the lost and the found

St. Anthony of Padua
St. Anthony of Padua

 

Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please look all around.
Something is missing that needs to be found.

Those are the words my mother would recite every time something was lost in our household. Except she’d replace the “something” with the name of the misplaced item: my homework, a favorite pair of shoes, or most often, the car keys. She’d finish off the request with a triumphant “Thank you, Saint Anthony,” always confident in her faithful patron saint of lost things.

Saint Anthony usually pulled through for her, too. With the exception of her engagement ring – and I’m sure he did his best with that one – I can’t remember a single time the requested item wasn’t found. And believe me when I tell you, we kept the poor guy busy.

Maybe it’s because my mom was such a spiritually keen woman. She was on a first-name basis with many saints and angels. Or maybe she just had that mother’s instinct, the sixth sense of knowing where something was without ever having seen it.

“That’s what mothers are for!” she would have sung at me upon finding something I’d lost. I’d just shake my head in disbelief, dumbfounded by her mom-magic.

The trouble is that not all lost things are meant to be found. And the thing I’ve lost now is my mother. Despite my prayers, all the patron saints and angels in heaven cannot help me.

When I was younger, mom once asked that if something was ever to happen to her, would I want her to come back as a shooting star or a rainbow? Perhaps even a budding rose? A question to which I’m pretty sure I responded that coming back from the dead in any form was going to scare the shit out of me, and she should probably just rest in peace.

So I guess you’d call it ironic that just four months after her death, I find myself constantly concentrating on the night sky, hoping to spot even the faintest star taking a dive.

Thus far, I haven’t seen one. Some nights I can’t see any stars at all.

But there are other times when I sense her presence without the help of stars and rainbows and fresh blooms. Like when I walk into a cafe that’s playing Paul Simon’s Graceland on repeat. Or when I find an old photo of her that’s fallen down the side of the fridge. Or even last night, when I grabbed a novel from my bedside table, hoping to finish it off before falling asleep, and in the final pages, it quotes the prayer to Saint Anthony.

And in those moments, I’m flooded with memories of her. Memories I’d completely forgotten. Memories worth more than shoes and homework and engagement rings and everything she and I have ever lost combined.

I have to believe it’s because of her. That somewhere not-so-far away, my mom is still calling on her old friend to find the things I’ve lost.

So thank you, Saint Anthony, for bringing her back to me.

 

 

revelations in grief

“You just don’t ever get over it.”

I guess that’s something I needed to hear.

Because each day the sun rises and pulls me gently from a dream, leaving your laughter echoing in my ears, only to rediscover that you’re gone, I know I’m not over it. And each day I creep along the Don Holt Bridge in rush-hour traffic, looking out my window at the diamonds blinking on the water below, and pick up my phone to call you and tell you about my day, I know I’m not over it. And as my mind races while I try to get some sleep, and when I forget to put sugar in my homemade oatmeal, and when I want so desperately to write about anything else, but the blank pages just stare back wanting only to hold more memories of you, I know I’m not over it.

No more than I was the day I let you go.

So when I heard those words – “You just don’t ever get over it” – my heart let out a heavy sigh. A burden I didn’t even know I carried, lifted from my shoulders.

For the rest of my life, my eyes may well with tears when I see a proud mother embracing her child. My throat may tighten like I swallowed a tennis ball every time I hear the singing of a choir. And our final moments together may always be the last thing I think of before I fall asleep.

And that’s okay. Because some things you don’t ever get over.

And now that I know, I can stop trying, stop hoping, stop waiting. For peace and normalcy and comfort that will simply never come.

You’re gone.

I’m not over it.

And I never will be.

My sweet mom, May 2013.
My sweet mom, May 2013.

Writers’ Block Challenge #4

Task: Write a story about the images on a roll of film. Use 12, 24, or 36 paragraphs.

Flawed Memories

He hadn’t crossed her mind for months when she decided it was time to clean out the closet in her adolescent bedroom. She dug through the poufy frocks and sequined skirts of old prom dresses, remnants  of a coin collection, graduation caps and gowns and tassels. She dug deeper and uncovered pictures that had decorated her college dorm. Art supplies long forgotten. An old broken iPod – lime green, clunky and heavy. She sorted through high school sports paraphernalia. Sweat shirts from swim team. Running shoes from track.

Twenty-two years of memories kept quiet and tucked away. Out-of-sight and nearly forgotten. But not quite.

Buried underneath a box of clothes that most certainly didn’t fit anymore, she found it. A shoebox. Wrapped in pink and purple tissue paper. And small cut out hearts. A memory box. Containing all the keepsakes a sixteen-year-old holds onto the first time she falls in love.

She ran her finger along the outside edge over the crinkled, stiff paper hearts and considered just throwing the whole thing away. Why rustle up all those old feelings, right? Surely there’s nothing in there she’d actually want.

But something sentimental got the better of her and she lifted off the lid.

Inside, she found delicately packed corsages. Dried flowers and ribbons and Velcro bands. Faded ticket stubs to movies and concerts and amusement parks. Cards and tags from every birthday or Valentine’s gift. Empty jewelry boxes. Letters  they wrote each other. Printed lyrics to their favorite songs.

She felt her heart tug as she flipped through the memories. Let them flash in her mind. Homecoming dances and football games. Break ups and make ups and a mountain of firsts. How earnestly she had loved him.

At the bottom of the box was a single roll of film. Undeveloped. She lifted it out and pulled at the fragment of film strip peaking out of the plastic black case, exposing the negatives. Holding it up to the light, she saw a sequence of happiness. A casual afternoon together with nothing better to do than laugh and cuddle and waste a roll of film.

She shook her head. That’s not what it was like, loving him. You’d look through this box and think we were perfect for each other – that we were meant to be. That we were happy. But we were no such thing. Sure there were moments like the one captured on that film. But there were other moments to. The terrible kind. The scream-so-loud-your-lungs-hurt kind. The weep-until-you-get-a-migraine kind. There was cheating and callousness and recklessness and selfishness and emptiness.

Where is the box that holds those memories? Where’s that roll of film?

We look back and we see the flowers and the letters and the smiles and we wonder, were we wrong to let it all go?

She put the film back in the box alongside the other happy mementos before replacing the lid. If I must remember us, I insist on that memory being true to what we were. With that, she added the memory box to the ‘throw away’ pile and moved on to sorting through the Art Supply bin. 

my bleed american summer

Certain songs take me back to places I don’t necessarily care to return. Dusty corners of memory I’ve boarded away on purpose. Shadows I’d like to pretend aren’t lurking inside my mind. Wounds that never quite healed.

It was Jimmy Eat World that wove its way into the soundtrack of my summer after graduating high school. When Bleed American washed over me like the Georgia heat. When I was stuck between a high school dreamer and a lost college soul.

I was serving coffee in the morning and ice cream at night in the middle of suburbia with A Praise Chorus and Sweetness on repeat every second in between. Working two jobs just to occupy my mind. So it wouldn’t slip up and find its way back to you.

Now when I hear any of those eleven tracks, I can’t help but go back to that endless summer. I remember that poor, sweet 18-year-old girl.

How she felt like she was finally going to move forward, but really she was just spinning in circles around you.

When I couldn’t sleep, I’d put earphones in so those words could keep me company in the darkness. If you still care at all, don’t go tell me now. If you love me at all, don’t call.

I’d let Your House and Cautioners and Hear You Me lull me into my dreams.

I played that CD as I packed up my things at the end of August. As I drove my little cherry red Mustang to Athens for the first time. Windows down. Volume up. As I made my great escape.

I said my goodbyes. This is my sundown. I’m gonna be so much more than this.

I never managed to escape you that summer. And when I hear these songs today, I sometimes wonder if I ever did.

the letter

Chloe: What did it say?
Me: That he hasn’t stopped thinking about that day.
Chloe: Who even sends letters anymore? That’s so World War II.
Me: That he closes his eyes and it’s like he can almost get back to it. That he goes home each day and locks himself in his room. Draws in the curtains, turns off the lights. Puts “Hear You Me” on repeat on his iPod. Lays down and just dwells in the memory of it.
Chloe: He sent a letter just to tell you that?
Me: He pulls the covers around his chin and one by one, he considers every detail. The torn booth at Waffle House. A waitress with a spider tattoo behind her ear. The smell of burnt coffee and cigarettes and butter and syrup. The long drive. My feet hanging out the passenger seat window. Mustard ballet flats and Jimmy Eat World. Running out of gas around three in the morning. Sprinting hand in hand toward the nearest exit, laughing the whole way. The rain. The rain. The rain. The sting of the tall grass on our ankles. The heat rising off the wet asphalt. A red gas can and a six-pack. The long walk back to the truck. The sunrise over the ocean. The stillness of both of us in the sand. Side by side. Trying to figure out some way, any way, to keep the sun from rising. To keep the night from ending. To stay in that moment forever.
Chloe: I feel like he could have just called.
Me: He said he’s scarred from it. Marred by the flawlessness of it all. He’s terrified nothing will ever compare. That will always be the best there ever was. He doesn’t know how to move past it. He’s not sure he really wants to.
Chloe: Are you going to write back?
Me: Yeah, I guess I will.
Chloe: What are you going to say?
Me: I’ll ask which scares him more, ruining the most perfect thing that has ever happened to him or never knowing if something that great could be even better.
Chloe: That’s it?
Me: Yeah, that’s it.
Chloe: You should probably just send a text.

on truths and lies

The truth was never a matter of right or wrong. Of light or darkness. Of knowledge or ignorance. The truth was always much slipperier than that.

It’s what creeps in while you’re sleeping. Filling gaps in memory with some alternate version of history, some derived version of reality. Filling silences with sounds. Sounds perhaps you’ve never heard, but when you wake up, they’re true too.

And we cling to it like there’s nothing else. Even as our bodies decay and our brains are not to be trusted, we hold firmly to the idea that the world is just as we remember. Every last detail in its place. Filed away. Safe and sound and true.

It’s all merely a perspective. Yours, different than mine. No less right. No less real.

The truth is it doesn’t exist. There’s not really any truth at all.

counting sheep

Remember fuzzy little fluffy sheep? They seem so sweet and cottony when you’re just a child.

Then all of a sudden you’re a 24-year-old at a petting zoo and sheep are fat, filthy, dull creatures. With pine straw and dirt clinging to all that wool.

How beautiful was innocence. When everything was as one-dimensional as a coloring book. As perfect as a Dick and Jane tale.

Can’t we have that back? Bumblebees with sweet smiles on their faces. Rainbows made of seven distinct rows of color. And a bright, happy sunshine sporting sunglasses.

Can’t we have fluffy white little sheep? Is it too late to get it back?