Commemorating a Life

Sunset. A cool, autumnal breeze. A railroad crossing to my right. The silver tinted, blue waters of the bay shimmering on the horizon. A miscellany, to be sure, yet they are connected inside my mind. Experiencing them together causes a sadness to wash over me. My memory is stung by sharp, disjointed images, my senses overtaken with unconscious associations. He was here once.

All of the stories from my childhood come rushing into my mind at once, each one shouting over the other to be heard, flourishing a bit here and there just as he used to. All vying for attention and converging into an indistinct, yet thoroughly recognizable, single story: the story of my father’s life. I can almost grab hold of the entire thing right then. I can see it and feel it! I could retell it. I could write it down. It’s complete and mesmerizing! Then it is gone.

Memories are such fragile creatures. Broken by a fleeting thought about what to make for dinner or by the car in front of you merging into your lane too closely. I imagine memories as being encased in a soft-shelled bubble that pops and dissipates unceremoniously in a single instant. A trait eerily akin to the way we lose the people those memories are of. Yet, memories are also tough enough to withstand the paralyzing terror which grips us when we do lose those of whom we have made our memories.

The first few “awakes” after loss are filled with enough overpowering shock that it doesn’t occur to you that you won’t be seeing the person again. Then one morning, you’ll wake and find it’s the first thing on your mind. You’ll realize that the person with whom you both laughed yourself to tears and cried tears of the utmost sadness is now completely outside of your reach. There will be no new experiences shared or memories made. The realization will be shattering enough to send you into a frenzy as you try desperately to remember every last thing they ever said to you. You will panic as you grasp for every shard of every shared experience and you will try frantically to hold onto the sound of their voice, the ring of their laughter, and the smell of their hugs. You will feel dizzy with the overwhelming sense that you can’t remember them at all, much less any details of what they said or of the times you spent together. Eventually, the memories will return to you on small waves and you’ll think you hear their voice in the din of conversation over Christmas dinner.

Then one day, in his unforgiving way, Father Time will have moved an entire year past you and you will be amazed that it’s September again. You’ll be blown away at the thought that three hundred and sixty-five days have eluded you. It will occur to you that it’s a Leap Year so an extra day even slipped in somehow. You will cry. You’ll heavily avoid thinking about that morning a year ago- how your heart pounded mercilessly as you tried to restart your father’s. You’ll pass the hospital that was unable to save his life and curse it silently, knowing inwardly that it isn’t their fault and that cursing a building won’t change anything. You’ll curse it anyway. You will plan to go to the cemetery but decide against it, after all—just like he used to say—no one is there.

Yes, that’s right, your dad isn’t in that empty field. He’s in your memories. The ones that come flying into your mind while you’re trying to sleep. The ones that bombard you while you’re grocery shopping and pull at the corners of your heart—and the corners of your mouth—when you see Red Velvet cake and remember that was one of the last things he mentioned having a craving for. Your dad is in the thoughts that remind you to be kind to people, even when they are not kind to you. He’s in the thoughts that remind you not to let go of your faith even though you want to. He’s in the deep brown of your eyes and high cheekbones. He’s in your laughter and your smile. He’s in your heart as you watch the sun come into view, rays of warmth bursting into your hemisphere and filling it with light. He’s there beside you—all around you—as those rays fall across your face and you breathe in the cool air which signifies another opportunity to be all that you can be; and when you need a reason why, he will be there.

Advertisements

Home

Over the years, I’d found that a strong enough spirit could cure most pains. My current plight, a strong pain in my left side, had been reduced to a manageable though constant ache and settled itself neatly below my ribs. Adriana creaked and moaned, cradled by the gentle waves of the Indian Ocean. We’d sailed out of Onslow headed northwest for The Cocos Islands and were now adrift 100 miles from their shores. It should have been a simple journey, but as is often the case with sea voyages, something went wrong.

Our lookout saw them first. Sitting atop the Crow’s Nest, there wasn’t much her Eagle vision missed.

“Dragons ahead!”

Dragons. Third Realm creatures without soul or reason, destruction their only goal.

Zendya yelled down from her tower “Captain, there are over a dozen!”

Astonished, I asked if she were certain.

“At least fifteen. I’ve never seen this many gathered at sea.”

My mind was drawn to a battle we’d waged on Turkey’s shores while clearing the Black Sea. There, we’d encountered two dozen medium sized creatures. It was a long fight, but we pulled through. The Caspian, Mediterranean, and Red Seas had been quiet and we’d been able to fight mostly on land, luring the creatures to the shore with baited Schooners. Despite reports of numerous creatures in the Persian Gulf, we were able to clear it with relative ease as well. Most challenging had been the Adriatic. At least a hundred Dragons rose up, but again, we’d been able to lure most to land or fight them in pairs at sea.

My team was part of a special task force assigned by the Seven Kingdoms with ridding our waters of Creatures of The Realm. We’d had great success, but the Indian Ocean would be different. Larger and with fewer shores to fight on, most battles would be fought at sea. It would require more manpower than the fleet of ten ships we traveled in. While the resources were gathered, my team was sent to Cocos for relaxation.

I scanned the eyes before me. All held fear. I expected it of the crew, not of my teammates. We were a team of six: José, a Storm Catcher. Arden, an Electric. Fern, a Swordsman. Zendya a Vision. Gail a Sorceress, and myself, a Firebender able to sense the thoughts and feelings of those nearby. I drew a breath, addressing my comrades. “No reason to lie, we all know this won’t be an easy fight and some of us won’t be retelling the tale. It’s been a pleasure to work alongside each of you. Be courageous.”

No one spoke, instead moving quickly to their battle stations as we came upon the creatures. Their scaly skin slithered around Adriana in a way that seemed sinful.

It was a valiant fight, but three of my team and the entire crew perished. Most were thrown overboard, lost to the sea, the others eaten by Dragons. Now nighttime, a passing ship had seen our lights and sent a lifeboat.

Gail approaches me from behind, her voice tentative.

“Captain?”

“They can’t see in the dark, you know?”

She thinks a wise-ass response but only says “yes” aloud.

“If we’d come upon them later we’d have-” I pause. “Everyone would have lived.”

“Wasn’t it you who told me it’s a sailor’s luck to lose?”

I scoff although it sounds like something I’d say.

“The lifeboat is waiting.”

“Then board it.” I tell her.

“Andrus, please.” Her familiar tone is one she’d never use in front of our team. The team we’ve just lost. “There’s no reas-”

“Gail. Board.” I don’t look at her. I’m sitting on Adriana’s deck, legs crossed, hands wrapped around my flask, eyes on the sea.

Gail heaves a deep sigh, wincing. She took some heavy hits as did I. My mind finds its way back to the pain in my side, numbed by the rum and outweighed only by the pain in my heart.

“Andrus, let’s go home.”

“I am home, Gail.”

“Home is to die with her?” She’s angry.

“She isn’t dead. She can be repaired.”

“Dragons may find you!”

When I remain silent, she curses, saying, “Fine! Do it then. I suppose it’s only fitting!” She’s always been jealous of Adriana. She turns swiftly and I sense a wave of pain shudder through her body.

“Gail?” I stare at the pitch black sea.

She turns and asks wearily. “Yes?”

“Can you get the lights for me?”

Even without my sixth sense, I can tell she’s smiling as she replies. “Yes, Captain.”

Magnolia

This is something I wrote based off a one-word prompt over at oneword.com. The premise of that site is that you get 60 seconds to write something based off of their one-word prompt. I was so inspired by the word “magnolia” that I just went with it, writing for a good half hour. I’ve edited it a bit and want to share the piece here. I’m afraid this is more of a lament, and less of an actual story, but here it is just the same. Also, I’m sorry if it this post is a little depressing…

Word prompt: magnolia
Word count: 683

When I was little–probably ages 4 through 9–I thought the magnolia tree in my grandfather’s front yard was a very tall tree. I thought that when I climbed up to the first branch and perched there I was sitting high in the sky. I thought the branch stretched far out from the trunk, its length swooping across the yard and over the bed of endless leaves beneath it. I thought that if I fell off of that branch, I would get hurt. I never fell. I never climbed any higher, either. I didn’t need to. I was on top of the world right where I was.

A few years ago, I found a picture of myself sitting on that branch, my feet dangling carelessly over the side, and realized I was only a few feet off the ground. I was both shocked and amused and had to chuckle at how different my memory of that tree was! Perspectives are everything. As a little girl, I genuinely believed those few feet–maybe four–from the ground were an epic abyss between myself and the merciless ground below. There’s a picture where my dad is standing there with me. I’m perched and looking very proud of how high up I am(!), but the branch only reaches my father’s chest.

I thought that my father was a very tall man. I thought he was strong and magnificent and that he would always tower above me with a strength and courage I could only dream of ever possessing. Like the magnolia, in my world, my dad was a tall pillar, a force to be reckoned with, a protection and a shelter. I know my memories of him aren’t as skewed as those of the magnolia, but I realize that they can’t all be exactly accurate either. I wish I could ask him questions to differentiate between the realities and the exaggerations. I wish I could ask him why my grandfather–a drunkard and a coward– lived more years than he–a portrait of love, the kindest man I ever knew–did. I wish I could ask him why there’s such truth in the old adage of “only the good die young.” I wish I could understand why a tree can withstand hurricanes and droughts and children climbing all over her branches and still stand, relentless, oblivious to time, strong and beautiful, her blooms new again every spring. And yet, a man who seemed every bit as strong as she, can die. I wish I could understand why she still stands, unchanged, in that same spot where I sat on her branches 20 years ago, but my father’s arms, where I ran to for comfort and courage and love for over 24 years have disappeared.

I can go back to that yard and see that magnolia tree, alive in all her splendor, but there is nowhere I can go to see you, Dad. You once told me that a grave is not where the person is, that you never visited any of your family at theirs because that’s not where they were. But I don’t know where you are. I know of Heaven and I believe you are happy and safe there, but I can’t visit Heaven’s gates to talk to you. I can’t drive by Heaven’s front yard and see you standing there, unchanged, like I can drive by your father’s old house and see my magnolia tree, still beautiful despite time and all of its cruelties. Where can I find you now? If I were ever to begin to forget my memories surrounding the magnolia, it’s still there, just as it was then… Like a living portrait, I can go back and see everything like it was when I lived it, slightly different than my memory, yes, but there nonetheless. But where are you if I forget our lives together? Where do I go to remember you?

I suppose Fitzgerald was right when he said, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” You are my hero, Daddy, and your vanishing the tragedy. I miss you.

Originally written: 2 June, 2016

“Vertraue auf besser Tage” – Keane

I suffered a severe loss last year. Navigating the expansive, seemingly endless ocean that is the emptiness it left me with has proved to be–putting it quite mildly–a challenge.

Finding ways to cope is not the easiest thing to do. So many people have opinions on how you’re supposed to “get over” a loss, how long you should grieve, the methods you should employ in recovering, and so on. I haven’t done a great job of finding any methods. Honestly, I can say I’ve never wanted to die more than I have since September, 2015, but I know that wouldn’t help anything. In fact, it would just put other people through the horror and turmoil I’m currently experiencing. But that doesn’t help how lost I’ve felt. I’m like a tiny sail boat lost in the middle of the Atlantic. How could you possibly find your way back to shore in that situation?

A couple of things have managed to help me in getting closer to that invisible shore. Driving without a destination and photography are two. Another has been seeking comfort in my Faith. But since I was young, writing has always been my escape and emotional outlet. Admittedly, I’ve lost sight of writing several times over the years, but each time I’m faced with the wrestling match of life and its nature to be overwhelming, I find myself back in front of blank pages, spilling words onto their pristine surfaces. Almost immediately after the loss, I wrote a poem about the simultaneous absence and presence of my father in the city we were both so familiar with. I thought, “Great! At least I still have writing.”

That was all I wrote, though. For months, writing was almost as obviously absent from my life as my father was. I would try to write, try to get my anger and sadness out on the page and end up with nothing, or worse, something whose depth and honesty just wasn’t there and ended up feeling like a sheer mockery of my actual feelings. I knew the only way for me to describe the acute and ironic contrast of both the immense love and the crippling anger that I felt for my dad for leaving me was going to be through writing, yet I simply could not find the words. In fact, I couldn’t find any words.

Something finally gave way and I wrote another poem several months later. Since then, I’ve been using writing prompts to try to bring the medium back into my life. So here I am, trying to find a path of healing through the comfort of writing.

A quick explanation of the name of this blog, as well as its first post. Vertraue auf besser Tage means to have faith in brighter (better) days. It’s derived from the lyrics of one of my favorite songs from the band, Keane. They were kind enough to share with the world their song “You Are Young” and help me–though many more than me, I’m sure–find solace and comfort in its gentle reminder to “have faith in brighter days.” My post title is in German simply because that language is so much deeper than my native English. (Perhaps I just understand it better because of the way it was taught to me.) Either way, I’m staying afloat on this Grief Ocean many ways, but one of them is definitely by having faith in brighter days to come.

If you’ve lost someone close to you, lost your way, lost a part of yourself to depression, disease or addiction, or are struggling to cope with anything that seems like too much to bare, I hope you’ll join me on the road to recovery and the New Normal I aspire to find along the way. Remember to breathe, and have faith in brighter days. We’re stronger than we believe and each of us will get through this.