Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Aside

I’m cleaning out the kids' bathroom–going through the drawers throwing out the endless half bottles of face scrub, deodorant, hand lotion. Weeding through the mountain of hair clips, scrunchies and lipstick samples. Tossing the long forgotten hair dye and glue. It’s been snowing for several days running. Winter is wearing on my spirits. I picked this job this morning because purging stuff usually feels like an accomplishment and because, with the kids both off at their respective colleges, the room, once clean, will stay clean.

But suddenly, sitting on the bathroom floor surrounded by an ocean of loose throat lozenges, bobby pins, disposable razors and toothpaste tube ends, my chest grows tight. I don’t want to feel it but I do. Loss. Nothing still here made the cut. It’s derelict--irrelevant to my kids' current lives. Soon this bathroom will be generic–a guest bathroom without personality, without their faces in the mirror.

Just yesterday I was discussing Anna’s plans to get a VISTA Summer Reading internship and an apartment with friends in Minneapolis for the summer. A good plan. She was miserable at home last summer. Pat’s apartment lease runs through August. He’ll stay in Minnesota, as well, working and taking classes. It is time and it is all good and yet....

I know what I’m losing but not what is ahead.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who's the One Who's Lost?

I recently finished reading The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins, a Victorian Era sensation novel (similar to a Gothic novel but without the supernatural elements). The novel was first published in serial form by Charles Dickens in his weekly publication called All the Year Round. In her introduction to my copy of the novel, Camille Cauti, says:

Collins sets his sensational plots in what he called the “secret theater of home,”
a breeding ground for “realistic,” behind-the-doors stories he rendered as
thrilling as the extraordinarily weird Gothic domestic sphere.

I’m no Wilkie Collins but my story is certainly a behind-the-door story from the “secret theater of the home.” I like the idea of a story told serially. Here’s my first entry.

It was June 2002. I was 47 years old and I hadn’t seen my sister Joy in over 15 years. The staff at the group home had given
me directions but since then road crews had taken down signs and added detours. Our map was not detailed enough to show small dirt roads miles off the nearest county highway. How would I ever find her? I’d come all this way–350 physical miles and immeasurable emotional miles to get here only to be lost again. My body was tight as a hunting cat’s but my mind was floating–seeing stars and shutting down.

I’d lost her once already on this journey. A month before, I had called the former Cambridge State Hospital ( now Minnes
ota Extended Treatment Options or METO) to ask for the phone number of Joy’s group home. I called the number I was given. Disconnected. I called METO back and while being bounced from person to person, I filled the moments on hold with the drumbeat thoughts of “lost in the system” and “fallen through the cracks.” I had waited too long and now I couldn’t even find her. She was at the mercy of the system....had been at the mercy of the system her entire life. And where had I been?

I may have lost her but the system had not. I was eventually given a working phone number and now, here I was on my way to see her. Somehow through backtracking and the process of elimination, we found our way. The gravel popped as we pulled into the drive and parked next to two other vehicles. Did my husband reach for my hand? I don’t really remember but I can say with assurance that his presence at that moment was one of the truest gifts he has ever given me.

The house was a simple ranch-style home indistinguishable, except for the wheelchair ramp, from the smattering of other houses we’d passed. Still, as innocuous as the house looked, I wanted to do anything but get out of the car and climb those steps. What if it was horrible inside? What if all these years of familial denial and absence had meant neglect and abuse for her? Every alarm system my body had was wailing. I felt light-headed, sick to my stomach, hot and cold. But at this stage in my life there was finally no going back. She was my sister. My relationship with her was my own. I was going to see for myself, judge for myself, speak for myself and let the chips fall where they may.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Confession: I’m looking for a silver bullet. This is it. This blog will solve all....well, maybe three of my problems:

I’m a writer who is not writing. Blah, blah, blah. Enough said.

Cyberwriting terrifies me.
It is much easier to write for an audience of two cats, and three forever writing friends than to send words off into cyberspace not knowing where they will land and whether the territory will be hostile or friendly and especially whether the writing is good or stinky. Writing or not writing (why bother?) and whining about not publishing is much easier than being published instantly and accepting my fate. My cats can type but they have their own language (slf^eXkHek!!snf@mw*ejk). If they’ve mastered the internet, they’re not letting on. I live in a small, tight-knit, highly professional neighborhood. Writing something embarrassingly bad ....At least my children are both off at college.

I have a story to tell.
I’ve been trying to tell this story ever since I could lift my cue-ball head up from my bear-skin rug and think “Oh, My God...” The fifties was a time of frustrated babies--before there were entire sections in bookstores dedicated to teaching babies to sign–but I’m not bitter. Anyway, first the story was an oral history (10 nearly inaudible cassette tapes in a manila envelop). Then it was non-fiction (pages of transcribed random interviews from said tapes), then memoir (no comment), then fiction ( 250 pages in my desk drawer), then memoir again (I said, no comment).

FAIR WARNING: This whole facebook/blog thing seems a little like an upscale cocktail party where the masterful circulate making pithy comments, never spill their drink and always know exactly when to move on. I’m not good at cocktail parties. I tend to find a conversation and hang on for dear life. Perhaps I’ve cornered you at a recent party. In any case, my story, while compelling, is not an easy one. I’ll do my best to be a better party guest and tell it in bits and snatches with time for snacks, another cocktail, and graceful exits.

That’s it. I’m done.