Monday, March 24, 2014

His Grandfather's Jacket

“The jacket is lost” he said to me. 
“I have no idea where it could be”. 
The jacket I so painstakingly sought?
“All that work to find a jacket?! It’s all gone to rot?!”

It may have been left on the bus or at school. 
It may have been stolen. Oh this is too cruel.
It’s gone. All that’s left is his poor mother’s dread. 
“I don’t have the funds to replace it”, I said. 

To the closet I went to see what was there. 
Surely there would be nothing this teen boy would wear. 
And then I spied it, the jacket. Navy blue. Warmly lined.
Maine Maritime Academy. Class of 1949. 

“How about this?”, I said to my son. 
“Yeah, I could wear that”. He said, a bit stunned. 
I tried not to say it, I tried through and through. 
But I faltered, “Please oh please, don’t lose this one too”. 

It’s been a week now since he took my Dad’s coat. 
He grabs it with care, zips it up to his throat. 
He wears it each day, for each chilly bus ride. 
His grandfather’s jacket. The warmth of Paul’s pride. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

From Her Winged-Back Chair

As I left the Campus Drive facility of Maine Medical Center, I made the decision to drop in on Mom at her assisted living home which is just up the road. I knew I wouldn’t be sharing the great news of my ultrasound’s clean report or that I’d been told by my doctor that I’d finally “graduated back” to regular mammograms, but on some level, I wanted my Mom to reassure me that it was okay to breathe again. That everything was indeed going to be okay. 

I pulled onto the drive and the usual butterflies returned. They didn’t flutter the way they had when I’d pulled into the town of Millinocket in all those years of visiting Mom and Dad, but the excitement and anxiousness to see my Mom again was still inside me. I parked my car and I walked towards the glass lobby of the big beautiful white building. Would she be there in the lobby again? Most likely. She is happy in her perch. Her sitting spot gives her a window to the outside drive, but more importantly, she is able to see the comings and the goings of residents, staff, and visitors. I remember one day I brought to her attention that they were going to be showing a movie upstairs in the little theater room. She nodded sweetly and said, “Yes. But someone has to be here to welcome the company”. 

Sure enough, as I stepped into the little vestibule where the hand sanitizer station stands, along with signs requesting that visitors come on another day if they’re feeling ill, there she was. Mom excitedly began waving to me from her winged-back chair in the lobby of the assisted living facility. 

I’d stay for about an hour. I am learning so much about the variables of time lately, and of the paradox of how time doesn’t matter and how nothing else matters. I’d visited Mom  the previous week too. But as she saw me this time, she stood right up and smiled and said, “Oh my Goodness! I haven’t seen you in forever!”. I smile each time she says this. Gone are the days when I bemoan the fact that she cannot remember my frequent visits. I’m just grateful she is happy to see me, and that the love she has for me remains constant. Her reaction in seeing me, the hugs we share, the subsequent visits and repeated discussions about all things big and small, is all that is needed to reassure me that yes, everything is going to be okay. It’s perfectly okay to breathe.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kick to the Surface

These past two weeks I have been struggling to catch my breath as yet another huge wave of grief hits me. Just when I think I am successfully learning to tread water as the waves ebb and flow, out of nowhere I am smacked in the face and knocked over. Weak at the knees, submerging below the surface, this is when I feel my indomitable spirit. I kick off the bottom once again and rise to the surface. It’s exhausting. I just awoke from an extra four hours of sleep on this blessed snow day off from school.

But truth be told, my work as a teacher is a much appreciated distraction. It is when I am preparing for class, immersed in research, correcting, composition of materials, or working with teens that I feel invincible. Well, until yesterday. 

In my first period prep I took time to write what I believed would be a short piece to share with my Advanced Creative Writing class. However my writing took me to an unexpected place and I felt the tears stinging my eyes once again. I would have been fine, would have willed the tears back inside, if not for the interruption of one of my teenage students. Popping inside my door, Abby asked if I could help her with an assignment and then she noticed my red eyes. “Are you okay, Mrs. Walker?” she asked sweetly. That was all it took. That little display of kindness, of sympathy, touched me. Despite my attempt to brush off the question to give her the help she was looking for, I instead shook my head and dissolved into tears for a short moment. I knew I owed her an explanation. I’d only sputtered out, “I’m sorry” and the beautiful girl had shaken her head and had quickly pulled up a chair near my desk to ask, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I’m missing my Dad”, I said simply. “My birthday is on Saturday and it’s going to be the first birthday I’ve had without him”. 

“The first one?” she asked. I saw her eyes flicker as she made the connection. “Oh. Wow”, Abby said. 

“He always made a big deal out of my birthday. My Mom did too”, I said. 

“Even when you got older?” Abby asked. 

“Yes, even as I grew older”, I confirmed.

I told Abby I had taken a few minutes to write and had been hit by this thought, that I realized now why the past week or two had me out of sorts, that I’d been pushing the thought away thinking I was fine with it, that it wasn’t going to suck me under the surface. But my subconscious had been working overtime. Dad will have been gone exactly nine months on Saturday, March 15th, my 46th birthday. 

I thanked Abby, apologized once again, made a joke, and then we got back to what she had needed when she’d walked in on this teacher crying at her desk in the empty classroom. She wished me a happy birthday and we both laughed. I pushed my writing away after she left, shook my head and pulled out some correcting work. 

But this morning, after sleeping for an extra period of time, I woke up and found the letter Dad had sent me last year on my birthday. He and Mom had once again enclosed $100 for me to spend on myself. This year there will be no birthday letter from my Dad. And yes, that reality, as childish as it may appear--for surely at the age of 46 I should not need anything for my birthday--has me feeling sorry for myself. 

But sinking below the water is okay, as long as I do not submerge for too long. I’m already planning that kick to the surface, to the bright sky above. I’ll have two of my three children home for the day. We’ll go watch some basketball, go out for dinner, and I’d like to drop in to visit my Mom, bringing her a little birthday cake we can all share after I blow out a candle. I then want to stop to walk along the ocean and then go bowling or go play laser tag or do something else that’s fun. I can let those waves hit me when they must because I know that my parents instilled in me a great confidence in all that I am and all that I will be as the years pass. I may not be unshakable, but I am unconquerable. I just need to take a little time to let the tears fall, to feel all that there is to feel, before I rise above and swim on. 

This year, instead of receiving my annual birthday card or letter from Mom and Dad, I’m going to write my own. Or maybe, I just did.  Love Ya, Dad.