Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

It is not coincidence that "invalid" (a sick person) and "invalid" (being without any foundation of truth) are both from the same root, meaning weak.

As I pen these words on Christmas Eve night, I am under medical house arrest. Thanks to a wild combination of screwy factors, two large veins blew out on Friday and I am a mass of bruises. Painful, swollen bruises. When I saw Dr. Tom today (the husband of Dr. Pat, my doctor), his eyes widened in surprise at the extent of the bruising. I'd had a racing, half-crying phone call with Dr. Pat the night before and she had briefed him well knowing he would see me today. However, the visuals proved yet once again that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Once Tom ascertained that I was medically stable, he cut to the chase. Go home and rest NOW. Do not do ANYTHING.  Tom has a soft delivery, but there was no mistaking the emphasis on NOW and ANYTHING.

We are old friends, Tom, Pat, and I. He looked me with a sad smile. "I would like to wrap you in bubble wrap to keep you safe for the next few days."

Point taken.

I was in tears when I called Warren and gave him the results of the appointment. "I can't do anything," I wailed. "Tom said go home and rest right now." I don't think I said it out loud, but I thought I'm an invalid for the next few days.

An invalid. I felt invalidated. I can't do anything. I can't help prepare for Christmas Day dinner, which we are hosting. I can't finish shopping. In one swift move, I was sidelined.

In short, I was moved, temporarily I trust, from "April in treatment for cancer" to "April, the invalid."

I saw Dr. Tom early in the morning. A lot more tears fell before noon. I'm tired. I hurt a lot. I cry out every time I see my bruises (concealed beneath clothing) and again when I move or shift around. I hate sitting on the couch while Warren does everything.

I hate being an invalid.

Warren is taking great care of me and the multitude of tasks that need to be done before tomorrow midday. I have made peace with not being able to complete shopping the way I had planned. I am making peace with the thought that I may not be baking tonight.

After all, it is Christmas Eve. David just came through the door for the night. We are all together.

And maybe that's my takeaway from this whole mess. We're together and it's Christmas. The bruises will fade and heal. It's Christmas. Ben called earlier and I talked to him, Sam, and Alise while Ramona tried out her new sounds in the background.

It's Christmas.

And that is enough.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Alise Said

When I posted Saturday about the Newtown massacre, I could not pull up Alise's thoughts and had to instead paraphrase them. Here is what Alise wrote:

I don't care to know who the gunman is or what his f**ked up, useless motivations were. Media scrutiny and attention paid will only lead to further violence as our country continues to obsess over the actions of increasingly troubled individuals. I honestly don't even care about the greater implications that this event has on the subjects of mental health care and gun control in this country.

What I care about right now is that there are [28] people dead, [20] of them children. Parents lost their babies today, and I want to know who they were. I want to know what colors and books they loved, what their favorite games were, what they wanted to be when they grew up, so that we can mourn their loss in specific and concrete ways, and not in the abstract. Tell me who they were, so we can offer our prayers to their loved ones with some sense of honesty and truth. So that we can offer some thoughts to make those children's journey to the spirit world an easy one. I want to think today of those beautiful children that will never get the chance to grow up, and leave the gunman and his motivation to rot in the waste bin of history.


I spent most of Sunday baking too, and as I baked I thought about those little children. I love Alise's call to mourn their loss "specific and concrete ways."

I work at the juvenile court here in Delaware and the flags were hanging quietly at half-mast Monday morning when I arrived. Far harder was the mediation I had at one of our local elementary schools an hour later. It was sad to walk into the school, the flag half mast there as it is all over town. It is was heartbreaking to sit and watch the kindergartners bring the attendance records to the office, skipping and tiptoeing in with pride and excitement over being the attendance monitors. 

They are just little children.

Jonathan Kozol, in his book, Ordinary Resurrections, writes about very young schoolchildren and how they are at the mornings of their lives. He starts out with Thomas Merton's observation that birds, first thing in the morning, "ask God if it is time yet to begin the day." Birds, after making a series of chirps and sounds but not yet breaking into song, ask God "if it is time for them to 'be.'"  Little children, said Kozol, are much the same: "It may be nearly lunchtime in the world but, for this little girl, it seems as though it's only a few minutes after dawn...Soon enough she'll brush the cobwebs from her eyes and take a clear look at the world of vowel sounds and subtrahends...and some bigger things that lie ahead, like state exams, but not just now." 

The burials have begun in Newtown and the world moves on. Before we all move on, though, let us mourn those children in "specific and concrete ways."

And let us celebrate and keep safe all the other children who are awakening and asking "if it is time for them to 'be.'" 




 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Baking the Morning After


It is the morning after and I am baking.

28 families in Newtown, Connecticut are making funeral arrangements, 20 of them for small children who did not live to see Christmas this year.

And I am baking.

My mind keeps churning over the news. My thoughts reel back to Columbine and watching the news that night with my hand to my throat and the tears rolling down my face. This morning as I read the online newspaper, my hand went immediately to my throat and the tears started again.

And I am baking.

My wonderful, beautiful daughter-in-law Alise mirrored my thoughts on her Facebook post last night and I would repost her words here if I could. But Facebook is balking so I am able only to summarize them. (I will post Alise's moving words in a separate post in the next day or two when Facebook decides to cooperate.) Alise cried out to us to focus on the children who were killed, not on the killer and what made him tick. Forget him. What Alise wanted to know is what the children's favorite colors were, could they tie their shoes, what games they liked to play. Alise wanted us all to remember these were children, with the little things that make up a child's life: a favorite book, a stuffed animal, a song sung in class.

And I am baking, filling the house with the scent of biscotti, wondering what cookies those children liked and whether they had yet done any holiday baking with their mothers, their fathers, their grandparents.

I think of Ramona as I roll the dough with my hands. When Ben was a little boy, there was the Cleveland School shooting in Stockton, California, where we lived at the time. We were horrified. And then came Padukah. And Columbine. Yet despite that violence—violence at a school—I still sent Ben and Sam off each day with my biggest worry being a traffic accident.

Those were just random acts of violence, I thought at the time. But increasingly, they are not. And as I look at Ramona in all her three-month old glory, I fear her parents live in a world—in this country, for God's sake—where they will send her to school someday and pray she not be gunned down in her classroom while she recites her ABCs.

And I am baking.

In Making Piece, Beth Howard wrote: "In those late autumn days, as winter approached, all I did was bake. With each push of the rolling pin...my soul was soothed and my heart mended a little more."

It is the day after Newtown and I am baking.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Update from Cancerland

I have just finished the first cycle of chemo. This is my week off.

It is all new and I am still finding my way around the different landscape. Sometimes I think the road goes that way, and instead it goes way over there.

In the big picture, I am doing very well. I am feeling better overall and have had more energy in the last three weeks than the last three months. My gains are measurable and real. 

That being said, being ill again is a drag. In the small picture, some days are just plain hard. I am weathering chemo well and not having severe reactions to it, but even the milder reactions weigh me down. Chemo takes a toll. Despite the resurgence in energy, there are nonetheless personal limits. Some nights I struggle to make it to a reasonable hour ("reasonable" meaning at least 9:30 p.m.) before crashing. 
 I don't enjoy the steroids I take once a week and the havoc they wreak with my body clock. 

As I said, it's a drag being ill again.

My biggest problem is of my own making. I have a hard time recognizing my own limits. Well, to be honest,  I often recognize them and then just blow past them. As a result, I tend to overdo all of my days, including chemo days, which means I pay the price for the next day or two afterwards. It is hard to relearn to take care of myself first.

I recently had coffee with a friend and talked about my recent decision to take a sabbatical from the active part (the Tuesday night part) of the Legal Clinic. I am laying the groundwork now for others to step into my shoes. I told my friend I knew the decision was right, but I struggled coming to it. 

"Because you are giving up power?" she asked.

I thought about that for a moment, then said, "No, it's having to admit that I cannot do the clinic right now. That's hard." 

I mean that. I have no problem with stepping out of an activity, even a beloved one, and gracefully ceding power to a successor. But to say out loud, "I cannot do this?" I have to swallow hard to get those words out.

For the most part, I do not worry about the myeloma. The cancer is what it is. But I do worry about its impact on my dear husband. At times I feel as if I am coming to him, with both hands full, saying, "I bring you my illness." (Surely Walt Whitman did not anticipate that scenario when he wrote "Song of the Open Road," which is what keeps coming to mind when I present Warren with this reality.) Warren doesn't see it that way, but I sure do at times. (Perhaps it is a side effect of chemo that I cannot think through my days without drawing on poetry: what a wonderful side effect that would be!) 

Overall, I am grateful for the treatment and grateful that it seems to be working. I seem to be responding positively to it and for that I am blessed. I am also blessed beyond words to have tremendous community support.  While we have not had to ask for assistance (meals, rides, you name it), it is nice to know that army of supporters is out there. 

As I type these words, Warren is at a Symphony board meeting. It is mid-evening and I am tired. Whatever chores are undone for the day will keep until tomorrow. I have gone all the miles I need to before I sleep.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Explosions


"Something's on fire!"

Warren was out of his chair in a minute, as was I. Smoke was billowing up from the burners of the stove. Throwing open the oven door (more billowing smoke), I quickly assessed the situation.

Nothing was on fire, but bits of exploded batter had dropped down through the racks onto the heating element and had started to smolder.

Earlier that morning, I had carefully made a chocolate chiffon cake batter so I could later craft a dessert to take to our friends that night. The last step required whipping six egg whites until they stood in stiff peaks.

It was a great batter. It had a beautiful sheen and a nice heft.

In filling the cake pans, though, I should have known better. The 8 inch pans, the size called for by the recipe, were filled to the brim. Against my better judgment, I slid the pans into the oven.

Chaos followed. The batter rose. It rose some more. It began to quiver as it rose over the pans. And then the cake batter—both pans worth—exploded.

Once we cleared the kitchen of smoke and once I dumped the batter (which was not baking properly and indeed, could not bake properly), I thought through the situation. We were due at Margo and Gerald's at 7:00. It was still morning. Go to the store, get a box mix, and get it done.

I did. There were some later fluffs and tense moments, but it got done. Late that night, sitting around the fire ring, we laughed over the poor exploded cake while eating the end result.

Last night was another explosion. Not a cake this time, but a person. Me, in fact. Like the cake batter crammed into the 8 inch pans. there was too much of me in too small a container. I bubbled and churned and tried to rise above my discontent. But in the end, like that wayward batter last Saturday night, I exploded.

Warren has a very demanding job. He works very long hours with very little staff (albeit excellent, excellent staff) and not enough support. Concerts weeks, and this is one of them, mean even longer and later hours. This week, starting last night, Warren will be at a Symphony something—a committee meeting, a rehearsal, a board meeting—every single weeknight through next Monday. (The concert will take up much of Saturday and all of Sunday.) That includes Friday too.

Every. Single. Weeknight. Plus Saturday and Sunday.

At so many levels, starting with my love and support of Warren, I "get" it. I know the broad and deep reach of his position. I know his Board, made up of good, decent people, does not demand this of him out of callous disregard. I know Warren gives his heart to the Symphony and that a large part of its increasing stature in national orchestra circles is due to his vision, drive, blood, sweat, and tears.

I really do get that. And I am so proud of him and this Symphony.

But now I'm sick. Now. Not theoretically, not "oh, the myeloma will be back someday," but now. Now I'm in chemo. I have moved from the quiet countryside of Cancerland into a downtown apartment over the main drag, with cars going by at all hours and red flashing neon signs lighting up the walls in the still of the night.

Now I have needs which, for the first time since Warren and I became a couple, trump—at least in my mind—any card he may hold in the Symphony's hand. I have taken all the tricks, I have laid down four aces, I have shot the moon.

And this week it doesn't matter. I am sitting at the card table with my royal flush fanned out and the card game is already over.

When Warren walked in from his meeting last night, I asked to talk. I tried to stay calm. I "get" that this is not Warren's doing, that it is not personal, that it's not about me or even about us.

I said all those things and then I burst into chunks of raw batter, just like the cake. I held the winning hand and I wept because I could not rake in the pot.

Warren quietly sat through my outburst, holding me close while I wound up and then wound down. He sat quietly while I ranted about having to act more "normal" than I am feeling so as not to worry him while he worries about the Symphony. He squeezed my hand while I gave voice to my fears and my dismay about the myeloma.

My game face is good. The chemo I am taking is not that bad. I won't lose my hair. I'm not that nauseated. My energy has already started to rise. My colleagues at work are supportive beyond words, as are my friends. My children (Ben, Sam, Alise, David) are there for me. Warren has not flinched in the face of what I am facing.

I am blessed blessed blessed and I know so every single day when I awake and every night when I fall asleep.

Yet the cancer takes a toll—physical, emotional, mental—on me. Myeloma is demanding. It wears you down with its slow relentlessness. There is no winnable war here. (Yes, you win the battles, but ultimately myeloma wins the war.) And last night I was battle sore and weary, and Warren bore the brunt of it.

When we got around to dessert last Saturday night, everyone oohed and awed. Despite the failed batter and the substitute box mix, and despite the haste in the later afternoon (shaving those dark chocolate curls and willing the glaze to set), the cake was finished. The mousse hid the smaller layers, some of which had cracked in assembly, and patched the pieces together well. The cake platter was large enough that the glaze did not pool onto the table. We all savored each bite. When the evening ended, I left half of the remains with Margo and Gerald and the other half came home with us.

When I was done exploding last night, Warren patched me together much like Saturday's dessert. He patched me with thoughtful listening and quiet love. He poured a glaze of understanding and comfort over my bruised spirits.

And then he served me the very last piece of the chocolate mousse cake.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ramona

Ramona is three months old. Yesterday, in fact, marked the end of the first quarter of her first year in the world. We were at Margo and Gerald's the Saturday night that Ben called and said, "She's here." In a wonderful serendipitous turn of events, her anniversary was also a Saturday and we were again sharing the evening with our good friends Margo and Gerald. We all celebrated Ramona's three month anniversary with a shared amazement that she already that old.

I have yet to hold Ramona is my arms, although I have pored over the many photos of her and have seen her when skyping with Ben and Alise. In this short amount of time, she has gone from being a Baby Blob to being firmly entrenched in the land of Babyhood. I see new expressions in her face, I hear of new feats of dexterity. I long to see and meet her in person.

The incomparable E. B. White wrote a small poem after his son Joel was born, "The Conch:"

Hold a baby to your ear
   As you would hold a shell:
Sounds of centuries you hear
   New centuries foretell.

Who can break a baby's code?
   And which is the older—
The listener or his small load?
   The held or the holder?

I think of White's words when I study the most recent photos. I look at Ramona's little face, at the deep, solemn look in her eyes. I see traces of all her heritages in her: Chippewa, Cuban, WASP. I wonder what she is already thinking and what she already has known for centuries.

I cannot wait to hold her to my ear.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

KGB

Tim Moore, my oncologist, once said I should not panic about the myeloma showing up in low levels in my lab work. There would always be traces of myeloma in my tests. His job was to monitor those traces.

"It's like looking at a picture of Russians gathered in Red Square," he explained. "You know everyone in the picture is Russian. And you know some of them are KGB. But you don't know, just by looking at the picture, who is KGB."

For a long time, it was just Russians in the picture.

Not now. The KGB was there all the time, the agents just waiting for the right time to muscle their way to the front.

I had seen Tim in October for my six month check. After looking at my lab results, with their inexorable drift towards the myeloma reactivating, and after listening to my laundry list of an increasingly diminished quality of life, he said, "I'm not panicking yet, but has this caught my attention? Absolutely." When Tim said he wanted to see me in November, rerunning the labs for that appointment, my heart failed a bit. It would be the first time in years that I would see Tim in consecutive months.

I saw Tim last week, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I had lost four more pounds. I was even more worn out than before. We talked, Warren chimed in, and then Tim said, "we can start chemo today. Do you want to?"

Do I want to? Well, define "want to." No, of course, I don't "want" to. I "want" not to have to deal with myeloma, I "want" not to feel my world is caving in. Of course, I don't "want" to start chemo.

But I don't live in that world—that world without myeloma. Myeloma is incurable. It is chronic. It is forever, until there is no forever left for me. I live in Cancerland permanently. In Cancerese, the official language of Cancerland, "want" means something different. It means "willing to do this to feel better and try to shut down the cancer again."

If you define "want" in Cancerese, then of course I "want" to start chemo.

So I did. Within an hour I received an injection of bortezomib (Velcade). Assuming all goes well, I'll receive a shot once a week for three weeks, take a week off, and then we will assess where I am at in the cancer spectrum.

Clearly this will be my new normal for the foreseeable future and like any new normal, it will take considerable adjustment. I am still getting up to speed intellectually on Velcade. The physical learning curve will be even steeper. There has been nausea, there has been sleeplessness. There have been half-eaten meals, as even without the nausea, my appetite is uneven at best.

And there have been long, internal assessments of where I am at in life, what lies ahead, what lies behind.

After that first dose of chemo, I went that night to our monthly legal clinic. I held my thoughts and my new status to myself while we served our community, dispensing cookies and comfort. Over the next few days, I shared the news with a few people in the innermost circle of my life. On Thanksgiving, outside out of earshot, I broke the news one by one to my dad and two of my brothers. I sat down the next day and shared the news carefully with my mother, who took it somberly and quietly. I have notified co-workers. This post is my way of heaving the rock of myeloma into the pond and watching the concentric rings push out from the point of impact.

When I was diagnosed in 2004, I threw a big party. I am likely to do so again—the "Party Like It's 2004" party. The house will fill with my friends, part of that army of supporters who have stood with me all along. There will be good food and good talk and love and solidarity.

My Blogville friend Ellen once said, in response to a post about the KGB, "You have an army of friends to back you up, and we shall learn to speak Russian ASAP to be at your side."

I don't know about learning Russian. I'm typically all thumbs at learning languages, other than Cancerese, in which I am fluent.  I don't know how to say, "I can do this" in Russian. But I have already learned one important word and say it now to my friends and family as they stand with me.

Spasibo. 

Thank you.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fox in Box

Not the fox that we saw, but darn close! 
Margo and I were sitting at the front table by the window of our local bookstore when a young man walked up Sandusky Street carrying a large rectangular box. The box lay lengthwise in his arms, parallel to the ground, and we could see two alert ears sticking out of the open end on the far side.

Margo, a dog lover, said, "Oh, he has his dog in the box." I said, "Those aren't dog ears. They're too red."

We both said, simultaneously, "Fox ears!"

"Fox in box!'

Margo and I chattered at one another, laughing. The young man stopped at a car and set the box on top, open end now facing us. He indeed had a fox in the box, albeit a mounted one.

This seemed even more ludicrous to the pair of us.

"It has a paw raised," I observed. "You could get a pair of socks, put one on that paw, and have..."

"Fox in sox!" said Margo, and we both laughed again.

We watched, all the while throwing out words that rhymed with "fox," while the young man, now joined by a young woman, grappled with how to stow the fox in the small car they were driving. The fox stood immobile on top of the car while they moved items around.

Margo noticed that the car was from out of state. We wondered how they came to Delaware to acquire a fox. Margo speculated that perhaps they had searched online for the fox and found one for sale downtown. I surmised they were passing through, had stopped to eat breakfast at our downtown diner (which is across Sandusky Street and several storefronts down), and in crossing the street to return to the car, had seen the fox in the window of an antique store a few storefronts away from where we now sat.

Whatever the story, both of the travelers were giddy with their acquisition. A passerby stopped to admire the fox and they asked him to take a picture. They beamed proudly while the fox stood rigid in the background.

As they continued their quest to fit the fox in the car, Margo mused that perhaps they were on their way to an early Thanksgiving celebration.

"Can you imagine the reception they will get when they arrive? Look, Mom! Look at what we brought!"

I watched as the young woman moved a very full garment bag from the back seat to the rear of the car.

"I think they're going to a wedding."

We both wondered aloud whether the fox would be a wedding gift. "You have your stemware, the bath towels, the silver salad servers, the fox..." said Margo.

"Yes, but but no one would ever forget that wedding present," I noted.

A few minutes later, the fox was finally in the car, although the box was not. The young man walked the box down the street and returned quickly. (I knew it had come from the antique store.)

They drove off. Margo and I went back to talking about more routine matters. I made a mental note to send a copy of Fox in Sox to Ramona Dawn. A woman driving a van pulled into the space next.

She did not have a fox.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Community

A lot of Facebook friends this month are posting daily notes about what they are thankful for. I'm not one of them, but seeing their comments causes me to keep the question front and center.

For what am I thankful?

Today it is community.

This morning is the annual Kiwanis all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Warren and I went; he was having a Symphony meeting afterwards. As we walked towards the doors of the middle school in which the event is held, the question came back to me.

For what am I thankful?

Community.

I am thankful that the greeter was Bob, a longtime friend, who shook Warren's hand and gave me a hug.  I am thankful that I saw Kiwanians Judy and Sharon in the commons, that Jim was behind the cafeteria case helping to serve, that Mary Jean called out "hi, April!" from further back in the kitchen.

Community.

Bob P., who used to run the downtown dime store, was anchoring a table of cronies. Jack, with whom I serve on the city's Civil Service Commission, came by and chatted with us both on his way out. All across the room, I saw familiar faces.

Community.

Community is the young family that had just arrived and the gleeful look in their little boys' eyes as they got into line. Excitement at being there? Or anticipating all the pancakes they could eat?

Community is the high school swim team arriving straight from practice and swelling the line. Their coach is the son of the man who greeted me at the door.

Community is the friends waving across the commons, stopping at one another's tables, hugging someone they haven't seen in awhile.

Community is my making coffee plans with Margo, who was there for the Symphony meeting, and then running into her husband, Gerald, who was there for the pancakes. Gerald and I hugged, we talked, and then he headed inside to eat while I walked home.

I thought about community all the way home. Kiwanis was getting a good turnout today. It would be a good event.

When I was young a half century ago, a neighbor took me and my older brother to the Kiwanis pancake breakfast. Back then it was held in the gym of the junior high. I still remember being awed by the ranks of tables, every seat filled, by the chattering and bustle of so many adults, and by the endless supply of pancakes.

I did not fully realize it at the time, but even then I was impressed by the sense of community. I may not have had a word for it, but even at that young age I had the feeling that these people, these adults, had all come together for some common good.

Community was evident at the pancake breakfast today. It was evident in the large line, in the hugs and calls, in the faces of the Key Club members clearing tables. Community was threaded through the room, binding us together and helping to keep us intact.

As I was leaving, the swim team coach was arriving. His mother had gotten there ahead of him and she had already scanned the room for him before asking, "Where is my son? I see the team, but where is he? He needs to be here!" As I passed Bill, I warned him. "Your mother's already asking where you are. You better get in there!" He laughed and headed inside to join his family, to join his team, and to join his community.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Family Ties

Aunt Eunice died mid-October.

This was not entirely a surprise. Aunt Eunice (my dad's aunt on his mother's side) was 97 and a few months back had broken a hip. She had been poorly (as they say down home) ever since. And now she was gone.

The funeral was two days later, down in Greenup, down in my dad's homeland. I was able to join Dad and my youngest brother, Mark, for the trip down.

I am so grateful I could.

"Quality time," and by that I mean not hemmed in by other demands, quiet enough to concentrate on one another time, with Dad or Mark is hard to come by. Mark has a busy life, I have a busy life, Dad, for being 79, has a busy life. So just the three hour drive down Route 23 was a gift. We talked, we shared memories, we were quiet together.

It was raining lightly in Greenup when we parked at the funeral home. We all three more or less hop-skipped the puddles in the driveway and entered the building.

Walking in, I was facing a wall of family. "The cousins"—Dad's cousins, really, but folk we always called our cousins too—were there in full force, some in the lobby, some in the big room. Cousin Sharon, Eunice's daughter, came over and hugged me. Cousin Judy, Helen's daughter, knew me because I walked in with Dad.

Then I saw my cousin Sandra Kay, "Sandy" now. We pointed at one another across the lobby, then met and hugged hard. "I miss you so much," I blurted out.

Sandra Kay is older than me by a few years. We saw a lot of each other growing up, as my family would often travel to Greenup to see my great-grandmother, who lived in a little three room dollhouse on the edge of the property owned by Sandra Kay's parents (Aunt Helen and her husband). Back then, Sandra Kay lorded her age and maturity over me every chance she got.

Now those years are not so big a gulf. In fact, now those years are not a gulf at all, hence our hard hugs.

For the entire two hours of the calling hours, there was a lot of catching up to do with a lot of family. I bent down to talk to Uncle Burl, the baby of a large family that is down to him now that his sister Eunice is gone. Burl was always my favorite, a tall, handsome man with a honey smooth voice and a knack for storytelling. Now Uncle Burl is bent by age and Parkinson's, and his voice, always so strong, is so soft you have to bend close to hear him. His illness causes him to carefully thread together his sentences, so it was a slow conversation. But flashes of his smile would play across his face, and he told me and Mark, who'd also stooped down to talk, a story about his father, our great-grandfather, that I had not heard before.

After the funeral service, about half of us drove out Route 2 to the Gullett family cemetery. It is not unusual in Kentucky for the old-time families to have small cemeteries, usually started well back in the 1800s, atop this or that hill. I had not been up to the Gullett cemetery before but it was like the Nelson one a few hills away: to get to the top meant a long walk up a steep dirt road.

The cemetery was small and somewhat overgrown. Uncle Burl used to maintain it, but doing so has been beyond his capacity for some time. Still, we had no trouble walking around looking at headstones. My great-grandmother Gullett is there, as is her husband, my great-grandfather, who died three years before I was even born.

After the graveside service, Cousin Jimmy, Eunice's son, called out to the rest of us. "This is the last burial that will be up here." He pledged to continue to maintain it. His voice broke as he said added, "for as, well, for as long as I am able."

There are family ties and there are family ties. As we drove out of the valley back to Route 23, Mark said that he always felt he was at home when he was in Greenup. I responded, surprised, "You do? Me too!" It is the one place we both feel centered, even though neither of us live there. For me, it is the one place in the world where I can look around at a gathering, or even in a store, and see people with my facial features. Like Mark, I am "at home," in some deeply fundamental way, when I enter this valley.

With each passing generation, the earthly ties to Greenup, to Route 2, to W Hollow Road, to the tiny cemeteries tucked atop the hills, grow fainter. I don't know if I will ever make it down here with Dad to go to the family cemeteries. When Uncle Burl dies, we'll gather together but it will be somewhere "out" on the flatlands. I doubt my children will ever make a pilgrimage to this area, even though a full quarter of their blood runs right back to this valley threaded by the Little Sandy River.

At the funeral home, cousin Janet, Eunice's oldest daughter, introduced her oldest daughter to Dad, reminding him he'd probably last seen her when he was spending weekends in Kentucky looking for work. Dad used to come down to Kentucky and look for work? I pounced on that comment and asked him over supper on the way home. Turns out that after he was out of the Army, jobs were hard to come by in Ohio and he had a wife and children to support. So he would drive down to Greenup on the weekends, sleep on a couch at Janet's house, and make the rounds of the railroad shops and yards looking for a job. He must not have found one, because he and Mom still live in Delaware almost six decades later. Still, it made me wonder how I would have turned out, who I would have become, had I grown up in this valley I still feel pulled to after all these years.

When I got home that night, I noticed there was a fine clay dust from the cemetery road on the hem of my slacks. Try though I might, I could not brush it off by hand.

Small wonder.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hunkering Down

The unseasonably warm weather we had last week turned cold and wet abruptly. This weekend has been blustery and and rain-spotted and windy. As Hurricane Sandy and the other storm hurtle towards their rendezvous on the east coast, gray clouds churn and toss overhead.

In response to the weather, I am hunkering down. We ran a series of errands yesterday and somewhere along the way I splurged (a $6.00 splurge, mind you) on a new pair of sweatpants. I had been wearing the same pair for over 20 years, and besides being old and worn and faded and too big, they had pretty much lost any fleecy lining they had. I thought my budget could stretch to allow the small luxury and the old ones hit the trash with an unceremonious thud when I got home. I am wearing the new ones right now while I sit and write, looking up from time to time to see the dogwood branches lash their own trunk.

When we got home from our errands, I got serious about hunkering down. I put two huge pots of soup beans on to soak, then went outside to cull the remaining peppers from the garden, which is done for the season and needs to be torn down. While the beans soaked, I sliced and froze the peppers, peeled, sliced, and froze bags of apples for pies. Mid-afternoon, I set the beans to boiling, adding beef and onions to the pinto beans, ham to the Great Northern. I started dough for pizza.

Late afternoon, while the dough rose and the soup beans bubbled, I wrote Ben and Alise: I am thinking of you three and Sam, wishing we could have you over for supper and laughter and playing board games tonight. It is a cold, misty, gray day and perfect for that. 

The change in weather always brings out this response in me: hunkering down, gathering in, drawing together. When my boys were little, weather like this would cause me to bring them in early, tuck them in under extra blankets, check on them extra during the night. I just needed to know, needed to see the proof with my own eyes, that they were warm and cared for while they slept. Now that they are grown and 2500 miles away, my instinct is still to reach out to them and draw them close.

Last night I started to reread (for at least the hundredth time) The Hobbit. There are an abundance of marimbas in the percussion room right now, or I would have had Warren build a fire last night. Instead, I kept the corn bags extra warm all evening and then went to sleep in a bed smelling like a corncrib on a hot afternoon. 

It is Sunday afternoon as I finish these lines. Warren is working in his shop, creating a new instrument. I have soup beans to put into containers and freeze for the blustery, cold days of winter yet to come. We are skyping later today with Ben, Alise, and Ramona, who I understand has now discovered her hands.  I left Bilbo and company in Mirkwood Forest last night and I will pick back with them tonight. My kids may be 2500 miles away, but I can at least see Bilbo back to his own front door.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Updates

Every now and then, a post cries out to be updated. Sometimes the update comes about because of something a reader or friend pointed out, sometimes an update comes about because of the passage of time. Here are three recent posts that are just ripe for updating.

North

I raved about this play two weeks ago, having seen its final "rehearsal" before the for/word theatre company headed to New York for a one month long off Broadway run. 

Here's the great news. North is getting some amazing reviews.  




Did I call that one or what? 

If you want to read the reviews in their entirety, they are on the for/word company Facebook page. If you want an amazing theatre experience and are in New York this month, buy a ticket. Then sit back and fly.


Back in August, after a trip north to Wisconsin, I wrote about being at Yerkes Observatory after over three decades. A few readers clamored for the "story" behind the chiseled columns and I told what I knew of it and what I was able to piece together from various Yerkes sites.

This week has been a grueling one. It is Concert Week, which of course means Warren is working 100+ hours and our personal schedule has been booted aside. On top of that, I attended a two-day seminar on mentally ill juveniles in the court system. Excellent speaker (she spoke eight hours each day with the barest of outline), excellent information, absolutely and totally draining. So it was great delight that after dragging home the first day, I found an email from one Richard Dreiser, who has been giving tours at Yerkes since 1980.

Richard pointed out a factual error in my post (the observatory was dedicated in 1897, not 1896 as I had erroneously written). Factual corrections are always welcome. But what warmed my heart and has left me with a debt of gratitude to Richard was his sharing two photos from Yerkes.

The first is one of him holding a photograph of William Rainey Harper, the first president and the force behind establishing the University of Chicago as a bastion of higher education. 

Richard Dreiser and William Rainey Harper
Richard commented that he doubted the wasp ever had a face (and you will see why he feels that way in a minute) but that the chubby man below Rockefeller (whose nose you can just see at the top of the column) is almost certainly Harper minus his glasses and with an adjusted hairline. Given the satire afoot in the column, I agree with Richard.

But here is the photograph that blew me away:

Rockefeller and the Wasp
Richard believes this photograph dates to 1899, which is after the dedication and suggests that it took some time before George Ellery Hale convinced University officials (no doubt Harper) that the wasp had to go. Given the caricatures carved into the column, I might suggest that Harper had a better sense of humor than Hale. 

Ramona

I have not blogged a lot about Ramona yet. She still seems so new in the world, at least from my vantage point in Ohio, that there is a fantasy-like quality to her existence at all. Last weekend, Ohio and Oregon skyped, and seeing Ramona in her baby seat, kicking and bubbling and cooing, made her real in ways that I had not grasped before that moment. (Yes, I babbled incoherently for the first several minutes.)

Since my last post about her, Ramona has traveled a bit (Montana and New Orleans), been baptized (by her grandfather, who also married her parents two years ago), and has attended not one but two powwows. That's pretty good for a kid who is only six weeks old as of today.

Ramona and Grandpa Joe at the baptism

As I noted above, it's Concert Week. More to the point, the Symphony opens its season tonight. Tonight. I feel the clock ticking and it is time to turn away from writing and turn instead to the rest of the day. More Ramona photos and stories will follow in the months to come. For now, I will leave you with this image of Ramona at her second powwow, this one in Helena, Montana. Note what she has on: her fancy dance shawl

With Aunt Jenna at the Montana powwow




Friday, October 5, 2012

Autumn


Fall has moved into central Ohio on little cat feet, stealthily and steadily, until one day recently I looked up and said, "Oh, it's here!"

My walks—to and from downtown or with Patricia in the mornings—have been particularly rich as of late. Patricia and I will be walking the loop at the park, deep in a talk about the things two old friends discuss, and one of us will point, mid-sentence, at a gold crusted maple catching the morning sun. Walking downtown today to meet up with Warren for lunch, I chose my favorite route (Franklin Street) and noted with deep satisfaction the layers of leaves on both sides of the street. It is an old neighborhood, full of tall trees that blanket the sidewalks every fall. Walking the route in reverse after lunch, I purposefully crossed to the west side of the street so I could shuffle through the crackling accumulations. The red and golden leaves had drifted against the stone wall and over the steps of the little red house that sits on a small rise, so perfect that I wanted to wrap my arms around it and carry the scene home in my heart. Even as I write these words sitting in the second floor study, I can swivel around in the desk chair and see a maple, torch red, out on the tree lawn.

Like White's Mr. Trexler, I want the second tree from the corner, just as it stands.

Someone recently asked me whether my boys had liked to jump in leaf piles when they were little. Liked to? That would be an understatement. Our backyard was awash in leaves, mostly from Tom and Pat's towering oak trees next door, and every fall we raked and piled leaves over and over. It seemed a Sisyphean task at times. But the boys loved it. The piles would be so large that they and their friends could disappear into them and only by watching for an extra quivering did you know where this or that boy was hidden. Sam as a toddler would be swallowed up in the piles; with his then reddish hair, he could sink into the leaves and be camouflaged perfectly until his giggles gave him away.

As I walked home today, I thought about those long ago leaf piles and the unadulterated pleasure of playing in them. What is it about leaf piles that sets them apart? Perhaps it is that they engage the five senses: the smell of the leaves, faint with decay but not yet moldy, the sound of a thousand of them crackling and snapping and popping when you land in them, the papery dry feel of them against your skin, the sight of all that gold, all that red, heaped to the skies, the faint tangy taste in the air when you dive in deep. Is that what it is?

Or is it something deeper? Something more elemental?

There is a passage at the very end of Book Five of The Odyssey that has always moved me. Odysseus has barely survived a great storm at sea and has finally made it to land, spent and worn. Making his way into the woods, he rakes together a bed of deep leaves. "As a man will bury his glowing brand in black ashes, off on a lonely farmstead, no neighbor near, to keep a spark alive—no need to kindle fire from somewhere else—so great Odysseus buried himself in leaves and Athena showered sleep upon his eyes." (Robert Fagles translation)

When it comes to Ben and Sam, I have often tucked my memories away deep, their glow buried in the ashes of time to keep the spark alive. Seeing the golden and red trees lighting my path yet again this season, I have no need to kindle my fire from somewhere else. It is already within me.

Fall, 1992: Sam is 2, Ben is almost 7

Monday, October 1, 2012

North

When we finish a good book, we feel as we do at the end of an appetizing meal—satisfied, refreshed, ready to continue our normal lives with renewed energy. When we finish a great book, we feel, Jonah-like, as if we've been swallowed up and tossed onto an unknown shore, lucky to be able to breathe at all.  (Margaret Quamme, "Great books demand transforming,"essay from the early 1990s.)

I have carried around Quamme's quote for some twenty years because she is right in the largest sense of the word. Good art—a painting, a book, a concert, a play—suspends time briefly and then lets you gently back into the everyday world.

Great art tears you right out of the comfortable world in which you live and pounds you into another reality all together.

I just had a great art experience.

Last Saturday, Warren, our friends Margo and Gerald, and I watched the final rehearsal-before-opening-off-Broadway of a one act play, "North."

"North" is about Anne Morrow Lindbergh and a weekend meeting between her, her husband Charles Lindbergh, and the French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. All but a handful of lines in the play come from the writings of the three main characters, especially from Anne's published diaries and letters.

I came to the production with high hopes and expectations. The reality far exceeded anything I had imagined.

The play is excellent. The actors who play Charles and St-Ex, as Anne referred to him in her journal, are superb. The staging, the set, the costumes, all incredible.

But Anne? Anne was alive for the hour plus of the play. Christine Ritter, who plays Anne, is Anne Morrow Lindbergh, moving through her life and her words and her thoughts right there in front of us. I sat through the play with one hand literally to my throat, the other figuratively on my heart. Seeing Anne come to life was draining, exhilarating, and deeply moving.

Afterwards, the cast, the playwright, and the stage designer held a conversation with the audience. Jennifer Schlueter, the playwright, asked us for feedback and questions. There was that brief awkward silence while everyone looked around furtively, weighing whether to be first, and then someone jumped in with a comment.

"Someone" jumped in? Oh, it was me. You know that.

I looked at Christine and said, "You were Anne." I explained that I was a rabid AML fan and how deeply I responded to the performance. Christine grinned and admitted she was a huge AML fan. It turns out that a number of the audience members were also huge AML fans, and at times the post-play dialogue turned into the Anne fans, as Margo referred to us, commenting on this or that nuance of the performance based upon our cumulative knowledge of Anne.

The four of us went out for ice cream afterwards, still talking furiously (an Anne phrase if ever there was one) about the play. Warren and I talked about it before falling asleep that night and again over breakfast Sunday morning.

You know you have seen an amazing play when Warren, who knows very little about Anne, Charles, and St-Ex and absolutely nothing about their meeting, was still talking about it.

The "North" poster at 59E59 Theatre
The cast and crew of the for/word company left for New York city and as of this writing, have arrived. They open this Thursday at 59E59 Theatre and will be there all month. For anyone who is or will be in New York this month, find some time and go see the play. Even if you have never heard of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh, or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, go see the play. I dare you not to be moved by what you see performed.

In theatre circles, the saying for a successful run is "break a leg."

Break a leg? Break a heart.










Thursday, September 20, 2012

Laughter

Ben, chuckling, at about three months old
 Ben called last night and in the middle of recounting the story of a recent meal, he started laughing.

Genuine, spontaneous laughter.

Ben and I have been more in touch the last three weeks than the last several years. There are lots of reasons for the long silences, just as there are lots of reasons why we are suddenly talking and emailing so much. I am grateful, not analytical. Ben generated the call last night and was so talkative that I hung up with tears in my eyes, I was that happy.

His outburst of laughter triggered a memory of Ben's early days of laughing.

I chronicled a lot of my children's early lives. Ben more so than Sam, because when there is only one child, it is much easier to mark down the milestones and the "firsts." (Sorry, Sam.) And because I did chronicle so much, I know that Ben laughed first on February 10, 1986, when his father shook a pair of baby sweat pants over him. Per my notes, Ben "kept breaking into chortles."

That was not the memory of first laughter I had, but mine is similar in vein. I remember hauling up one baby and a basket of clean laundry to our second floor apartment. I put Ben on his back in the middle of our bed while I folded and stacked laundry all around him. I picked up one of a multitude of "burp rags," this one a long, gauzy kind, to fold. As I shook it out, it floated above Ben, who proceeded to let out a string of laughs.

I whisked the cloth back and forth above him, almost grazing his forehead. Ben's eyes widened and his laughter spilled out. We played the "whisking burp rag" game for several minutes until Ben giggled and chuckled himself to sleep, napping amidst the laundry.

J. M. Barrie wrote in Peter Pan, "When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies."

Barrie was on the right track. A baby's first laugh is so full of wonder and delight that it breaks into a thousand blessings, and they all skip about about filling our hearts and lives with joy.

To hear Ben's laughter last night—unforced, natural, heartfelt—brought back that long ago little baby laughing and giggling a thousand blessings into my life.

Ben and Alise are just starting out with Ramona. She is still so new and unacquainted with the world that laughter probably isn't on her agenda yet. But Ben is laughing and, while he laughed, I could hear Alise in the background with rich laughter in her voice. Ramona will catch on soon enough.

And when she does, may a thousand blessings flow.

Sleeping Ramona, at about two weeks old 

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Dress

One of the advantages of having a (very) small wardrobe is I have a pretty good idea of how long I have had this or that skirt or dress or top. Trust me, I rarely think about those kinds of things, but today was an exception.

Today I wore the black print dress, something I have not worn in, well, many years. Maybe six, maybe seven. It's been long enough since I last wore it that Warren looked up in surprise and said, "I don't think I've ever seen you in that dress!"

Maybe, maybe not. I had not forgotten the dress (which is far older than six or seven years), but it and a few others were shoved over to one side of the closet, half-hidden, and today I pulled them out, dusted them off, and wore one.

An aside: I hate the closets in our bedroom. Victims of a closet organization system, they are inconveniently laid out, with ridiculous heights (and I am by far the individual with the longest arm reach, including Warren, ever to occupy this house) and awkward spaces. So although the closet is not a massive one in which clothes could get lost, clothes sometimes get misplaced because of the layout. That's quite a feat when you realize how few clothes I own.

A second aside: How few clothes do I own? Few enough that a girlfriend once opened the closet at my old apartment and screamed—not in delight—at the sight. "Is this all you own?" she shrieked. And I owned more then than now.

Back to the dress.

The dress is between 15 and 17 years old. I can date it that accurately because of Sam.

When Sam was young, perhaps five (17 years ago), perhaps a little older, he loved gum. Loved? Sam adored gum. Sam worshipped gum. Sam lived for gum. And because he loved gum so much, he always had some nearby: on the nightstand, on the floor of the playroom, in his pockets when he went out to play.

It was the "in his pockets" that kept tripping me up. If Sam's pants hit the wash without someone emptying the pockets, the gum would go into the wash too. And if sharp eyes did not catch the gum in the wet laundry, the gum would migrate to the dryer, where it would disintegrate and melt onto clothing.

I was once in court during the gum years, wearing the same dress I wore today, waiting for a hearing to start. I looked down and noticed a blotch on the dark skirt of the dress. Had I spilled something at lunch? Salad dressing, perhaps? I surreptitiously dabbed at it.

It was gum.

It was Sam's gum.

It was Sam's gum broken up and melted into dozens and dozens of little blotches all over my dress.

This many years later, I cannot tell you what the hearing was about that day. I can tell you I was uncomfortably aware of my gum-stained outfit. And I distinctly remember sitting at the dining room table that night, long after Sam had gone to sleep, finding and scraping off with a knife and an ice cube every single splotch of gum. (It took two more launderings and wearings before the last piece was found and removed.)

It has been a long time since I have dealt with gum in the laundry. My little gum lover is all grown up and does his own laundry now.

The gum memory, though, is still strong. Waiting today at court for parties to arrive, I sat in the lobby and chatted with Scott, my former law partner. We exchanged book recommendations, as we often do. And at least once while we talked and laughed, I glanced down at the dark skirt of my dress.

I knew I wouldn't find any gum, but I looked all the same for it—the faint touch from the past, the little handprint to my heart.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ramona Dawn

                             She came without ribbons. She came without tags! 
                             She came without packages, boxes, and bags!
                                                     With apologies to Dr. Seuss

We have been waiting forever, it would seem. Oh, not really forever, just nine months, but it seemed like forever. It seemed like dream time, when everything moves in slow motion, liquid syrupy slowness.

The sense of liquid syrupy slowness increased greatly after Alise called me over a week ago to say she was having contractions, that she and Ben had been to the hospital but sent home and told to walk around and return when she started to feel uncomfortable.

Walk around until she started to feel uncomfortable? By Monday, Alise was back at work. And Ramona was, well, not yet here. And so it went, until yesterday when Ben called to say "we are at the hospital."

We were on the way out the door to the home of our good friends, Margo and Gerald. I cannot think of friends I would rather be with while waiting for Ramona's arrival. Ben promised he would keep me posted, which he did up right up and through the moment he called to say, "mom, you're a grandmother."

Now the time is real time. Now the last nine months have been compressed into that one phone call. Now the clock is moving in the right rhythm. Now the dreaming is over and the real work begins.

Ramona Dawn has arrived.



Friday, August 31, 2012

Time

Before leaving the house this morning, I slipped my cell phone into my rear pocket and strapped on my watch. This was not me over-managing my time: the watch was to keep me on track (I had an appointment) and the phone has become a constant while we wait for The Call (you know, the "Mom, Alise and I are on our way to the hospital" call). If not for that imminent event, I would have left the phone home and traveled disconnected.

The watch is one that Ben handed down to me. It is a Camp Fitch watch, given to those campers who attended five years in a row. It is analog, which means it has hands and I have to read it, rather than glance quickly at a digital screen. Its current band is red; I choose my watchbands for color and do not worry about picking one that will go with everything.

I often do not wear a watch and, with the exception of recent weeks and the possibility of a grandbaby arriving, I rarely turn on my cell phone. As a result, I often float through the day unmoored from time. I prefer it that way. Unless I have a scheduled event at work or an appointment in the wider world, I like slipping off the horological constraints. I am in agreement with Thoreau, who wrote, "there were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work... I love a broad margin to my life."

I am not anti-time. I am punctual for appointments, for meeting up with friends, for starting a mediation. I just prefer to be less than connected in these too intense, too loud, too turbulent times. Author Lauren Groff captured my feelings exactly in her recent novel, Arcadia (a wonderful book, incidentally). A college professor assigns his students to spend a week disconnected from the modern electronic world, including email, texting, cell phones, and the Internet. One student discovers "how alive people must have felt before you could reach anyone at any time... Back then, the past was more subjective, she imagines, because things weren't immediately logged online for everyone to see; the future was more distant because it had to be scrupulously planned. That meant that the present would have been a more intense experience."

Our house has a number of clocks, from the stovetop to the computers to the ones scattered on different shelves. A few are stopped, but most are current. Even on a day when I am not fettered to time, I still glance occasionally at one of them to check where I am in the day. But so much of what I do, especially when I am at home, is free of that constraint. The walk home today (after the appointment), the pace at which the laundry is drying on the line in the heat—these things have nothing to do with the number of minutes in an hour. And later today I will pen a letter to a dear friend, not by the clock, but by the heart.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Late Summer Garden Report

The bees are in the basil, the basil which went to flower when I didn't pick it.

I planted basil in this year's garden, some started inside in the spring, the rest sown carelessly in early June. It all came up. I have a hearty stand of basil.

I never picked it. Not a single leaf. Oh, I thought about it, thought about making pesto and other aromatic dishes, but other than to give some away, I didn't touch it. The first time it flowered, Warren and I dutifully lopped the buds off. We cut it one or two more times after  that, then stopped. It has flowered all summer.

I've enjoyed having the basil patch even without picking a single stalk for my own use. When weeding,  I would occasionally run my hands through the basil to release its fragrance. When the summer heat broke and we could finally sit out on our back deck in the evening, I would sometimes put down the book I was reading and sniff the still air faintly laced with basil. I've enjoyed the basil patch so much that I will plant another next year just for the scent.

I'm not the only one who is enchanted with the basil.

The bees are in the basil. They showed up a few weeks ago—great hulking bees (carpenter bees, perhaps), smaller honeybees—and they have been working the basil patch furiously since then. They are so intent on their mining that I can stand close and take photos. There are so many of them that the basil patch hums if you listen.

My garden this summer has been mostly tomatoes and peppers, with zucchini grown in pots on the deck. The tomatoes are abundant; the peppers are adequate. The zucchini plants were prolific until they died suddenly one weekend in July. I've planted some more but I doubt we'll get a bloom before the sun turns too shallow for the plants to produce. It has been a good garden, despite the heat and the drought. I have been canning—tomatoes and salsa—and there are bags of zucchini slices in the freezer.

But the basil, and the bees in the basil! They have been the surprise package of the summer.

I will leave the basil standing until the killing frost. I will dream of the bees this winter, murmuring in their close quarters, the dark redolent of basil and the summer sun.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

This Space

The purple bannister (an inside joke) leading from the half landing to the front door of the apartment was gone, ripped from its sturdy wall mooring. One of the mounting brackets lolled upside down, almost torn out of the plaster. The landing walls were fingered up with dirty smears.

After Roger found the keys and unlocked the front door, we stepped into the apartment hallway, the long, slender hallway that runs some 100 plus feet from front to back. We walked to the front room, the large room with its three single light windows that look down on our core downtown.

"Oh," I said. Then I repeated it. "Oh."

Every direction, it was "oh." The nails pounded into the walls, the holes in the walls, a broken lower glass pane on the French doors leading into what was once a study, the hole in the glass about the size of a boot.

Th dirt. The squalor.

"This is nothing. You should have seen it before we carted out the garbage."

We moved through the apartment, room by room. More items nailed into walls. More holes in the walls. Broken wood panels in several of the original four panel interior doors. The antique blue glass fixture in the kitchen broken and hanging askew.

I felt a lump in my throat. This was the first time I had been back in this space since March 2005. And here it was, dirty. Forlorn. Abused.

"This space" is a third floor apartment the building owners had rehabbed ten years ago after it had sat empty and locked for a quarter of a century. "This space" is a 2000 square foot apartment atop a late nineteenth century commercial Italianate building in the heart of the downtown. "This space" in 2002 was a gleaming restoration and updating of the 1920s era apartment.

"This space" was where I lived for three years, first with Ben, then with Ben and Sam, then with Sam, from the time I began the long, slow, hard unwinding of my marriage to the time I began the long, slow, hard trek through my cancer treatment.

Roger, my longtime friend and part owner of the building, stood quietly beside me as I took in the damage. We had just come from lunch together, during which he told me of the current conditions of the apartment. I asked him if he had the keys with him and when he said he did, I impulsively said, "let's go see it."

And here I was, seeing it.

The front room, which had hosted Ben's graduation party and many a DI practice. My study, where I wrote and put my life back together. Sam's bedroom, which sat empty for the first year until his longing for his big brother overcame his anger and sadness towards me. Ben's room, where he found refuge for the last two years before college. The kitchen, which had seen numerous D & D tournaments and my parents' 50th wedding anniversary dinner. My "Live Like You Are Dying" party, which saw 100 plus people pack the kitchen, the front room, the study, and the long hallway full.

I moved out of the apartment when I fell too far behind on the rent and my advancing cancer made ever catching up rent and climbing daily the 44 or so stairs to reach home impossible. On the day I moved, a whole army of friends and family showed up to do the work. There was one quiet moment, when almost everyone was in transit between the two places and I just stood in an almost empty room and cried. My friend Linda found me and hugged me, then gave me a squeeze and said "I know it hurts. But the next step is a good step and you will get better." The next day, a second wave of friends descended upon the empty apartment and cleaned it to a gleam. And then I left it behind, handing the keys to Roger two days later after one final walk-through with him.

Until now.

After Roger and I closed the door and went our separate ways, I walked to the Symphony office to see Warren. I told him about going back to the apartment. Warren said he'd like to see the space as he never made it there when it was my home. (The "Live Like You Are Dying" party? He was playing percussion in "The Nutcracker" 60 miles away that night.) "I'd like to see it to place you there in my mind," he said.

Next time, I said. And when I got home, I emailed Roger and told him the same. Next time.

Next time I will be ready to show Warren the apace. Next time, I will be able to say "this is where I lived. This is where this part of my life played out." Next time I will be able to say, "here is where Sam and I watched the World Series late into the night when Boston won, here is where Caitie kept her drum set for two years, here is where I would sit and watch the snow come down." Next time I will be able to say all those things.

This time, though, I needed to see it without that overlay of explanations. This time I needed to let the memories rush past me up the stairs and swiftly down the hall, just beyond my fingertips.

And this time I needed to say "oh." And "oh" again. And nothing more.