Three Years Ago, Part 10 of 13
Summer 1970. I believe this was taken in Quebec. I am 11; my father is 52. It has been a year since my mother, who is taking this picture (and is 45 at the time of this trip), has suffered a major heart attack.
On November 26, 2002, two days before Thanksgiving, my father committed suicide. This series presents journal excerpts from that time and the aftermath of his death, edited for privacy purposes and omitting numerous "to do" lists....
2/10/03 approximately 10:30 am. Starbucks at Harvard Square, with Hancock's Empyrean Isles on the PA system. I normally don't matronize such a chain outfit as this, but it is uncrowded at this time of day and has a more civilized feel than Au Bon Pain -- another chain, but one that I use more frequently. Quiet students study, read with pens in hand.
Filthy snow, tire-smeared, lies in the road, is piled on corners and between parking places. Sheets of ice coat the sidewalk; I walk carefully.
50 boxes are out; 15 more wait for the next drive to the PO. The last 14 went to South Station in the Ranger. Yesterday we picked up a jumbo box of 48 tape rolls. I have decided to send my typed journal entries via Media Mail -- that way we have a theoretical backup. I learned this AM that we can send photos via media mail but not a globe. "Not unless you flatten it," said the guy at the PO.
Today I have picked up the mail from the PO Box, mailed items, dropped off used printer cartridges for recycling, and turned in the coins that Mary rolled. I need to cancel travel to a Bat Mitzvah. I feel bad about that, but there is simply too much to do here and too much disarray. We need to conserve what strength we can for the Long Drive, and I developed a nasty head cold last week that I am only now beginning to shake off. Adding another 12 hours of driving and subtracting 3 packing days is just not wise at this point.
My job, right now, is to Cope. Period. Get through the next few weeks as best I can. Take time out when need be, like now, to sit in an uncluttered space, with good Blue Note jazz, alone with my thoughts and the time and space to write them down. Doing so makes me feel less lost, less pressured.
I have sent off a Thank You note to the man who had been my first landlord 20 years ago, after checking to make sure his address was still current. I was living on my own for the first time, and he was the best I could ask for. All told, I have been very, very lucky. I need to remember that. In my poorer moments I envision catastrophe, or screwing up somehow, or unnecessary wastage. Fortunately, I can count my blessings at times like these.
The packing continues to be daunting, but we continue to make progress. We've planned an expedition to the Department of Public Works for Saturday -- can drop off clothes along with other items. The clutter adds to my discombobulation.
Received an email on Thursday asking if I'd like to write some articles, from a colleague who thought we were already settled in FL. I said we're still here, still packing. That if he saw our apartment, he'd know why we're taking a month.
I need to remember that my passion saves me. Until we are settled in and I can get back to my writing and art and music, I will feel lost. I know this. I also know that, God/dess willing, the lostness will end. I am also frightened because there is so much that I have put on hold, and now that I face the prospect of getting back on track I fear further (and irrevocable) derailment.
I also know that I've been alive long enough to know, in my heart of hearts, that nothing is wasted. That there is a Purpose to Things. I can only hope that the worst that happens in this world somehow leads to some rectification. I can't explain it, can only hope. And so, my job is the same as it has always been: to trust the Divine, and at the same time to trust Myself in Partnership with that force. Getting involved in our new community is also a form of Partnership. Taking needed breaks like this, likewise.
Line up the Ducks -- not to shoot, but to nurture.
The price on our Penske rental van has dropped to less than half that at which we originally reserved -- and by calling (actually, about something else), I have gotten the lower rate. So this is how Penske can be lower-cost than U-Haul, and with a newer fleet. Gas will likely cost more, given current world affairs, but overall we are doing well. And given how cheap gas is in this country, I am willing to pay more if it means more conservation in the long run. In fact, the rise in gas prices may be what's led to lower demand for vans, and that lower demand has caused the drop in rental price.
Sometimes I wonder about the Ghosts. If our spirits live on, what form(s) do they take? Do they evolve? Do they transmigrate? Is there a multiplicity of paths? Have my folks joined with each other, or are they separate? What effect does removal from this context have, and what new context(s) arise(s)? I believe there's been too much anecdotal evidence to ignore or discount the possibility that something continues, beyond the non-sentient recycling of our body parts. Sometimes I feel as though I am watched over, but by whom or what? And I know that unnecessary fear is pointless -- that the "necessary" fear is not fear but a sense of caution, of preparation, and an impetus to take correct action.
"Fear is the mind-killer." Frank Herbert, Dune. Very true.
I wonder what my father felt, physically and mentally, while he died -- the thoughts and images going through his head as he willed his body to fail. Was it what he expected? If not, what was different? His death makes me feel my own mortality that much more keenly. My mother's death did not. And yet she is the one whom I invoke more when I speak with people, as I unearth her writings.
Early last week, a segment of the radio program "The Connection" dealt with suicide -- notably its prevention. The guests were doctors; by default, then, they are selling a product. I tuned in after the beginning, don't know if they had any callers saying Look, sometimes suicide is better than the alternative. Especially with the current medical racket. The only calls I heard were from those in favor of prevention in all cases, those who decry the stigma associated with suicide. Whereas, in my own experience, I have found the response to be a positive one, given my father's circumstances. "It takes a lot of guts to do something like that," has been a typical response. It makes me believe that the real secret, the one enforced against free speech, lies with respect to people's curiosity about the type of suicide that really does ameliorate irrevocable suffering. That there really is an exception to the "rule." Fear of suffering is, I suspect, significantly greater than the fear of death. The trick lies in knowing when one is out of options.
God/dess knows, there are many worse ways to go than by one's own hand, at a time and in a place and by a method of one's own choosing.
My mother died a slow death by cigarettes and sweets. My cousin died a slow death by drugs and despair.
The sooner I realize and accept that in the end, we are all lost and none of us has a clue, the better. The only difference lies in the fact that some of us handle the lostness better than others. I keep trying to improve my own technique.
"So, I'm the one who's survived," is a fairly frequent thought. To which I add, "So far." The "crazy" one, the teen who was suicidal in a hostile world. The one with the personas, bless their components of my soul and Divine force and whatever else they are. Sometimes I ask myself, "How'd this happen?"
The answer I come up with is: inner-direction and self-trust. So long as I retain those, I will have Myself. So long as I have Myself, I will survive to the best of my ability and will thrive when the thriving is good.
Background radiation: I am in a public cafe during lunch hour, in Harvard Square, while the Hajj is underway and we (the nation) are on "orange" alert for terrorist activity. Bombs have gone off in Israeli cafes. You never know.
Meanwhile, I popped next door to Formaggio's for a Caesar Chicken Wrap, and got a coffee refill here, so that I could hold onto this table and have lunch. No one's said boo, and I haven't asked permission. There are still tables available, otherwise I'd have given someone else a chance to sit here. A small luxury, taken on my own initiative -- I remember when I was first learning these skills. What may be second-nature to someone else is still novel, and special, to me. No one's complained; if they did, I'd apologize and be on my way.
What world awaits my friend's daughter who is being Bat Mitzvaed? What challenges to her as a young woman-in-formation, as a Jew, as the person she is, taking on whatever other categories she takes on? What kind of person is she now, and is she becoming?
I'll need to send an Easter card soon to my overseas friend. An early one, probably, given our move.
I wonder if my output -- in whatever form -- will be of use, during my lifetime or after. I have always wondered how I could best spend my time here, period. "How do I best proceed?" has been my primary question throughout my adult life. Finding the clear path of Mowrer's concept of "selfishness," rephrased by Blum as, "You are reminded that you must draw first from the well to nourish and give to yourself. Then there will be more than enough to nourish others."
Dreams have been vivid, but they fade when I awaken. Some have involved the packing we do in waking life. Others are more ornate.
I remember the times I was in a creative fugue state and narrowly missed catastrophe -- the car hurtling down the Storrow Drive exit ramp at Longfellow Bridge, the baseball smacking the cement next to my ear at Woburn's Library Park. And, channeled, I had no fear whatsoever -- more an attitude of, "What's the big deal?" as folks ran toward me, calling, "Are you all right?" When I am encased in Visions, they truly are like a force field; at the very least, they protect me from fear. Anything else is open to conjecture.
We are all being tested, always, including me. The tests can be tiny things, but they add up to the big picture.
The world falls away, and I rest in samahdi calm. It's been a long time since I've felt this way -- almost floating out-of-body. Connecting. To what, I don't know, except that it is familiar, and comforting. Will everything be all right? In its own way, whether it appears that way or not. The jazz channels me into a kind of inner strength -- and if there's a way that I can help do that for others, through and toward constructive purposes, then I'll have fulfilled my purpose here -- whether or not I realize that that has indeed happened. Sitting here, I recharge my spiritual batteries.
Summer, 1969, somewhere in the Caribbean. My parents are on the cruise ship Oceanic.
I was in summer camp in upstate New York, two months short of 11 years old, when I received a terse letter from my father. My mother had suffered a heart attack on the boat. Now she was in Kings County Hospital, but everything was all right and I shouldn't worry.
I panicked. I'd have to run far to get to the camp gate and the highway. Down through the rest of the girl's camp, down through the boy's camp. I didn't care. I'd get to the gate, stand by the road, and thumb a ride back to Brooklyn.
But I was not athletic at all, and I screamed when a counselor caught up with me and yanked me back.
I sat in the camp director's office, crying while she read my father's letter. Then the director set the letter down, picked up her phone receiver, and dialed. In a minute she was telling my father, "You are going to come here, pick up your daughter, and take her home. And you're going to do it now."
The next thing I remember I was sitting in the passenger seat. My father scowled as he drove. He had a terrible temper and I tried hard not to move a muscle. During the long drive back to Brooklyn he didn't say a word.
He was 51 years old. My mother was 44 and had almost died.