So after a fairly successful traditional Irish music recital, finishing my ethnomusicology midterm (not the best I've ever done), turning in my bibliography for my Performance Practice class (again not the best I've ever done), having a decent gig with the Celtic Ensemble, seeing my dad off, and getting positive responses for the three different proposals for my thesis topic, and successfully getting a reprieve on my classical flute technique midterm you'd think I'd be happy about last week. But the problem that rears its ugly head is that I had time to think for the first time in a little over a month.
When I lost my mother as a 14 year old, I never thought I'd feel whole or happy again. The topic isn't one I tend to talk about a lot as it's still rife with regrets and what ifs that I still can't touch. Over the past eight years I've lost my mother to heart disease, one of my mentors from middle school to cancer, a friend to the war in Iraq, an old floormate to cancer, my maternal grandfather to gradually deteriorating health, and recently my paternal grandmother to complication due to heart surgery. Sometimes it's hard to see the world as anything but a great cycle of loss and pain, and sometimes it's all I can do not to drive out and find a nice cave in which to become a hermit.
My grandmother never really got me, but that didn't stop her to brag to everyone who would listen about her one and only granddaughter. So let me brag for just a minute about one of the women I come from. By the time she was 18, she was married with two children, and even though it was tough to pay the bills in a one income household she made sure there was a complete set of encyclopedias in the house for my father and his brother to use. She made biscuits every morning that she lived in that little house in Snyder for a wild donkey, just so he would have something to eat. And in her 70's she started to study both the piano and tai chi, and when she was laying in a hospital bed and couldn't even feed herself, she was still planning to go to Ireland so she could see what I saw. My grandmother was kind, and generous, and strong. She was a hell of a woman, and I couldn't be prouder to be her granddaughter.
Memories are weird. There are two concrete things I can always remember about my mother. There's a particular night when she tried to teach me to sing alto harmony, and she played piano. Every single time I sing I hear her voice in my body. The second thing is her perfume. That smell on any other person can stop me still, because it pulls me into some of the last times I ever talked to her. My mother cared for people. She worked as a case worker at a local organization in my home town devoted to mentally handicapped adults. And what I remember most about that, was her belief in their right to a quality of life. She shared their celebrations and their mournings, and gave me a sense of caring for others more than yourself. My mother was socially conscious. She testified in one of the Civil Rights trials in my early childhood even though there were pressures to do otherwise. This descendant of John C. Calhoun, who doesn't think that's ironic, did what she thought was right. My mother was brave. I saw her face hurricanes, tornadoes, and all other measure of maladies to help her family, friends, or people she didn't know. The last words she spoke to me were, "I love you." To this day, she remains the person I want people to see in me.
I have become a guardian of their lives. But more than that, every time I do something, those qualities that I see in them question me. What would they have said about this whole semester? About my thesis topics, my recital, my friends, my mentors, about me? Questions I'll never answer, but that will always stay with me. And as I lose more and more people that I love, more and more people get added to that list. I can't say that such thoughts do anything more than hurt. But I made a promise to myself when my mother died. I wouldn't be that bitter person, although as friends can attest I broke that promise momentarily when my grandmother died. But more than that, fear of loss wouldn't limit my ability to love. I know it will hurt to lose them, but maybe I can eventually just be happy to have known them and to celebrate their existence and positive effect on my life. Here's a piece I wrote after my senior year in high school.
Dark thatch and quicksilver evening, painted with a disconcerting comfort.
Just enough to make me want to go and bend knee to immortal memory.
Thai-spiced tears trying to say–
Like I could speak of star-meant truths or glassy images of God. As if I condoned wisdom, or the lack thereof.
Walking up to darkness, rich with a tangy-bitterness, and challenging its presence. As if somehow I could confront the plague of mankind and force it to play my hand.
Maybe it belongs here more than the rest of us.
Coexisting timelines, somehow naively hoping they would shake the comfortable grief I hold close like a child’s toy. Wishing it could prolong the inevitable shattering of familiarity .
Shadows of grief without–
So what if I’m not immortal, and the hand that once held me lies beneath dirt and time and distance.....painful distance that I long to leave......
It does not matter: because I will come to die, just as she had come to die, just as they will come to die, just as–
memory itself will come to die.
Rememories burn, scald like wax that seals in pain and keeps truth far away from my delicate soul.
A bittersweet pain that I long to keep, wondering how my soul will rest once even immortal memory pays time its dowry and dies. Leaving me alone.
That’s accepted, among other things. And all I want to do is let them in. Show them simple words that can’t be spoken, because a voice inside my mind yells
THIS IS YOURS AND YOURS ALONE
How can three words have so much meaning how can I hide this from them why does life have to be so much of a struggle when will it all make sense where are the answers why won’t my mind be silent where did all of these questions come from did I truly love her because my memories are lost and suddenly I think that if I had remembered then maybe I would know and why can’t I just say
i miss her
Three words, so deceivingly simple. Holding all the pain and animosity and lack of peace I’ve carried for years, hidden within my own dark passages. What I’ve really wanted to say, I’ve avoided. Enshrouded myself with darkness to become recluse from the three words that would start me on a journey to.....Heaven or Hell I never knew, nor cared to know just as long as it was somewhere besides my disquieting complacency......just as long as it wasn’t here.
And now what do You think of Me, now that it’s all laid bare? How do you fight paper when it’s calling for you own peace? Here I am, holding the doorknob, imagining the stars outside. Let me be the outsider for once, and maybe some of their serenity will trickle down and say, “Hush, listen to your elders.” And among that whisper, hear a voice that sounds familiar.
Peace, love, and tunes,