I called Mona last night, and had the unexpected pleasure of having a certain goofball answer the phone.

“Hi Lovey!”
(with excitement in his voice once he realizes it’s me) “Wait a minute – WHAT DAY IS IT TODAY?!”

“It’s Tuesday. I guess you remember where we’re going on Thursday, huh?”
“To see DONOVAN!!!”
“Yes, we are!”

farmer's market, summer 2013(I proceed to lay out the schedule for him, because, you know, every almost-six-year-old loves an impromptu Franklin Covey reading…)

He is certain he cannot wait a moment longer:
“You have to come get me today!”
“I can’t, Lovey – I’m at work.”
(like the idea has never occurred to him:) “You’re working today?”
“Yes, I have to work so that we can afford to go have fun!”

The conversation continues, complete with a full recap of the owie on his toe (I thought he said at first that he hurt his stomach, which with Elijah always makes me nervous) and a little bit of random poop talk thrown in just because he’s a boy…just because he can.

I ask if I can talk to his mama, and he informs me that she is at his granny’s house. “Do you wanna talk to my daddy?” 
no“No, your dad’s not going to know where to look. I need you to help me…I need you to find your green shirt with the white stripes. Do you know which shirt I mean?” 

He assures me that he does, and promptly walks over to his plastic dresser and starts pulling things out, narrating as he goes along. “Oh wait…that’s my orange shirt. I gotta look in all my clothes!” “Wait, what’s this?” and any number of precocious Elijah-isms.

(I wish I could write these conversations down, every single one of them. I wish conversations could be snapped like a photograph, framed to cherish..)

I try to tell him that he does not have to find it right. this. minute. He just needs to find it before Wednesday evening.

It’s important to me that he find his shirt. Don-Don already knows where his is. I need the green striped shirts, because they me keep track of two little boys when we go to places like the zoo. And to be honest, I need them too because they freeze a moment in time for me.

green striped shirt hailing a cabIt seems like I am always finding matching shirts, or hoodies, or…it is my homage, perhaps, to the brother-like bond they share.

And as much as I would like to, I don’t have language to express to this little boy how precious these days are, how little time there is to soak up all of these memories along with the chlorine that will turn their legs to chalk.

Because Donovan leaves in September. For Texas. Not like Chicago this time…not a day trip…no more impromptu visits at random times.

Texas is a long, long drive. Texas is a plane ride away. It’s a greater distance, and not just geographically. It’s another thing that feels like it will weaken the bond between these two little boys that has been so strong.

(And don’t tell anybody, but it’s a gigantic loss for me, too. Donovan gives me so much joy, even in his pouty moments…they both bring me joy, and never more than when they are together.)

How do you explain to a soon-to-be first grader that these are holy moments, and that, like most things in life, they are so very impermanent?  How do you tell them to cherish every moment, to not waste precious time on minor arguments or initial shyness? I’m not sure I can. Half the time I can barely tell myself this.

I need more hellos.
buddies forever

“Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

The doubts came on almost instantly, brought about, no doubt, by the fact that I wasn’t seeing as many familiar faces as I would have liked or expected to see. (Cue social awkwardness in 3…2…1)

The church was emptier than I had anticipated. Not an aching, slap-in-the-face empty like Marlene’s funeral had been, but my guess would be that there were not more than 200 people present. It didn’t feel like it was enough.

It also felt so disjointed in a way that I don’t think Rick would have wanted it to be. Skot Welch‘s eulogy gave much honor to Rick’s work, but I felt like the message of racial reconciliation was too sanitized overall…as if the message was muted. Dear God, at my funeral I want people to be pounding their fists on the table, shouting against injustice, breaking the uninitiated out of their kum-ba-yah complacency.

(Someone later pointed out to me that this wasn’t Rick’s way…he approached these issues with grace and gentleness…so probably this is my bias. Also, I do need to acknowledge that some people (most normal people?!) would think that this was not the time or the place for such a rant.)

But if others I’d been expecting to see weren’t there, should I really be? I started to doubt myself. I had asked to leave work early so that I could sleep a few extra hours before the funeral. I had struggled to articulate to my boss the relationship I had with this…friend? colleague?  We had worked together, had common passions, spoke the same “language” when it came to issues of white privilege and injustice. But sitting there, alone, I was starting to feel like a fraud.

I’ve long wrestled with the vagaries of funeral rituals. The question I posed once of whether it’s more appropriate for a casual acquaintance to go to the wake* or the funeral itself was never quite resolved, with people landing solidly on either side of the issue. Today’s funeral was one of the type that seems to be more common this days…no separate visitation time, just a time to greet the family in the hour preceding the funeral. I debated whether or not to come and “greet the family”. I’ve never met the family…except for his “brother” and co-host Skot Welch. I came most of all because I wanted to hug Skot, to tell him how very much I ache for him, how I of all people understand how important friends are, and that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. If I could do that one thing, perhaps my presence there could be redeemed.

I wrote most of this (up until this point) during the funeral…on my phone. I imagine that the people sitting behind me were glaring at me disapprovingly, thinking I was on Facebook or some such nonsense. How to explain to them–to anyone, really–that I need to write in order to process?

The service was over, right on the hour, and I made my way out of the sanctuary. Skot was standing right near the door, and in my typical rude fashion, I cut in on a conversation he was having to give him a hug and to tell him how sorry I was. I ran into a few other friends, brothers and sisters in this work.  I almost felt redeemed. I was simply showing up. Whether or not I felt I had the “right” to be there, it was done. I had been there.

And hopefully, just showing up was enough.

*I had a friend tell me that calling it a “wake” is antiquated and conjures up images of drunken Irishmen. East Coast friends would disagree, and old habits die hard.

It’s March 4th (Mona’s birthday!) I’ve just spent twenty minutes writing about my experiences as a substitute so far, and in keeping with my earlier decision, I want to start posting them.

I am a writer and a perfectionist (or maybe those two are synonymous), and it’s hard to share things that are less than “perfect”. But perfect never comes, so I’m trying to force myself to just. write. And I think there’s some good stuff in my random ramblings about my subbing experiences…too much for one post, really. So I think to myself, “I should just start posting them as snippets and at least start the work”. Do not despise these small beginnings, blah blah blah.

But wait. I was going to post my resolutions. That I sketched out the first week of January. And it’s March. Did I mention that it’s March?

So I can’t post the stuff I’ve just written now, because first I have to finish what I started two months ago. Only the best of what I hoped to write is no doubt lost by now…but then I remember. Just. write.

So here, as I start to feel sleep wanting to overtake me, are the resolutions I identified back then.

1) Send out Christmas cards (right. this one is a joke. But maybe next year?!)

2) Eat more slowly. This is a resolution that is entirely independent of any other attempts at making better food choices, and it’s fantastically difficult to achieve. Eating is most often an afterthought, something that gets in the way of everything I have to do. It is an inconvenience and feels like too much work. I ate yesterday…and now I have to think about what I’ll eat today?

Too many days, I wake up for my 6pm shift at 4 or 4:30. It’s never enough time to plan out what I will bring to work for lunch. I’m never quite hungry enough (or together enough) to get something to eat before I go to work. And eating in the car, or at my desk, between phone calls, is not conducive to eating more slowly.

I have been failing miserably at this one. But I’m not giving up.

3) Purge (more) clutter

If things progress as they have been, I may be starting an online degree program fairly soon. This has me itching for a fresh start…not just with external clutter, but with the life-crushing and meaningless stuff that is neatly packed away in boxes, or with the utterly redundant closet that sorely needs an overhaul.

Fresh starts make me happy…if only I wasn’t so bad at starting.

4) Write more – that goes without saying. “Write more” is a resolution for my entire life, not just for a given year. I’ve not been moving towards that goal, but I am always “blogging on the inside”. The words are there…why do I not spend time doing something that I claim to value so much?

5) In the minor leagues, but worth mentioning…stop re-posting stuff on Facebook without vetting it first. It’s far too embarrassing – me, who has made it a life goal to debunk urban legends, and yet I’ve gotten caught up in far too many in the past few months.

So I guess I want to blog without thinking too much and at the same time stop retelling stories UNLESS I’m thinking a little too much about them.

Sounds like me…all of it. So here we go…

January 1 was to be my cut-off date for being done with meat. Two weeks into it, I find my resolve is weakening…

I know *why* I want to do it…the impact on the environment, the inhumane treatment of the animals, the fact that there is all kinds of weird stuff lurking within the meat…I could go on.

The problem, it seems, is that as much as I believe in those reasons for saying good-bye to meat, my heart (or perhaps more accurately, my stomach) is not in it. Meat. Tastes. Good. And I am not yet creative enough to think beyond pasta and cheese, which leaves me feeling hungry and a bit bored with my food choices.

So here I stand, stuck in the bargaining phase of my grief over the loss of this relationship, and I think to myself, “Chicken. Maybe I’ll just eat chicken.”

And I like this idea. In fact, my mouth waters just thinking about it. Never mind my brain’s insistence on recalling an article I read that said that giving up chicken would have a greater benefit to the environment than giving up beef would…never mind the images in my mind of the cruel way that they are treated, or the fact that their feed contains ground-up Other-Dead-Chickens…somehow, it still feels like a fair compromise to me.

Sure, I could eat only free-range, organically grown (and priced) chicken, but given the reality of my lifestyle, that would be almost as difficult as eating no meat at all.

So I am being drawn more and more towards compromise…and maybe I just need to accept that this is where I’m at right now. Baby steps, right? And in the meantime, I will keep an open mind and be willing to be made willing, as the saying goes…forcing myself to do it before I am ready does not seem to me like a recipe for success in this regard.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear some delicious wings calling my name…

I don’t know what title to give this post…and I honestly don’t know how I will spit out all of the words that are swirling around within me.

I am home from Elijah’s birthday party, and for the first time in at least three years, he did not come home with me. Partly because I am finally beginning to admit to myself that I don’t need to save him from his life, his surroundings, but also because he has more to keep him there, and it would be selfish for me to force him to come with me.

My house is empty, but my heart even more so.

This moment has been so long in coming. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been seeing traces of it for at least a year now. He has friends on his street, and there’s just no reason why he should want to come and hang out with me…especially not now that his buddy Donovan’s not around. And it’s normal…he’s a big boy now…and I don’t begrudge him that.

But my heart is broken.

Make no mistake about it…despite what anybody may say, my love for him is, and always has been, selfish. I got to play “second mommy” to him…everything I did was as much for me as it was for him. People will be quick to say that he is “lucky to have you”…but I call bullshit. It was all my greed to have someone to love, my selfish desire to belong to someone. I’ve been lying to myself, and I’m paying for it now.

Mona keeps telling me that I need to change my shift at work so that I can take him on weekends again…she is oblivious to the fact that he has no reason to want to come spend time with me, and that I wouldn’t do that to him. I’ve already delayed the inevitable by filling his summer with exciting trips to hotels with water parks, and to ‘Acago to see his buddy. I can see now that I was trying to hold on to the last remnants of a time that is now behind us.

When you’re the real mommy (or so I imagine), you feel a similar ache in your heart, but it’s different. Though the relationship changes, you’re still and always “mama”. Come what may, there’s nobody or nothing in the world that can take that title away from you.

But me? I’m Puff the Magic Dragon, not just with Elijah, but with everybody in my life who grows up and moves on, to the type of life that “normal” people have.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant strings make way for other toys
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head now bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
And Puff no longer went to play along that cheery lane.
Without his life-long friend, he could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

My “cave” right now consists of eating too much, sleeping too much, and crying loud, jagged, gagging tears. And despite my therapist’s insistence that I can now “focus on myself” and get my life figured out–“invest in me”, or some such crap–I am not quite ready to crawl out of my cave just yet.

My grief is selfish…it’s pathological. At best, it indicates just how emotionally stunted I am…at worst, it’s just short of creepy…and real mommies’ love for their children is never considered “creepy”…

Please understand that I’m not writing this as a way of fishing for people to try to convince me that what I’ve said here isn’t true, or that I “shouldn’t” feel the way I do. I don’t need to be told that I should be proud of the way that I’ve invested in his life or that he will never forget me or that he has been “lucky” to know me…please, make no mistake about it. I’m the one who has been lucky. I have loved him selfishly, and I am paying for that selfishness now with these tears.

I am quite certain that I have never loved anyone as much and as fiercely as I love that little boy…and that love is not diminished, I know. But I also know that the most precious times we have had are now behind us…behind me, truth be told…and I haven’t prepared myself for what comes next. At some point, I am sure that I will crawl out of my cage and reluctantly face the too-bright sun…

But today…today is not that day.

“There are friends you can get together with after any amount of time, and you pick up where you left off. It’s like no time has passed at all.”

People say this all the time. I am pretty sure that you can walk into a Hallmark store and buy a card that has some form of that sentiment. And there is much truth to this, and I have been abundantly blessed in my life with friends who are living examples of this.

But there is a cruel, heart-breaking reality that lies beneath these pretty-sounding words…the very reason why there is a need for cards that say this kind of shit. Time has passed. Everything has changed. There are moments that are gone, things that will never be the same again. There is layer upon layer of loss, grief that makes you cry until you gag. There are therapists talking to you about doing “grief work”, when you barely have it in you to do the work of holding yourself together long enough to say good-bye – again – without falling to pieces.

And this is what I have to believe that heaven is…a place where all the pieces of your heart can come back together again…where every moment is better than the one before, where there is no. more. separation. from the people we love. A place where all of our favorite stories can be told and re-told, and a time when it just might all make sense.

But we are so, so far from that day and that place, and for now all we have is another good-bye.

I realized recently that there are very few people in my life that I am not jealous of for one reason or another.

It’s an ugly trait, jealousy…not something that’s easy to admit to. There are so many aspects to why it is just wrong to succumb to jealousy…so much fodder for future therapy sessions.

I think the hardest thing about it, though-more than the guilt I feel at the way jealousy contaminates the happiness I should feel for people I love, more than the aching realization that so many of the things I am jealous about are forever out of my reach-is the fact that,

try as I might,

I cannot come up with a single thing that I can claim that would ever make someone else jealous of me.

***my bad…a friend pointed out to me that, by its strictest definition, what I am really talking about envy, not jealousy…. but you get the idea.

From Dictionary.com:

The main difference between envy and jealousy is that envy is an emotion related to coveting what someone else has, while jealousy is the emotion related to fear that something you have will be taken away by someone else.

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