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.
Thunder Thighs came home with me yesterday.
Yesterday I drove home with that representation in the passenger seat beside me, and thought about Thunder Thighs. Love. Laughter. How blessed I am to have an abundance of these things, even when my introversion sometimes–as now–make me yearn for more quiet time to recharge.
Although Thunder Thighs is my mom, and today is Mother’s Day in the U.S., mother’s love is only a small part of what’s in my heart today. The larger part belongs not to the love provided by any one person, but to any love provided by anyone who loves–not passively or from a distance, but actively with outreached hand, heart and time offered up to others.
Whether or not you hope to be a mother, once were a mother, are a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, or none of these things, I celebrate you today. I celebrate your acts of love and compassion. I celebrate your phone call to a friend, your donation to a shelter, your vigil with a friend whose father is dying, your care to a friend’s house when she is in the hospital, your watching a neighbor’s children so she can shop for groceries. I celebrate the light that you shine upon those within your vicinity, and thank goodness you are out there shining that light.
Upon my bedroom door there now hangs a reminder to cherish these things. My mom is no longer a phone call away, but there is love aplenty evidenced in each minute every day regardless.
Today I will look for loves’ signs, and I will celebrate each of them, no matter who originates any one of them.
No matter who or where you are,
may your day be full of love,
both received and given.
A few days ago, my sisters texted me that they’d be visiting my mom’s grave.
Why today? I wondered, before it hit me: I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten March 4 was the day my mom breathed her last breath. The day she was, as a text message I received March 4, 2010 stated, finally at peace.
I felt terrible. How could I have forgotten? How could I have failed to mark such a hugely important day?
A message from my friend Emily helped me see things a little clearer. At Joshua Tree the weekend before, she’d made a point to have our friend Briel take tons of oops-I’m-falling-off-a-cliff pictures meant to make her mom–who had helped deliver my son into this world–break into a sweat. Every time Emily posed, I giggled, remembering how I used to (mostly) lovingly push my mom’s buttons just because I could. And I remembered my mom, too.
My mom, whose mischievous ways meant she sometimes couldn’t understand how she’d raised such straight-laced children. Who took my brother out for ice cream the only time he got detention. “One of my kids has it in him!” she rejoiced.
Who once pierced her belly button, exclaiming mirthfully, “This way I’m rebellious and no one at church has to know!”
Who always made me giggle when she busted out her superhero antics, and made me want to be a superhero, too.
On Monday, Emily delivered the photoshopped cherry on her panic-picture pie:
I laughed from my belly when I saw it. As I laughed, I felt like my mom was chuckling with me. “I like this girl!” I could hear her saying.
Later in the evening, I got choked up when my sisters sent me pictures of my niece and nephew standing on Mom’s grave. I cried while walking the dog later still, feeling guilty anew to have forgotten. After a few minutes of sniffling self flagellation, I revisited something I’d written earlier in the day:
Feel terrible that I forgot it’s been three years today since Mom died. Feel glad, too; better to remember life & birthdays than a death day.
Seeing those words, I wiped off my tears, loaded Emily’s picture again, and giggled. Again.
Just like that, my mom felt near . . . nearer by far in the laughter than the tears.
Today I got something remarkable in the mail.
I knew it was coming. I’d commissioned it, after all.
And yet, there is a difference between envisioning something in the abstract and seeing it with my own eyes, which are currently full of tears.
There were few traditions in my household growing up, unless you count my mom’s antiquing and Dumpster diving. One tradition I could count on was periodic weekend walks to the comic book store, where my mom would set my siblings and me free with a dollar apiece. She’d buy the comics that interested her, while we’d rummage through the ten-cent comic bins for our personal favorites. Mine were horror episodics, a la Creepshow, as well as Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld and Superman.
In law school, I got my sister the full set of Amethyst comics as a birthday present. I hadn’t had much cause to think of that, or the comics themselves, until a couple of weeks ago. I’d walked into an antique shop in search of a dresser. There were no dressers available, but I did find excellent conversation with the store’s owner, who reminded me so very much of my mom I felt as if she were standing just behind me, too intent in her own rummaging to chit-chat.
Another prospective customer came in and interrupted our discussion with a question. I examined the jewelry in a nearby case for a moment; when I looked up, my eyes landed directly on comic book magic: Amethyst and Superman in the same comic!
I coughed up $10 and decided that, for that single afternoon, I believed in signs.
I still haven’t read that comic. It’s not important that I read it, just that it exists. It reminds me of my favorite times with my mom, my Thunder Thighs, my forever superhero.
Every time my eyes landed on that magical crossover comic, I thought of another piece of comic art I was waiting for. I’d commissioned extremely talented, conscientious comic artist and friend Sina Grace to draw a piece borne from my blog “Becoming a Superhero.”
Because my mom’s life was so full of strife, I struggled to figure out how to do her memory justice. How could I help other people see her not as just a crazy bird lady but as the source of my own love, hope and wonder, not through accident but through emulation? How could I remember her that way, recalling not only her life’s many tragedies but also its victories?
“Becoming a Superhero” was the turning point for me. It was my answer. As long as I remembered Thunder Thighs, I was remembering my mom–my real mom, not not-Mom, the way she’d want to be remembered.
And as long as I not only remember but live the best parts of her, her love and laughter endure.
At some point I decided I wanted not just words but an image to serve as my reminder to remember my mom and use the remembering well.
I described to Sina what I envisioned, though that envisioning was in blurs and blobs. He asked bunches of questions and set to work, sending me a “blueline” (or very preliminary sketch) a few days ago to make sure he was on the right track. I loved it, and I said so. I was prepared to be enchanted by the final product, but again, I couldn’t really imagine what that enchantment would feel like.
Today I received a snapshot of the final image. I laughed and cried all at once, enveloped in the rush of remembered comic book shop visits, Thunder Thighs adventures, and the imagined forays of Dark Moon and Silver Star. My mom would love the image. I sure do.
The print one will be in my hands in a week or two’s time, but what’s important now is that it’s in my heart. Right there with my mom, my Thunder Thighs, my forever superhero.
If Tori Nelson had never guest posted here, I would still have been delighted to guest post for her today.
But she did guest post here. And she rocked me so deeply with her beautiful words about being grateful for even absence and lack that I feel the ripples of goodness more than a year later.
It’s thus not only a delight but an honor to guest post for her today, and to do so in a way that almost pays homage to her guest post: by sharing one tiny spark that sustained me through dark times. Many sparks have lit my way, including Tori herself, but the flame kindled by this picture burns bright three years after I first found it in my inbox.
Read about it at “Photographs of the Heart“
The post might sound sad, but I share it with joy. The thing about loss, after all, is that it is preceded by having . . . a having the goodness of which can never be undone.
I have lost, but I have lost because I have had.
En route to Christmas dinner with my fiancee’s family, we pulled over at a convenience store. When Ba.D. left the car, our son asked me a few questions.
“Mommy, are we going to see your family?”
“No, sweetheart. We’re going to visit Daddy’s family.”
“You don’t have families, Mommy?”
“I do. They’re just far away.”
“Hey, I’m your family, Mommy!”
The other flaw in my explanation struck me only when I read the exchange to Ba.D. a couple of minutes later: We were going to visit family. Our family, not just Ba.D.’s.
It should have been clear to me earlier, thanks to text messages still fresh in my mind from the beginning of our drive.
We had just begun driving when my phone alerted me of a text message. I unlocked my phone and read a text message from my sister, Silver Star, before seeing the picture attached to the message. Read more…
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.
It’s little wonder I grew up wanting to be a superhero.
From the time I was little, the woman I most admired deemed herself “Thunder Thighs,” with the power to destroy villains by such seemingly innocuous things as body odor and thigh-ripple shock waves.
I don’t remember all of her powers or all the villains she coaxed back toward goodness, but I do remember my giggles. I remember how, in these moments, the world was only mirth and closeness to the funniest, silliest, smartest, prettiest mom in the whole wide world.
Thunder Thighs has retired now, but her cape is stretched forever across my proverbial heart.
I’ve been thinking of her a lot these days. I’d like to be worthy of wearing her cape.
There’s only one way to earn it. It’s not by being skinny enough, tall enough, eloquent enough, smart enough or bestselling enough. Not even a little.
I’ll earn that cape by making my son laugh from deep in his belly, and by showing him there is no sweeter music to me than the sound of that laugh. By making him forget the rest of the world exists, for a few moments, and letting him know that the rest of the world has ceased to exist for me, too. By letting him know I am not near him, but with him.
Thanks to The Hands Free Revolution, I’m getting in touch with my inner Thunder Thighs. I’m looking at my cell phone and wondering, “Would Thunder Thighs read that email, or would she swoop up her child and take him for an impromptu airplaine ride instead?”
I know what she would do. She might not have been the most practical of superheroes, but she was the most loving.
I have a choice. Every time my phone beeps, it’s beeping a choice. I choose my son. I choose my family.
I choose to do my best to be remembered by my son as I remember Thunder Thighs.
I will be worthy of that cape.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
* Read the follow-up to this post here.
I’ll be bald in eleven days.
There was a time I swore I’d never have hair shorter than chin length again. At 18, I’d made the unfortunate mistake of dozing off at the hands of a new stylist, who thought I’d look just fabulous with one-inch hair.
Despite my old vow, I choose baldness now.
I do this to stand in solidarity with children who do not choose baldness, or cancer, but face these things determinedly nevertheless. On March 24, 2012, I’ll join my friends Chris and Karin in having my head shaved for St. Baldrick’s children’s cancer charity.
I love my hair. Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to miss it while it’s gone. But there’s a heckuva lot I love even more in this world.
As I learned at 18, hair grows back. People do not, so I feel honored to do this one small thing I can to help some young people battling cancer stay here in this world, and illuminate it longer with their own unique and beautiful gifts.
If you’re able to donate, please do so here or via team Blissfully Bald. If you’re donating or wish you could donate in someone’s honor or memory, please tell me a little bit about them in comment here so I may share your words in a future blog entry. I believe it is a blessing to the living to remember our departed beloved.
If you are inspired to share this blog, please know now that I am deeply grateful.
Am I a little nervous about my impending months without much hair? Sure. But right now, my hair will do much better off my head than on it. I live in Los Angeles, for Pete’s sake! I don’t need hair to keep my head warm here. Not even in March.
And if I do end up needing a little help heating my head? It just so happens I’ve got a hot pink wig lined up for the occasion.
I’ll be happy without the wig, though. ‘Cause you know what? Beautiful is beautiful, with or without hair. Seeing my mom without her hair taught me that.
Gorgeous, spirited Donna Quirke Hornik, subject of the series that inspired me to make this choice, helped me see it more clearly still.
I’m gonna be bald. And, man, am I gonna be bald in great company. Present in person, and ever-present in our hearts.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.