It’s tempting to run to music. Stepping in time to someone else’s tune is usually much easier than setting my own.
It’s easier, but it’s also less fulfilling. Tonight I ditched my music, donned my new Vibrams, and began running.
The quiet felt eerie at first, until, step by step, I decided it was an empty page of sheet music waiting to be scored.
My path took me across a decrepit corner market. Bags of chips and bottles of hairspray competed for space on the cluttered shelves. I saw them for only a second before I was running back through time, and stepping into the market around the corner from my childhood home.
I handed the clerk a dollar bill for a bottle of Dr. Pepper and waited for change. Instead of returning my change to me, the clerk said, “What your mom does, it’s not right. She should take better care of you.”
“You have no idea what my mom does. Just give me my change.” I glared at the clerk before thrusting my hand her direction, silently demanding my change.
“I’m not saying this right,” she said, looking genuinely flustered. “I was like you growing up. It was hard. I’m just trying to help–”
“Wow, yeah, I can tell. You’re helping so much, making life so much easier for my mom, my siblings and me. We don’t need your kind of ‘help.’” I turned and stalked out of the market without my change, only seldom to return again. I had to be fierce to survive, both inside and outside of my home.
Back in May 2013, I saw I’d run a couple of blocks through the past. Returned to the present, I smiled at the teen texting while skating so slow I kept passing him. I listened to Korean karaoke and wondered if my neighborhood might not be the home karaoke capital of the world. I shook my head at the lady who kept pounding a crosswalk button, opting to do something instead of nothing, because although the end result is the same, it feels more productive.
I’d cruised dozens of steps past her before I realized she was me. I spent six months in an unhealthy situation, telling myself that I could end it if I could just find the right words to make someone else understand my pain. “I just haven’t found the right words yet,” I told myself, pounding the button. “Maybe these are the right ones?” Pound. “Or these ones?” Poundpoundpound.
It took someone else’s flippant comment for me to realize there were literally no words I could say to them to make them understand. I’d tried dozens if not hundreds of combinations, but none of them sank in, because–here’s the kicker–no one in this world can make another person understand.
I decided it was time to chart a new course. I stopped idly pounding someone else’s buttons and stepped away.
I was frustrated with myself as I ran and remembered.
‘”Six whole months, Deb. Six months. You couldn’t figure it out sooner?”
I couldn’t help but chuckle, though, picturing the lady pounding away at the crosswalk button in hopes of a green light come earlier by her actions.
Yes, I was slow on the uptake. No, I can’t change the past by beating up my past self for her actions. Somehow it’s easier to see this as I pound the pavement, step after step after glorious step.
I once plowed through the heartaches of my youth. They hurt, but they made me stronger. I pushed my way through irrepressible loneliness in South Korea, law school and Japan, in that order. I did many things right and others very, very wrong, straight up through this very evening run.
I would never have heard these tunes converge with my ears turned toward someone else’s stories in song. I would never have seen with such clarity how I have run through heartache, hardship and loss, somehow managing to gather speed instead of slowing.
Step after step after step, I run. I will never be an Olympian in the outside world, but in my inner world, as I run through past, present and future, there are no medals equal to the sheer beauty of striding through strife and into ever-increasing strength.
My new doctor interrupted me just as tears began gathering in my eyes.
“Good timing,” I told her, stifling sniffles. “I was just about to get to a really sad part of this book, The End of Your Life Book Club.” I gave her a brief synopsis of the non-fiction book, in which a son writes about the informal book club he and his mom shared during the last two years of her life.
“Hmm,” she replied, before asking how I was doing.
Twenty minutes later, I thanked her profusely. “I just can’t tell you how thankful I am for you. I mean, where would I start?”
She smiled. “I’m in this line of work because I want to help heal people.”
I thought of our meeting as I trekked out to my car, but I was too ravenous to think very clearly. I downed some much needed protein and iron in a Del Taco parking lot before beginning my forty-minute drive back home. I flipped on the radio and was immediately catapulted back in time by the opening notes of a beloved song. Read more…
I climbed out of the car, readying to free my son from his car seat, when I overheard the folks parked next to us.
“They’re black,” one man said derisively.
Said the other with equal derision as he glanced toward my son, “That bodes well for the future.”
After a moment’s debate, I decided not to say anything. Because, no matter how the words were spoken, their truth is undeniable: our sweet children, being raised to see beyond our superficial differences, do indeed bode well for a future more full of love.
Labels can be useful.
Is this parsley? Or is it thyme?
Is this a middle school? Or is it a high school?
Labels can also be useless or, worse, counterproductive.
Is he a nerd? A geek? A poser?
Is he a future success story? Or a failure waiting to happen?
As a writer, I’m struggling with labels right now. Is my first novel, The Monster’s Daughter, YA? Or is it horror? I’d put it squarely into the category “YA horror,” no matter how I envision it as a coming of age tale, but the categories available don’t allow me this designation.
I’m left to choose between “Teen: monsters” or “Horror.” I personally feel the latter fits somewhat better, but it also makes my novel virtually invisible in searches. The former doesn’t fit quite as well but opens my book to a much wider audience. Read more…
Chris (From the Bungalow) and I met face to face in March 2012, when I flew to Chicago to join him and his wife in shaving heads for St. Baldrick’s. Before that meeting, Chris and I had been blogging buddies for nearly a year. In light of our frequent thoughtful exchanges, I fully expected my introversion to be subdued even in the face of our first meeting. It was.
If you’ve been here a while, you know Chris inspired me to read the life-changing Donna’s Cancer Story. You know implicitly of his eloquence and ability to persuade; but for that, I would have a much fuller head of hair right now. What you may not know is that he’s also a father, a musician, a music therapist and one hell of a friend. My offline life is better for knowing Chris, and I trust you will understand why when you read his powerful words below.
Recommended post: Blissfully Bald
I will not sit idly by…
“They’ve ruled out everything else. I have ALS.”
As I listened to my mom speak those words, they didn’t make sense. Somehow, it never really registered with me until just now, right after I typed them. There has been an underlying malaise these past few months following the loss of my parents’ house to fire, and shortly thereafter, the sudden loss of my maternal grandmother to cancer. But that diagnosis… those words? Superficial until now. I didn’t want to accept it. I couldn’t.
Lou-fucking-Gehrig’s Disease, terminal in 100% of cases. Terminal? How?! How do we not know a goddamn thing about this? How did this happen?! Forget about that. How is my mom handling her prognosis? How is my dad handling it? My sisters? Me?
What am I supposed to do now? What is my mom supposed to do? I have more questions than answers. That’s an overwhelming place to be. I’m sad and angry. She lost both of her sisters when they were in their 30′s, lost both of her parents to cancer, and now this? An innocent, loving, caring mother and grandmother sentenced to death at some not-so-distant point in the future while her body slowly shuts down? Bullshit. It’s not right. It’s not fair.
And yet, there’s this voice in my head that keeps whispering to me… Read more…
I love many people, and I love many people greatly, but there is no one I love more intensely or completely than one little boy named David. If you read my blog, you have come to know David as “Li’l D.” He is my son, and—although I once dreaded the prospect of parenthood—my life has been a million times brighter since he entered it three years ago.
For this one blog, I cannot call David “Li’l D.” Because, you see, this is a post about the loss of children, and “the loss of children” translates in my mind to “the loss of David.” Not “Li’l D.” David.
David: my exuberant, bossy, compassionate chatterbox of a son. My David.
Last September, I learned that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I ignored most of the posts I saw on the matter, because paying attention to them meant paying attention to the fact my own son could someday be among them.
I will cross that bridge if I get there, I told myself.
It was January before I steeled myself to read Donna’s Cancer Story, a series documenting one brave, beautiful girl’s battle with cancer. As I read it and for days afterward, I bawled, I cursed the universe, and ultimately held David tighter as I imagined what it would be like to say goodbye to him having barely just said “hello, my sunshine.”
As this September rolled around, I thought about what it would mean to me. I knew I’d read Donna’s Cancer Story again, and share it for those like me who couldn’t bear the thought of reading it the first time around.
I didn’t know I’d find myself also reading Aidan’s Cancer Story, and compelled by the memory of both Donna Quirke Hornik and Aidan Manning to look more deeply into why pediatric cancer awareness is important not only on a personal, empathy-building level but on an extremely practical one.
In 2004, I wrote a YA trilogy over the course of six weeks. The trilogy retold a story I’d begun as a vampire-obsessed high school freshman.
I ignored the trilogy for a long time and for many reasons. I’m not a writer, I told myself. I just wrote some stuff because I was bored and broke in the middle of nowhere.
When my mom died in 2010, I remembered all the times she’d encouraged me to write professionally and hated myself for waving her off every single time. I started editing the first book in my trilogy not because I suddenly saw myself as a writer, but because it was important to me to do this one thing in my mom’s memory.
I edited the book as I edit my contracts, parsing the story down to its barest essence instead of letting it breathe as fully as it needed to. 78,000 words became 52,000 words, and those 52,000 words were released as The Monster’s Daughter.
Over the last eighteen months, I’ve tried dozens of strategies to force myself to edit its sequel. I’d written a trilogy, by damn, and I needed to publish a trilogy.
I told myself it was OK to pause editing the second book if I wrote a new, unrelated book. I wrote the new book and still balked at returning to the second book of my trilogy.
I released a non-fiction ebook while beginning work on another non-fiction project. A few weeks ago, I set aside the non-fiction book in progress to work on a new fiction project. Anything to avoid returning to my trilogy!
The deeper I delve into my new project, the harder it becomes to imagine returning to my trilogy. It’s not that I don’t love the trilogy or its protagonist, Ginny, who made otherwise excruciating loneliness tolerable. I do love the trilogy, and I love Ginny, most especially when I am lonely or aching.
I love the trilogy the way I love Edward Scissorhands, The Bridge to Terabithia or The Escape Club’s “I’ll Be There.” Once, these things were my everything. They occupied my mind, my heart and even my aspirations, both for what they were and for the layers of meaning I added to them. When things are deeply beloved, it’s hard to look at the past they belong to head-on and embrace that it’s the past. The moment is gone, the moment’s magic transformed to the sweet memory of magic.
As I wrote to my friend El, to whom I first confessed I was thinking of letting The Monsters’s Daughter stand alone:
I think I was afraid of letting [Ginny] go, but it’s impossible to let her go; she lives in me, now and forever.
Watching the words pour out of me for this new project just makes it so clear that I need to follow whatever voice is singing to me right now . . . not try to catch a tune playing miles away, now.
Ginny and The Monster’s Daughter were once my everything. Today I set them free, with a sigh and a butterfly kiss, as I turn my ears toward the music that plays for me now.
Thanks to What I Had Really Meant to Say for this opportunity to visit with hope today as part of the Hope 2012 blog relay.
The summer my mom snapped, I didn’t understand “hope.”
What I understood that summer was that I might never talk to my mom again. That the resources available to assist the mentally ill and their loved ones were woefully inadequate. That a woman could struggle through hardship after hardship only to find new hardships where at least one iota of peace ought have been.
I pieced hope together slowly over the years that followed. Shopping for hardware with my boyfriend one Mother’s Day, I found a colorful card that reminded me of my mom. I wrote on it that she’d always been a little colorful, but that her colors made the world brighter and richer. I delivered the card to her house only to have her scream and wave a shovel at me.
My boyfriend held one of my hands in both of his own as I cried in the front seat of his car. But I, like my siblings, kept at it. I believed something might happen to change the game tomorrow, or the day after it.
I passed by my mom on a run a couple of years later. Instead of screaming at me, she told me about all the neighborhood squirrels she was caring for. I slowed my run so I could accompany her all the way to the town’s bus station. I didn’t know if I’d ever have another moment like that, so I wanted to prolong and savor it.
Hope came a little easier after that.
Conversations were a little stilted when they happened, and my mom still occasionally accused her neighbors–and her children–of bizarre crimes, but conversations did happen. It seemed, after years of struggling, we might be getting somewhere.
Then, in the middle of 2009, my sister Rache called to tell me Mom’s doctor was concerned our mom might have “the C word.” My sister couldn’t even say it the first couple of times we spoke about Mom’s early appointments, so that I misunderstood what “C word” we were talking about. It hit me like a train to the stomach when Rache finally said the word: “cancer.”
That evening, I wrote my dearest friend:
I feel like I lost my mom several years ago, so I didn’t think it was possible to feel greater sorrow on that front. But hearing that physical death may also be imminent, it’s clear there are degrees of loss. Intellectually, I understand that there’s very little hope my mom as she existed while I grew up could be regained. Apparently, though, my heart has been holding onto hope that there might be some movement that direction. With physical death, what once was and what is now are all wrapped up neatly and concluded, with no chance of semi-happy endings.
When my mom’s diagnosis was confirmed, I was devastated. For years, I had hoped, and that hope had been destroyed by a single word spoken in a single second.
I thought and thought, and I fought with myself over what was and wasn’t reasonable in light of my mom’s diagnosis.
I’d trained myself to hope. I couldn’t not hope. So what, then, could I hope for?
I hoped that my mom would live long enough to meet her first grandchild, with whom I was seven months pregnant. It was a hope replete with moments of agony and frustration that I should be limited to such a small and fleeting hope, but I clung to it. I needed it to sustain me.
My son was born. Tickets home were purchased. My mom held her grandson.
She hated how she looked, but I saw only the love.
After my mom met my son, I invested my hope in the possibility of my mom’s recovery. And yet, there came a time where it was clear that hope would not be translated to truth.
I hoped my mom would get to see my son again, but I was struggling. It was easier to tell myself to hope than to actually tend to its tiny embers and set them full aflame again.
My mom did see my son again. He brought her great joy through suffering written so clearly on her face that I couldn’t help but feel its echoes, and despair.
He brought her so much joy that, occasionally, she’d grit her teeth and try climbing unsteadily from her bed, saying, “I will survive. I will live and see him grow up. I will meet my other grandkids.”
I would smile at her and try to calm her enough to get her back in bed, and then retreat to the cold bedroom down the hall and cry, and cry, and cry.
I didn’t know what to hope, but I knew better than to share that fleeting, wild hope of hers.
A week after the last time she told me this, I wrote my friends a letter that began:
At 2:35pm yesterday, my mother breathed her last breath in the loving arms of my sisters.
The letter described many things that brought me joy, and great love for those who’d helped me through the last months of my mom’s life. What it didn’t describe was hope, for I felt hopeless, even as I wrapped up that letter thusly:
Next October 30, I will celebrate alone the birthday I shared with my mother. But she’ll be in my heart, and the gifts she bestowed upon me will carry her spirit forward in my every action, every day.
At my mom’s memorial, I caught sight of my son sleeping and felt the slightest stirrings of hope.
My mom’s final chapter had been written, but my tiny man’s life had so many chapters remaining. Imagining those chapters filled me with joy that couldn’t be touched by words, and kindled those stirrings so they began to take on their own vibrance.
As I worked with my siblings to clean out my mom’s house, I thought about all the chapters remaining my son. I saw that I, too, had many chapters left in my own life.
I chose hope. Even as I bawled, and cursed, and listened to music I hated to know my mom would never hear again, I chose to believe that there was good ahead.
I would edit one of my books. I would nurture my son’s passions. I would lend a hand to others as often as I could. I would focus not on what had been taken away from me, and the inevitability that still more would be taken away from me with time, but on all the possibilities left open to me, my son, and my loved ones. They were so, so many.
In August 2009, I believed hope was lost. In August 2012, I see that hope was simply hiding then. She was clenched tightly to herself, nestled deep within me, keeping herself safe until once again free to expand to fill me.
Hope has since unfurled and stretched herself into every piece of my life. Sometimes she retreats, but I know she will find her way back to me, and I to her. She needs me to give her my voice in this world; I need her to remember why I have a voice, and how to use it.
Hope was never lost to me. She just needed to be freed from the constraint of being tied to one place, to one situation, or to one person; for, indeed, she thrives best of all when her feet are untethered and she is allowed to wander as free and far as the human imagination extends.
Instructions for Hope 2012: A blog relay
Step 1: Write a blog post about hope & publish it on your blog.
Step 2: Invite one (or more!) bloggers to do the same.
Step 3: Link to the person who recruited you at the top of the post, and the people you’re recruiting at the bottom of the post.
Melanie Crutchfield will be holding “Closing Ceremonies” around August 10 and will gather up little snippets from people that wrote about hope, so make sure you link back to her as the originator of the relay
I call on:
The Saturday before last, I posted a vlog mentioning I’d done an interview on my experiences with indie publishing. That interview is now posted here. At 12 minutes, it’s not as short as the other couple of vlogs I’ve posted here, but it is good background listening as you go about your blogging business today.
Speaking of indie publishing, Memos from Your Closet Monster (previously touched on in this blog) went live on Amazon yesterday afternoon. I’m still entranced by Mack’s gorgeous cover. More than being entranced by it, I’m soothed by it. Its center photo was taken on my mom’s porch during a period of mental illness induced estrangement, so that the empty chair behind me felt like so much more than an empty chair. Seeing that photo worked into something physically beautiful transformed the picture for me. At its taking, it was a sorrowful photo from a sorrowful time; now it’s been reshaped into one small piece of something bigger and much more complex than any single word could possibly encompass.
My morning writing time is rapidly dwindling, so I’d best wrap this up–after a quick note on my recent reading! I tend to rate most books I actually finish at four stars, but the last two I read and the one I’m reading now all get five stars. Which books, exactly? More on that here.
What are you reading today?
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.