ninanevermore: (Ferris Wheel)
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I don’t drive by the Thin Place so much anymore, where Death appears as a Carney operating the giant Ferris Wheel of life and death. My commute now takes me west instead of south, where the Thin Place lies in a divided place between the northbound and southbound lanes of a minor state highway going into the northwest corner of Houston. Instead of passing by Death every day on my way to and from work, I pass by subdivisions and shopping centers and schools and lots and lots of trees. But I made a point of dropping by yesterday; there was someone I hoped to see.

It's been too long )
ninanevermore: (Default)
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I forgot my mother’s birthday this year. Again. Since she’s been dead for most of my life, there were no repercussions for this. I only remembered it on my own birthday, 3 days later. Being 9 months pregnant on her 37th birthday in the middle of a hot Texas July could not have been any fun for her. By her next one, I would have been a cute little just-starting-to-walk toddler, so that one was no doubt more enjoyable for her. The one after that, she would have been 39 and 6 months pregnant with my kid brother. From what I hear, she was angry at the doctor who told her she didn’t need to worry about birth control until I was a bit older (she never did forgive him) and fumed through the whole pregnancy; I doubt she took a day off to stop fuming on her birthday. In fact, I’m pretty sure turning 39 with a 6 month baby-belly only rubbed her nose in the fact that she believed she was “too damn old this.” Turning 40 with two small children and the security of a tubal ligation would have been a day to celebrate. While she loved us, she never stopped be delighted that we were the last children she would ever have. She never worried about having an empty nest.

“I can’t wait until you kids grow up and move away,” she told us. “It will mean my job is done and I can do what I want. Maybe I’ll write a book. Or your father and I will travel.”

To Be Loved Is To Be Wanted, But Not The Other Way Around )
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My Aunt Jo, who goes by her first name Leslie with everyone but her family, is recovering from a heart attack. She is the mother of my late cousin Carol, who went by her first name Leslie with everyone but her family. Since I considered myself to be a friend as well as family to her, I always called my Cousin Carol “Leslie.” I would love to hear my cousin Leslie’s take on her mother having a heart attack and not telling anyone in the family that it happened. She’d be fuming, but when she fumed she was catty and sharp-tongued and it was always entertaining to hear. Of all the things I miss about Leslie Carol, I think I miss her fury the most – she expressed it so much better than anyone else.

Deep Dark Depression, and Excessive Misery. )
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"Our dead are never quite," my cousin Aly commented to me recently.

On my father's side, my Swedish side, the dead are as quiet as in any other family. Swedes are a quiet, mind-your-own-business sort of people when they are alive, and they remain so after they die. It's my mother's Celtic (primarily Scotch-Irish) bloodline that is so ornery in life that they continue to kick up havoc after they die. The opinions on that side of the family are often so strong that nobody is going to let a little thing like being dead keep them from putting their 2-cents worth in.

Saints Who Raise Hell )
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I drove up to my Aunt Sylvia's 4th of July bash on Saturday, the first time I've made a family event in a few years. Actually, it's been 6 years since I drove the hundred plus miles to my Aunt's house in the resort community in the middle of nowhere, Texas. I know it was 6 years ago, because it was my cousin Aly's 1rst baby shower, and a group of us visited my cousin Leslie afterward on our way back (Leslie, at the time, lived in a different middle of nowhere halfway between my Aunt and me). It was the last time I ever saw Leslie; she packed up and moved to Tennessee after that and that's where she died and willed her remains to the Body Farm, never to come home again.

If I'd known that was going to happen, I would have stayed a bit longer that day. Ignorance may be bliss, but sometimes it leaves a bittersweet aftertaste.

The 4th this year was fun, though. All 3 of Leslie's Little-Sister Cousins – Aly, Frankie, and me – were together with our kids. Leslie was an only child, but she craved siblings like a pregnant woman craves pickles. She, the adopted outsider who never felt like she was "really" part of the family, adopted certain cousins in turn to be loved like the brothers and sisters she didn't have. She was already half grown when the 3 baby girls of the family came along, but she decided we needed a big sister and so she decided to be one to us.

On Sisters And Cousins )
ninanevermore: (Default)
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I've been thinking about my cousin Leslie a lot. I keep feeling a need to write a letter to her truck driver husband, Wren, but I don't quite know what to say.

Aly, skip this one. She didn't mean it when she said your baby was funny looking. )
ninanevermore: (Default)
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Today on my drive into work, I was thinking that for as long as I can remember I have been praying, "Please, God, give me a purpose. Please make me matter." Recently, my purpose has become clear to me, and now I have a new prayer, "Please, please let someone drop a big bag of money in my lap, big enough to make bruises to my legs, because I have to figure out how to do this without cash."

I have to write a book. It's no longer, "I should write a book," or "I'd like to write a book." I have to. I promised, a year ago this month. I should never have sent Leslie that envelope last year, but it seemed like an innocent enough thing to do. I sent a short letter, 3 or 4 of my poems, and some photographs.

Playing the Texas State Lotto as a Career Plan )
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Today on my drive into work, I was thinking about the way people play favorites toward their children and grandchildren. It's not fair, but it happens. It happened in my house growing up with my father, and my mother's father was notorious for it. The universe has a way of balancing things out, so being a favorite child or grandchild is not without its drawbacks. Favored ones pay for their status by earning the scorn of those who are not favored.

My grandfather's children and grandchildren are sharply divided into two camps: those who remember him fondly despite his many flaws, and those who can't say his name with sneering. Those of on his A list got praise and affection from the old man, because he was kind toward those he loved. But he didn't love all of us equally. In fact, I don't think he loved some of us at all.

To the chagrin of some of my older cousins on our grandfather's B list, the princess of the A list was my cousin Leslie. That this adopted outsider should be the favorite was unforgivable. Even as they sat stoically at her memorial service this last January, even wiping a tear or two away, I don't think they forgave her.

A Glass Half Full of Blood and Water )
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Today on my drive into work, I was thinking about the day I first learned the Leslie's son had an aneurysm. It was spring of 1993, and I was a few weeks away from graduating from college at the age of 23, because I couldn't think of any way to put it off any more. I put a whole 6 years into getting that 4 year degree, because my father was willing to pay for it and because I still didn't know what I wanted to be or where I wanted to go in my life. To tell the truth, I still don't. Stalling, by taking a minimum class load and changing majors ever so often, in order to keep my diploma at bay was the best tactic I could come up with, but my scheme had just about run it's course.

I was born with brains and just enough charm to get me by, but these things could not make up for an appalling lack of ambition. I am one of those quaint, useless people born to follow where ever the wind blows me, like a small autumn leaf. When there is no wind, I lie on the ground and molder with all the other useless leaves.

I was alone in my college apartment sitting at the dining room table, when the phone rang. It was my kid sister-in-law, Pat, and she was almost hysterical.

A Proxy Pillar of Strength )
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Today on my drive into work, I was thinking about my cousin Leslie. I got a call from her 82-year-old mother the other day, inviting me to come visit her. She wants to personally give away her things to insure that they don't wind up in the hands of Leslie's first husband. Her nursing-home-bound grandson, Cameron, is her next surviving kin, and his father is his next of kin. My aunt shudders at the thought of her ex son-in-law getting his hands on her wedding china or her prized doll collection. While I am not sure how much interest this man would have in such things, it means a lot to my aunt that he not get them.

"Now the china, it's a rose pattern, and I've got most of the pieces," my aunt told me. What she meant is that there is full service for 8, provided half the people leave early and won't want coffee afterward. "I'd like you to look at it, and see if you want it. It's nice, but if it doesn't suit your tastes, it won't hurt my feelings at all if you don't take it."

Keepsakes )
ninanevermore: (Default)
Today on my drive into work, I was thinking about this last Monday evening, when I was sitting at my dining room table selecting photos to send to my cousin Leslie's widower. I took them at her memorial service last month and promised to forward them, along with the copy of the program, to him as soon as I had them printed. Most of the pictures are of other pictures from a framed photo collage outside of the sanctuary. It's not a great way to get copies of cherished photos, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. Wren said he wanted them, too, so I was trying to write a description on the back of each one I planned to send him.

My 3-year-old son walked up and asked, "What're you doing, Mommy?"

A Street Value of a Several Thousand Words )
ninanevermore: (Default)
Today on my drive into work, I was thinking about misbehaving at funerals, and how I no longer do it. It took me more years than most to outgrow the tendency, but I finally figured out that it's just plain wrong. I kind of owed Leslie an apology about her father's funeral when I was 20, but she died not knowing it was me that caused all the trouble. She blamed my cousin, Aly, instead.

(Aly, I'm sorry, but what I figured was this: it was better that she just be upset at you for giggling during her father's eulogy, rather than have her be mad at both of us. I've always believed that while confession is good for the soul, it's lousy for personal relationships. I own up to being a complete coward, though, if that makes you feel any kinder toward me.)

Sitting at a funeral, searching for edibles in my underwear )
ninanevermore: (Default)
Today on my drive into work, I was thinking about the story Wren told me about the time my cousin Leslie's second husband tried to have her killed. As far as murder-for-hire stories go, it's pretty funny. The lesson I took from it is that the first rule of hiring outlaw bikers to carry out a hit, is to make sure that they don't find the intended victim more likable than they find you. If they do, things may not turn out the way you hoped.

Under the Right Circumstances, Bad Guys make the Best Friends )
ninanevermore: (Default)
Today on my drive into work, I was thinking about the conversation I had with Leslie's husband, Wren, two Sundays ago. He called me out of the blue to tell me he'd gotten the card and the letter I'd sent, and to thank me for them. He'd received it weeks before, but had only gotten around to reading it that day. He thought it was very nice of me. He said he knew why Leslie liked me so much.

"You know," he said in his slow Tennessee drawl, "you were one of her happy spots. She kept everything you ever sent her, and she'd read it over and over. She'd read it to me over and over. She say, 'Hey, here's something she wrote that I didn't notice before, listen to this,' and she'd read me whatever you'd written."

I don't think I've been called a happy spot before. Mentally, I kicked myself for not writing to her more often. She was the last person in North America not to have email, or even a computer, so writing her meant engaging in the somewhat archaic ritual of addressing and envelope and dropping something in the mail. I usually wrote her a letter when I got one from her first, but I rarely sent her something just because. The last letter I sent was to go with some photos I was sending because I'd promised her I would, and I sat down and wrote a note to go with them.

Rainbows that chase you, and sunlight from Heaven )
ninanevermore: (Ferris Wheel)
I paid Death a visit the other night, just to touch base with him. I've been playing coy with The Carney since my cousin died, pretending not to notice him as I drove past the Ferris Wheel every morning, even though I could see him waiving at me. Still, he's one of the few real friends that I've got, so I couldn't stay away forever.

A tear-stained facet of love )
ninanevermore: (Default)
Today on my drive into work, I was thinking about the phone call I made to my cousin's, husband the evening after her death. He and I spoke for almost an hour, much to my surprise. I have only met him a couple times, and on both of those occasions we spoke a total of 4 words to each other. This wasn't because we disliked each other, but because he is a man of few words and Leslie was a woman of so many. When we met, Wren and I nodded and said "hi" to each other after Leslie introduced us, and that was it. Since she always did most of the talking, no further words were necessary or possible between her husband and me. According to Leslie, Wren likes me quite a bit, and considers me the least crazy of all her extended family. She told me she would always read the letters I wrote her out loud to him, and that they would both laugh at them until they cried. I had a hard time picturing this big, burly, quite truck driving laughing out loud like that, but I suppose some people are different behind closed doors than they are in front of strangers.

A Death in A Small Town, and A Little Sacrifice )
ninanevermore: (Default)
I think the only way I could have handled the news yesterday about Leslie with grace and humor would have been if she could have called me and delivered it herself. With almost every phone call, she had a way of making me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. Leslie, I think, would have appreciated her own death in a way that none of us left behind will ever be able to.

I can hear her voice with its slow Texas drawl, gravely from years of cigarettes and yelling at her son's doctors and nurses who needed to be taken down a peg.

"Hey girl, it's your cousin Leslie Carol! Listen, you are never going to believe what I did on Sunday. Never in a million years. I can't even believe it myself. Are you ready? I died!"

One last phone call )

Thank you.

Dec. 11th, 2007 11:25 am
ninanevermore: (Default)
For everyone who left their condonlances for Leslie as a comment on yesterday's post, thank you.
ninanevermore: (Ferris Wheel)
I am standing back from the Ferris Wheel, watching the Carney and the woman with her finger pointing in his face. She is shouting at him, more confrontational than anyone I have ever seen facing down Death.

"If you think I'm leaving without my baby, you're dead wrong," she shouts at him, seemingly unaware of the irony of her words, and then she lets loose with a string of epithets. She is screaming, crying, cursing, banging on his chest with her fists, until he takes her in his arms and whispers something to her. I've never seen him actually touch anyone like this before, or anyone fall against him and sob like she does. He holds her tightly, tenderly, whispering words I can't hear, stroking the back of her hair with the hand that is not holding his cigarette.

I stand back and watch as if frozen. I am stunned. Since Cameron's aneurysm in 1993 I have written his epitaph a thousand times in my head, waiting for that phone call from Tennessee; waiting to hear that, after all these years in limbo he was finally gone and we could grieve for him at last. I've steadied myself to be there for Leslie when she finally lost her son, to comfort her and help her through it.

"You're like my little sister, Nina," she's told me on so many occasions, "You don't know how much you mean to me. I love you so much."

I was prepared for Cameron's death. Leslie's death, however, has blindsided me.

A New Ass-Kicking Angel stomps through the Pearly Gates )
ninanevermore: (Default)
Today on my drive into work, I wasn't thinking about much except that I needed to hurry up and get to work. I thought about the fact that all the lights I was making on green were helping me make good time, but not giving me a chance to put on my makeup. I thought about what a beautiful day it is, with sunshine and blue skies.

I didn’t think about much until I sat down at my computer and noticed the date. It is my mother's birthday. She is, once again, 51 years old, the same age she has been since 1984 when the clock stopped ticking for her. Some years, this day passes and I hardly notice it. Some years, like this one, it hits me like a ton of bricks. I always thought that the older I got, the less it would affect me. I was wrong.

Words we meant to say )

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