Tuesday, September 6, 2011

At a Loss

What I Learned From Grandma
[Originally written August 10, 2011; excerpted in a remembrance of Betty Louise Wilson McRobbie at her funeral August 30, 2011, also her 90th birthday.]
Despite our shared cloud of confusion, desperation and knowingly final moments, Grandma showed me today flashes of hope and of the special bond we've shared for three decades. Grandma reminded me -- even in this fleeting, hazy, bittersweet day -- of the many things she's taught me both by example and by more indirect methods in our years together. Here is what I learned from Grandma.
I learned money is stupid. It doesn't come with you, so put enough away to keep your family comfortable, and spend the rest with reckless abandon on things that make those you love happy.
I learned you get more "nice" from others when you start by being nice to them.
I learned every soul has a novel's worth of good stories to tell.
I learned you never stop fighting for love. she loves us, and she's fighting to stay with us as I write this.
I learned dousing all food in copious amounts of salt and butter after cooking said food for far too long is the only way to make it taste "good." I have since learned that this is categorically untrue.
I learned the true meaning of forgiving and forgetting. You have to choose to forgive, and once you truly have, the forgetting follows naturally.
I learned how to choose and apply makeup -- though fortunately I separately learned how to scale it back a tad.
I learned the best Christmas presents are so meaningful that they make the recipient cry.
I learned the importance of the companionship of pets, even the weird or broken ones.
I learned that, given over to the proper storyteller, memories never die, but become a vibrant, living piece of life every day.
I learned that missing even one hour of the time I've had with my grandmother over the years would make me so much poorer. She deserves credit for any shred of success, by any measure of the concept, I will ever have.
I learned the greatest gift truly is, as the old song says, to love and to be loved.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Great Write Whale

Not sure if you've noticed, but I haven't written in a while. And it isn't just here, it's anywhere. I just plain haven't written in a while. Or thought about writing, or had an original and/or interesting idea for a topic. So after some deep, highly psychological self-evaluation (which is what I call incessant nagging from the husband), I decided to do something about it.

I discovered a book in the library that is meant to inspire the short story writer whose creative synapses have gone limp. It has a series of "exercises" meant to "inspire" the would-be writer. So far, I find it quite touchy-feely and it's difficult to get too far in the book at a time because you need eyes to read (unless your book is in braille, which mine is not), and my eyes are too busy rolling at the author's "suggestions" to get much reading done. But, it's what I have for now, and maybe it's worth a shot.

Therefore, in efforts to rid myself of crippling writer's block, I am starting the Great Write Whale experiment. On this humble little blog, I will post my exercises as I go through the book. Let me assure you now, what you are about to read is unlikely to be polished, or good, or even interesting. But think of it like watching, I don't know, Peyton Manning play football. (I don't care if you don't like football, just roll with the analogy. It's all I've got right now.) When Peyton's at his best -- his mind is sharply calling the plays at crunch time, his throws all are right on target, that sort of thing -- he's quite interesting to watch. Not so much when he's in the locker room lifting weights or running around the field warming up. Especially not when he first gets out of bed in the morning and is stretching and yawning and his breath probably stinks and he's a normal guy. That's me right now; as far as I'm concerned, this writing is me stretching. Well, more like yawning. And my figurative breath is probably a little foul. When I'm ready to get on the field, I'll alert the publishing companies.

Anyway, I'm not going to bother telling you the details of whatever exercise the book asks me to do, I'm just going to write. And if it's really that bad, blame the muse, not the writer.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Feeling

Ages passed. Countries crumbled. Gods fell and new deities arose. Planets collided on their courses and gasses blended to form new worlds, new galaxies.

At least that’s what it felt like.

And then she finally reached the end of the isle, where he was. And oh, the feeling.

Looking in his calm cerulean eyes, she had the sort of sensation those who have returned from the brink of death describe; her heart swelled with the overwhelming emotion of every time he had said “I love you,” broke with pain of each argument, soared with the joy of every memory they had shared. All of it, every little detail of every day since he came into her life flashed before her eyes in fractions of a second as he clenched her hands as much to steady her as to draw her into his own similar surge of emotion. And oh, the feeling.

After that, the words didn’t matter. The guests didn’t matter. The flowers, the music, the d├ęcor, the worries, the tensions, the tears, all dissipated into the ether of those two happy spirits saying once and for all to one another, yes, this is my joy, the fulfillment of my heart’s deepest wish -- a wish that lay dormant and that I never hoped to understand but that made itself overwhelmingly evident right now, right here, in this very second. And she realized in that moment, this is what happiness feels like. Yes, she was, finally, happy.

And oh, the feeling.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The first anniversary is paper

Vulnerable, fleeting, temporary
Why is this chosen for us to represent our first year of marital love?

Burned, disintegrated, faded
All that is formed on it can so quickly and effortlessly cease to exist.

And is that not what happens to so many within a year of love?

Romance, friendship, tenderness
All evaporate into nothingness, become another pool of vapor in the ether of the human experience.

But this is not us, is it my love?

Ideas, imagination, impetus
All channeled through simple paper

Declarations, letters, books, diaries, songs
All changing societies, hearts, lives, history.

Paper has power. As do we.

Paper, paper, thin little piece of me that is not me.
You hear my ideas.
You fuel my imagination.
You are the impetus for anything good or beautiful that this humble soul produces. The freedom that allows an idea to…be.

You and I will no longer be one day. But for the time I am here, I will record this work of genius that fate or nature or the gods have created between us.
This creation, this love, this will go on.

More than words, pictures, symbols
All these are the image, not the idea

Take the paper.
Let it be beautiful.
Let it be genius.
Let it be the foundation and reflection of the substance and the history.

The first anniversary is paper

Friday, June 26, 2009

NYC - March 2008

A Remembrance of New York City:

The view from the air of a city falling into the Atlantic
Icicles clinging to the underbelly of a Central Park footbridge
The bright white, lighting crack of a Subway train on an elevated track

The charm of a bohemian brunch
The offensive taste of grilled greens on a sandwich
The pungent and exotic aroma of mingling, lingering colognes in the back of a yellow cab

The neon glow of an eager Yankee Stadium two days before Opening Day of the final season
The music and message of West 44th Street – “Why you gotta go, right when it was starting to feel real?”
The garish and near-comical murals and chandeliers of Tavern on the Green

Park Avenue nannies loving their paychecks’ children
Angry strings of Spanish insults to the backbeat of muffled techno music
A middle-aged man and his 9-year old son debating best picks for the Mets as ferociously as some would debate a war in Iraq

The warmth and safety of an old friend’s embrace
The disappointment and heartbreak of a new friend’s stoicism
The smiles and striking kindness surfacing in the most unexpected places

I won’t remember it all, but I will remember what moved me, and that will be why I came.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Fatherless Child

I just came across a picture of him; I wonder if the brains of Google know or care about the Pandora’s Box of emotional chaos they’ve opened for me.

It’s so strange. He had a thick mustache in every picture I’ve seen of him, although to be fair, I’ve only seen one picture taken on an occasion other than his marriage to my mother. The first two decades of my life were spent not trusting men with mustaches (my apologies to my father in law for any first impressions I had based on that fact). He’s shaved it now. He has pale skin and white hair, but looks intelligent and wealthy which, based on his title and resume, I imagine he must be. I keep scanning this tiny one inch by one inch picture, looking at this complete stranger for any sign of myself. Are those my cheeks? My eyes? My smile? I can’t tell if they are or if I feel obligated to claim them, as if to prove to my subconscious that yes, indeed, I do have a biological tie to this man.

I often wonder if It would have been easier had he been a drug addict, a merchant marine, a travelling salesman, a criminal in and out of jail. Something to excuse his absence. Would it effect him at all to know that nearly every day I’ve asked myself what I did that was so wrong that for more than a quarter of a century he’s had nothing to do with me? I never met the man, though he met me. I couldn’t speak then, my brain wasn’t yet developed enough, how could I have offended him? Does he ever think of me? Does he wonder about me? Does he ever wish he had done something differently? Do people change?

I dreamt about him, just once. The summer after I graduated high school, when so much was changing. It was so vivid. I stood on the sidewalk leading up to his Beverly Hills home (which really does exist). I took a deep breath, brushed the wrinkles out of my skirt. Smoothed my curly hair. It was warm out – I could feel the sun on my head. I walked up the path and knocked on the door – why do you think I didn’t use the doorbell? A woman answered. Standard wealthy, middle-aged L.A. woman. More sophisticated than the average past-her-prime Barbie doll, though. Nothing like my mother, but I didn’t expect anything different. Politely as I could, I said hello, my name is Heather, I wonder if I might have a moment to speak with Mr. ------. Can you imagine? Calling your father Mr. So and So? Trust me, it’s an odd feeling. He came to the door then, khakis, polo shirt. I remember hoping, in all seriousness, that I wasn’t keeping him from a golf game. He didn’t invite me in, just said yes?

I said many years ago you were married to a woman named Bonnie, and you had a daughter. I’m your daughter, and my name is Heather. The words sounded weak, though I said them confidently, and I could almost see them falling on the stoop below me as they left my mouth, making a high-pitched rattling sound as they struck the pavement. I looked at him, making my face as frank and earnest and I’m-not-looking-for-anything-more-than-a-conversation-ish as I could.

He said And? And shut the door.

That was the dream.

Every time I hit another milestone, I think I’m going to try to meet him. When I graduate high school. When I graduate college. When I get a good job. When I get married. When. When. When. I don’t think I know how to start.
Well, I’ve accomplished all those things now. I’m proud of myself. I’ve accomplished so much without him (or any other family, in the traditional sense). I have friends and a husband, all of whom I love very much. I neither expect nor want anything from him. Now, I’m just curious.

In college I saw a counselor briefly who only had one sentence of advice – no matter what the problem: You should meet your father. I broke up with my boyfriend. You should meet your father. My mother doesn’t love me. You should meet your father. I’m not sure what to do with this physics degree. You should meet your father. I’ve always been fascinated with sword swallowers, I think I’m going to give up on this college thing and join the circus. Yeah, you know, the 21st century travelling circus. Oh, and I’m going to take lots of drugs. And have lots of sex. With strangers. Oh, and maybe murder a few people, you know, just because I’m a drug-taking, sword-swallowing, slutty sociopath with not much better to do. What do you think? You should meet your father.

Well, I had other priorities at the time.

I wish I could gather all the fathers who love their children together at once. I would say thank you. Thank you for the tears you bring to my eyes when I see you playing with your baby at the park. Thank you for writing those checks when Junior runs a little short of funds at college. Thank you for working your ass off to put food on the table and a nice roof over their heads, even though it means you missed out on their actual lives. Thank you for the days you nagged, the days you disciplined, the days you hugged. I don’t know what those hugs feel like, but I’m sure they must be only a breath shy of Heaven. Thank you for going to the school plays, the recitals, the graduations. Thank you for picking the kids up from school, and then later, the airport. I know you’re not perfect. The kids know that. You know that. But you tried. However short you fell, thank you for trying. On this one, I’m going to go ahead and say an A for effort counts.

So, I’m thinking maybe now I’ll meet him. We’re all getting older, it’d be good to satisfy the curiosity before any of us kick the bucket. I don’t expect anything from him; Facebook indicates he has other daughters, so I doubt he noticed my absence much, but maybe he’s curious too. I don’t want money, I don’t want a friend, I don’t want to play catch with him or curl up in his lap and fall asleep or dance with him at the wedding already past. I just want to know. I don’t want to wonder anymore. And whatever happens, happens, and I will go on, as I have before, and I will live my life proudly, intelligently, and fiercely independently, attributes I may not have had without his role in my life, or lack thereof. I do not feel slighted, I do not feel owed anything, I do not feel terribly damaged. But I’m aware of the Missing Person in my life, and I’m aware of the effects that Missing Person has had. So I think I’ll roll the dice, and remove the “Missing” from his title. May they land where they do, and may I take my fate in stride.

I hope he doesn’t mind. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll leave the door open this time.