When I realized I was alone for the first time in a while, here in my sisters Dixie and Charlotte's house, I actually started laughing with glee! It's such a nice place. Compared to the amount of space we'd been living in in San Diego, it's a positive mansion, though it's far cozier with two bedrooms, two baths and two big living rooms and a great kitchen and dining nook and computer room (where I sit now with the door open and everyone home, Dixie busy with Chili Mac). The front yard's comforting and flowing with flowers; the back yard's full of lively little dogs at play. It's the kind of place a deer might appear any given morning. Just to sit next to the window and smile and know I am loved and trusted in this place and I'm free to work on anything I enjoy? Wow, take a walk and run over the story I've just been hired to do for a friend? And eat anything in this fridge? And the Replacements are back together and my friend April Star Davis, the jewelry crafter, has posted their set list for three shows? I literally couldn't squeeze in everything I could enjoy---I had my guitar out practicing, too---and it turns out the Sisters were having a fun time with a couple of girl friends, at Traci's place. I would've had fun no matter what I did that day. This one time, being alone and welcome was precious beyond measure. It set the tone for this visit, too. I have a room full of people to socialize with, and a healthy list now unpacked and progressing.
A heartbreaking and tender story may have heartbreak and memories of joy, but its truth resonates even as the next story that will come true begins to do so.
What has come to me is that we are here to directly share in some of the heartbreak of our loved ones, more directly.
It's wonderful to have a chance to make art and try to shine lights into these lives, yet sometimes we are simply called upon to understand and take some share of a common pain. Depressing as some stories are, sometimes people just need to talk to you about what's happened, what they lost, who they miss having at hand to love. While they are being here for us, we're here to be there for them, too. All of them still have good moments, good memories left to make, too, and that's so much of what I want to do here!
The quiet of my father's birthday
Other pieces of story telling inspiration---of living in my own, real life's story--- came together on my dad's birthday.
I was so excited, the first two weeks or so we were back in town, I couldn't sleep more than four hours at a time, for anything! Going to sleep and waking with daydreams, plans that needed to be pushed forward with research or practice, and some bright fantasies that just maybe could come true---thoughts that are meant to be some comfort and make life better, regardless.
It was the potential of everything, you know: yes, no real face on a lot of things yet, still getting the lay of the land, but our hopes and the sense of family were everything. How much we can inspire, how much good we can keep doing for ourselves and encourage in others as they are ready (and that's the big thing: when people aren't ready for a change, they don't find the energy for it, because why bother?). Plus, there's so much I wanted to accept, to experience, in them and in our surroundings, just as they are. I wanted to watch the Waltons with Mom and Project Runway with Dixie, do some of their things with them, listen to them. It's really only myself and the changes I've tried to take on and keep that require my attention; it's tricky not getting lost in them, while still participating and appreciating them and what we could do. That's why I went to my Mom's rec center and ended up doing karaoke with the senior citizens while she shot pool! It's taken me to church many times now. I walked outside on Gayle Way, remembering all the imaginary stories I put together walking that one piece of road, or that place in the trees behind the house, still playing, in a way. I just wanted to enjoy the peace of thinking out on a road aside from the highway, in front of a house I felt at home in, again, like those years before. I found the activity a pleasant surprise. I used it to re-assess my hopes of bringing joy tomorrow at lunch, of helping my truly heart broken people feel motivated about their health again. I realize when I tell my story, I'll have to tell theirs, too, or they wouldn't be leaning on me. There's a lot of love story in there, too, so I'll have a lot more to pick from than I did in the days when my focus suddenly narrowed on Angela and Kaya Ba-Doom, re-centering my imaginative universe.
I will feel so much anxiety if I don't do the Cease ill things, but I wanted to open up and spend time with these people, and hopefully more, now that we're back in the neighborhood. I don't want my pursuits to be all talk, and they need dedication in order to grow, but we human beings have more to offer of ourselves than simply our talents. In fact, it could just be a matter of time until more friends come along!
And what then?
The agony of pulling apart from all these people is the backside of the dream of finally going overseas.
It's always a field of possible disappointments, and many happy moments that will reward us all later with some sadness. We can only try to really tuck away as many good times as we can, and keep on the look out for what's best as days go by.
I didn't come home to my Dad, this time, and I never will again in this life, except in thoughts and memories of him. I dug into the pictures he kept with Mama, though, as she took them out of the closet to make space. I was so tired, but there's only so many days quite like that one! I wanted to bring back times when we were all younger, with us. Just let me bring a good time with me wherever I go somehow, you know?
So, I dug out a Ronnie Milsap song I loved as a boy, and an Elvis song, and a Hank Williams song, and some Dolly Parton. I found out Mom really doesn't stay home much during the day, but there were a couple of days of Seventies Country Music over the TV, and I so looked forward to challenging my music skills with songs my Mom, my in-laws, and my cousins would love! Anything could still turn out to be a big time, at that point. I tried not to put too much pressure on us, but for days there we were putting together the biggest cookout possible, to have a really big crowd. It was at least a precious dream to have for a while, seeing the faces of those I invited, picturing us all out there at Lock and Dam. I wanted to bring a real sense of festival to this sleepy place! I wanted too to embrace all these forgotten pieces of happiness from my youth.
So, things have finally had a few chances to fall beneath such idyllic expectations. At least now I'm sleeping straight through! But the high of all these possible mini-dreams that preceded getting to work on them in earnest deserves some artifact, some verbal talisman that can conjure again for me in the future the thought that I could be so very happy, and maybe avoid noticing the dreams that had been swept aside. I really do have to have some quiet moments to empty my mind, though.
I would have liked to spent that time happily having dinner with Dad and doing something he liked, but it now must be done with his memory and spirit. It was already to deal with, passing a day that would be so special with me, Mom, Dad, and hopefully Debra, Angela of course if me, and other friends of theirs. Some of the others who celebrated before are not quite at hand anymore, too, through death or other social separation. Dad's old plans and charms and discussions are gone now, and somehow they seemed to be the deeper bond that made at least some of Mom's friendships possible. She's put together a busy little retired social routine herself in the effort to keep living, to keep things interesting, while being true to her nature. I gave Mom extra hugs and was glad to be around her on Dad's birthday, though. She granted me a particular request: to finally go back to his graveside for the first time.
He isn't there, as she says. For her, who spent thirty five years by his side every day, that makes a very real difference. It's okay if that place is more empty of him than her home they shared for eight years, her memories, her children. Because of her generosity, I would have a chance to sit and use that place, that grave site, for a while: to make some time just be all about him. All about me and him.
I was admittedly a little sad, as is the case when loved ones are together and can't celebrate the day in the conventional sense with the person to whom the day seems it should belong. I enjoyed talking to my Uncle Roger, who even tried to clue me in on a job lead with the fair in Calhoun. He just asked me to stop by and tell his brother "hello, and I love him and think of him!"
I felt a bit miserable that we'd be sharing the graveside visit with my cousin and his wife, who I thought would be there to wander off track without reverence, but I told Mom okay, I'd manage. It was the first real sorrow I'd felt since we moved from California. I sent a picture of a flower to the one person with whom I'd just lost those few corrosive moments a day, being angry. She sent one back. I was surprised! I didn't think she'd even find that carnation. It was good to feel there was peace between us, even if we couldn't simply pick up with the love we thought we shared. I told her I was visiting Dad's grave on his birthday. I'm not surprised she didn't know what else to say. I wonder if she realizes the significance of a carnation, versus a rose. But then, a carnation was all it took to begin truly winning the love of my life!
So we picked up my cousin, and he didn't disappoint me with his funny, shallow theories on different traits of ourselves and life. I didn't hesitate to tell him the Ironclad nation mentioned in the Biblical book of Daniel wasn't necessarily Russia and the precipice of a present apocalypse, and he and his wife discussed road kill and how his sister and her rapscallion kids are doing, but I felt at peace now.
So, visiting this place Mom rarely visits, we spent an hour, walking the hillside. Yes, I think if we'd paid more attention to her hint we would've stuck to a smaller area, but we spread out, as if by compulsion. At some point, I stood there and thought: "I really loved her, Dad." If our talk of dreams did not come true, you can only imagine what it was like for Mom. I am glad she went on so many trips with him after Deb and I moved out. Who knew he'd die at 59? They looked forward to traveling the whole country in an RV-type camper. Even years after the fact, such heartbreak must be acknowledged and one must move on. Perhaps it's not so bad a thing now to have someone to share various stories of Dad, though I often wonder why Mom likes to recall the siliest ones. She is definitely someone who loves an old-fashioned laugh, and can remember the minutest of details when they tickle her.
It's not the easiest thing I suppose to go hang out next to your own grave marker. I was grateful to Mama she did this for me.
What can I tell you of my memories there? I sat before his grave, we took pictures, and I finally quietly waved away my cousin in the middle of an off-topic question just so I could sit with Dad. Mom suggested we simply take out the worn cloth flowers and leave the one, to take in a little water and remain a while. I honestly don't know that anyone will visit there that knew Dad, before that flower fades. Outside of funerals, graveyards are pretty lonely places. I sat there and thought of going camping with him, hugging him and even kissing him until I was, I thought, too big a boy to bestow such sweet sentimental gestures upon my pop, who really deserved such affection. I guess I was starting to change in my idea of what a kiss should be by then, but by remembering when I felt I had outgrown the kiss, I also realized we all three must have hugged and kissed him good night often. I do know our childhoods were very happy times for my Dad. He had his struggles, too, but he also had the reassurance that he felt he was doing the right thing, at some point. When given the chance, he, too, came home, to my mother's people, to work at Shannon Supply Hardware Store (and Dot's Variety). For Dad, it was a way to settle down. He felt God's mercy and would testify in church with such earnest tenderness. He even taught my Sunday School a few times. He's the one who really gave me the dream of owning my own business, being my own boss. He's the one who taught me to drive, who took me to the spa to work out and chill out in the sauna and whirlpool. My Dad helped me get all three of my first cars in succession. He couldn't guess what to do with a person of my supposed potential upon graduation, but he'd always guaranteed he'd whoop my ass if I quit high school. Ha, in fact, a memory of an actual spanking he gave me brought a smile to my lips.
What a great Dad he was. I'm glad I told him. I never did enough for him. I understand why people love the afterlife so. I understand why people want a Heaven in which to see such a loved one again.
With all these desires to embrace my old life in Georgia, no wonder I chose so many songs from my life with him, the songs I listened to as Mom and Dad's son.
There has been one gift I could really give him, on his birthday and often nowadays. In addition to honoring his spirit, I could bless the woman he loved.
Time with my Mom. Her spirited nature, sometimes ornery, her giving, her laughter, her same story in the same words, her Republican Christian Conservative trip and her inner wild woman. She's got some really funny stories, my Mom.
The joy we've brought her would really make Dad happy. Yes, it's not really the massive success and impressive paycheck that people need from you, so often. It's really, "will you spend time with me?"
So, we laugh. We play her favorite board game, Pollyanna, and she tells us story after story about the people she used to play this game with, all now since passed away. But they live again, and she, too, revisits being a little girl, as we engage in sarcastic taunting, root for each other to get good dice rolls, decide whether or not to send each other home and take the extra ten spaces.
There are days I just don't quite know how we're going to leave her again one day, even for our dreams.
It turns out, having been caught by life and sent home, there's plenty of people to root for us to get out (on sixes, of course) and have a good roll.