Dear grandma,

I did not have a good day today. I woke up aching, sore from cold and not enough sleep, and I went to work with a sense of quiet resignation: back to this, then, the same litanies of customer complaints and entitled do-this-for-me that forms the boundaries of my job. I spent much of the day heartsick, for a variety of reasons.

And then I came home. I cleaned my kitchen: washed all the leftover dishes, scrubbed down the counters and the stove, and I made two apple pies. I used your knife, and your pie plate (although I confess, I cheated and bought pre-made crusts; it was a long day at work and I don’t have the patience today to make it from scratch. I’ll do better next time, I promise), and I thought of you while I made them. I’m thinking of you now.

It’s comforting to know that muscle memory doesn’t go away, or family memory, maybe, the sort of habit that is so thoroughly ingrained that we can’t help but inherit it: to sit, and chat, and let your hands do the work, slice-slice-slice-slice, wafers of white or yellow-gold apple flesh dropping into the bowl. My wife and I did it tonight, like I remember you and I doing while I was young enough not to appreciate it: sat down at our dining room table, and together peeled and sliced apples. Fifteen or sixteen of them, half Arkansas Black (a strong, tart, nicely crisp apple I just discovered; like a Granny Smith that doesn’t suck), and half my beloved Cortland (Cortland! Finally, I can find them here, at the farmer’s market – all the gorgeous natural sweetness that I grew up with, that is my favorite out of all the countless varieties anyone could offer).

There are pies in the oven now, and my house smells of apple and cinnamon and clove and pastry. And my heart, at the end of the day, is warm.

I miss you. But I have a pie plate, and a paring knife, and apples and muscle memory (because after all, the heart is a muscle, beat-beat-beating blood, and they say, don’t they, that pie runs in the family), and what that means is I still have you.

Love you, grandma. It was good to see you again. The mind’s eye is the sharpest.

I miss my dad. 

Been a while since I wrote any of these. About time I got back into the habit.

“Your spirit’s gone walkin’,” the sparrow says, and flits to another branch. Tail-flick; wing-ruffle. Settle. “Where’s it gone off to, then?”

“Dunno,” says I. Snowflakes drift down, sourceless. Sun’s gone away. Gettin’ cold, cold as icicle-bones, as sap gone syrup-sluggish. Gettin’ hard to move, some, but it ain’t gone yet. Still some life in me, a little. Enough.

“Better find it,” says the sparrow, almost, but words are fragile as bird-bones when they crunch ‘twixt my teeth, all steamy-blood and marrow-hot.

Ain’t got no spirit just now, but ‘til mine comes walkin’ home, sparrow-soul’ll do.

Dark and deep, to be sure.

I can always tell when Big Things are going on; my dreams are weirder, and I remember them better. Not well, but better. Lots of water in them, right now. Water and movement; cars and boats and other things. I suppose this probably means, essentially, that I’m just not sleeping well, that I’m not sinking down underneath the miniscus of active-mind thought that skims the surface of sleep. I certainly feel poorly rested, true enough. Feeling as heavy as I do, though, the metaphor rather breaks down. Heavy things break the surface; heavy things sink.

It’s dark so early. It feels abrupt, this year, although I know it can’t have been. It feels like long summer days were just here, just a moment ago, too-quickly fled. Weren’t they? Wasn’t it just August? I would swear it was. I remember September and October taking AAAAAAAAAAAGES to crawl by, and now I genuinely think they just didn’t happen this year. I think we skipped them somehow.

I’m not ready. The winter-dark is here too soon, I’m not ready to give up the sunlight. I’ve forgotten how koselig works.


Been a while. Been a long while.

I’m not who I was when I started journaling, nor when I stopped. Lots of little changes and now, a very big one, which all changed the landscape, changed the roadmap, changed the atmosphere.

My wife’s mother is dying.

It changes nothing, immediately. It changes everything.

We’ll still go to work, still cook meals and do laundry and sweep the floor and vacuum the carpet and walk the dog and feed the cats and watch the news, all of which we’d already been doing, which marked the outline of our days. It’s just that now… now we’ll be doing it in the shadow of the awareness of death, which colors all things, now.

I mean that deliberately; it’s the awareness of death that has shifted the palette of our lives. Death’s a constant thing, it’s the only thing all of us, uniformly, can expect out of life: that it will, eventually, end. It’s just that most of us, most of the time, can push that awareness away, tamp it down and keep it hidden from immediate view. We can forget, for a while, that it’s there. Death is considerate, that way: much of the time, for many of us, it steps aside and lets us get on with living.

Now, very suddenly, we’ve remembered, and all the mundane actions of our lives take on the hue of it.

A week ago, my wife’s brother called – their mom had been sick a while, and had finally collapsed, been brought to the ICU with suspected kidney failure. So we left, very quickly, went down to Alabama to do what we could to help. We spent the week alternating between working remotely, cleaning the house for her, and sitting with her and my father-in-law in the hospital, while around us doctors and nurses administered medicines, ran tests. Maybe a gallstone, they thought; there was bile pooling on her liver, had poisoned her system, all but shut down her kidneys. They drained all that off, treated the systemic infection. She responded well to stabilizing treatments. Doctors ran more tests, performed two minor surgeries to help with stabilizing, brought us some bad news, some good; nothing conclusive. My wife and I, on the understanding that more tests were needed and would be happening this week sometime, hugged everyone, promised to see folks at Thanksgiving, and left for home yesterday afternoon. Call us if anything changes; call us when you know more.

Be careful what you ask for.

Less than halfway home, we got a call from her brother. The CT scan results from yesterday morning had already come back.

She has cancer. It has metastasized, it is inoperable, and her doctors have estimated six months for her to live.

So today… we did some laundry. I loaded the dishwasher. I cleaned the catboxes, ran and got lunch. We caught up on Doctor Who. Tomorrow we’ll go to work, we’ll go to the grocery store. We’ll go visit family at Thanksgiving, at Christmas. All of these things are normal, but now there is nothing normal about them.

There are huge, enormous things going on in the world right now. Hopefully soon I’ll have enough cope left to care again. Right now, it’s just too much.

So writing is a thing that happens, sporadically, on and off as I manage to for a little while push back the nagging and persistent sense that I’m a fraud playing at a grown-up game that I’ll never be quite old enough or good enough to really take part in.

Damn the duality, anyway. I can’t have it both ways. I can’t read published fiction with a sense that I can write at least as well as the author, only to stare at a blank screen or lined page with the conviction that I don’t have anything worthwhile to say.

And there’s a story there, right now, simmering in the hindbrain, under the surface, not quite hibernating but rather patiently biding, not quite evolved enough to do more than make occasional ripples that I can see from shore. And I’m not quite confident enough to climb into my coracle and paddle out to see what’s out there. I prowl the perimeter instead, thread my way through tall weeds and mud right there at the edge, at the in-between, not quite safe land and not quite here-be-dragons water, and measure the shape of it without ever really getting a good look at what I’m measuring.

But it’s there, and sometime very soon I’m going to have to dive in and breathe in the water and hope I’ve got gills enough to make it.

Going to try journaling again. I’ve gone back many times and read what I’ve written before and some of it makes me cringe and some of it makes me laugh, but all of it makes me remember, and that’s a necessary thing. My life may not be dreadfully remarkable, but it’s worth remembering, I feel. And I’ve spent the last few years not writing things down, not recording the things that have happened to me. That’s foolish. Foolish.
Today has a feel to it of remembrance. It’s the turning of the year, the turning of the seasons on the pivot-heel of Halloween: the warm and delightful slide of summer into fall is now the chill, wetter ease of autumn through its decline, inexorably winterbound. I spent Halloween tangled up in a vibrant riot of darkness and bright color, trick-or-treating with my two year old niece. She was fascinated by the entire process, delighted by the spectacle of it, and absolutely fearless in the face of all the pageantry of the macabre. She had a ghost at her side, though, holding her hand and grinning like a loon and helping her up the steps to garishly lit porches where mummies and vampires and zombies waited with bowls of candy to bestow some upon a zebra in exchange for the magic words: trick or treat! Shades of Catrina and Maman Brigitte in my makeup and dress and in the bright purple flower in my hair, and my niece took it all in stride. Aunt Queenie’s a ghost tonight? That’s fine. It’s after bedtime and very dark, and we are out courting danger and darkness and the consequence of this is CANDY, so pseudo-dead relatives are, well, relatively benign. It was blissful to see the holiday again through the eyes of someone who was experiencing it for the first time.

Today is the aftermath of all of that, inevitably greyer and less brilliant, and that’s as it should be. But it does make me melancholy.


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