Sunday, January 20, 2013

Holy kisses

Last night, we began watching Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” while eating our pizza, knowing Skye would only enjoy the first part of the movie with us. Nearly all the extra-cheesy pizza slices - sausage and pepperoni - had been devoured when he jumped to his feet and quickly covered the length of the ramped hallway that leads to his and Stross's bedroom. He needed to collect his wallet and whatever else he thought he might want in order to enjoy the rest of his night.

A few friends who were home from college had already arrived and a few more college friends were on their way. A van-full - more like our van filled - needed to leave soon if they were to catch the opening moments of whatever movie was scheduled to start prior to 7 p.m. The choice of movie didn't matter. The night's schedule and companionship did. 

While Skye checked his hair in the bathroom mirror and reapplied a smooth-smelling layer of Axe Excite, the remaining three of us - Stross, Mark and me - continued to sit on the floor in our self-assigned spots around a lavender-flowered vinyl table cloth. For more years than I can correctly recount, either that cloth or its purple-and-white checkered cousin has helped protect the plush beige carpeting of The Big Room. It defines the space we use for our Family Friday Pizza Picnic, a weekly communion of breading, sauce and soft drinks. 

Regardless of season The Big Room is always warm. In cold months, the heat of our fireplace permeates memories of paper-strewn Christmases after the boys have slept feet-to-head on our over-sized sectional, sleepovers where other families' sons have joined ours to sleep the same way, movie nights with only the light from our television and the world’s moon shining through a wall of windows, and game nights when the room itself has become home base.   

As Mark leaned against the slate of the fireplace ledge and Stross leaned against the cushioned checkered footrest of the chaise lounge, I watched from the purple footstool. Skye, his prepping complete, strode back to us. He cruised down the contoured angle of the ramp until coming to its platform intersection where - had he turned and continued following it - he could have gone directly to the garage door and the van of waiting friends. Instead, he stepped down and walked toward me on the purple stool. Leaning down, he softly kissed the snow-colored top of my head.

"Mhmmm ... I love you. I will miss you when I'm at college." The sound of his introductory sigh prefaced pure and unguarded emotion.

Drink this moment in, Joy. Do not let it go.

I watched him turn 90-degrees to the left and move to Mark. Leaning down, his lips found the top of Mark's dark-haired head. Mark closed his eyes and consumed the same gift I had received. 

"I love you, Dad. I'll miss you."

Before the words had finished being spoken - before Mark could respond with "I love you, too" - Stross raised his chin and extended the trunk of his body toward the ceiling. He stretched as tall as he could make his body while still seated on the floor. His Cheshire-smile face invited attention, and Skye rewarded him with a pivot his direction and a kiss at the top of his forehead.

"Mhmmm ... I love you, Stross. I'll miss you next year."

While never spoken, I heard the whisper of Dorothy to the Tin Man as Skye brushed his fingers through his brother’s ash-brown hair: “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”   

“I love you, too, Bro-bro,” Stross chirped, adding a satisfied purr. “Hmmmm.”

The sound of Stross’ contentment matched the delicious preface of Skye’s holy kisses. “Mhmmmm. I love you,” he had told us, and then he was gone – out the door and into the driver’s seat, sharing a journey with friends who have already traveled the path he will soon take.

It’s happening – just the way it should and just the way I hoped it would – even if it hurts.

Three kisses.

Holy kisses.

Blessings that hold you close and never let go even when the one who blessed you has gone.

Mhmmmmm … I love him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Burning the Misplaced Pieces of the Past

Not long after Mark and I were engaged, I began to think about our love story, the one we would tell our children. We would share details that make all epic stories come to life: how we met as singing waiters our junior year of college, and how he compelled me to take his drink orders because it was against his moral code - a code I challenged him to find a cogent and systematic thought process to use for his defense. We would also share how he voluntarily bused my tables prior to driving me back to my dorm each weekend night in his white Honda Civic and how we carried take-home containers of chocolate truffe mousse to my room to share. We would even - maybe - confess how he stayed right up to (and even past some nights) the dormitory's visitation hours.

From courtship through engagement, the story of our early romance would convey to our yet unconceived children how our love surpassed all other stories of romance that might have been written for each of us had we not dared to take a chance on dating a type of person we never expected to meet.

I also wanted to safeguard our story from mythology - illusions about our romance or romances we had abandoned along with the romancers who had abandoned us. I wanted our children to know only of our misgivings and mistakes. Our love had not bloomed without rainy days. We had even endured a storm only weeks prior to our engagement. But bloom, it did, even surviving harsh seasons. The hardiest perennials do. Our children would need to know that.

They would need to know that the first bloom appeared about 29 years ago, back when I worried about notes, other love letters written by other suitors, being found by future children. Those scraps of paper outlined stories that should never be told, I believed. Not if Mark and I were to commit ourselves only to each other. We were collaborators of an epic saga, a saga that would birth beautiful children who would know only of the love that bore them.

Therefore, the other love notes had to be burned. No misplaced pieces of our separate pasts should supplant our storyline.

Our tale of love had begun to weave its way from the Chalet Room at Carver's Restaurant, and it deserved a clear path to the lively retirement abode we would choose for our most golden and final years. Our children should never doubt the wisdom we had exercised in our early 20s when we chose to travel a complex but unified path together. "Wisdom" and "early 20s." Could there be such a combination? If so, we needed to affirm it. Protect it. We needed to burn the notes.

Still, what if the relationship that our children would see in the future didn't live as vividly for them as any colorful tales they might freely concoct? Perhaps not having other notes would not matter. Even if evidence did not exist, vividly imagined details could be invented - by them, if not us. What if some mythological storyline - crafted even without the aid of rejected love notes - could unseat our real life story anyway?

Until our children could write the toughest chapters of their own hearts' tales, they could comprehend love. Not really. 

Love - sustaining love - is nurtured through careers and children and broken dreams and dream vacations and experimental vocations and heartaches and midlife crises and ordinary days of non-crises and retirement and, well, things I cannot know of either - not yet anyway. My great love story is far from over, and while I have witnessed other great loves, their endings have not been well documented - not as well as their beginnings. Perhaps endings are so intensely personal, so poignant and full, they cannot be wholly shared. Or maybe the greatest love stories have no endings because they do not end. What a merciful thought.

That is why those other notes - puzzle pieces of unseasoned passion - had to be burned; they were burned, turned into ash that matched the relationships that bore them. Our children cannot resurrect them. Neither can we.

Mark destroyed his on a day and in a manner of his choosing before I had a chance to add mine to his pile. Fitting perhaps, for we had collected them separately; separately they turned into ash.  I am grateful their embers flamed the fire that has warmed us for nearly three decades. Those relationships mattered too.

Today I took out the collection of love letters that survived those years - Mark's cards and hand-written pages to me during our courtship. I read one. Then one more. Still another. I read in search of me and the man I chose to marry. Can we really be found in the words of those love epistles? They are now as mysterious to me as they will be to our children one day when they find them. Hidden in plain sight.

I don't need to read them to recall who I married. According to those love letters, that man does not exist anymore anyway.

Anytime I need to recall the story of my life's great love, I will simply walk into my kitchen at dinner time. He will be standing near the stove, either cooking the evening meal for our family or insisting on helping me do the same. And when our family meal has ended, he'll help me bus our table - plates and glasses into the dishwater, pots and pans washed in the sink. There will be no need for him to drive me home. We will already be there. Our sons have seen that part of our story many times. That might be all they really need to know.    


Note: The poem that sparked my thinking is "His Elderly Father as a Young Man" by Leo Dangel. I would post it here for you to enjoy as well but do want to commit copyright infringement. I encourage you to find it in Home from the Field, © Spoon River Poetry Press, 1997.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Back to Some Beginning

Stross declared his desire to participate in No Shave November using no uncertain terms; nothing I said convinced him to change his mind nor should it have. He's a man of 21. Even though he needs Mark's or my assistance to shave his face, he can - on his own - determine he does not want his face shaved. Therefore, No Shave November meant Stross got to show his cousins his Elvis-style mutton chops during the Thanksgiving holiday. But the month is long gone and so are his over-sized sideburns.

Without declaration, I seem to have declared the past two months No Share November and Not Talking December. I have not written anything to share here since mid-October. Not a believer in writer's block, I interpret this reality as a symptom of something else. But what?

I have held too many professional jobs where writing simply had to happen - deadlines be damned – to believe in writer’s block. News releases, articles that complete a newsletter, word blurbs that fill awkward spaces in a magazine layout, letters and memos that outline important details - these can all occur when a writer lacks clever thoughts. He or she must simply strive for lucid elucidation.

(Yes, that phrase is redundant, but I like that adjective-noun pairing today, so deal.)

Putting pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard is a mechanical step that makes things happen. Most writing happens by formula. In fact, all writing can happen by formula. A writer

- decides on an objective for a piece,

- selects an idea or angle to shape the piece,

- chooses some nouns and verbs to shape sentences, and then

- adds phrases capable of moving readers from one sentence to the next.

The process repeats from paragraph to paragraph or bullet point to bullet point until the piece is done. If time allows, a writer or editor can shape it better; if not, a writer will send the piece out trusting her spell checker and editing software didn't fail. The greatest hope is that she didn’t bury or mask her lead.

Masterful writing is something else entirely. To claim writer's block while waiting for something regarded as a masterpiece is the equivalent of waiting for an extra paycheck to arrive just because. The best you can wish for is something that feels insightful to flit through your mind accompanied by words that fit the contours of those thoughts. When such a phenomena happens to me, I try to capture the thoughts as scant notations before they vanish as vapor. It doesn't take much for inspiration to dissipate. Distractions. Tasks weighted with priority. Doubt. Time. Choosing to do something with those notations takes energy and purpose. I have files filled with unfilled purpose.

So what has kept me from writing? I am not waiting on a masterpiece; I do not credit a particular excuse. In fact, in my first draft of this post, I outlined why each excuse lacked worth. But a reader doesn’t care about that. A reader has ample excuses of his or her own to analyze (or not) between missed moments that fall as broken links - disconnections that release opportunities to enrich life.

I have only written this post today because I had to. I forced myself to put finger to keyboard to make something happen. In this new year, I sense an approaching crossroad. I can either continue on a path that has become increasingly isolated or make myself turn onto a road more traveled.

I guess there is one more option. I can forge a new road.

While I have never regarded myself as a trailblazer, I am familiar with feelings inherit to the task of cutting tracks for others to follow. That can be lonely too. Often I have turned around to find that no one has followed. Not right away. Sometimes not at all.

Yet, that does not matter, does it? For I was never lost, never bored, never forsaken.

I guess I am back to some beginning that I wandered from some time ago. It doesn’t matter how long ago my wandering occurred. Indeed, I am not certain I could determine the demarcation. I only wonder where I am to go now and how I might get there. Somehow I need my fingers to lead the way.

There are worse places I could find myself.

I am not lost - just on a road yet known.

At the risk of stating something obvious: I don’t know where I am going. I am, however, confident I will recognize my destination when I get there.

. . .