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I’d forgotten how hard blogs are. There’s a story to tell and I keep thinking it’s about Nepal. I should be writing about Nepal. I am supposed to be writing The Nepal Story, after all. So, why can I not write about Nepal?
I was once told by my mentor to trust my instincts when piecing a narrative together, meaning I shouldn’t be so arrogant as to think I can manhandle an experience if I don’t let it unfold. My story hasn’t even unfolded yet. I want to write a redemption story that hasn’t happened, so it’s no wonder I can’t write about it. Truth be told, mine is probably not a redemption story anyway. Deep down, I know Nepal as a requisite transformative experience will be dark because, when reduced to its smallest divisible parts, Nepal is all in my head.
And there’s a writer in there, too, who refuses to shut the hell up.
From a distance, a shadowed mirage is waving at me like a summer heat reflection on hot pavement and this passage comes back to me:
Despite our best intentions, we forget the dead.
Do they forget us? Jane Summer, “Erebus”
So. Leigh “Bindo” Binder*, if you refuse to die, I’ll just have to kill you off in a mediocre poem that’s an apology as much as a lament.
When the stem drooped and the petals died,
Sleeping beauty sleep
I awoke to gold
Light too bright
You offered me a dim corner
You and I shared caramelized melancholy
Like cotton candy
Adolescent sweetness, the things that grew in our heads
Restless dreams like your cigarette smoke
From a few thousand miles away
Choke me awake
Weighed together like stone
Bound and pull down like some English great, we weren’t built for this life
But mostly: Have we lived our eternity?
*Leigh Binder was a friend and fellow writer, who died two years ago leaving only his writing and YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-43KL2khFHhJ-LmRqA-y2A) to haunt me.
I’m dead with dying
There is an eye I refuse to catch
I was born with knowing
I look and I listen and I discern
You’ve caught my eye
I’m not God
But I know
Tell me everything
The bile and the filth and the worst, pour it
All that will be left will be left behind
Listen to my knowing
Let me catch your eye
My knowing is a reflection
There’s no dream I can’t decipher
I simply know
You tell me what’s the matter
And that’s what’s the matter
through kinder eyes than you can’t bear to see
This is my knowing
I was born in January
I am dead with dying
There’s an eye I refuse to catch
It’s the eye of a child
Who won’t let me see
Something terrible happened
Something awful and humiliating
Something that drained my blood from my face my screams from my throat my heart from my chest and
Something that puddled my potty down my leg and between my toes
And I don’t know
And I don’t know
I won’t catch my blue eye that eyes me in the mirror
I was a child born dead with knowing
It was January
It was cold something terrible
And I don’t know
Let’s forgo the easy way.
In October, I found myself at a funeral for a friend’s daughter, who was just shy of her 19th birthday. She’s just a kid. It’s the phrase that played on repeat the whole day. At the service, two things were emphasized that struck a deep, reverberating chord in me:
— Finish your unfinished business
— Learn as much about life as you can while you have the good fortune to have breath in your lungs
It made me think about what it meant to be an 18-year-old girl again. I can’t quite fit into the shoes of that girl anymore, but I remember the world had endless potential then. There was a promise of things to come. I still think there’s my whole life to do all the things I wanted to do when I was just a kid.
I’m not just a kid anymore–even though I don’t feel like an adult, either. I’ve had 18 more years on the planet than this girl did, and I can’t help feeling as though I have unfinished business. For all the hard (and necessary) lessons I’ve learned in my life, I’ve not learned enough. I’ve not done my part.
I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life sorting myself out. It’s been necessary. I believe in the power of self-reflection and brutally assessing oneself. I’m self-aware, sometimes to a fault, and I believe in the power of self-reflection and internal struggle. While suffering matters – it means something – I’ve nearly out-suffered myself.
But I’m not a kid anymore. The thought is as sobering and final as the closing of a coffin.
And so when I started thinking about how to enrich my life, the one thing that kept coming up was travel. With the exception of a “go me” solo excursion to Alaska and some side trips here and there, travel has been on the backburner for quite some time. It’s too bad, because I feel a sense of freedom and euphoria when I experience a whole new world.
And oh, where to go. There’s so much ground to cover (literally). The immediate bucket list is chock full of mountains and/or glaciers and/or snow…the very things I do not have in my corner of the world. Nepal and Iceland are the top two international contenders while the national parks in Alaska, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming are calling my name stateside.
The details will come. It feels good to make an 18-year-old promise to myself to continue to learn what I can about universe. After all, I’m not a kid anymore.
there are no promises that can be kept
by gift we live by right we die
grace is optional
except when it’s not
the grace to bear grief
is sometimes always never
the only prayer there is
in these hot, breathless last days, it’d do us to get on with the praying
sooner than later
I went back to read your words
But they aren’t there
They aren’t to be found
The website says
There’s nothing there
Was there ever?
If I can’t read the words
I can’t be sure I ever knew you
You always knew I was of flightly, flimsy flesh
So why take the words from me
Why is there nothing there?
I’ve been crying since I was eight years old. Blame Lurlene McDaniel. I do.
In the summer of 1987, I found death on a shelf at the Lee County Library in Sanford, North Carolina. I had been looking for those pre-teen romance novels, the ones where boys didn’t have naughty intentions and girls said no to drugs even in the midst of the popular kids. I had devoured these sorts of books all summer and had finally exhausted the library’s moderate selection. So, as any other little girl would do, I began perusing books for the coolest, hippest teenage girls on the cover, the girls I wanted to be.
It was time to go and I was desperate to find something to read. By chance (or was it?), I saw a really pretty blond girl, whose hair was crimped and massive, sitting with her mother. I hastily picked up the book and ran to the check out.
Later, I examined the book more closely. The book was called Mother, Please Don’t Die. Which, of course, meant Mother was, in fact, going to die (but I wasn’t a savvy reader back then so I held out hope things would end well). The book followed a girl’s journey through her mother’s dying and her own grief as well as the difficult transition from being a little girl to being a teenager. Megan made sense of her mom’s worsening symptoms as best she could as a young girl; she told me about the terrible pressure and the anger bubbled to the surface at baseball practice, resulting in her consequent suspension. After her sister’s wedding, Megan sat with her mother and they had the first truly frank conversation about death that I had ever read; Mother was not going to be there for Megan’s wedding. She was dying.
And when she did die, my heart was shattered and I sobbed out loud. I’ve been reading and sobbing ever since. I developed a voracious appetite for the dying genre. Through my middle and high school years, I learned about living with diabetes, juvenile arthritis, kidney failure, and AIDs. I felt enlightened with each page. I groped for all the empathetic artifacts in the words that were written. I began to live with all of these hardships. I felt I knew what it was like.
The year before, 1986, had been a bad year. In January, my grandfather died of lung cancer. It was the first death I’d experienced. It was scary flying from North Carolina to Arkansas, only to see a dead body, dressed in blue and not breathing in a wooden bed. Two weeks later, I sat forward with the rest of my class, eyes glued to the television as the Challenger exploded and everyone on board was killed. They sent school counselors around to speak to us about dying and grief. I felt terrible for the teacher on the Challenger, but I cried terrible, painful tears for my grandfather.
Weeks later, I randomly asked my mother if she had had any other children before my brother and me one night before our bath. She hesitated and told us she had given birth to a little girl when she had been previously married, but the girl had died when she was a toddler from cancer. I nodded and soon forgot about it, as children will. It wasn’t long before my subconscious mind kicked in and I began to wonder if I had cancer, too, and asked my mother if I was going to die. Months I asked her and for months I must have drove a stake in her heart.
Little girls don’t understand these sorts of things. I didn’t. By the time I held a copy of Mother, Please Don’t Die in my hands, I needed to read about grief. The only problem is I never stopped grieving. The reading and the grieving is a question of insignificance; no matter if the chicken came before the egg, the chicken and the egg exist.
When I was eighteen, a very receptive former teacher gave me Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt as a graduation gift. Since then, it’s the real stories of laughter and pain that have touched me the most. Into Thin Air. Devil’s Knot. Young Men and Fire. Books about the Holocaust, 9/11, surviving freak accidents, OCD, alcoholism, depression. The stories are compelling but they are most important to me as conduits for processing my own life (and grief).
In a nutshell, I read books that are too sad for other people. A book is deemed good if I cry. It is deemed brilliant if I can still sob thinking about it a year later. There are many brilliant writers out there.
Right now, The Dark Tower: the Gunslinger is impatiently waiting on my bedside stand for me to finish it. The sojourn will be short and I will soon return to form. Stacked in the corner are my standard fair, books about the Taliban, mental illness, murder, the Mormon lifestyle…all await me. I can only think greedily of the sobs I am soon to cry.
I can’t help but think I’ve made Lurlene proud.
April 1981. My brother and I are running around the backyard, searching for Easter eggs. It’s cold. Our movements are static, slightly-delayed in my mind—as though this is not a memory but an old slide-show film from the 70s.
He’s being nice to me for once, my brother. I remember that. Just yesterday, he stole my Miss Piggy doll and wouldn’t give it back until I burst into tears. Today, though, he’s a gem for all to see. I’ve got on his hand-me-down clothes, a red shirt that barely covers my round belly and elastic blue jeans. He pulls me this way and that, a little roughly, but I understand that this is “nice” for my brother.
For all the effort, I haven’t found any eggs. My brother has beaten me to all of them. But Mother, who is sweet and has a pretty, soft voice, tells him to “help” his sister find one. So he drags me over to a large rock in the yard and lo and behold, there is an egg tucked right beside it. I am happy.
Later. In Kindergarten, I find only one egg at our class Easter egg hunt. I am given a mercy award for having found the least amount in the class. I tried to find more, kind of. It’s exhausting running around for silly eggs. I get to the predictable hiding spots too late.
I learn a lesson about running after the other kids and doing what they are doing that day: if you run after what others have, you’ll end up panting–with nothing to show for it. I try to follow the kids who seem lucky in egg-hunting, but it gets me nowhere. For one thing, these kids are lucky; they find all the eggs. Everyone else has lots of eggs, and I am the only one who doesn’t. If only I could do it again, I think to myself 21 years later, I would be more intuitive, finding eggs—and my way—for myself.
Of course, lessons are easily forgotten. By the time I’m in 5th grade, the new girl at a new school, I try desperately to find a different face in the mirror, one more like popular girls in my class. I try to be like the other girls, thinking they are sure to help me find the light that seems to glow around them. But other girls are quicker than me, and I don’t become part of the entourage of snippy white girls in a poor town. I am reduced to slinking back to my unhappy existence, having clearly not found any eggs.
These days. The only time I ever eat eggs is if my father scrambles them. I watch my father work, smiling, laughing easily. He cracks and breaks the eggs. This is no big deal for him. Eggs are eggs to him. For me, they symbolize everything I have ever wanted but have been unable reach: popularity, maturity, understanding, friendship, and love. All the woes of childhood and adulthood found in the most common of breakfast foods.
Sitting at the table, listening to my father carry on, I hear my dad in another place and time telling me to let it go. I <em>should</em> let all the old go. I’ve spent too long pondering the past. I should enjoy my own life. Resolved for the moment, I can table this struggle for another day. I smile at my father.
With a little salt, I think, those eggs will be awfully tasty.