporary succor, but the fact remains that i cannot call you up when i want to, to check in with you, how you’re feeling, that you had your hair cut and styled, bought a new dress, went out to dinner with your friends, volunteered at the local VFW for a food drive, drove up to jeff city for a doctor’s appointment by yourself, that the dogwood are blooming, a neighbor has a new dog that spends more time with you than with them.
all of that is gone. i accept that. and today, on mother’s day 2012, just a few days from when we laid you in the ground 30 years ago, it may be enough for me to know that you’re close by, watching and smiling, still in love with your son.
it seemed so simple. a perfect idea with the perfect image to illustrate the point. what could go wrong, you might ask yourself. and i’m not talking about myself in the third person, i’m actually talking about you. yes, you. sitting there in the comfort of your ________ or at the local __________ where the wireless is free and the ________ are beautiful/handsome or both. you may even be at your local public ______, but that seems a stretch, perhaps too last century and possibly a little creepy anymore, besides who do you know that actually takes advantage of the knowledge available at the ________. It’s been at least 20 years for me since i was inside one and then i rarely had any conversation with the _________ because i knew what i was after and how to use the dewey decimal system (god, do you remember?) although i can conjure up the smell of old _____ and waxed linoleum and the quiet scratch of the ladder as it moved along its support system–the children’s area carpeted and all of the furniture scaled down to pint-size–which you wanted to go sit in as an adult, because, well just because, but the actual reason is that for one minute it would be comforting to be a child again and not have anxieties beating on the door of your adulthood (or do they pound? mine come in a variety pack–like those individual servings of cereal that your mother used to buy–the cornflakes always the last to go because they didn’t have the sugar punch the others did. mea culpa the mixed metaphor btw.)
but instead, here you are as i said, in the comfort of your underwear (admit it) and if not that then, the comfort of somewhere else where all of the world’s knowledge (or so you’ve been told) is at your fingertips, which reminds me, when was the last time you actually got your hands dirty with dirt? and had to use that odd little rasp that swings out from your nail clipper to clean underneath the nails and got a good whiff of loam up your nose or pollen from a faded rose as the petals, at your touch, dropped away from the stamen, one, two, three. (that is still a question.) that is just one example, there are so many others: touch, listen, see, feel, smell (food, music, sex, art, skin, theater, words you have written, the touch of your lover’s hand in yours).
use it or lose it. after all, it is the scariest of all admonitions, is it not? (that question is for both you and i.) and then there is the keyboard that is the obstacle (albeit a necessary one). do i cop out here and say, “what i’m saying is get out, experience life”, which seems too easy , too trite and not truly addressing what the problem, as i see it, is. (was there a problem? oh yes, it was where were the words going to come from?) and it’s not like i haven’t addressed this subject before and yet they do, don’t they? show up eventually. sometimes unintentionally, sometimes with purpose, the brother that never quite fit into the groove of the family, the wanderer who shows up on your doorstep, “hi, i was passing through and thought i’d drop by and say hello and see the kids,” and you open your arms and take him in.
the military, in one way or another, was always the drumbeat keeping time in my family when i was growing up. the year i turned 18 was the last year of the draft, and although my mother had suggested i enlist (career opportunities! great retirement package–should you survive left unsaid, but there was never a period at the end of that sentence–as there is in this one.) my draft number was in the 300s (whew!), and off to college i went.
my mother enlisted in the women’s army corps in 1950 after the demise of her second marriage to wyoming rancher, bill russell (i think it’s interesting that she’s noted as ‘miss’ evelyn h. russell), following a tradition set by her uncle (maynard high served in the navy in wwII and her half-brother, ralph jr., who had been in the navy after wwII. what i want to know is why two land-locked men from wyoming joined the navy, but i digress.)
after basic training, she was posted to fort sheridan as a telephone operator (a previous life choice, better left for another time) where she met my father, a sargeant in the army. (is this boring yet, this litany of where’s and when’s and who’s? why should you care, you might be asking yourself about now, about robert’s mother’s military service, but to know this is to understand a little bit more about me–and after all, it is about me, i mean the blog is called ‘robert patrick’ for a reason.)
enlisting may have been the smartest thing my mother ever did for herself. it got her away from the expectations of her family and put her, eventually, in a position to take control of her own destiny–as much as one is allowed to do that–but, she was able, after a time, to make her own decisions about how she led her life and with whom.
there is only a brief time in our life together when the military did not impact our lives, but so short as to be inconsequential. after she and i moved to rapid city, she soon found a job at ellsworth air force base, where she worked for the next 17 years. as it turns out, she was quite the object of desire among many an enlisted man (and some officers, too) at ellsworth, but one made a point of dogged pursuit and eventually proposed (she accepted!) and they lived happily ever after (well, mostly, her protracted duel with cancer a possible deterrent to their mutual happiness.)
he, (first name roy. roy was the middle name of my father. a coincidence? i think not.) a life long enlister: enlisted in the army and served in germany at the end of wwII, discharged from the army and enlisted in the marines and served in korea, discharged from the marines and enlisted in the air force and served two tours of vietnam, finally ending up at ellsworth and falling in love with my mother. i’ll say this: you would have never known he was or had been in the service; he was the gentlest and kindest man who loved my mother i had ever met.
did i mention that my grandfather on my father’s side had been in the army and served in europe during wwI where he suffered a head wound (part of his skull was blown away by shrapnel and had been replaced with a metal plate–a constant source of amazement for his grandchildren, “grandpa, may i touch the plate in your head?” and he, as quiet and pleasant an individual you’d ever hope to meet, a barber with his own shop in south springfield, illinois, that he could walk to from home, it was literally around the corner, never complained — that we heard — and he would say, “touch it right here and you can feel the edge of it,” taking our small hands and placing them just so on the side of his bald head. grandpa smoked a pipe and wore bow ties and if i ever find a picture of him to show you, you’ll think he stepped right out of grover’s corners or spoon river or possibly a norman rockwell painting for the cover of LIFE magazine.)
so. when m. showed me this drawing yesterday at the long beach flea market i knew we had to have it. look at his face and you’ll see the sadness, the sense of loss, and the world-weariness that emanates from his eyes and the set of his jaw, this young man drawn by someone (was it a dollar portrait on olvera street?) toward the end of the war. there is a loneliness in his face (home-sickness, perhaps?) that fills me with sadness and compassion.
have i told you that i read the military obituaries that are posted each sunday in the l.a. times? they move me so, these young lives cut short, their wives, husbands, children set loose from their love (i do want to believe that there is love lost, in spite of my own experience with a father in the military.) it is the folly of man, is it not, that allows our youth to fight old men’s battles? how else to explain their resolve to destroy these futures? yes, i admire those who fight for us and yes, i rue their loss; losses that seem monumental to those who survive and inconsequential to those who prompt them. there must be a better way.
i am standing in the middle of this point in time. & if you’ve ever been driving in the plains states (let’s say) on roads off the main highways, you will instantly understand what i mean by being in the middle of this point in time. it is the point where the horizon line is so low & so far away no matter which way you turn that it’s quite possible that time stops. you can see that the clouds (if there are any) are moving across the sky, but they do not represent the motion of time, they just are.
what has brought me to this point in time? the abrupt introduction of the present into my memories. as innocent as it may have been, it’s pushed me off course & i’m unable to gather myself together & drive back into the past (which is where i would like to be right now.)
it has diminished the size of the original memory & has saddened it even further than it was already (if that is possible, which i think it is; like wet cardboard.) you have your childish memories & let’s say you’ve been away from wherever they may have taken place for many years. on your return, the first thing you notice, as an adult now, is how small everything seems. where once it was grand & elegant & XX, it is now small & worn & sized for those under 6 (if even.)
& it’s not only the size that’s has changed, it is also the light. where it was once sun-bathed, it is now cloudy & dark (sinister in its change of weather.) & although the sun of the past is the sun of today; the fact remains that i was using the old sun to reveal what little i could remember (not the facts necessarily, but the feelings, the emotions, the intent.)
i feel some remorse. it’s possible that i may have snapped at this interloper (in writing; terse, impersonal, dismissive,) who has, unbidden, interjected today into my past. i believe, though, that by writing about it, there is the outside chance that i’ll be able to look at as if i were at a crossroads on a gravel road in the great plains, the snort of cow shit fresh in my nostrils (possibly,) the wind (john cage silence) a pumice to my skin, peeling back the present & revealing the past once again (as it was? maybe not. but possibly this new view will–we’ve decided to turn to the left at the crossroads, had you not surmised that by now–this new view will bring with it a fresh jolt of memory.)
in the intervening moments between writing & waking, nothing has changed.
this rose color is particularly unique. if you glance at it, you see it as red, but it’s not, it’s loaded with orange & just a dusting of violet/lavender (depending upon the light) which makes me think it is a beacon of color at the edge of a garden bed WARNING that you must be careful, mustn’t get too close, must pay attention to it (although it’s a small rose compared to the others that we’ve cultivated (even the potted ones.) doesn’t it look like a mexican folklorical dancer’s dress with its ruffle-y petals & cute little turned up skirt?
this ground cover grows underneath the rose pictured above–it has taken years for it to spill over the brick border into the spaces between the patio pavers (i wonder if we’ll still live here when it has traveled the ten feet to the back door) it could be another eternity (i’m not sure how many i have in me.)
my mother died on may 25, 1982 just one month before her 66th birthday. obviously devastated by her passing, although i had had some preparation (via my step-father & she) they tried to guide me to the eventuality/finality of it, but i was resistant & didn’t fully understand — how could she leave me? she loved roses & every time one blooms i think of all the roses that have come before & may come after & how much i would like to have had time to share them with her (& so much else.) every time one of my peers/friends/associates/acquaintances mentions their mother a little part of me cringes at the incongruity of life, it has no conscience & jealousy flares one last time, a dying ember in the grate.
sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy (sappy happy stupid song) there’s a little hanging of french glazed ceramic wall pockets on the atrium fence facing west which i’ve had the worst time getting something/anything to grow in, but finally stuck some broken off pieces of geranium in them et voila! they’ve taken hold along with some self-seeded lobelia from at least two if not three years ago & i couldn’t be happier with their sunny disposition & the happiness factor has tripled (bingo!)
the cymbidium orchids are so perfect they couldn’t possibly be real (unlike life with its imperfections & sudden losses & its serendipitous nature, all those things are only important to humans, it matters not to the rest of the natural world; fate has no part in the life of plants/other animals/rocks. why should it for us?)
m. looked at this photo & said “what is that?” & just as quickly said “oh, that little air orchid.” & unfortunately, it is the fate of this orchid (on its 5′ tall stem–because it never stops blooming, just reaching higher & higher, but the blossoms are so tiny & its cymbidium cousins, so gaudy in comparison, steal one’s attention that it does go unnoticed, except for the hummingbirds which are drawn to these delicacies & ignore the cymbidiums entirely, which might be a life lesson if one is paying attention.
…coming soon, my favorite rose one of my favorite roses (like children, you would never let them know who your favorite is — although you may have one — imagine the life of despair that one child might suffer if they knew) will be bursting into bloom. it stands nearly 6′ tall (maybe taller) & is loaded with buds (a clock is ticking somewhere)
a veil on a hat adds an aura of mystery, a scrim in the theater reveals subtext & hidden agendas, a thin wash of white across a color field obscures the truth. artists reveal their own truths, it is as they see it.
i try not to anthropomorphize but it seems to be human nature to force our emotions & thoughts on other life forms as if it would make us feel better, but i can’t not think this tree fern is happy, sparkling with water & sunshine & bobbing under the weight of the shower stream of water i’m brushing it with while i fumble with my other hand trying to turn on the camera, set it to macro & capture a fleeting drop of water (it makes me happy though)
at the end of the garden & the watering cycle (all the way around the house) a surprising bloom of iris hot yellow under the pinks & creams of two rose bushes, sunshine (a note on the sun: have you noticed how flat the sun looks when wisps of fog float across it–a white disk/dot hanging in the sky?)
the crow did not want to die in such a public manner
but death came up behind it and batted it out of the sky
it fell in an elliptical spiral, hesitating from the updraft
of the cars speeding by on the freeway below then plummeting
and hitting the pavement between two lanes with an unheard thud
one wing standing straight up in a avian salute
feathers splayed, shimmering & shivering in the rush of the hour
a juaneno headdress headless & heedless
the crow knew the time had come for death, its good intention
to fly to the sheltered grove of trees, close, as the crow flies
& find a quiet bower to rest & pass what time was left
with a caw/a preening/a settling of scores
as many animals do & arrange his still life a la chardin
(a rabbit recently found dead & curled around the base of the
fountain in our yard on a bed of withered leaves & dried flowers
a palette of taupe, pale pink & cream)
death, with its timepiece & schedule, laid those plans aside
& passengers & drivers never noticed the crow or its fluttering
feathers, a funeral cortège of speeding cars, save for one or two
quick realizations of what had come to pass perhaps nodded in
sympathy or at least a visceral understanding of a life brought still.