Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Your Sister

June 15, 2011

Hi Andrea,

          Six more days until the first day of summer.

          A pair of chestnut backed chickadees have taken up residence in the bird house on the front porch.  The box is full of baby bird chirp chirp chirping.  All I saw when I peeked in was the open throats of the cheeping babies crowned by beaks.  I could not count how many.  Stella amuses herself by sitting on the bench by the front window.  She presses her face against the glass twitching, watching.  Mom and Dad engage in a relay of bugs and grubs brought back to drop into the  open throats, the hunger endless.  I am surprised they do not wear themselves out trying to catch enough to keep themselves alive , trying to  satiate the growing hunger of their nestlings.

          Right now—I’d just like to have my porch back. 

          And you.  I need to talk to you.  About your sister. 

          She texted me this past Saturday, “Jasmine is graduating from high school.”   She wanted me to come to graduation.  I was busy all day Saturday.  Did not see the message.
On Sunday morning, at 9:05, she texted again, “So I guess I have your answer.  And I guess I am done waiting for you to find a place for me in your life.” 
Your sister knows how I feel about Jasmine.  She is her friend, not mine.  All the months that you were sick and all the drama she created.  I will never forget the last time you were in the hospital.  I called your sister to come have dinner with me,  and then come with me to see you.  I talked to you before dinner and told you I was meeting your sister and Jasmine for dinner.  They would be coming to see you with me.
          “Mom,” you said resignedly, “Jasmine will never come see me in the hospital.  All those times I have sat with her in the ER, brought her Sadie, she won’t come.  And if my sister comes without her, she will call non stop and create a huge drama.”
          “Oh , Andrea.  That is silly.  She’ll come see you.”
          “No Mom.  You wait and see.”
          That was the last night I got to spend with you.
          After dinner your sister announced she would meet me at the hospital.  She had to drop Jasmine off somewhere.  I tried to coax her to come.  Jasmine wouldn’t have it.
And sure enough, when your sister came to the hospital without her, she was calling your cell phone, your sister’s cell phone , the  hospital phone.  I never got the whole story about what was going on.  But the word chaos comes to mind in describing that whole scene now.
          I texted your sister back “I did not get your messages until this morning.  To answer your question I always have room for you.”  It is her friend I have no room for.  Your sister knows this.  She conditions a relationship with me on my acceptance of Jasmine. 
          Not long after I sent the text, she responded “You don’t even try to make time for me, never have .  Sorry to bother you.”
I think your sister started telling me this when we moved to Cambridge, right after I started law school.  Yep.  She knows where my buttons are.  This is her mantra.
          And for that reason, I have not responded yet.  That, and I have nothing else to say.  I am done fighting.  I have no energy left to fight with.  She wins.  I was a terrible mother.  I am a terrible mother.
          But she is 35 now.  It is time to stop blaming.  Stop demanding.  I gave her all her baby pictures and toddler pictures after you died.  I wanted her to have that, to look through that so she would remember how much I love her.  She was always so jealous of you, she could never see that.  Jealousy poisons everything.
          What she doesn’t understand is that in addition to being a mother, I am a human being too.  I have needs and wants.  What she doesn’t understand is that she is a woman now.  To have a mother, she has to be a daughter.
          How can I tell her that?
                                                             Awaiting your reply.
                                                             Love , Mom

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


June 7, 2011       

Dear Andrea,

         The evening sun is making intricate  rectangle cut patterns on the living room wall.  Sadie is laying under the desk, her back across my feet.  Stella sits on the foyer bench, her chin resting on the window sill.  She watches the chestnut backed chickadee mother and father fly in and out of the white steeple birdhouse on the other side of the window.  I can see them from where I sit as they come and go.  My house looks like a crime investigation scene—yellow caution tape cordoning off the walkway and the front door inside and out.  Even so I have sneaked a peak or two at the three babies.  I didn’t really see the babies themselves.  I just saw three beaks wide open waiting for food to be dropped in. 
Damn it.  Every time I click over to Facebook there ‘s your ghost again wanting me to “friend you.” Then the memories begin crowding their way on stage like a bunch of giddy 3rd graders at a Christmas Pageant.  I try to tell them,  “Wait”.  Reassure them they will each get their time in the spotlight with all the audience they need.  I promise to be attentive.  And to bring Kleenex.  Keep my sniffling to minimum.  To not disturb those around me.
I try to focus again on the chickadees.  I Google “chestnut backed chickadee” and find out they use mostly fur to line their nest.  They eat bugs and seed from trees.  I am tempted to log into Nest Watch and report their location, but I feel like an informer if I do.  The bird family needs its privacy. 
It is June and time for graduations.  Your senior year of high school I took you to Western Washington University in Bellingham.  To the University of Washington campus.  To Central Washington University.  The Evergreen College in Olympia.  I wanted you to have the dorm room, girlfriend, college life I never had a chance at.  You showed no interest in applying anywhere.  Now I think--I should have filled the applications out for you.  But then, it was important for me to let you find your own way.  To follow whatever dream you had, rather than dreams I had for you. 
You wanted to live at sea.  To captain a ship.
I settled into wanting you to live a productive life and to be happy.
You did live at sea, on many seas, on oceans.  Stern wheeled up and down the Mississippi River, the Columbia.  Stood at the helm of a ship as it made its way through the Suez Canal.  Stood watch for pirates off the coast of Africa.  I am certain you would have captained a ship if you had lived longer.  If you had not spent the last four years of your life fighting a disease nobody fully understands, and therefore, most doctors would not acknowledge .
My daughter the  lusty pirate queen that loved to cradle babies in her arms .  You loved the  Pirates of the Caribbean pirates, but not real pirates and what they did.  It was the romanticized notion you fell in love with, we all fall in love with. 
  I remember when you started selling tours for the Victoria Clipper.  I’d come up to Seattle to meet you after work.  There you would be, jumping from the dock onto the ship and back onto the dock again grinning so hard I thought the corners of your lips would meet in the back of your head.  Then, working your way up from cocktail waitress on the American Queen out of New Orleans, to ship’s photographer on that same riverboat.  After that, you got a job at Lindblad cleaning cabins on small cruise ships that made their way up and down Alaska’s Inside Passage in summer, around the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.  Your calls from Glacier Bay talking excitedly about breaching whales and calving icebergs.  Desert hikes on the Baja Peninsula, how I’d love La Paz and that I’d have to stay at Los Arcos but be sure to rent a cabana then walk along the promenade and get a fish taco from a street vendor and ice cream to “die for” at a little place halfway out of town.  Then the job with Military Sealift Command.  At every port, Dubai, Shanghai, Chania, Catonia, the Seychelle Islands –and ports with names I have forgotten--you called me from the docks as soon as you could leave the ship.  “Mom, you’d love it here.” 
If I tune out every noise around me, close my eyes, plant both feet on the floor, let my arms drop and hold very still , sometimes I can hear you telling me that now. 
You thought you disappointed me not going to college. 
You did not disappoint me.   How could you--following your dream?
I am proud of everything you did. 
On Friday I will be sitting in a metal folding chair.  Watching Steve and his daughter graduate from Evergreen.   Seeing a shadow of you and I as we walked across red square , me encouraging you to do your learning in a classroom.  You knowing there was a whole world you wanted to learn.  You did not want a cap and gown.  I had to honor that.
It is dark now.  Except for the lamp on my desk and the screen of the computer.  Sadie has gone to bed upstairs.  Stella is curled up on the blanket at my feet purring.  I hope the chickadee mom and dad are asleep in the nest with their babies.
I am proud of who you were Andrea. 
I am proud of who you were. 
I wish I would have told you that more.
On Friday, as I watch Steve and Steffie cross the stage and accept their respective degrees, I will not be able to hold back the tears.  They will think they are tears of joy for them.  In part they will be.  Tears for Steve’s loss of his wife, Steffie’s loss of her mother who would have loved to see her daughter graduate from college. 
Mostly though, my tears will be for me.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Terrible Teacher

June 6, 2011

Hey Andrea,

You teach people how to treat you.  Two people told me this today, a teacher and my sister.

 I have been a terrible teacher. 

This knowledge bubbles up and spills itself into the corner of each eye, makes rivulets down my cheeks, falling on my breasts.  It curls me into myself, then hurls me back out. 

Even the quail couple foraging on the rock wall outside this window cannot distract me tonight.

I am full into it, and I just have to ride it through.

There can be no name for this, this total carnage of myself.

If I can just catch my breath, I know I will be fine.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe in and out.  Don’t hold your breath.  Don’t let it grab you by the throat and tighten its fingers.  But release to it.  Release.  Become fluid.  Become the salt water in the rivulets burning ditches in your face, dripping on your shirt.  Let it be.

Is this my lesson, now, with Steve? We have reached a point today that seriously tests the longevity of our relationship.  It remains to be seen how it will play out.  He is ignoring me.  And the harder he ignores, the crazier I become.

Look up.  Look out.  Breathe.

While I am here, I might as well stay awhile.

Scott was your first, and I believe, only true love.  His mom tells me you were his true love.  I know it provides little solace to you now, but Scott wishes he had given you that wedding you wanted.

I remember when you and Scott first moved in together.    A few months together, you called me.  Before the first word was out of your mouth I knew you were upset.

“Mom, Sadie and I are coming home.”  Each word punctuated by a sob.

“When?”  I asked.  Having you home would have been great.  I was selfish.

“I can’t stay with him anymore.”  You hiccupped the words.

“Why?”  I asked.

That conversation lasted for an hour.  At the end of it, you began to see things differently, I told you to make demands of him, let him make a choice.  If he continued to make bad choices, then at least he was forewarned.  Before you hung up I told you, “Make sure to bring your pink KitchenAid I bought you if you leave him.  I’ll pay for the postage to get it back here.”

I wish I had really learned, known that I was teaching people how to treat me.  I would have worked at it and done a better job.  I probably would have been much happier much earlier in my life.  Instead of here at the table typing this pathetic letter with red swollen eyes.  Wondering how one day I can be laughing and think things are going wonderfully, and the next an atom bomb has dropped and I wonder if there are any pieces to pick up.   One step backwards, one step forward.  Some days I am lucky if I can keep even. 

But here tonight, as I lift my head, see the quail couple out on the rock wall, blue delphinium, pink peony in full bloom, marigolds, hear the song of chickadees who are nesting on my front porch a current runs up my spine. 

I am going to become a better teacher.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


June 2, 2011

Dear Andrea,

Today is the first celebration of something I can have that is unconnected to you.  It is the anniversary of my first date with Steve.

And I found out the polyps from last Friday are not cancer.  Precancerous.  Not cancer.  I called my sisters to let them know they need to make appointments now too.  Seems the family has a predisposition for colon cancer. 

Steve is at the dining room table here across from me.  He is working on his final paper.  Next Friday he will graduate and get a second degree—a BSc in Evironmental Sciences.  His daughter is graduating on the same date from the same college.  We will celebrate with a barbecue in my backyard.  I hand made all the invitations for the party.  It is the kind of thing you would have liked to help me with.  Along with the decorating, planning the menu, laughing with our guests.

But that celebration will be tinged with grief.  Steve’s daughter is graduating from college and Steve’s wife, her mother, will not be there to see it.  She died two and a half years ago.  I suspect she is around, though, and will view from wherever she is now. I feel her sometimes.  Even though I never met her. 

Steve, his daughter and I are careful with each other’s losses.  There are wounds we refuse to nurse or bandage.  We want them in plain sight, where everyone can see them.  Except they are invisible to everyone, but the three of us.  Steve and I acknowledge this amongst ourselves.  We pay grief its due respect.  But his daughter.  She has lost her mother and I have lost my child. 

I am not sure what to do with that.  There is a line.  I feel it.  I cannot see it.  I am afraid to cross it.

This is a time of change.  I am not sure what is going to happen when Steve graduates.  He has his house in Issaquah.  He talks about moving back up there.  Looking for a job up there.  Going back to the schedule we had last summer.  I go up to his place on Fridays and leave for work in Olympia from there on Monday mornings.  That leaves four nights here at my home—just Sadie, Stella and I.  The problem is I have grown accustomed to him being here.  So have Sadie and Stella. 

These nine months, in the morning I set my alarm for six a.m. with absolutely no intention of getting out of bed then.  If Steve were not here I would turn the snooze alarm off every 10 minutes until the second alarm went off at 7.  At six a.m. I hear him downstairs in the kitchen, whispering to Stella.  Sadie is usually sleeping curled against me.  I hear the coffee grinder, then smell coffee brewing.  The refrigerator door opens and closes.  I hear him looking for things in drawers and cupboards.  The sound of the gas stove lighting, a pan being set on a burner.  Making breakfast.  It is my morning music.

When the snooze alarm goes off the third time, I usually meet his hand as he is turning it off for me.  He has come to watch me during those last few minutes of sleep I am stealing.  He has come to pull back the comforter and welcome me to a new morning. 

I do not want to have to miss this.  You have taught me how short life is.  How quickly life can end.  Not to waste one minute.

How can I tell him this?  Even as we are with one another, Steve misses his wife.  I miss you.  

In the midst of that, we have our celebration.  One year together.  Another year ahead.  There is no guarantee of anything.  Just a promise to be kind. And friendship.   

I am trying to be ok with that.  And I think I am.

To celebrations!