Monday, August 11, 2014

On the Occasion of Robin Williams' Suicide

I find myself shaking in front of a computer screen. I have just learned of Robin Williams' death, at the moment believed to be suicide. I am crying. I'm not sure why.

Or maybe I am. It's just that it's not for one reason. Robin Williams was a great actor. He mixed humor and vulnerability and mania, and seemed gentle even when his jokes had barbs. I was a child when Dead Poets' Society came out, and I was transfixed by a movie that had a love of words as a plot point.

And he died by his own hand--at least so it seems now. Anyone who has battled depression, even for a short time, has at least considered the lure of endless sleep. Artists, who are more sensitive than most, are more likely to have felt the pull of self-destruction. For me, any time someone gives in to that pull, it reminds me that like an alcoholic, a depressed person must go one day at a time. Losing someone to depression is a mark of no-confidence in the struggle of life.

I have had times when oblivion had attraction. I've been depressed, I've been hopeless, I've been in pain, and I've been exhausted. I've doubted things would get better, and not sure I wanted to continue to trudge through a lifetime of disappointment. Suicide was never a completely real option for me. I always had someone I loved more than I hated my depression, and I have a faith that keeps me convinced there is something good at the end of the tunnel. And, truthfully, I am terrified of pain, and the possible humiliation of trying to murder myself and failing--and then having to live with the effects of my suicide attempt and the depression I had before.

So I am sad at the loss of a gentle person with a lot left to give the world. I am furious that his gifts were cut short prematurely. And I am frightened, because I have sat through the night, afraid the pain of that moment would not end, and counted the hours to sunlight. I think those days are gone, but I don't know. I once read that for those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the anxiety of it is hard to overcome. When you have had a trauma, it is not being a worry-wort to fear the pain will return. It is fear of something you know could happen because you have lived it. Once you have cried until you can't care enough to cry anymore, you have a strange relationship with death. It is an enemy that tells you it's a friend. And you know you are one loss away from that feeling returning. The fear of the void makes the darkness tempting. And when one sufferer makes the leap, it makes the rest of us feel a little less sure of our own footing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ice Cream Cone

Photo Credit: Becco
Georgia tossed around the contents of her purse until she found exact change. "Here you go." She gave the kid at the counter his ten seventy-five. The kid was young, and had skin problems. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and reached for her cones. "Oh, that's fine," she said quickly, and threw her change purse into the depths without sorting it. She reached across the counter and pulled the cones from their little holder with the holes in it. Who knew what germs the pimply kid had? She turned and scanned the area. She had left Robert to find a seat for the three of them. She hoped he'd found a place that wasn't in the wind. Granny coudn't take cold, and wind made her cranky. They were in the back, and when Georgia got there she could feel the air coming in from the vent.

"You got mine in a sugar cone, right?" Robert reached over his grandmother to pull the cone out of his sister's hand. Georgia rolled her eyes and pushed the cone at him. Any fool could see it was a sugar cone, why did he have to ask? She sat down at the table. Robert sat down too. His cone was half gone already, and he had a smear of ice cream on his cheek.

Georgia sighed, got up and turned Granny's wheelchair so it faced them. "Why can't you just once look and see how she's doing? How hard would it have been to turn the chair while you were up?" Granny glared at her and bit into her ice cream. As always, it made Georgia's teeth hurt to watch.

Robert pointed. "I figured if she was facing that way, it wouldn't bother you when she ate it. She doesn't know, anyway. I think she likes to see the other people. Let her scare them."

"She doesn't scare you." Georgia handed him a napkin, and he wiped his face with it. He missed a spot, and she shook her head. "Come over here." Robert leaned towards her. She licked the napkin and rubbed it on his cheek.

He made a face. "You didn't have to spit on it. And she did scare me. I was terrified of her when I was a kid."

"If I wanted to get your face clean I did. You always were a scaredy-cat." Robert nodded agreeably, which drove her nuts as always. She took too big a lick on her ice cream cone and grabbed her jaw when her teeth hurt. "Are you still talking to that girl?"

"Lena? Yeah." Robert started biting his cone. He always showed too much of his tongue when he ate. It was disgusting. She hoped he didn't do that when this Lena was around. "She's pretty neat. Her folks own a bakery. She has to get up at five o'clock. . ."

Granny coughed. Georgia balanced her cone between her legs and took Granny's cone away with one hand. She handed her some water with the other. The old lady reached for the cone and knocked the water out of Georgia's hand. The water sloshed Georgia's jeans. "For crying out loud." She turned to Robert. "Take this, please." She gestured with her chin to the cone in her lap. Robert reached for it, and knocked it on the ground. Georgia sighed loudly and stood up. "Great. Just great." She handed Granny back her ice cream cone. The woman looked at Georgia, and took another bite, smiling when Georgia grimaced.

"I'm sorry, sis. Want me to get you another one?"

"No. You'd probably just drop it anyway." She stood up. "This has been about as much fun as I can stand. I'll wait in the car. Bring Granny with you."

Robert nodded and popped the last of his cone in his mouth. He moved around the table so he was sitting by his grandmother. "We won't be long." He turned to the old lady. "Come on Granny, Let's eat up."

Georgia walked out of the store, shaking her pants to try and dry the front. She moved quickly, hoping no one noticed the wet mark. Of course she had to wear jeans today. They would take forever to dry. She sighed when she reached their car. It was an old Oldsmobile Alero. Robert liked to play mechanic with it. At least he kept it running. She looked around. It was an awful car, small and old and it embarrassed her to get into it. It was small, too, and Granny had learned every place she could grab to slow down the process of getting her seated. Robert laughed when they put her in it each day. He didn't take anything seriously. Never had. Life was a big joke. Well, it could be for him. He hadn't been the oldest. He had her to take care of him. Granny sure hadn't done much.

She focused on letting her shoulders drop. Her doctor had told her the stress was getting to her, and would probably get her heart. Just like it did Mama. Mama, standing there fussing when this crazy look comes over her face and she just fell down. Robert had laughed at first. Then he had cried for three days. Thirteen year-old boys should have been stronger than that, but he just cried. He wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep, wouldn't do anything. Georgia had to do it all. Granny was as bad as Robert. She just kept muttering about Mama bringing it on herself. Granny never had been right, and had wandered in and out before. Once Mama was gone, so was Granny, everywhere that mattered. Everywhere that didn't make more work for Georgia.

Noise on the window startled Georgia. She looked out. A pretty girl with her hair pulled back in a ponytail was knocking on her window. "Are you Georgia? I'm Lena. Bobby said he might be here today."

Georgia rolled her window down. She squinted at the girl. What did a pretty thing like this see in Robert? And Bobby? Really? "Hi. Robert said you and he talked some. He's in the ice cream store with our grandmother. I don't know why they aren't back yet. He dawdles."

Lena smiled. "I know. Isn't sweet how he's never in a hurry?"

Georgia smiled back, a little. "I guess when you don't have anywhere to go it's nice to take your time."

Lena's smile faded, then returned. "Robert says if you take your time you see the happy places in life."

"Does he?" She had never heard him say something silly like that before. "Have you two known each other long?"

"We met about two months ago." She must have noticed Georgia's shock. "It was at the art museum."

"Art museum? He only started talking about you last week." Of course Robert had time to go to the art museum. She had probably been at home, changing the old woman's diapers and making lunches for Robert to take to work. "I didn't know Robert liked art."

"Neither one of us knows much about it. But we like to look at the exhibits. Everything's so colorful." This girl might be pretty, but she was a little simple. No one waited at home for her to feed them. "I'm meeting him there tomorrow."

"That must be real nice. I'd sure like to go to an art museum sometime. Or anywhere."

"You could come with us."

Georgia smiled, but didn't feel any niceness in her. "Oh no. I'm afraid I can't. I have too much to do. There's the laundry to do tomorrow. And of course Granny. Granny doesn't much care for art."

Lena squinted. Georgia thought she could see a stray thought make its slow way across her brain. "That's funny. She seemed to like it when we took her the last time."

"What on earth are you talking about? Robert's never taken Granny anywhere. I have to do every--" Then she remembered. The week before she had been sick. Not like she normally was, where she was miserable but could still get up and do everything that needed doing. This was in her belly, and there was no pushing through it. Bathroom, bed, drink of water, bathroom, bathroom, bed. That was all she could manage. Robert had come in and wrinkled his nose at the sick smell in her room. She had made him take off work and be with Granny, since she couldn't do for her. 'You'll have to clean her up and feed her. I know you won't bother to straighten anything up, but at least make sure she survives the day. It's not hard. You should be able to manage it.' Robert had said ok, like he didn't want to, but had not fought her. Maybe because he was afraid to spend too much time in the room for fear of getting sick himself. A few minutes later he had brought in one of Granny's valium and a glass of water.

'It might make you sleep, sis. Probably help you get through this thing faster.' He hadn't flinched when she'd asked him what in the world he was thinking. 'The sleep will do you good.'

'Who's gonna change me when I puke all over myself? You?'

Robert had looked at his feet, just like he did when he was a boy and got caught doing something stupid. 'I'll always help you, sis. You know that.' She had snorted, then had to run to the bathroom again. When she came out he was gone. Granny hadn't started yelling like she did if lunch came late, so Georgia had not looked out all day. By nightfall, she had taken that Valium, and sure enough, it helped her sleep. When she woke up she was mostly better. She remembered being surprised the house was not more of a mess. It looked like he had even tried to load the dishwasher. He did it all wrong, of course, and she had to redo it. It would have been better if he had just left it alone.

She shook her head. The simple girl was still there. She seemed to be studying Georgia. Picturing Granny in an art museum, full of quiet people admiring things, was hard. When she got irritated, she started to cuss. "How did Granny--er, our grandmother, do?"

Lena smiled again. Georgia could see what Robert saw in her. Her smile kind of lit up her face. "Oh she loved it. We pushed her all around, then took her to the cafe. She had a little cake and a cup of tea. Bobby got her laughing at some pictures of kids. He really liked those pictures because of your dad."

"He talked about our father?" Robert knew better than to bring up Daddy in the house. That was a sore that still hadn't healed in fifteen years. He had died. Robert was too young to remember anything about him.

"He told me about the car accident." Her face fell. "I wasn't supposed to mention it to you."

The car accident had been stupid, just like everything that happened to the men in her house. He had been driving too fast in the rain, and had slid across the road into the lane going the other direction. She was relieved when Lena kept talking.

"It must have been awful hard, losing your dad that way." Lena reached in the window and took her hand.

Georgia pulled her hand away as if Lena had scratched her. "I got on. That's all you can do. We don't talk much about it. Just brings up things that are gone."

Lena looked around her. "He sounded like a great man. Bobby showed me some pictures he drew. He had a lot of talent. I saw the picture of you."

Georgia set her mouth so she wouldn't cry. She had told Robert to throw those things out. The picture Lena mentioned was Georgia in a little blue dress, with her hair pulled back just like this girl's was now. She had a little gap-toothed smile. It was a drawing of a little girl who had never lost anything but those teeth. He had drawn it on her birthday, and two weeks later he was dead. Mama had changed then. She'd seen the pictures Daddy had drawn of her mother, holding her or holding Robert, and smiling. She didn't think Mom had ever smiled after Daddy died. She certainly hadn't smiled at Georgia.

"I don't know what Robert would want with those pictures. He was just a baby. He couldn't remember it."

Lena squatted so she could lean on the window. She studied Georgia until it made the other woman uncomfortable. "I think he keeps those pictures to remind him that you were happy once. He worries about you, you know. He'd like to do more for you, but--"

"Lena. I'm so glad you're here. Granny and I found a place that sold hats. How do you like hers?" Robert had Granny decked out in a sequined baseball cap. Granny was grinning from ear to ear. Probably had gas.

Lena laughed. "She looks great. Shiny definitely suits her."

Georgia noticed his other hand had an ice cream cone. "One wasn't enough for you, huh? Or is it for your best girl here?" Georgia didn't like the cut in her voice, but couldn't seem to help it.

"How right you are, sister dear. I know you said you didn't want one, but I figured if I brought you another cone, you could always change your mind. Life is too short to miss ice cream, don't you think?"

Georgia took the cone, and licked it carefully. Robert was lifting Granny, easing her into the car. Maybe he was showing off for Lena, but Georgia noticed he didn't have to pull at her like Georgia always had to. She watched him reach across the old woman's lap to fasten her seat belt, and remembered how his arm had fallen over her own waist when he had cried over Mama as a boy. She hadn't fussed at him then, but later she had. Fussed and fussed until he stopped crying around her. Now he laughed and went to art museums and could make Granny behave. Maybe she would see about going with him the next time. They could take Granny, and she could watch how Lena treated him. She closed her eyes for a minute, remembering every detail of the picture her father had drawn of her. When she opened her eyes, Robert was standing beside the car, his nose buried in Lena's hair.

Georgia felt her heart relax like it did when she was a little girl on her daddy's shoulder. "Hey Bobby! Come on in. You had ice cream on you, and now it's probably in that poor girls's hair. This car won't drive itself, you know. Granny needs her medicine soon."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Poem by Sara: Bowl of Pottage

Photo Credit: Free Images

You had your first kiss,
First moonlight walk.
Walked hand-in-hand with someone else,
Told her your stories.

Went all the places you've never been.
There is no new ecstasy
In my arms,
No new weakness at my touch.

You gave away your song,
Your vulnerabilty,
Insecurities laid bare.

Lip to lip,
Skin to skin
Sigh to Sigh
Never new again.

She awoke the longing
She heard you lose yourself in her.
I have the re-release,
The kareoke copy of the original.

Long ago the eldest son 
Was last to his father's side.
"Is there no blessing reserved for me?"
Love what is left to love.

With all my heart.
With all my heart.
With all my heart.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dave Loves Thunderstorms

Photo Credit:

They scare me silly, but Dave, the hero in Sara David, loves thunderstorms. Here's an excerpt from the book of a thunderstorm and how he reacts:

Dave woke in the middle of the night to a spring windstorm. Small branches thumped on his roof, and occasionally lightning made its syncopated shadow patterns through the house. He was still getting used to thunderstorms; they weren't nearly as common in California. He loved them. He rolled out of bed and headed out the door.
The wind brushed the hair from his forehead. Thunder boomed, still too far away to hold any danger, but strong enough so he could feel a slight rumble under his feet. Sara declared him a lunatic for his delight in standing out in a storm, especially since the tension in the air usually drove him to climb high to catch the unencumbered wind. He moved towards his roof, ignoring the metal ladder to start up the oak that grew near his small cottage.
The muscles he had built from a lifetime of woodwork, surfing, and hiking in the mountains above Los Angeles served him well. He enjoyed the barefoot scramble up the tree, across a limb, and the rush from the couple of feet he had to leap to reach his roof. Branches whipped at his face, and the power of the storm around him made goosebumps on his skin. He crawled on crab-legs to the point of the roof and straddled it. When the downpour came, he balanced carefully on the point of the roof. The rain slapped on his bare arms and chest. He turned his head and let the rain run down his throat and wash his face. When he was thoroughly soaked, he sat back on his perch.
The storm skirted the house, and he watched the sky light up to the north. The flashes of dark cloud stirred an ancient instinct of danger, giving him an agreeable surge of adrenaline. The rain stopped. He closed his eyes and slipped into an easy meditation, feeling the roughness of the roof tiles against his legs, the clean coolness of the breeze against his rain-soaked skin.
When even the gentle breezes behind the storm had calmed, the sky began to lighten to the east. He shimmied down the roof, dropping through the skylight in his studio onto a workbench. He went to his bedroom without turning on the lights, and slipped on his running clothes and shoes. By the time he got back from his run, the sun still had not brightened the sky to more than a rosy pink. He showered, and fixed himself a cup of coffee. Time for a little detective work before breakfast.  

Dave and Sara is in editing right now--hoping it will be available for purchase by the end of 2014.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Washing Hair

Image Credit:

A short story from Dave's past:

Washing Hair
Dave ran his hands through Emily's hair. It slid through his fingers like silk, the light picking up slight differences in shade from one strand to the next. Em sighed softly as he massaged her scalp, tugging on handfuls of hair as he worked around her head.
He remembered when he first found the courage to wrap her hair in his hands. Emily was regal and aloof when they met. He had been smitten by her, the golden princess in his fairy tale. He made a fool of himself those first few weeks, timing his work so he walked back and forth past her as she practiced her cello.
Em had kept regular hours of practice at the orchestra's office. Dave scheduled his work--a restoration of the Depression-era stage--around her practice times. After a week, he got in enough chit-chat to feel comfortable asking her out. The money he paid for lunch at the 5-star restaurant was the best day's pay he ever spent. One date led to another; soon he felt welcome when he called her for no reason. He had studied her hair back then, when they sat together outside the orchestra entrance. Looking at her sunny locks gave him something to do besides stare into her blue eyes like a bewitched schoolboy.
Still, she held him at arm's length until one of their walks through the art museum she loved. She had seemed distracted all day. She finally told him it was her birthday. He congratulated her, and she began to cry. He remembered the panic he'd felt at those tears, so strange in such a composed woman. After a few sobs, she willed herself calm again. She explained she was adopted, and didn't know her own real birthday. Some years it bothered her more than others, and this year was hard because she could not afford the trip to see her adoptive parents.
It took two week's pay, but they boarded a plane that evening. The fresh tears the gift provoked were like a reward, a wall conquered.  She laid her head on his shoulder as the plane took off.  He slipped his fingers through her hair for the first time, then abandoned caution. He wrapped the thin smooth strands in one hand, and cupped her chin in the other. He still remembered the exhilaration when she let him kiss her as if she had waited for the moment as long as he. When they reached her parents' house, he was introduced as her boyfriend. They were married a few months later.
Now, he leaned into the familiar head of hair. He smelled the perfume she dabbed on her hair and neck each morning. It was light and floral, and suited her. He picked up her brush and ran it across his hand. The brush was surprisingly heavy, and covered in mother-of-pearl. That was his Em. Even mundane objects were beautiful in her world. Making furniture for her had been his joy for the first two years they were married. He stood behind her and watched her eyes in the mirror. He could see the doves he had carved along the mirror's edge from the corner of his vision. Em loved detail in her furniture and simplicity in her clothing, which like everything she said or did or thought, he found to be perfect.
They say you never appreciate someone until you could lose them. That wasn't true. He had known what a treasure she was the moment he saw her. He still felt the same rush of gratitude each day that he had for the past six years. She made the rest of his life valuable.
"Thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two. . ." he counted off the brush strokes.
She smiled at him in the mirror. "Are you going to count all the way to one hundred?"
He smiled back. "Only if you want me to." She shook her head, and he went silent. The only sound was the soft whoosh of the brush against her hair. "How long has it been since I told you that you're lovely, amazing, and beautiful?"
"At least an hour." She reached behind her to touch his cheek with her hand. "I probably need to wash it now."
"I want to help."
She met his eyes in the mirror and smiled. "Come on, then." She turned to face him, and he undressed her, studying her body carefully as he did every time he got the chance. She stood quietly in front of him, and when his eyes met hers she tousled his hair as if he were a small child.
He began to unbutton his shirt. "That's right, lady, I'm getting cleaned up, too." She smiled again, her lips tight together, but said nothing. He finished undressing, and walked behind her into their shower.
He stood under the shower head and directed the spray of water towards her. He washed her with the soft cloth--face, breasts, belly, arms, legs--and rubbed his hands along the soapy lines to rinse her off. She turned her back to him and leaned her head back. He washed her hair slowly, squishing the mass of suds through his fingers, then rinsing it all away.
"There's no need to use so much shampoo, really."
"Let me enjoy this. We have plenty of time." She touched his hands in her hair and leaned against him for a minute. "Like the bottle says, 'lather-rinse-repeat.' It's important to follow instructions." When he was sure her hair was rinsed squeaky clean, she tried to turn towards him, but he held her shoulders so she couldn't move.
"We still need conditioner." The bottle of conditioner was in front of her, and he enjoyed the chance to brush against her to reach it. He took as long as he could to work the satiny cream into her long hair from top to bottom, and kissed her neck playfully a few times. She pressed his face against her ear. He laid his hand on her belly for a moment, thinking of the baby they had hoped would grow there. Then he quietly rinsed her hair.
He wrapped himself in his towel, then held out hers as if to a young child, embracing her with it. She sat on the edge of the tub, and he took another towel and dried her hair slightly. He took a deep breath.
"Are you ready?" She nodded, and looked down. He tried to make his voice upbeat. "We don't have to do this now. . .we have a week before you go in, and even then you can wait."
"I'm ready." Her voice had an edge to it, and she shook her head. "I'm sorry. I know you're trying to be kind. Will you still think I'm pretty?"
"You are, and always will be, the most beautiful woman on earth." He felt tears forming. "We'll get through this, Em. I will be here, no matter what." He held her shoulders. Her skin was chilly, and he wrapped his arms around her to warm her. She shrugged him off. "You could go to a salon? Have a nice day out."
"I couldn't bear that. Going in normal, and all those people watching, telling me I'm brave, and leaving some bald freak." She touched his lips to still his disagreement. "That's how I would feel. Let's get this over with. I'm afraid my scalp will get sore if I wait until the treatments start to shave it. Maybe my skin can toughen enough and I can try a wig. I need something I control. There's precious little about my body I control now." He heard the strain in her voice from holding back the tears and the anger at the surprise life had thrown them.
His own anger surged. They had done everything right. They had taken care of their health, skipping the desserts she loved and getting up at dawn to run even on chilly mornings. He had loved her with all he had, careful not to take her for granted. How could the doctor with the dull eyes stare at his desk and rattle off words like ninety percent mortality--then hurry off to his golf game?
Dave's shoulder slumped. He laid his hands on her head for a long moment as if in blessing, then turned to the sink. He had laid out scissor and clippers, and a razor. He had never shaved anyone's head before. He gathered up her golden hair into a ponytail, trying not to remember how her hair had been pulled up at their wedding, or how it looked fanned around her in bed. He wrapped a hair band around them. The scissors felt ridiculously heavy as he cut the ponytail and held it, limp and dead and already sliding apart in his hands.

Ring of Fire

These hands pressed me
From girl to woman. Still they
Wander over topography
More round and soft than
In their first heat. 
But the lava flows, the
Fire burns inside, the plates
Still shift, and the earth still moves.


Tonight, my husband, the Darling Beloved, and I were watching TV. He put his feet up on the sofa, and I came over from my place on the floor playing with our cat to poke around on his leg.

Rubbing on his leg, I realized I had not really looked at it for a long time. And so I focused on studying him--his skin, the line of his muscles, his toes, even his always-need-cutting-toenails. I looked at his knee, and traced the space behind his knee. What surprised me was how warm and fuzzy it made me feel towards my always-loved husband.

Touching between spouses so often gets written as being about sex. Which, let's face it, is a lot of what makes marriage fun. But there is a lot of touching in marriage that has nothing to do with romping in the covers. We brush each other's hair, we rub things that hurt. We hold hands when we're afraid, or happy, or just lonely. As we get older, or sick, we touch each other as nurse, as surrogate parent, as friend.

I once read of a Buddhist monk who was regaled with the wonders of a vacuum cleaner over his little stick broom. He listened politely, and when urged to get a vacuum of his own refused. "How will I know my room? With the vacuum I can clean my room much faster, but now I know every crack in the floor, every corner I have to brush a little harder because dirt accumulates there. I know which part to leave alone where the spider lives, who kills pests. I remember meals I have made, friends I have eaten with, memories that this room holds. I like knowing my room. I do not need your vacuum.

Spouses are often the first ones to notice health problems. The husband or wife knows the spots that weren't there last season, the lumps that have just formed, the places where skin and flesh do not lay correctly against bone. Or, they know these things if they have been spending the time to get to know what makes their spouse's body tick. Reaching out to my husband tonight reminded me how important it is just to touch him so I can know him. Knowing how his skin lays, what parts are swollen, or tense, or sore, allows me to love him better.

As with many things, the physical mirrors the spiritual. Taking the time to really get to know the physical landscape of my husband's body means I spend time with him. Spending time with him greatly increases the chance that I will talk to him, and get to know him--know the inside of his mind, his hopes, his dreams. We spend a lot of time together. Perhaps we've become content with superficial communication. Perhaps, like my study of his knee, I need to really focus on getting to know him--even the shadowy places that aren't as much fun as his sense of humor and intelligence. Maybe I need to know more about his fears, his insecurities, the things he wishes would change. Knowing more about the bad as well as the good allows me to knit our bonds closer, to make him feel safer, and to strengthen our happy little home.