Category Archives: Life’s honest moments
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.
I met Diana a dozen years ago, at a week-long science fiction and fantasy writing workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. It was kismet, and love at first sight. She’s been my soul sister ever since. We’ve been through a lot together, heart to heart. One of the top ten favorite days of my life was spent walking Central Park with her on a glorious September day, handing out (begging people to take) flyers for a book fair. She lives in the wilds of Pennsylvania; I live in the wilds of Connecticut. I had an orange Jeep Wrangler; she has a purple one. She is part of my every day, even if we don’t talk or see one another online. She’s just always there, a part of me. That’s what a soul sister is.
We do Virginia Beach together, and Christmas in NYC. But we don’t spend all that much time together, face to face. The day after Christofer died, I was on my way out of the house to take my daughter back to Brooklyn, and Diana walked in the door with a box of donuts, and a box of my favorite chocolates. Three hours in the car, not even knowing if I’d be home. “I just needed to see you.” We didn’t get to spend much time together, but it was–gads–I’m not sure she even knows how much it meant to me. That gesture of love, of sorority, that burst of brilliant light in one of my darkest days not only helped me get through then, it sustains me even now.
There have been a lot of really…insane events over the years. Kismet. A psychic link of some kind. Just KNOWING what the other needed, when. We connect in ways that prickle under the skin and raise the hairs on the back of the neck. It happened again, just a couple days ago.
I’ve been contemplating a tattoo since Chris died. He designed a beautiful tree of life bear paw with my amazing tattooist, and had it tattooed on both biceps. When he died, I wanted to get the same tattoo, but I really didn’t know if I could handle having HIS bear paw. So I waited.
Now, Diana–she has no tattoos, but has wanted one for almost as long as I’ve known her. The right inspiration just hadn’t struck.
Until last Friday.
She texted me: “Figured out my tattoo,” and then sent me the poem, I think we need a password by Daniel Ladinsky. (translated, Hafiz.) In it are the words, love kicks the ass of time and space. She wanted those words, in a heart.
And then, so did I, but not in a heart, underneath Chris’ bear paw. Without coordinating, or even discussing it beyond, “Oh, wow! I want this before we meet in VAB!” we both ended up getting them today. Me this morning. Diana this afternoon.
I didn’t want to steal Diana’s mojo by having the whole text. And, more importantly, the anagram (which also appears in the poem) just seemed more right. A sister tattoo to my soul sister’s tattoo. This woman who was there for me, not just after my son died, but in all the time before. Through the years of his pain and addiction, his anxiety. And I was there for her through…so much. You know what they say about friends made in battle–they’re bound in a different kind of blood.
And here we go again–as I was writing that last line, she texted me, “Now we’re blood sisters!” And that’s what I mean about skin-prickly-hair-raisy. Things like that happen all the time.
Virginia Beach is only 28 days away. We have about ten hours in the car together, just my soul sister and me. DB fries, Diana! Here we come.
I got a card in the mail last week, from a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I was so happy. We set up a coffee date. That was yesterday.
We met as volunteer Daisy moms when our girls were in kindergarten. Those girls–who once went around her neighborhood “raising money for Girl Scouts” by selling rocks they painted in her garage–are now twenty-six. We didn’t stay close, despite those Girl Scout years. Our kids went in different directions, and thus, so did we. There are hugs when we see one another in town, what’s news and how ares. The regular stuff of friends grown apart.
During those Girl Scout years, both our boys were unofficial Girl Scouts. Her son was a few years younger than Chris, so Chris got to be the “big boy.” They’d play, sometimes do activities with the girls. As they got older, they stopped coming to meetings, but that connection remained.
Not long after Chris’ accident, while he was still wheelchairbound and trying to process what life was going to be, I saw an archery competition set up to take place nearby. It was a local club thing, but open to the public. Chris had an eye! Whew. First time I ever took him to shoot, he got a bulls-eye. He could still shoot from his wheelchair. I thought it would be good for him. And it was. He out-shot all the other archers, grown men who’d been shooting most of their lives, and won two pumpkin pie trophies. It was a great day for him.
My friend’s husband and son were there that day, too. It was the first time the boys had seen one another in a few years. It was adorable, watching the old dynamic reassert itself. Her boy’s little bit of hero worship; my boy showing hers how to do something with his bow. My friend’s husband and I watched them a minute or two, chatted. There was nothing significant about the moment. Or so it seemed, at the time.
It wasn’t long after that her son died. Chris took it hard. He would have, anyway, but he’d recently seen him, and that connection was still there, and he was trying to process the death of his own identity. How he cried.
Fast forward ten years, and Chris was gone too. I’d seen my friend as I always had over the course of years. At the gym, in the grocery store, at Village Fair Days. As it had been with Chris and her son, the connection was always there. And now, we’d both lost our boys, those boys who used to be unofficial Girl Scouts. No one wants to have that in common.
She brought me flowers, and cookies she’d baked. We sat together over coffee, talking about this and that. Every now and again, one or the other of us would say something about our boys. They were tentative steps toward sharing deeper hurts neither of us can quite express. I might do fine on these pages, but only because the brain to fingers connection is far more adept than the connection brain to mouth.
And maybe we don’t have to actually say anything. We both understand the other’s pain, and sometimes just being in the presence of someone who truly knows is enough. It’s a relief.
This thing we have in common sometimes makes interactions with family and friends uncomfortable. They don’t know what to do when we’re sad. Do they talk about our missing sons? Pretend there isn’t an empty place at the holiday table? Talk about their own kids, thriving and growing up? Downplay all their familial happiness to spare us? They act from a place of kindness, of course, and that ramps up the pressure, because we’re the cause of their discomfort. And while I’m so very, very grateful few of them will actually understand, they will, nevertheless, never understand.
We all need those people who get where we are, with whom we don’t have to explain things, or tip-toe around, or endure getting tip-toed around. It’s not about like minds, but like experiences. Whether a mommy/daddy group or a writing group or a survivors-of-something group, those who understand our experiences intimately are vital to navigating this world. It’s not a place to dwell on the pain, but a place to be liberated from it.
Find your group. Free yourself. And in the process, free others.
It’s going to be very difficult to leave here. There isn’t a season in the whole wheel of the year I don’t open my eyes each morning to insane beauty right outside my bedroom window. In the spring, I wake to lilac blossoms. Come summer, it’s a swathe of yellow, brown-eyed-susans. Autumn is a blaze of sugar maples that go from amber to russet to scarlet. And this is what I wake to in winter. White. A fresh canvas. The silence of snow.
I’m the country mouse heading back into town, where there are all sorts of perks I don’t get out here in the back of beyond. As I said to my Frankie D yesterday, I’m still equal parts excited about and dreading the move. I can’t imagine the last night here. Just trying to seizes me up inside. To never see those lilacs, the brown-eyed-susans, the autumn leaves and untouched snow. To never hear the peepers across the street in the marsh those cold first days of March, the cacophony of crickets in August and September, or the owls hooting in quiet October. To step out of this house, away from this land, and know it’s no longer mine; the memories made are finite after all.
I’ll never look out on Christofer’s tree again, and yet, I’ll never look out on Christofer’s tree again. The splatters on the wall, the roof he built, the little reminders of him every day will no longer be right there where I can see them–and yet, they’ll no longer be right there where I can see them.
There is always a before, and an after. Before Brian died, and after. Before Frankie D, and after. Before Christofer’s accident, and after. Before he died, and after. There are hundreds of before and afters in all our lives, some joyful, and some shattering. This before leaving the log house on the river and after comes with equal parts. There is no better, no worse to it, but a balance of both.
I am aware that staying here is remaining static, while moving away from it is going forward, and so I move forward. I promised my bear, my amazing children, and myself. I’m ready to leave, it’s just not going to be easy.
Here we are. 2018. What will it bring? I find myself looking forward hopefully, rather optimistically, despite the fact that our financial situation is precarious.
I can’t hate 2017, despite getting kicked in the teeth yet again. We went to Spain, France and Italy. Frank and I enjoyed the best summer we’ve ever had together. Relaxing. Rejuvenating. An all around peaceful time. Jamie and her family moved back to Connecticut. Two years had gone by since we lost our son; there had been time to reflect, to heal. To get used to him not being here, though that’s not an accurate way to put it. I wish I had one. After five minutes staring at the cursor, trying to figure it out, that’s just the closest I can come.
I sold (what was then The Pen) The Bar Harbor Retirement Home For Famous Writers (and their muses) to William Morrow, and Bastei Lubbe. The experience has been sublime. Every step has been familiar, and yet entirely different from my past experiences in publishing. I could go on citing all the good stuff of 2017 of, but there is only one best.
Since my bear dream, I’ve found the sort of peace I didn’t think I ever could, concerning Christofer John DeFino. My son. My beautiful, chaotic son. Deciding to leave this house was directly related to that dream. Whether it was Chris giving me a shove, or my own brain sorting through things in its mysterious way, it worked.
Chris is gone. Really gone. Since bear-dreaming, I haven’t felt his presence the way I used to. I truly believe he “went north,” to where dream and reality mix and merge, to find his next adventure. Wherever that is, I can’t follow him. I can only send him off with all the love in my heart, because it’s what I’d have done had he lived. That’s what mothers do.
This life didn’t work out for him. I can toss all the whys and why nots through my head a million times between now and my own end of days, but there’s no way to know if there was anything I could have done to change his fate. If only. Maybe. I could have. Should have. Didn’t. Wishing does nothing. Crying doesn’t either. I’ll have to stop wishing, even if I can’t promise not to cry anymore, but I’ve come to a point that remembering him doesn’t bring instant tears. And while I write this, my eyes are a bit wombly, but I’m not crying. I can smile, knowing he’s off doing whatever it is he needed to do, to be. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. I just can’t be sorry he’s no longer here, suffering. Causing chaos that caused him even more suffering. I don’t know what he’d have become, had he stayed. I never will. But I do know my Bear is okay where he is, even if he misses us, too.
And now come the waterworks making the screen blur. But I’m smiling too. My boy. My sweet, brilliant son. I’m off into new adventures too. A new house, new town, a new phase in my life he’ll never be part of. I can’t wish him near me in spirit, because that only holds him back. Life held him back in more ways than anyone knew. Death won’t. I believe that in depths of my heart I never knew existed.
He’s gone north. How funny, I’m heading south. His journey is going to be way longer; I’m only moving to the next town. I won’t anticipate our paths crossing, but if they do, I’ll know. And I’ll be able to cherish whatever fleeting moments I get, then let go again without holding too tight, holding him back. Holding myself back.
Here’s to 2017. And three cheers for 2018. May the ups sustain you through the downs.
I just watched a “soldiers coming home” meme on Facebook, meant to draw a few tears, a sad smile, a thank goodness. I cried, not over those soldiers and their families, but because I felt what they felt, once. In a dream. I was sitting at my kitchen counter, and I felt him walk in. I turned, and there he was, standing in the doorway. There he smiled. There he held out his arms for me to launch myself into. Watching that stupid meme, I remembered the mindbending joy of those people in it. And I remembered how empty my arms remained as I launched.
It’s been hard to post in here, lately, ever since my weighted house and bear dream. My days are full of so much happiness, so much happening. It’s not all fucking rays of sunshine, but who can let the heaviness devour when your son and his lovely girlfriend come home to visit, when you see your family more than usual, when your grandkids are adorable, and your oldest daughter makes you tea, and your youngest one has a new puppy and a one-eyed cat? When all your literary aspirations are, daily, happening and happening and happening? And so I don’t leave any of myself here, because there’s just too much to contain, or set loose.
The weight of this house still presses on my shoulders, but I’m better at bearing it now. Deciding I’m okay leaving has built up some sort of muscle, or muscle memory, that keeps me from going down on my knees. Bear is gone north, without even a glance over his shoulder. He can’t. I know he couldn’t. But still it skewers me, a kebab on the fire roasting low and slow and inexorable. Maybe he’ll be back. Maybe he won’t. I never did like kebabs all that much.
I want to be done here, to be in the new, to leave behind (only a safe distance) this dream of life I’ve led all these years. Turn the corner, the page, the bend in the road, the wheel of the year. I’ll be patient, faithful that things will work out in a way I’ll be able to work with. It’s what Tiggers do best, after all–roll with the punches, make lemonade out of lemons, always look on the bright side of life.