Thursday, March 30, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The calendar moment.

Hmmmm. Well, I guess grieving takes its own time, doesn't it? It meanders along and some days, maybe even for weeks, it doesn't utter a sound in the soul. Just sits quietly, much like a polite guest, listening to your story, letting you talk and do your thing. Then, it clears it's throat and speaks out loud and like a punch to the heart, it's as if you'd just lost that someone all over again.

My father took to technology surprisingly well for a man coming to it as late as he did. In fact, by the time he passed, he had a big old Mac desktop setup and all kinds of goodies, and he knew how to use them! Every year, he would set up a calendar for my brother Brian and his family. He meticulously inserted photos in all of our special dates, photos of us on our birthday square, photos of us on each header page, larger collages that changed with each month. It got to where I'd depend on that calendar to tell me who was doing what and who's birthday was when. I'd go, look over the month and know if anything special was coming up.

This week is my niece Grace's 14th birthday. I have difficulty remembering the specific dates of most birthdays, and went in to the kitchen where that calendar has hung year after year, grasped it and peered at it and realization hit me. This was NOT the calendar. Oh, it was a calendar, a generic store bought item that, while perfectly useful and commonplace, was not THE calendar. I stood for a few heartbeats, confused. Seriously, I was confused. And then I remembered, dad died right before Thanksgiving, and there had been no calendar this year. I felt like I'd been punched in the chest.
I took several steps back, my face beginning to screw up in horror at the realization that I was going to cry. Hard.

I've spent the week house sitting and staying with my nephew, Ethan, while Brian was off on a training mission with the National Guard, and our evening had been unremarkable up to that point. Ethan stood, uncertain, his eyes widening as I slowly tipped over the edge and informed him, hands to my cheeks, that I was going to cry. He shuffled his foot for a moment, uncertain as to my level of need for comfort, but being who and what he is, I found myself swept up in a huge bearhug. I'm not extremely physical, but it was just the right thing to do. He's grown so tall and smelled of motorbike fuel, sunshine and laundry soap. He let me babble about how I've struggled so desperately with the feeling of loss, how, as long as dad was here, I always, ALWAYS felt so safe. It was always ok as long as dad was there. Nothing was insurmountable, and now that he's gone, I feel so lost and alone. I have never felt so alone in my life. It's like I'm on that same tightwire, but now there's nothing underneath, just this dark yawning nothing. That man hung the moon for me. I could never find words enough to express how much I loved him. And now, he's gone and I don't think I'll ever feel right again. Brian calls it "the calendar moment." He said they'd all had one. Odd how the simplest things make such an impact, and that one yearly ritual could become so important seeming.

Ethan and I spent the next hour and a half talking about everything that popped into our heads. He amused me greatly with stories of his friends, his daily life, his philosophies. I talked about heritage, family and told him stories of his great grandfather, and their brother's. Ethan and Brian are much as I was with my father, head butting and buddy moments, riding together, laughing, connected in ways many fathers and sons are not in this day and age. But, this is West Virginia, and things are different here, family is something more than it is in other places. Everyone has someone who hung the moon for them, and losing that, well, there's no words to cover it.

I'm sitting with sadness again this week, and there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it, so I settle in and let it come. Someday, I'll be able to think about that darned calendar and not feel that awful grief that carries me away on a river of tears. But not today.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Winter is the time of ghosts

The wind outside the window buffeted the old building in steady pounding gusts. Tall bare trees, clustered together as though to shelter from the icy blasts were unable to stand up to the push of frigid air making them sway like empty sentinels.  Remnants of dried leaves here and there clacking against each other with every breath from the grey desolate sky, a sound that made her think of castanets, or the half hearted cries of angry birds.
The snow had fallen softly, gently, all day, and the rooftops were covered with a fine, sugary powder. A particularly vicious gust shook the rafters and snow as fine as talc lifted and swirled, moving in a locust like cloud before swirling and disappearing to nothing. Staring out the window, watching it catch and drift over and over, she thought it looked like smoke. Smoke made of snow, the wind a catalyst to a freezing burning of the whole landscape. Clack, clack said the shivering leaves, pale rust colored, where just months ago they’d been ablaze, the sun piercing them to create a corona of crimson. Fall was a sumptuous riot, colors elbowing each other out of the way for prominence, the sun an accomplice to the blinding array of showy beauty. But that was months ago, and now they were merely dead things making dead thing noises. Empty threats and skeletal sounds.  The bleak vista left her aching and empty.

This was ghost season. Blank dirty sky, grey ghost trees, the wind making sounds that felt like grief. The windows in the empty apartment across the lot shuddered and shifted in the fading light with the hardest gusts, and she found her eyes drawn to the reflection as it moved with subtle hues in tandem with the trees that shimmied behind the roof line. The snow decided to get more serious as the light began to fade into dusk, the days were growing longer, but it was still firmly winter.  Her head back against the wall, flakes getting larger, tripling in size, they corkscrewed outside her second story window, down, down, twirling and spinning lazily, until a gust threw a wrench in the cadence of their descent. A sudden shift in the light caught her eye and what was that? What did she just see? The window across the way, the empty apartment, something there. A shape, lighter than the room, shift to the left, and then just out of sight. She sat up, tried to see better, then again a flit of something lighter than the darkness. The snow suddenly diminished in size, then slowed its volume, and she could see much more clearly. Yes. Something there, by the window. Looking out. Looking toward her? She crept from her bed and stood just to the right of the window, the curtain concealing her, her face up against the fabric, her breathing moving the curtain ever so slightly, it smelled like dust. Vaguely, she thought about how she ought to launder her drapes.  Slowly, she peered around the curtain, one eye trained toward the window, wishing herself to invisibility. Nothing. Inky blackness from the unlit room, no pale figure, no movement. Unaware that she had been holding her breath, she let it out in a whoosh and felt her tensed body sag. Nothing. And, it was darkening quickly now, no way to see anything with clarity. Heaving a sigh, chagrined at her own hysteria, she released the edge of the blackout curtain and turned away from the window, determined to find some more productive release for her over active mind when she heard from downstairs the front door to her apartment open and close. Standing in the darkened bedroom in the apartment where she lived by herself, she felt her throat and her stomach clench with fear, and then she heard footsteps on the stairs.   

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The painter

He painted with the door open. Evenings, when I returned home from work, I would pass his apartment and hear the sound of the brush on the canvas, that scruffing, whooshing sound. The faint scent of the paints and the oils tickled my nose. At first, I would shuffle past, too tired and preoccupied to care. Then one evening I allowed myself a peek, thinking of what I might say to excuse my trespass should he catch me, and found him in the throes of an artistic spell. He wouldn’t have known I was there even if I’d walked right into the room and sneezed. God knows I was tempted. To walk in, not to sneeze, but something held me back and I contented myself with watching silently.
The canvas he was working was huge, filling nearly half the room. How on earth did he even get it in here? How would he get it out?
The flickering aura of what must have been one hundred candles threw light and shadow across the walls in a flamenco like frenzy and on top of it all was the sound of the stiff bristled brush hitting the gessoed surface of the canvas. There was a softly lilting piece of violin music weaving in and around the sounds of the brush and the shuffle of his bare feet on the floor, the thick old canvas cloth under foot to protect the the old wood flooring bunching and flipping as he danced from one stroke to the next. All of this was enough to mesmerize me, but the aspect that truly kept me spellbound was his face. His age was difficult to guess, 30’s, older?  Tall and lithe, long legged, shirtless and shoeless, his shoulder muscles bunched and moved under his skin as his arms flew, working in the paint, swishing or pushing the brush, stabbing at the canvas, then caressing it gently, masterful in his manipulation of the paint and where he wanted it to go. He was slender, the way someone who spends hours forgetting to eat for days at a time is slender, painting until he was spent, tumbling to sleep then starting again the next night. The candles lent a golden glow to his pale skin so that he looked like a slight, gilt dervish. His face was at once beautiful and brutal; it was the face of someone under the spell of his gift.  A man driven to nightly give birth to himself on canvas, helpless to ignore the desire to do something that set him far apart from the rest of the world,  someone who didn’t belong in my world in any case.
Long dark hair spilling onto his bare shoulders and down the length of his back in rippling waves, shining like onyx in the candlelight, or pushed back from a face rapt with focus. Dark brows rose in a straight line over deep dark eyes, bistre, shining and a little mad, fringed with long sooty lashes that threw shadows onto his cheeks in the shifting liquid-like flicker of the candles. A streak of cream paint that looked like ceremonial war paint across the planes of his face, his mouth, slightly parted, the quirk of a smile here, then the twist of a question, micro-expressions, as he would pause, step back and consider his next stroke. His hands were lovely. If his mind was merely a hostage to his gift, his hands were the master and I watched fascinated as they held the brush lightly, flipping it easily, reaching out to smudge here or there, or even place his palm flat on the surface and dash it back and forth, pulling the paint out from a line and feathering it into smoke or a jarring flurry of color. Smiling then falling back into his trance.

I found the joy of watching him so alluring that I now stopped every night after work on my way to my own apartment and allowed myself to fall into the trance with him, finding myself swaying in tandem with his movements, his dance becoming familiar with nightly viewing. The rhythm and whoosh, flurry of motion and stillness, washing away every disappointment or dull echo from my own day, lulling me into a meditation of wonder and burgeoning desire. The smells of paint, of smoke and wax underlying all of it, weaving a spell in my senses.  We were Echo and Narcissus, me worshipping him from the behind the wood, he spellbound and unaware of my yearnings. I found I wanted very much to see the painting evolve, what would it be, how did he know what it would be? Did he simply start painting every night and let it flow as it would, or was there a master plan? I found I needed to know what it would become. Night after night I stood, the voyeur to his vision, silent and still, an audience of one.
Slowly, something began to emerge; I could see limbs, motion, the suggestion of bodies entwined.  Curiouser and curiouser said Alice.

I was asked to work out of town for a week, and while I was thrilled at the chance to prove my mettle to the hospital, I found myself dismayed at the interruption of my evening ritual. But medicine is a competitive field and opportunity is opportunity, so I packed my bags and boarded my flight. Returning home I found myself growing breathless with the thrill of seeing the painter, my body rigid in the cab, leaning forward as though to speed the driver faster, faster, the urge to reunite with my secret obsession nearly overwhelming me. Pay the driver, grapple with my bags and up the steps to the landing to find the doorway to another life, strains of Vivaldi and that golden glow wreathing everything in a fairytale splendor, taking me to somewhere magical, somewhere not mundane, not my life, but his. Quietly I crept to his door, my bags abandoned on the landing, breath coming in quick deficient bursts, I pulled my coat tight around me in apprehension, pressed against the doorway and lifted my eyes to the painting. I let out a long gasp as I found myself looking on a painted tableau of my own face, head thrown back, eyes slitted in pleasure under the press of his lips against my neck, his hair on the canvas spilling across our bodies, glowing riotously in the candlelight, our arms and legs entwined, my gown a sumptuous golden froth crusted with pearls and blazing rubies, flowers strewn all around us where we lay, their profusion so great I could almost smell them from the hallway. The tension in the painting was palpable, the electricity of attraction of the couple on the canvas sending waves of sizzle to anyone viewing it. The shock of seeing my secret captured in oil in such a fashion nearly made my knees buckle and I stumbled back several steps until my back hit the wall, my hands to my burning cheeks. Helpless to look away, I stood, heart beating like a hammer in my chest, and then, out of the shadows he stepped. Looking for all the world like a vision from my subconscious, a wry, mischievous intelligence glowing in his eyes, and a beckoning satyr’s smile on his lips.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Am I turning into someone I'm not?

The view from where I stood.

Some weeks are difficult not just because of the effort and the work they require, but because they throw everything you've been moving toward into question. Not an epiphany, more like an antiphany. A "this is everything that I don't want." Those are actually harder to swallow than plain everyday disappointments, especially if you've moved steadily in one direction with purpose. So you find yourself thinking you've erred, and erred terribly. Have I ignored the real me, mistaken myself for someone else? Have I sought security at the risk of any chance of satisfaction? Of freedom? I don't know what I feel right now, and I'm bothered. I will be 54 soon, and I STILL haven't found a way to make a life for myself in any real capacity, and still retain my passion for rising in the morning. Is it really only a choice of prison or starvation? Today, I feel a little defeated. I don't quit easily, but I'm in crisis. Where do I belong? What the hell can I do to feel that I've made reasonably correct life choices and feel enough passion to grow in that direction? What am I missing, what clue? Or am I so unable to know anything about myself that all I'm capable of doing is stumbling around in the dark? But, my gut is telling me what it's telling me, and I suppose I'll have to give it due attention.

Am I on the wrong path?

I took a walk out in the sun, put my feet on the soil in search of some sort of magic, mystery made of grass and loam and soil and seeds. I listened to what the wind whispered, but feel no more enlightened than I did before I struck out into sunlit solitude. I feel marginally better, so that's not nothing. I took photos of the beautiful West Virginia landscape, a lovely place even in the dusk of winter, a month before spring begins to assert itself. I've always felt the ghosts of something moving openly across the spaces here and seek them out willingly. But I've never been afraid of ghosts, have I? It's the living and breathing that chill my soul.

It's kind of buggy out here...

A melancholy meander