Hiraeth

I found this word; or rather this word found me. My sturdy Welsh ancestors set aside their trills and guttural dipthongs to craft this whisper — hiraeth. It doesn’t have a direct English translation, but most agree that it represents a longing doomed to be unrequited; a desire fueled by grief and nostalgia; a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was.

I exhale this word as I roam my empty house in search of answers and decisions. Some might believe that an unplanned return to Texas is what I’ve wanted all along. And while there are moments when I ache for the sticky embrace of Houston — when the temperature is -40 degrees, when certain Midwestern pronunciations buzz like static in my eardrums, when sometimes I just plain miss my family — my inner Welshman, stoic and practical, reminds me that one can never really go back home. Besides, Pinterest tells us (in mint green letters on a coral chevron background) that home is where the heart is. Fort Wayne may not have a Sonic, but it sure as shit has my heart. The friendships that the girls and I have cultivated here will last a lifetime. We trained so many people to say “y’all”, y’all.

Hiraeth, I whisper as I avoid packing boxes, thinking of the chemical home where my brain used to live. The cozy and plush seratonin levels that didn’t leave me questioning my worth, my purpose, my will to live. The subdued sheen of confidence that accompanied me in all my endeavors.  That tastefully appointed space is a slum now. Self-loathing hammered holes in all of the walls and doubt grew like mold in all the dark places. What’s left is fragile and weak and not up to code. I couldn’t even convince those who loved me to help me get out. They peered down the ragged hole and saw danger. They told me I was weak, manipulative, broken. Because I didn’t already fear this. They left me there, unwanted.

Still I waver. Which is the home that will never be? Which is the home that never was? I owe everyone a better version of me. At my best, I’m a pretty awesome person. I give, I laugh, I write, I dance. At my worst though, I am broken and contagious and more fragile a person than anyone should have to deal with.

Hiraeth. Either way I’ll be longing. Either way there’s already pain and scars. Either way there will be words I’ll try to forget and actions I’ll try to remember and empty places where I thought love was. Either way I’m adding someone’s hurt to my internal decor. Either way, hiraeth.

 

Grampsy

Yesterday was 18 years since my Grampsy died. I was 18 years old.

I don’t remember when I gave him the name Grampsy, but I decided he needed a name as unique as he was and it stuck. He was my very favorite person in the whole entire world and the pain of his loss has yet to dull. He wasn’t just my grandfather — he was my dad in all the ways that counted.  I wanted him to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. I wanted him to tell bedtime stories to my girls the way he did with me. I wanted him to be there for me forever, but colon cancer had other plans.

He taught me how to throw a baseball and spit further than any boy. He taught me how to correctly hold a viola and bow, though I never managed to play any notes. He taught me about being the hands and feet of Jesus, serving and loving those who needed it most and seemed to deserve it least. He was never too tired play badminton with marshmallows, or to craft the perfect paper airplane, or to answer the million and one questions I had about how things were made. He always cheered for the underdog and found beauty in everything and everybody. He really was one of the best people ever and I still buy him father’s day cards that I keep in a box in the garage.

Losing him is probably the only thing in my life that I will never overcome. I cling tightly to each cherished memory, afraid that if they slip my grasp he will fade. I hoard the woodgrain texture of his fingernails, the scent of sawdust and books, his bizarre scrawl that looked like mosquito legs crawling across the page.

I always balked at the idea of “daddy’s girls” growing up since I had the most amazing mother in the world. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was a daddy’s girl, but my daddy was — and will always be — my Grampsy.

 

 

 

 

 

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like you

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Three years ago marked the anniversary that my dad had been dead longer than he’d been in my life. Anniversaries are weird and so I “celebrated” that one by decoupaging a wine bottle with his autopsy report. As one does. I’m not sure how to top that today–the 20th anniversary of his death–seeing as how I neglected to collect his toenail clippings and a vial of his tears. We’ll make do with writing, shall we?

Three years ago I sought knowledge. Today I avoid it when I can, though it sneaks up and screams “SURPRISE” in my face every time a celebrity overdoses on their drug of choice. The rhetoric flows one way or another, seeking to lionize and villainize in the same breath, blowing my ever-smoldering ember of grief into a bright flame without my consent. My opinion feels uniquely qualified, though I am loathe to offer it because it means I have to further examine how exactly I feel about my father. And as any stripper worth her body glitter will tell you, daddy issues aren’t allowed in the champagne room.

I came across an essay about addiction written by Russell Brand and  it has helped me separate the addict from the person that he was. The only thing I really have left to do is figure out which I remember more; which had a greater role in influencing the person I’ve become; which do I carry more in my blood; which is my father?

The person and the addict were certainly not diametric opposites; both favored long hair, tight jeans, and leather jackets. Both were immensely talented, oddly humorous, and endearing to all. Sparky the person gave me Barbie dolls with Alice Cooper makeup, Steppenwolf lullabies, evening prayers whispered to Stevie Ray Vaughan. In acrobatic guitar solos, I hear him in those spaces between chords, fingers rasping over strings on their way to something else. He was raw talent and rawer anxiety.

Sparky the addict gave me fear. The ability to speak the lie that everything is okay. The urge to escape when things are bad and even sometimes when they are good. The anxiety native to our genes that serves as a giant “self-destruct” button and never when you want it to. Talent as natural as breathing and the inability to make anything of it. The uncertainty of my worth.

I can’t cherry pick what pieces of him I claim, but I do have to finally acknowledge the good with the bad. I got his great bone structure, but also his weird teeth. I got his sense of humor, but also his tendency to use it as a shield. I got his talent, but also his anxiety. And the inheritance I am scared to speak of that finds me slapping on a nicotine patch and dumping my secret wine bottle.

Sparky didn’t like me very much. This was generally accepted, common knowledge in the family. For years I believed it was because I was too smart and too different; he just didn’t know how to relate to me. Now I know it’s because we were too much alike.

safe and sound

I breathe her in as she sits on my lap. Her hair is smoky with ghosts of last night’s fireworks and her breath is still as sweet as a baby’s even though she’ll be 11 this year.

“Hey Avery! Next year you’ll be 12!” I say in my best kindergarten teacher/hostage negotiator voice, trying to distract her with my favorite New Year’s game that always makes everyone feel super old. I’ve got bags o’ distraction tricks and I’m desperate to drag her from the pout she’s been in since I picked her up from her dad’s. It was just going to be a quick, fun overnight visit at Grandma’s before I left to go home: black-eyed peas and cabbage with the family, playing outside with her cousins, visiting with all of the family. But her aunt has been gone for hours, the novelty of the cousins has worn off, and the comfort of Grandma’s room lends itself to nostalgia and eventually tears.

“It’s not fair!” she wails. I rest my cheek against her forehead and feel the warmth of her grief, consuming her wholly.  I reflexively rock her on my lap and she gives in to the tears.

I want to make her feel better. I try reminding her that she has 5 more days to enjoy here in Texas, but I know 5 is a small number compared to the larger one that will go on her whiteboard at home. The girls keep a constant “Days Until We See Dad” countdown in their room. It’s a cheerful endeavor with bubble letters and bright colors. Like the time Allie wrote her first curse word in her diary and doodled hearts and flowers around it. But it’s much more fun with the numbers are getting smaller. Plus this time, I don’t even know the exact number they’ll be able to put up. Whatever it is, it will be written with the stoicism of a prisoner etching tally marks on his cell wall.

I mentally shake out my trusty tricks bag and find a gleaming quarter of an “Authentic Coping Strategy” from the therapist, instead of my tarnished pennies of “Look! Squirrel!” I remind her of everything she loves about Indiana: her friends, her school, her awesome Girl Scout troop, her teachers, her art classes, snow, kittens, the ability to buy vodka at CVS at 10pm on a school night. She finally cracks a smile.

“You know where home really is?” I ask.

“Where the heart is,” she replies with a flat eye-roll, disappointed that I’m trying to pull a cliche out of my bag.

“Nope. It’s right here on my lap. In my arms. Stuck with me. I’ll always make sure you’re safe. I’ll always make sure you can see and talk to your dad as much as possible. And I promise we can always talk, even if it doesn’t help.”

She quiets and curls into me, finally believing me. I keep kissing and rocking and hoping that I’m telling her the truth.

 

Farewell

I stepped out onto my back deck and relaxed muscles I hadn’t known were coiled and tense.  My subconscious had expected a chill in the country dark of my backyard and responded by contracting my shoulders inward as if that pitiful closed parentheses could hold in all of my body heat.  But the air that greeted me was silky and familiar and I settled into the crook of its arm as it cradled me and promised all would be okay.  I knew then this was farewell.

At the very least it was a farewell to summer — a loss I’m learning to grieve every year. In Texas it’s easier to pretend. In Texas, Fall is more of an idea, a styled image, a middle child who might get a moment or two of attention in between the persistent, sticky summer and the lackadaisical, half-assed  winter. In Indiana, Fall is an actual thing with corn mazes, apples on trees, and cold weather. The leaves actually change color and you can’t hide from the proximity of winter. Winter will come early and stay late. She’ll ruin your favorite shoes and try to act like they were already broken. She’ll smack when she chews, mispronounce “espresso”, and never ever EVER use a coaster. You’ll like her once or twice by accident, while in the throes of holiday cheer. You can forgive and forget for a minute, faking idyllic and pretending you missed her. Winter. That bitch.

But for now I have this farewell. I anthropomorphize the scene without its consent. Katydids and crickets music is surely a mournful lamentation. The tree is surely caressing the wind in return, pleading for it not to go.  I hear a rustle, a crack, a bleat but don’t bother trying to find the source. The darkness is so complete it’s the same as closing my eyes.  Sitting on the bench that outlines the deck perimeter, I rest my chin on the splintery rail and stare across the creek.   I wonder how the long e becomes a short i in the pronunciation. I wonder what it means that I’ve started to say “crik” without even being a smartass about it.

I don’t think this farewell is for summer. I’m don’t know if this farewell is sad. I don’t know what to make of any of it. I don’t want to go to sleep or stay awake. All I know right now is the comfort of this breeze and the certainty that it’s leaving.

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Sisters are Cheap

Well, they are when your dad was a musician.  In the 70’s.  With feathery hair, tight jeans, and a shark-tooth earring that brought all the girls to the yard.  I’ve yet to learn how to master that awkward silence filled with mental math and the twitching of fingers when people ask me how many sisters I have.  Said aloud, it sounds more like I’m making up some sort of white trash word problem, with 2 halves from first and one from second and a fourth from third, carry the one, solve for ex, and wash it all down with a jug of moonshine.

One February, three years ago, my husband had dragged me to a dinner at some blogger’s house which I was mostly dreading. Misanthropic extrovert is the best way to describe the love/hate I feel about socializing with new people.  But there were going to be fish tacos and I love fish tacos more than I hate people.  By the end of the night, Shannon and I had moved beyond the sanitized, shrink-wrapped, getting-to-know-you bullshit and were squeeing over Hitchhiker’s Guide and Tori Amos b-sides, and then there was somehow an offhand comment about a half-sister from her musician dad and it was done.  It was like, in her eyes I saw my future in an instant.

When I met Shannon, I was estranged from my own little sister and mourning that loss in unspoken ways.  I had other sisters of course, and other friends.  But sometimes, when you’ve lived a certain kind of life, you need someone else who has also lived that kind of life.  Someone else with daddy/mommy issues. Someone else who knows that surviving tragedy and desperation can make you really strong, but more importantly it can make you really funny. Someone else who recognizes that the truest, purest love can only be expressed with imaginary press releases.

It seems impossible that I’ve only known Shannon for 3 years. She is the best friend I have ever had — making me laugh when I thought I couldn’t, letting me cry when I didn’t know I needed to, loving my girls like they were her own, giving me so much and letting me give back in my own way, showing me that blueberry lemonade malt liquor is thicker than blood.  She’s given me advice, love, BFF necklaces, vampire candy, strength, faith in humanity, a future husband for my eldest, Times Square, the best mashed potato recipe on earth, confidence, and so many eyeshadows.  She’s given me sisterhood and I will hoard it and covet it and cherish it always.

I know the only way I was physically able to leave Texas is because she was leaving too.  And it still feels gross to have her so far away. I love that the West Coast is full of the promise and love she deserves, but I wish we could magically have a pretend 30 minutes in Houston today, sitting on my back porch, the little girls playing in the sand, the older kids finding the line between playing/flirting. We would make awesome guacamole and mediocre Melonades (because we never have the right ingredients), and eat store-bought cake with melty vanilla ice cream. We would laugh and cry and laugh again and yell at kids and sigh deeply and watch a movie and look at old photos and eat some more. Hey, it’s my pretend 30 minutes. I can take whatever liberties I want with the space/time continuum.

Happy birthday, my sweet Shannon.  You have given me so many gifts, but the best one is you. I love and miss you and hope you have a beautiful day.

bestiesnyc 

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foundations, real and imagined

While you were still growing within me, your heartbeats were lead by my own. Every part of me wanted to be of instruction to you, but your hearts found a rhythm of their own. They galloped so fast, exhaustingly fast.  Even after you were born, you raced ahead – my rhythm of protect, guide, nurture overpowered by the steady beat of trust, explore, discover. 

Your enthusiasm for experiencing the world was equal to my determination to protect you from it. I didn’t want to hide you away from every single bad thing – skinned knees, bruised egos, and the occasional concussion are great character builders.  But I wanted for you the greatest luxury of all – the opulent and sumptuous paradise of never knowing true loss, grief or pain.  I wanted you to believe that bad things could never happen to you, that you were safe, that death and disease happened to other people. Basically, I was super-realistic.

As you continued racing forward, you left behind my decadent fantasy world in which nothing could harm you. I tried to drag it along with me, to throw up walls for you when I thought you needed them. But I also tried to teach you to build your own walls. Walls you could climb on top of and scream from if you needed to make your voice heard, walls to keep you safe from people who would hurt you or take advantage of you, walls you could retreat behind and decorate with your own delusions when the path ahead got too scary.

You taught me this week that walls aren’t always the best strategy. When faced with a mean girl, Avery you kept being nice and nicer and nicest, despite my recommendations otherwise.  You didn’t see a mean girl, you saw a hurt girl.  Because of your kindness and unwillingness to give up, you became a friend to her and helped her during a horrific and terrible time in her life. 

Allie, you’re trying and I’m trying to get out of your way. For the first time ever, I don’t know how to counsel you. When faced with someone who doesn’t like me, my reflex has always been to not like them back even harder, or to just not care.  My reflex has been walls, the construction and defending thereof.  My defense is turbo-charged ennui. Deep down, I know I want to be liked, so that I then have the option to not like them first. I’m super-emotionally healthy, right?

The point is I had to build my walls because my life circumstances necessitated them. They kept me from getting more hurt than I was, they helped me section off compartments of my life so that I could function, they made me stronger than I should have been.  I know now that you don’t need those walls because you have your heart.  Your heart that is guiding you to the right choices, made from a place of love and safety that is more luxurious than any fantasy I could have built for you. Please continue to listen to that heart.  If you need a wall, I know a girl, but your heart is stronger and more beautiful than any wall could ever hope to be.