neither fire, nor wind, birth, nor death

My computer – an expensive piece of equipment, and one I rely on utterly – seems to have died. I try a cold boot, I try a PRAM boot. Nothing. My husband comes home in the evening and although the computer is important I have enough discipline not to worry; I set the problem aside. We also have dinner to make, and a kitchen to clean, a garment to finish sewing, a dog to bathe, teenagers to wrangle, and company this evening.

So at 10:30 Ralph tells me after taking a look at the Mac: “I don’t think your computer has a discrete hard drive I can remove.” I ask him, “Can you boot it as a slave?”

“I might be able to do that,” he says; then, “And I am impressed you’d suggest such a smart idea.”

“I tell you, when it comes to computers I’m like my dad. A savvy caveman.” My father was like that. He’d have a problem and he was calm about it. And when I was available to take a look he’d tell me, “I notice it only ___ when this is blinking,” and he’d point to something onscreen and it was always a relevant clue. And he’d nod like, this thing works on moonspells and snakeblood and I don’t quite understand it but I give it some respect.

Today it would have been my father’s 75th birthday. I know we would have done something special for him. I would have made him a cake. He’s been gone ten years. I don’t believe his presence is here. But his presence isn’t entirely missing, either.

I meditated this morning after reading some of the Dhammapada. It calmed me a great deal. Returning to regular meditation is essential; and more importantly, I am ready to recommit. I am ready to be here again, and more often, and calmer while I am.

I have stopped saying I was consumed, I have been saying “I was almost consumed”

With an absolute force of will, I remove a slice of pizza from the wrapped parcel, and place it on the cutting board. This will be the first meal I’ve had in about thirty six hours. For the last several hours the thought I should eat, was met with a rising nausea as well as awareness of my aching body: my entire abdomen a turgid, throbbing knot of pain.

My mind is being pulled into two different worlds, and the pain of this is excruciating. It hurts my head; it hurts my body.

In one world, I am a success. My life is a success. My partner and I have raised two wonderful children to teenagehood; they are both doing extraordinarily well despite trials and a few extraordinary circumstances. In this world I am creative, and kind. In this world I am learning to be kinder, and (slowly) trying to be stronger. In this world, I am strong enough to rise to a challenge. I am fierce. I would do anything possible to protect my children and protect my marriage – I would rise to any calamity. I have been a faithful and loving wife, giving every ounce of my passion and loyalty to a man who is the best I’ve met. I have withstood enormous pressures: the trail of abuse and dysfunction as a child, of more abuse in my early adulthood. The devastation of addiction. Sexual abuse. For years: denial. Then fear, anger, sadness. Some forgiveness, this tiny teacup-full. In this world, I have committed to a high standard of behavior for myself. I commit to this standard, fail, and try again and I move on. In this world, I am taking care of my lovely home. I am developing my career, while caring for my family and friends.

In this world, I stand in the kitchen and prepare a breakfast for my child before I take them to campus. They are graduating college at 16; I have helped them just the right amount. In this world, I parcel my focus to all these things – my husband, each child. My home, my career. My husband’s career. My recovery. My friends, my faith tradition. I put together the list of things I hope to do, to take care of the people I need to. In this world, on a daily basis, I do not neglect my responsibilities.

In this world I am a strong and loving person, but really: just a human being. I am a beautiful, loved, human being who helps make the world a better place.

This is a wonderful world and I have spent many days there.

But there is another world, too.

In this other world, I have failed utterly. My career is a joke; it can and will take too much of my focus to be a serious thing to commit to. In this world, my husband is deeply dissatisfied with me, and it is only a matter of time before he leaves. Every plan I’ve made and every thing I’ve cared for, is utter trash – not because the goals and the lovely things I care about are not wonderful – they are the most wonderful things on earth! – but because I could not possibly have been expected to succeed. In this world, my shitty childhood, the sexual abuse I endured, the terrorizing I endured, and my drinking: those things won after all. In the end, I was not strong enough to do any good; tread water though I tried.

In this world, no matter the kind words and tender acts of care I give my husband and children, it is too little and too late. There have been too many misbehaviors on my part. There have been too many times I was torn in two and could not focus. I could not check in. There have been too many hours – hours that have swelled into weeks or months or years in the aggregate – where I was attempting to escape. And even though it is understandable a person would do this, and we nod with empathy and say, “Oh that is so sad, but don’t you see why you did it?” in the end after all, I will not be permitted to fail without punishment. We understand why you did this, but it cannot be forgiven. It was not enough that I was there in body and that I was there in deed. In my mind I was trying to escape. And so: I failed. No points. I did my best but I will soon be summarily dismissed, and it was very foolish of me to put so much faith in my actions.

I am being pulled between these worlds.

Today I realized neither world is true, as powerful an illusion as they may be.

Today, I live in today’s world.

So: I begin to eat, and my body reminds itself this is a good thing. I relax; I will be able to finish this meal.

I can now do the next thing.

Today I can do the things I am supposed to do. I can communicate with kindness and directness. I can meet my responsibilities to family, to self-care, to my larger community. I can do the laundry and wash the dishes and drive my mother where she needs to go and meet with a friend who could use my help. I can pray; I can meditate. I can talk to my sponsor. If I have time I can pick up and sew this dress, that rests behind me on the studio table. I can talk to my husband about his day. I can hold him. I can make him a cup of coffee. I can bring my body to nurture: making food, hugging and kissing my husband and my children.

On the drive home from the college the black sky opens up and a torrential rain hits the streets. We who live here know it is the season: many months of darkness and rain. The earth here absolutely loves it; drinks in enough nourishment to stay green all through the year, while wildfires rage and the country burns. Here we hurry from our cars inside the café for a hot cup of coffee; we connect by eye contact with friend and stranger alike. The rain hammers the windows while I slice an apple for my son, who will soon be up and, as is his 13-year old wont, hungry.

& to sicken i’ this dree place

Life is confusing. I was going to wait to share my feelings, wait for things to be less disturbed, but it hasn’t been happening. Life continues to confuse me. I put a step in front of the other, and make my way around the sharp rocks. I don’t stumble, I don’t put out my hand to averse affect. I do not feel a falseness to the path, but I am lost.

Life seems to be smaller, somehow. I have a social life, and a busy one. It isn’t a joyless life. But nevertheless I am somewhat diminished, particularly with regards to human contact. It isn’t just my imagination, as I have a special type of journal that reveals my activities, contracts, and experiences from previous years.

As of the last year, or so: I am receiving fewer requests for paid work. I receive requests often enough – but few actual pieces are commissioned and completed to mutual satisfaction, as most who ask are not serious about the whole business. I have at least, learned to spend my time well on this record. I am receiving fewer comments on my online writings – in all the places I write (there are many, and many you here are not aware of). Fewer donations through my blog, and a damn sight fewer emails. I reach out, but the reciprocal is rare. 

You can imagine how wonderful it is when someone asks after me, or writes me!

It is wonderful to be alive, but it is easy to suddenly experience isolation. It is the oddest experience, and not entirely comfortable. I know it is temporary, but nevertheless I stumble.

Sometimes I think people mistake my Buddhist practice as one of self-sufficiency. Buddhism and self-sufficiency don’t go together at all, of course. (and yet they do!) 

I have fear. I used to think I had mastered fear; now I know I never will. Today while reading North & South (listening to it, rather – via podcast/audiobook), and contemplating Bessy Higgins’ plight, I was suddenly overcome with concern for my daughter. Her lungs aren’t well and people really do get very ill from this sort of thing. We haven’t sorted it all out, and it’s all new to me, and not comfortable whatsoever. There isn’t really much that can be done to help me feel more comfortable – there is no remedy, nothing I can buy or work I can do.

The whole business makes it quite an effort to complete my requisite tasks, to care for myself and others, and to keep up the effort. It is like speaking into a well, a vast and dark space. Waiting for an echo and none returns. Am I to shout? To grow more bold? Or to look into the deep dark and feel the fear, wash over me like the damp creep, the gloaming, the mysteries that are never known but rather chased away by sunlight and bits of flame and the day’s distraction.

The sun outside is a pleasant companion; it warms my house and in the morning I go through a routine, opening as many windows as I can easily,

and keeping curtains closed such that we remain cool.

Jon-Won Kitten / Cupcake Party

on hospitality

Jon-Won Kitten / Cupcake Party

Today is less peachy-keen than yesterday. Still very low levels of kidney pain – most of the day, non-existent – but I am fatigued, and suffered a good deal of nausea rising in the later part of the day.

I do the best I can: rescheduling an appointment, making a few more. Laundry (a neighborhood gentleman came over and helped inspect our dryer), dishes, and food – cupcakes and chicken sandwiches for our later event. Drive to the bank to make a deposit.Thankfully, the deposit gets there before the check for rent pulls funds.

Put the house in order; light candles. Cut out three layered t-shirts; return pattern to envelope and filing system. Fold clothes and make a pot of hot, strong tea.  Drive the rainy distance along the river out to pick up my children, and one other young one, at the bus stop. Put a call in to a friend.

The sandwiches, the tea party: a few visitors today, one very special. My friend E., my daughter’s best friend A. – and the kitten new to A.’s home. A kitten almost identical to our own Pip, but of a fluffier nature with a hard, round, low-slung belly.

You can see why it was pretty important we make it a real Occasion.

Jon-Won Kitten / Cupcake Party 

A. and her kitty leave a little after 8; I tidy up. It’s 9 PM – my makeup is fading; my body feels ill. My son collapsed at six PM, clothes and all, in his bed – lights on. His early bedtime somehow leaves me feeling lonely, sad and ill. The early sunset isn’t a great help, either.

I remind myself that just because I am not feeling well, does not mean those in my home are similarly afflicted. It is so important to give them all the love I can.

No matter what!

Backstage, JCS

a hand on a hot stove

Backstage, JCS

I get these little sticking points, these moments of non-acceptance. I’m cast from my place of ease and serenity, or at least my finger on the pulse of the dharma – into confusion, a small smudge of despair – rudderless.  Tonight it’s in the car, as we drive to the hospital and my 12 year old daughter hears her mother praying aloud and crying, the helpless cry of abject suffering. Finally pull over at the side of the road – this is at about 9:30 PM – to vomit. Drive up to the ER and check in for pain relief. Pace and pace and breathe – finally on the bench in the lobby, rhythmic humming sounds. Placing myself in a trance to endure.

My daughter knows I won’t die, I’m only in severe pain. She gets to learn what it’s like to offer someone moral support – a loving presence. She puts her hand in mine. I tell her it means so much to me that she’s here.

These days, kidney stones pass about every three weeks. Most are a couple hours of pain – intense, distracting, maddening – but often such that I can walk about and focus on the business of others. Most times the pain eventually eases off – blessedly.

Tonight wasn’t like that. The pain started at about 2:30 and came and went, getting worse. Bringing a nausea that kept me from eating for about eight hours. At seven – right when we’re ready to take the stage for tonight’s performance – it steadily worsened. It took all I had to stay in the show to the end. The memory of getting through each bar of music, each song, each act. I was in a small, fourth-dimension place of a pain so acute the world seemed a Victorian-era vignette, unreal and distantly depersonalized.

I am home now. Exhuasted, but pain-free except for the ache in my lower back.

The hospital was kind. I am fretting about another medical bill. I haven’t yet moved off of that (futile) worry.

Still – today was, somehow, a good day. I kept a glad spirit – or I started off that way and it sustained me. And then: help, from so many quarters. A friend took me out grocery shopping. Another friend bought us our Christmas tree (!) and then delivered an oilskin envelope along with it – folded twenty dollar bills. Another friend sent me an online donation. Another friend let me help her with a home repair project. Another friend hosted my son this evening and took him out to a diner, and played video games with him besides. Another friend asked me along to her lunch. Castmates gave me hugs – castmates who aren’t particularly demonstrative.

If it weren’t for friends, if it weren’t for kindnesses large and small – my life would have little meaning.

And now, exhausted, I am back to pacing myself. Tomorrow: a matinee. I am behind on work for clients. I am tired and will need to recover further.

I can’t figure out tomorrow, today. That is for certain. I am grateful for the help and support I get. May it always remind me how worthwhile it is, to help and support others!

ER

Pip, A Little Under The Weather

then having swallowed him I’ll creep / into the Guest Room Bed to sleep.

Today I have a few minutes alone, in the vet, waiting on a diagnosis. Our little Pip is ill – a skin infection at his shoulder blades. The difficultly was discovered yesterday and though his spirits are up, and his appetite is good, I woke up ready to worry. So, today: a vet appointment.

Pip arches about in my arms in an indolent, satisfied way – purring like a little buzz saw and stretching up his head to kiss me. I scritch his neck, his ears. I think to myself, My kids’ first week in school, gradually getting used to being places without them. Other grownups, caring for them. My children, caring for themselves. Out there in the world.

I am overcome. Not sad, or happy – an experience of newness. Coming back to time to myself, a rare quality for thirteen years. It’s like a gently sore back, needing to be worked in a little, a few stretches. I take long, deep breaths. I know I will adjust; tasting the newness. Some vertigo.

Right now what matters is holding this small cat, this wee scrap of life. His beating heart is as sacred as mine – or anyone else’s. Holding him right now, is holding everyone in the world. If I remember that, my life blossoms into something fragrant, vibrant – the senses attuned once again to the colors of the skyscape and the music of the open road.

I hold my little kitty and when the vet returns he talks to me swiftly and concisely. The cat will recover. All is well. Here – medicine. The veterinarian touches me – my hands, my knees, even my shoulder – often. He has brief, gentle hands. “Do you have any questions?” he asks. I do. I ask about antibiotics, about flea control. Pip thrashes in my arms, the picture of feline ecstasy. And now hearing this vet, when I realize my little kitty is going to be okay, tears start up in my eyes and I look ceilingward. I tell him, “I’m so glad to have him seen to. I was starting to freak out. The vet says: “It’s okay to freak out. That’s what we’re here for.” His kindness makes me blink. I remember how I need people, how I need help. I know my kitten needs help and somehow we are helping one another, holding one another.

Home in the heat – exhausted, but breathing deep, full breaths. Another day; the office of caring, and loving, going deeper down into my belly and bringing forth new life from within.

Pip, A Little Under The Weather

Swimming Hole

sclera

It’s been several hours and two showers and two changes of clothes but I can still feel the horrible slippery feeling of my flip-flops as I tried to navigate a muddy bank section of the river. Right when I slipped – again, and my eye was scratched by a tall reed, right then I realized – I am having such a hard time.

I am so angry.

I am so angry because I am worried for my child and because there is nothing logical I can do (that I haven’t already done) so I am just floundering in these waters. It is like a hangover, and beating myself up, araid and angry. Feeling sick and ill at ease even when I’m with those I love. It’s a horrible experience and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Walking a river is a great way to practice mindfulness – well, especially when you’ve an iPhone tucked in your bra that must, I repeat must, stay dry. So by the end of our trip I felt a little better. Then home; and after some work on the latest tailoring project, and after a hot shower and volunteer work – and talking with a friend – a little better, still.

Today really was beautiful. The children thanked me several times. “Thank you for financing this trip, Mama,” my little girl tells me. They didn’t once get tired of the many dozens of small frogs – and crawdads, and periwinkles, and wee little fish. They didn’t get tired of swimming and wading and climbing.

They are truly my greatest teachers.

Swimming Hole

Brief

"This Is Gonna Get Weird... Two Frogs"

Little Frog

Crawdad

Hutch

Ferns

jaragosky

Last night I dreamed I walked through my father’s mother’s house with him. He was showing me the place. Strangely and sadly, it was empty but still had those good bones, that warmth. In the dream he mentions off-hand that it fell into hands after she died. I ask him questions about who will be living there but he can tell what I’m thinking and says,

“You don’t want to live here. You’d be a long phone call away. No one is out here.”

I remember my visit to my grandmother in college, as a sophomore. I took trains most the way and then she’d picked me up in a big car. We had Chinese food that night near the station. I remember the smell of her house which is a memory going back to me at months old and if I visited this house again today I’d be overcome.

She had magnets on the fridge in a pristine kitchen. She had this lumpy sewn frog made of cheap dark velveteen. Who made it and why did she have it? She slept with a Smith & Wesson at the side of her bed. The gun was bigger than she was!

The last time I saw this grandmother I was twenty-five. She held my infant daughter in her lap and we sat in her boyfriend’s too-cramped and too-hot living room. Phoenix was the size and temperature of a bread loaf out the oven. We’d dressed our daughter in a special organic cotton dress with purple butterflies and poison-green binding. We’d dressed her up as special as we could for her to meet this great-grandmother. My grandmother was close to ninety and not well but she clutched that baby to her like she knew how to do it.

These memories, and the memories of my grandfather’s ashes and the desk my dad built in college – both of which lived in my grandmother’s house – they swim through my mind, and flutter in my chest while I dream.

But when I wake, I remember everything has been lost.

Everything

She is gone; Lucy is gone. Her husband, my grandfather Fish, he died when I was a baby. My father is gone. My grandmother’s gentleman friend who’s living room we visited, well he’s probably gone too. 

My grandmother’s house is probably no longer in the family, let alone not waiting, open and ready, for my own family to flee to the mountains and make our roots in the dirt. The house is grubby or updated. Who knows. Would it smell the same, would it really?

This morning, online, I find the little mountain town where my grandmother’s house lives. I clicked on “street view” and find the A&W, and the fish hatchery where we’d visit for walks. It’s as close as street view can get to her house, which I could find from memory.

She kept her house very neat. I guess that is one heritage I get from that side of the family – that, and my style of cooking. Not the Polish details as much but the simple and hearty ingredients.

I can make roots in the dirt though, still. Because they are all still here, with me.

“Take away love and our earth is a tomb.”

Today the rains finally came.

I wrote another piece of prose for publication, and sent it off to an editor. Perhaps it will find an audience. I hope it will help someone. Perhaps it will bring me some food money for my family.

I am tired. My sewing business is growing. I don’t have time to entertain frivolous requests, and I will soon get to increase my prices. The solution is elegant; the logistics will take a bit of time.

Because the house, the children, the groceries, the volunteer work – all these are priorities over my craft. I smile at this because it will not always be this way. The children are growing and our lives change swiftly.

The children are growing. I am tired, and my children are growing faster than I am capable of keeping pace with. I practice a mindfulness breathing practice. Breathing in, I know I have a body. Breathing out, I smile at my body; I reconcile with it.

My days seem too short, and full of too much work. Something is amiss. The first Noble Truth. Something is amiss.

I am feeling less angry, more at peace with the events of this last year. I am thinking of my days before I found out terrible news, or should I say, hard news. Those days “before” are now a completely innocent memory to the pain and trouble I’ve wrestled with. This has tired me more than anything else. All that anger, and mistrust, and hatred, and fear. Near exsanguination. Crawling back to life now, a few moments in the sun here and there.

My child and I have an exercise. Every day I ask: Is there anything I have done today to hurt you, or to offend you? This is the one thing my child must answer honestly every day, no matter what. Today my child says, “You said ‘No’ to me, abruptly, and pointed your finger at me.” I hold my child close.

Both children put their arms around me, their hands in mine. Their trust in me and their love for me is something very precious. Is it wrong that in my mind I somehow fear to lose it, when it is likely one of those things that can somehow never be lost? A mystery no one can explain, that echoes through space and time with only itself, and the love cast out over many generations, to keep company and bear witness.

the untrained mind

Tonight I wrote, by hand, a letter to the men responsible for my child’s sexual assaults.

I wrote by hand until my hand cramped. I wrote as articulately as I could. Even as I wrote I knew I had a bit of spiritual wisdom; wisdom I did not used to have. Even as I wrote I knew that these men had destroyed my sleep, my peace of mind. They had taken things from my child, things that can never be fully restored. Doubtless they had taken things from other children. They had removed my security regarding the person I love most.

But they had not taken my compassion, and they had not taken my faith.

Folded-up sheets of yellow paper sit at my elbow. I will read my letter to one of my spiritual mentors, the woman who told me to write this letter. She is a Catholic and I am a Buddhist but she is the only human being who has given me lasting comfort because she is not afraid to tell me the truth. Of all those I have had the dubious honor to deal with during this time – the advocates, the professionals, the social workers, the counselors, law enforcement – many who have added to my confusion, one who has misled us intentionally, some who have caused my child more harm than good – this woman alone has been able to help me because she has been where I have been and she knows the thing, the Bravest thing, the truth about faith that so many are afraid to surrender to.

I will likely never meet the men responsible for what happened to my child. I wrote the letter anyway because my friend told me to, and I trust her.

People think a sexual assault is just the assault. But when the law gets involved, it is much worse. We have had agencies, strangers, crawling up in our family business. My child has had interviews in a police room, suffered many night terrors and panic attacks (for many months we were entirely ignorant as to why), been submitted to a rape exam, and had many freedoms curtailed. My child has endured mistakes by the adults, professional and familial, who are supposed to protect. My child has endured the inept, clumsy, and stupid mistakes Ralph and I have made – because no parent is prepared to deal with this well, no parent.

This has been the hardest thing I’ve gone through, no matter how carefully I’ve tried to do the right thing. Since late September my world has changed and it has been relentless. My anger, my confusion, my grief has exhausted me. It has kept me depressed and anxious so that even while I function “properly” and do the things I’m supposed to, I am never without this pressing fear, a fear few intuit or even think of. Prayer and meditation have helped; helping others has helped immensely. “Restraint of pen and tongue” has been a godsend. Doing the next thing I’m supposed to – doing the housework, returning texts and calls, helping friends – has kept me sane.

Tonight I needed there to be a point to all of it. To what has happened. Because I know there is. So even though she was dead-tired I grabbed my friend and mentor. I talked with her and she told me some things. I cried – but less than you might think. Because I am ready to understand a little more than I’ve thus been able to understand.

Before we parted she told me, “It’s like that tree across the way. The leaves will fall soon and they’ll pretend to be dead. But you and I know they’re not dead. They are fertilizer for other things to grow.

“This experience is going to be food for you, it is going to make you stronger;

“But first you have to fall.”