Stamped Deep

This is a writing exercise to write about an object we found that led to us learning something about someone we hadn’t known before.

–Stamped Deep–

Lt. Col. John Thomas. The black letters stamped deep into the silver bracelet stood out as a name not known to me.

I learned that my mother was once in love.

I learned he died in the Vietnam war and left her heartbroken.

I learned that she tried to comfort herself by drinking and dancing.

I learned that is how she met my father.

I learned that is how she became pregnant.

I learned that is why they got married.

I learned that she would dream about Lt. Col. John Thomas every night, but that there was always some obstacle keeping her from reaching him, and that she would wake up in tears.

I learned that my mother never really loved my father.

I learned that 40 years later he would still be in her dreams.

I learned why my mother was always so sad.

Lt. Col. John Thomas. The black letters stamped deep into the silver bracelet stood out as a name not known to me.

 

unmasked

“Let’s retrace our steps”, I reassure my tearful three year old son who has just lost his superhero mask somewhere between a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and wandering the local nursery in search of more vegetables for our garden. He knows how good I am at finding things, and is eager for me to find his mask. “You’re a good finder, dad.” he says with his superhero muscle padded chest puffed out with confidence. In reality, I am worried I will let him down.

Retracing my steps is something I find myself doing a lot these days. A few days later I am on a similar journey with my recently separated wife. “Let’s go for a walk,” I suggest as we met at the botanic garden near my office, the garden where we had our first flirtation as I read her tarot, while she shyly blushed at the Lovers card peaking at her from the bottom of the deck. Where we would have our first kiss leaning against her favorite fig tree, and shared walks where we talked about our future.

But this walk isn’t about finding our lost love. It feels more like a crime scene investigation, trying to understand how we let things get so out of control. I see symbols of ruin everywhere. A dead hawk, my wife has a fascination with dead birds as evidenced by her award winning Book of Dead Birds, lays near the place we performed that first magical tarot card reading. The beloved fig tree has been cut down, leaving a knife like edge of a stump that cuts deep into our flesh as we sit in shock and take in the surroundings. The landscape is almost unrecognizable. It feels disorienting. The changes to the garden are as real and manifest as the changes in our hearts, and it is clear there is no going back to the place we once were.

Returning to my empty home I am reminded of my ten year old self, how, when my parents separated, I would walk home from school and let myself into a dark and empty house. I have never forgotten the exact moment that little boy broke down in tears crying out “why did you leave me dad?” I can feel that pain in my heart again, now, as I return to emptiness. But the house isn’t just empty. It is as different as the unrecognizable landscape of the garden. I find signs around the house that things are not the same. The light fixture that we bought to symbolize my mother after she passed away, the light that is the heart of the kitchen, is mysteriously askew, like a weather vane pointing in a new direction. My tarot cards are missing, my childhood photos carelessly left in the garage to warp and wrinkle, the never completed projects around the house feel like tombstones marking the death of each aspiration. Everything that I once was, that I once dreamed about, has been cast aside and replaced with stress and unhappiness.

When the big day that has been looming over our heads for weeks arrives, the day she officially moves into her new home, I get a text that reads “just got hit by a wave of ‘what the hell am I doing’ “. I’m not sure anyone ever knows what they are doing, I think we are always just hoping for the best. I reassure her that the environment and energy we had created for ourselves was not working out, and that we both need space to decompress and find ourselves again. It would be harder to recover if we were still living together, and any improvements would be so small as to be unnoticeable from day to day. But, if we are apart, we can heal and see the changes in each other more clearly. And maybe we will find that we do still want to be together.

Sometimes you can’t retrace your steps and find what you’ve lost. Sometimes you have to accept your new reality and move forward. We can’t keep hiding our true identities behind not-so-super masks.

As for my son’s superhero mask, I did find it. I didn’t let him down.

Hoarders

I don’t know how hoarders do it. How they can keep everything they ever had locked away in their house – stacked to the ceiling, scattered on the floor, broken or rotting. As I stand in my basement I feel like a hoarder – boxes stacked to the ceiling, some stuffed with memories and others holding discarded hopes and dreams. There is a lot of discarded hope here.

When Gayle’s mother, Arlene, passed away we boxed up anything that might have sentimental value and stacked them in the basement. Rows and rows of artifacts of her life as an artist, as a music lover, as a champion for those she saw as unjustly treated. When my mother, Jette, died there was less to pack, less ambitions that needed archiving. My mother’s most prized possessions are someone else’s memories, memories that belonged to long dead great aunts and great uncles.

I hate looking in her boxes. They smell of decomposing paper and mildew. It feels like I’m looking at a box that belonged to a child who died long ago. It feels like these items are imbued with her spectral energy, faintly glowing in the dim closet light. Full, if you can call a half empty box full, of her few joyful memories from her childhood: a few pictures of people I will never be able to identify, clothing for paper dolls, and… a threadbare kitty cat..

That is the hardest piece to look at. The decomposing body of her precious cat. A toy cat, yes, but it was once alive with my mother’s imagination. It followed her on adventures, sat beside her when she was happy. And she clung to it with great fondness because it reminded her of how happy she used to be. I hate looking at that cat because it reminds me of how sad she had become. How her potential for this life was wasted in a drug induced stupor, how she was too afraid to step out into the world and do something amazing.

The last time I touched these sacred items it felt like I was touching my mother’s hand. The last time I touched my mother’s had was the day we decided to take her off of life support and I sat by her bed, holding her hand, as I watched her chest rise and fall for the last time.