Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adios al Verano

From my desk in our homely house at the northwest edge of the country, I can see the setting sun burning orange into an archipelago of clouds scattered above the horizon. The neighbor lady has rolled her week’s worth of trash and recycling to the curb for Monday pick up. Tomorrow, I say goodbye to another summer. Parents and kids? You have another week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Custodians of Memory

I just got off the phone with Sis. Hard times for her lately. Mom continues to lose touch with her ability to behave appropriately, and Sis is bearing the brunt.

Four years ago Mom moved into a retirement community near Sis, into a wing called Comfort Cove, where they keep the ones who are losing their minds more quickly than most.

Of course, there has been deterioration. Through it all, though, Mom has remained almost always sweet, babbling goodnaturedly, and often touched with amusement. Lately, however, her occasional feistiness has begun to turn belligerent, angrily confused and ranting.

It was BFF's suggestion I send Sis a card. I wrote her a message, letting her know that I thought she was everything to Mom that a good daughter should be, and more. (It was Sis's care for Mom that an in-law had questioned, and that had occasioned today's tearful call to me.) I told Sis that she would always have my appreciation and respect for the blessing she was giving.

When I got through to Mom on the phone she spoke aimlessly, listlessly. Aimlessness is expected; she has great difficulty voicing a complete sentence that makes sense in the context of a conversation. She relies on stock phrases that she repeats quite often. She conflates me and and my dead dad.

Listlessness must be the effect of the Ativan she's now taking for anxiety. It was upsetting to not hear vitality in her voice--the sweet essence of our mom that has always shone through the hazy maze of her mind.

I kept repeating that I loved her, what a sweetheart and what a good mom she was, until she thought it was time to go.

Mom and Sis live on the opposite coast. I was last there in April. I used to go once a year. I'm feeling that I don't want to wait that long to see them again.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I don't remember
Why it was
I put all that Vicodin
In the glove compartment
Of my car.
But I'm glad I found it.

What happens next? Check out That Ought To See Us Out blog. Or better yet, finish the poem yourself and send it in as a comment.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Traditonal Summer Holiday

My daughters and I have a tradition of taking a summer camping holiday. We haven't made it every year the past decade or so, but most. This year we went to Mt. Rainier. Oh, the joy!

Three moments stand out:

First daughter and I walk along Sourdough Ridge, stopping to admire the views and wildflowers. She waits patiently as I pose scenery into pictures. We have time and place to appreciate together both our love of nature, and our pleasure in scuffhuffling up and down this rocky spine.

Second daughter follows me in creating balanced sculptures from among the river rocks. It’s something I have done for years, happily addicted to the tactile stimulation of the stones’ grain and heft. Add to that the concentration required to make subtle shifts to maintain balance...all while in a land of shattering beauty and vastness. What’s not to love?

After dinner I make a perfect fire. As the air turns chill, we chat until darkness seems to have suddenly developed around us. My daughters are separated by ten years and different mothers, but share a love of S’mores. They compare marshmallow roasting strategies while I facilitate. The crackling of the fire, the moving glow it throws on the wall of my tent, and mumble of their quiet, good-natured talk give comfort as I read myself to sleep.

“My daughters and I…” never rings truer than during these outings. It’s a good tradition.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

History 101

A week ago, an old friend, a high school girlfriend, happened to pass by in the ethernet and we ended up sharing what had been happening in our lives during the last twenty-five years or so. This is a slightly re-worked version of what I wrote to her:

My current, future and final wife and I first met about a quarter century ago in an arty bar downtown. It was, for both of us, love at first sight. Our first date a week later ended up lasting four or five days. She called in sick to work--"love-sick," we joked.

At that time I was living in a surplus elementary school that had been turned into a commune for less-than-successful artists. (A fellow communard had been dressed as a gypsy, telling fortunes, that night in the back of the bar.) We each made our living and studio quarters out of a classroom or two. My connection to the place was directing a couple of the resident dancers in a street performance that became popular the year before. My work for pay at that time, and for many years before and after, was as a self-employed gardener.

My second wife and I had been divorced for several years, and she had moved into another room at the school. We split custody of our 5-year-old daughter. During the half week she was with me, I lived at the school and took care of her. The rest of the time, I stayed with my lover in her apartment.

I remember standing outside her door at the beginning of our weekly sojourn, holding a bouquet of freesias; I could hear her exclaiming, “Oh boy,” as she came down the hall to let me in. In every way that matters we were and are, nearly perfectly suited for each other. We felt blessed, and for karmic payback we both volunteered as end-of-life caretakers for several people afflicted with AIDS.

She had a master’s degree from a prestigious university writing program, and had lived and worked in artists’ colonies in New York and California. She was working on a novel; her day job was coordinating temp help at a big law firm. At the end of that first summer—this was the mid-80’s—she spent several weeks in Guatemala doing research and writing.

We lasted together for two years. Living the bifurcated life, which was the only one that seemed possible, became too difficult, and we did not give enough credit to the love we had found together. Fights became more frequent and dramatic, until, when I thought it was finally over, I killed it for good by having a fling. She made it clear she didn’t ever want to see
me again.

Back at the schoolhouse commune, a female glass artist moved in next door and began flirting. I was flattered, drug-addled, and responded accordingly. A faulty rubber was credited with the birth of my second daughter. Using a sledgehammer, I broke open a doorway between our rooms, the three and a half of us now sharing both spaces.

Bowing to her father’s insistence that we cement our nascent family’s togetherness, we got
married in a more or less Jewish ceremony held on the stage. Guests gathered to view a strange kind of school assembly, among massive concrete heads of 18th century Transcendentalists being fabricated by a sculptor friend in this, his studio and living space.

I continued gardening, and, after displaying my chops in a quixotic theatrical venture (see Il Teatro Pescatore blog), worked as a hired hand for the local puppet cartel. I spent a lot of quality time with our little over-the-top craving girl—a quality that would bear some bitter fruit in later years. First daughter continued being a model child, with quirky sleepwalking and aura-perceiving habits that were also harbingers of trouble ahead.

The glass artist changed her focus and began making good money selling a line of arty nightlights. We got a divorce. The settlement was contentious, but we shared custody. The door was sealed and the wall made whole again. For the next several years it was just my part-time girls and me.

Meanwhile, I was invited to, first, a regional, and then an international, though locally staged, puppetry festival. The exposure garnered an invitation for Il Teatro Pescatore to yet another performance event, prestigious but further away. It was a tough decision not to attend, but I didn’t want to give up hands-on fatherhood by going down that road, especially in an unreliable vehicle. The sun had set on the traveling theater adventure.

Still paying the bills with pruning shears and clippers, my creative attention turned to storytelling as I began a new relationship that moved me out of the commune to a place not far away on a shady dead-end street. Second daughter made fairy shrines along the creek below our little house.
First daughter won a scholarship to a small private college in eastern Washington State.

During our increasingly frequent fights, my lover would retreat to the attic and bunk among
the boxes. It was crazy. However, as we floundered, fought, and eventually--thankfully--separated, the storytelling became increasingly popular at libraries and schools. Instead of the four or five street people who wandered in and out of ITP’s tent, I was emoting to hundreds of appreciative kids and their parents.

In the last few years of the twentieth century my girls and I began a tradition of spending a summer week or more vacationing with a California man and his daughter.
Our felicitous first meeting was by chance at Yellowstone where our campsites adjoined. First daughter was old enough to appreciate, as did I, his witty and erudite ramblings. Second daughter and the California girl were exactly the same age and a perfect match of opposites.

Next year, they joined us on the Olympic Peninsula. The following summer we met them on their turf at King’s Canyon. On the way down we passed through Ashland, Oregon, and memories of my one-and-only came flooding in. We had spent several idyllic vacations there and had fantasized about settling in that theater town. I could not get the thought of her out of my mind, even—especially—after the girls and I returned home.

It’s not as if I had never thought of her in all the time—more than a decade—since she sent me packing. On numerous walks with my friend John we would pass the two apartment houses where she and I had shared good times, and I would lament the loss of the ‘’love of my life.” Now, though, it was different; thoughts of her were with me nearly every moment. Weeks passed and I finally decided to get in touch with her again, but that would not be easy.