Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

the sister i’ll never know

Today is my sister’s birthday.

I was 19 when my mother told me that I had an older sister.

Mommy was sitting in this exact kitchen, looking like she looks in this photo, only I thought she was much older. (She was 40!)

She was 19 when Susan was born, only she wasn’t my mother then, and my father wasn’t her boyfriend.

She spent those months without family or friends at the Home for Unwed Mothers in Trenton.

“Don’t make 2 mistakes,” she used to say. “If you get pregnant, you don’t have to get married.”

A year after Susan was born, now pregnant with me, my mother married my father.

Though I searched for my older sister for years—in the faces of strangers, who looked familiar, and were also named, Susan–I only met her once, 17 years later, at my mother’s burial.

It was 17 years after that, just before my 54th birthday last autumn that I received the call,

Afterward, I looked through the photos posted online, and I was surprised and delighted and pained.

She looked so much like the rest of us in surprising ways. Another sister’s eyes. My niece’s cheeks. A familiar smile.

She lived so much life, without us, and was gone, 6 months before I knew she died.

To lose a sister without knowing seems criminal.

Shouldn’t I have felt something inside?

My mother only lived in that kitchen for a few years–in between the separation and the divorce.

She was on her dying bed when she met her daughter for the second time.

I’d found Susan, at the last minute, with the help of a woman at Catholic Charities.

In the years since I’ve fantasized about the conversations we’d have once we were reunited. I would finally have an older sister like I had been to so many.

Today is her first birthday from the other side. She would have been 56.

I’ve loved her all along just for being there, older than me, leading the way.

Now it’s as if a bead has fallen off the string of siblings my mother handed me.

Advertisements
Posted in Artifacts/My Bonnie, Lanscape of Loss, Light, Markers, My Bonnie

My Mother’s Cup

The sweetness of being with the same man for 32 years is that he thinks to leave this morning’s tea in the fine china that I bought for my mother at the London Design Centre off of Haymarket in 1984 during my semester abroad.

She kept it in her china cabinet all those years because after all, she was a coffee drinker; and perhaps I’d always meant it for me… in the future… when I’d be without her… welcoming a connection to my past and to her gentleness and to the light of consciousness between us.

Posted in Back to the Castle, Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

Undertow

Last week I woke at dawn, in the home of my husband’s family, and took out my laptop to squeeze out a bit of deadline while everyone slept, but moments later closed my computer, and walked out the front door, and kept on walking, across the island, until my feet were in the sand, and the spray of  sea met my face, and the sun burst above the clouds in regal light.

I trailed the surf then until I came to “my” beach–between the Pan Am & the Crusader–and noticed how the empty lifeguard stands bore the name of roads–all flowers–instead of men or soldiers or continents; something I once dismissed and now appreciate.

I turned away from the surf then and trudged through the deep, soft sand, and into the dunes past the place where the prickers always found our feet or our ankles or our shins no matter how carefully we stepped, and past the beach hotels, across Atlantic, and down along the Little League field where Mrs. DelConte sold the Reese Cups; and across Seaview, alongside what remained of the beach houses not yet turned into condos, until I came to a rose bush, on the corner of Pacific, just across from “my” house, but I didn’t pretend that I lived there, not this time, I just kept on walking, past the Way’s house, the sister house to ours (and a better-looking one at that, having aged with love and continuity instead of loss and abandonment), and nodded across the street to the church where I went to Sunday School and married my husband and buried my mother, and nodded too to the big house beside it, the mother house of the 3, Aunt Sue’s, which was now a summer rental for the wealthy, and turned past the Johnson’s and the DelConte’s and what had once been the Parsonage, until I came to the other end of the block which was once my entire world, traversed barefoot, at the age of 4, big toe bloodied by sidewalks shifting on sand, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Nothing left but memory.

Anderson’s Corner Shop, my penny-candy Mecca, now a Realty Office; the bakery with the jelly donuts, a parking lot; and the Polish Shoe guy’s repair shop where he still charged a dollar to fix the pumps I wore as a young teacher, a Driving School. Sticky Fingers, across Cardinal, a Surf Shop, and Snuffy’s Hoagies, across Aster, where my grandfather opened me a summer account at the age of 7, now the Jellyfish Cafe. (Who wants to eat with jellyfish?)

I kept on walking across New Jersey Avenue past where I enrolled in the second grade, for two weeks, before we moved out to Colorado, and even though I told myself that I had no need to see the house that had once been my mother’s, especially with the sun rising higher in the sky, and the day growing warm, my feet took me toward the bay anyway, and I stood still for just a moment and felt into her presence, there on the porch in her wicker chair, with her tomato plants beside the stairs.

“Hi Kel,”

I sank into her steady, constant, contemplative presence, with those chesnut eyes like my first born’s and dark hair that she had dyed lighter and lighter and lighter until it was lighter than mine had ever been (which she had always admired/envied), and then it was the morning of my wedding, just after Jackie finished my hair and put on my veil, and I stopped by while I was still on the island, wanting to be sure that she was okay, and found her sitting on the front stoop, almost sober, still in her nighshirt, hair matted with neglect, and careful of my veil, married twice but never in a gown herself, somberly kissed me on the cheek, and as I got into my car, she stood to wave, leaving, beneath her, a puddle of blood, not knowing she was bleeding…

So I turned away, and headed north, walking until I left the shore once more and returned to the Green Mountains, a safe distance away, from the undertow of a lifetime of accumulated memory.

(2017)

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

Motherless Birthday


The hardest part of my birthday isn’t getting older, it’s worrying that I won’t make the most of it.

I really enjoy my birthday, and just like Christmas Day, I’m sad to see it end.

The best part is that my husband takes the day off just to play with me, offering himself to whatever I conjure. Even ice skating. Sometimes a day trip. Often Christmas shopping. Always an indulgent meal.

I remember the first birthday that I celebrated after my mother died. I turned 37 that year. I woke up and wanted to be alone.

I left before the boys were up, and missed the coffee cake that the neighbors brought to share.

I was up before dawn this morning too, and apparently left behind some of the facial mask I had applied–a dark crusty clay–circling my right nostril–which I didn’t notice until after we went out to breakfast. (Though apparently, my husband noticed it and didn’t think to say anything.)

Without thinking, I did the unthinkable. I licked my thumb and scrubbed. And then I smiled. “Hi Mom.”

My mother was the one to wipe spit across our faces when we were young, particularly on special occasions. I found it revolting, and I made sure I never did it to my kids.

It almost always snows on my birthday, no matter where I live, but not today, except, I hear, on the beach where I was born.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

My Mother’s Birthday

I find my mother in the quiet spaces…

Although her life with little ones spanned three decades, my mother managed to create tiny oases of calm at the beginning and end of each day, which somehow brings to mind the small origami swan I discovered in the corner of the absurdly tight Japanese Airlines restroom after an overnight flight from Boston to Tokyo.

It is only now, 17 years after her death, that I realize that my mother comes to me in the quiet spaces, like she did last evening when I climbed the stairs and came across the warm glow of the night light over the old clawfoot tub–with the sweep of the soft-green bamboo curtain–and the steadying presence of the enamel pitcher inside the bowl–all arranged like a still shot–completed by the worn bath mat–a gift from my engagement party–a park picnic in 1989–to which my mother arrived late and barely sober with potato salad.

The rose-colored towels that matched the mat are long gone, last used in August of 2000–to swaddle my son and soak up the blood from my body–while 300 miles away in her seaside home, his grandmother lay dying. Lung cancer.

Bonnie was reserved by nature (or by life) which may be why I took up so much space; and my mother was reluctant to express her needs or opinion, which could be why I had so much to say.

Despite her struggle with addiction or because of it, she cultivated consciousness, which was a practice we shared, passing books between us when I was in high school and continuing until her deathbed, where I read to her–Salinger’s Teddy–while her newborn grandson slept on her chest.

I always thought that I loved/demanded the absence of crumbs in my kitchen, particularly at night, because the warm glow of the stove over clean counters meant that my mother was sober… but now I see that she comes to me in this stillness, assures me of her abiding presence, like the falling snow, particularly as we approach Christmas–the day of her birth.

And wasn’t she always gentle and Christ-like in her capacity for kindness, even to those who stoned her, and wasn’t it the sound of silence that she always shared and held inside.

Happy Birthday week, Mommy.
You would have hated turning 75.
(But look, it’s the inverse of the age you died!)

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Markers, My Bonnie

37

“There are 37 days until Thanksgiving,” Alexa tells me. Which means there are 37 days remaining between me & the Motherhood archetype.

I turned 37 in the year I lost my mother.
I moved to Marlboro and opened a new post office box that year: #37!
There is something else too.
Just beyond recollection.
Hovering there outside my right brain.
Oh, right! I
became a writer at 37!

Alas, I’d been writing in a journal, making art out of pain, for almost two decades by then; while I’d begun publishing pieces–interviews–about others just as I became a mother myself.

But it wasn’t until the darkness of motherless-ness at 37, accompanied by the birth of my second son, that a new generativity awakened in me–which led me to begin sharing my personal journey–first in safer little bits–an essay here, an article there–until I discovered blogging and Facebook–and let loose a flood of presence to what was stirring in me–past, present, future–in the divine play of art and connection and humanity.

So YES, 37, I bow to you on this journey to Menopause.

(October 17, 2017)

Posted in Back to the Castle, Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

36 Hours at the Beach

On a later August morning, I woke before dawn, and took out my laptop to squeeze out a bit of deadline, while everyone else slept in the home that now only belonged to my husband’s mother, but moments later I closed my computer, and walked out the front door, and kept on walking, east, across the island, until my feet were in the sand, and the spray of sea against my face, and the sun streaming through the clouds in regal light.

I turned south then to trail the surf and passed under the fishing pier and kept on walking until I arrived at the beach of my childhood–set between the Pan Am & the Crusader hotels–and I noticed how the lifeguard stands bore the name of roads–all flowers and birds and plants (instead of numbers or men or cities) which is something I long dismissed as fluffy, and now receive, as grace.

At Cardinal, I turned away from the surf and trudged through the deep, soft sand, and into the dunes past the place where the prickers always found our ankles or shins, and past the beach hotels, across Atlantic Avenue, and down alongside the Little League field, with the dugout and the concession stand where Mrs. DelConte sold Reeses Cups; and then across Seaview, beside what remained of the beach cottages not yet turned into condos, until I came to a rose bush, on the corner of Pacific, just across the road from what had been my grandparents house, and then ours.

Only I didn’t pretend that I lived there, not this time, I just kept on walking. Past the Way’s house, which was the older sister house to ours (and the better-looking of the two elegant brick homes, having aged with love and continuity, instead of loss and abandonment), and paused a moment to nod on the diagonal toward the church across the avenue where I went to Sunday School and married my husband and buried my mother, and nodded too to the huge white house beside it, the mother house of these 3, all built by Philip Baker, who first settled the island in the late 1800s, and whose mansion became the home of my Aunt Sue, but was now a summer rental, for wealthy strangers.

I turned west past the Johnson’s and the DelConte’s and what had once been the Parsonage, until I came to the other end of the block which had been my entire world, my solo adventure, from the age of 4, a large cement rectangle, traversed barefoot, big toe bloodied by sidewalks shifting on sand, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” pennies in my pocket.

Which must be why, after a summertime at the shore, I was bold enough to abandon the first-grade, at the mid-day, crossing the streets of Center City Philadelphia, arriving home to our crowded high rise, unannounced, “Hi Mom, I’m home for lunch.”

Nothing left but memory.

Anderson’s Corner Shop, my penny-candy Mecca, now a Realty Office; the bakery with the jelly donuts, a parking lot; and the Polish Shoe guy’s repair shop where he still charged only a dollar to fix the pumps I wore as a first-year teacher, a Driving School. Sticky Fingers, across Cardinal, a surf shop, and Snuffy’s Hoagies, across Aster, where my grandfather opened a lunch account for me the summer I was 7, now the Jellyfish Cafe. (Jellyfish?)

I continued west, across New Jersey Avenue, past Phillip Baker School which is no longer there, where my mother enrolled me in the second grade for two weeks at the end of June, in between our move from Virginia to Colorado, because I begged and squealed with delight to have a desk beside Debbie DelConte, my very best friend of every summer, and then I continued up the road toward the bay, even though I told myself that there was no need to see the house that had last been my mother’s, especially with the sun rising higher in the sky, and the day growing warm, and only 36 hours in town, some of them sleeping, and yet my feet brought me there, and I stood still for just a moment and asked myself to feel into her presence.

And there she was.
On the porch.
In her wicker chair.
And wasn’t it the memory of her tomato plants beside the stairs
that brought my tears.

And here was her steady, contemplative presence, and those deep chestnut eyes (that live on in my first born) and her dark lustrous hair that she dyed lighter and lighter and lighter until it was lighter than mine which she had always admired/envied? like my light eyes.

“Hi, Kel,” she’d said, as she always did, having named me after her people, who lived only a few blocks away, on the Wildwood side of the street (the “other” side of town), instead of Wildwood Crest, home to her well to do husband’s family.

And then it was the morning of my wedding, just after Jackie fixed my curls and put on my veil, and so I stopped by before I left the island to be sure that she was okay, and awake, and I was relieved to find her sitting on her front stoop, almost sober, still in her night dress, hair matted with neglect (why hadn’t I thought to bring her with me to Jackie’s) and careful of my veil (married twice but never in a gown herself) she kissed me on the cheek, almost somberly, and stood to wave as I got in my car, leaving, beneath her, a puddle of blood, not knowing that it was that time of the month or that she hadn’t eaten for weeks.

And so, I turned and walked away, two blocks north back toward my sleeping family, and at the end of that day, I continued north, 300 miles, into the mountains, that have for 25 years, been my home.