_____[130]

Clock illustrating how long it has been since a _____[74] and her mom shared their _____[130] at the conclusion of a very brief phone call.

_____[173]

A Prayer for Owen Meany opened to a page that discusses the Shivers

A rambling rumination to illustrate _____[173]

Revisiting my shoetube.tv blog post for the illustration of _____[41], I noticed that it was written exactly five years before the date of the Boston Marathon bombing which made me feel queasy. As I sat with that queasiness,  I discovered the entry _____[173]. Because of some questions that arose about how I developed this dictionary during a recent interview with Melanie Brooks, author of Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma, I decided that this might be a useful way to unravel my process. So what follows is the bumpy journey to figuring out that_____[173] was worthy of inclusion.

Having just been to the fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing to record the illustration for_____[116],  I was unnerved by the temporal symmetry. A decade ago, elements in my post felt like concrete constants in the equation of my life and I did not feel the clock ticking down on that certainty. (Do other people feel this way post_____[27]? I get terrified that itemizing out all these entries could seem self indulgent or wallowing needlessly in pain. (Would identifying this idea be relevant to others who are grappling with tragedy? Would it make them feel less crazy or alone?))

When my parents used to ask me about what I wanted to accomplish in five years, I never guessed how much potential for change existed within that unit of time. During the years between Lizzie’s Disney Marathon and terrorism altering the course of the Boston Marathon, I could hardly process all the new algorithms of my reality. Most of my concrete constants had been revealed to be dependent variables. For example, just one death transformed my sweet rocketship building nephew into a semi_____[74], Lizzie into a widow, and me into_____[41]. And really all the aforementioned redefining of identities happened in an instant not over five years. (Are these details useful then for helping us to reimagine how we want to live the rest of our lives? Do they teach us something…even if it is just to be more mindful of small choices that we make?)

A Prayer for Owen Meany has been hanging out in the Clary and Cimermanis Little Free library for almost a year. It is one of my favorite books and it reminds me of my mom so I decided to snag it one day to look for more evidence of negative space entries. Rereading chapters at random, I stumbled onto Owen talking about “THINGS THAT GIVE YOU THE SHIVERS.” (Ok, so this is a literary reference to what I experienced when I first noticed this_____[173] in the shoetube post .Would this be enough to sway the editors at the Oxford English Dictionary? Well, probably not but it is enough for me.) 

_____[49]

Excerpt from an email interview with Penny Gold illustrating _____[49]

 

I highly recommend viewing Penny’s  website documenting her show LOSS: An Exhibit of Quilts from August 20-26, 2016. Her quilts eloquently investigate the process of grieving for her son, Jeremy Gold Amor, who died in July 2004.
 

Penny Gold: There was quite a bit of online response (Facebook, Instagram) to my “Self-Portrait, Year 2” quilt. One thread developed after a question was posed about why I chose the words “I AM A WOMAN WHOSE CHILD IS DEAD” rather than “I AM A MOTHER WHOSE CHILD IS DEAD.” I answered, “Because I am no longer a mother; Jeremy was my only child.” Many people responded, “But you will always be a mother!” This seems a misguided response to me, people thinking it’s supportive, but it’s really a denial of the nature of the loss.

kK: If there were a word to describe being a parent who outlives their child, would you want to have a separate word for a parent whose only child dies? I guess I am wondering if part of the loss for you was different because you lost Jeremy and a huge part of your identity.

PG: I think that most of the experience of being a person who has lost a child is the same, whether there are other living children or not. For example, I think that the quilts I made about loss are likely to resonate with anyone who’s lost a child.  When I chose words for “Self-Portrait, Year 2: Beneath the Surface,” it didn’t occur to me to choose, “I am a woman whose only child is dead,” and I’m glad it didn’t. The word “only” would emphasize distinction from others, and the power of the quilt is that its message reverberates with people who have experienced a variety of losses; one can readily substitute “mother,” “husband,” “friend,” etc. for “child.”

On the other hand, there are some significant differences in losing an only child.

  • I am no longer a mother, which is not the case for someone who has other children. That role, that way of being in the world, is no longer mine (even while there are other young people with whom I have a role that draws on my past experience as a mother).
  • I no longer have the kind of direct connection to a long-term future that I felt when I knew my child would be living in it. This is sad, but also a kind of secret relief – I sense that I have less acute distress about global warming and many other hazards on the horizon because I will be gone and my child won’t be having to live in them.
  • I won’t have the comfort of a child’s caring and concern in my old age. I know that’s not something a parent can count on, but I was able to contribute to the care of my parents in their last months, and it was a blessing—for me, and I think for them also.
  • In the wake of Jeremy’s death, my husband and I could fall apart and look to others to care for us and help us, without having ourselves to care for other children.  I’m sure other children can be a comfort for parents in the wake of a child’s death, but to have to think about one’s other children – who themselves have suffered a huge blow in their sibling’s death – would be an additional burden.

And the fear that what happened to one child could happen to another; we were spared that.  But here I’m imagining others’ experience, and can really only speak of my own.

_____[25]

Blog post illustrating _____[25]

Originally posted on the Bootstrap Compost blog on Posted on 

Delicacies from the Dregs: the Spirit of Life, Compost and Rebirth

Who would have ever guessed that your table scraps would keep my brother’s quirky spirit alive? As Bootstrap Compost geared up for their second Compost Week!, I thought they would appreciate knowing how my husband, Jason, and I had used our first batch. After they read my email, they invited me to share my story with the larger Bootstrap community.

Original tomatoes from Patrick’s garden

I grew up in a very eccentric family. My older brother, Patrick, was legendary among our friends for the obsessive way that he dove into subjects ranging from paranormal phenomenon (he contacted scientists at MIT about his theories on sonar problems in finding Loch Ness…when he was in the fifth grade) to physics to the plight of the American Chestnut. No one is sure why he decided to grow 75 heirloom tomato plants in the early months of 2012. He had never really shown any interest in the fruit before but according to his wife, he spent hours nurturing them and conversing with them as they grew to over 6 feet tall!

On August 25, 2012, an SUV crossed the median of a highway in upstate New York and crashed into my parents’ convertible. My mother, father, and Patrick were instantly killed. At the time Jason, our mutt, Kwaq7aj’ (The 7 is silent and it is pronounced Quacks), and I were in the midst of moving. We were crashing at our dear friend, Nicole’s, apartment when the police arrived to notify us. May you never have to know the dizzying sense of being so fundamentally lost and shattered.

First seedlings in the cup

Over the next two weeks, my only remaining sibling and I were consumed with the grim tasks of contacting friends and family as well as planning memorials, funerals, and burials in Boston and Chicago. When we arrived at Patrick’s house in Illinois, his plants were producing a diverse spectrum of remarkable tomatoes. Their vibrant hues and odd shapes made me smile and reminded me of how Pat could sneak levity into the most solemn or saddest events. I packed up several different varieties in a plastic container and clung to the idea that we would plant them once we were able to move in to our new home.

I was heartbroken as the tomatoes began to rot in Nicole’s fridge while we waited for our mortgage to finalize. Unfortunate glitches prevented us from being able to purchase our lovely house until October 19. I send out oodles of gratitude to our realtor John Dean, our attorney Kevin Dwyer, our mortgage broker Kevin Greeley, our insurance agent, Kevin Lackey, and our seller Joseph Abbondanza for miraculously negotiating out a solution just in time for my birthday. It was a phenomenal gift to simply be able to mourn in a space of our own.

Potting tray of seedlings

I had never harvested my own seeds and as I sat there with tweezers sorting through the awful smelling Tupperware dish in February, things seemed doomed to failure. Jason and I planted what we could in orderly, well marked rows and threw the rest of the sour slop into a used plastic cup with some dirt. After three weeks of grow lights, diligent watering, and encouraging remarks, nothing grew in our rows of seeds. I had just about given up hope on the whole project when a sprout popped up in the cup. Shortly after I relocated it to a potting tray, I was startled to discover three more seedlings unfurling in the chaotic heap. By the end of March, over 125 plants sprouted from that unmarked smorgasbord of seeds. It was impossible to tell which varieties were growing but it was obvious that they all had inherited Patrick’s unpredictability and zeal.

We transplanted those baby tomatoes with the help of our first bucket of Bootstrap compost and sent them to friends and family members all over the country. Pat’s tomatoes are thriving in Maine, Massachusetts, and Missouri (Twelve little seedlings were even scanned by TSA when my aunt flew back to St Louis with an egg carton in her purse.) We kept 8 for ourselves and the first one fruited on my nephew’s birthday. As we have just observed the one year anniversary of the accident, I have remembered my mother’s advice to look for good things no matter how impossible life seems. I relish these ripe tomatoes and nibbling their sweetness with a generous pinch of smoked salt. Thanks for sharing the dregs of your dinners with Bootstrap. Your efforts have nourished me more than you will ever realize.

Patrick’s tomatoes on the vine in Missouri

 

_____[13]

My Father’s _____[1]  _____ [13]Dance

Rewind
Turn 45 o
Roll or stroll
Don’t forget to walk the dog
Halt
Push the button
Wait for signal.
Glance over both shoulders
Leap
Pause
Hold on
Back up
Retrograde

Choreographic score illustrating some            [13]s

 

_____[41]

Blog post illustrating_____aaaaaaaaa[41]

Originally published on April 15, 2008* when I was the professional fitness footwear guru for Shoetube.tv 

My nephew had re-engineered some shoeboxes into a rocket ship. As I admired his 1st grade craftsmanship, he confided that he used tape to lash the layers together so that it will hold up better in the Chicago snow. That’s when I noticed the sticker that stated Size 10 – Air Zoom Vomero+ 2 – Women’s.

“Oh, is this box from the shoes that Patrick bought you for this weekend?” I asked my sister-in-law, Lizzie.

“Yes,” she replied with a hesitant smile. “Do you want to see them?”

As we shuffled into her kitchen, my heart started to ache. Lizzie is going to Disney World on Thursday.

It has nothing to do with the familiar fairytale facades. She is flying in for a reason that is not related to the rides. On Sunday morning at 4, she will be warming up for the marathon at 6 but she doesn’t care about winning. She chose this race through the Magic Kingdom for some closure.

Five years ago, a brutal blow during a boxing class in Orlando killed her only brother, David. She is returning to this city just to wrestle with the visceral reminders of this unpleasant reality.

“I’m afraid they are going to cart me off in the Goofy Bus,” Lizzie confessed without a twinge of irony. “That’s for runners who can’t maintain a 16-minute mile,” she clarified as she pulled out her sneakers.

As someone who once was the slowest sprinter in her school, I am not usually interested in running shoes. Their unassuming exteriors and aerodynamic engineering just don’t excite me. However, as Lizzie laced up, she became bubbly, giddy, and confident. I suddenly understood the appeal of the gender specific crash pad and cushioning.

Sometimes soles need silent support much more than external validation.

 

_____[109]

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Photographic illustration of _____[109]

(See also)

Special thanks to Jason Ries for his assistance with the camera for this illustration.