The collateral damage of emotional or physical abuse cannot be measured. One family member goes off the rails and the whole family train jumps the track. Connections are broken, some without hope of repair.
The summer has not been gentle here in the San Fernando Valley. Has it been gentle anywhere this year? We've had drought and wild fires, broken all records for hottest days, and spent most of our time trying to stay out of the sun and hydrated. Our air conditioner was sighing and dying about three o'clock in the afternoon during one of our hottest weeks. Our tempers were short. And sleep was hard to come by when the nights were not much cooler than the days.
I - ONE AT A TIME
What will you do with this bright sun that glares through the south window
and makes you open your sleep-sanded eyes?
You only get one day at a time.
All night the wind tossed the garden. The air is giddy with it. Dust to dust. See it whirling and sparkling in the light?
Make a space that fits you well. If you
feel hot and scratchy in that one, make another. Cool your skin with shade and scent of blossom.
Gather scattered leaves and petals, knowing absolutely that the
effort is futile, but never wasted. Hold them for a moment before the wind takes them; as, of course, it will.
II - DESIRE
I am not talking about the black cardboard cutout mountains pasted against the apricot-lavender sky showing off two bright stars.
I am not talking about them.
Why do I keep that old thing? Why do I use a tablecloth that is falling to pieces, faded, and stained with years of picnics, breakfasts, and dinners? It has served the family well, for generations, but isn't it time to get rid of it? Probably.
It has to be ironed, for one thing. But the smoothing out of wrinkles can be deeply satisfying. The fabric is so old, so soft, that it yields to the hot iron easily, settling into a relaxed order that I can feel in my bones. Silly, isn't it? To almost feel as if I could submit to such a process and come out all the better for it. Ready to serve again, ready to offer up a clean resting place for dishes and cutlery, bowls of pickles and olives, roast chicken and baked potatoes. Ready to be spattered with savory juices or melting butter. Ready to be anointed with a drop of two of red wine from a glass that's really too full.
Responsibility for family documents is a heavy burden. There is so much. So many receipts, records of transactions, legal documents that won't be denied a place in history. But what really matters?
I have been shifting living space for eight years to accommodate my Dad's paper trail. I've sorted through it countless times, trying to decipher what is necessary to keep. But why? He's dead. My mother is dead. His second wife is dead, as is her daughter and anyone who wants any of the documents that validated her life.
I have birth certificates, death certificates, hard evidence that these people lived and died. And I have the memories of my own connection with all of them that still are warm but also cold with recriminations and self-doubt.
I came across a letter I wrote when I was about twelve. My mother was in the hospital, and I was missing her.My dad wrote a note to my junior high explaining that I had to leave school early every day for two weeks (? I think it was that long) because I was needed at home. I had a brother who was just a toddler. I can't remember who cared for him while I was in school in the mornings, but it was my job to come home and help in the afternoons. I don't remember how I got home, either, because my school was a bus ride away. But I was happy to help.
I lived for a long time with someone who was beautiful, winsome, intelligent, persuasive, and mostly dysfunctional. Because I was her child and I loved her with the pure passion a child has for its mother, I wanted to be like her. I thought her moods should be my moods, her pain my pain.
I also lived in the world, where I could see that other people were not quite so volatile. My father was calm, but also darkly moody. However, he was rational. He was stable. And he knew how to navigate the world without obsession or despair. He lived a fairly ordered life in the midst of the chaos my mother created.
Mending and ironing are simple tasks. Tedious, but in some cases rewarding. I spent today doing both. It seemed like my world, and the world in general, had become so muddled and torn that doing something tactile, something I could control, would make a difference, at least to me. And maybe a difference to the keeping of this home, this house, this place where we live and breathe, and create a safe and somewhat serene place for family and friends.
One of the things I came across in the ironing basket, which has sat, neglected, for so long, was a tea towel. I'm not sure why they are called tea towels, because in my whole life long (and it's long) I have only ever known them to be used to dry dishes or hands, or pick up hot pots.
My grandmother Ruth was born in 1892 and married her first husband Norman, my grandfather, around 1916. My father Albert was born in 1918. They lived with Ruth’s mother Mary Ann in New Jersey, a little place called Mount Olive, on a chicken farm.
My grandmother told me that my grandfather was so untrained in practical skills that she had to show him how to use a hammer. He ultimately turned out to be a very good carpenter and then a draftsman/architect. But she liked to take credit for teaching him how to hold a hammer. Who knows? Truth or fiction?