books, grief

NOT JUST COMIC BOOKS

There are times when a book lands in your lap and as you being reading it, a sentence or a theme reminds you of a memory. The Lost Letter by Jillian Canton brought me to only page five when her recollection of her father’s love for collecting stamps promptly reminded me of a long rectangular box about three feet long and about eighteen inches tall residing in my third floor closet. A box I had never opened since it was delivered to me in December of 1995. Not even two months since my brother had died from a year long battle with adeno carcinoma of the lung at the too young age of 25.

I remember being in my mother’s basement after he died and we were going through some of my brother’s things that had found their way as storage there.

“Do you want Michael’s comic book collection? She asked.

There seems to be two distinct ways a parent may handle the intense pain of losing a child. Hanging on for dear life to everything and anything is one way, or purge all physical items that are distinct reminders of pain. My mother had chosen the latter and I was the lucky recipient of whatever I desired of my deceased brother’s. There was a part of me that wanted to hang on to every item possible so that he would not be physically forgotten so I accepted the box and placed it in my basement of the house I shared with my former husband. Four months later I found myself pregnant and the box became a temporary forgotten shadow of my brother as we made our way as new and busy parents.

Fifteen years later, the unopened and mega taped box followed me in the wake of my divorce to condo number 1, condo number 2, then a storage unit and finally making its way to its permanent home where I presently live. Placed in the closet of my son’s space on the third floor it sat with the idea that he would be the proud owner of the contents when he was ready to take a look. Likely long after I am gone.

Lately there have been some discussions with friends about comic books, can’t recall how the subject has come up, but I remembered the box thinking, “I should take a look in there to see if there are any Wonder Woman comics.” A planted seed perhaps waiting for some water so the shoot could peek from the soil.

When I finished reading Lilac Girls, I was so hungry for more that I read every comment on the back of the book and jotted down the author names and the books they had written. The Lost Letter was one of these books. I have never done this before- read a book and then head towards the back cover for more books but for some reason, I went with the notion that Like attracts Like and made the assumption that the authors who kindly gave their reviews for quotes would be similar in taste.

This is how The Lost Letter came to be my next book on my reading list and this is the book that made me walk upstairs this morning and bring the box down to finally take a look inside. It never occurred to me that there would be anything inside this box besides comic books. I am not sure if I had ever opened the box but I always thought that it was filled with comic books from a collection my brother had started in the late eighties. Every comic book in its own plastic sleeve protector along with the paperwork of the place he had ordered them from. Back before the internet when you ordered things by mail through mail on an actual order form and waited for the delivery to arrive in “4-6 weeks.” The order forms were along with the comics to remind me of this time in our lives when waiting was part of the daily act of living.

I perused the collection and not knowing anything about comic books, lost interest rather quickly when I realized there would be no Wonder Woman of yesteryear waiting for me as a nice surprise. Instead of Wonder Woman, I  came across a cardboard box filled with stuff, cards, letters, old advertisements and photos along with their negatives. (remember those?)

I walked it over to my couch and my waiting coffee cup and proceeded to go through the box where I found a chronological time travel of my brother’s world from before cancer to during. I found Happy Birthday, Hope it’s a great one! cards, Christmas? instead of Hanukkah cards, reminding me of the yoyo world we both lived in with my parent’s religious choices at any given time. Then there were the hope you get well soon cards, sorry I haven’t called but I don’t know what to say cards and finally the cards that tried all too hard not to mention the elephant in the room that an almost 25 year old strapping healthy young man would not be getting well soon after all. all handwritten, all encouraging and kind, filled with love. Names I never knew of friends at work, to family members who have since died, in their easily recognized handwriting. No emails, no text messages, only beautiful writing because that was the only option for regular communication back then.

I was in awe of the love pouring out, the well wishes and most poignantly, the hope. I got to read letters from my grandmother who always spoke and wrote detailed messages and my other grandmother who simply said, hope you get well soon. Letters from my Aunt Peggy who died a few years back and great aunts and uncles long since gone. There were cards from friends traveling and moving inviting my brother for a visit and letters from our cousins giving him their life updates in handwritten prose on personalized stationary.

Needless to say, not a dry eye from the moment I realized what I had come across and was struck by the power of grief creeping up on me again just because of a random book I began reading. There are times when something doesn’t feel quite right in my spirit, I feel a little off balance emotionally. When I do the infamous checklist- what did I eat, drink, have I been exercising, meditating? Is it a full moon, is mercury retrograde? When none of those fit the bill and I am still a bit off, usually it is some emotion that needs to be released.  I unknowingly needed a good cry and this was the entry ticket I needed to give some bottled up tears a little extra nudge to get them flowing up and out.

There will never be a time almost twenty four years later when I don’t miss my brother, the further away he gets from me, the more I am realizing this very simple and stark fact. He is no longer- and the trip down memory lane this morning jet set me right into the island of loss that has been a part of my adult life with me in the passenger seat. The further the years take me from my grieving this loss, the more it seems like it plays hide and seek with me, hiding in the darkest furthest away corners that I didn’t know to look.

Waiting to be found, Grief seems to sit lying in wait for discovery until it just can’t hide out any longer. Grief may soften or go back to its hide out, but at the strangest times, it needs its own recognition or else it leaks in a slow drip hard to decipher until the faucet gets turned on full throttle. A good cry on a random Sunday morning is the ironic gift that keeps giving. Despite its sadness, there is a release. Opening a box of comic books looking for Wonder Woman because of a book called The Lost Letter seems like no random coincidence. Once again my brother’s loss has brought me to my knees and he never stops teaching me to pay attention all these years later.

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AN AWKWARD FRIEND

AN AWKWARD FRIEND

I met Kim Walker, formerly Kim Otterbein, through simultaneous traumatic events. My business had suffered a flood from frozen pipes in a crazy ice capade in a winter storm in February 2013. She was going through her own personal storm of divorce and personal issues causing her and her former husband to have to sell their magical dream house . They had poured their money, their love and energies into restoring a house born in 1865 that had been through many hands finding its way into their lives in 2005. Kim was an artist so her brilliant creativity redesigned the house giving it a feel of new, but magically making it feel like everything was original. Kim and I knew each other socially from around town because we both owned businesses and would often run into each other, but we never hung out in the same circle. We liked each other, though and we shared a common free spirit hippie chick vibe that connected us happily when we would run into each other.

We found ourselves intertwined when she needed to sell her home and I needed to find one to move my business into. My dear friend Morgan, randomly said to me one day, You should look at The Bead House when she saw the awful situation I had found myself in while my business was semi closed. The Bead House was the business Kim owned on the first floor while the second and third floor was her family residence. Kim was a magnificent jewelry designer, an artist, and had this lovely little shop on the first floor that taught jewelry making. At that point, I had never considered looking at property to purchase especially the glorious Bead House with a very high price tag that was way out of my comfort zone thinking it could even be a remote possibility. Morgan had other thoughts though. It never occurred to her that this space wasn’t a possibility and I credit her almost 100% to the literal key that got me thinking I CAN rather than i can’t. Purchasing this house changed my life in so many ways and my I CAN attitude has been rewarded and confirmed in layers of joys I am in perpetual awe of.

When I looked at The Bead House in February of 2013, I fell in love and made my offer which after some back and forth was finally accepted and Kim and I merged paths. I don’t know what it is like to have to sell your home. I do know what it is like to leave a home though and there is so much emotion tied into the experience. Kim and I found a kindred spirit between each other during this time. I think she was heartened to know that her baby, this home that she had literally poured her soul into, would move into the hands and heart of someone she genuinely liked and respected. I know that she felt like her home would be in loving and appreciative care. Though the entire experience was a sad one, she made peace with walking away and I became the proud torch carrier of this magnificent house I refer to as the Magic Palace.

When I first moved in, I had purchased a few of her large pieces of furniture, a couch and a chair and a table too and I had offered her a space to leave her grandmother’s armoire since it was way too big to move. I had told her that it could stay here as long as she wanted and when her daughter, Ali was ready for it, it would be here. Five years later, it still sits waiting and the offer is still open.

I felt for the first few years living here a certain responsibility to maintain the garden, the paint colors without too much of a change, kind of as a bow to Kim and only recently in the past two years have I started to really feel like the space was truly mine. This was nothing that came from Kim, just my own sense of order and right kindness. Kim and I spoke a few times, she visited one time when she was back this way after moving to Arizona, but even though it was a pleasant visit, there was also awkwardness to it. Hard to describe; I think we both understood that we would enjoy each other’s spirits but at a gentle distance going forward. This was unspoken, but it felt right. Again hard to describe.

Her daughter Ali walked by one July 4th and I invited her in for a visit and gave her some time alone to meander, to grieve and say a proper goodbye. When I got breast cancer I spoke with Kim a few times because Kim had breast cancer too. The irony I do not take lightly and I try not to think about it as some weird message. Kim was helpful with her advice and our exchange was always positive and understanding. She was a special soul and a kind one. And one that no longer is part of the now, as her cancer returned and took her life just a few days after her birthday and two days before the Winter Solstice just two days ago, December 19th.

A short life traveled well, rocky and smooth, but also my feeling was that she found herself in the after of this house. I on the other hand have found myself in the now of this house. I like the neatness of that, the visual of Kim passing the torch to me, a kindred female spirit. I can’t believe that another superchick I know has moved on so young again. I sit on her couch, look at her chair and her grandmother’s armoire. Everyday I brush my teeth, I look into the same mirror above the sink in my bathroom knowing that Kim looked at her own reflection as she went through her breast cancer, her decision to divorce her husband and the other daily mind thoughts that stare back at you during the simple rituals of teeth brushing and mascara applying. I listen to my son who is home from college turning on the faucet on the third floor and am happy he is home, but I also think about Kim sitting on this very couch hearing her own children wake up making the same sounds. It is an awkward experience knowing that this house was passed from a woman I greatly admired, who left this house closing the door to a part of her life that allowed me to open it to a wonderful life I get to call my own. Kimball Walker. I thank you for every trail and nugget you left me. I will always feel and honor your presence in my home that was yours and in the garden that you started. Rest in peace, your legacy at 11 Constitution will go on.







in good hands indeed, Rest in Peace Kim.
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NOVEMBER 20, 2018


NOVEMBER 20, 2018

My brother, Michael Andrew Horowitz would have been 48 this year as I remember his life on this exact day he died 23 years ago. In two more years he will be gone the same amount of time he lived for. This is the strange thing about death and anniversaries, you start doing all kinds of weird math. Like the times when a client comes into my business and when asked their birthday, they give me the day along with the year. 1970, they say. I look up expecting to see a familiar face, but realize quickly that their face is someone who has had the luxury of aging. My brother’s face is still 25. I don’t know what he would have looked like if he was standing before me at 48.

The day my brother died 23 years ago today, my father had called me to let me know. It was early in the morning and I sobbed all day deciding a good use of tears would be to put together a photo album. Creation is a perfect task for grief. Writing, art, being in nature, all of this helps the grief come out of those dark crevices releasing it to move through and out. Out is relative, out is small drips from the kitchen faucet because you forgot to turn the handle off completely. Initially grief pours out uncontrollably like a tsunami, chaotic, screaming, disbelieving even though you knew it was coming. The pain is intense and in your face that first day, that first week, that first of all firsts. Birthdays, holidays, watching college graduations and marriages and births of babies. Knowing that life goes on, but just not for Michael. Not this lifetime anyway.

I occasionally see his friends and this is always a mixed bag of happiness and sadness. I love knowing people who knew him, who remembered him, it is a connection I both cherish and grieve. Often when I see a friend of his, a tear comes to my eye unexpectedly. I have learned to allow its presence in my eye, and its movement down my cheek with no worry that I am causing feelings of worry in the person staring back at me. After all, my brother died so many years ago. Enough with the crying already, I can hear my stoic grandmother saying to me a few months after he died. I will never stop crying for his loss in my life. This I know. This is what makes me human. This is what makes me remember his life so that my son knows of him, so that my little cousins know they had another cousin who is not here. Loss of someone who has aged in the normal progression of life is sad enough. I miss my father who despite the fact that he died too young, he died a life he loved living. Not everyone can say this. I miss my grandmother every day and she lived a full rich life dying at almost 93. Look at my grandfather who just turned 101. I will cry like a little baby when he finally goes. Sometimes a rich full life means a boatload of memories and this can make grief even more intense.

There is no time limit on grief. This I know for sure. Maybe it gets less intense over time, maybe the sobs turn into whimpers and the whimpers turn into sniffles, but they are always there. Frankly, I welcome them. I like their reminders because it connects my soul to my brother’s soul even for just a brief moment. I like to feel his presence around me and my tender heart. I know he can feel mine. Till we meet again, my dear brother. I miss you every day.




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TO BE HEALTHY

TO BE HEALTHY

“Pick up the weight and swing it between your legs in a squat, then up over your head and straight up, Arms straight! Lean Back!” Kathy exclaimed with the sound of a woman enjoying this (or a sound somewhat close to the familiar shrill of Aunt Lydia from The Handmaids Tale depending on your mood in the morning). Was anyone else in the class today finding her commands amusing?

I am almost fifty four years old standing in a class filled with women, some my age, some far younger and was struck by how fast time had flown. It was just yesterday it seemed that I was the twenty two year old head to toe in Jane Fonda aerobic tights, thongs and goodness knows what else was the eighties workout fashion of the moment watching a woman in her fifties teaching the class thinking , “Wow, she looks good for her age.” Hard to believe that this was almost thirty years ago and now I am that woman. I felt like we should all have pictures of ourselves on the wall with our age and life experience next to it to explain why I was finding it necessary to use some of the time to just hang out in child’s pose instead of one more over achieving push up.Why wasn’t anyone else resting, sweating, stretching in between change overs?

Yes I signed up for this, yes I paid for this, continue to pay for it, and actually as much fun as I make of it, love it. Can’t really live without the wackiness of the almost daily routine of the grind, pound, move, and an accelerated heart rate that astounds me all these years later. Who actually enjoys this? I do. I love the camaraderie of mostly women thinking that we are in some sort of control of our health, our lives and this in itself makes me smile. I smile a lot in these classes because I so often am in utter disbelief that I am one of the insiders, one of the regulars, not a stranger showing up quivering filled with potential embarrassment that I may have to give up. Nope. Not me. There is no giving up as I jump and twist and burpee and mountain climb my way through an hour of my life. “If your shoulders can’t take any more spider man twists, then there is no shame in lying on your back and doing bicycle crunches,” Kathy yells. I peek out the corners of my eyes to see if I am the only one too happy to take her suggestion, tired shoulders or not. Any excuse to be on my back for even a brief moment I relish in.

I will never be one of those workout chicks who have the discipline of an army general. When I am on, there is no stopping me. Deliberate, consistent, clear headed gym girl. Then I feel really good, really fast, like in a week, and then I start to go down the path of least resistance, but I have learned to semi enjoy this despite the fact that I know I will have what I refer to as spinney head. Or as I have heard in countless Alanon meetings, washing machine head. It is okay to take a break from myself and for myself, it is okay to rest once in awhile. I don’t know how often I try to convince myself of this. I know there is a distinct rhythm to habits. Wake up, check the clock, make sure it is at least 5 am, brush my teeth, wash my face, put moisturizer on, walk into the kitchen and make coffee. This is definitive every morning, never breaking from the routine. Once this all happens though, there are lots of am choices for me. Workout? Write? Type? Watch the news? Read the paper? Read a few pages of my latest book? They are all vying for a segment and this is all before the start of my day at around nine am. Waking up at five am gives me four full glorious hours, and each one of these choices feeds me and in a unique and stimulating way and this is where my discipline usually goes out the window. Lately I haven’t been writing as much because the morning gym takes so much time. I have to fit work in there too, paperwork takes a lot of time, and I forgot to mention that I have signed up and been taking three different writing classes each week. I love working out so this has been my morning priority lately. And as a result my morning writing has taken a hit.

Here’s what I know though. I am off kilter when I am not healthy. My mind starts to spin and takeover in a way that doesn’t serve. My partner has a sign hanging in the house that says, Don’t believe everything you think. When I am not writing or moving or eating healthy, my mind takes me hostage and I have been known to go into a tailspin. This may not be obvious to the people who are not in my inner circle, the ones who really know my insides, because there is the outside alayne and the inside one. As much as I try to speak the truth 24/7 sometimes I need a nap from the incessant mindspeak that is my brain (likely my closest friends do too). Health, meditation, creativity, movement, eating well are the cures for a calmer head. I know this is part of who I am.

The entrepreneurial spirit I have been blessed with is sometimes a hindrance, but most often it is a welcome creative force to be reckoned with. The question I often ask myself with the wisdom of hindsight is what is the spark that ignites the tailspin? When I take a deep diaphragmatic breath, you know that breath that cleanses you from top to bottom, that delicious calming and soothing free meditative sigh, I know. I know it has to do with the pain of loss, grief that still lies within like that little shard of glass you know you missed when the dish dropped on the floor and shattered. There is always one fragment left to be found by a bare foot some time in the future when you have forgotten all about the broken dish. Grief will never be something I can check off my to do list and it is an absurd notion to even consider this as a possibility. What I always know is that working out and writing and being in nature are the trifecta of calm and better energy for me. Though wine and sugar feel so fucking helpful at the time going down, they are smothering band aids staving off the air necessary for healing. But it is so much easier and fun to wake up, stay in my pjs, buy typewriters (or cars), make chocolate babka and drink wine in the afternoon. My perpetual cross to bear isn’t so bad when I say it like that.


a small rainbow that still takes my breath away. Nature is always a salvation.
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL

“Get Out!” my six year old brother at the time screamed at me. I was ten and in his room taunting him like any bored older sister would be doing. I can’t remember the weather, the circumstance or why he was trying to boot me and why I would not be booted. I just remember him yelling at me to get out of his room, reasonable in hindsight as he surely was entitled to his privacy. I was his older sister, though and I had to save face, after all, who is the boss here? I dug in and wouldn’t budge. This was around 1976 when to tell time, you actually had a clock by the side of your bed rather than a cell phone. And a small orange and white circular plastic clock was what came flying at me slamming into my face. Right below my upper lip causing the bottom long part of the stand to make a connection with my skin causing a nice diagonal slice.

I can still see his face, somewhat disbelieving he had done this coupled with total satisfaction that he would indeed have the last word at last. That was until I bolted downstairs to report to my unsuspecting father of his crime, bloody face to prove it. I am not sure what became of my brother’s punishment for this, but I am sure my father was upset by this. This is how it often went with my brother and I imagine many siblings have stories that fall into the theme of protagonist and antagonist between the stages of their lives. My brother though was usually the one who got into trouble, but at the same time, I was a fierce protector of him in the outside world. He was my little brother and I loved him until the day he died which unfortunately was almost twenty three years ago, one month to the day of his 25th birthday. Today would have been his forty eighth year and the age difference is not as great, but this is something I will never know. I remember like it was yesterday having the conversation with him about death because it was at the time where we knew he would not be getting out alive. He was obsessed with videoing his every waking move with those old big cantankerous video recorders that held a full size tape. I was interviewing him Oprah style, tripod and all. We were both baked, smoking pot out of some gigantic water bong, better for the lungs, he would say and I was asking him questions. 
 “Are you afraid of dying?” I asked him this so matter of factly like I was asking him to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up milk and eggs. It was a courageous question for a 29 year old sister to be asking her 24 year old soon to die of advanced lung cancer baby brother. He never smoked a day in his life other than marijuana once he was diagnosed to help the pain. Before medical marijuana became legal.

He paused, took a long bubbly hit off the water bong, held his breath to feel the soothing effects of the THC that would be a saving grace for him. As he released the smoke he said, “The one good thing about dying young is that people will always remember you at this age.” Always had a funny twist to his words, usually looked at the bright side, old soul for sure, my brother Michael was. I know these words almost verbatim because I videoed him and have the videos to refresh my memory anytime there is a chance I could possibly forget. Unless I got dementia this conversation is not something I will ever forget. No one gets out alive, but burying the love of my life when he hadn’t even started his was one of those moments in time that will never leave my memory.

My brother knew the idiosyncrasies of our inside lives as only a sibling can understand. When he died, so did my personal collaborator of the mom and dad stories that only he would be able to recall. I can see us in my fantasy world of sitting around the dinner table at my fantasy relationship with our mother recalling all of our childhood adventures that she never likely knew about, that mothers shouldn’t know about until this very time. Of course even if our mother would have known, she couldn’t have because we lived with my father for most of our adolescence, my brother when he was ten, me when I was fifteen. But that is for another story, this story is to celebrate his memory on what would have been his forty eighth year today.

He was the first white boy most of us knew to have dreadlocks, back in 1985 in Portsmouth, RI back when white boys didn’t have dreadlocks. He also had a tattoo of a wizard smoking out of a bong that covered almost the entire right side of his very muscular and long back that made my grandparents in Florida demand full t shirt coverage when he visited. Michael was charming, handsome, kind. He had a sense of humor and a pragmatism about him that made him a desired friend to have around. He also lived on the edge, taking way more risks that I surely did at his young age, diving naked off of Fort Wetherhill cliffs with his friends, tossing fireworks back and forth causing my father to have to take him to the hospital for a burn that could have been much worse, BMX racing and stunts, skateboarding all over Jamestown when he was little. There was always an air of mischief around him and he seldom got caught doing anything unless it was something with his older sister so she could blame him. He loved peaches and cottage cheese as a snack and white cake with chocolate frosting and frozen chocolate chip cookies just like I did. He loved Reggae music and Seal and Lenny Kravitz. Michael Andrew Horowitz was an amazing human being and since November 20, 1995, i have never had a day go by when I haven’t thought of him.

As my own son comes into his 21st year, I try to stay calm for the next few years as I watch him climb his early twenties praying that he sails through 23–25 unscathed, undiagnosed. I am fully aware that everything is out of my control, that worrying about this is not helpful, but no matter how much I breathe, write, meditate, it looms. Trauma is like this, scars heal, but they show up like a tattoo. Every time I look in the mirror, that scar from that clock under my lip is a tattoo my brother gave me and I smile every single time I look at it. I will never know what would have become of my brother and my relationship if he had the chance to age right alongside me, but I do know that the time we had is etched into my heart and my face until the day I die.


hard to believe this was taken in 1992 when Michael Horowitz was 22.
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BRAZEN AND BADASS

BRAZEN AND BADASS

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain,” or is it out in the rain? It’s a desert so I’m thinking that it is out of the rain, but I’ll pay closer attention next time the song blasts on. When that America song comes on the radio, regardless of the correct phrase, I am five, in the front seat of my mother’s pale yellow triumph, top folded down by unsnapping it before we left because automatic tops didn’t exist except in James Bond movies. My mother endlessly smoking from the familiar blue and white box of Parliaments, one after the other. She lit them with the automatic lighter provided as standard along with the ashtray to collect the cigarettes looking carefree as she and I headed towards Third Beach, to meet her friend Ann and Ann’s son who was about my age. I can smell the ocean and the salty breeze in our hair as we sped down the road listening to America and Carol King belt out familiar tune after tune.

My mother was only twenty-five when I was five, but it never occurred to me that anything was particularly odd or young about this. I am not sure where my brother was or if she was still pregnant with him but when I do the math, she would have had to have been at least six or seven months pregnant. I am sure with my good memory I would have recalled this. So he was either born already and would have been seven months and home with someone and this would have made me six instead of five and it would have been the summer of 1971 instead of 1970. Or he wasn’t born yet and therefore I was four and it was 1969. This is sad to me because I don’t recall a lot of my brother’s presence in my young life; there was a bit of invisibility to him. Of course there could have been the possibility he was tucked away in the little back area of the Triumph, a definite consideration because there weren’t many child safety laws back then. Regardless, my beach memories are some of the fondest ones I recall when it comes to me and my mother, Ann. These memories unfold with a gentle smile like the black and white Kodak prints locked away in the five or six yellowy albums Ann gave me when she moved to North Carolina almost the same day I announced my engagement. At least that is what it felt like at the time, Ann always running, farther and farther.

Mother daughter relationships are layered with complexity. Add to this recipe alcoholism and a slew of other emotional injuries and our relationship’s potential became weaker and less likely the older we became. The further away I am from my mother though, I have a more objective view of how I move and dance with my mother who doesn’t want to have a relationship with her only surviving daughter. For the most part since the words came in that stark and abrupt email, “I prefer you never contact me again,” almost three years ago, the untangling of her hold on my emotional state has been one of freedom and release. She might say the same thing about me; I readily admit that we both didn’t bring out the best in each other. In a sad and unraveling way, it has been healthier for both of us.

But I still miss her. I have reached out and have attempted to break that awkward silence by those damaging words. She in turn has responded in her own way and for this rare communication, I feel like at least the relationship cannot be labeled as estranged. Estranged feels immature, permanent, unforgiving, unapologetic. This is not who I am. So we both seem to accept the space between us and realize that this is probably as good as it ever is going to get. I know I have broken the cycle of abrupt family endings by having a strong relationship with my son and my former husband and the life we had and have now. The thing about Ann though, is that she is a part of me, whether we agree with each other, whether we judge each other or feel frustrated by either of our behavior. She shows up in ways I have grappled with despite countless Alanon meetings and therapy sessions trying to learn what it is about me that I can control or change.

My mother has used shopping to fill the hole in her heart for as long as I remember, way before my brother died, way before my father left. This was my example. When the going gets tough, go shopping, Ann could have written this mantra. In Ann’s case, to be more specific, it would be when the going gets tough, buy a new car. When I was a young girl, we had lots of different cars, so it will likely come as no surprise that I have the same contagious problem when I am relationship triggered. I wish I could recognize the fall down the rabbit hole before I ended up at the car dealer signing on the dotted line, but this time around, once again, I ignored the signs right in front of me that caused the tornado.

This time it is different; this time I changed the narrative. This time when the blah blah voice on my right shoulder came up to scold me for being irrational or irresponsible, I stood tall and looked at that voice, hands on hips, legs firmly planted, thigh muscles contracted and said, Whose voice is that anyway? Whose voice does that belong to? And why do I get these out of body commands to buy a car anyway? What is the trigger? Like Ann leaving, one of my oldest and dearest friends abruptly left too, without so much as a note; I know this is the trigger, this is the familiar way I deal with grief and loss. This is why the feelings come up because it connects me to my mother for a fleeting moment; there is a familiar rush with it. And during this whirlwind, I forget that I am the grown up superchick who has basically raised herself and raised a business with these two strong hands on her own. If I want to throw all cares to the wind and buy a new car, or in this case, lease one, I am a grown woman who gets to unabashedly make this choice. I am not five, I am fifty three, getting closer to my mid fifties by the minute and I can’t get into trouble by anyone. There is no timeout or punishment for my decisions, rash, planned or everything in between. It is the first time I have looked at that voice and challenged it and the freedom that washed over me stabilized my core like a long held warrior pose as I stood up to this familiar voice. At Last.

I can feel sad and feel grief and for a change not punish myself for the ways I deal with that grief. As soon as I challenged this blithering voice, it went back in its shell, and I marched forth, brazen and bad ass with a new bat mobile in my driveway. I wish I could call Ann and tell her. She would be laughing with her infectious laugh and would likely recognize that despite our distance, we do share some similarities. It is those that I miss.

Yep.
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THE PENDULUM SWING

THE PENDULUM SWING

My constitution is off; I can feel it. The pleasure of getting to know my body as a science project for the last seven or eight years, studying what makes it tick has opened my eyes when something is not quite right. And something is not quite right. I have lost my zazzle for my vigorous workouts, not keeping the morning workout routine I have loved and cherished. I have been eating carbohydrates like a bear getting ready for her winter cave of hibernation and sleep. I am constipated, literally holding on to old shit as I like to think of it as an esoteric message waiting for a literal and figurative breakthrough. All of this has led to a spending spree as these lapses in my life usually do- (thankfully, not a new car, though truth be told, I have been contemplating one) this time, an obsession with typewriters, buying them, typing on them and creating a new business with them as the centerpiece. Yin and Yang, one extreme to the other and I wish the pendulum would just park somewhere in the center of the swing to allow me the joy I felt again from routine and healthy eating that gives me a sense of inner strength and an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.

I feel like the word, grey. Not battleship grey, absent of tone and vibrancy, but the type of grey laced with blues and purples, like a fading bruise, but not yet where the yellowy brown tones have started to show. This too shall pass, it always does, but in this whirlwind of staring off into space thinking about working out and planning my next eating plan, I signed up for a painting class. Not a painting class that is filled with structure and discipline, that is surely not my style, but an expressive arts painting class. Expressive arts in general has been part of my personal fabric since one of my first life and business mentors, Judy Chaves turned me on to its power when I was a mere twenty five. It blends creation of art, all types with guided visualizations and breath work. Its premise is to allow the heart to message and guide rather than that lovely and talkative brain of ours. The theory is that the heart is as wisdom filled as our brain, but because our brain is a perpetual chatterbox, we often don’t allow the heart enough quiet to give it room to speak.

I am a believer in its transformative process and there has not been a time when I have not had a seismic shift in my life after taking a class. Yesterday’s class was no different. The challenge of expressive arts is, in fact, to get you out of your head, to not try to “make” a piece of art, to not intentionally draw what you see in your quiet moment, but to allow whatever movement happens on paper and then go beyond. Usually with the nudge of the instructor, in this case the same art therapist that taught me at my first class twenty eight years ago, another major mentor, Susan Fox.

This class yesterday was a messy one. Painting with acrylics, using our fingers, our hands, our fingernails, stepping way out of our comfort zones with humming and movement in a room filled with like minded women all going through some sort of their own shit. Likely no accident that it collided with the day before the bad ass full moon called The Harvest Moon, a moon symbolic of gathering, storing and getting ready for the upcoming winter. A moon filled with light to clean up our gardens, pull out our jackets and start picking apples for the pies yet to be made and crock pot stews yet to be eaten.

We made four pieces of art yesterday and as I put my pastel to paper and moved my hand with my eyes closed, I shed my first tear. It came quick, because I was ready. This is the beauty of grieving loss and the transformation that can occur in its midst, I am in tune with my body, my heart and my needs so tears are exactly the release that my body needs but they don’t come on demand. Art is often their prompt for me. We also had to use our non dominant hands for both the art and the words we had to write on the paper that inevitably come up in the process. It baffles me how much I got out of this simple paradigm shift and my art was all the better for it. And this is a process, there is no beginning or end, no thing to check off our lists as Done, let’s move on. Grief doesn’t allow this; perhaps it wanes like the moon, but it also comes back in full force when it is least expected like the full light of tonight’s Harvest.

My work yesterday was not something I had planned or organized into a neat to do list to accomplish. If this is what you are looking for in Expressive Arts, then you need to sign up for a class pronto because expressive arts takes you away from that incessant female need many of us over achieving super chicks struggle with, those three elusive P’s -planning, progress and perfection. Expressive arts is about giving yourself permission for presence, process, and patience. And it is life changing every time. For anyone out there reading this where the thought of humming and movement and painting makes your stomach curdle like bad milk, take it as a sign that it is more likely just what the cosmic doctor ordered.

I have been feeling dark lately, my immune system has been compromised and as a result, I came down with a whopper of a two day stomach bug, a rare occurrence for someone who doesn’t usually get sick (except for that pesky breast cancer diagnosis, but I am for some reason not counting this in the sickness category). No surprise though because my personality usually warrants an on my knees sickness to actually give myself permission to rest. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but I have come to grips with my perpetual sense of urgency that life is short and I have a lot to accomplish. On the other side though is the full awareness that without my health, life is short and there is nothing I can accomplish. Ahh the struggle, the process. Trying to understand why an old friend decided she would no longer be an old friend in almost the same twisted way my mother decided that she no longer wanted me to contact her again ever, is the grief. Time though does assist and so does the art so here I am today feeling full with light, no longer constipated and moving through, gently and kindly. It is okay to take a rest, a nap, this was what I got out of my art yesterday, to stop being such a nag to myself and just accept where I am right now is exactly where I need to be.




in order of how I made them, I fully realize that I won’t be giving up my day job anytime soon, but this is not the point, right….?
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A NEW MEMORY

A NEW MEMORY

“I think you need a new bag or fix this one,” Jane said to me inspecting my blue and white evenly squared checked cotton throw bag that takes me on my travels happily and joyfully. She was looking at the straps that were coming unstitched because this bag has come with me on all of my adventures for well over ten years if not more. I quickly became defensive; I am not nor will ever be a fashion icon for anything especially a purse. For me it is what bag climbs with me, what bag has the right amount of pockets to hold just enough without being cumbersome.

“This bag was given to me by an old friend who was a traveling superchick right into her eighties. Her daughter used to make them, then they both died within a few months of each other and I keep this bag with me on all excursions to remember Joy,” I said a little churlishly. She realized my sass and quickly reminded me that she was just pointing out the stitching so I could fix the straps. In the end, it was a win win because Janey got to learn about Joy and Anne and their connection to the bag and I got to see the straps coming undone before they did, before the day before my big hike up the mountain.

I went to the front desk of my five star hotel knowing that they would likely have one of those handy sewing kits. They did and as I got into the elevator, I was already stressing out about how I was possibly going to thread the eye of the needle with these eyes. Take a breath, relax, I could almost hear my old friend Joy saying proud and happy that I was still using the bag all these years later. I got into the room and it was like Joy the angel was looking out for me, of course the seven different colors of thread would already be threaded in the seven different needles! I was relieved and so happy that Jane now would become a piece of this bag as I pulled the navy thread choice out of the package.

I have never been much of a sewer. My grandfather, my great uncle and my father owned a textile factory and all sewing was given to them to do any repairs there. My father knew how to sew, not my mother. This was odd in Fall River, Mass at the time as most moms were stay at home moms and did stay at home kind of things. Also living in a major Portuguese community, you would have thought that my mother might have picked up some of that luscious home care. But this was not my mother and though we lived in this community, our community of friends and life were Jewish. I am guessing and this is a broad generalization, that most Jewish women in my mother’s circle of stay at home moms didn’t sew either.

As I pulled the thread out, my index finger and thumb automatically looped and knotted the end of the thread so that when I pulled my first stitch through, it would stop at the knot. It was such an automatic reflex, I almost didn’t notice. But then my father appeared before me like he was standing there and I could remember him teaching me this when I started to take sewing lessons at about eleven or so at the Singer store in the Harbor Mall. I think it was a Singer store, maybe it was a material store that had Singer sewing machines, but I took lessons there on Saturdays until I made a few skirts using patterns. My father used to drop me off and then pick me up after the class. I remember the patchwork skirt I made out of left over velvet that he gave me from pieces in the factory. I loved that skirt and was so proud of my work. I may even have a picture of myself at my grandparents house for some Jewish holiday. I will have to find it when I get back home.

Memories come out of nowhere like that. An innocent comment from a dear friend who also lost her father to Esophagus cancer just a few months after my dad passed from the same illness. Our friend, Jen also part of this trip who was my cohort in this surprise, lost her father suddenly after a family vacation in this very place. Witnessing the conversation then going on the trip with me hiking only to find out that the Portuguese folk song Christina, our tour guide, belted out on the mountain was her dad’s favorite. I learned this because her mom who is also on this trip told us before we went to dinner. Everything connected. All because of a torn strap in need of repair.

Healing is like this, one stitch at a time, the wound will never be completely healed. There will always be that scar that when you glance down at can make you absently put your finger on it to feel the bumps and rough patches, it is an omnipresent guide as you remember what caused it in the first place. But then there are those tenderest of moments where one can see and hear that long deceased person like he is standing in front of me saying, Alayne, this is how you thread the needle, this is how you make the knot and these little memories that flood out of nowhere are the gifts that keep on giving.

All because of a tear in a strap and a need to repair. Our dads convened yesterday for sure as a dynamic trifecta, maybe it was the blood moon, maybe it was the connection of Portugal that my father loved like it was his homeland, maybe it was the power of five women traveling with their own baggage separately and together trying to heal their own wounds. What I do know is that there is magic among the tribe and our lives are better because we know each other.





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CARES TO THE WIND

CARES TO THE WIND

It was an average Monday, my standard paperwork day. Wake up, go to the gym, do some gardening and then sit at the computer for about four hours to catch up from the previous week, deposits, bills, mail, return calls and check emails I had put aside. I had a 2:00 meeting with the power house men of the Explore Bristol team, so I had a little less time to finish up the work I had ahead of me. Once the latter part of the afternoon rolls around, my brain starts to turn to jello and I just can’t sit anymore staring at a computer screen and numbers.

I had taken a great workout class in the morning and vowed that there would be no wine drinking for at least the day. This is not an easy task to overcome the weeks leading up to July 4th in a town that celebrates the oldest July 4th celebration in America. It is party central here in Bristol, RI and it is so much fun from June 21st to July 4th. I am sure all my AA friends are rolling their eyes at my perpetual rationalization for nightly wine consumption, but we’ll save this for another essay at a later date.

So the three compadres of Explore Bristol, a small grassroots volunteer tourist organization, gather at the Lobster Pot on the back deck outside on a picture perfect early summer day. We were there to talk about the latest news on an upcoming building project, the past events and all things small town, leaning into the comfort of each other’s company as we have been working together for over eight years. We are friends and colleagues and though we have completely different political views, we have a strong connection and this was a chance to just simply relax and hang out. Shrimp cocktail, oysters and smoked salmon came out in trays as did the crisp white wine. Mmm. Didn’t I just say there would be at least one day before the fourth that would be wine free? Always breaking my own self imposed rules, what the hell, one glass on a hot summer day among friends to celebrate our successes? One glass. Well clearly, Jeff had other plans because then the second glass came out. Ok. No more driving possibilities, I’ll walk home. Our conversation became livelier and it is amazing how quickly two glasses of delicious white wine on a random Monday afternoon with no responsibilities can give the freedom of blowing all cares to the wind. Fuck, as much as I have the perpetual chatter of do I drink or not drink, (block your ears my AA friends here) there is nothing like a couple glasses of wine to ease the burdens of grief albeit short lived. I was fully aware that this jovial feeling that was rapidly taking over my otherwise sad heart from hearing about yet another woman’s breast cancer advancing, and it is bad, would be short lived. Like tomorrow when I would wake up wondering why I had to have the fourth glass, more on that later. I have known this superchick for over twenty eight years; she used to be married to my former brother in law and we both got breast cancer around the same time unbeknownst to each other until after.

So as the three of us enjoyed the third glass of wine, trying to stop the train called Jeff from deliberately trying to get us intoxicated, we released for a few hours the burdens of cancer that two out of three us had been dealing with for the past three years. We laughed, planned, ate, talked over each other, and tried to figure out how we would be getting home. In the case of Mike, he had dinner plans and had to answer to his surprised wife when she called and could clearly hear that something was amiss in the sounds of her otherwise pragmatic and responsible husband’s voice. I had already made the call to my twenty year old son to come and save me by driving me home, bribed with the promise of a dinner at the Pot.. Mike stumbled out to be picked up by his wife as they had dinner plans in Providence with friends. Don’t know how he got out of that one and Jeff and I checked in with him the next day to find out if we were both in the doghouse along with him. We haven’t heard back. Not good. I managed to wolf down fried clams, grapenut pudding with icecream and thankfully a glass of water rather than a fifth glass of wine knowing that the regrets of all of this would be plentiful at three am.

There is something to be said about living in the proverbial moment, a challenge I have been working on. I am finding it easier to do this, leaning into the fun, dancing when no one else is and hooting it up whenever a chance presents itself. Impromptu day drinking is one of those rarities that can’t be planned, but when it shows up, the fun and release of all stresses and worries is really a treasure in the moment. As I realized that I definitely had one too many glasses of wine on a rare Monday, I also realized that life is a blast on so many levels, it blasts by too and I for one vow after this past Monday to have more parties. We need more celebrations, more dancing, and whether you drink or not, definitely more letting go however it presents itself. We need to celebrate life while we have it and not wait till we don’t. Trust me on this one, parties are in my future and likely yours too. And because I am old school, you may have to actually take a walk to your mailbox to find out when, because my inbox is full and I need some fresh air. And as fate would have it, just as I finished up this essay today, a song just came on called, Here’s To Now. Divine.


let the partying begin!
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CONTEMPLATION AND ICE CREAM

CONTEMPLATION AND ICE CREAM

This should be the name of a new treatment, I thought as I decided yesterday that I couldn’t live without ice cream because I went to my second funeral in a week yesterday of another young woman. Ice cream was soon to be some much needed therapy that only ice cream can be. I found myself with the day off and no plans and a bag of freshly bought edibles from the compassion center in Portsmouth where I am a proud and loud carrying card member. Rather than day drink after the funeral, surely not a solution to anything, especially since the young woman who died was sober for a good part of her life, I cut a very small piece of the caramel square, placed it on my tongue and decided that today would be a day to relax. Medical marijuana has been a savior for the band of tightness that has become like a Siamese twin on my upper body and though I don’t need it as much as I used to, it is definitely helpful for stress and anxiety and taking the edge off an otherwise weepiest of weeks. Yes I know we must go through the pain, not around it, delve into the grief, but sometimes just taking the edge off moves me there a little faster. Like ice cream. And a bike ride and a caramel edible.

Gretchen, the superchick who died, whose funeral I attended had six nieces and one nephew, many who spoke. The service was sad, but beautiful and I could tell the priest really knew her. I don’t often feel moved at Catholic funerals, sometimes they feel a little rote and sometimes I feel an ironic lack of spirituality. Not this one. I was so moved by the Good Father’s words I actually felt like I could be a member of this church for a brief moment. His language about our grief was spectacular, encouraging us to stay in the present moment, to free ourselves from the what if’s what could have been and in Gretchen’s honor, live in the now, with zest and joy and spirit. If there had been a gospel choir singing along with this message, the service would have made me want to stand up and wave my arms in the air singing I BELIEVE!

Funerals like weddings bring up a lot of matter, matter from the past, seeing old faces, not seeing some faces. Funerals like weddings have a way of bringing you up close and personal to your own life choices, love lost, aging, sadness, happiness, a virtual mecca of emotion. I found myself at Gretchen’s funeral yesterday starting to plan my own funeral in my mind which I know is bat shit crazy, but I couldn’t stop the train. Funerals do this, they make you think of your own mortality and how you may want your own exit to be if you had the ability to make the plan. Trying to control my funeral even, clearly I need more therapy (or more edibles or more ice cream). One of the nieces made some references to overeating Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream so much that their stomachs were beyond full at sleepover with their Aunt Gretchen, how Gretchen loved bouquets of wild flowers and many other delightful antidotes about a life well lived albeit shorter than it should have been. Their personal words were touching and heartwarming and when I got home to figure out my remaining day, I just knew ice cream would be part of its recipe.

With dinner already in the works on slow cook, I got on my bike and rode like the wind, just me, no friends along for the ride, just the wind in my hair, water in my basket and a freedom like no other. Bluebirds and yellow finches flew fast and furious in my vision, cardinal sounds warmed my ears with hope and the notion that everything is alright. Ospreys communicated in a way that took me off my bike just to stare. It was refreshing to see so many kids on the bike path without their parents for a change. Kids actually outside, moving their legs with no cell phones in their hands. The sky was bluer, the trees were greener and the air was that perfect breeze that made the bike ride comfortable for either a slow or fast pedal depending on my mood and energy level. I pedaled and glided and freed myself with a much needed second week day in two weeks off, though this one was not playing hooky. I actually had this day off and forgot that a funeral doesn’t take all day and there was no way I was going to do paperwork after.

Before I left for the bike ride, I noticed that one of my employees had a two hour opening, but I didn’t want to take the appointment in case it could be filled last minute, always the possibility. On my way home from the bike ride, when I stopped to look at the ospreys, I texted the front desk to find out if the appointment was still open and when the answer was yes, I took it. But first I had to fulfill my ice cream obligation. Stopping by the ice cream parlor to discover it wasn’t open for another 2 hours, I made my way home and walked the short distance across the street to Pick and Pay praying they would have mint oreo cookie. They did proving that there indeed is a God and that Gretchen was indeed with me in the Pick and Pay.

I still had a full half hour before my appointment so I made it home cranked open the ice cream and stuck my spoon in the creamy cool delight knowing that I still had my treatment ahead. This treatment would end my afternoon with perfection, a spassage, an hour and half warm oil rubdown like nothing else by Katelyn, a long term employee who has a smile and an innocent happiness like I seldom see in people. Katelyn usually freaks out when she sees my name, her boss’ name, in her schedule for anything other than waxing, but she greeted me with her sincerest warmth. I told her I was there purely for relaxation, that I didn’t want to talk, I just needed to chill out. As soon as her hands touched my back, I felt her care, her maturity, her strength and I understood immediately why women would want to go to her for their appointments. She had beautiful light and I was immediately taken into her arms for an hour and a half of meditative peace.

As I lay there in a dreamy state going in and out of REM slumber, I couldn’t help my creative brain from going into full gear coming up with new treatments and new business ideas. This is a sign that my brain is clearing from the cobwebs and fogginess of grief, that I am very much alive and in Gretchen’s and Lesa’s honor will seize whatever is remaining and march forth. As I finished my treatment, joined Michael C outside in the garden for an afternoon glass of wine, headed back inside for dinner and the news, I was looking forward to finishing my day. First off though, I would finish the pint, something I have actually never done before, I know, hard to believe for those of you who know me, in Gretchen’s honor and in honor of a life that was finished too soon. I cut some flowers for her, finished off the ice cream and reflected on my day. Satisfied and belly full.


for gretchen