Our Last Adventure – Poetic Memory

The number of your days
was down to the double digits,
but we did not know this yet.

You could still walk and
pull around your IV pole
with its multiple bags.

The pseudo-boyfriend
was a flake and had never
fulfilled his promises
to take you out to
Lake Michigan
or for a picnic anywhere.
His negligence infuriated me.

I don’t know where
I got the gumption,
but we finally dressed
you up in a pair of
overalls, stuck the IV
bags in your pockets.
I wheeled you down
to the lobby.
Left you for a few panicky
moments while
I dashed out to pull up the car.
I felt like I was robbing a bank,
sneaking you out of the
hospital like that.

We drove five minutes
to the house of a friend
where I had been staying
while caring for you
during the days.
No one was at home.

We walked in through the
garage– I worried about fumes
and filth somehow
infecting you.

I sat you down
in the living room
and you ate a Popsicle
on the white couch.

It was our last adventure.

My Brother’s Friend – Rumination

How are you so pretty and smart
and still so single?
I respond with a hearty laugh,
trying not to choke.
We are in public (on Facebook).
Apparently, my brother didn’t share
my lesbianity with you before he died.
I wonder if he was still a little ashamed,
or if he was just trying to protect my
right to privacy.
It does make you seem more than a
little unimaginative, though.
It’s so weird that you Facebooked me
even though we have probably only
ever met once, just because you loved
my brother and he is gone and he loved
me and maybe you liked what
I said at the funeral.
Were you one of the many highly tattooed,
denim and leather clad bikers with
braided beards weeping silently
in the audience?
I think you had been my brother’s
buddy for forty years, but I could
not have picked you out in a lineup.
We lived in different universes.
Nothing parallel about them.
Should I feel wistful remorse that
I never ran in your circles,
some deep curiosity about
who my brother was in that
universe?
I was content with the brother I
knew from the little sliver of
overlap floating between the Venn
diagrams of our lives.

I was just proud of him for not
ending up in prison. For not
doing drugs anymore. For
drinking nothing stronger than
Miller Light, finally understanding
the probability that hard liquor
and his uncontrollable rage would
land him in prison. Proud of him
for being a loving father
and grandfather.

Several of you invited me to the
bikers ‘party’ after the funeral
and I actually really wanted to go,
but I knew my sister and my mother
would never have forgiven me for
not being with them that night.
I considered it one of the hard
choices of my life.

Anyway, I’m still not sure why so
many of you friended me. Are you
hoping to see the ghost of my
brother in the bits of my life
I deem innocuous enough to post
that the evangelical community of
my childhood will not be horrified?
Is it because I am the “cool” sister
who drinks and cusses, while still
daring to preach some grasping
gasping faith in the divine at a funeral?

And where will you go and what
will you do if you learn
that I am a dyke?

What will you do with your one wild and precious life? A Eulogy

I pulled you out of your crib when
you were six weeks old to put you
in your walker, like I did my dolls.
I was three. It is amazing that you
lived to see your first birthday
with me as a sister.

At 15 months you saw our brother
hit and killed; you were not
wearing a mask; there was blood
everywhere;you must have seen
everything. What did it do to
your little developing soul?

At three you were still being
potty trained. I remember Mom
screaming and raging at you as
she cleaned you up the first night
we moved into the apartment on
Walnut Street. That rage would
be the hallmark of our
childhood.

It would haunt you throughout
your life. You came by your anger
and violence honestly. Handed
right down, mother to son. Of
course, she was the adult child
of an alcoholic. Too bad good
therapy was not available to
our social class. (And might
not have been welcome if it had
been).

You were a beautiful boy with a
beautiful smile. People often
thought you were a girl and I was
a boy because you smiled so
damned much and your hair
grew so fast.

Something happened when they
put you back in second grade
because your reading wasn’t up
to snuff. It was the year of the
divorce. You were eight. But you
had a growth spurt that made
you six inches taller than your
new classmates. It was hell
being the one who stuck out.

Your nose, my precious brother,
flat and somehow bridgeless,
made you feel like the ugliest boy
in the world. You were adorable,
my love. I wish you could have
felt it.

Kids made fun of your nose and
you threatened to give them one
just like it. The fighting began.

Being put back made you feel
like you were the dumbest boy
in the world. You would never
overcome that, to your dying day.

You were my faithful, adoring
little brother. We had such
adventures, crawdad hunting,
climbing trees, rescuing kittens.
Even then you told the funniest
stories, complete with wonderful
Warner Brothers Cartoon
imitations.

You were a sweet
heart, stuck.

While you were still in school,
you started collecting weapons.
Knives, Chinese stars, nun-
chucks. You lived with such fear.
Later you would advance to
guns. Mostly you used your size
and your fists when conflicts
arose (and didn’t they mostly
arise from within your own
soul?).

You were in and out of school for
the next eight years, always in
trouble for fighting with someone.
Your freshman year you got in a
fight with someone for throwing
an ice cream cone at the back of
your head. You were told you
could never come back to that
high school. It was the only high
school in town.

When you were 18, you tried to
go back. The teacher said you sat
in the back of the class with tears
streaming down your face. You
couldn’t do it. Later you would
get your GED while incarcerated.

You had a “big brother” for two
heartbeats. You had people try to
take you under their wing. But
no one could unbreak your heart.
No one could figure out how to put
the pieces of you together  again.
Not even me, much as I loved you.

You were 15 when I went off to
college. You felt so abandoned,
you moved out of the house and
in with a girl exactly my age. You
never explained this to me until
we were well into adulthood.
I had no idea.

A man from our church took you
into his auto shop and taught you
the business, one of the best things
that ever happened to you.  You
stayed in that business all your life,
rebuilding cars from the ground up.

You drove an old jalopy that looked
like it was held together with duct
tape and would have been rejected
by any self-respecting third world
country, but I think you drove it
to prove you could keep any vehicle
alive if you willed it. Also because
it used to belong to our dad, and
you were secretly sentimental.

You were in and out of jail and you
almost went to prison. You were
never a better letter writer than
when you were in jail. One time
when I was in grad school and you
were in the joint for 30 days, we
exchanged one letter per week.

I sent you a letter with a Doodle
Bug stamp. That was your babyhood
nick-name. You made the mistake of
sharing this with your cellmate.
Never lived that down.

When you grew up, you were
simply known as “Dude.” That
was back in the seventies before
people were using “dude”
ubiquitously as it is used now.
I asked you not that long ago
how you felt about everyone
taking your name in vain these
days. You smirked.

As an adult, you were six foot two,
280 lbs, and covered in tattoos. An
old Sunday school teacher of ours
saw you at a gas station once and
started to get right back in her car,
but then she recognized you and she
said, Oh, that’s just Eric. Sweet little
Eric.

You had a rough start of things, but
grew up to be a funny, loving, fun-
loving man with a lot of hard-won
wisdom. You were loved by everyone
who knew you.

You were a self-proclaimed redneck
who lived in a trailer with two pit
bulls, a rat terrier and a girlfriend
who was almost as decorated in
tattoos as you were. (Oh, I forgot the
boa and 15 rats you kept to feed it.)

You loved guns, Trump, and the
confederate flag. You had a sign
in the window with a picture of
a gun that read, We don’t call
911.

In your thirties you once complained
that I used to beat you up when we
were kids. I don’t remember that!
I remember that we would wrestle
and I would win. When you
complained I said, You should thank
me, Dude, because I made you the 
bad-ass that you are! But of course,
you did that all by yourself.

Evil Knievel was your idol when
you were a kid, and you were
always doing wheelies and all
kinds of stunts on your dirt bike.
You broke your arm when you
were eight, riding down a hill full
speed ahead on a bike that had
no brakes. It was never clear to
me whether you knew this at
the beginning of your descent.

At any rate, our apartments were
at the bottom of the hill and as
you came upon them, you put up
your arm to shield yourself from
a square iron pole, breaking your
arm in not one, but two places,
on either side of the pole. That
was one thing about you, Dude,
you never did things halfway.

As an adult, you continued living
dangerously with motorcycles and
cars. A few years ago, you had a
horrible accident driving a four
wheeler in the woods in downstate
Virginia. You plowed down a tree
while you were trying to outrun
your buddy– You were airlifted
unconscious from the scene by
helicopter. You had broken your
femur in two places, too, just like
your arm, made sure it was good
and busted. But you had a real
good time until you ran over that
tree!

Besides being a badass on wheels,
you were also very protective.
One time I was visiting from college
and a friend of yours asked, Is that
your sister? You said, NO! That is
not my sister, don’t even look at her!
It was so sweet, you didn’t want
your friends flirting with me.

Another time when all three of us
were adults we went to Pizza Hut,
where I happened to mention
something terrible someone had
done to me years ago, which I
thought you already knew about.
After a moment, you went out to
smoke a cigarette. And you didn’t
come back . . .  and you didn’t
come back . . . And suddenly our
sister and I both realized, OMG
he has gone to get his gun!  We
jumped in the car and raced across
town to stop you so you didn’t land
yourself in prison.

We got there just in time. Had a bit
of a verbal shootout, but nobody
died that night and nobody ended
up in jail. So it was a win-win for
everybody.

You were protective and loyal, and
you loved your sisters.

For all your scariness, you were
really tender hearted. When
Grandma died in ‘97, it liked to
have killed us all with grief. And
here were you, all big and tall and
tough and when you got that call at
work you said you sat down in the
middle of the burrito factory and
cried like a child.

On the other hand, you  were also
the funniest person I knew. I
recorded one family conver-
sation back in 2000 where I said
something snarky to Mom and
our sister said, ‘Lisa you’re writin’
yourself right on out of the will.
Mom laughed and said, What will??
And you said, in your very best
hillbilly accent, You know that
Tupperware set you had yer eye
on, well forgit it!

And you could tell a story! You
could tell a tragic story like your
accident in Virginia as if it were
a comedy, have us laughing till
we cried. From hilarity, not from
pity. You really loved to make
people laugh.

The poet Mary Oliver asks, What
will you do with your one wild
and precious life?

You died suddenly on September
17, 2017, quietly and in your sleep, at
age 47.

Your life was shorter than we wanted
it to be, but you filled it to the brim
with the people and things you loved.

You lived hard.
You worked hard,
you played hard
and you loved hard.

Your Harley, The Beast, was put
on display at the funeral, where all
your friends could pay their respects.
I’ve never seen so many rough-
looking grown men cry.

And most of the funeral procession
was a cavalcade of motorcycles who
revved their motors as loud as they could
to honor you on their way to the cemetery.

Mom is convinced that you are up in
heaven driving a Harley alongside
Jesus as your Biker Buddy.

Oh, Dear Little Doodle Bug,
I dearly hope that that is true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Life Down to the Last Drop – Rumination + i thank you god by cummings – Diane IX

Some years ago, in the bloom of my youth, I lost a dear, dear friend to stomach cancer. She had been at one time the love of my life. And I had abandoned her by moving to Japan in an effort to save us from the consequences of such “sin,” (believing ourselves to be heterosexual by choice). We remained close friends,  writing long letters from whatever country we were then living in (most often South Africa and Japan). And then we ended up living, almost miraculously, certainly fortuitously, in the same city:  Chicago. But we had become completely different people.

We were loyal to each other, but there was a sense of dis-ease between us. Something un- comfortable. Then I went far away to graduate school and in December of that first year, I  learned that she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Everyone I ever heard of who had stomach cancer died ever so swiftly. I assumed she had only months to live. Her mother, however, had died of breast cancer, and in the middle of her cancer she had an eight-year remission.

Diane later confided to me that she just kind of naturally thought  she had eight years. I would have been surprised if she had had eight months, and not too surprised if she had had only eight weeks. Now, I am a realist. I can’t pretend. I can’t be Pollyannish even if I try. I saw that she needed to get to work immediately to get her affairs in order. I didn’t know I was supposed to pretend she was going to get better. I somehow let this slip when I visited her with a friend. I don’t remember what I said, but whoever I was with shushed me. And for the next year, each of the five weekends I came home from grad school to visit her (a good 15-hour drive), she would avoid my eyes. She knew very well that I could not pretend.

She lived a whole year on chemo, under the delusion that the cancer was in remission. At the end of the year she left a phone message on my machine. “The cancer is back. They don’t think I have long.” As much as I had expected it, the news still brought me to my knees on the kitchen floor.

I drove home for Easter vacation to see her. I went back to school for a week, got my own affairs in order, and drove back to Chicago to help care for her as she died. Young people and perhaps people who are not mothers, do not realize that a nurse does not stand by your bed 24/7 even if you are in ICU. Someone has to be there when your loved one vomits all over her breathing and nasal-gastro tubes. Someone has to be there to soothe her, to hold the emesis basin and clean up, to wipe her face, her tubes, her robe, because throwing up with those tubes could end her life even sooner than anticipated. Someone had to be there to get the nurse when emergencies came up. Someone had to be there to help her go to the bathroom and sometimes even to wipe her bottom. Someone had to be there so she would not have to face this horrific situation alone. It turned out that I was that someone. And it was as beautiful, sacred and holy as it was horrific. It was the most important and most beautiful thing I have ever done with my life.

We grew closer and closer as the end drew near. She had a horrific wound that would not close. It was four inches deep and eight inches long. It opened her up like an old plastic coin purse. I couldn’t believe a person could be that wounded and still be alive. In the beginning I could not look at the wound. I hid behind my laptop across the room. But in time I got acclimated to the point that I could stand beside her and hold her hand as they opened it, redressed it, and covered it again. Another thing changed. Now she sought out my eyes for reassurance that I was there. That she wasn’t going through hell alone. The eyes that had horrified her before became her anchor of peace.

Now, I have a PhD in sociolinguistics and sometimes, when she couldn’t sleep, a bit ornery in my opinion, she would ask me to talk about sociolinguistics! The little twerp. One day, holding her hand for the dressing of the wound, she was tired and she asked me to talk about sociolinguistics. I said (since we both had been English majors), Why don’t I tell you a poem instead?

And with deep emotion I recited this poem by ee cummings:

i thank you god for most this amazing day! for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and the blue true dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes!

i who have died am alive again today and this is the sun’s birthday! this is the birthday of life and love and wings and of the great gay happening illimitably earth!

how can tasting touching hearing breathing any lifted from the no of all nothing human merely being doubt unimaginable you? now the eyes of my eyes are opened. and now the ears of my ears awake!

And as her eyes were closed, I thought she had fallen asleep, but as I spoke the last words she opened her eyes wide, looking deep into mine and said passionately, “Again!” She was so in love with life, even in the midst of her own personal hell. She still wanted to celebrate that which was beautiful. We had beautiful moments together right up until three days before she died, when she entered a semi-coma. She had requested that I perform the poem at her funeral, which of course I did, with great feeling. Now I recite it often. It is a gift I like to give to others. A reminder of just how delicious life is, how worthy of celebration. How much of life is seemingly wasted on people who don’t realize what they have. Of course, in my mind, the poem always ends with that earnest and breathless request, “Again!”

 

 

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