Mandolin (In The) Wind

Mandolin (In The) Wind

It was about five years ago. I had just walked into the church where the meetings were held. And there she sat. Raging red hair up under one of her beautiful knitted creations. Yellow was the yarn color I think. The people had begun to come in, most going to the back to get their coffee from the giant pots with spouts that were up on the counter in front of the kitchen. It was early thirty in the morning when these men and women of all walks gathered for a spiritual start to their day. On many days to follow, she would be in that kitchen. With those pots, filling giant paper filters with coffee grinds to make coffee for people who needed it. Giving back for what she had received.

But on this day, my first time here, I saw her first. Almost as if she were the only one in the room that had easily a couple dozen sleepy people, exchanging hugs and greetings. Without a word, her look at me spoke volumes. I was guessing it to say, “Who is THIS new person? I don’t know her, and I am not sure I want to.”  Deluded by my thought that I could read her mind, I approached her table and sat down, introducing myself, almost defiant. Reluctantly, she received my gesture. She was kind and smart and funny right off the bat, as she sat knitting, which she was always doing when we were at meetings together. We bonded immediately.

I was new to this group, but not new to the rooms. And this became my family and my home. And she was one of my closest siblings there. A former student at Harvard University, she was as brilliant as her red hair. Articulate too. And if you looked up the phrase rigorous honesty, you might find her picture there. I loved her for that, among other things. 

 I remember one time with her that stands out from the rest. (The rest includes a wild weekend we shared in a room together for a conference with 2,000 other people and her indulging my boy watching when my eyes should have been focused on a podium at the front of the room.) We were all seated in a children’s Sunday School room, a bunch of full-grown children, also known as adults, in tiny chairs, humbling and beautiful in my experience. When it came to her turn, she opened her book to read. This was not one of the books that were stacked up on the table for the use of the members who might grace the meeting on any given day. This brown paper-covered pocket-sized book belonged to her. And you could tell she had used it, loved it, devoured it. Had it been one of those cardboard children’s books, the ones that teething children can chew on and still understand the story, hers was the adult version. Warn from the turning of the pages and the copious notes in her hand there in the margins. That book spoke louder to me than anyone’s share that day. Except for one. Hers. After she read from her loved on Velveteen copy, her opening remark was “This shit’s hard.” I don’t know if she said anything else. And it didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that I loved her from that moment on. And wanted to know her better. 

She was slightly younger than me, but our inner kids got along great. Two quick wits, both single, commiserating about that and who we each thought was cute that we knew. Her home was humble and spotless. Bed made, dog well-loved. She always had the Cadillac vacuum cleaner, which she used in her cleaning jobs and every day in her home. I have to tell you, I felt vacuum shame. Mine only comes out about once or twice a month. And after learning that she vacuumed every day, I always think of her on those two days a month I get my jalopy out of the closet.

I learned in time that our connection was for good reason. We shared more than just trouble with substance. We had a common bond of being in bondage to brain chemistry that can be quite challenging to live with and painful to be sober for at times. I have been fortunate to maintain my sobriety during the dark times in my life. She was not so fortunate. I suspect demographics and available care and money played a part. Trauma had a starring role. I do know that her journey had been a struggle from the start. But for most of the years I knew her, she always pushed off the bottom. Until she didn’t.

About a year after we met, we were both in the same safe place dealing with those brain chemistry issues that could be plaguing. We had shared stories of our experiences here over the time we were friends. That is a bond only people like us who know each other can comprehend. I can only imagine it resembles the bond of soldiers who have seen action. I only wish she had gone there one more time. For her sake, and for the sake of her two children.

A mutual friend called me today to say that she had died. I learned from another that she had been found, alone.  My first thought was that I did not act on it the last time I had the urge to reach out. I am not saying that I think I could have saved her. All I am saying is I wished I had heard her voice one more time.  

After hearing this news, I tried to do what was in front of me. I walked into the grocery store to get a few things. And before I could get to the fifth and final item on the list, I broke down in the aisle. I was on the phone with a friend and while I stood there sobbing, A woman walked up to me, seemingly out of nowhere. She was several inches shorter than my 5’10” frame, had gray hair, neatly done, pretty blue eyes behind perfect fake lashes and she was wearing black. She reached up to me, gave me a hug, as if she had been assigned to me and spoke deliberate words into the ear that did not have the phone to it. “I understand. My father died yesterday.” And with that, she turned on her heel and was gone.

I had debated stuffing my feelings until I got in my car. I was shaming myself for even feeling sad. But I permitted myself, with the inner pep talk to say there was no shame in grieving out loud in public. And look what happened. My grief was seen by her grief. And we were able to comfort each other, even if for just a moment. Then, as I turned towards the next aisle, my friend still holding me up on my phone against my head, I looked through tearsinto the eyes of a man in a golf shirt mouthing the words, “Are you okay?” And the woman with the cart coming up behind him came to see if I needed anything. These words cheapen the experience. But it was spiritual. God was all over that grocery store. 

I got my fifth item, a drink called Peace Tea, which I am sipping as I write, went into my day with the reminder that life is fleeting, precious, and can end at any moment. I had already been mindful of this because I had been reflecting on the fact that this weekend, I will be 19 years free of breast cancer. And a couple of days after that marks the one-year anniversary of a longtime close friend’s death, who also went to that church for morning coffee, from Covid. So all of this has me wanting to honor their memories, while giving proper respect for their loss, by living my best life. Something I take for granted at times.

The picture I chose here is one I have hanging in my house. I bought it in the months after Kate Spade’s death in 2018 to go with my black and white polka-dot Kate Spade bedding. I named it Kate in her memory. Her death made me sad too. But for my purposes here,I thought it was a beautiful way to picture my friend who has passed on, perhaps in a blue knitted hat around that beautiful, long red mane.

This poem by Emily Dickinson, was sent to me by a friend who was also a fixture in that same kitchen I referred to earlier. I think it is a good goal to aspire to. 

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain:

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.”

My House

My House

(Master Bedroom by Andrew Wyeth)

My House-is a very very very fine house. Two stories that tell so many more.  The stairway to the top is made of 12 steps because I qualify for enough 12 step programs to build a stairway to Heaven. Which goes well with the fact that at my age, I have a doctor for every orifice.

I came in through the kitchen window and then I fell into the bar. Food and alcohol were what kept me alive in their time. The food is supposed to do that, but not in the way those four slices of Wonderbread covered in Hellman’s did. They filled a love-shaped gaping hole in a 7-year-old girl with a toothless grin and long, stringy toe-headed hair. I had just lost my date to Saturday morning cartoons when my dad and only friend died. We were supposed to meet in his giant red leather chair at the top of the stairs. The chair sat next to his smelly pipes on a table in the family room looking down into the kitchen where the mayonnaise lived. Instead, I was greeted by the minister and my mother who told me that my dad had gone away in an airplane and wasn’t coming back. “We interrupt this episode of Tom and Jerry to bring you the first big lie in your life.”

The bar wasn’t that messy but it still needed clean up in order to stay alive. I was groomed for that one.  I instinctively knew that no was a complete sentence and I used it at age 12 when the drunk man in the bar where my mother had taken me asked me to dance. My mother took my no away from me, making me dance with him anyway. That started a boundariless tango with alcoholic partners who I seem to attract still today, whether they are drinking or not. I was only at the bar for a little while, but long enough to lose my car and my virginity and a baby and my pride.

The bedrooms of my life tell many stories beyond their unspoken law to be used for sleep and sex only. I truly hope I’ve heard them all, but they say you can only say “yes” or “I don’t know” to a certain question about what or who may have gone down in that room.

I keep a king-sized bed in my bedroom today even though I live alone. I am holding space since the universe is going to bring the person to share it with me in due time. I end my days and take my naps there with room to spare for me and my one-eyed cat named Atlas. Besides, I need the extra space so that my mother’s shame for having a vagina with feelings has a place to sleep too. I carry that for her like a dutiful daughter even though her box that was shared with the others’ husbands is in a box in my living room with the rest of her.

The dogs need a place to sleep too. They were my only source of love in Connecticut after the household on 2 acres lost its head. Throughout my life, the dogs have been welcome to sleep with the humans. The smell of a wet dog could go under the aromatherapy label of “Unconditional Love” if you ask me. There were 14 dogs total over the years, who took turns sleeping and playing in shifts,  leaving their fragrant mark on the beds and my heart.

No day today ends until I strap on my CPAP mask. I am a top gun pilot call sign Luna who flies top secret night missions that must be really stressful because I grind the shit out of my teeth and often wake up sweaty and exhausted.

The office has been neglected. That is where the business of living is meant to be managed. The files for taxes and divorce decrees live there. As do the unreconciled numbers and untold profits and losses. Currently, there is a “to be filed” pile spilling for attention and it is getting that.

I went reluctantly into the big room upstairs just last fall. Pain and the pattern of my feelings of abandonment that far outweighed the current day cause were screaming for attention. In my house, this is the room that knows the story from its beginning. Where the family and the disassociation originated. I have known about this one for many years but been too afraid to go all the way in and take my rightful seat. 

I visited there half my life ago, but I heard people sharing their pain of origin and mine was quite happy hiding under the stories of pizza and booze binges I used to survive the war zone inside of our house down the street from the yacht club.

I don’t know what I was so afraid of. The unknown, I guess. Much like the Wizard turns out to be no more than a blow-hard little man behind a big curtain, this room is just a room that needs love, gentleness, humor, and respect. To get in, I had to push against a stack of busted up mismatched brown wooden chairs that were blocking the door. I didn’t put them there, but it is up to me to move them and find my seat. This room has cobwebs in the glare from the big window whose light comes through in spite of the yellow film from neglect. The light is so important you know. Without it, there is no life. And I want all of what is left of mine.

I am using the manual that tells me what to do to get that attic room in order. It starts with washing the window in three steps in order to let the light in. Then comes the decluttering. I am not there yet in this room, but it served me well when I  cleaned out the kitchen and tossed that old crusty green white bread in the trash.

Hey, did you know that even spices have an expiration date? I digress.