…other artists speak for me.
Category Archives: Life’s honest moments
(Thank you, Jen McConnell)
Spoon Theory: A disability metaphor and neologism used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness.
I typically have an abundance of spoons. Even through the worst of the worst in my life, I’ve always had spoons to spare, spoons to hand out to others. It’s just who I am. But once in a while, my subconscious tells me when I’m running low, that maybe I should just stop. Rest. Be kind to myself. I’m not always savvy enough to heed, and then my subconscious gets serious.
Those of you who know me have probably guessed that when my spoons are running low, I go quiet. I pull away from here, from friends, even from family. It’s not necessarily that I don’t want to worry anyone (though there is a bit of that in there) and more that I just can’t deal with “it” (whatever “it” is) taking up any more of my energy. But going quiet is the opposite of who I am, and it only works for so long.
We’ve been dealing with a lot here, chez DeFino. Frank’s consulting gig ended, and we are once again on that precipice. My uterus tried to kill me again. Let me tell you, losing that much blood over the course of four weeks takes its toll on body and mind.
And it was Christofer’s 29th birthday last week.
“Everything’s fine.” My stock phrase. I know, logically, that just because others have it worse than I do, suffered more, have less, struggle with issues far beyond my white, middle class world, doesn’t mean my experience isn’t valid. It doesn’t mean I have to smile through it all and thank my lucky stars. Here, my friends, there be dragons. And not the fun kind.
Everything is fine. Until it’s not fine.
I had a dream last week. Kind of. It was a memory, tossed out and clear as the moment it happened in striking, horrible detail. One that has blared through my brain, danced behind my eyes ever since. I suppose it’s my own form of PTSD, this flashback. It’s one that comes to me when I’m at my lowest in the spoon department, because it takes a whole fuck-ton of spoons to keep this demon at bay.
Eleven o’clock, and Chris still isn’t up. We have an appointment with the guy who makes the braces for his leg. I finish up an email and go to his door.
Knock, knock. “Hey, buddy, we have to go soon.”
No answer. He usually at least groans.
Knock, knock. “Hey, you alive in there?”
I take the “key” we keep over his door (he’s slept with it locked since he was a little kid, to keep the monsters and night-time robbers from getting him) and pop the lock.
The light is the first thing I see. That god-damn-fucking light. My heart bucks. He’s on his back, feet on the floor. There’s a needle on the bed beside him.
No. No, no, no, no, no.
I detach from myself. He’s cold. There is foam on his lips. The smell…sulphury. His skin feels greasy. I’m screaming. I don’t hear the screams. They’re out there, someplace, still echoing off those walls. I’m alone. Just me and my dead son.
I call 911. I’m still screaming. Into the phone. My son is dead! My son is dead!
“I’m so sorry,” she says. “I went through the same thing last year. I’m so sorry.”
These are the first words I remember. I must have given her the address, because the police officers are already at the door.
Since “dreaming” this last week, when my spoons were so low and I was still giving them out to others, this demon has come back to me and back to me. When I’m cooking. When I’m in the car. When I’m in the movie theater. Just creeps up on me, smacks me in the head and dances off. It leaves me shaky and teary, and I’ve been pushing it down and pushing it down. I don’t want anyone to see me cry. I don’t want anyone to know. Frank has it hard enough, right now. I don’t want my kids to worry, to know this demon lives in my head. Even now, as I write this, I’ve already texted them all to say, “Don’t read today’s blog post.” But they will.
So here it is. I don’t write this here so you’ll feel bad for me, or to make you cry. My demons are masochistic, and require a stage before they’ll leave me the fuck alone. I acknowledge this, because this is the consequence of going silent. I should know this by now. Maybe next time I’ll remember before my spoons run out.
I’ve started this entry three times now, and can’t seem to get the words right, so I’ll just get to the heart of it–Myrtle Beach is one of my favorite places to be. It’s the location of countless good times with loved ones, days on the beach, seashells and sand and shopping and delicious food I don’t have to cook. And it pulls out my sorrow like no other place on earth.
It’s the last place I actually spent time with Chris, before his brutal fall into depression. He was happy. On top of the world. He’d just moved out on his own, was working his dream job, and was generally looking forward with confidence. Or so I thought. I don’t think Chris ever fooled himself, even if he fooled everyone else. It was always there, waiting, and he knew it. But that’s not what I’m here for.
We had a great week, that April of 2015. The weather kind of sucked, but we sat on the beach anyway, went to the hot tubs, the pool. We took him to the aquarium, not realizing it was kind of for little kids. It was ridiculously fun anyway. When the week was done, we took him home. Little more than a month later, he’d crashed completely. He quit his job, left his apartment, and came home. And then he was gone.
Myrtle Beach is a bittersweet place for me now. I always have fun. I always look forward to it. It’s still one of my favorite places to be. Yet I don’t get through a day without memory falling and grief slapping me across the face so hard my eyes tear. The billboard for the aquarium, a chilly day at the beach, the New Balance store at the outlet mall–kapow.
I had Gracie all to myself for a whole week this time, for the first time since…I can’t even say, and it was amazing beyond words. She makes things better, my girl. And yet I couldn’t help being sad sometimes. I tried not to show it, but she always knew.
One night, at the tail end of the week, I dreamed of Chris. We were in town for some big event, lots of people all around, and I spotted him getting a drink at a water fountain. My mouth dropped open. I called his name. He turned, smiled and came my way. There was an air of impatience about him, but he pulled me into those massive arms and held me so tight. Chris had this thing, he’d hug tighter, a beat longer than anticipated. This time, I held him just as long, just as tight. “I knew you couldn’t leave me,” I told him. He only smiled, let me go, and headed back off into the crowd.
He knew I was sad. He knew why. And even though he’s off on his bear-dreaming adventures, he came back to hug me. His turtle.
I write this with tears in my eyes and the weight of his hug still lingering across my shoulders. I wasn’t going to record it here, but like my sorrow called him back from his travels, his hug led me here until I wrote it all down. I guess he wanted credit for his long trip back.
That’s my boy.
This house feels like home
Like it’s where I’ve been all along. All
these years, all this life.
Passing strange, the log house and
all that happened there was
a dream I’m just waking from. Like, “Whew! I’m so glad it wasn’t real!
But it was.
Of course it was.
Yet that feeling has me in thrall right now, and
I’m not entirely sure
I want to disabuse it.
It feels a bit like betrayal,
on so many levels,
My dream. My home. My son’s painful life, and oblivious death.
A dream, a dream, a dream. And now,
I’m awake. Now,
it’s a bit of solace
I’d like to hold onto. I need
to hold onto.
All the curtains are hung, pictures,
in place, word art, (Q: What is a wall without a quote on it? A: A blank page!)
stuck to walls. My magic. My sparkle. My home.
The dream wasn’t all good, or
all bad. It simply was, and now it’s in the past. I don’t
long for it; how could I long for such sorrow?
Like a dream, let it fade into something less frightening, less
rending. Let the joy rise up and out, let it
follow me home.
Years ago, when Frank and I weren’t quite empty-nesters yet, we pulled into Oak Meadows on a lark, just to see what it was like. Frank fell in love instantly. I didn’t. I make NO judgement call on communities of cookie-cutter houses with vinyl siding! It just wasn’t me. I lived in a log house on the river, in the mountains, nothing but coyotes and deer and bear and great blue heron for neighbors. I tucked gardens here and there; the lawn was like green velvet; autumn blazed in the red/orange/amber of maples in New England. Inside, vast, multi-colored (burgundy, amber, yellow, blue, scarlet, pink, mauve) walls covered in murals and word art, dinosaur prints and fairies. Tucked into every nook and cranny, something new to see. My log house was the kind of place you could come to a dozen times and find something new, something fun or funny, adorable or kind of creepy. It was always Halloween, always Christmas. Somewhere.
It was a LOT of work. In the end, too much work. For those and a myriad of other reasons, it was time to move on.
We checked out Oak Meadows again. When we pulled in, my instant reaction was, “Nope, nope, nope! Can’t do it!” A week or so later, Frank said, “Let’s just go into the model and see.”
I walked into the model. It was warm, inviting, and obviously EASY. Beige walls. BEIGE! Not a color on my spectrum. But a switch flipped in me. I didn’t want “different and super-cool,” because “different and super-cool” needed to be maintained. I wanted smaller. House. Gardens. Rooms. No more high ceilings we needed a 30 foot ladder to clean twice a year. No more log walls that collected dust. No more rooms (and rooms and rooms and rooms) that went unused. I wanted efficiency. I wanted easy. I wanted it to look nice without me having to work so hard at it.
There’s no lawn for Frank to mow, only common ground that gets mowed for us. The pool is just down the hill, and we don’t have to maintain it. My garden–that will be taken care of for me, should I so choose–is all of about 9 x 9. I can have the profusion of flowers I love without it requiring days of planting, weeding, watering on a weekly basis.
I wanted Oak Meadows.
I didn’t think I could ever be happy in a community of cookie-cutter, vinyl sided homes. Never in a million years. But I am. I love this place, top to bottom. I love the lifestyle it affords us, the freedom.
I miss the woods, the river, the trees and the wildlife, but I got to have it. I had the showplace house people came into and stood in awe. The reality of upkeep made leaving it do-able. That dream was had, skewed, and given up for good. As a wise young man once told me, when I felt terrible about giving up my Jeep Wrangler, a vehicle I’d dreamed of having all my life, “Dreams change, Mom.”
Some people dream and never attain their aspirations. I’ve never been one of those people. I’m lucky, I know, but I work hard for the dreams I’ve made come to pass. Yet, sometimes, the dream changes. Sometimes, it’s changed for me. Leaving the house on the river for this townhouse in the woods was a little of both.
I can be happy here. I am happy here. A year ago, I’d never have believed it should anyone have told me where I’d be right now, and glad to be so.
“Dreams change, Mom.”
Yes, they do.
Oak Meadows (model shown, not mine.)
Life has been coming at me super-fast these days. Only two weeks left until we move from our log home on the river, to the townhouse in the woods. I went up to Framingham (Boston area) for a signing, was interviewed for an article, agreed to a whole bunch of writerly events from local book clubs to a library in Maine. The rest of August, September and October are almost completely booked by trips to the beach, appearances, and moving.
And then there are the grands who love to come over and swim.
I’ve had very little time to reflect on all the changes in my life since June saw The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) release into the world, and the sale of our home. This quiet Sunday morning, I sat with my coffee, reflecting.
I thought I’d be okay staying here if the house didn’t sell, but I was wrong. I didn’t know that until today. I’m so ready. To go. To leave behind this house, let go this dream, and step into the next phase of my life. Staying here isn’t going to change the fact that life here didn’t work out as we anticipated. It won’t bring my son back. It doesn’t even keep him close to me. It’s time, and I can’t even be sad about that.
It’s going to be hard to close the door that last time. Knowing I can’t go back inside, see the rooms we lived in as a family, the roof over the walkout that Chris built with a shattered ankle, from a wheelchair; all my word art; the mural I painted when we first moved in; the gardens I planted; the trees grown so tall; the table where we all played Loaded Questions, laughing so hard over the bawdy and bawdier answers we came up with; the kitchen where fifteen years of Christmas cookies have been baked with Jamie and her friends–a tradition that goes back to her junior year in high school; the “grow room” Chris and Scott worked in together; the turtle WWF sticker on the wall in Grace’s room that I’ve never had the heart to scrape off; the fireplace that kept us warm when the power was out for over a week.
My writing loft.
So much happiness here. So much sorrow. A piece of life lived, and now, let go.
We sold the house. Move date is nebulously the first week in August. The new owner wants to move in here August 15. Much packing has been in the works. The dust in a well-kept house makes me shudder to think about how it would have been had I been less diligent about it. Boxes and boxes and stuff and stuff and donations and donations. I am wildly, brutally purging, and still I have too much stuff.
I put off doing Chris’ room (aka, Frank’s den, aka, the hoarding room) for as long as possible. The house is as packed up as it can be while we’re still living in it. It was time. All the things I put in the closet of that room-waiting (the Curaleaf Tshirt, the weightlifting trophies, the cards and notebooks and poetry and equations) needed to be packed away.
We bought bins. (Bins. My son’s life condensed into bins.) That alone is enough to make the lump rise in my throat, the tears sting the back of my eyes. I tried not to look through things as I packed them away. (The marvel of those pages of equations that meant something to him. To other minds that work like his.) I put on his shirt and wrapped up in a sheet, both still Chris scented. I cried, and I put them away. I grabbed his gym bag, that sweaty, battered gym bag, and put it in last.
Two needles fell out.
The fury. The fury. At him for doing what he did. At myself for not seeing what I should have seen, knowing what I should have known. Please don’t tell me I couldn’t have, or that it wouldn’t have mattered. Logic has no say in anything sometimes. Today, I know he was always going to be a step ahead of me. Today, I know it might not have mattered then, and probably wouldn’t have in the long run. But those needles fell out of his bag, and the fury rose and rose and rose, accompanied by its best pal, guilt, followed behind by the soul-ripping sorrow that’s always going to be lurking inside me, waiting for an opportunity to stretch and claw its way out.
Its all packed away. The brilliance and the scents and the memories, good and bad. I considered keeping those needles, a morbid thing to consider. I snapped off the tips. I bent them in half. I threw them into the firepit and watched them burn.
We’re moving. A new phase in life, begun the day he died (the day he fell, the day he first used, the day he broke his ankle, his spirit) is well and truly on. I hope this log house on the river, in the woods, this house I’ve dreamed of as long as I can remember, gets to be what it deserves to be in my memory. Only leaving it is going to let that happen. I want to remember all the good times we had here, the beauty of this place, the peace and the love. Once the shadows are no longer hovering every day, I think it can be.
I suppose we’ll see soon enough.
As mentioned several posts ago, June is a month rife with conflict for me. It started again, this year, with boom and the doom on my horizon. Everything Bar Harbor was was the sublime force holding it back. And because, no matter what I write, I’m a fantasy nerd at heart…
I’ve kept the Balrog at bay until today. The actual anniversary of his death isn’t until Friday; no matter what the date, for me, Father’s Day is always going to be Christofer’s last day on the planet. It’s the anniversary of the last chance I had to change everything. The anniversary of my failure to see all I should have seen. The last day my husband, children and I were all together. Forever and ever Amen.
In the time since Chris’ death, things have changed. In my own life, our family life, the world at large. Life goes on, right? There have been some truly extraordinary personal events, from going to Europe for the first time to the entirety of The Bar Harbor etc. book experience; from my daughter and her family moving back to New Milford, to putting the house up for sale. Lording over it all, my Balrog. Like Gandalf, today, I fall.
It’s okay. I need to fall once in a while. I need to feel all the pain of losing my son. It feels strangely good, like pressing on a canker sore. I’m not looking for sympathy (though I’ll always take hugs.) I just needed to get it out of my head, and this is my place to do so. I promised I would. It helps.
This week will be another amazing one, I’m certain. My grands will be here to swim, more Bar Harbor stuff, some dinners with friends. And today, I get to see my brothers and their families, my younger daughter, her boyfriend and their puppy. Of course, my parents. But I’ll still be in the snow with the Balrog, too. Like Gandalf, I’ll find my way out of the dark again. As always wiser, stronger, better able to fight the next time.
It was never my favorite month, even when I was a kid and June meant the end of the school year. I don’t like the heat. All the green and flowers are pretty. I do enjoy the “laziness” of summer. It’s not that I hate summer, but I–by far!–prefer autumn and winter.
Then Chris died in June. He’s gone three years. Three. Fucking. Years. How is that even possible? June took on a whole new pall. Starting June 1st, my brain goes to, “This time X years and X days ago, he had X days to live.” And, “How did I not see what is so clear to me now?” And, “Why didn’t I _____?” Insert anything in there, and I’ve probably thought it.
And then there was last June; Frank lost his job of eighteen years. Day after Father’s Day. 11:30 am. Almost to the hour I called to tell him his son was dead. Lovely timing.
But this June, The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) releases out into the world. When my publisher told me it would release in June, I was thrilled. Maybe the weight of June would be a little less ponderous this year?
I has, in fact, been kind of magical. June is still hard. All that stuff above still happens, but there’s so much GOOD going on. The sorrow can’t sink its teeth in quite so deep, and drag me down to the depths. I suppose I could have let June ruin the release for me. I could have let the despair kill the joy. Sometimes, not feeling the pain is agonizing itself. Sometimes, being happy feels like betrayal. But it’s not. I have to remind myself of that. Letting his death steal my joy is the betrayal, because I know how much it would hurt him to be the cause of it.
June is never going to be my favorite month. It’s always going to be the month my son died. But it’s also always going to be the month The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) released, too.