Making the Heart Grow Fonder

When I have conversations about quarantine — which is, unsurprisingly, all the damn time — there is always a moment where I mention that I haven’t visited my family since February. (Presidents’ Day weekend, to be exact.) Whoever is in the conversation expresses some level of sympathy, and the conversation moves on.

I realized the other day that saying I haven’t visited my mother, brother, and sister since February doesn’t mean anything. I said it in April, said it in June … But some of the people I talk to maybe visit their families once a year, so my lament doesn’t hold any weight in their understanding, while it’s huge for me.

For the last several years, I’ve been visiting my family once a month. I’ve missed a month here and there, but generally, I’ve held my schedule. I visit because I love them and they are a few states away from me, and I miss them. I also visit because they love me and my being in the same place with them eases some of the tension in the air there. It gives us a chance to have conversations we don’t have over phone or email, let’s us do the regular maintenance requires on those ties that bind, gives us opportunities to laugh at foolish inside jokes, to look at old photos … and just be alive in the same space, together.

And I haven’t been to visit in five months. It’s starting to feel like a year. And the virus is still rampaging, and my job is staying virtual for the fall semester, so it might really be a year.

In these five months apart, I’ve missed each of their birthdays: first my sister’s early in lockdown, when we thought it might not last too long, then my mother’s, and just over a week ago, my brother’s. In about 6 weeks, my own birthday will be coming up. It’s on a Friday this year, so I would definitely have been spending it with them. My mother turned 84 last month.

Yes, I sound whiny. I am whiny. I know that I’m incredibly lucky. I am safe and healthy and working from home. My family is safe and healthy — even though my brother and sister are both officially “essential” and still have to leave the house and work. Our broader circle of immediate family are mostly safe and healthy (our Texas family is in the hot-zone with the virus creeping closer every day). I’m lucky. But that doesn’t mean I’m unscathed. I don’t make a lot of noise about what COVID is stealing from me, about the ways my life has changed since the start of lockdown, but that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling it.

Absence is purported to make the heart grow fonder. I suppose. But I’m already supremely fond of my family. All this absence is adding up to sadness and frustration.

I need one of my mother’s hugs.

That’s not how love works, redux.

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter …

Yes, almost half a month into epistolary poems. I haven’t reached that crossover point, the moment that happens a lot of the time in April when I suddenly realize I’m enjoying working with the form, even when I have so much still to learn and work through. I’m no longer feeling as if I’m in a pitched battle with the form, and that seems like for-real progress.


Unscarred, Not Unscathed
Twenty-five, power and control

I want to sit with you
on the train ride home after the first date.
Could I warn you,
convince you?
I want to say
stop, sweet girl.
That man will hurt you.
Not with his hands —
he will never strike you.
But you will be years recovering.
I am still recovering.

I want to sit with you
and tell you the sick you feel in your gut
isn’t a giddy tickle of new love.
That’s your fear response,
your body sensing a predator,
just as he scented prey
the first time you smiled at him.
I am still recovering.

I want to say
you deserve so much better
than his shaming, his belittling, his insults.
He is the story you’ll never tell anyone.
He is every cruel question,
every angry blame you’ll hurl at yourself.
I want to shield you
call out his lies.
I know you learn so much in these two years,
but your soft heart shouldn’t bear the cost.
I am still recovering.

I want to sit with you,
I want to say you are strong.
I know you will resist him,
won’t give over the total control he’ll demand,
you’ll stand and walk away when you finally see him.
And that will save your life.
I am still grateful.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Getting by with a little help from our friends.

Rearranging my position
On this friend of mine who had
A little bit of a breakdown.
I said breakdowns come
And breakdowns go.
What are you gonna do about it,
That’s what I’d like to know … *
The all-important question that I won’t be asking anyone any time soon.
Had a troubling conversation earlier with a friend who is definitely entering cabin-fever-freak-out territory. She’s been home longer than I have and called me today to discuss some catastrophe options she has been debating with herself.
Let me just say here that discussing — in a level of painful detail — catastrophe options is not a thing I want to be spending my time doing out loud. It’s bad enough that I have these thoughts from time to time. I don’t need to say them into the cosmos.
My friend is really scared, and I feel for her. We are scared. Most of us, maybe especially here in New York City, are scared. That’s real. And the reality of it makes it hard to take on someone else’s fears along with our own.
I said this to my friend, and she laughed. She acknowledged that she’d had “a stress explosion” all over me. “But,” she said, “didn’t I also give you today’s blog post?”
And look at that. She did.
I don’t want my friend to be so scared. She’s having trouble being home alone for such an extended period of time. That’s a problem I’m not having, so I tried to help her think of ways to fill her time more effectively. What she really needs, of course, is not to be on lockdown. I can’t do that for her. I offered to spend time with her virtually, as long as that time wasn’t spent thinking of all the terrible things that could become realities. I definitely can’t do that for her. We’re going to try streaming movies together. I hope something about that experience helps her.
It’s hard to take care of people from a distance. But this is what we have. We have each other long distance. We have whatever ways we can reach out, whatever ways we can offer calm, whatever ways we can be a listening ear, whatever ways we can offer a welcome distraction. Whatever ways.
__________
* Paul Simon, “Gumboots” (Graceland)

It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Contact

Today was better than yesterday. There was a little weepiness when my work hours began, but then things smoothed out, brightened.

It kind of had to be a better day because I started it so wonderfully, listening to the lovely, peaceful-spirited Okorie Johnson (aka OkCELLO) playing his soul-embracing music to sing up the sun.

The ways people are finding to find and share themselves during this period of self-isolation is beautiful and inspiring.

We crave connection, right? Even those of us who are happy alone at home, sometimes we want to know that someone’s out there, someone’s looking for us, listening for us. This need makes me think of Peter Gabriel’s “I Have the Touch” …

I’m waiting for ignition, I’m looking for a spark
Any chance collision and I light up in the dark
There you stand before me, all that fur and all that hair
Oh, do I dare, I have the touch
Wanting contact
I’m wanting contact
I’m wanting contact with you

We want contact. So we’re creating it, we’re shining our lights at each other, hoping the sparks catch long distance.

I’m doing my part, adding to that reaching out. Tonight I had a cross-country zoom writing date and I’ll be hosting a zoom storytelling event on Friday.

I’m closing out the night listening to the final set of D-Nice’s house party on Instagram live. I’m already in bed, so no dancing for me, but I’m enjoying the energy and the thousands of people listening along with me — 32,600 when I first logged on (including an actual cavalcade of bright lights: Mc Lyte, Valerie Jarret, Halle Berry, Chuck D, Ruth E. Carter, Laila Ali, Dule Hill, and the Rock)! His Prince set — a gift to Ms. Berry — almost made me miss posting on time!!

This might have to become a shelter-in-place habit!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Lost in the Woods, Part 3

And, as I got into writing the story of being lost in Thatcher Park with my younger sister’s Girl Scout troop, I realized I was telling that story as if it was the first time I’d been lost in the woods … only to have a memory of an earlier experience of being lost. And so …

First memory of being lost in the woods: When I was 12, I was at summer camp in the Adirondacks. It was my sixth and final summer at camp. It was, in fact, my last night at camp. And a boy I liked who liked me asked me to skip that evening’s farewell event and sneak off with him to climb a rocky, wooded, giant hill we called a mountain. The mountain was on the edge of camp property, blooming up behind the ceramics studio.

It was crazy that anyone would ask me to sneak off and do anything. I was a painfully good girl at 12, and breaking the rules so dramatically should have been an impossibility for me. Should have been. But it was the last night of my last summer. There was no possible punishment anyone could hand down. And, even with the risk of punishment, I really liked The Boy. And I’d never see him after camp. That hike in the woods would be the only time we’d ever be alone together. I made a strong show of agonizing over his invitation — talked a girl friend, talked to a guy friend — and then I said yes. I mean, of course. Because that was always going to be my answer.

The mountain we were set to climb was the first serious hike many campers went on. It seemed kind of like a baby climb, but it was trickily steep in places and the trail was awkward. It was a small mountain, however, a baby one, and it seemed reasonable to think that, if we slipped away after dinner, The Boy and I could climb it and get back to camp before lights out. The Boy had arranged to borrow a friend’s watch so we could chart the progress of our evening against the timing we imagined for the big event happening in the Quonset hut.

And so, after dinner that night, The Boy and I — circling from different directions, naturally — met up near the big kilns, joined hands and headed into the trees.

It was nice. We talked, we made jokes, we wondered if anyone might have noticed our absence. I wondered if maybe, just maybe, I might be moments from my first kiss.

We stopped holding hands when the trail narrowed and we needed to walk singe file. And we stopped chatting when the climb got steeper and we needed our breath. And then we reached a small rock face and looked at each other and acknowledged that we’d never seen it on any of our times up the mountain in the past. We sat on a benchlike outcropping in the rock and determined — quite calmly, as I remember — that we’d gone off course and hadn’t been following the right trail … or any trail at all, perhaps, given how rough the path had been.

We sat for a while to look at the pretty view — trees, trees and more trees — and then decided to keep climbing. Yes, despite knowing we were lost, we chose to go back into the woods and wander around some more. Don’t try to make it make sense.

Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be a bad idea. We didn’t find the top of the mountain, and we didn’t find the trail. And, when we finally decided we should head back, we didn’t find anything we’d seen on the way up, including the rock face where we’d sat.

It bears noting that I wasn’t scared. As I said in the last story, I wasn’t afraid of wilderness when I was a kid. Being in the forest with no idea of how to get out and the sun setting … probably it should have frightened me. I even knew that bears lived in those woods. I’d seen bears more than once in my time at camp. I surely should have been scared, but no. I was fine. I was annoyed to be lost because putting energy into finding our way seemed sure to mean no first kiss. I was annoyed, but not scared.

As luck would have it, The Boy and I wandered around in a kind of perfect way. When we finally stumbled enough out of the trees to see civilization, we were right near The Boy’s tent. Who knows how we’d managed to walk horizontally across the side of the mountain when we’d thought we’d been walking down the mountain, but there we were.

And, upon checking the cleverly-borrowed watch, it turned out that we weren’t lost for as long as it had felt while we were lost. We had time, in fact, to sit in The Boy’s bunk and talk about how much we liked each other and would miss one another … and — HALLELUJAH! — share the all-important first kiss! All that before running down to the Quonset hut and slipping into the audience (from different entrances, of course) without anyone noticing we’d been missing.

And that was my first lost-in-the-woods story. A few firsts that night: breaking the rules in a big, kind of technicolor way, getting lost in the woods, kissing a boy. Quite the trifecta for meek-and-mild me.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot