Perpetual angel.

May 21, 2019

I watched over you for a long time.

I wanted to keep you close and I did it this way:

  • Love you.
  • Check on you.
  • Take care of you.
  • Catch you.

I put you in schools, in programs, in hospitals, in rentals, in rehabs. I made appointments for you, made phone calls for you, set up arrangements for you. I sat by your side – called by the hospital, called by a counselor, called by creditors and police officers and social workers and doctors and your children and your lovers and friends and your wife.

I did this for you, and I did it for me. I did it because your sweetness and your spirit were so dear to me, your faith in me so important, that when it came to the sibling transaction of how it just was, well – that’s how it just was.

I railed against those who looked at me sadly, who said, “sometimes, you’ve done all you can do. Sometimes you have to give up.” They thought decades were just too long to stand by you. I said, over and over, “I won’t let anyone, not even himself, hurt him.”

I could not give up.

And then I was forced to give up, because you left the world.

So I am astonished now. Because earth could not hold you, your wings had been engineered according to some heavenly blueprint. You flew into heaven and took seriously your newly minted angel eminence (how brightly your halo must shine above your dark hair). Your seraph self:

  • Loves me.
  • Checks on me.
  • Takes care of me.
  • Catches me.

You come to me in hard moments. You hold a sign in front of my crying eyes and you stay with me patiently until I read it: life is very short, Sis. Really – be happy. You shine a light so I can see the road and wander from my entrenched, safe paths, and never have I felt so certain that I am protected by a guardian angel who will not let me fall.

On earth, you thought I could do anything; you thought me smart and capable and strong and composed in grand measures I never felt myself. Your presence when you visit me from the perpetual state of your afterlife shows me a glimpse of these traits you believed me to have, because I recognize them in you. It is you who is the teacher, the guide, the wise one, the protector. Catch me, catch me, catch me, dear brother. Until again we meet, catch me.


The canyon.

February 5, 2019

They say you are not really gone.

I’m told I can see you in the trees or the snow or a mountain. But I think that is something well-meaning people say when they are out of words for a person who is now moving with a broken heart, one broken before and stitched up before because of people remembered, and people past, and people passed.

They say I cannot see you, but that you are here, in the beautiful things: the natural world, music, memories. That is a nice sentiment but can I say for the record, I prefer your body to be here. I prefer to look at your dear face when I look up, rather than the gray sky. I prefer to listen to your deep voice and your stories over hearing the inadequate tale narrarated in the music I suggested for your funeral. And more than all this, I would prefer to construct new memories for a few more years instead of playing old ones over like a sad reel in my mind.

They say you are not really gone. But I am here, and you are not, and the canyon in the middle of that divide is so very giant that I look at it from a distance with a sinking feeling. I look down at my feet where my little arsenal of tools sits—the songs and recollections and writings and pictures and clothing and momentos—all the small things that I have with me to build a long, long bridge to the person I do not.


The cliff of the world.

January 30, 2019

Today is Day 23 without you and the whole country is freezing. I know they aren’t related events, I know they can’t be, but maybe if I suffer and mourn enough, all the souls in every corner will feel the cold, too. Maybe I can share this white sense of feeling with the world.

I don’t want February to arrive. It feels indecent for time to move on and for the minutes and days to not abide the loss. How has the world not stopped? Everything must just stop. Everything must just freeze into that subzero embargo where the news came, “he passed away 10 mins ago.” The alternative is for Father Time to line up his minutes, and for these minutes to march on and on without anything happening, until they simply fall off the world’s cliff and are no longer here.

(What does it mean to get through a day without crying? Is this what forgetting feels like?)

Forty-four years of memories are now only embodied in me. I am the lone vessel, I carry our story on my own and it feels bigger than what one person can manage.

Can I whisper my memories into a balloon and send it to you? Can I drop them into a hole where your ashes lay and let them mingle and grow a seed into a monument? What can I do? I can freeze time, and I can freeze too…but what else? What else is there?


Not this.

January 25, 2019

“A cup of coffee,” is what I think after the first call. You are in the hospital, Becky calls to tell me, and pre-dawn calls and hospitals and all institutions, really, mean coffee. So I pad into the kitchen quietly and make a cup and pour in cream and sugar, and then feed the cat. I look at yesterday’s mail and the sink full of dishes from last night. I stare at my phone and then I stare at my reflection in the sliding glass door for a long time—outside, just pitch black.

It is just after 4 a.m., the first call.

And, you know how it is, you get a call and it’s scary but scary in a way that means something bad “might” happen “someday” and so I am accepting the way I always am when these calls come and I think to myself that I will pack a bag just in case you aren’t improving, and then I will leave right after work and come down to see you. We have done that before: (1) You go into the hospital; (2) I come swooping in. It’s a thing. It happens once a year, at least, sometimes more. It happens for different reasons. You have an infection, you are sick with something, you need surgery again, you have an infection, you are sick with something, you need surgery again, you have –

An infection.

Side note: I remember I called you Christmas Day. Your voice boomed at the answer, your nickname for me buoyant and loopy on your lips, “Monkey!” and I had said Merry Christmas and you had said Merry Christmas, but we only talked for a minute, for less than a minute. You were happy, on your way to a movie and running late. I heard it in your voice that you were healthy of mind, not white-knuckling the holidays this year. You sounded…what? What was it I heard? I try to remember and then I do: rich. You sounded rich. You were always broke, but rich is that sound you get when you are surrounded all the way, in every direction, with love. We had a quick conversation, just long enough to exchange a greeting and ‘I love you’ and for you to tell me not with words, but with an uncommonly relaxed, lovely tenor of voice, that you were content these holidays. That you were content. (You were content.)

(I scroll through my voicemails and find two you have left me. I do not know what I will hear when I replay them and so I do not replay them. I am afraid to. What if I hear fatigue, or frustration, or any of the million kinds of angst a person can feel, and what if that is what I hear instead of, “Monkey!” What if that is what gets imprinted into my memory when what I want is to hear only the happy ghost of you, rich?)

Coffee in hand, I finally go tell Shane that “my brother is sick, he’s in the hospital again.” He nods; he too has heard these words too many times. I go about my morning in the dark, still in my pjs, pulling down my overnight bag and packing a change of clothes and wondering if there are hotels near the hospital.

(I promise I was poised to swoop in, to do my part, my side of the story.)

I pick up my phone and send a text to your girlfriend. I’ve never met her and this is a lousy way to become introduced, but I do it. I text, “This is Mary, I’m 5 hours away. Can you ask doctor if I should come now?” A reply comes pinging, almost immediate, “I’m so sorry. He passed away 10 mins ago.”

You think I would fall down or smash the bathroom mirror with my phone. You think I would keen and scream. You think I would rip the hair from my head, but I do not. I think only, “no.” I think, “he is sick and has an infection.” My fingers shake violently as I pick up my overnight bag, lost as to what I should do next because you have changed the way it goes.

You had an infection and the hospital had put in the IV and the calls had been made and blood tests done, all rapidly. So now comes the part where I come in and they say, “He is very sick,” and I nod and they tell me what needs to be done and I take out a book to read and update family and friends and settle in and you smile at me and thank me and I say of course and we make small talk and then talk about our growing up years and we remember mom and dad, the good and the bad, and you tell me something about your kids and I tell you something about mine and I sneak you coffee from somewhere other than the cafeteria and you sleep and I watch and you mumble in your sleep and I keep constant vigil until you fucking get better.

That is how it works. Not this.


Fashion forward.

June 7, 2018

“The discomfort I feel in my body is a result of a negative belief.”

She repeated the words and though the words were heavy as they fell out of her mouth, the words were necessary and their heaviness turned to buoyancy as she again, then again, repeated the words.

The discomfort I feel in my body is a result of a negative belief.

But, what was it? It’s true she felt discomforted. The anxiety started up every day, sometimes in the shining morning and sometimes in the calm of the afternoon, but always at some point, the drumming would begin and the tightening in her stomach would become harder and harder to ignore.

Damn it, she’d think. Now what is wrong? The unease was like coming down with a cold. It was like feeling the beginnings of a sore throat and the dawning that one was getting sick. That’s how it was with the nerves. Faint at first, then rising and rising from her stomach in a great upward whirl until it hugged her chest then became stuck in her throat, leaving her stunned and immobile wherever it encountered her: driving in the morning commute, sitting at her desk at work, lying in bed on the weekend with a throwaway book.

So, again, what was it? What was the negative belief?

It took teasing and testing, picking apart possibilities, trying on negative belief statements that didn’t feel quite right and discarding them, shrugging them off. It took tears and a shaky heart and trembling hands. And, it took the compassion and warmth and wisdom and guidance of a counselor who showed her different options and who had gained her trust over a whole year of groundwork.

It shook itself loose, finally, and there like a beacon lie the negative belief. It was: If she spoke up or created a boundary, she would get in trouble.

The realization was a relief, even as it struck her as unfathomable. She was an adult woman, after all. She was smart, she was realistic, she knew all kinds of interesting things and she had lived through what felt like a series of lifetimes in her one lifetime. She had dealt with hysterias and death and money problems and career crises, and broken hearts, and parenthood dilemmas, and yet there it was: If she spoke up or created a boundary, she would get in trouble.

Next: A replacement belief. Something to shuffle in when the feeling came that she would get in trouble if naming something truthful. What could she impart into her own psyche to substitute for faulty beliefs?

Her therapist lobbed a couple her way, and she either shrugged them aside, or shook her head vehemently: No, not a fit.

She was told she would know when there was a fit, of course. And so she waited for the message and tried on a wardrobe of possibilities, discarding and rebelting and retying the scarves this way and that, finding the fit, finding the fit.

“That is beautiful,” a voice said, when she had finally found the thing that worked, when she finally turned from the mirror. It was the replacement belief, worn in comfort. It was true and without effort and needed no accessory. It was complete, it was real. It was the look of progress.


Black felt in the forest.

November 14, 2017

In the wood where all was wild, I spied there a wet mare, her hair dark and shining with lather. I saw her legs quiver, her mouth pulled tight. I approached slowly and folded my hands around her head softly, gently untying the laces to remove her blinders. I saw her eyes flash and darken, first dancing over all the periphery and then, well trained for the long road ahead, she turned down to gaze at the ground, to avoid the ramble and mutiny of color and movement there in the strange forest where she was found.

(But how? How did this track horse loosen herself from the jockey of life, early life where the jumps ahead were so habitually practiced whilst she ran around and around the footpath? Or, later, from hearing the ‘go!’ shot and shooting off into a frenetic race, intent on stopping only when her heart finally burst?)

A one-trick pony, a show horse, half-animal and half-machine, I saw she was ragged and tired, having galloped on and on, even in the absence of any whip. Did she know where she was, I wondered. I said aloud into the cool air: Do you see there are no spectators? No throng of bet-makers wagering on your fate? I reached out to touch her and felt her flinch under my touch—felt her muscles flex in tension and felt the anxiety that vibrated in the space around her. I said words of comfort and compassion, soft words meant to soothe and steady. I looked into her eyes as one looks into a mirror.

For many moments, we stayed that way, speaking without a common language. (I dropped the felt blinders into the tall grass.)



September 30, 2017

I lie in bed and closed my eyes, and there I saw many images snap through, one by one, a cinemascope of scenes from a life I was unsure belonged to whom.

While in bed, I observed a later-summer field and watched the sun descend. As the orb crossed my vision, I felt my eyes close and there appeared a traverse. There, as though vibrating and real, stood a crisscross, a veritable beacon for which the symbolism was nearly too on-the-nose to bear.

I noticed all that touched me, all that was around me. In my mind, I saw the blue sky that had framed the field before the sun’s descent, and in that landscape a black bird soared lower than seemed quite well-mannered. The shadow bird came close to my body and I lifted a hand to shield myself, and ducked urgently, a deep bow that felt like a gesture of respect and an acknowledgement of the animal’s message. The shadow whistled a tuneless cry and shot away from me. Even so, I kept my eyes closed and waited for the next image, and the next, to appear.

(I felt the field’s crisp grasses set about in the hot air, sweeping softly and with care around my ankles, and I felt the grit and coarse dirt beneath my naked feet. I was there.)

I have never enjoyed, particularly, the feeling of being in nature, and the field I conjured seemed terribly foreign and I felt that even with a map, I would not know it. I thought to leave, to open my eyes and rejoin my bed, but when I did, there before me again was the traverse that still shone with a kind of out-of-place neon energy, it’s base plunged deep and securely into the spidery and unfamiliar earth beneath it.

I could not escape, eyes closed nor eyes open, the field. The field with its traverse had become a place I no longer only visited, coming and going as I wished. I waited for the cinemascope to change the scene, to move on to a different picture, but it did not.

I sought an escape, and found it in my usual way: a pictured song. I saw a song made of a great uprising of color, aids of memory and prompts for anxieties and thoughts still unformed. I heard the colors coat over themselves, heard their ribbons slap against one another like a sparring event for softened lances made of silk. I watched the tempo and beat struts, I watched meter and verses converge and marry, the vows written by the holy sayer that is music. I watched and my eyes became heavy, too heavy to watch even if the image before me changed, even if it became unstuck. (When the symphony concluded, much later, I opened my eyes to find my pillow tucked under my head, and my dark hair over it like threads tossed in the wind, in a field far away.)


Crow and body.

July 26, 2017


I opened the door

And there as though waiting stood an overlarge black

Crow (his glossy eyes barely visible and swamped in his inky face)

His wet-looking feathers lay stock still and his miniature

Toucan-shaped beak frozen agape at what I did not



He peered at me alas frozen

And then a shock seemed to ring an alarm in his

Body (his form convulsed and he quickly hopped off to disappear)

I shuddered and thought It is a sign and like the

Bird now unseen I longed to be




July 23, 2017

She read that a good writer keeps a journal, one that is honest and raw and says all the horrible things that can’t be said in polite company—scratch that, in any company. For a writer to produce something worth her time and worth her readers’ time, she must have the guts to go for broke at least with herself, to drop to her knees, hemorrhage on the keyboard, and leave her heart sitting there, pulsing and glistening.

Ok, that’s just gross imagery. She can do better than that. But, it’s her journal: She can say anything here.

A journal is where secrets are told, and her secrets are secret-secret, mysteries even to her. To bring them to the surface means writing about the things she wishes she had but won’t do anything to get. Because, she has everything necessary. She wants to feel grateful for that. Well, she does feel grateful, the attitude is real and alive in her. She knows things could be worse, or could get worse. So – she feels compelled toward gratitude.

She’s afraid to not feel thankful and to make sure everyone knows she does. It’s as though her wanting something more or different is like shaking a belligerent fist at the heavens and daring God to deliver something catastrophic, something that will make her look back and think, “I had everything and I should have appreciated it.”

God doesn’t really work like that, she knows. That’s not his jacket. God is benevolent and wants her to be happy (but, she wonders, what about a starving child in some war-torn country, or that kid with his face covered in dirt in Syria, shell-shocked and lost? Doesn’t God want him to be happy?) and she knows that being glad for the things she has isn’t some fool-proof protection against future pain.

So, she works on being grateful.

That established, her gratitude firmly planted, she gets down to writing her journal, exhuming the bones of her life. Pen in hand, she pauses. What to write? Something about passion, surely. Only, modern life does not really include permission for the depth of feeling that the great romantics of past eras (for all their oppression) allowed themselves. There is the notion that those in contemporary America who examine their own sentimentality, at all costs–consequences be damned–are altogether of questionable intelligence, or somehow strange, or terribly naïve. Who are they to trade their comfortable, be-thankful-for-them spots for magic?

“Dear Diary,
The arts and, thus, all humanity suffer because great personal pain of an emotional nature is devalued in the modern age. The focus on superheros, Wonder Women, flying men, and on tales set in fantastical faraway worlds and imaginary post-apocalyptic lands seems to imply that great stories do not belong to Ordinary Time.”

She rolls her eyes. That’s some great philosophical drivel right there, she thinks. But what about the bones of her own malaise? What about her own itching for change, her own discontent? (Unbidden, the chant begins: “Be grateful!” roars in her heart, her head. “No questioning! No complaining!”)

Dear Diary: That mantra is falling apart.



July 16, 2017

Waking from the middle of a dream set in outer space, she found herself in her usual position, curled on her side and she imagined the alarm going off. Soon, she would stand and begin to get ready, making herself up for the day. And of course she worried about her appearance, turning 45. There were the obvious things to throw her into a spiraling fear-fall: the skin just that much more worn, stomach that much more slack, and silver threads sparkling through the dark cloud of hair that was hers.

But those weren’t really the topics about age she cared about, lying there in those last moments in that surreal space between sleep and wakefulness. She thought, “What about the unseen things?” Doesn’t 45 mean some kind of wisdom and having got somewhere, finally? She was faintly embarrassed by the truth: She was no more wiser than when she was a young woman. Yes, she had more compassion, but more cynicism, too.

She sat up from the bed, pushing the sheets and blankets aside, wanting to see the tableau of her life. The sun had not come all the way up and it was partially dark, but from her viewpoint, she summed up her achievements, proud of so many, and also unable to not notice the spaces she had not visited and the aspects of terrain she had never mapped. She sat in the middle of life and saw that roads appeared in every direction before her, roads downward and roads upward, paths she wanted to walk and learn: inner peace (45 and still restless), satisfied disposition (45 and still wanting), a deep understanding of self (45 and still surprised to be meeting herself), a sense of completeness (45 and still wondering what and who she will be when she grows up).

She got off the bed and walked toward the start of one road, visible in the starlight. She unlatched a gate and stepped onto it’s dirt path. In the pale dark, she could make out that it was worn and cleared by others’ having walked it–a million artists and daydreamers and seekers before her.

Taking a step, she asked God, “Shouldn’t I be settled in by now, 45 and comfortable?” Shouldn’t the desire for bigger sentimentality and more intensity and deeper connection and magic-magic-magic have either been fulfilled, or realism and equanimity put in its place? Shouldn’t she have successfully achieved that thing always talked about: loving yourself?

She looked up for answers and spied a satellite. She was surprised, she thought her satellite would have docked by now, by 45, having learned enough out there in the galaxy. Instead, there it was, continuing its orbit, still gathering data, still researching. She reached her hands up and out, waiting for the satellite’s message. It poured light downward, illuminating the path under her feet. She took a step.