Sunday, December 21, 2014

Turn, turn

Today we opened the house from 12 - 2 so friends and neighbors could drop by, eat a little something, and remember Randy. I should have done a better job of notifying everyone. As Jarrell famously writes in "Skunk Hour," My mind's not right.

Good to see friends. Hard to embrace some for the first time since they heard the news. Glad I managed to clean and de-clutter the downstairs: though such things are unimportant to me, they mattered to Randy.

I baked my applesauce cake again. S, P and J prepared everything else. The time went quickly. It was good to see neighbors catching up. We dumped coats in my apartment and had food set up on P & J's side of the house--more room--but it was good to duck back home a few times for quieter conversations.

Then it was over, and we four shifted gear to head out and finish the last task: releasing his remains in the forest while the daylight was good.

The snow lay only in patches here and there, which relieved me because I hadn't known what to expect. It's always so much colder in the higher ground. A few slippery spots, a hurried trek through deep woods that seemed at times completely unfamiliar, and then I knew where I was again and we turned off to gather at Randy's tree.

Emptying the urn was harder than I'd expected. It's only been two weeks since he died. When I lost David, just coming up on twenty years ago, I kept his remains for two years before finally letting them go into the garden, as he'd requested. But today is the solstice, and tonight the new moon, and as hard as it was to follow through when the moment finally came, I knew the timing was right and that waiting would serve no good purpose.

His favorite tree. Clumps of moss bright green through the snow. Bright, frigid water flashing in the creek. The silent woods surrounding us. We four friends, honoring his wish to be released in this beautiful, tranquil spot.

And then it was done. I climbed down to the creek and filled the urn with icy water, splashed it on the gray-dusted snow.

And now a part of him becomes the tree.

Back home, the quiet after everything. The feeling that none of this is real, that I've only somehow gone through a wrong door, that it's all a mistake. But such kindnesses from friends and neighbors, their labor to speak words that will matter, tell me it's real, it happened. I somehow hold myself above the current of grief, believing I have to, as if sheer will enacts a kind of levitation. Only in unguarded moments now do I slip, tumble into it, such bright and piercing grief.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

No Molly, no Ivan

Okay, so I thought I'd go ahead and buy the goldfish. One seems wrong -- too lonely -- so after work, as I browsed the Petsmart aisle looking at fish tanks and things I do not need and don't really want, I worked my way back to the actual fish, where two pimply, impossibly thin youngsters were carrying on their private conversation loudly enough for any stranger to overhear. To his credit, one youngster did say Good afternoon, and then resumed his chitchat with the other. I put goldfish pellets in my basket. I added a package of water treatment packets. I scrutinized the pretty little fantail goldfish. I asked for help when none seemed forthcoming. It went something like this:

Me: I'd like to purchase two of these small goldfish, please.
Associate 1: What size tank do you have?
Me: About two gallons.
A1: I wouldn't recommend goldfish. What you want instead is a betta.
Me: What I want are two goldfish.
A1: They grow too big for that size bowl.
Me: At which point I would get them a larger one.
A1: I wouldn't recommend that.
Me: So I am trying to make a purchase in your store, and twice now you've told me no and recommended I buy something I don't want?
Associate 2: She's not saying no. We just recommend that you get the betta not the goldfish.
Me: .
A2: The goldish can live a really long time,  like twenty years.
Me: . (What, I look like I won't last twenty fucking years?)
A2: They produce a lot of waste.
Me: .
A2: They keep growing. They get too big. They'll outgrow their bowl and then people--
Me: --and then I would put them into a bigger tank. Why are you making this so hard?
A1 and A2: We're not saying you can't--
Me: Yes. You are.
A1 and A2: We're just recommending--
Me: I didn't ask for your recommendation. I asked for two of these (fucking) goldfish (you fucking nitwits). Have you ever heard of something called customer service? It does not consist of arguing with the customer over what he or she wants.
A1/A2: We're  not--
Me: Have yourselves a really nice (fucking) day.

(Parenthetical comments were amazingly kept inside my head and did not pass through my mouth.)

I asked at the register for a manager. What I asked was, Is there a manager around? I asked nicely. The cashier nodded and said, Uh-huh.

I gave her the look that said Would you like to kindly jump out of the way of this train wreck barreling down upon us or shall I shove you to safety for your own good even though you do not deserve it? She pointed.

The manager, when I started explaining the nature of my attempted purchase, interrupted with How big is your tank? Two gallons, I said. We don't recommend two goldfish for that size tank, she said. Do you want one goldfish?

I took a breath. Shouldn't the question--the question you should be asking, the question they should have asked--should not the question be, Would you like a bigger tank to better accommodate the two goldfish you are purchasing today?

We really don't recommend--

I walked out. I retrieved the small hatchet I keep under my passenger seat. I went back inside and smashed, one after the other, sixteen fish tanks. Goldfish, guppies, neons, angelfish--so lucky to already be angels--and then swept a good half-dozen betta bowls from their shelf, dazed, morose betta barely flicking their beady eyes. I pointed into the slapping writhe and asked A2 to please fetch me two fantails from the puddle.

Actually, I only walked out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Back to work this week. It's exhausting. Trying to focus on much-needed tasks when I get home: exhausting. Trying not to feel angry at R for leaving me behind is impossible today. I know anger is supposed to a healthy, or at least acceptable, component of the grief process, but I think I might seriously cut the first person who tells me this. So don't.  I'm just going to rattle through this particular tunnel and try to get go the other end as best I can.

Be nice to your retail associates out there. Someone called a coworker "stupid" yesterday though he did everything correctly, and I am very glad I didn't witness it firsthand. That shopper gets to live to see another day.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cooking for one: 1st attempt

Thanks to a 25-year-old copy of The Moosewood Cookbook, I managed to cook a wholesome dinner: lentil soup. Not half bad.


Off to a slow start this morning. I woke at 3, then 5, then 7:30 but lay back to try to follow a lost thread of dreaming. All gone now.

Finally ready to empty and wash the dog bowls, actually two mixing bowls. Sadie's been gone ten days and I don't foresee another dog for a while. I realize that dogs came into my home with Randy, and left the same way: we adopted the original Sadie on a rainy September day in Houston. I'd taken R to the SPCA shelter by surprise, hoping he might meet a dog to replace his lost Emily. And the second Sadie, Sadie 2.0, came to us here in Lewisburg from a family that couldn't keep her any longer, came to us with problems and health issues we battled from nearly day one, but we gave her the best life we could.

I'd never been a dog person before our first Sadie, always considering them either too yippy or too loud, too unpredictably so, which shows how unobservant I had been of others' interactions with their dogs. I'm thinking of my friend Ben and his sweet little Tam-Tam, whose soft white fuzz always reminded me of late portraits of May Sarton. Or of Charlie, who delightedly posted snapshots of Arden on FB. My parents had problematic but devoted dogs. My sister J's interactions with Angus and Sascha, her work with the local humane society, and her very good portraits of dogs helped me to realize how lucky I was to gain entrance to this fellowship, to have the opportunity to build a relationship with a good dog. And my sister S, whose heart is larger than any house, has given homes to some of the most loving dogs (and many cats) I've ever met.

With so much uncertainty about what's next for me--with everything suddenly wide open, which induces no small amount of middle-aged terror--I don't see how a dog could fit into my life right now. Though I'm warming to the notion of Molly and Ivan, my imaginary goldfish.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


And it came to me in a sudden lift, followed immediately by guilt at the hopeful thought: Now I can do whatever I want.

And tonight, on the phone for two hours with Mother, she said she'd had the same feeling when her father died. In her case, it meant being free to walk away from the mess of her screwed-up family after the intensity of having cared for her father's needs. I've never known anyone who loved a parent more deeply and intensely than she loved my grandfather. So the lifting weight has something to do with duty, with--at least in part--having had to do what one feels obligated to do.

I know I need to ponder this. Of course we loved them: I loved Randy; she loved her father. But the real contrast shone through when she spoke of how she felt when my father died: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? The exact thought that came to me after R's death. The difference is that my looking forward is with hope, and hers, despair. I think that I will never love as she has.

Half a pomegranate

left over from Thanksgiving. Drying, shrinking on the back of the counter. I should throw it out or into the compost bin. As an editor, I reject its too-easy symbolism. Yet here I am, mentioning it.

A knocking

woke me at seven: several quick raps on my bedroom door or perhaps on the window. I was asleep, so I wasn't exactly analyzing the sound, though my instinct was to call out something in response.

Yesterday I made a list of tasks and loaded them to my Google calendar, with reminders set to go off through the day. This because I'd spent probably five hours on Thursday sitting and staring blankly. So I tried a regimented approach: Go to the gym. Make some breakfast. Call the funeral home. Check, check, check. Take a shower. Decide which of his shirts to send to Mom. Finish all the dishes. Boil water, make tea. Fold and stow the reiki table. Pick up Randy's urn. Buy thank you cards. Make grocery list. Pay p.o. box rental. Water plants. Bake a cake for lunch tomorrow at D & B's. Finish typesetting Doug's chapbook. Answer Jan's email.

Somewhere between dishes and urn, it all started to get away from me. Still, I told myself I was doing fine, managing well, moving forward through the day with purpose. Hadn't cried. Stopped at the foot of the stairs and said, firmly, I love you. I forgive you. I have to keep going.

The cards cut through this stoic front and unlocked whatever mechanism I'd set against tears: a sweet, direct note from our friends down the block; a thank you from the delivery driver I'd forgotten to tip the other day (so I walked to Stein's and left him some cash in an envelope); a poignant note from an old friend and colleague at Bucknell. I wept, I shuddered, I let it out.

And then I went back to my list.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Walking Over to Retrieve His Urn and Walking Slowly Back

I am so glad you were specific about the contents, what to do with them. Who knows otherwise

what I might have done? I could have left you on the mantel, as some do, but we

don't have a mantel. I could have dribbled a bit of you into each dibbled hole this November as I--

as we--planted bulbs. (Aren't you glad you waited a month?) I could have kept some

in my pocket to sprinkle upon hand-patters who reassure me you are in a better place,

then smiled and said Well, now he is. I could have mixed you into the bone-grey paint 

and finished the upstairs hall with an enigmatic texture. I could have sifted you

into baked goods and trotted the rounds with baskets laden--Eat & remember--or parsed you

sparingly to the goldfish, Molly & Ivan, as an extra treat, if we had goldfish. If I were

a sculptor, surely I could come up with something: a hand-cast concrete lantern for the garden?

Or, if money were no object, I could ship you off to one of those companies that crush

you into a precious stone. I've always hated ostentatious jewelry.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

for Randy

Has far to go

It must have snowed all night. The groaning plows woke me before dawn.
: :
D hatched a plan to raise funds for your expenses. It's been less than a day, we're more than halfway to goal, and I am shaken, again, by the generosity of friends.
: :
I cooked breakfast. Had to throw out the salsa you made last week. Used the toaster oven but the tray was too big. Improvised with foil, just like on Cutthroat Kitchen. Could feel you laughing.
: :
Your Scruff account held no surprises. I'm glad we were open that way.
: :
I can't seem to keep the dishes washed.
: :
The cable goes today. They couldn't say when but said they'd call. I don't miss television.
: :
Some people say the worst things.
: :
Your shoes huddle where you left them, open-mouthed, like dogs, waiting to serve.
: :
I'm making a forgiveness list, but I told a driver to fuck off as he tried to go around me in the crosswalk yesterday. I know, I know.
: :
You got a heartbreaking e-mail from a married guy who can't believe what he saw in the paper.
: :
It's an Eva Cassidy kind of morning.

Wrong Side of the River

I watched you on the wrong side
of the river, waving. You were trying
to tell me something. You used both hands
and sort of ran back and forth,
as if to say look behind you, look out
behind you. I wanted to wave back.
But you began shouting and I didn't
want you to think I understood.
So I did nothing but stand still,
thinking that's what to do on the wrong side
of the river. After a while you did too.
We stood like that for a long time. Then
I raised a hand, as if to be called on,
and you raised a hand, as if to the same question.

:: Stanley Plumly,
Out-of-the-Body Travel