An Object in Motion…

…remains in motion. I have been told many times recently that I am that object. I can’t totally be blamed for all the motion. We are in our busy season at Lifetouch. There are underclass students, classroom groups, sporting events, and homecomings that need to be captured, immortalized for generations to come.

Some of my motion I learned from Keith. We called him Tigger because he was always in motion, almost to the point of being a blur. I was never a morning person but that didn’t stop him from bounding into the bedroom way earlier than I was prepared for, setting a steaming hot cup of coffee on the night stand, inches from my face. It was a strategic maneuver for sure. I couldn’t resist and was sitting up as he asked me when I was going to get out of bed. As we would start the day, I’d lounge around the house while he whirl winded about. And then he got sick. Like a relay race, I had no choice but to grab the baton from him. Be the strong anchor for the final stretch. As he ceased to be in motion, I became the one to remain in motion. So in some strange way, I inherited my tendency to not stand still from him.

But what I’m really here to touch on – what has weighed heavy on me, maybe even slowing down my trajectory, is all the objects in my life that are no longer in motion.

Last night, Gary’s mom, Momma Shirley, breathed her last breath. I pray that this is the end cap of a long series of people who are no longer in motion in 2017. It was peaceful and calm. Very similar to my Mom-Mom’s passing in March. She was our first one to leave us this year. One matriarch in the Spring and one in the Fall.

And those that died in between – here I will give each of them pause. Their condensed eulogy. First, Dave (AKA Fruit) a drummer supreme, and a total nut, and a musical genius, lost his battle to cancer in April. He was 53. There was Asa, a name from my far distant youth, who was probably the most creative force of nature I had ever witnessed. I still have cards he made and carvings he did. He was in his 60’s. Then Kim, with her kilowatt smile and heart as big as the sky, was in a hit and run accident on Mothers Day. She was taken from us the next day. She was 48. Harry was in a fatal motorcycle accident in August. He practically lived on his bike so it seemed fitting that he would die riding. I always marveled at his under spoken nature and sweet awkward shyness. He had just retired from the army and was enjoying life to the fullest. He was 48. In September, Eileen lost her battle with Cancer. Her spirit was as strong as the moose gifts she would hand out for all the special occasions. In the words of her brother “the world is down one good person – everyone do your part to pick up the slack.” She was in her 50’s. Aunt Donna was in a car accident that killed her instantly one week later. She struggled after Uncle Mike died. She’s back in his arms and safe once more. And in between Eileen and Donna, Great Uncle Don left us. Between Aunt Donna and Momma Shirley, it was Great Uncle Dayton’s turn to say goodbye.

Meanwhile, in the land of the living, a few of my photography assignments took me back to my old High School – Colonel Richardson. On the first visit I ran across Cynthia. We graduated together and found paths crossing again when I worked for the law firm in Easton. She has always looked just like she did way back in the day. I’m a little jealous but still enjoy talking with her. Her voice is always so quiet and soothing. On my return to the school, I ran across Tommy. He used to hang out with me and my brother when we lived on the farm in Choptank. His father rented our shop and while he was hard at work, Tommy would play with Lance. Now he’s all grown up and the band teacher at Colonel. He reminded me of the time Lance squished his hand with a rock. We were kinda, ok – maybe a lot – mean to him. But he turned out pretty cool. Today, I’m in St. Michaels. Melissa got her picture taken and we did a selfie with Cow to send to Katie. Her kids are growing up so fast. So is Katie’s son, Landon. Then Tom stopped by. Hands down, he was my favorite teacher on the planet. I credit him with starting me on the path to theater. My first loved career. They are all in motion. Just like me. And it is pure joy to intersect with them from time to time. Reminding me that we are all still in motion, bouncing off briefly from each other. Gaining a little energy from the impact to keep us going. Those that have left will have to wait a little longer for us. It is not our time.

It was Mom-Mom’s time. It was Momma Shirley’s time. Mom-Mom got everything ready for those that followed her. Momma Shirley has just arrived to catch them all up on the land of the living. These two mothers never met. But I was always aware of two similarities they had. Both could hear 20 conversations at once from the opposite end of the house. Both could talk endlessly about everything under the sun. There could not be a better beginning or end to this year of loss than those two mothers. We will eternally have the two greatest listeners keeping an ear out for us. Two of the greatest talkers to visit our dreams with stories of those no longer in motion, and of course, to occasionally give us our dose of motherly grief. Two matriarchs of so much more than their own families – eternally cheering us on as we remain in motion. For however long that may be.

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Graduations, Weddings, and Funerals

Often, time feels like its falling through the hourglass faster than it should.  We are in Senior season at LifeTouch.  A steady stream of the class of 2018 are rolling in the door, full of their future dreams and young energy.  There holds for them a kind of promise of all things possible and for a while, we are given the gift of capturing that in a photograph.  In those moments, the hourglass stops.  Everything stands still and as my shutter clicks, I soak in all that energy and promise.  I’ve enjoyed all the conversations with their families,  so reminiscent of when I was looking at those proofs of my son, almost in tears.

zk3Very little has changed since I had my Senior photos taken over 30 years ago, and it stirs in me my own still frames.  I can still clearly remember the shock on my face as they held up that scrap of velvet fabric and I had to bear my shoulders so they could wrap me in it.  I felt so awkward and yet, when the proofs arrived, it was one of the rare times in my young life that I was enamered with my own image.

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I need to have these moments right now.  I need to visit those moments that sit at the bottom of the hourglass.  In the last month, I have stood witness to Fruit leaving us before his 54th birthday.  A friend of Gary’s suddenly lost her husband who was only in his early 40s.  On Mothers Day, a friend was in a hit and run accident.  She was posting on Facebook about how angry she was.  How her back was sore but otherwise, she was ok.  She grumbled in the early hours of the next day about her struggle to get comfortable so she could get some sleep.  On Monday morning, she died.  Just like that.  Her hourglass had run out.  She was 5 months younger than me.  That same rage that I felt for Fruit welled up again.

So it seems fitting that on the heels of Seniors, I step into wedding season.  Weddings are, by far, my favorite subject to photograph.  I’m covering three of them this June.  One for each departed soul who carried out their vows of “till death do you part”.  It feels like a reset button for me.  As if capturing all the joy and love of those moments can ease this anger I feel for those other three.  But even then, there are freeze frame images of my own wedding to Keith.  The knowledge that his hourglass ran out over 5 years ago and I still find myself wanting to flip it and start it over again.  That sensation of working late nights and climbing into bed next to Gary, who long ago had fallen asleep, and pressing my hand against him to feel the warmth as I listen to him breath.  Finding myself praying that there will be endless moments for us to share and knowing that there are no guarantees of it happening.

And yet, there is still that young girl graduating, moving on to college and marriage and motherhood, who will always believe in the impossible.  That still carries with her the energy and dreams and promises of her future.  Her hourglass filled with millions and billions of stars.  Each one falling with its own color and light.  Some so brilliant they burn out as they fall.  Others softly glowing and almost floating as they fall.  Mixed in with them are those occasional dark dense stars that weight on my soul.  We all have them, I guess.  But when I look at the cacophony of everything as it falls, it is so breathtakingly beautiful.  A sign of a well lived life, full of love.  They are still falling and for that, I relish what I have now.  No matter what it is.

Summer of ’87

….Hot summer nights, mid July, when you and I were forever wild….Hot summer days, Rock n roll, the way you played for me at your show, and all the ways I got to know the pretty face and electric soul….(Young and Beautiful, Lana Del Rey)

I meet him in the summer of ’87.  A world away in a time that has slipped through my mind’s fingers faster and faster as the years rolled by.  He was a goofy looking guy pumping gas at a local station in St. Michaels.  I was waiting tables in a tiny little tourist pub.  Our friend Chris was the connection.  We had met the summer before bussing tables at a great big giant tourist pub.  The how and when we met escapes me.  The challenge he issued never has.  He called me dull and straight laced.  He told me I couldn’t be wild and let my hair down.  I countered that I could and he told me to prove it by going on a date with him.  I accepted the challenge and showed up as he was getting off work, wearing turquoise jams with huge lotus flowers printed all over embarrassing places topped with a hot pink shirt with a tail that went down to my knees, and the hair of course – loose and wild and big.  The look on his face was of total shock.  He had never seen me outside of the constrains of the dull and straight laced waitress uniform I wore.  So there I stood, clearly the winner of the challenge, grinning that crazy little grin while he took in the sight of this strange Freshman coed girl-woman.  He smelled of petrol and was wearing his uniform over worn out jeans with no knees left, with his name stitched on the breast pocket – David – but I will forever know him as Fruit.

So began the summer romance.  My friends Karen and Chris were already a tad attracted to each other and the natural course of a foursome was formed.  Chris was a big 3 stooges fan and Fruit would follow suit with all the antics and “wise guy” skits.  Like Larry and Moe without curly and two young girls home for summer break their only witnesses to the show.  We’d get off work and hang out on the back of Chris’ truck in a corn field while the boys played guitars.  Every once in a while, the boys would wander off to use the “facilities” and would loudly announce “ok evil Corn People.  Stay away from our women while we’re gone.  Don’t murder them with an ax.  We got to get them home in one piece.”  Some nights we spent at Fruit’s house, listening to Pink Floyd or any music with an impressive guitar solo or drum solo that could be played over and over again.  Larry Chris and Moe Fruit going “hey, hey, listen to this part”.  One night Chris fell over Fruit’s drum set.  And I quote “if you need me . . . .boom bang crash clang…..I’ll be outside”.  We laughed at him for what felt like hours.  We came out of the movies in the pouring rain to find Karen’s Mach with a flat tire.  Fruit and Chris jumped right in to fix it as we all stood around getting soaked to the bone.  Karen turned to me and whispered “I think they’re putting it on backwards.”  I agreed and we both pointed out the mechanical error.  We were told we didn’t know what we were talking about.  OK – we stood there in silence and watched the struggle until there was nothing dry on any of us.  They turned it around and it slipped right on.  More laughter except this time, only from the girls.  All of us were so alive and young.  Our world shimmered and sparkled.  We didn’t have a care in the world.

To an 18 year old, time feels like it can stretch out forever.  That summer seemed to never end.  But summer became fall and back to school we went.  Fruit and I still saw each other when we could and reconnected the next summer.  People commented on our “quirky cuteness” and said we looked just like Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks.  We fell in love, briefly.  We’d challenge each other with our devotional statements.  I love you most…. I love you more…..I love you to infinity……I love you to infinity X 2.  Boom!  Can’t top that, now can you?  Fruit was first to coin the infinity X 2 phrase.  It was his go to.  Infinity doesn’t last as long as we want.  Only as long as we need it to.  We drifted away and the shimmering summers we had faded into distant memories.

Our paths crossed again in 2000.  We were different people and a little harder around the edges with what life had handed us.  But there was comfort it recalling our youth.  A kind of magic in recounting tales of our carefree days.  He had all but shaken the nickname of all those years ago until I rolled into town, shouting FRUIT!  How ya been?  My nieces took music lessons from him and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop calling him Fruit in front of them.  They giggled at their little inside secret information about Mr. David.

I had just wrapped up attending my Mom Mom’s service.  There was a little breathing room between family visits on Sunday.  That’s when my brother gave me the news.  David had died on Saturday evening.  I was angry.  I’m still angry.  And yet we knew he had cancer.  We knew it didn’t look good.  I’m angry for selfish reasons. He was my youth.  He was suppose to be invincible, shining in the summer sun before things like being worried about bills, and our health, and climbing those stairs with our old knees kicked in.  Fruit was the promise of what was to come, and was not allowed to live long enough to see it.  And his wife?  I’ve seen that pain.  It hurts like hell.  I’m angry that she has to go through it.

I need to replace the anger with something else.  Take a breath.  Let myself make a promise.  Or more accurately, a challenge.  Let us always live our youth, no matter our age.  Live like we’re on summer break and there are no cares in this shimmery shiny world.  Challenge ourselves and our friends to step out of the dull box.  Stop to laugh at the fall and the flat and the dark things in the corn field that scare us.  Let us love to Infinity X 2.

 

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The caption in my scrapbook for this picture reads “Nothing better than Pepsi and Fruit”

Parallel Lives

I was photographing a soccer game.  Focusing on the action on the field, conversations from the spectators floated to me as they usually do.  One kid asked his mom for a few dollars to use at the concession stand.  A dad was pacing up and down the side lines giving advice to his son.  A few girls giggled as they held up their cell phones to each other.  A woman was sharing a friend’s trials with her neighbor.  Side by side, they sat in the standard issue game watcher’s folding chairs. “She lost her husband to cancer last year.” she explained.  “Pancreatic cancer.”  Then she went on. “She beat breast cancer.  Her hair is finally growing back in, but she just found out her mother has breast cancer.”

For the first time in over a year, I was struck with that eerie sense of – I don’t even know what I would call it.  Not dejavue, or irony, or coincidence. More the sensation of being connected to something bigger and yet, disconnected from all of the world.  I froze behind the lens, playing back my own husband’s death, my breast cancer, my mother’s breast cancer.  I almost felt haunted for a split second, and then I was overwhelmed with the urge to introduce myself so I could share our similarities.  But sometimes being connected to something bigger while disconnecting from the world sticks me in my head, to be alone with those thoughts.  I didn’t want to approach them.  That could either lead to them asking  who that crazy lady was or all of us chatting away until we felt obligated to exchange phone numbers or worse, friend each other on Facebook.

I wanted my Parallel life to remain anonymous to me.  And yet, a million questions bubbled to the surface of my brain.  Questions like, when he drew his last breath, did you feel as if you would stop breathing too?  Then the days rolled into weeks and months and did you find yourself still moving?  Still breathing?  Still living despite the heavy weight of grief sitting on your chest?

Did you discover your cancer just as the weight was losing its grip on you?  With the diagnoses, did a strange sort of fearlessness fall over you?  As if to say that losing him braced you for this.  This next round of your trials.  Did you somehow know in the depths of your mind that your struggle would be easier than his?  You intrinsically knew that you would survive.  You knew you had to for his sake so that you could fulfill those promises you whispered to him at his bedside.  The promises to live in every moment of every day.  Did you promise to carry on without him as if he were still by your side?  Surrounded by people who love you, were you finding yourself lifting their spirits along with yours?  Because you remembered all to well what it was like to care for someone with cancer.  Because you now understood that fighting cancer is sometimes easier than caring for someone with it.

Did you feel like some strange reversal of fate was unravelling before you when you got the news about your mother?  As if time had suddenly gone backwards and sideways until you thought you must have fallen down the rabbit hole, only to have your mother follow you.   Meanwhile, did your father stand by both of you, despite his fear of losing both wife and daughter?

Those questions will never be answered by that mystery woman.  My parallel life.  I know I’ve answered them again and again.  Those answers seem to morph with each experience I encounter.  One answer will always stay the same.  It can answer thousands of questions thrown about like confetti.  It makes us all a little more human.  It connects us to the air we breath and the ground we walk on.  All that has gone behind us and will go before us has happened to another human in another time and in another space.  With all that we feel, all our joys and all our sorrows, comes one true thing – somewhere, someone out there is experiencing the same thing.  We are not alone.

 

 

Take it Easy…

…take it easy.  Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. (The Eagles)

I am 1,686 miles from home and still have 856 miles to go before I meet Gary for the second half of my walkabout.  Or should I say driveabout?  When I hatched this plan to go visit a few family and friends, I didn’t think I could actually do it. Planning to be alone on the road for 8 days with 3 short breaks in between sorta had my hamster brain spinning in his little wheel at turbine speed.  Furiously plotting points in Google maps, analyzing the budget, finding all the penny flattening machines along the route, pouring over hotel ratings, downloading travel apps, and calculating the cost of gas with complex algorithms kept that little hamster focused.

And then I started the car.  And the sound of my own wheels drowned out that other wheel.  Once I was in motion, my biggest challenge was figuring out how to eat the boiled peanuts I picked up in Bamberg, SC while driving to Conway,AR.  My advice to all my fellow boiled peanut eaters (which I am fast learning that these folks are a small demographic) – don’t do it.  Meanwhile, in the pros column,  I’ve discovered that there are a lot of songs about places that you can not resist singing as you drive.  After leaving my parents’ homestead in Bamberg, there was “Georgia on my Mind”.  It wasn’t long before I was in “Sweet Home Alabama”.  I got to drive right by “Talladega” and I hear there’s nothing sweeter than “Tupelo Honey”.  Of course, the medley journey wasn’t complete until I was “Walking in Memphis”, walking with my feet ten feet off the ground.

The medley ended on the Doorstep of my college BFF where I was greeted by her and her family and the cat menagerie.  The greatest gift we have in long standing friendships is being able to lower our shields.  Those shields we keep raised around us in our normal contact with daily life.  No need to be anything other than who we really are in each others company. No need for the emotional suit and tie.   Our conversations flowed freely as we visited Pickles Gap so I could collect my first flat penny engraved with the words Toad Suck Country on it.  Her daughter scored the deal of the day with her purchase of Monkey farts scented bath salts, which had an odor akin to overly ripe bananas.  Of course, there was fudge to bring home.  Everyone in the Roger household had to return to their normal routine this morning as I packed the car and thawed it out.  The youngest shuttled off to school, the menagerie given their breakfast treats, a quick husband/wife kiss while holding brief cases and lunch bags, the trash rolled to the curb all happening seamlessly as I waved goodbye.  It made me think of my mother and me swapping Cinnabon parts over breakfast before I drove to Conway because I like the crunchy outside and she likes the gooey inside.  It brought back the scene of Gary standing in the doorway until I had pulled out of the driveway on Sunday.  All of them going back to their Honey-do lists while my tail lights head off into the distance.  I have been gone just long enough that mixed in with the curiosity and excitement of what waits for me down the road, is the desire to indulge in the ordinary routine of daily life.  I guess sometimes you have to take flight to see how extraordinary your nest is.

There’s one more nest to visit before I meet Gary in Las Vegas.  The downside to taking a crazy college style road trip, when you’re going solo and twice the age of a coed, is the lack of driving stamina.  I couldn’t make it all the way from Conway to Socorro, NM in one shot.  Despite my overwhelming desire to see my son right now, I’m hunkered down in Amarillo, TX.  I confess that as I was standing in the hotel lobby, a young evil coed hamster tried to get on his wheel, saying “hey, what’s another 5 hours?  You got one of those little bottles in your purse that has 5 hours of energy in it. Drink up! Roll on down that road.”  Good thing the hotel would have charged me a cancellation fee and I tend to be just a wee bit obsessed with budgets and points and reward refunds.  And if I had moved on, I wouldn’t get to sing “Amarillo by Morning”….. go ahead, sing it with me.  You know you want to. 

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Live in the Moment

I thought I learned something about life in the wake of Keith’s death.  I had it all figured out.  The typical clichés all applied to me from December 2011 to October 2014.  Live in the moment.  Live every day as if its your last.  Life is too short.  I stepped through my breast cancer and into a fresh start, holding on to the belief that these were indisputable truths.  I had been warned by the doctors that after treatment, a cancer survivor can find themselves maudlin, lost, depressed.  Brought on by the monumental task of surviving the cancer, I threw everything emotionally into recovery until I was just a shell of my former self.  With the double whammy of losing Keith to the disease and then being diagnosed myself, the only emotion I truly felt in its entirety was anger.  Really? Karma? God? This is what you want for me?  Did you think that I was not paying attention when you took Keith away from me? Did I really need a follow-up lesson here? I’ve walked through the fire twice now and this is all I have to look forward to?  Suddenly, that live in the moment lesson wasn’t sitting well with me any more.  There was something fundamentally wrong with it and yet I couldn’t figure out what it was.  So I went silent and let the world turn without me.

And turn it did.  After a dark winter of aching bones and angry skin, my son moved back to the land of enchantment to find his health.   He will return to his higher education in the mountains of New Mexico that we called home for years.  Gary and I both decided to work for my brother, putting Gary on the road while I worked from home.  Long stretches of solitary confinement started to compound that feeling that I had somehow lost myself.  That part of me that found joy in simple things.  I picked at the open wound of having all the people I love the most miles away from me.  As if their physical proximity to me could somehow fix things.

Then I went to the beach.  Originally, Gary, his daughter, and I were to go to the beach.  Then I let the weight of work anchor me to the house.  I conjured up the notion that I didn’t want to go, kissed Gary goodbye after covering him in sunscreen, and went about my day.  Two hours later, I had become a caged animal pacing the house.  So I wrapped up what I had to do, threw on a bathing suit and hopped in the car.  By the time I arrived, driving winds of sand had chased everyone off the beach to the comfort of lounge chairs by the pool.  Wired from the drive and the fact that I would actually escape the house for a few hours, I resembled a squirrel on 5 hour energy by the time I walked over to Gary.  I couldn’t sit still, and even with his warning that the beach was an ugly sand storm, I had to go.

I stood in the icy waters of the Atlantic ocean with the sand swirling behind me to almost white out conditions. Angry waves raced towards me, crashing at lightening speed, foaming at the shore like some sort of rabid creature.  And it was an exhilarating, intoxicating, beautiful rage.  I kept casting my eyes up and down the shore and watched as person after person abandoned their posts on the beach until it was just me and the life guard.  I stood in the surf, letting the violent ocean sweep away my thoughts until the calm rolled into me. Finally turning away, facing west, I could almost see my son in the mountains beyond the blowing sands.  I walked up to the lounge chairs where Gary was enjoying the tunes playing from his daughter’s JVC speaker as they idly chatted.  I was as happy to see him as a loyal pup who’s best friend just walked in the door.

That is how I returned to the land of the living, leaving my anger and sadness to the turmoil of the sea.  I had it all wrong before, or mostly wrong.  I can not live in every moment.  Not every moment is worthy of my devotion.  Some moments I merely reside within, pass time and take up space, until those moments worth living show themselves.  Every day is not our last day.  There is only one of those.  Since I don’t know when that day will arrive, I need to forgive myself those hours and minutes and seconds that I find myself emotionally procrastinating.  I need to recognize my Carpe Diem when it appears.  Easier said than done.  She’s notorious for her disguises and stealth like mannerisms.  I found this one hiding in my purse, looking remarkably like a bottle of sunscreen and a beach towel.

A New Year

So I just read on Facebook that the Captain of the Selina II lost her father on New Years Day. The question that comes to my mind is “What makes me lucky enough to wipe the slate clean and step into 2012 wrapped in a blanket of boundless hope, while my fellow friend must start it by saying goodbye forever?”. When did the human race draw a line in the sand between December and January?

I don’t know that I have made any conscious resolutions but they seem to be existing quite by accident. I have been cleaning the kitchen everyday and finding myself wanting to always keep it clean. I spent my first day off in the new year lounging around all day eating pretzel M&Ms, watching Battlestar Galatica, and practically doing – well – nothing important. I thought to myself that an occasional gluttonous lazy day would be a good thing to schedule again. When I picked up dog food at Walmart tonight, I read the clerk’s name tag and thanked Cindy for taking care of me. This was something Keith always did and the closet introvert that I am excite in my ability to do it. So did I intentionally make resolutions? If you don’t consider consciously deciding to keep the kitchen clean, scheduling indulgent “me” days, and calling all the people who serve me by their names, sure – but they are starting to feel like resolutions to me even though I never spoke them out loud or wrote them down.

So maybe we draw that line in the sand because we believe that it can always get better. We draw it to give ourselves permission to forgive our past, to escape the hurt, and find a way to shed the bad so we can carry the best parts of ourselves forward. Or maybe it’s just as simple as the thrill of seeing Cindy smile after hearing her name.

I hope you all move forward, even without our Keith.

Love,
Cherish