Friday, April 18, 2014

1/40 in 40: Stability

(the first in a series of posts, 40 things I've learned in 40 years)

My siblings and I are getting tattoos when my brother comes to town this summer. We've settled on a hobo theme. Because we grew up everywhere and nowhere and that's really what connects us. We are hobos.

Not no more I'm not.

I've lived in my house for 16 years, I've been in my marriage for 18 years. Been here in St. Louis, contiguously, since fall of 1992. I'm trying really hard to practice stability in the Benedictine sense. I'm not necessarily stable, mind you. I practice stability. This is where I live, this is my marriage, my family, my school, my parish, my neighborhood, my house, my place.

I have a place.

I stay too long sometimes--it took me a long time to finally leave the school where my kids were attending, even when it was toxic to me and them and our happiness. But almost always, it is good to stick around. Stick it out. Keep trying to make it work. Be there. Be here.

It's made me realize, though, taking this vow, that now I'm the one who will be left behind. If I'm not doing the leaving, every two years in a new state, a new school, new faces and enemies and friends, then I'm the one standing here watching others walk away. I've noticed them leave my parish most of all--it doesn't have the same kinds of permanence, after all, you don't purchase a place in a church, you don't marry a church or give birth to it. I suddenly realize folks are gone. Oh.

And people will move away from my block and neighborhood. People will die--one of my neighbors died last week, in fact, someone I was keeping in the back of my head as a resource, someone who teared up when I told him the story of how I was trying to live. Someone who gave me the word "mitzvah" about what I was trying to do with my people. I'm standing here in my backyard, I hear his dog barking and his kids playing basketball, but he's gone away.

I know my stove's quirks. I sit on my back porch and read and hope for people to come home. I count the steps to my parents' house. I know what the smell of the brewery means for the weather to come. I listen to Jake breathe at night. Flowers come up in the spring, leaves turn their colors in the fall. I order the same number at the same Vietnamese restaurant. I hear the creaking of the steps and I'm comforted by this place, my place. I stay so people can find me. I stay so people can use me. I stay so people can always come home and find the same place, the same smells, the same essential sameness.

So much in life is up in the air. So much is a Soviet era numbers station on a shortwave radio, a frequency being kept open. So much is unknown and I can't bear it all. I have to have stability so my self does not slip away in the uncertainty of everything. And being stable, I can be that rock for others.

Still at heart, I'm a gypsy, I'm a hobo--Irish diaspora runs strong in my veins. So there are beautiful spring afternoons like today when the ache to leave is so strong that I feel it like a sneeze behind my facial bones. I want to run, run, run--but I stay.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

40 in 40

I turn 40 this year. My sister-in-law Kaylen wrote a post about the 26 things (I think it was 26) she's learned in her 26 years. I thought about doing the same but realized what a ridiculously long post it would be for me to write, being older and, well, a bit hypergraphic.

So I'm going to write 40 posts. It'll give me something to focus on. I'm thinking on my topics now and will start them soon.

There will probably not be much wisdom, just be forewarned.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Letting go control is not a walk in the park

So it's been a hard couple of weeks and I'm getting used to things a bit at a time. It's hard to have a friend show up in my life all of a sudden and then 11 months later disappear all of a sudden. And I've been doing a lot of brain work since that last Thursday we talked. Lots of sleeping and dreaming and thinking and making things work in my brain. And lots of things I can't say. But there's some mourning and some relief and worry and sadness and missing and so forth. I don't think I'm unique in this; when people disappear, but don't die, just leave everything open and raw, I think it takes a lot of time to adjust to the new reality.

Thing is, he's following what I suggested, and like I said, can't say everything that needs to be said. Can't spill my purse on the table and let you sort through this time.

But I catch myself during the day wondering about the ending, wondering about what might be coming, wondering about the ifs and buts and unsaid things and the unfairness. Not to be selfish, but it's unfair.

Last night I was hunting for my book club book, which I was pretty sure had been shelved in our library. Our library is a small room, two opposite walls floor-to-ceiling shelves, and the wall between a full window overlooking our front porch. The fourth wall is open to the stairwell--just a bannister or whatever you call it. It's a crowded little place with a computer desk built in, and a couch and ottoman dominating the space. I sat on the edge of the couch and stared up, forgetting even the name of the book I was looking for but vaguely remembering that it was beige. Laughable that I would find it. I went shelf by shelf with my eyes and landed on a book I own about saints--both canonized saints and other people (like Dorothy Day) who are saintly. It's called, obviously, All Saints. It's a day by day meditation book.

And something in my head told me to pull that book off the shelf. I thought maybe I needed to read about the saint of the day or something. The impulse was unconscious. I started flipping through and my eye caught on a photo that had been stuck in it like a bookmark. I flipped back.

I found myself staring into the eyes of a former student, Greg, who committed suicide 5 years ago. Five years ago on Troy's birthday, actually. I stared at the photo, which was the front page of the program from his funeral, his terribly sad funeral that was filled with the people who knew and loved him and were not enough to keep him here.

My first thought: he had so much more than Troy does, so many more people, so much more support.

My second thought: Where there's life, there's still hope.

I didn't flip to the saint of the day. I shut Greg back into my book of all saints and put him back on my shelf.

I've been ruminating on it, and the Cooper's Hawk that landed on a tree across the street to dine on a mourning dove last week. Thinking about how God uses the tools God has--the people we know, the things in our life, nature--to communicate. How if we just listen and stop being jaded about coincidence, we can hear God speaking.

I think the words I am meant to hear are those: where there's life, there's still hope. And as that Cooper's Hawk/Troy Cooper ate on our street/ate tomatoes at my table and then flew away/went back to his normal life when it was full/he was ready to try his real life again, I have to let go of the idea that I have any control over anything besides the smallest bits of my mundane life.

I am left with the feathers, I am left with funeral programs and sweatshirts and other ephemera.

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; They're all that's left you

This isn't the end. But God is letting me know that it is my end, for now.

ok. ok. ok. It's not what I want but I'm not in control. I can't. God can. I think I'll let him.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


It would have been enough.

It would have been enough to found Troy on Facebook and seen that he was all right after all. Or not all right. But still alive. Instead, I got to meet him and his son and bring him into my circle, my life.

It would have been enough to know that my actions when he was a kid were the right ones. Instead, I got clumsy heartfelt expressions of love and appreciation and kinship.

It would have been enough to help him out a bit, get to know him, be his friend. Instead he got to live in my home, in the room next to mine, share my family's life intimately for 2 1/2 months.

It would have been enough to know what I did was right, that he appreciated it and we were connected somehow, in ways only God understands. Instead I hear him using words I taught him, I see him trying to do the right thing, to pay it forward in his own broken way.

It would have been enough for my friends and family to just silently accept that I was completely out of my mind and let me come to my senses. Instead I got so much affirmation and consolation and understanding.

Dayenu, the Jews say this week. God, it would have been enough. But it was so much more.

Dayenu, dayenu, dayenu.

And now, I go out into Holy Week richer, wiser, and clearer than I've been in years.


Saturday, April 05, 2014

Eleven Months

Troy pretty much stepped out of my life on Thursday. His girlfriend called the cops on me, claiming that I'd assaulted her son. I had not, and in fact the accusation, according to the officer, wasn't even assault--it wasn't anything. But he told her he'd talk to me. So he did. After I came down from that adrenaline rush, I texted back to Troy, who was on his way home from work and freaking out and apologizing to me. I told him I was pretty angry at the moment, that I was filing for an order of protection on Friday, and that I didn't want to say anything more. He told me how sorry he was, so sorry, said some curse words that I think were directed towards her rather than me, and we left it at that. I did not call him back.

I cleaned house today, sun shining all around and Jake and the girls at Comicon downtown. Everywhere there are reminders of what accumulated between us in the past 11 months. His room--my guest room, that is, has his taxes copies on the mantel, and there's still some cash in the tin. There's a sign on the shelf next to the bed, a metal sign that reads, "Caution Overhead Work". His bike is in the basement. His brother's chess set is on the the table in the guest room. Mail arrived today for him, an OSHA card. I still have his checks (he took half with him, left the other book of them with me just in case/for safekeeping).

Less tangible: beer bottle caps on the table next to the last tomato; my rye bottle's label is colored in with a sharpie that he used to put a shamrock on his hand and mine on St. Patrick's day. His son's toy motorcycles and guns. A few pairs of socks, a tshirt. A can of shaving cream in the drawer he used in the bathroom. In my school bag, copies of his apprenticehip certificate and journeyman's card. A black hoodie sweatshirt from his union that I will wear until it falls apart.

He also left me with some new music: Amos Lee, Jack Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan. A deep understanding of labor politics. My favorite beer. How to develop rituals in friendship. A better perspective on my own life and history. Some really strong friendships with people who saw me through. A deeper faith in God. An appreciation for recovery groups. A better sympathy and understanding of addiction. An edgy bravery and boldness.  A newfound connection to my extended family. Knowledge of how to fill out an order of protection, how to bail someone out of jail, how to do many strange things I never did before. And don't forget the biggest thing he gave me: an ending to the story left unfinished in May 2000.

At one point this summer I turned to Dawn and sighed, "Tell me it's not for nothing." She looked me straight in the eye and shook her head. "It is not for nothing."

In the end I got more than I gave.

Monday, March 31, 2014

So Yeah

So yeah.

What was it Dorothy Day said? All we can do with people is love them?

I am probably getting a contract for next  year's school year and I'm going to sign it. I am pretty sure a friend isn't getting one and I'm sad about that. She should have. And I have a friend at another school who knows for sure that she's not getting one in the coming weeks. She's worked there for 6 or 7 years and they are screwing her over.

I'm getting one and I have mixed feelings. But I'm going to sign it.

10 months ago I met Troy in the park after so many years, said hello, my goodness, it is amazing to see you again. Yesterday I met him in the same park and we said goodbye, wow, this can't be reconciled, I love you but.

Maybe it's not goodbye. We'll see how it goes. Part of me is ready for goodbye, I feel so defeated but I am. And a big part of me wants to wake up and fight again. Not with him--for him. But that's not what he's looking for this time. And he's wearing me out.

Fiona is almost a teenager and on my last nerves.

Daisy and Fiona will not stop getting on each other's nerves.

Billy got his hair cut and looks like my dad now.

This is a hard Lent. So many hopes and so many trials and so much to do and so tired of it.

I kind of just want to get a bunch of tattoos and read the Game of Thrones series. Drink iced coffee in the mornings and switch to beer or wine when the sun starts to set.

But that's soon enough. Easter and then May and tumble down to summer. It will come. And then I will do all that. All of that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Things that Happened in Chicago

We went to Chicago. Here are ten things that happened.

1. Jake and I managed to navigate public transportation with 3 kids in a city we didn't know. I know Chicago is only a few hours' drive from St. Louis but we hadn't been there in forever and it isn't a place we ever learned.

2. I listened to my friend Elyssa about all sorts of good Chicago advice and we followed it best we could. It's good to have a native to give tips about a place.

3.We went to museums. I hadn't been to the Field Museum or Shedd Aquarium since I was 10, and I'd never been to Science and Industry. They were awesome. We got a city pass which turned out to be a good deal for a family of 5. Because being from St. Louis where everything is free? Yikes.
4. It snowed. Yes, after this winter of WINTERS, we chose to go NORTH for spring break. And it snowed. Of course it snowed.

5. We ate cheap and made sure to take advantage of the free hotel hot breakfast every morning. It allowed us to eat crackers and wraps while out and about and not succumb to museum cafes and ridiculous things like that. But we did take the kids out for pizza our first afternoon there.
6. There was an exhibit of the history of bicycles at the Museum of Science and Industry. This made me happy.

7. I was glad I already knew how to use my camera and had a replacement phone with a camera that worked again. I used them both throughout the week. The aquarium is not the place to learn how to use your camera.
8. The train up was good; the train back was awesome. The idea of walking all over creation and then driving home, navigating through traffic and figuring everything out? Exhausting. It was nice to chat with my family and read and snooze.

9. I saw a guy hail a cab in real life for the first time. I am not a big city girl, I realized at that moment.

10. I finished Game of Thrones and figured out how to download Clash of Kings on my phone. I read and read and read.

We had a good time. Our next trip, however, will be to the country.