Saturday, December 27, 2014

New Beginnings - Last Chapters


Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption has about 20 chapters written--about 1/3 done, not edited yet, but written.  I had shared an excerpt which was originally going to be the first chapter - but as the story developed, it seemed more fitting as the ending, and I wished to further flesh it out--in closure. So it turned into two new chapters to conclude the story. There is a new first chapter which I will share another day. 

Second to Last Chapter 

The veil between this world and the next is a thin one they say.  I don't consciously think of it all the time but there are moments when all is falling apart around me, tears getting the best of me and my mind goes upwards.  In those moments, I wonder if Mom, Big Bro and  my old black lab Barkley are looking down on me. In those moments, the veil is rendered with one cutting edge of a scalpel, a clean bloodless cut, as if the blade severed not flesh, but a sob, restoring to this small place, this moment, to peace.

Sometimes it takes a while after a loss to get to that quiet spot.  For it is not just the battlefield that has to be conquered but the silence that remains when the field is cleared--that silence in which the person left alone has time to remember and in that mute aftermath, make the decision to move forward, knowing their only guide may be a heavenly one.

I'd like to think that it's that heavenly presence  watching from above that restores me, not the thought of a long hot bath when I get home, or the Midol kicking in.  On such occasions I say a quiet prayer of thanks, and hope that Mom didn't see what mayhem erupted when I attempted to make her cereal/pretzel/nut party mix  recipe in a 70 year old gas oven after three glasses of wine.

As kids we figured Mom always  had eyes in the back of her head; and there wasn't much we got away with, always feeling that vast weight of her watching. Though Big Bro is probably glad she never got wind of the "live possum in the girls bathroom at school" incident.  The possum wasn't harmed, but several teachers armed with metal garbage pails to capture it were LESS than pleased.

We tried to behave, for we learned early that the punishment was often swift and appropriate, none of this "oh, you're having a tantrum, let me buy you that toy" that seems to pass for parenting today for too many people.But we were kids.  I still recall the story where Big Bro, three years or so old, dropped dirt in the open can of paint for the new house, as he apparently didn't like the original color, preferring brown. And if you open the bathroom drawer at Dad's you can still see the swirls of Mom's red lipstick where I decided to do a little "drawing". Still, in our adventures and misadventures, he was my best friend.
I remember him letting me tag along his paper route, not being ashamed of his little sister as most of his friends would have been, but teaching me the perfect curve ball of paper onto a porch. I remember road trips where we would playfully bicker and play with toy soldiers in the back of the car, mine in my chubby little hands, his, more grown and nimble, moving on to my side of the station wagon seat with his troops, setting camp until I yelled "MOM". And we'd be told to be quiet, for at least 15 minutes, and we'd sit, in perfect stoic silence, shooting looks back and forth to each other, as if dueling with foils, plotting, planning, waiting for the laughter to burst out because we just couldn't hold it in.

I remember evenings in a 1960's kitchen, Mom washing the dishes as Big Bro brings that last platter in from the dining room.  Dad is having a cup of coffee after dinner, then he will make sure the knives are sharpened and put away, the dishes dried. Dinner was steelhead trout, caught with Dad's own hands, there in a tireless morning of gossamer threads and mist.

There is much talking, the sound a steady hum, interspersed with the metallic clink of utensils together, like small machinery working away.  Outside it is dark; there is a war ongoing somewhere, there is crime, there is evil. It's all out there somewhere, as is the darkness, pressing against the house, like water does a dam, not with obvious movement, just that steady pressure that is the desire to break through. But inside, as children, we do not sense it, for us, there is only the light that seeps outward through the cracks between the curtains, so much of it here, it can be shared with the darkness.

I remember all the Sundays we went to Church, even those earliest memories of Service on Easter Sunday. I'm sitting as still and as tall as I can, but I can only see the backs of heads. When I was really little, Mom would give me a tiny little bag of cheerios, so if I got hungry and fidgety I could eat a few, one at a time.  My feet hurt and my new dress itches but I know mostly to behave, acting up only earning a brisk march outside for a swat on the bottom, as even Jesus looked down from the wall in the vestibule with an expression that said "you shouldn't lob a Cheerio at your brother".

Easter Sunday, the traditions rarely varied, we'd get up to find a small basket outside our bedroom door containing jelly beans and candy, and for me, one early Easter, a stuffed bunny. Oh how I loved that bunny, dragging it around everywhere, Mom occasionally having to wash it and hang it up on the clothesline by its ears to dry.  Over time, most of his fur was worn away, he lost his plastic eyes, his nose fell off and his ears were beyond floppy.  But I still loved him, keeping him even into adulthood, even if I couldn't always keep him safe from harm.

 I didn't much like the early hour or wearing a dress on those Easter Sundays.  But even to a child, there was something magical about the music, the organ straining with the sonorous tone of a parent, while the choir, voices freed from parental caution to play quietly, rose up in in a flurry of joy, heartfelt in their gathering volume, assuming the shapes of angels to my small form below. I'd actually  sit still for that, as the their voices faded away into the still air, as clear and delicate as struck glass.

After that it was Sunday as usual. Normally our folks made Sunday a family day of board games and books and music, but hyped up on Easter candy sugar, Mom was willing to forgo that to let us run off a little steam, so we donned our cowboy holsters and six shooters and headed out.  Big Bro gets out the door first and point his firearm at me with a stern  "you'd best get out here you lily livered coward" to which I simply stuck my tongue out at him through the screen.  It tasted like dirt.

He didn't look at all scared.

But somehow the play always evolved into us being on the same side even if all we had to be the "bad guy" was the neighbor's cat or a menacing shrub. I took more than one "bullet" for my big brother, even if I could barely keep up with him on my little legs. More than one knee was bloodied in my battle to save him. the scabs a Bactine infused mark of my sacrifice.

But it's hard for kids as they grow up, to keep the cohesion we had living in the same house. We are bound together by family, but often scattered by distance, dealing with our own tragedies, things much worse than a failed model contest, keeping it in and not saying much. But, as it is inevitable, we did grow up, he leaving for Submarine Service when I was still in school

I missed him. I remember walking in the woods with compass and pocket knife and seeing an elk crash into flight from a stand of small  off in the distance,  the sound curving around the whole earth it seemed. I couldn't move, frozen by the sound. I simply stood, open mouthed, incredulous as to how big he really was close up and all the thoughts flowing through my head, turning to follow his now invisible running. For lack of any other response to his leaving, I picked up a rock and threw it hard and deep into the forest in which he ran, the stone, glinting like a knife, disappearing into the last copper ray of sun before it dipped behind the trees.

"I don't want you to go" was all I could say, as I stood there in the fading light, sounding very small and alone.

But Big Bro came back; he always came back. And he'd call me when he could and I'd tell him about school and my misadventures in physics, both in and out of the classroom, and we'd laugh. We always both laughed, easily and well. We didn't worry about politics, or budgets, or deadlines or knowing that sometimes keeping your mouth shut had to be the better part of valor.  Even as I entered adulthood, we could still laugh and say "it's five o clock somewhere" as I raised my first glass of amber liquid in a toast to endless oceans and skies. It was a golden time, one in which we hadn't fully learned to look at everything in a critical eye of war or loss.

When he got married I was there at his wedding near the Naval base in California, wearing a lime green bridesmaid dress with a tutleneck that I would not have worn for the Pope, The Queen of England or Marshall Dillon (though given how Miss Kitty dressed, Marshall Dillon would have liked it). But I wore it for him.

Soon, he and I were both grown, no longer to have imaginary gun battles with toy pistols.   But he knew as did I, that either of us would give our life for the other.

Though those early gun battles among siblings and friends were only child's play, they will be played out years later for many of us. For there will come times of fighting, of blood and prayer, of plunges into the deepest waters and ascents into unknown skies.  Moments where we approach nearest of all to God, just as on Sunday we drew nearer to Him, there in the peace and the fury that is both the promise and end of all faith.

With my Big Bro no longer living under the same roof, but always looking out after me,  we charged ahead, mindful only of our duty, to protect, to uphold, minds and hearts purged  then of sins that lay behind, summed and absolved by the formal fury of a ministers intonation from the pulpit, moving forward, sacrificing ourselves as need be, so that somewhere, someone can live for a little while beneath the safe, warm exhalation of faith and trust.

But overall, I don't think we gave our parents too much grief, even as they worried about us, Big Bro under the seas, myself  up in the skies somewhere.

Then as our parents age, the tides are turned.  Be it my step mom's Alzheimer's or simply nearing a hundred years on this planet, there was a lot on our plates the last few years in taking care of Dad.  After my step mom passed, Dad on the mend from a minor stroke, it got a little easier, but there was still a lot to do to assist him  But I always had my Big Bro to carry a big part of that load.  When Big Bro was forced into early retirement and moved in with Dad after chemo and radiation for esophageal cancer, all he wanted to do was make our 94 year old Dad's life easier, telling me he hoped Dad would live to be 115.  Though quietly, he just wanted to outlive Dad, to lessen that burden of grief on the man who was his hero and his family. Unfortunately, Big Bro lost that bet, leaving Dad alone, his keeping the fact that his cancer was Stage IV when first diagnosed from Dad, though I knew, the treatment only buying some time, not a cure.

I flew back and forth as often as I could during that time, on vacation and long weekends to see them, my budget no longer "can I get a new car this year? " but rather "is there enough in checking for another airline ticket and rental car on top of the nursing assistance".  Married only months, my husband would travel with  me when he can, to make the repairs and such to keep the house functioning. My Dad loves him and is happy I married an engineer, not that long haired kid with the red Mustang  and electric guitar he would NOT let me date in high school. When I couldn't be there, Big Bro and his grown children would take Dad on little outings, wrapping up as many memories they could in those short weekends.

Dad was welcome to live with any of us in the family, but he refused, not willing to leave that house in which he outlived two beloved wives and his first born daughter. I understand, I was raised in that house after they adopted both Big Bro and I, not to replace that child that they lost, but simply to find an outlet for the love they held so deeply.

The house hasn't changed much, fresh paint, new flowers. The marks of children raised here after they left Montana, a small playhouse out back, the marks on a door where we grew and grew. On the table in the dining room where he and my brother last held hands to say grace, a photo, of a pair of blue eyes in which his whole world achieved its value by the response he could draw from them. This was a woman who was completely necessary to him, and will remain so even as her actual presence is but the sheen of an old sewing machine forever stilled, the rose petals in her garden, long since gone to dust.

What I remember the most from those trips, is some little scraps of blue paper. For on the door to Dad's house, after Big Bro got that death sentence he held in like breath until the end, there was a little clipboard, on which he wrote a day's thoughts.  Some of the things written would make sense only to us.  Others were simply smiles, made with the little smiley "Bull" face, as "Bull" was his nickname--he with the red hair and the seemingly unstoppable build. Fridays were always remembered, often with a big T.G.I.F. and exclamation points, for Big Bro lived for Fridays when he could leave his job as a Navy Contractor and drive down to visit his best friend  from childhood while spending time with Dad.

When I'd go home to visit, there would be a note for me.  Some were notes for friends. He might mention the rain, or remind his country what is right, as if they could read, but each day was an affirmation that life was being lived, and hearts were being cared for.  He never said anything about the cancer coming back in force, hiding the truth from Dad, though he couldn't from me.  For he was dying and his days were dwindling. Still, each day, there was that smiley bull face and a little note, for whomever came to the door.
He had a long career in submarine service, he had risked so much and so very quietly, yet his whole life was summed up in those small little moments in which he could care for the man that didn't have to be his Dad.  It was as if he was honing his life down to one moment, just as the mighty Chinook Salmon concentrates its whole life down to that one last journey, that one last leap, before relinquishing it

Though he denied there was anything wrong, I knew, and I went and took another visit, just to spend some time with him.  There was little resemblance to the photos of the handsome redheaded man in the Naval Uniform. His once red hair was gone, the beard, the round rosy cheeks that I might have suggested would have made for a good Santa Claus if he didn't have dirt on me about the Arc Welder incident, were sunken. Only his eyes looked the same, those light blue orbs which neither the defeat of years or this battle could dim. Picturing his gaunt form as he slept, it was as if all if him were evaporating, muscle, flesh, like water vanishing, til little remained but those deep blue pools. But what remained still saw with what pride upholds when the body fails, a frail hand held up briefly as he drifts to sleep, a not forgotten flag above a ravaged citadel.

We stayed up late on that last night, raising a glass of amber liquid and talking until he nodded off in the easy chair. Each time, I didn't know if I'd hear his voice again, quietly saying as his eyes closed,."I don't want you to go", as I had uttered silently to someone else not long ago. Words quietly released in that quiet tone of slow amazement, as if I had not known, until I uttered them, the depths from which those words came.

Last Chapter

The last note was April 4, 2014.   It was a Friday, his favorite day of the week as evidenced by all of these little notes. But this one contained another note at the bottom and another little smile, a message from his daughter, who he would not see again. He died without warning exactly two weeks later, collapsing in the driveway after bringing Dad's trash bins up from the curb. It was Good Friday. He had to be carried into the house, 100 pounds gone from his large frame, held up like a child, his feet remembering the earth, even as they no longer touched it.

As I desperately tried to get to the airport to get a flight West to see him, I physically felt him leave me. We'd been through foster care, adoption, the whole "mom caught us taking the TV apart", to an adult life spent serving our country, still as bonded as we were as small children, flung out to the wolves together before being saved. Minutes after I felt his leaving, a trembling in my chest like a released harp string, there and gone, the phone rang.  It was Dad's next door neighbor and friend, letting me know he had passed, there in that minute I felt him. I could only lift one hand up from the steering wheel for a moment towards the sky, a toast in tears.

No regrets, no anger.  From the very beginning we left it in His hands, one way or the other. That time comes for all of us where we cease to be, where "is" becomes "was", where those we love must weigh our empty body down under stone, as what we "are" is lifted up to Heaven. That wooden box that calls for all of us is too small to catch all of the memory of courage and love and so it spills out upon the ground to be gathered up like golden leaves. But that box is still big enough to be a shadow over what remains if we let it. As I looked at those little scrape of paper, to be gathered up and brought home from Dad's, I remember a man who refused to stand under that shadow, even as I struggled to feel him watching over me.

It wasn't until I brought this little clipboard back home last week that I felt him so close. I had not felt that, even as we collected up his things, a uniform, a little toy submarine that held office supplies, and the live flare gun found in his nightstand (I do NOT want to know why that was there).  The sense of distance between us was profound.
After I placed it in my carry on bag to come with me, I sat down by a side table where the piano once stood,the one he played first and then I, my always wanting to do what he did.  As I sat, I  tapped music upon it with my fingers as if it could respond. Things will change, as much as we wish them to remain I think, as I played a tune upon soundless wood, of ambered wine, the fall of autumn leaves, and goodbyes that are like sharpened knives.

That last night there was a quiet one, preparing a meal for Dad, getting trounced at cribbage, then doing the dishes as he fell asleep watching football.

Outside, the darkness lapped at the house, but it is not truly dark, here on the river, a bright light bobs somewhere out on the water. It was more than a light for the river pilot, it was a beacon of safe harbor itself and all that remained to him of a difficult journey is the shortening space between that brilliant light and his own motion forward.

As I finished up the dishes, I kept my movements quiet, so Dad could sleep undisturbed. In his dreams, he is still a young man, setting up a home post WWII  with Mom, his high school sweetheart. It was a town full of music and dreams and tall hills covered with ceaseless timber, the rain, not a grey blanket but a sound, a rising and swelling with the gusts of emotion, and passion that was worth waiting for. That place is still alive for him, threads of silken light unwinding from whirring spools, the sound of his children laughing in an old house near the water, in dreams of steelhead trout that never grow old, never tire.

We said our goodbyes the next day, never knowing if we'd see each other again,  After landing back home, driving back with that little clipboard with the scraps of blue paper upon it, I finally felt my brother near me, over me, watching, a sailor never actually leaving his watch.  It was a sad, but comforting feeling, and I talked to him as I drove, as if he could hear. I talked through the chartless latitude of my loss, and even in silence, he comforted, with a muted murmuring that was as comforting as the roar of an enduring sea.
When I pulled into the driveway, my face was wet with tears, but I was remembering, so much to remember, my brother my daughter, those small pieces of them I had, those pieces I can still hold onto, even if I do not possess them..

From inside my house, comes the clatter of the toenails of a newly adopted rescue dog on the hardwood floors, as my husband opens the door. On the wall is calender my daughter made me, with pictures of two beautiful grandchildren to share--children that would not exist but one scared, lonely teenager, and one choice so many years ago. That choice, one that could only be made by one person, meant she had a chance at a childhood like I did, with two parents who loved her and had the means to provide for her, a warm home, and grace around a family table--the everlasting blessing of family.

From within my bag I draw out a small clipboard on which rests some scraps of blue paper.  I hold it up as I get out of the vehicle, as an orchestra conductor holds up that slender baton that conveys within its weightless gleam all of the fierce fire and yearning and heartache that can be contained in one moment of history.

My husband takes it from me and holds me close, as the music starts

12 comments:

  1. Truly beautiful though reading your blog starts my allergies going with runny eyes and nose.

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  2. It was good before...but it is better now. You have a gift with this, Brigid.

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  3. Some memories must be cherished and held close to your heart.
    They will get you thru the rough times of life.

    Some memories must be banished, before they destroy you.
    You HAVE to let them go - lock them away before they harm you.

    I'm sure you know which are which, and have the strength to do so.

    Merle

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  4. Brigid, you made me cry. Thank you.

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  5. Brigid,
    My name is Charlie Mitchell, and I now live in Seattle.

    We adopted our little Twink in late 2002. On the morning after the first night she had spent with us, I awakened early and went out on the porch of the little apartment in Kazakhstan we had rented for our stay. There before me lay a world covered with about an inch of snow - the only time it snowed while we were there. Now I grew up in the South, so snow was magical to me. I was awestruck because I just knew that this was God's way of telling me, in a way that I couldn't possibly misunderstand, that This Was Right.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/chas_mitch57/457134151/

    On another note, sad but beautiful, I was at my parents house when each one of them took their step into the next stage of the soul's journey. My mother, sister, and I held hands in a circle with my father as he gently left this world, and 7 years later, my sister and I did the same for my mother. I was honored to be my mother's "hospice nurse" for the final month of her life, just as she had done for my father. I watched my mother, in her last 2 days, as she seemed to "see" something I could not. She would return to us for a while, and then, fully awake all the while, she would "leave" this world for another hour or two. I will always miss them both, but I'm glad for them, rather than sad for myself. It was partly these experiences that make me unafraid for my own time, whenever that will be.

    Please don't feel that I expect you to print this - I just hope it helps in some way.

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  6. Charlie - thank you so much for sharing that. She is beautiful! I was born in Swedish hospital in Seattle, and my parents had to drive a far ways to get me.
    This book is more difficult to write than The Book of Barkley, as there are so many more characters in it, and the way our lives wove together created an extraordinary tapestry of two and four legged family. I want to do it justice.

    Thank you for what you have done for your family, and continue to do.

    Merle - writing let's me process it to where it no longer harms. Thanks for your kind words.

    Monkeywrangler - thanks and we got the button today!

    Stephen - it's probably those peppers you put in the jelly.

    Squeeky's Mom - some words have that effect on me as well.

    1st man - I'm so glad you liked. I really appreciate the support you and your partner have given The Book of Barkley on your blog, sharing that story, which indeed, ties into this one.

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  7. Brigid,
    You bring tears to my eyes. I was not present when my parents died. My little brother just dropped dead, so I have no 'last moments' to remember. Reading your words comfort me even as I cry.

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  8. Ms B,
    This post was a '4 Kleenex' post.
    You sure do have a way of bringing back old memories in the most disarming way. Thank you for sharing.

    Rich in NC

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  9. Brigid
    I don't read your blog regularly, but today for some reason, I logged on and you brought tears and many memories to light. I lost my father a couple of years ago at 97. The lived by himself on the ranch. He looked after a few cows which he said was a "reason to get up in the morning". I miss calling him to discuss something I saw that I knew he would be interested in talking about, as I remember that he won't answer the phone any more. You have a beautiful way of expressing what many of us would like to say, but don't know how. Thanks.
    Jerry in New Mexico

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  10. Jerry - thanks for stopping and thanks for the note about your Dad. I understand how you miss that, and I know that's in my future too soon. I'm glad, that after losing my brother so suddenly, Dad pressed on.

    This story, continues in quite a few regards what started with The Book of Barkley. I think you would enjoy that story as well and would consider picking up a copy. Bless you.

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    1. Brigid - Losing my father has been harder than I anticipated because he had always been there for support and advise for so many years. His advise to me, given to him by his father was, "Whatever you do, make your name and your word good". I have strived to do that one thing in life.
      I have purchased your book on line and look forward to reading it with great anticipation. Jerry

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I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..