Monday, February 27, 2017

Indiana Homecoming: A List of Loves

The plane touched down, and I awoke from my light snooze, and tried to focus on the February landscape and ignore the wretched little children thumping around in the row to the back of me. Behind me was Florida, my past, the remnants of my family. Before me...well, what, really? The rest of my life, I suppose. Spring approaching, then summer, and fall, and so on, until I run out of seasons and time. But that's some heavy shit to have on the brain when stumbling off an airplane, so I'll try to keep the existential angst to a minimum.

For years, when hanging out in airports, waiting to catch my flights "home" to California, I would sit at the bar and order double-vodka drinks and text people and try to list in my head all the reasons why I should be happy and grateful about going back to California. "I have a fantastic job with supportive colleagues; I have kitties who adore me, a husband who gets me and gives me my space..." One could say I was counting my blessings, but really, let's be honest: I was simply slapping lipstick on a pig.

Yet, oddly...the habit has stuck. And while I am pleased as punch to be coming home to Indiana, and don't have to talk myself into being happy to be back home, it's kind of a thing now, to list all the things that make me happy about coming home. So, here goes:

  • Hands down, the happiest of the happy-making things that I love about it here right now: the weather. Oh my god. It changes all the frickin time. Before, in That Place, the only reason it was necessary to check the weather was to see how hot it was going to get. Nothing else really changed. God, the monotony was awful. But's never a dull moment. The morning I flew home this last time, the clouds were hanging low in the sky, and while it wasn't nearly cold enough, at least it looked like February. 

(Another February, but it works)

  • This town is filled, completely FILLED, with young people. Sure, god bless 'em, they are a bunch of clueless twits for the most part, but they keep Bloomington fresh, interesting, throbbing with youth and stupidity. And they make me so very, very, very glad not to be in my 20s anymore. 
  • My work. Before I took this job, my musical tastes ranged from "Def Leppard is da bomb" to "Enya is the epitome of enlightened elegance". But I can talk to my sisters and their partners about music and musicians and emerging artists and while I wouldn't say my tastes are particularly refined, but at least I know a thing or two about a thing or two, and have discovered some fantastic music. 
  • More about my work: for the last few years at my old job, I felt I had stagnated. I also felt that my professional ambitions had been...not actively thwarted, but certainly stunted through a lack of encouragement. However, now, in a new environment, with a different kind of supervisor, I find myself growing a tiny bit bolder, more willing to take risks without having to ask permission (and then finding out that the risks weren't really all that risky), more likely to be given extra responsibilities that actively boost my leadership experience.
  • My home: For the past almost year, my cats and I have been hanging out, renting a room from a long-time friend. It's worked out pretty well, particularly as this friend is usually on the road. But the time has come for me to finally establish a homestead of my own, and so, in a couple of days, I'll be getting the keys to my very own apartment, which will be shared with B, who is rolling into town early next week. It's a probably unremarkable apartment, but it's right around the corner from where I live, and has a lovely view from the balcony, and enough space to fill with  an odd assembly of furniture inherited from my grandmother, and the collective books and stuffed animals and makeup odds and ends of the two oddities who will shortly take up residence there.
  • The seasons. Really, this goes hand-in-hand with the weather. Both change, although the weather is slightly less reliable. Nonetheless, I am not sure there is anything more comforting to my weary, heartsore self than to look at at the bare trees, and remind myself that in less than a couple of months, there will be verdant life springing forth, and the landscape will change and revive from its months of hibernation and austerity. Time passes. Healing happens. Life and death ebb and flow, each in their turn. And if it happens to the land, it will happen to me. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Deep in the Ages

This is the tenth time I've tried to sit down and write something. Each time I try, it devolves into this constant wallowing in self-absorbed ruminations of my grief, and the anxiety and depression that caught a whiff and decided to pay a little visit. But I really, really want to try to get away from that and just take a moment to say why I grieve.

My grandmother, my Mawga, passed away last week.

It really wasn't unexpected--she's been in a decline for years, although her mental skills were strong almost until the end. But she lingered and failed and rallied so many times, my sisters and I simply weren't sure when (or even if)  the end would come. My grandmother was, as Middle Sister put it,
"a bookie's nightmare." Or, as Eldest Sister said last year, possibly a vampire robot.

But last Wednesday, her oxygen tank went quiet, and her heart finally stopped beating, and the woman who raised me left this world. Her gossip magazines are now piled up, no longer read. The lipsticks we bought her just before Christmas (she loved to look pretty) no longer used. The junk food she gobbled down--the Cheetoes, the Fritoes, the chips--no longer eaten. Even just looking over those words, it occurs to me--my Mawga lived life and enjoyed it until so very close to the end. In the last few years of her life especially, she was surrounded by people who loved her, and who were a reflection of the love she gave out.

She raised me--my earliest memories are of her. All through my childhood, I was her shadow. Until I was an adolescent, I had no friends but her. My mother, for reasons that I didn't question then and don't really understand now, sent me to live with Mawga and Boppa when I was 10, and these grandparents, who should have been enjoying their retirement, instead took me in. I was their youngest granddaughter, a strangeling, awkward thing, and they simply accepted me, loved me, gave me a home.

Boppa passed away during my annus horribilis in 2015, and Mawga soldiered on for almost another two years. In all honesty, that woman was as tough as fucking nails.

Mawga was a remarkable woman, not just for having lived almost 100 years. She was the only daughter in a household filled with boys, in a family that desperately tried to keep body and soul together in Depression-Era Indiana. She got pregnant before she was married, but she and my grandfather did marry, in 1942, and she outlived all of her children. She hated Christmas and all of its attendant work and expectations and disappointments, but that didn't stop her from working hard to give us a magical holiday each year. She was prone to streaks of melancholy and negativity, and that left its mark on me. As Eldest has pointed out, depression doesn't exist in a vaccuum--and apples don't fall far from the tree, or tears don't fall far from the eye, or something. All of the women in my family have a melancholic streak as wide as our hips, and I think our Mawga was Ground Zero for that sorrow. She loved to have a Beefeater Gin and Tonic, and quite often more than one. We watched Golden Girls together every Saturday night when I was younger, and when I was older, we enjoyed many an episode of South Park in each other's company. Every time she would bring me some treat--some new poster paints or drawing paper, or a library book that she thought would appeal to me--she would present it with an impish, generous smile of anticipatory pleasure.  She took such a keen interest in people, both celebrities on TV and common folk that she met every day. She was nosy and curious, and never seemed to be particularly scandalized by the various questionable life decisions and highly unsuitable men my sisters and I would hitch our wagons to over our young adult years. She never seemed to pass judgement on us for our dumbass mistakes, and while I'm sure I haven't mastered this, I do try.

It seemed like, as much as she liked folks, she was perfectly content on her own, reading through a huge stack of books, munching on the junk food she loved, and sometimes gazing out the window and thinking hundreds of thoughts that she probably never shared, and now never will.

"You are deep in the ages, now, deep in the ages
You whom the world could not break, nor the years tame."
-Sara Teasdale

Currently (Late February 2017 Edition)

About life and death, of course, and the endless numbered days that march on between the beginning and the end. During the day, I am at the grandparents' house, cleaning out closets and organizing shit. At night, I am at Eldest's house, drinking wine and texting my friends and trying to sort through decades' worth of cards, letters, photos, and the like. At one point, I came across a journal that I had gotten for Mawga back in Christmas of 1994, and she had actually written in it. At the end of the first page, she reflected, "I still have so much of God's work to do-I have wasted too many years."

It's sad that she would think so...but I also think we all feel like that. I know that, on a bad day, that's how I feel about much of the last decade. Which cannot be altered, of course--the only thing that can be altered is how I think about it, so that one day I won't see them as wasted years.

Before flying to Florida to be with the sisters, I was muddling through my last days of work. This meant making a lot of lists and trying to stick to them, occasionally sitting very still with a thousand-yard-stare, and listening to a lot of music that, quite predictably, would make me cry. At some point, I acquired a lick of sense, and decided to turn to Amazon Prime for some musical variety. Which is how I came across The Dropkick Murphys. I'd heard some of their music before, of course, but much like with books, sometimes, you just have to be in a certain frame of mind to get it. Which is why, right now, I am taking every opportunity I can to assault my eardrums with this rollicking, life-affirming, brutal, joyously rude Celtic punk band.

When shit hits the fan, and change is upon me, I'm usually not up for reading new stuff. Who knows how the story will end? I don't need that uncertainty. That's why I'm (re)reading The Secret Garden right now. If you've not had the opportunity to read this classic, you're a deprived and possibly depraved person. Books don't have to be complex, weighty tomes to celebrate the healing joys of nature and friendship.

Oh god, nothing much at present. For about a week before Mawga passed away, I was on a godawful antibiotic that suppressed my appetite, made me nauseous, and got my heart up past 100 beats per minute. I'm off the meds, thank god, but it's still hard to choke down food. I'm more okay with this than I should be--at this point in my life, I'm pretty happy and confident in how I look, other than my weight, so if this little anxiety/depression diet kicks off the necessary weight loss, I'm fine with it.

Before everything went to hell last week, Friend John had introduced me to House, one of the many, many TV shows I've missed out on. It's entertaining and distracting, although I fear I'm going to become a hypochondriac and self-diagnose every twitch and ache as some obscure illness. Except for lupus, of course.

It's difficult to do from down here in the Deep South, but I am trying to prepare for a late January, I signed a lease on an apartment that I can literally see from where I live now. Thank god, Bethany is moving up in early March, so I'll have family close by to heckle me and help me keep me busy. And in the meantime, there are utilities to set up and things to coordinate. And when I get home, there will be boxes to pack and haul and stores to visit, and strapping male friends to chivvy into moving my furniture.

Basically, at the moment, there's a great deal of "hurry up and wait." I'm in a much better place than I was last week, and I am becoming eager to return home to Indiana, to the waiting spring, to the community of friends I've built up, to the work I do, to the life I've made for myself. More than anything, I can leave Florida with a feeling of happy anticipation, rather than the grim resignation that I used to feel when I had to return to California. I am going to leave Florida, and return home to Indiana, the land of my grandparents, and take a tiny measure of comfort in that.