Category Archives: Life’s honest moments

Quoting from the Moleskine

“The world is a rushing river, and I’m a rock in the middle of it.” Christofer DeFino

I am in Virginia Beach with beloved friends. This is the fifteenth year I’ve been following the need to connect with like birds south. Some of the faces have changed over the years, but most remain consistent. The dollbabies feed my writer-soul the way nothing else does, or ever can.

On this trek south, a 12 hour drive I look forward to every year, I sat on the ferry between Cape May, NJ and Lewes, DE, reading through an ancient moleskine notebook I keep in my purse. Because I now write myself notes on my cell phone, I don’t use it much anymore; keeping it on me is habit. Of course, there are many notes from years past, among them the one above.

I’m not sure if I remember correctly, but I believe Chris and I were in the car, on the way to one doctor’s office or another. He said those words to me, during the course of conversation (I really miss those deep conversations, during the captive-audience car rides over the years) and they broke my heart a little. That’s how he felt, on so many levels. The world rushed around him, passing him by. It also exemplified how it felt to be trapped in thoughts most can’t grasp. He was always just a little outside of any group he was in, even when he hung out with his professors, who actually could understand those things he was so passionate about, because he was always so much younger than they.

Such thoughts he had; I don’t think there are many who could truly understand them.  After he died, the university Bio/Chem department had a memorial in his honor. Professor after professor got up and talked about how, though they knew they were in for hours of discussion they couldn’t spare in their busy days, they’d put away what they were doing to talk when they saw him coming. Chris made them remember what they loved about their chosen field. He made them remember what it was like to be that young and passionate. And every one of them said how HE showed them new things, new ways to see chemistry, because he never bogged down in what was supposed to be, but what could be.

He thought in abstracts and concretes, in chemical compounds like a synesthete thinks in colors. He could see the structure of a compound, just by thinking them. He could link this compound to another, seeing the ways they would combine, become something new. I, honestly, could never understand most of what he talked about; mine is not a scientific mind. I guess it’s the way I see story as building blocks, and can move them from place to place and see the whole it will make.

I didn’t just lose my son; the world lost a great mind. One that could have made a difference, actually did make a difference in ways he’ll never be remembered for. I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering what would have made a difference, what would have been that thing that pulled him out of his fate, and into a better one. I’ll never find that answer. Never.

One thing I do know is that Chris had a lot to give that he never got the chance to. Few were few willing to accept what it was he had to give them, let alone give him back in equal measures. His love was boundless, and demanded the same in return. His mind was infinite, and sought someone, anyone who could exchange thought for thought. He could make you his world, and begged for you to make him yours. Demanded it, sometimes. Most times. Maybe it wasn’t possible. Maybe people just don’t have as much to give, don’t feel comfortable about demanding the huge quantities he asked for. Everything about him was big, and overwhelming, I will admit.

I sit here, in this beach house, the sound of waves crashing on the beach, and Sara’s mixer whirring downstairs, and the silence of women writing all around me, and I realize I have what my son wished for, not just here but in my life as a whole. I, too, am a stone in the middle of a rushing river, but I have other stones nearby to stem the flow, to keep the water from wearing me down.

Peace.

 

 

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This Terribly Beautiful World

I’ve been watching Origins, on NatGeo. If you get the chance, watch it. Fascinating. It does an amazing job of showing both the beauty and horror of humankind. We are amazingly beautiful creatures, innovative, brilliant, kind, determined, courageous, selfless. We are also every opposite.

It has made me wonder how there can be so much beauty existing alongside equal parts horror. Some children are happy, healthy, thriving, while others are abused, hungry, angry or already defeated. There are police officers who put themselves in harm’s way to save a stranger, or a kitten. There are police officers who strangle-hold an unruly child, because the law is on their side. There are soldiers who go into battle to keep the homeland safe, and others who shoot at strays, just to while away some down time. There are politicians who truly want to serve the people, and those who only want to serve themselves. (Though I fear the ratio on this last one is kinda skewed.)

Narrow it down and narrow it down, and we all have the same horror/beauty in our personal lives. I wonder how I can be so happy, thriving professionally and personally, when I never get through a day without seeing what I saw, living what I lived. Looking at the big picture, knowing this is simply the way of things, actually helps. Some people’s personal horror is small, and others, big. It doesn’t matter. Our horrors are our own, and real, and painful.

It’s all a cosmic balancing act, really. Origins has helped me truly see that the horrors of war and pollution and corruption have actually BETTERED humanity as a whole, even if it was terrible for the individuals involved. It’s not pretty, but it’s reality.

Life is beautiful, and brutal. Accepting it goes a long way in being able to process it all rationally, if not emotionally.

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Morning Thoughts

My head tends to be a bit crowded in the morning, when I first wake up. I made the note in my little “line a day” journal this morning, that it’s no wonder I write. If I didn’t, where would all those thoughts go?

This morning, the thoughts in my head wandered to a story I’m excited to get to, tentatively titled The Empty Spaces. Briefly:

Bonnie-Jane dashes out of the woods behind the farmhouse where she grew up, sweating and out of breath and knowing two things: One, she’s late and mama’s going to be mad; and two, she has to get there before her baby wakes up from her nap. When she gets home, the baby is thirteen, her mother has died, and Bonnie-Jane has been missing for eleven years. 

I know where she’s been, and I know the whimsical why and how that came about, but the hard facts of what happened to cause the initial vanishing have eluded me. It came to me this morning, in a round-about way. The story isn’t what happened, it’s about what happens next.

Since Chris died, there is a definite theme in my writing–the Unanswered Question. A Thousand Different Ways, Entangled, Heroically Lost, and next The Empty Spaces all have that element to some degree. By the end of the book/s, the unanswered question is still unanswered. You have plenty of information to decide for yourself; that’s where I leave it. And I didn’t consciously realize this, and the connection to Christofer’s death, until this morning.

Life is full of unanswered questions, things we have to decide for ourselves to the best of our ability, and let go. We can see with our eyes, know in our hearts, but hard and definite answers are still elusive. Perspectives differ. Memories are more about the person remembering than the actual facts. Heartfelt, gut instinct is rife with the trap doors of our pasts. Comparatively, there are few absolutes, and we are left with our best guesses.

I think I’m good with the Unanswered Questions. At least, I know better than to bang my head too hard against that wall. There comes a time when you have to make your best guess, accept that there’s no way to 100% know and be okay with it.

Maybe I’m getting there. Maybe I’m still trying. And I’m okay with that.

head_full_of_ideas_by_welescarlett-d83ix0a

 

 

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A Little Clarification

About that headshot…

Please understand, it’s not that I don’t like how I look; it’s that I don’t look like me in (most) photos. I hate posed. I’m an animated sort of person, and posing just feels fake. As does dolling up or otherwise glitzing (sparkles are completely acceptable though.) I don’t wear make-up of any kind. Ever. Ok, once in a while I’ll put on some mascara. The thought of this posed picture puts in mind all those things I, personally, can’t stand. It’s creating an illusion of who I am when I am perfectly happy, in fact, ridiculously content, with who I am. It took me a long time to get here. It’s not a position I’ll give up willingly.

In many pictures, even the candid ones, I often lamented that I look either angry or drunk. I’m rarely the former, and never the latter. It’s very rare someone takes a pic of me that I truly love, that I feel absolutely me in. I adore the pic of me I use on Facebook, and the sketch that sprang from it, above. It captures ME. Mischievous gleam, messy hair, no make-up, tiara. ME. I don’t want to put a fake me out into the world. It’s not that I don’t feel fabulous enough; it’s that I feel completely fabulous as I am. I can’t stress that enough, especially for my girls who are convinced I think I’m a hideous monster who eschews the light of day.

A posed pic of me, made up, hair coiffed? Not gonna happen. It’s not an opportunity for me to have some fun, but a step backwards into a me I don’t want to be. Ever. Maybe that seems a bit militant, even silly. What’s the big deal, right? For me, it is.

If I had my way, there would be no pictorial evidence of me whatsoever. I truly feel, and call it hubris (because it pretty much is,) a photo cannot capture me in all my glory. Without going into a long, sad story of how I got to this point, suffice it to say I got here via a road I don’t want to tread again.

So I’ll go and get the headshots done MY way, maybe even try to get a “more acceptable” recreation of the pic I love. If I can’t get a pic I’m as happy with as the one my friend (Sharon) snapped of me that day at lunch, many months ago, I’m going to push for using it because it’s MY image, and I have every right to say what that image is. Right?

*Disclaimer~I have no issue whatsoever with anyone who loves to glam it up, wear make-up, pose for the perfect pic, etc. If that’s your thing, THAT’S YOUR THING. And good for you! It’s just not mine. Savvy?

Pics of me I love.

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Up, down, touch the ground

Remember that ditty from Winnie the Pooh? That’s how I felt this morning (though it didn’t put me in the mood for food.) I woke to an email from beloved agent Janna, a screen shot of the Publisher’s Weekly announcement for A Thousand Different Ways. Very, very nice way to be greeted into the day.

And then I got a phone call.

I need to backtrack a little…

While chatting with a friend on Wednesday night, I told her I was actually looking forward to summer this year. Really looking forward to it. It felt strange, because I hate summer. Though last summer was sad, being a whole year missing Chris, and also the first summer of Scott living across the country, there was a peace to it. Melancholy, but comforting. Then there was free float Wednesdays with friends; sitting by the pool or on the porch those balmy nights, playing a dice game with my Frankie D. Of course, there was Stranger Things. Pool days with my grandbabies, too. William and I fought the Demogorgon countless times with water noodles. I was sad to see summer go–another surprise, but not so much so as looking forward to this one. And that’s when I got punched in the face.

I didn’t hate summer. I hated what always happened in the summer. Years and years of it being constant crisis with Chris. We never knew if he was bi-polar, or if it was substance-induced, but whatever it was, Chris cycled, and summer was always when he was at his worst. It was neverending days of fear, anger, and abject desperation on all our parts. Summer would end, he’d pull out of his tailspin, and the cycle continued.

Even that last summer of his chemistry-dreaming when he and a friend were outside to all hours of the night, experimenting. Garbage pail science, I think it’s called. He had started using marijuana (medically advised) in place of the ridiculous amount of anti-anxiety drugs he’d been prescribed. But there was always an edge to Chris, like he was on that precipice, clinging to the scuttling rocks with his toes…and one set of toes didn’t even work. And we were ever on that precipice with him.

Anyway, that’s why I hated summer. And realizing that’s why I hated summer punched me in the face with the fact that I can love it now, because he’s gone.

Yes. That harsh. I just started crying all over again, because it hurts so much to know this. I can’t unknow it. I, who spend my life creating fiction, can’t pretend. I can love summer again, because my chaotic son is dead. If this were an old Batman episode, I’d have a big KABLAM spattering over my head.

That’s where I still was, though mellowed, when I woke this morning to the email from Janna. Everything happening with A Thousand Different Ways is the stuff writers dream of. Day after day brings something new, something exciting. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve been around the block before, but this is a new block. A whole new experience even if it feels familiar. “Roll with the punches,” was one of my mom’s favorite taglines when we were kids. And I always have. Better than most, I’d say.  So I roll with the punches, the good ones and the bad, doing my best keep my balance.

Which brings me back to that phone call–from the parole office, concerning the young man who’s been in prison for selling my son the drugs that killed him. He was sentenced to four years. He’s been in for a bit more than a year and a half. I wrote to him a while back, because…for many reasons. That’s not what this is about. I needed to. We’ll leave that there. His response to me was not what I’d hoped for. He takes no responsibility. He blames others. Despite the evidence I saw with my own eyes, in my son’s cell phone when I cleaned it out, despite the fact that I was THERE that night when he delivered the drugs and called out, “Bye, Mom!” as he left, my son already on his way to oblivion up in his bedroom. I was still willing to forgive him, even hope that he would learn enough from this to become a better person.

That’s not going to happen. I accept that this positive I’d hoped to pull out of so horrendous a negative isn’t going to happen. That comes with its own set of sorrows, but again not what this is about. The parole office wants to know if I want to attend the hearing, if I have a statement to make, or if I’d like to learn the outcome.

For those of you who really know me, you understand how much it costs me to say–I don’t care. I don’t care what happens to this person. I don’t want to know. I want no ill to befall him, but I don’t want ANYTHING at all for him either. If he can’t accept the role he played in my son’s death, his friend, then I haven’t any fucks left to give him.

Up, down, touch the ground.

We will be in Europe during the hearing. I have no statement to make but this–I don’t want to see him. Ever. I don’t want him showing up at my house as if I believed his vows of innocence. Because he would, and he needs to know that he can’t.

Now I go make that phone call. Then I write. Next week, I’m off to Europe with my parents, my brothers and their spouses, and my beloved Frankie D. When I get home, edits for A Thousand Different Ways begin. Up, up, up. In between, there will be downs, but they’re not going to hold me there. No fucking way.

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Hello, it’s been a while

I’m usually much more present in this space. A lot has been happening; a lot more is due to happen soon, and ongoing. The novel currently going by, The Pen was picked up by Rachel Kahan at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins.) I’m ridiculously happy and a little starstruck. I’ve been around the block a few times, but this is a new block with new people, and I imagine a new experience. Time will tell, and then I’ll tell you.

In a couple of weeks, I’m off to Europe with my parents, my brothers and their spouses. And Frankie D, of course. When I get home, edits from my editor will be waiting for me, so that’s actually something to look forward to leaving Rome for. Heroically Lost is nearly finished, first draft. Beloved Agent Janna will be sending feedback on our second round for Entangled soonish, and another new story with another new set of characters is already banging at my brain-doors. As my daughter, Jamie, has said–I poop books. I hope that’s always so.

And today is Christofer’s birthday.

Thunk, right in the middle of all the excitement, there it is. Of course, it’s no surprise. It didn’t sneak up on me. As it usually happens, there was a week of threatened rumbling on my horizon, but nothing to fear. Just a storm. Another storm. It would pass.

The anticipatory tension was worse than the event, to be honest. I’ve been okay. Not without tears, but okay. He was born today. Eleven hours of labor. The only time I gave birth without surgical intervention. And then I got to keep him for twenty-five years. A loaner. Part of me always knew he would be. I’d been telling myself from day one, with Chris, once he was gone, he was going to be gone. I never thought it would be quite so literal, but, there you have it.

Today marks one of the happiest days of my life; the day my second son was born. He was the linking piece in two families blended into one. He was loved. So loved. He still is. How, then, can I lament this day in any way?

I can’t say happy birthday. It just doesn’t feel right. Instead, I’ll offer him a smile instead of tears, and tell him his Turtle loves him so much.

green-sea-turtle-closeup-underwater-jpg-adapt-945-1

 

 

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Two quotes, and a new day

“I think it might be a law of physics that the depth of our sorrow is determined by the height of our joy.” Karin Gastreich

“Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength.” Ovid

The former came to me within a comment on my Meandering post the other day; the latter I picked up, partially, in a book I just finished reading (The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl. Fabulous read) and looked up the entirety of later. Both spoke to me, to the me who wrote Meandering, and so many of the conflicted bits and pieces that make it to the page, or get trapped inside my head. Simple words. Profound.

Words, spoken, written or only imagined, are one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. Of course I would say that, being a writer, and all. I wonder, sometimes, if words limit us, or set us free. I’m sure arguments can be made from both sides.

It’s a new day. My carousel horse is in the “up” position. It was hovering around the middle spot until reading the Ovid quote while drinking my coffee this morning, and started to rise. After reading Karin’s message, it rose higher, highest, and has stayed there. I like the view from up here.

Thank you, all.

16531696-carousel-white-horses-stock-photo-carousel-horse

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Meandering

These pages have been strangely silent. For many reasons. I’m tired, for one. Tired of the despair following the election. Tired of the underlying sorrow no matter how happy the upper levels. I’m just…tired.

But the better reason is that Scottie was home for a week. I have no words sufficient to express that joy. We spent a lot of time together. I taught him how to make sauce. We played games, chatted. Thanksgiving down in NJ with my entire family, always fun. Noisy, but fun. And I remembered why it was a really good thing he was a country away during the election. Whew!

And yet the whole time he was here, I knew my hourglass was losing sand, and he’d be gone again, back to his life. Where he belongs. Where he is happy. I might see him next summer, or maybe next holiday season. Until then, there are texts and phone calls and the occasional Facetime chat. It’s hardest when first he leaves, but I’ll be fine, really. Knowing he’s happy, out in the world and doing his thing, is what I want most for him. And for me. It’s a good feeling. A proud one. I don’t want my kids bound to my side any more than I want to be bound to my own mother’s. I’ll still miss him so much, it’ll hurt sometimes.

Scott misses his brother out there in Portland, but he misses him more when he’s here and expecting him to be sitting on the couch with his vape and a grin, or coming in the door, sweaty from the gym. I know how he feels. After a year and a half, I still watch for Chris’ car to turn into the driveway sometimes.

And even as I write this, the joys of my life tap my shoulder. “Don’t forget us.” A week with my son. Thanksgiving with my family. Christmas and New Year’s to come. My amazing daughters. My adorable grands. In a couple of weeks, I have a friend coming from KC for a Christmas visit. We’re meeting a few other friends in NYC to see the tree and have some fun. My day-to-day life is good, full. A fabulous chat with Beloved Agent Janna about Entangled (formerly known as Undeclared) not only pulled the elements of that story together, but gave me insight into Heroically Lost. I’m ridiculously thrilled to start revisions on Entangled–as soon as I have Heroically Lost in a place I feel comfortable leaving it for a couple weeks.

And then there’s Europe in March. Virginia Beach in May. The Jersey Shore with the kids and grands in August; September, too, with friends. Myrtle Beach in October. Maybe I’ll even squeak in a trip out to Portland in April.

I feel like a jerk for being sad when I have it so good. Yet, sometimes happiness feels so horribly wrong. I miss my son. Difficult as Chris’ life was, as his life was for all of us, I just want him back, and that feels wrong too. Wishing him back wishes back his pain, his struggles he’s now free from. But should I be glad he’s gone and free, after all? How wrong is that? I want Scottie to stay in Portland where he’s happy. And I want him closer by. But I don’t! Because…because…because–egads, it keeps going around and around. All the conflict constantly churning in me is what has me so exhausted.

As Jamie said to me this morning: God mom, you and all your stupid and totally valid complex emotions! SO ANNOYING (with a smiley face, because this is how we best relate in my family, with playful derision that dulls the sharp edges.)

I responded: Simple has never been my forte.

For now, I got these things out of my head and onto a page, where they do me the most good. Now, an hour later than usual, it’s time to get to writing.

fxzo5dd

Peace.

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Thoughts, upon waking

I do not in darkness dwell, when daylight holds its sway; but, in the darkness, I do dwell, on all day holds at bay. (~TLD)

sweet-dreams-dreaming-of-snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarves

Strange words to wake to, but I did. I don’t have to wonder why, though. I dream, and I remember my dreams for the most part. There are few nights I don’t go to sleep with Chris on my mind, and wake up to the same. He tends to fill in the space between.

I believe it’s because I do my best not to let the sorrow overwhelm me during the day. That’s not to say it doesn’t hit me, but I’m able to push it gently away, tell it, “Not now.” Then comes the night and pushing it away feels as wrong as it would to push him away. He needs his time on my mind, just like he needed time in my arms, when he was a baby who didn’t like to sleep on his own; or a young man who needed me to make sure he kept breathing through the night.

Day is for missing Scottie, for cherishing the broken ties he needed broken so badly. It’s for feeling Gracie’s excitement in finding her place in the world. It’s to experience Jamie’s babies, her dream career, through her eyes. Day belongs to them. And so, night belongs to Chris.

My newest work-in-progress, Heroically Lost*, is largely about knowing the difference between making choices, and letting the choices get made for us. I’m not sure if I made the choice to let Chris have the night, but I honestly don’t think I could unchoose it either. It’s just the way it happens, and I’m okay with that.

*Heroically Lost comes from a Yeats poem, A Crazed Girl

(Truncated)

…Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found…

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In the Most Uncanny Places

I started writing this post several times over the last couple of months, but it seemed too strange, even for me. How to express this…comfort kept eluding me. I took a picture of this comfort, cropped it down, saved it, thinking it would help me settle my thoughts. But then I lost the pic somewhere in my stellar lack of computer skills. Ok, cosmos, thought I. Not time to write this yet.

And then I read a beautiful piece, written by a woman who lost her son, shared by another woman who’d lost her son, in part about the comforts we take that many won’t understand without having experienced the loss of a child. Cosmos, I get you.

img_1769 See? I told you it was strange. What the heck is it, right? I actually have no idea other than Chris did it years ago, when he and a friend were doing constant chemical experiments in our basement. He’d been cleaning up and, somehow, this got on the pedestal of the sink in his bathroom. He tried to get it off. I tried to get it off. It. Would. Not. Come. Off. It was annoying, then. Now, it comforts me in that uncanny way I’m having a hard time understanding.

I have pictures, writings, clothes, his backpack, wallet, school books. So many tangible things he touched, he created. But I see this mysterious smear of whatever chemical they’d been playing with whenever I go into his bathroom, and it makes me smile. It says, “I was here!” It comes with a specific memory of a time he was really happy. What used to annoy me now brings me comfort, because that whole incident would have been forgotten had I been able to clean it away.

It’s a strange thing to take comfort in, when I have so many other things at my disposal. My kids teased me, years ago, because I wouldn’t clean my grandson’s baby handprint from the sliding glass door. For months, it stayed there. It made me happy to see it. An automatic welling of adoration for that little pipsqueak hit me every time I spotted it. And now it’s the same with that smear on the sink pedestal.

And it’s not just the smear. It’s the sticker in Gracie’s room, the one she put on the wall when she wasn’t supposed to. It’s the circular marks on the hardwood floor in Scott’s room, from the coins that had been on the floor when he spilled something and never cleaned it up. It’s the wedding gown Jamie left here after she and Josh got married, still hanging in the closet. Annoyances turned into comfort. Proof that there was a time when simple, silly things like this actually mattered enough to vex me.

Peace.

 

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