As an apprentice in the Arts, I was taught the same rules as my brothers and sisters at the Academy. There is no greater power than to know what the future holds. To know what is to come, what will be or what may be, to hold a person’s life in your hands – there is great power and great responsibility. For every vision a wizard sees, the wizard has a choice – to pluck from that vision the truth and to give the subjects of the vision a chance to change their fate, or to follow the darker path. The path of inaction – to see a death and do nothing. That is murder, according to the laws of my people. By those laws, I might as well have cast the ill-fated spell that ended my sister’s life.
Whew, it has been crazy busy in this Rambler’s world, and will be for the next few months, but I’m beginning to get a pattern down for this whole mom/writer/career person/wife/runner thing. I think. We’ll see what new ailment throws a wrench in my plans of productivity!
It’s funny, the things you can find when you sift through the backup files from various old computers. You can find old pictures that you thought you had lost. Half-finished notes, poems, a tidbit of an email you thought you might send before you thought the better of it, and just let it sit there.
Or, you can find a little document, only 24 pages in total, entitled simply “Open Letter.” It seemed innocuous enough, so I opened it. Six months of entries, here and there, some longer than others, but they all started the same.
The hurt, so far removed now, bled on the page.
In each letter, I danced and skirted around the words, like I still do. I couldn’t say “Dear Mom: It’s been eleven days since you died.” No, I couldn’t write those words. I thought it, I know I did. But my fingers wouldn’t type those words. It was always something like “since you found peace.” Since you passed. Since the light touched your face and I knew you were finally free.
Do I believe all of the above? Yes. I sincerely do.
When I bought flowers this past March 4th, do you know what I told the flower clerk? I told her I was looking for an arrangement for a particular friend, and the arrangement couldn’t have carnations. My friend hated carnations. I caught myself right after the lie slipped my lips. Why did I say that? Even I was confused at the time. I felt at peace when I was surveying the flowers, so why did I lie? Was it to avoid the expression of sympathy, the sadness, the tears? Or is my problem with the word itself? I felt silly correcting myself, especially since the look of sympathy was all the worse for the lie. *sigh*
Dead. You are dead. You died three years ago. Dead. There. I said it. More than once. It is just a word. Of course, most of you know me. I am silly and old fashioned. I know words shape us, as much as we sing and plug our ears with our fingers we know that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will forever scar us. Or mold us. We are the words we come to love or hate.
But really, I need to own this word. It cannot hurt me, to speak it, leave it, or lay it out in the open. So, for another installment in my open letter, I write the following:
March 20, 2013
It has been three years and sixteen days since I last held your hand, kissed your cheek, and laid next to you. I still miss you. The hurt is still there, but it no longer feels like a gaping empty vastness of all the things that might have or should have been. I see you now when I close my eyes and think about you. I don’t see the sickness, the illness, the pills, the morphine patches, the syringes full of liquid sustenance. The hurt and shame you tried to hide because you couldn’t face the fact that you needed someone else. I don’t see that anymore.
I don’t see your death. Or you dead.
I remember it, but more than anything, I remember you, Mom. I remember the Mom who hovered like a giant over me, who could protect me from anything. I remember the way you laughed with your whole soul, and I felt the world open up before me. I remember the walks and the banter and the singing, and the arguing. I remember the white-lipped look of rage you got when someone hurt one of your babies. It used to embarrass me, that look, because it invariably meant that someone was about to get a piece of your mind. And everyone in earshot was going to hear it.
A part of me couldn’t say the word “dead”, couldn’t really think it, because there’s that part of me that doesn’t believe you’re dead. I held you in my arms. I saw your chest fall that final time and I heard the release of your last breath. Yes, this is all true.
But in the corner of my eye, I still see glimpses of an almost six foot woman, close cropped graying hair, in a pink sweater. Sometimes she’s on a bike, sometimes just crossing the street, or picking up a piece of garbage on the side of the road, and I stop and take a second look. The woman is never you, but there’s often something so familiar in the scrunched shoulders and a look of hurt in her face. When I see her, I smile, because I feel you. I bet most of the women think they’re encountering a crazy lady, smiling at them as if she knows them, but you know what? To hell with ’em. Some of them, well, they smile back.
Literally speaking, you are dead by all modern concepts. I have your certificate of death. But much like the medieval period, there is factual truth, spiritual truth, and symbolic truth. And as St. Augustine once intimated (if memory serves me correctly, since it has been many years since I read De Civitate Dei), I do believe factual truth is the lesser of these truths. Why?
Because I still feel you in the earth, in the grass beneath my feet, in the wind, in the sun shining on my sweet daughter’s face, in the joy I feel when she points to the sky and yells “Buh! Buh! Buh!” at the passing birds. You are free. Free of all the hurt, guilt, pain and sadness you carried with you. You are free. I knew it when I saw your face relax, a smile tickle at the side of your mouth, and the pained look that I had seen on your face for so many years finally melt away. I saw that peace when you died.
And Mom? Wherever you are, there is one thing I do know for sure – you will always be with me. And I will always love you.
Your loving daughter, now and until the end of time,
So, I have two beta readers attacking, er, reading the current draft of Waking Dreams (WD). This is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. On the one hand, their thoughts and comments will most likely (1) enlighten me to all the things that seem so clear in my head, but maybe didn’t make it to the page; (2) perhaps identify any character or plot weaknesses; and (mostly) (3) Just give me perspective on the book from unbiased eyes. On the other hand, the whole process is terrifying as I wait to see just how awful people think it is…
But being me, I’ve already started mapping out my next project (with the tentative title “Shieldmaiden” or “Chooser” – I tend to wait until the work is done before I really decide on the title). You know the saying “Idle hands are the devil’s playground” – so, moving forward while I wait for my amazingly wonderful beta readers to slog through my draft.
And, since my thoughtful husband reminded me that I should probably begin mapping out my submission details for WD before rushing full throttle into Shieldmaiden/Chooser, I’ve started a laborious spreadsheet that includes all my agent research. After reading the 2012 Publisher’s guide (an absolute MUST), and selecting the agencies likely to be open to a work such as WD, I began my online research of those agencies. Holy crud. I have my work cut out for me. After a total of three hours, I have 6 agencies on my list, with all submission requirements, contact info, etc. My goal is to complete my list within the week, and then, by the end of February, begin sending queries. We’ll see how that goes!
So, thanks to the amazing When Mike Met Mariska post written by a friend (seriously, if you haven’t already visited it, I highly recommend Making it Up as I Go – all you parents will laugh, cry, and generally commiserate with the smart, funny, tongue-in-cheek Mariska), I realized I have not written much about how I met my husband, Nick. Most of my friends know the story because, heck, they were there. Or have had to endure Nick and I making cutesy faces at each other for the last 16 years.
Anyway, the first time I met Nick was in my Sophomore year at high school. He transferred into my Biology class. I remember sitting in the front row of Bio, reading my horror novel carefully hidden in the pages of the Bio book, hoping not to catch anyone’s attention. For some reason, Nick was up at the front of the classroom, chatting comfortably with the instructor laughing and holding a french horn case, with his impeccably straight hair running past his shoulders. He glanced at me with a quick smile – and all I could think was: “What a jackass.” I don’t know what offended me so immediately. Perhaps it was his confidence and his shiny perfect hair (as compared to my ragged, frizzy hair that I kept in a bun 90% of the time to hide its unruly nature). Given my extremely shy personality (mind you, at this point, I went by “Raven”, my hair was fading from dyed black, and I tended to wear combat boots and tight black jeans with turtle necks), I was prone to think anyone who called attention to himself was a jackass. Or maybe it was because he was talking so loudly that I couldn’t focus on my horror novel. In all honesty, it was probably his confidence that I found unsettling. Until I met Nick, I had never really known what it was like to talk freely.
Nick went on to be generally disruptive the rest of my bio class that year. He was always causing a ruckus and getting sent across the room by Mr. S. He would complain that it wasn’t his fault, that P was doing something horrific to him (I think hitting his knee through some kind of martial arts helmet was his complaint at one point), and he would voice this complaint from one side of the room to the other. The whole time I would think to myself “What a jackass… ” In retrospect, all I can think is that I was really horrible. I like to think I’m not judgmental, but scaredy-cat Raven was incredibly judgy. Especially when people interrupted her very precious reading time.
Of course, according to Nick, his recollection of me from Sophomore Bio was the chick in the black jeans with the nice ass. So, maybe on some level, I was right?
Flash forward to my Junior year. I was still petrified. I thought that by interacting with people, they would somehow see how weak, stupid, or generally lacking I was, so I spent most of my lunch period outside on the bleachers behind the school – you guessed it – reading. At some point, a group of guys headed by my friend and neighbor Stu descended on my bleachers, and forced me to put the book away. At first, I thought the whole thing was a coincidence. It was random chance that they had appeared on the bleachers to hang out. They had probably included me in their friendly banter just to be nice. When it became clear that my reading haven had become the hang out for Stu and his group of friends, I found a new place to hide. It took no time at all before they found me again. After one more location swap, I gave up trying to find new places to squirrel away and read. These guys made me laugh. And Nick, with his much shorter hair and easy smile, wasn’t nearly the jackass I thought he was.
At that point, these guys invited me almost wholly into their midst. I succumbed to new levels of nerd-dom I had never known existed. D&D, RPGs, Boffing, oh, how my nerd-dom grew!
On my “study” period, I would often roam the halls, thinking, daydreaming and trying to pass the time until my next class. At some point, I started running into Nick in the halls. Being the generally clueless hermit I was, I thought it was funny that Nick happened to roam the halls connecting to the IHS wing to South. Especially since he wasn’t enrolled in IHS. We would chat about, hell, I don’t know what. I just remember feeling really at ease with him. I never felt that awkwardness when you don’t really feel like you have anything to talk about with someone. I never felt like I had to pretend with him. He seemed to accept me as I was, not questioning how broken I might be on the inside.
Then there was role playing. A friend of ours ran a few RP games, and Nick was one of the frequent members. At one point, Nick came late to a session having jogged to the house from a martial arts test. He was bold and plopped himself right in front of where I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, announced he was tired, and laid his head in my lap. I was completely taken aback as he seemed to doze in my lap, and looked up at my other friends, who seemed just as startled as I was. Stu made a “WTF? Are you two an item?” gesture at me, at which I replied with a wild “Help! I don’t know what to do!” gesticulation. This was apparently hilarious. But it was the start of something amazing.
Within a few days, I received a telephone call. Mind you, I didn’t give my telephone number lightly, so not many people had it. You can imagine my surprise when my mom told me it was Nick who had it, who had apparently gotten it from another friend. He had been holding onto my phone number for weeks, apparently, picking up the phone, before his nerves died and he placed the phone back on the receiver. Our friends were apparently ready to kill him, they were so tired of hearing about me from him. So, he gave in and called me. We talked for about 4-6 hours, until we both almost lost our voices and Nick’s mom came down and found him still on the phone well after midnight. Then, he quickly asked if I would like to see him. Just him. He asked if he could pick me up, and terrified, I said I would rather walk. I didn’t want him to come to my house and see how poor I was. He would maybe meet my mom, and depending on her mood, she would either seem lively, vibrant and funny, or terrifying, unpredictable, and intimidating. So, I walked to his house. When I got there, he commented on my medallion. He attempted to pick it up several times and kept fumbling and dropping it, so I took it off my neck, and that’s when I noticed how badly his hands were shaking. He was so nervous that he dropped the medallion underneath his fridge. Little ol’ me was making this seemingly confident guy tremble? I was stunned.
We went on a walk and continued to talk. I remember feeling nervous and happy all at the same time. After a while, he dropped me off at my house and gave me a quick hug, after letting me out of his car (mind you, he had to let me out of his car – the car wouldn’t open from the inside – this was mostly hilarious, because my mom had thought Nick was such a gentleman until her car broke down and he gave her a ride. Then she found out, and said she hadn’t realized she was letting her daughter ride around in a date-rape car, and politely asked Nick to fix it, which he politely ignored, until the car blew up and he got a new car).
Anyway, it’s difficult to convey the awkwardness and awesomeness that went into this dating process. I was relatively new, and hadn’t had any dating experience outside a couple of REALLY awkward experiences from middle school. Someone asked me if we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and I said I didn’t know, because, hell, I didn’t. I liked him. He seemed to like me. We went on a couple of walks. We would talk at boffing sessions, but we had barely held hands, so what did that mean?
I asked Nick later that day, trying to play it off, so I wouldn’t show how nervous I was that he might say “What?! No, we’re just friends.” Luckily, playing it cool, he said we could be if I would like us to be. I said only if he wanted us to be, to which he said, “Sure.” Not quite the commitment I was looking for, but it was close enough. I went distractedly through the rest of the day, alternating between a state of excitement and nervousness.
In the next few days, I found myself opening up to Nick in ways I had never opened up to anyone. I told him everything about myself, and he accepted it with calmness, encouragement, and sympathy (but not pity – I would never have forgiven pity).
Two weeks after our “boyfriend/girlfriend” conversation, at the very end of a date, Nick leaned in and kissed me for the very first time. It was a simple kiss, but magical all at the same time. At the very end, he leaned back, looked into my eyes and said “I love you.” He turned, after dropping the bombshell, and started to trot down my front stairs. I blurted out an “I love you, too” and was horrified that the words came out, as (if you know me), I HATE lying or saying things that might be even slightly untrue. As I watched him drive away, though, I felt a sudden rush of emotion and realized that even though I may have blurted out the words, and even if we had only been dating briefly so far, the words were true. I did love him. He was kind, thoughtful, funny, and spirited. Later, I would learn that he was crass, compassionate, loyal to the end, timid on occasion, and the most amazing man I had ever met.
My family has always been a relatively small unit (my mom and siblings against the world!), so when Nick committed to me, he took on the whole messy shebang. And he loved us all – my amazing, wonderful, beautiful, roller-coaster family. He was my rock through the custody battles my mom went through with my dad (and he’s the one who posed the innocent question to then 17 year old me “If you’re so terrified of your dad, why do you have to go see him?” I had never questioned it. Dad calls, we go. I had never thought of the situation where: Dad calls, I say “I don’t want to see you. I’m not going.”) And life got better.
There are so many different ways in which Nick’s simple questions instilled me with a new lens to look at myself. I used to write him notes and that would say “You saved my life.” And it was true. I have a family, accomplishments I wouldn’t have dreamed of when I was a kid, and the life I have today because he loved me and taught me to love myself.
Yes, I am who I am because I persevered, but life would have been a helluva lot cruddier if I had to muddle through it all on my own. It’s been a rollercoaster, and it hasn’t all been pretty, but damned if I am not still in love with that wonderful (snoring) man.
A few days ago, I found myself looking through various Christmas plants, trying to find just the right one to bring to my Mom. For some reason, I couldn’t find one anywhere I went. And while I couldn’t find the right plant or flowers, I knew she probably didn’t care. It was just my mission. To let her know I still think about her. Every day. And how much I wished I could have seen her hold my daughter- just once – before she left us.
So, you can imagine my surprise (and tears) when I opened up my Christmas present from my sweet, sweet husband.
My husband’s only request to the artist was that the drawing reflect the joy the two would have felt if they had ever met in person. I think he succeeded. In spirit, I know my mom would have held her exactly like this.
And I am so grateful that a moment like below could happen, a picture I am posting with permission from my amazing sister, Dark Moon (a.k.a. The Monster in Your Closet). It is obviously the inspiration for the above picture. I am just so happy my mom was able to meet at least one of her grandchildren, so each of us could see the joy she would have had in ours.
Even in her last moments, there was so much tenderness. So much light.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I know mine has been amazing.