Tag Archives: loss

Saved by Art & Mother Science

I saw my mom outside today, although she died last year. Kind of supernatural how she draws me outdoors. Almost serendipitous.

A doctor said I’m okay, just grieving. Actually recommended this therapy. I’m going back again to make sure.

These moments of self-professed genius are her doing. Practically a doctor herself, just without the initials. Said so herself, passed on that confidence. Had to find it somewhere. Mother was my biggest cheerleader, champion actually.

Now I hear her calling me through nature, a cardinal’s trill, dirt under my nails. I’m glad springtime is here. And kindly brought Mom with her.

100-Word Challenge: Beauty

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Mother’s Helper

north lincoln

She hit the t.v. remote volume button thinking she heard a faint sound from the hallway and jumped up from the couch. Her instinct proved true.

“Hey, Tea! Tea, come here!” Her father sat atop the toilet, bluejeans pooled around his ankles, his right arm in a sling. His voice was low-pitched and barely audible, so she was glad she had heard it.  

Marty lived on her own but stayed overnight on weekends at her parents’ home to help keep an eye on things when her mom had to work. Make sure he didn’t burn the house down with an errant cigarette, a lit match on short-shag kindling. Smoking had started it all, so his lungs were the impetus but inoperable by that point.

Phillip called her “Tea Bag” ever since she was a baby with tiny drooping eyelids he claimed looked like saturated linen packets. Her father’s pet name for the youngest girl seemed to fit, so the moniker stuck.

Her birth certificate read Martha in honor of her paternal grandmother, but it was days before they settled on calling the baby Marty instead. By age 13 her mother insisted he use the diminutive instead of Phil’s pet name for her. “Come on, Phil. Other kids are going to tease her about it at school if they hear that. I’m surprised they haven’t already done it,” Mom practically begged.  

“I can’t reach the holder there. Grab me some t.p., would ya kid?” Phillip scratched out the question and jerked his head sideways to point toward the wall. Its close proximity meant nothing without a working appendage, the ulna vulnerable from a childhood break and recent radiation that rendered the arm useless. It hung limp without support, the now brown skin turned to leather, as if burned by 1000 suns.

His voice sounded like it dragged through gravel. Doctors blamed an electrolyte imbalance, so she almost hadn’t heard his weak call from the other room. Guilt feelings rose up from Marty’s imagined shirking of duties. Mother counted on her diligence. Somebody had to pay the bills. Dad’s early retirement sprang out of disability and employer insistence. He’d never work again.

“No problem, Daddy,” Marty answered and tore a strip of tissue from the roll dispenser while looking elsewhere. “That had to be embarrassing,” she thought. “Adds insult to injury, as if everything else wasn’t enough.”

Having cancer must be humbling.

Marty left him to finish business with tissue in his non-dominant hand in private. She stared out the living room window at dried Johnson grass rimming an adjacent field in a singular row that a mower must’ve missed. Its pale yellow hue resembled her father’s skin color, his liver affected among sundry body parts. The row, lit by a bright full moon, waved lazily in an early Spring breeze. Its motion lulled Marty’s anxiety. She couldn’t help mentally ruminating. “I’m glad Grandma doesn’t have to see her son like this.”

His mother came to see Phillip a day before he passed when his body resembled that of an Auschwitz prisoner, cheeks sunken and sallow, the disease having ravaged his body. When a mother outlives her child, an image of her beloved on his deathbed stays emblazoned on her mind’s eye until she reaches her own. The figurative retina remains forever scarred.

Noisy static and the television test pattern buzz disturbed Marty’s reverie. She followed the breaking story all night of a terrorist car bombing in an underground parking garage at the World Trade Center, what seemed millions of miles away from their farm but with damage relatively close to her aching heart. That national catastrophe seemed to parallel Daddy’s medical tragedy, personal calamity mirroring a relatively bigger catastrophe. The news day’s end meant she had to finally shut off the set and resolve herself to restless slumber on the couch.   

When the Twin Towers’ fell in 2011, longer after he was gone, she’d reminisce how that night spent with her father seemed so prescient in retrospect. The two NYC events co-mingled in a way that almost felt identical. She’d even later muse, “Was that in ‘93 or the “9-11” bombings?” Memory blurred by then.

Days later, loud barking outside startled Marty back to reality. Their beagle usually warned if someone pulled in the driveway, but she found no one there upon inspection. “Hush, Tyrone,” she admonished. “Daddy’s asleep. He needs his rest.” An epiphany later convinced her that had been when Phillip’s spirit took a last tour of his beloved farm and said goodbye to his dogs as he left. They bellowed in reply, bidding their master, “Salut … we’ll see you over the rainbow bridge, friend.”

All his kids called Phillip “Daddy,” at the risk of their peers thinking it weird and razzing them about it. Maybe it was a southern endearment or simple country slang. Marty thought how pride over the likes of that seemed so unimportant when her father asked for help with such an intimate task that night.

But the previous undertaking paled in comparison to a chore Mother demanded she assist with doing later when Phillip became comatose. A dying person’s body expels its last bit of waste before the lungs perform final functions.

“I can’t do it,” Marty begged her through tears and sniffed-back snot. “Don’t make me. His pants … I don’t want to see him that way.” The smell didn’t bother her as much as seeing her father’s nakedness.

Mother replied, “Well, we can’t clean him with his pajamas on. You don’t have to look. Just get over here and help me lift. Brace up, girl!” Daddy would’ve been mortified to know Marty helped with that job.

Tough love is a bitch. Dying is worse. Being there when to witness her father takes his last breath proved more personal than either of those duties.

He’d wanted to die at home, though, on the farm for which he still owed the bank, but in the house he’d helped build. His home, nonetheless. He died the next day on a hospital bed hospice workers set up in the dining room. A nurse warned it was just a matter of time, maybe hours.

Marty remembered the raspy, “Hey, Tea. Come here  a minute.” But Daddy wasn’t in the bathroom any more, and he’d never call for her help again. He’d never again sleep in front of the VCR tape’s 100th-plus “Smokey and The Bandit” viewing with “Eastbound and Down” lyrics blasting but never rousing him.  

Sometime prior she recalled learning about a “death rattle,” but had never heard one before. The nurse informed her, “That’s just his last breath being expelled, honey.” The elucidation didn’t soothe her.

The prognosis had been six months, but Phillip lived for only six weeks. His son was on one coast following in Phillip’s military footsteps while the oldest daughter lived on the opposite coast when he slipped into death. All his children had visited as he rested in that makeshift hospital room in the last month, though. They spent very few family meals in that room except at a birthday or Christmastime. The kids staged a dance party for him with James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” trying to coax the lyrical into becoming truth. A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

“Turn that off, girls. You’re making him nervous,” Mother admonished.

They kissed him as he lay on those sterile sheets where he’d withered away to nothing, cancer having eaten away at his already slim frame. He died in that house as he’d wished, the hospital bed soon afterward removed from the dining room.

Phillip’s family never ate in there again.

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Restitution

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leaves had yet to turn when the deer blind went up long before rifle season. Preparing kept him from dwelling on grief.

Mother’s passing months prior stayed his mind only on loss. “Concentrate on good times,” people advised. They said, “She’s in a better place.” All that tripe made not a damn bit of difference.

Hunting provided the only mental respite. Readying his stand, cleaning his rifle, and sighting in the scope all saved him from himself. Redirected with thought of the kill.

Looking skyward, he mumbled, “Figure it’s one fer one, Lord. You take one, and I take one, too.”

 

100 Word Challenge – save

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service via Flickr

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Silenced Song

trumpet

Norman actually bragged on his body’s ability to create such an incredible level of stench. “I damn near ran everybody outta the bathroom at a bar in Dallas,” he laughed and hooked both thumbs in belt loops to hike up the waist of jeans trapped under his burgeoning girth. “That’s what they get on burrito night!” The man had no shame.

People joked about those generous bodily functions, even when they were canvassing the shoulder of the road for trash along a stretch emblazoned with a highway cleanup sign that read, “Sponsored by the Friends of Norman Blevins.” When the fellas down at the MFA heard about his passing, one commented, “That ornery ol’ cuss had a heart of gold. We all just loved him.” They’d slap him on the shoulder and laugh at his bad jokes. Many people felt the same way and ignored his flaws in favor of his endearing, if not slovenly, charm. He’d help anybody if their dead battery needed a jump or give them a hand with livestock.

Norm’s entrance at the tavern seemed an episode of that old show Cheers, with people calling his name when he walked through the door. He’d holler, “Lemme buy you a beer,” upon seeing a friend. Someone else would show up, so they’d have a few more. Most patrons thought the world of Norman and thought nothing at all of his getting behind the wheel to drive himself home.

They couldn’t believe the tragic newspaper headline announcing the accidental deaths of Norman Blevins and Brian Johnson..

Mrs. Johnson didn’t know Norman. She never met him since they lived in different parts of town, she on the opposite side where mostly black folks lived. The white patrolman who told came to deliver the news of her son’s death didn’t know her either. He’d only been in that neighborhood on past calls. If not for a few boys from there playing high school ball, cops only knew the ones who caused trouble.

Brian was a shy kid who made good grades. He hadn’t arrived home from band practice when his mother opened the door to find a state trooper who asked, “Are you Mrs. Johnson?” She didn’t hear anything else he said after he first uttered those words every parent dreads they might. They felt like a blow to her stomach.

Brian died at the hospital after being hit by a truck on his way home after school. A witness going in the other direction saw Norman Blevins’ truck tires drop off the shoulder and him swerve across the road and over-correct. A black teenager walking on the opposite grass shoulder got struck, thrown into the air, and propelled into the ditch. Much like the discarded bottles thrown out of vehicle windows and strewn along the road. The boy’s trumpet case lay hidden in the tall weeds until his younger brother found it while searching a few days after the funeral.

Norman had been headed back to town, set out for home from a bar he frequented out on the highway. His friends said with the twilight at that time of day he may not have realized he hit anything. The man they knew would never even hurt a fly. Blevins’ friends had the highway department put up a memorial sign within just a few weeks.

It disappeared in a couple days, though. Blades of foxtail later grew up through holes in the metal “Friends of Norman Blevins” signpost that stayed there in the ditch where Brian’s brother threw it in desperate anger and grief. His brother replaced it with a cross made of sticks, wound together with handles torn from Brian’s backpack he would never carry again. The boy meant the marker as a clarion so people might notice his brother’s absence from the world.

Brian didn’t hold a position like Blevins or his friends, but Brian’s brother wanted to show that he’d still been there. He just didn’t have the time to make as big an impression as the man who killed him. Only his teachers and their neighbors knew Brian, but his brother wanted everyone else to remember him, too. Although he would never play his trumpet again, it would still be heard.

*Writing prompt – ornery from Our Write Side

photo: Karen via Flickr

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Fresh Wounds

IMG_0923.JPGAn azure sky promised a blistering hot day as the first canoe broke the water’s surface that morning. The women knew the temperature and humidity would be soothed by the icy-cold river and rushed to get their float underway – 15 miles being the goal for the day.

“Let’s take this show on the road, ladies. I’ve got a cooler full of beer to drink,” Casey belted out, always ready to pop that first tab. “I lost my watch, but it’s happy hour somewhere,” she said. Used to her brand of merriment, the others laughed and joined in her toast with drinks raised in the air.

They got together for such adventures as often as possible, maybe from some strongly-held friendships over the years since high school, or perhaps simply from a collective longing to rekindle the nostalgia of their shared past. Whatever the impetus, they enjoyed escaping the responsibilities of everyday life, and for a few short days other adult commitments be damned.

All fairly adept at navigating either a canoe or a kayak, the group went at the oars with great vigor and followed the current between deep green deciduous forest lining both banks. Most had some background in outdoor expeditions from growing up in the Midwest region. The beauty of such a place sometimes still got taken for granted, but plush reminders surrounded them on either side of the waterway. Rushing rivulets beneath their boats replaced the concrete confines of work and traffic, drudgery of lawn-mowing and trips to the grocery store, and the monotony of laundry and checking kids’ homework. Laughter became an elixir for any lingering worries about life.

“There’s no way you girls are gonna finish off that mess,” the van driver from the outfitter company warned them at drop-off. Their unanimous laughter scoffed his prediction, as drinking on the river practically became an art in their youth, and their big jug of Kansas City Iced Water already  began to diminish by lunchtime. Denise commented how much lighter the container already felt when she lugged it onto a sandbar where they pulled off to eat.

Smaller coolers of sandwiches sat on rocky nest of the riverbank — a tapestry of gray, tan, some darker brown, and even pink quartzite among the riprap there keeping the shores from eroding away. Schools of tiny minnows nibbled at toes left dangling in the water as the women ate potato chips crushed in the dry bags stowed aboard. Kay threw the small fish some crumbs to keep them from nipping at her feet.

She tossed a few fragments downstream hoping to draw them away when an airborne scuffle there caught her eye. “Whoa .. you guys look at that,” she exclaimed, pointing to the opposite bank.

Their attention shifted to two birds that swooped at each other in a swift but embittered battle, with a long-necked heron getting a beating along the way. A smaller bird resembling a hawk yanked at the other’s wing with its sharp beak, tearing away feathers in the process. The larger one’s long neck stretched away in a desperate attempt to escape the slighter but mighty predator.

Their flying fight ended with the more aggressive bird, an osprey, taking to the air after when the rowdy group of women whooped in shock with varying shrieks loud enough to scare off any animal. The heron’s right wing flapped clumsily to flee them as well, although it only scuffed the water’s surface, fresh wounds impairing the ability to flee any other potential danger.

Its injuries kept the majestic bird from escaping the group of boaters, or perhaps the animal instinctively sensed no humans there meant it harm. Marie clambered toward the bird, thinking something could be done for it, practically capsizing her canoe. The woman then realized her own helplessness. She lost a whole beer in the process, and the half-submerged can sailed past the heron’s resting place beside a water-logged walnut bough. What did she know about helping an injured wild bird?

A bale of turtles sat sunning themselves on the downed tree limb but scattered off in different directions when the heron settled near them. Kay said, “What a unique-looking bird. It’s beautiful in it own way, huh?” The women sat ruminating on the notion until she commented, “Surely there’s something we can do for it.”

“You better leave that thing alone,” Casey warned. “It’s hurt and scared … and might hurt you, too.” The others either sat atop beverage coolers or rested on their own rocky nests by the water’s edge, the bunch studying the heron, a sudden pall cast over their otherwise exuberant day.

Marie made her way back to the others on the shore and joined them to reverently study the silently suffering bird. They watched as it hid behind the big limb, wings ruffling, almost trying to shake off its wounds. Kay broke the silence. “My husband hates those things. He says herons always bug him when he goes fishing. They try to steal all the fish,” she said.

Casey shook her head and countered, “Well, that’s just them doing what they do. You know — eat. Everything’s gotta eat. That’s natural.” She usually made a lot of sense even though she might drink too much on occasion.

“It’s beautiful,” said Marie. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen something act so graceful under the circumstances. Can’t imagine how much pain it’s in.”

A distant shriek echoed off a cliff bank further down the river, perhaps even from that same osprey that caused the damage. Maybe it meant to remind them of its power. At the sound, the heron stretched its wings and launched itself from the water. A few of the women gasped at the sight.

“No way,” remarked Denise as a wistful smile crossed her face. “I wondered if maybe it might give up … but look!” They watched it soar off into the air, graceful regardless of the harmed appendage.

Casey popped open another beer and held it aloft. “Here’s to you, bird. Keep flyin’.”

A few jaws still agape, the group lifted their drinks in salute. A tear slid down Kay’s cheek, her being the softest-hearted of the bunch, and she swiped at it with her empty hand. “Some wild things are just too much for this world,” she whispered.

Casey grasped her around the shoulder and motioned toward the canoes. “Come on, now, girl. We’ve got beers left to drink.”

___

Studio 30+ writing prompt – aggressive Studio30

Thank you, Mary, for always reading and commenting on my writing. You will be forever missed.

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