Tag: #writings

written by Susan
February 3, 2022 0

At first, I had every intention of doing the right thing. I was not a religious woman but even if I had been, it wasn’t like there was a commandment that said, “Thou shalt return what thou find.” But I was a simple woman and there was a feeling inside me that demanded I return him to his owner.  It was his fault that I didn’t, really.

In the summer of 2055, I found him lying on the sidewalk baking under the sun-filled sky. Frankly, when I saw him I almost ran away.  Nobody goes outside anymore because it’s just too hot and the administration issued warnings that the outside air was no longer safe. People disregarded these warnings to the danger of themselves and their children until the administration made laws prohibiting anyone from going outside without prior authorization and equipment. 

That was exactly why I still came down from my apartment 423 floors above ground level at least once a week to clear my thoughts. The chance to be completely alone even if I had to walk around with an oxygen mask and an umbrella was worth it. Needless to say, when I found a random man lying face down, his naked body badly burned on an old abandoned sidewalk at ground level; it made me nervous first and then concerned second.

The concrete around him was busted. I looked up at the structure I already knew was there. Many people lived and worked in the buildings that stretched from ground level and connected to what used to be the first space station but now was much more than that. The structure connected each building together at height intervals, in essence extending Earth outward on all sides via the man-made structures.

There was no way for me to tell how far he had fallen. I was deliberating if I could even report him found without giving away that I had come down when he moved.  His left arm moved and he slowly pushed himself onto his back. 

Pale blue eyes that were so beautiful that they could only be digitally manufactured looked at me for instruction. They showed no concern over the burned state of his backside or the circumstances of where he was. He confirmed my suspicion when he sat up and said, “I’m sorry, but I seem to have been reset. If I am not yours, could you please guide me to the nearest service station?” 

As I said, I had every intention of doing the right thing. I had never owned a robot before but I knew they were high maintenance like any advanced piece of equipment. Generally, only one percent owned such a luxurious piece of equipment.  I was lucky to afford my cramped little apartment and the utilities. 

I tried not to talk to it. I figured it would be like naming a puppy, if you could avoid getting personally involved then it would be easier to leave it in a hallway later. It was the small things that made me change my mind. Little things it did things on its own. Like it took my umbrella on the way back and held it for me until we were back inside. Can you imagine? He fell thousands of feet, was burned on one side and he held an umbrella just for me.

I had no idea where the nearest service station was so I took him home first so I could look up the locations online. I think I was still going to return him until he said, “I can cook.”

written by Susan
February 3, 2022 0

Don’t go, I thought. There’s so much you’re going to miss.

I see your eyes, and although they don’t move from their skyward haunt, I imagine that you are there—just waiting to breathe. Waiting for me to start your heart again because it must have been a whim that it stopped in the first place. It was a game that you were playing to get me to come play with you in the middle of the night like you so often wanted. 

I used to stay up all night and wander the house. Creep from my room and check the fridge just in case something new and appealing hit my nose. I never knew if my shuffling in the kitchen woke you up or if you waited for me, but as I rolled my feet like a cereal ninja, I would hear your soft laugh. So I would deviate and kiss your peach fuzz forehead. Cover you up if you were cold, pull them down if you were hot. You loved when I would flip your pillow so you could feel the cool side. Always before I left, I would kneel on the floor and put my head on your chest. Like we practiced so many times, your arms would wrap around my head and give me a hug that I knew took all your concentration. 

I always felt safe hearing your heartbeat when we hugged, something I relied on since you were a baby slung haphazardly over my shoulder. You loved that when everyone treated you so carefully as if you would break, that I held you like a sack of potatoes. You learned that way to hang on to Sissy. To wrap your arms around my neck and your legs around my waist and hang on with everything you had and laugh about it.

That’s all I wanted. 

For you to hang on while I fixed everything. To breathe and look at me and tell me that it’s alright that I didn’t wake up last night. To let me hear your heartbeat one more time while I hugged you.

To ask you not to go, because there’s so much that I am going to miss.

written by Susan
March 13, 2019 0

It’s no secret that I have been having a hard semester. With so many bad things happening, I even took to reading the Bible again. Not because I’ve suddenly turned to God where I wasn’t before. God and I have been on pretty good terms for a long time. I don’t go to church, but we’ve talked and I think he knows that it isn’t any lack of devotion that keeps me at home instead of praising his name in front of a whole bunch of people. I have always felt like church services were more like a performance than a personal discussion with our divine creator. 

All the suffering reminded me of the book of Job, which is really one of the few books that I remember distinctly because it tells a thought-provoking story. When I read it last, it was a story about God taking a dare given by the devil that one of his loyal followers wouldn’t be so loyal if he weren’t so successful and blessed by God. I felt like it was a horrible story. I didn’t like the idea that anyone thrown out of heaven could manipulate God into maltreating a loyal follower and his family. 

It wasn’t until after I lost my brother and found out how sick my mother was, that I thought of the book again. I wondered if I was Job and why God would be goaded again. I wasn’t angry, which almost hurt even more. I was wounded, unlucky. Had I done something wrong? I was honestly afraid to pray for anyone because maybe I was cursed and my prayer would further along someone’s death. 

So when my oldest brother died, I read the book again. I’m not saying that it changed. I am saying that I read things that I didn’t notice the first time. On a second read, God didn’t punish Job on a dare with Lucifer. Job and his friends who came to visit him after his losses were all under different impressions of why the bad things were happening. Everything from assuming Job must have done something bad to be punished for, to maybe he wasn’t doing the right things to be rewarded. But ultimately when Job asked God why, God said it wasn’t any of those things. Good things and bad things aren’t done as a reward or as a punishment. They are simply at the grace of God. 

I felt like it was an important revelation but I still didn’t understand what that meant. The dark cloud over my family made the air hard to breathe. Mom was getting sicker and sicker and not able to hold a conversation much less plan a funeral so it was up to my sister and me. The pressure of how badly Mom was doing and how we didn’t have enough money to pay for her impending funeral much less his was getting to me. Family kept calling and asking when we wanted them to meet up after or before the funeral and it took all I had to get my Mom ready. I kept thinking about how I would survive the next semester: fifteen credit hours, less financial aid, bills up to my neck and either a mother to feed three meals a day or a funeral to pay on. I worried that I couldn’t finish school and take care of mom while working how many hours it would take to pay bills and my portion of rent on the house. 

All of it mixed together with the guilt that while I loved my older brother and would give anything to keep him alive, I had worried about him relentlessly. He hadn’t been right since his stroke seven months before and had been spending money by the thousands and was about to lose his home. He had been lucid enough to disqualify himself for disability but he was unable to work and without me checking his pill planner, he wouldn’t even remember to medicate himself. His death made me feel horrible for being relieved. I never admitted to feeling burdened and he made it clear often that what he did with his life was his own responsibility, but family is family. I was being swallowed alive and I was still thinking about Job and what the grace of God meant.

We finally got my mom up and into the car to go to the funeral her phone rang.  My brother’s previous employer had sensed things were not right and kept paying his life insurance. Pending his death certificate, my brother will have left enough to pay for Mom’s funeral, get me out of debt, pay for Mom’s insurance premiums starting in January and still collect interest in the bank. We all cried in relief and sorrow. 

The next week we finally convinced Mom to go to the emergency room. Her kidneys were failing because she hadn’t been eating or drinking. If she had refused one more night, she would have died. Trying to convince a grieving woman who isn’t in her right mind that she wasn’t eating and drinking enough when she would throw up every time she did was hard. She was there for a week and every day was rapid improvement. When she finally came home this Thursday, she was Mom again. Her appetite is back, her kidneys are working and somehow her biliary bag is draining on its own. (The masses in her liver were blocking the drains before.) Somehow, I’m still too afraid to hope that the masses have broken down or that she’ll live longer than they proposed, but I feel unburdened. I finally understand what it means to live by the grace of God and what it means to have faith. It means letting go and being thankful for the little things.

written by Susan
March 13, 2019 0

All semester I’ve been asking myself one question. How do I get it back? I’ve asked a few people and besides the initial counter-question: “How do you get what back?”—No one seems to know. Even after explaining it, they still don’t seem to understand. Those who have had it and lost it seem to throw down the whole experience and bury it deeper than Atlantis.

Deeper than that. So deep that I think it becomes a phobia. When the conversation starts to cross River Styx, people shrink back as if they might drown. I think I understand. I often feel like I’m drowning too. I’m too busy saving myself to save anyone else.

I found a friend in a tree outside my bus window. He looked particularly lonely like the bird that carried its seed to plant it must have been a hero on an epic journey. That sounds nice, but honestly, it was only alone because it was surrounded by paved parking lots— which if you are setting out to humanize a tree, I’d found a gem. The poor thing had probably been grown elsewhere with lots of brothers and sisters before it was uprooted and separated. Shipped and then dipped into this hole dug just for him. Then every year he grew the prettiest leaves that he could until they too left him alone.

His branches were naked and they shuddered with each wind. I tried asking him the question and I got nothing but the biting wind on my cheeks. I expected as much. 

How did he do it? I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Every year he lost all his leaves and then grew them back as nothing had happened. I had lost my two brothers and my mother wouldn’t be far behind. Three leaves off my tree and I felt like everything was gone. My future fell with my younger brother. I drove around wondering if God would do me a favor and take me sooner rather than later. I didn’t want him to be alone up there and more than anything I was terrified that he was just gone. But I still stopped at each stop sign. I still ate, though there was a voice in my head that asked how I could eat another bite.

Then I had a dream. I was looking at a white picket fence that I had installed on my own and there was a small thin gap between the boards where I had measured wrong. It didn’t look right. From behind me, my brother who had no voice in life, handed me what I would find out later was a glue gun and a metallic piece and said, “I don’t know how it works but it’s this one.” I told my step-dad about it and he said, “He always liked to watch me work.”

I’d thought I’d found it that night—that naive happiness that the future holds some precious plan; some beauty to work towards. That climax of life that everything after it will just be icing on the cake. A retirement of leisure waiting to die a peaceful death like my grandparents had. I hugged Mom and told her that our lives are not our own and that everything would be okay. God must have a plan. There must be something.

Four months later Mom got sick enough that I thought she was dying. One trip to the emergency room and I found out that she was. I am reminded of that tree now pretty often. When I finish cooking something Mom probably won’t eat, when I walk to class, when I sit and eat, when I lay down at night. One month after that, my older and only remaining brother died suddenly while getting a cyst on his leg lanced in a regular office visit.
    How do I get it back?

Last night I was going through boxes from our most recent move and I found a tiny red leather-bound copy of The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam. I put it to the side and forgot about it for a while. Then when I laid down, I opened it up expecting something similar to sayings from Confucius but found this instead:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where-in I went.

It may be different for each of us, but I read the last line and realized the truth of it. Regardless of what I believe today or what I believe tomorrow, when we die we all return from where we came. And that, in itself, is not- nothing. It’s something.

written by Susan
March 3, 2016 0

Momma cried this morning.
I imagined her thoughts were
Of Jesus and the next few months,
But she said that she was sorry
For leaving me with bad memories.

The thing about missing someone,
Is that the bad things will fade away;
There were times when I screamed so hard
All I could think of was how to hurt her—
Make her understand how helpless I felt.

When I turn on the kitchen light and
See an empty room that lacks her warmth,
It won’t be anger that I’ll feel.
It’s that feeling of being left behind,
That I’ll truly be alone.

That I’ll wish I had put more—
More time into starting a family
Of my own. A feeling that
When I’m done being mad,
I can’t find her, kneel on the floor,

Put my head on her stomach and say
I’m sorry.

written by Susan
October 13, 2013 0

Come up to meet you, tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are
I had to find you, tell you I need you
Tell you I’ll set you apart

How do I deal with grief? I talk to plants. I have two big, bushy, white peace lilies that I was able to squeeze back into the house and I talk to them. Often. I’ve had them for just over four months and I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t talked to them. I’m a practical person so it barely makes sense to me. If you asked, I would tell you straight up that it’s a grief process. You would think that knowing that would take away some of the magic, but it doesn’t.  I need to regain control over my life and if I just give them water and make sure they have the right kind of light, they will live and grow. They won’t die unless I give them a reason. 

My mom thought I was crazy at first. A week after the funeral when people finally stopped coming by, she was ready to throw them out. I was pretty livid when she pushed them outside onto the wood deck because I’d been watering and chatting with them every day. At first, I thought it would be okay since it was the back deck that gave primarily morning sun, but I could tell in the first two days when they started to yellow and wither that it was too much. 

I felt a clawing in my chest. The same kind of clawing that you get when you watch Bambi’s mother die for the first time as a child. Only it doesn’t go away when you put a new movie on. So I pulled an old plastic kiddy pool from around the yard and paired it with a wire patio table to construct a plant tent. That same clawing sensation would wake me up every morning at about sunrise. So at about 7am every morning I would wake up, water the plants and talk to them. “You can do it. All you have to do is live. I’ll take care of everything else. If you live through the summer, Mom will let you back in.”

Those were words that never actually came out of her mouth. For the first few months she wanted everything that reminded her of the funeral gone. My brother’s stuff remained untouched in a side room because even looking at it would make all of us cry. Not looking was hard enough.  At first talking to the plants while I watered them made me cry too. It seemed like I cried at everything. Maybe I did. 

Tell me your secrets and ask me your questions
Oh let’s go back to the start
Running in circles, coming in tails
Heads on a science apart

“He’s in a better place.” people say that all the time. “At least he’s not suffering anymore.” They say the words but have no idea what they are talking about. If there was nothing else that my brother could do, he could smile. For a boy with severe Cerebral Palsy, controlling his body was difficult. When he was a baby we would work all day sometimes just to get him to unclench his fist and later trying to get him to bring his fist to his mouth. Things that normal babies take for granted. To him, we were always playing games like that. So at fifteen when he would smile, he smiled with his whole body. His eyes would light up and his arms would wrap around you and his whole body would shake as he giggled with pure joy. 

He went to school just like other kids. Granted, he had special classes but his physical therapist was teaching him to communicate with a computer that would track his eyes. In his scheduled tests, he always scored just slightly below his age level. I always wondered what he would say as he learned to use the screens more and more.  I have a feeling that I already know. When he was about five years old, he managed to learn one word. Love.

Nobody said it was easy
It’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh, take me back to the start.

When dealing with my grief, I have learned a few more tricks. My dog died recently and this time the first thing I did was change my sheets. Even the day after my mom couldn’t understand my hysterical insistence on changing them or why my hands were shaking so much that I couldn’t do it by myself. I understand. I can still smell sour milk and feel cold sweat that hit me the night my brother died. Even knowing that it was irrational, it was enough to make me stand in my doorway like a stranger and refuse to go in until they were changed.  

“You didn’t even get this upset when Clinton died.”  she said the next day.  She didn’t dare say it that night. That night she just walked around me and changed all my sheets and pillowcases but she paused when I refused a clean sheet set of the same color. It didn’t matter to her. I’m sure she thought I was going overboard considering my dog had died on a thick burgundy towel and not on the sheets or pillowcases. But it wasn’t about being clean. It was about healing.

It was dark and humid outside and the tall light post near the back of our property made everything glow an eerie orange. I hated it and I didn’t want to leave her out there but I knew it would rain soon. There’s not much worse than trying to dig a hole in wet Oklahoma clay. My mother, older brother Gary and I spent probably two hours in the dark with flashlights digging a hole that would ultimately be only 2 x 1 x 3. Before we tucked her in, I checked once more to confirm what I already knew. Even if my mind wanted to forget, I wouldn’t because I had felt her die. I had held her soft white and tan head in my hands as she passed. 

It was awful when she died. When it happened I felt helpless again and I wasn’t ready to be helpless again. She’d been sick for about a week and while I’d taken her to the vet and even secured a personal loan to pay for the expenses, her heart just couldn’t make it long enough to get better. While I held her head and watched her last trembles, I thought of my brother. I had given him CPR for thirty minutes until county arrived. 

I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

That’s something they don’t tell you about CPR when they teach you- how to accept failure. You are trained to keep doing it until the paramedics arrive.  The brain has up to six minutes after the heart stops pumping blood before it loses all function. You have no idea how long he hasn’t been breathing. So you do what you are trained to do. 

In the days after his death, you look up keywords like death and Cerebral Palsy. The statistics confirm that, of course he died. Like you should have known or been prepared for the inevitable. That’s ridiculous. The doctors didn’t know so why would you?  When you love someone, you care for them. You feed them, you talk to them and protect them. You expect that as long as you do that, they will live forever.

Tell me you love me, come back and haunt me
Oh and I rush to the start
Running in circles, chasing our tails
Coming back as we are

I watched a movie about a month before he died that made me cry. Looking back now I wonder if it was trying to prepare me for this life. Prepare me for change that I am still not comfortable with. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry with several other great actors that I never bother to remember star in a story that spans multiple lifetimes. It follows every character and flashes back through each lifetime to show that each soul is connected and recycled. In one lifetime, Tom Hanks was a bad guy. In another, he was a hero. All pieces leading up to a great finale of love and existence. Then and now, I hope that is the case. I’d like to know him again even as a neighbor or a mother. I’ll take the wheelchair next time.

Nobody said it was easy
Oh it’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be so hard
I’m going back to the start

As I lay in bed that night I run my hand along the smooth texture of my new sheets and inhale the clean smell of Lavender laundry detergent. There is nothing but habit to make me check to see if she is okay, much like I used to check if he was okay. But the smooth sheets remind me that she isn’t and he isn’t without having to move. Despite that, the sequence of their deaths replay in my head. I don’t cry. I let all that go while we dug the hole, changed the sheets and talked to the plants. New sheets? Check. Removed dog toys and water bowl? Check. Nothing I could have done to make them live? Check.

I hug my pillow tighter. It is always warm, like he was. The pillowcase has been washed so many times that it’s frayed now, but it was my little brother’s favorite. The constellations on it are faded but you can still make out the line and scribbled distance from the Earth to the Sun.  That distance is nothing now. I stole it from the living room where its match still remains since the funeral. Sometimes I catch my mother in there late at night lying next to it. Old habits die hard.

The truth is that I wanted the sheets replaced because since the funeral I have learned that memories are feelings. Not just intangible emotions but a physical memory of touch, taste and sound. During a time when change hurt so much, I needed to change the sheets that acted like a bandaid.  

If I could go back, I think I would just caress his head and hold him like I did with her. Remember the soft burr of his head and the feel of his hand in mine. Then later, when enough time had passed, go change the sheets and water the plants.