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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whitewash

Dear Josie,

I'm obsessed with a dresser.

This isn't a dresser I would like to buy.  I already own it.  It was a Christmas gift several years ago from your grandparents, to their broke and furniture-troubled college daughter.  It was white and the drawers were lined in pink.  I absolutely loved it.

The dresser stayed with me after graduation.  It moved home with me, into the two bedroom apartment I would share with your aunt after scoring my first real job.  The following year brought a five bedroom rental with two more roommates, a second-story deck and a basement with a bar.  There it sat in the corner of my room, morning after morning, barbecue after killer dance party. 

We found out I was pregnant with your brother that year, and I moved in with your father almost immediately.  It wasn't official until our lease ended, but my things began to accumulate at his place.  A beautiful brick house a little father south.  I felt scared but also extremely secure, filling his chestnut drawers with my t shirts and college hoodies. Everything smelled foreign and full of hope.  After one of my showers, the room just off ours was filled with matching furniture, and we carefully packed all the 'extras' away in the garage.  Next to my white dresser. 

When we learned you were a girl, I pictured that dresser in your room.  Watched the sunlight bounce off the cream through the blinds, spinning circles around you on pink rugs.  

After several talks we decided it would go to your brother instead. His clothes, like him, had grown longer with time and had surpassed the space of the baby furniture. You would get his old room, the closet, the matching armoire and dresser.  He would move downstairs, into the brand new room your father had spent six months building off the garage.  Only white didn't really match the little boy d├ęcor.   

We picked out the color together.   Mudslide.  It wasn't white, but it matched the royal blue and the baseball posters.  And it made your brother smile. 

The night you died, your father had begun to paint this dresser.  The symbolism is not lost on me.

I had fallen asleep at nap time, waking with a vivid dream.  I hadn't felt you move for over an hour.  You were already gone then, as my mind was trying to convey.  My heart just couldn't listen.

I remember finding your father in the garage, slathering the dark brown in even strokes, the fumes startling me at the bottom of the stairs. 

"Maybe you just need to lie down.  Eat something?"  I had done that, I assured him.  Something was wrong.  I didn't feel right.  I needed to go. 

"Stay with Frank," I called, rushing out the door.

"Will you be okay?"  He asked me.

"If she is."  I had said.

Many nights I have stared at this dresser.  It haunts my periphery through the bedtime stories and Lego parades.  I have fallen asleep, just gazing at it during  midnight tummy aches and cuddle sessions.  Sometimes I picture it white, as it were before.  Safe and flawless and clean.  Before the change, this appropriate and responsible darkness.   Before I became a mother.  Before I lost a child.

But mostly, I focus on the chips, obsessively like a crazy person.  The flecks of white peeking through.  These little imperfections, asymmetrical proof of a life lived in your absence.  I see nerf balls and laundry baskets and a million conversations.  I see changes welcomed, cracks because we lived after that day.  Because we never gave up.  I see a girl who wasn't caught.   A girl who jumps anyway. 

And I'd be too scared to jump again, if there wasn't this security.  To know you're with me every minute, whispering it's worth the risk. 

And I'm trembling and I'm hesitant, but deep down I know you're right. 

Love,
Mom










Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I See Old People

Dear Josie,

I miss softball.

Call me crazy, but I loved the outfield best.  I loved the space and the smell of the grass.  The inner monologue and the distant sounds of the crowd, the occasional dragon fly softly landing on cracked leather.  I could chase a fly ball for days, sprinting and tracking and ever-so-carefully plucking it from the bluest of summer skies.  In the early years that's where your worst players would go, but not so much as one got older.  I can remember a coach in high school telling me, "Infielders lose runs, outfielders lose games."  I always loved that.

Your aunt and I began pitching lessons in grade school.  Truth be told, I never really enjoyed it.  I hated the attention, the constant pressure. I was alright, so they would put me in from time to time.

In 1996, I was pitching for St. Sabina.  This was my church, my former school, the Catholic Youth Council team I had been a part of for seven years.  It was the championship game of the last tournament of the summer.

I remember throwing strike after strike, walking only one batter the entire seven innings.  It was tied until they began hitting me into the fourth, nothing major.  Pop- ups to third and a grounder or two up the middle.  We fell apart.  Error after continual error.  Bobble after overthrow.  I fumed on the mound, glaring at my teammates as we felt the trophy slip from our grasp. We lost. 

After the game, the umpire sought me out in the parking lot. He was quite older, into his sixties perhaps, with a gentle face and a tendency to squeeze the plate.   "Hey seven!" he called.  I turned to face him.

"Adversity builds character." 

The following summer brought more tournaments, more Saturdays packed with multiple games atop heat indexes.  This time it was South County, a little farther from home.  Before our first game I stood near the concession stand with some of my teammates.  I remember his face as he turned from the front of the line, clad in his gear from that morning.  Blue snow cone in hand, slightly lifting it as he passed.  "Adversity builds character, " he smiled.  With a wink he was gone, as quickly as I'd seen him.

It is strange how often I have thought of that man.  Pictured his face as I worked two jobs in college, re-registering every September as my financial aid was denied.  I have heard him during funeral processions and doctor's appointments.  He has walked with me through hallways to comatose brothers, smiles beside me on tired  Monday mornings when the coffee's run out and the kids just won't give.  He was there on the coldest of mornings as I held you, his voice a quiver as they carry you away. 

"Adversity builds character."

It was a whisper, but I heard him.  I always do.

Love,
Mom



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tiny Hands



Tiny hands, alluring hands
Soft and pink and new
Immaculate and flawless
Are the hands belong to you.

Minimal and delicate
Fragile, small, contrite
Prime and slight and cordial
Are the hands sustain the night.

Private, cold, unnerving
Quintessential and discreet
Untimely, still and brimful
Are the hands beneath my feet.

Tiny, soft, intrepid hands
Held dreams to carry more.
Cracked and dry and weathered,
As they saw you to the door.

There is no break in flesh to sway
This dreamer from the line
For those tiny, pink, uncharted hands
Forever lay in mine.

To: Josie
Love, Mom