Highlights

We recently returned from a family trip to Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia — meeting up with Allegra, who’d already been traveling by herself for six weeks. We flew from Minneapolis to Sarajevo, and she took the bus into Sarajevo from Montenegro; easily, beautifully, shortly after we checked into our apartment the first night, she pulled up in a taxi, tan, her hair lightened from weeks in the strong Turkish sun, and suddenly there we were, we four, together again, ready to push the unit of us into new spaces, new places.

And although the list below covers my personal highlights from our 17 days together, I could actually stop this post about “best moments” here, after typing the next few words: my favorite moment of the trip was when that taxi door opened.

Maternal mush aside, there were a host of other memorable, mind-blowing experiences we shared together. TAKE THIS, INTREPID READER:

    1. The Kravice waterfalls: Located about 40 km from Mostar — which helps you locate it precisely in your mind just now, doesn’t it? — this series of falls was easily my favorite “spot” on the entire trip. There weren’t too many people, although it did get more crowded as the day wore on, and there weren’t too many swimmers. After our initial “whoa, baby” shock when the falls first came into view, we took turns swimming out to the base of the pounding water, working our bodies against the strong counter-currents, and that was like no experience I’ve ever had. As Allegra and I paddled towards the first fall, the second, the third, the next, I was buoyed by wonder. By the time we left a few hours later, that feeling hadn’t subsided. Even now, weeks later, my strongest sensation when I think of these waterfalls is that of gratitude: we were so fortunate to be able to get ourselves to Bosnia; we were so lucky to have heard of this place; we were so fortunate that all four of us were strong, able, and willing. Sidestroking through that cold water, I was propelled by awe. 
    2. Cevapi: Is there anything more important while traveling than the food? To put a finer point on it, is there anything more important than food any day, anywhere? Oh, all right. I’ll give you “water.” Shelter. Love. The Netflix password. But food’s right up there, yes? That’s why I was so glad we tried cevapi our first full day in Sarajevo; it set us up to order it again and again throughout the entire trip — because our family has its values in order and, thus, is always enthusiastic about a heap of small grilled sausages stuffed into a bread pillowcase and sprinkled with sharp onions. 
    3. The view, breakfast, and coffee at our guesthouse in Mostar: The place we stayed in Mostar is best called “a hidden gem.” At first, the emphasis was on “hidden” since we circled through busy one-way streets a few times, the GPS always telling us we had arrived when basically there was no guesthouse or signage in sight. Finally, we spooled out of the busy center of town to a wider road where, after a few attempts at finding parking, we left the boys in the car while Allegra and I set off on foot so as to better explore the nooks and crannies that might yield GUESTHOUSE. Fortunately, the girl is a GPS whiz, and her phone turned us into a narrow slot and thirty feet into a dusty lot — and then, HAHA!, we saw a small sign for the guesthouse. Ultimately, it was worth the effort because our room had, hands down, the best view in all of Mostar, the balcony looking straight down the river at the famous, symbolic, and now-once-again-beautiful bridge.Listen, because we are budget travelers, we’re not used to nice things — but that view of the restored bridge, a bridge that connects the Muslim-dominant bank of the city to the Christian-dominant side, was the nicest thing, particularly because every time we looked at the bridge, we were reminded of the deliberate forgetting Bosnians are willing themselves to do in order to move past the trauma of war and genocide. In a country where every open meadow and every former soccer field is teeming with fresh, shockingly white headstones, looking at that rebuilt bridge reminded these heartsore American progressives that trauma is relative. And while the U.S. currently has a callous bully at the helm and is deliberately implementing policy that shouts “la-la-la” with fingers in ears to cover the pleas of the distressed, being in Bosnia made us blink slowly and repeatedly acknowledge: at least the U.S. is not engaged in civil war where neighbors are slaughtering each other. At least our soccer fields are still soccer fields. At least we can leave our houses and not get food only by sending out a runner in the middle of the night who, dressed in black, prays for invisibility. At least their aren’t snipers ringing our cities, ready to mow us down if we dare to open the front door. Looking at the people of Bosnia, not a one of whom lives unscathed, we took their lessons. …all of which is to say: the host at our guesthouse provided a tremendous and lovely breakfast each morning! And Bosnian coffee, for multiple reasons, is soul restoring. As our airport driver, Anis, told us: “In Bosnia, we love our coffee and have many cups each day. During the war, we missed it so much; we wanted it so much. So now, we have many cups each day.”
    4. Dating the Adriatic: The funny thing about Bosnia, geographically, is that it has only 12 miles of coastline (this is due to a convoluted historical agreement; read about it here). Due to this, people visiting Dubrovnik in Croatia engage in multiple border crossings since the Bosnian stretch of coast splits Croatia in half. No matter what country’s name is assigned to the coast, though, there is no denying that the drive is consistently breathtaking. In these next photos, you will meet my new girlfriend, and her name is Adriatic. We get each other. She’s holding my hand right now, in fact. Which is awkward ’cause I’m typing. *shucks off Adriatic in favor of QWERTY* 
    5. The roadside stands where all bottles were labeled with gold-penned script: They just kept coming, these stands did, along one stretch of road in, hmmm, was it Bosnia? It might have been Croatia (see previous mention of multiple border crossings in the same day). Let’s just say “former Yugoslavia” and call me right. At any rate, after we flew past the first twenty stands, we decided to pull over and see if there was any produce for sale that we hadn’t yet seen in the grocery stores; this strategy was loosely titled “My Queendom for Some Broccoli.” By the time we were done staring and considering and pointing and paying, we had a handful of bags and a lovely jar of Lemon-Lime juice, pulp a’floatin’.
    6. The Old Town in Sibenik, Croatia: Hey, look at this next one! I actually know we were in Croatia! I’m super sharp, see! To a one, the members of our family loved the historic apartment we booked in the heart of Old Town in the city of Sibenik. The streets are narrow, the vibe laid back, and the sculpted heads of benefactors decorating the facade of the cathedral totally rad. Even better: the crepe stand is open late, and when we initially couldn’t find the apartment, our host came out and stood on the street (“I will be by the cannons, wearing short blue pants made of denim”). Because I am a paragon of restraint, I didn’t even tell him that one of my mild-mannered husband’s most firmly held opinions is that men should not ever, no, not ever, wear jean shorts.
    7. The half-attentive waiter when we stopped for coffee in some random place, a guy with one quarter of one eyeball focused on our needs, a guy who failed to bring me the panna cotta I ordered, thus saving me from myself. Thank you, negligent waiter. I bet your panna cotta would have disappointed anyhow, especially because I would have gulped down huge mouthfuls of cigarette smoke with every bite, and even if the custard had been grand, I did JUST FINE WITHOUT IT. DOES YOUR ONE QUARTER OF ONE EYEBALL SEE ME BEING JUST FINE OVER HERE? I AM AN ACCOMPLISHED WOMAN WHO HAS GREAT EXPERIENCE DODGING FALLING PEACHES, SO WHY WOULD I NEED YOUR STUPID PANNA COTTA?
    8. Spontaneous finding of a cliff-side path: We loved Sibenik so much that it was hard to leave, hard to adjust our brains and hearts to the next location, in this case a “just fine” town named Senj. Again, in Senj, GPS got us within a few hundred meters of our booking, but after that, it took good old-fashioned rolling down the window and yelling to a frazzled-looking woman, “Do you speak English? No? Okay. Do you know where this apartment is?” while holding Byron’s phone up to her face. Important to any story such as this one is the fact that she didn’t know the location of Apartment Leona, nor did she know where Krcka ulica 2a Villa Nehaj, 2 kat was, but she did know an old guy in overalls across the street — did he have cement on his arms? was he building a retaining wall? was his name Grgur? — and so once she waved him over and three or four congregants had a lively discussion for a couple minutes, we received direction and the helpful advice of “big building” from Grgur and Frazzle, which allowed us to circle the streets a bit more before parking at a new apartment complex and wondering how we would ever know if we had arrived. Of course, as is the way 99% of the time with travel, it all worked out, and soon enough we were up a few floors in a spanking new IKEA-furnished apartment (Hey, Leona!), which actually proved a perfect counterpoint to the historical place in Sibenik. Even better was our discovery of a path running along the side of the cliffs edging my girlfriend. The ensuing ramble provided everything I could want from Senj.
    9. The food and fish in Piran: On the tip of a Slovenian peninsula is a town named Piran, a place described as “Venetian” since it’s just across the water from Italy and has, over its history, absorbed a great deal of culture from that neighbor. Since Piran is popular, it’s expensive, so we stayed in a hostel; the digs were rudimentary, but the guy at the front desk hooked us up with great recommendations, including one for the best ice cream I’ve ever had, and trust me, I’m a well-seasoned pro on the professional ice-cream-eating circuit. Piran also presented an opportunity for Allegra to use some of her gift money from friends Kirsten and Virginia — their urging being to use it for something in her travels that she would never do otherwise. Well. So. When we passed a shop where a few people were sitting comfortably on benches, having their feet nibbled by fish, it was a no-brainer. This was something she (and I) had always wanted to do, and it surely was something she’d never do without that money. Thus is was that the two of us sat, giggling, at 7 p.m., learning that this species of fish is originally from Turkey and lives for three years — although to be honest, one hungry guy took a look at my left big toenail and decided to throw his body out of the tank there and then. Most glorious of all was eating a cheap to-go dinner from a bakery while watching the sun set over Girlfriend.  
    10. Predjama Castle in Slovenia: So you know Rick Steves, right, O PBS Fans? And you either love him or hate him? We at our house decided some years ago to love him since our kid had taken a shine to his untroubled and informative travelogues. So we’ve all watched a whole lotta Rick Steves over here, and in our best moments, we sling a single backpack strap onto one shoulder, tuck a thumb into a belt loop, and make up closing-reel bloopers about public art. Hey, some families play banjo together; ours Rick Steveses together. Anyhoodie, one time Rick visited a place called Predjama Castle in Slovenia, and one other time, so did we. Built into the opening of a cave, parts of the castle itself constructed FROM the cave, the architecture of this place is stunning. Adding to its appeal is a system of tunnels running out the back so that residents under siege could still retrieve fresh food and toss a big nah-nah at their attackers. Most famous is a robber baron named Erazem who brazenly threw the pits from cherries at Fredrick III’s soldiers during a year-long siege. They got him in the end, though, as a servant sold Erazem out, raising a flag to notify the attacking troops when Erazem popped into the WC on the front of the castle. Fredrick’s men blew the bathroom to smithereens with a shot from a cannon, and Erazem never did get to finish reading that article about the best red-carpet looks at that year’s Oscars. Enhancing the wow of the castle itself was our lunch — goulash over polenta with a side of angel-pillow gnocchi– and our post-tour snack — cappucino and cream cake (kremsnita).
    11. Metelkova in Ljubljana: The first thing that struck me about Ljubljana was the graffiti EVERYWHERE. Every surface, from windows to walls to post boxes to light poles, has spray paint on it. The net effect is, naturally, somewhere between cool and grungy. Speculating about why this city seems to have more graffiti than any other place I’ve ever been, I announced, “I hope it’s a way of exerting freedom in a place that used to be quashed under authoritarianism.” I’m a real hoot to travel with, btw. Later that day, we did a free walking tour of the city with an excellent guide named Daniel (Me to Daniel at the end of the tour: “I told my kids that if you were my teacher, yours would be my favorite class.” See how well I follow my policy of Actually Say the Nice Things Out Loud to the People?). At the end of the tour, we lingered so as to ask Daniel a couple of extra questions. When I asked him why there is such an astonishing amount of graffiti in the city, he confirmed that, indeed, it is created by citizens expressing themselves after too many decades where they would be arrested if they so much as painted the letter “A” for “Anarchy.” (RIP, Sue Grafton) Continuing, Daniel noted that he doesn’t much like all the thoughtless, “do-nothing” graffiti, but he absolutely finds joy when it is art. Then he told us about a lesser-known spot in the city — “a former military barracks where artists began squatting after the fall of Communism” — and urged us to walk through it to get a taste of graffiti’s power when it’s done right. And so. At the end of our day, we found this artist’s community and wandered through. “Oh!” I thought, my heart filling. “Oh, oh, oh!” To see evidence that la vie boheme is thriving, that art triumphs over war, that the counterculture can be a force — well, it was the most beautiful balm.
    12. The fact that I can now spell Ljubljana without looking it up because I just say in my head “luh-jub-luh-jana,” and bam, all those letters line right up for me:
    13. And finally, perhaps most importantly, a major highlight for me of our trip to the Balkans was watching The Revenant on the flight home because I delight in any movie where Leonardo diCaprio doesn’t talk much:
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Finally Full

Two years ago, after weeks — nae, months! — of work, I finished writing an essay, and I thought to myself, “This is my favorite thing I’ve ever written.”

So I started submitting it to various publications, hoping someone, somewhere, would like it, too. Would want to publish it. Would feel like my piece was a good fit for them.

Early on, the essay made it to the final round at a dream publication, but it ultimately didn’t make the cut.

For a while, I stopped submitting it anywhere. Then, I remembered how much I loved it and started sending it out again.

Last fall, after fifteen rejections, I got an email one night after teaching an evening class. There was this place. A literary journal. And they loved my essay about food that integrates bits of diary entries and snippets of letters. They wanted to publish it.

Guess what today is? Publication day.

It is with great excitement, then, that I shout, “Hey, guys, if you have a few minutes, maybe click over and read this thing! It’s been waiting for an audience for YEARS!”

Plus, maybe you need a feel-good moment. And while this essay might be about food, it’s actually a love story.

The full issue of Palaver can be read here, as a flipbook. My piece starts on page 89. 

Alternately, a .pdf of just my essay can be read here

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She’s Off


I want to tell you what love looks like.

She is 18, about 5′ 7″ with dark blonde hair to her shoulders.

Love looks like her, fresh sweetness driven by curiosity.

I want to tell you what else love looks like.

She is 46, about 5′ 10″, a brunette with tints of red.

Love looks like her, powerful directness fueled by loyalty.

I want to tell you what else love looks like.

She’s a horizontal 5′ 3″, maybe 80 pounds, but it’s hard to say since she hasn’t eaten in days.

Love looks skeletal and radiant in her hospital bed positioned next to the living room window, so she can live in the light as the veil between Here and There thins.

I want to tell you how blinding love is when these three versions of her are supported by the same laminate wood floors at the same time, one over by the living room window, her breathing shallow, her eyes half-open as she drifts in and out of medicated sleep, the other two facing each other near the dining room table. 

The brunette by the table has enough vigor for everyone, despite the exhaustion of walking slowly, over years, then days, now hours, shoulder-to-shoulder with her shallow-breathing wife as she eases to the next phase. The brunette by the table not only has vigor. She has a plan. 

The 18-year-old who has just been given a firm hug by the brunette does not know of a plan. All she knows is that she’s come for one last visit with the shallow-breathing love in the hospital bed. All she knows is that the first person to see the top of her head as it crowned its way into this world is now leaving it. All she knows is that she will be one of the last people to see the first person who saw her. All she knows is that something about this business of first and last smacks at the heart. All she knows is that being there for each other at the beginning and at the end feels like a rare magic.

“So,” says the brunette Kirsten to the teen who is on the cusp of three months of travels. “Here’s a deal I have for you. I’m going to slip a big swaaaaak of Euros into your pocket from Ginnie and me, okay?”

Not sure what is happening, the blonde Allegra nods uncertainly.

“And at some point while you’re in some far-off country, you’re going to see something that looks really fun — like something you’d love to do, if only you had the money. Like, it would be a great adventure, but it costs a lot, so you’ll just have to imagine how cool it would be. Except, see, you’re going to have this stack of Euros with you, and you’ve been told you can only use them to do something you otherwise would never be able to. So the whole point of these…” she trails off as she turns towards the dining room table and grabs a stack of colorful notes, “…is that you use them in memory of Gin…” — she tips her head towards the form in the hospital bed, the same form that was bitten by a lemur in Madagascar, that carried pails of ashes up and down staircases in a crumbling French chateau, that hugged a baby sloth in the Amazon — “…so you need to find an amazing thing to do, and when you throw this money at it, you will be taking Virginia on one last adventure, this time with you.”

Having explained the terms of the deal, the generous friend, auntie, wife, soon-widow pushes the money into the 18-year-old’s hands. The girl’s eyebrows lift as she nods. The terms are accepted.

I want to tell you what love looks like.

It looks like a stack of Euros with strings attached.

It looks like a blonde teen and a brunette chosen-auntie locking eyes for a brief moment as they acknowledge the lasting imprint the slight form in the hospital bed will leave on them both, with the lessons of generosity and gusto she modeled for them.

It looks like the tears in the eyes of a melancholy mother lurking two feet behind her teenage daughter who holds a stack of Euros in her hands; like the tears in the eyes of a grateful friend watching a pal make things possible for her girl; like the tears in the eyes of a grieving intimate who knows her beloved chum is days from death.

I want to tell you what love looks like.

It looks like four unsteady women united on a laminate wood floor, four women whose lives have intersected in profound and unpredictable ways, four women finding balance by leaning on each other.

I want to show you what love looks like.

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Catching Up

April 15, 2018

Dear You:

Long time, no talk! We totally need to catch up! How’d your last Lone Wolf Howling at the Moon tattoo sitting go? Did your cousin ever return your thigh-high boots? He’s not to be trusted, that one; you might need to swing by his cottage and riffle through his closet if you ever want to see those 24 inches of patent leather again. Oh, and I hope that one scabby spot on your elbow finally healed up real good-like! I swear, it looked like a miniature Rhode Island (haha: “miniature Rhode Island”…redundant much?) for so many weeks I was about to start digging for clams inside that thing.

Me? Oh, I’ve been great! We’re having our usual crazy April weather, and people are being their usual crazy selves, acting like they’ve never seen such a thing before. Sometimes, this time of year makes me feel desperate inside and as though I might need to start clawing at the skin just below my cheekbones, but for some reason it’s not bugging me this year. A mid-April blizzard just feels like a good excuse to keep a thick blanket on my lap, a huge pan of barssss in the kitchen, and three pairs of socks on my feet, and what’s bad about any of that? Don’t answer! Harhar!

Get this: I stayed up past 3:30 a.m. this morning watching the live stream from Coachella, and Beyonce was headlining. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you don’t get why she’s a thing, but we all have our failings, and that’s only one of your three thousand. Joking. GAWD, you’ve been so sensitive since Marla left. So what if she took the hand blender? You never made smoothies anyhow!! Anyhow, that Beyonce performance (SHUT UP AND JUST ACCEPT THAT FIVE BILLION PLANET EARTHERS MIGHT HAVE A POINT THAT SHE’S SOMETHING SPECIAL JEEEEEZUS YOU ARE SO HARD HEADED) was, like, huge. I won’t describe it too much cuz it’ll be wasted on you, but basically, she performed for two hours, sang more than 30 songs, and had multiple costume changes (Even you would have appreciated how hard she worked to keep her left boob hidden from the audience when the tape inside her costume started failing, threatening to unleash that flawless caramel orb to explore all kinds of public mischief. Did she miss even a single deep squat when Solange came out to dance with her? No, she did not. Did she hit every wa-wa knee bend exactly on the beat while clutching at her chest? Yes, she absolutely did. Did she prove that she is using the stage she has earned to pay homage to black culture and move some white people’s iggnrnt needles? Yes, yes, she did, and if you are unwilling to acknowledge the importance of Beyonce in a racist world, then I hope Marla comes back for your potato ricer.)

April 17, 2018

Sorry I got cut off mid-Beyonce rave the other day. I had to grade a few research proposals submitted by the messiest class I’ve seen in…hmmmm…carry the twelve…erase the seven…a heap of years. These tomfools started at mid-term in a compressed eight-week class, and every week since then, I have scratched my head and wondered, “What is up with this crew?” Like, you know how Marla used to make a big show about Wednesdays being Taco Night, and she’d sigh really loudly about how, as usual, she’d have to be the one to buy the groceries, and then, as usual, she’d be the one to brown the meat and shred the cheese and chop the iceberg? Remember all that ostentatious drama and then how Wednesday night would come, and there’d be no groceries bought, no food prepared? And you’d be all, “Hey, M, I kind of took it that you meant to make the tacos tonight. Did I misundersta–” And then she’d snip in and yell from under the afghan on the couch, “NO TACOS. NO DINNER. NOT HUNGRY.” And you’d be afraid to say anything because what can you say when someone’s all loud and put-upon and then they don’t even do the thing they were being loud and put-upon about, and you feel like you’re trying to show up but you’re kind of nervous because you don’t quite understand  the passive-aggressive complexity of the one who’s puffed up but not actually doing a single thing?

So this messy class is Marla on Taco Night. Get this: there were 25 students enrolled in the class at the start. The first week, for the introduction assignment, 13 of them participated. It’s an online class, so the only way I can get their attention is to rattle the grade book, post even more announcements, and send out emails. But, duh, like that doesn’t work when they aren’t looking at any of those things. By the second week, there were 11 students who turned in the assignment. My brain was all WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON? I teach this class all the time, exactly the same way, and pretty much most of the students get through in fine form. But this crop? These guys paid hundreds of dollars for this class, some of them taking out loans, of course, and yet they keep greeting every activity, every attempt to get their attention, with a shrug. The sheer WTF of this class has me confuddled. But then I got all sleuthy — you know how I still lose sleep over where in the fricking world Carmen Sandiego is — and realized more than half the students in that section are using Minnesota’s post-secondary enrollment option (PSEO) to earn college credits, which means the state pays for their tuition and books. Usually, PSEO students are all fired up and rad and stuff, but this particular messy section seems to have attracted a crew of ’em who can’t be bothered when it’s not making a dent in their fanny packs.

Yeah, so anyhow, as of today (two days shy of two years since Prince passed, kiss my ring and hold it to heaven), there are 18 students still on the roster — the rest withdrew or were dropped for non-attendance — and of those 18, only ten of them have a grade above a “D.”

I swear these studentios are in the grips of some magical-ass thinking that is telling them completing every third assignment is somehow going to tip a “C” their way. What bugs me the most is that I know, when reality comes over to roost on their chests, these some same students are going to believe their poor grades are my fault, and nothing is more exhausting than being held responsible for other people’s lack of effort. I’ma blame them for my shoddy housekeeping, if they come at me.

Honest to holy, pal, I know you thought Marla was a lot, but if you looked at this class each week, you’d be straight-up free-will handing her your spaetzle maker and telling her “Just take it. You ain’t so bad.”

April 19, 2018

Gawd, this puppy is getting long, and I know you hate having to flip the paper over to keep reading. I can just hear you now, hollering as you sit at that sticky Formica kitchen table: “Yer damn felt tip bled through, Jocey! You think I got time for deciphering this this fuckin’ mishmash?”

All right. All right. Just a couple more updates, and then I’ll leave you to dick around with your egg peeler, if you catch my drift. HARdeeHARHAR!!

So you know how I live in a city where we love snow, or else we should shut up and move? Part of my snow love relates to shoveling. Ahhhh, shoveling. It’s a beautiful therapy, that business of shussshing the blade under the flakes, scootching it along the ground, and then hoisting and tossing. With shoveling, there are clear parameters and clear ways of measuring achievement — kind of like how Marla would announce from her laid-back perch at the sticky Formica when you’d sliced enough potatoes on the mandoline?

The suck for me is that I did some hard shoveling a couple months ago during this one week when we got two feet of snow in the course of a couple of days. And since then, bud, I tell you: my left elbow is fucked up. Get this, though: Byron shoveled with me, and so did Allegra one day, and both of them experienced after-effects, too! Hold me close, young Tony Daaaaanza! (I know that was random, but it’s what I was feeling, so relax). Since the girl is young, her elbow bounced right back, but both Byron and I are still battling the pain of tennis “snow” elbow. Check this out: we can go to yoga and lower ourselves in chaturanga just fine, but if we want to, erm, freshen the air in the bathroom with some spray, pressing the button on the pump is excruciating. IT’S A FOREARM ISSUE, this elbow problem. 

It got so bad for me that I was going to order a brace or a strap. I even said “acupuncture” one time. But instead of spending money on something I just wanted to go away, I decided to punt. I remembered I have a bunch of compression socks I was using last year when my left heel was fucked up (note about aging: something will always be fucked up; if you’re lucky, it’s not the whole of you all at once), so I decided compression is compression, so why buy an elbow squeezer when I already have foot squeezers? The upshot is, dear Dickie, that I now spend my days with a sock on my arm, my elbow nestled into the heel section, and whaddya know the thing is actually feeling better by the day. BETTER LIVING THROUGH INVENTIVE PUNTING, SAYS I.

The nice deal about aging — there have to be silver linings when your body is always finding new ways to plague you, right? — is that I have, for a couple years now, been able to get to a mindset of “Howzabout instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I spend a little time enjoying what I CAN do? Howzabout that, O Noggin Fretter?” So my elbow squeals. But: I can still jump. And I do rewy, rewy love to jump. 

4/23/2018

Gad, how time whizzes! Here it is, more than a week later (Beyonce has already done her second amazing Beychella performance, with an even taller Nefertiti crown this time), and I’m still pecking away at this thing. Here I wanted to give you a bunch of recs for things I’ve been enjoying and talk up the mental diversions that give me solace in over-busy days. If I go on too much more, though, it will be another week before I send this. Soooo, quickly then: you really should listen to Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo — the story of a family of First Nation siblings that were taken from their mother during “The Scoop” in the 1960s in Canada, when the government went about fracturing indigenous families beyond the work it had already done for centuries. Young Cleo was adopted by an American family and rumored to have been raped and murdered when she was 13. Her siblings, with no idea where Cleo had been adopted to or what had really happened to her, ask a journalist at CBC to help track down the reality of their missing sister. All I’ll say is that I sat in a chair in our living room at 4:00 a.m., listening to the fourth episode, and there in the dark, I kept muttering, “Holy Shit.”

Also, I wanted to tell you to give the reboot of One Day at a Time a looksie. Listen, you crabass, just know you’ll have to relax into the live audience that feels like a cheesy laugh track, but once you give over, you will find yourself having a tv watching experience that makes you feel like you’re ten again, sitting on the shag carpet drinking Tang, watching any of the kabillion sitcoms that populated our youth. This reboot has been updated, and now it focuses on a Cuban-American family, covering issues that no other tv show has, as far as I’ve seen. It’s super charming, and every episode makes me cry in the best way. You know how Marla was a big effing Trumper and so it was a relief to watch her skitter off with your condiment gun because the news alone is hard enough these days without the negativity living in your house with you? Well, One Day at a Time is the best because it provides the feeling of a safe place in a nutty world.

Damn, I’m short on time again — have to get in the car and drive a few hours to a high school to do a site visit. Also, we had Allegra’s grad party this weekend (so many people and pancakes!), I got a Fulbright to teach in Belarus this fall (I. am. not. shitting. you.), and my most beloved friend Virginia has had her hospital bed moved into the living room so that she can rest in the light as she heads towards the light. She said the other day, “The boundaries between here and the beyond are erasing themselves,” and then she sent audio greetings to Allegra for her party in which she imparted a blessing upon the child who is about to head out into the world, reminding our girl that she, Virginia, was the first to see the top of Allegra’s head emerge from me when she was born. Then the 81-year-old in her last days told our 18-year-old who still has so many days in front of her, “I am holding you up to the face of God,” and every time I listen to her voice saying those words, I sob like you did when Marla bolted with your egg slicer.

Sorry this thing is kind of a sloppy mess. But, hey, that’s how I’m feeling, so suck it up, buttercup!

‘K bye!!

SWAK,

Jocey

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Butt Hurt: Tuesday, February 28

Gack! Here I’d hauled my cookies downtown and raced breathlessly into the lobby, readying myself for a much-needed yoga class, only to be greeted by a sign on the counter announcing a class cancellation. 

What made it worse was that I’d known the teacher couldn’t find a sub and there would be no class, but I’d totally forgotten — my brain full of Jessie Diggins, what to pack for 57-degree temperatures in Tennessee, grading drafts of research papers, and wondering why the city doesn’t crack down on off-leash dogs. 

Well, as long as I was ready to work out, I figured I might as well get return for effort and head upstairs to the Boot Camp class due to start in ten minutes. 

The Boot Camp class I hadn’t attended in more than a year.

The one that leaves me unable to climb stairs for three days afterwards unless I moan and pound my quads with every trudging step.

That one.

Fortunately, although the legendary teacher, Anna, mixes up the class regularly, I was still able to hang in there with all the stations ALTHOUGH FINE I WILL ADMIT I CHEATED DURING THE PLANK WALK EACH TIME BECAUSE I CAN ONLY INCH FORWARDS ON MY PALMS AND TOES THIRTY-ONE TIMES BEFORE MY LUNGS ARE IN MY THROAT SO THEN I HAVE TO STOP AND PRAY FOR A BIT TO THE GOD OF FLOORBOARDS.

But other than the plank walk and the open-mouthed scream lap around the track when I was yoked to a hyper-fit dude named Alex as he dragged my dead weight behind him at a speed faster than I’ve ever run before, I handled the hour.


Now it’s today.

The day after Boot Camp.

Friends, my ass is yappin’. 

I cannot sit, stand, squat, bend, lunge, or move a fingernail without oooooohhhhmaaaannnn. The only thing worse than the day after Boot Camp, in fact, is two days after Boot Camp, which means the oy-vey is getting worse by the hour. Do not tap me tomorrow, even lightly like a feather’s breath, or I might punch you by mistake. 

My ass hurt when I awoke and sat at the computer to grade student work; it yelped when I poached my morning egg; it hated me when I crouched next to drawers to paw for clothes; it yoiked when I climbed stairs to a classroom at the college where a candidate for a position in our department was about to present his teaching demonstration.

Seriously, it was noon, yet the crook of my rear felt 28 hours in.

But then. You guys. As I sat in the classroom, waiting to absorb the presentation of a guy who really wants a job, my glutes relaxed — perhaps to balance out the wild racing of my mind. See, the candidate, before he started explaining how he would teach the concept of “an essay” to developmental students, came around the room and shook everyone’s hand. When he got to me, I said my name, but even as I spoke, he was nodding and waiting, a comment prepared.

“Oh, I know you, Jocelyn. You were my teacher in 1997 at Riverland Community College; we read Memoirs of a Geisha…” — my Novels class! — “…and I still remember the attendance policy on your syllabus told us we could never miss a class for a Beavis & Butthead marathon, but it would be okay to miss if it was for a Ren & Stimpy marathon.”

How could an ass not go soft in the midst of such an unexpected, strangely delightful moment? How could a butt wallow in pain when an English teacher stood in front of an English teacher and connected their dots? Sitting there, shaking this guy’s hand, feeling life inchworm — tail end squinching up to meet the head — my below cheeks went slack as my facial cheeks flushed red. I wasn’t embarrassed, but something about a forgotten past manifesting into a very real present welled up me in a way that made my face red. Maybe it was because my dean and colleagues witnessed the exchange; maybe it was because I’d seen his name announced as a finalist and had a blip of “Do I know that name? Nah.” Maybe it was because his words took me back to a time when I felt more secure in the classroom than I do now, twenty-one years later when my cage has been rattled enough that its bars are less secure.

At any rate, I blushed fully while my tush became mush.

Ahhh, that felt good. For a full half hour as I listened to this fine young teacher explain himself, from the way he teaches essay writing to his personal disclosures about his father’s death, rebelling against his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, finding salvation in the classroom, my rear reveled. When he randomly interjected a quick quip about the way a colleague’s nephews used to call me “Batgirl,” my brain tripped down twelve different paths. At the same time, my hand wrote feedback about the teaching presentation.

And then it was over.

Buttocks re-tautened, I got in the car, left campus, and took myself out for some air at my favorite place to ski. The temperatures were warm, too warm really, but I wanted to unfurl fully into the lovely gift that is two feet of newly fallen snow. 

 

Getting out of the car taxed my ass, as did every two-inch movement necessary to put on boots, hat, coat, gloves, and skis — repeated again fifteen minutes later when I returned to swap out skis, from waxed to waxless, because this was a very clumpy day in the moods of snow.

I wanted to move my body to help the soreness recede for even an hour. I wanted to move my body so my brain could process the emotions of seeing, out of the blue, someone whose life I had impacted when I was 30 and he was 18, someone whose life had gone on to mimic my own. I wanted to move my body because every last thing on the planet feels better when I do. I wanted to move my body because doing so is a gratitude.

Most importantly, I wanted to move my body because I wanted to follow in the steps of someone who affected me during a formative time, wanted to practice the technique of someone whose abilities moved me, wanted to flex my ass in tribute to someone who showed me a new way of being: Johannes Klaebo, that gold-medal Norwegian who takes hills like he’s out for a run with skis on his feet.

My ass is yappin’.

My mind spirals repetitively through memory.

Somehow, the two are linked.


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Grad Present: Monday, February 26

And so today was lovely, a day full of hours with my daughter, a day when we laughed and were in sync, and it was all so much of everything good. There was no question I would write tonight about this day, even in limited fashion, because I want to remember it.

But to write about today fully and as it deserves, I need 10-15 hours of typing and deleting and thinking. From past experience, I know that.

If I want to dig in and hold it all up to the light, that takes time.

The threat of time being taken would keep me from the keyboard.

I will write what I can now, and maybe it will serve as an incubator for One Day. For when there are hours.

And so the thing about today is that it’s a great story of loving a teenager who is about to launch herself, and it’s a great story of pipping through various environments in tandem and with happiness, and it’s a great story of seeing the ways that my daughter and I may find our way in the world together even after we no longer share a house.

If we can always remember the ease, the joy, the boondoggle of driving around and hitting destinations together, then maybe in twenty years, it can still be this good.

Right now, as I envision a future where she’s grown and gone, being her own self, gaining perspectives that give her permission to chafe against who we’ve been to her, as I look at the detritus of some relationships in my own life that have pummeled deep into my gut the reality that the center does not necessarily hold, I can’t be so naive as to trust that we all will always be okay.

We should be okay.

But I will never trust it.

Then, now, as you’re reading and wondering about relationships in my life and either identifying with my fears or wanting to assure me it will all be okay, there is the fact that this is more than a story of a great day with my dear, dear, dear daughter.

I need another 10-15 hours to write the story of the first time I bought a backpack, a good chunk of time to unpack the weight of that experience — at the time merely a lovely day in a store with a boyfriend with whom I planned travels. It was important to get professionally fit for our packs; we would camp in Ireland, roughing it to prove to ourselves how real we were.

We went to Ireland. We took our packs. We never camped. 

I would always say to him, “I love you,” so he could reply, “I don’t think I love you.”

See, these stories take time.

I’m trying to write fast, daily, out of impulse, in the hopes of capturing moments that might otherwise fade into grey, the foggy horizon of disputed recounting.

And so today’s fast story is about backpacks. And my daughter. Not about the man I loved who didn’t love me for 12% of my life.

Allegra is 17, and perhaps it is boring for you to read again about her glories, but I will tell you again: she graduated high school early, after last semester of doing all college work at the local university, and she works two jobs to save money for three months of travel before she starts college in the fall. She handles her own business, loves color-coding, and, at the same time, doesn’t know how to answer questions about a potential college major because everything is still too unknown. She makes me laugh; she has questions; she will spot your weakness in under an hour.

To celebrate her graduation, we told her we’d buy her a bag.

She wants a backpack — something we can bring to her, already packed, when we meet up with her during her travels. Alone, to Turkey and Montenegro, she will carry a different bag. For Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia, we will be with her. When we see her, we will hand her a prepared backpack —

a bag for when we fly home and she takes off to hike in Scotland with friends, then to Iceland to meet another friend.

And so we are gifting her with a backpack, which feels so right for who she is and where she’s going.

Today was backpack day. Byron had to work, but Allegra and I had some rare open hours together. Naturally, she had done her research, knew what she wanted, and realized it would be best to actually try packs on rather than ordering blindly online. It’s also nice to hand money to a real person in the place where you live. 

We went to the store. Talked to the guy. His name was Pat. He grew up in western Wisconsin. His street hasn’t been plowed yet since the latest 8″ fell. He likes trekking poles. 

With great competence, Pat outfitted Allegra in several Osprey packs (I have an Osprey backpack. I bought it during the 12% of my life when I wasn’t loved but wanted to camp to prove how real we were.). He weighted them, adjusted them, helped her tighten the straps, explained the trampoline mesh against her back.  

And so, patiently, and with an acceptance I never experienced during six years with that man in my twenties, Pat allowed — urged — Allegra to try, consider, step back, re-try, walk around, read her own reactions. Refusing apology for taking so much of his time, he exclaimed, “This is the fun part!”

I’m shifting verb tenses now. I’m not putting 10 hours into this thing, but I am taking time to make that choice.

The store is hot. I’m just standing there, leaning on a counter, asking questions, but I’m sweating. With a counter between us, I can see what’s going on with Allegra better. So we have space, and I am sweating. Is this a harbinger of the rest of life for us?

Is maybe all of life about sweating and space? Is that how it will always be for us, whoever the “us” in question is?

And so I’m leaning onto my elbows on a glass counter that creaks like it’s splintering every time I shift, and Pat is in it with us for the long haul, and Allegra’s trying on her fourth pack. We’ve moved away from the initial idea of Osprey packs, which are the best-selling brand in the U.S., and now she’s trying Deuter packs, which are the best-selling backpacks in the rest of the world. Yup, fit is good. Yup, feels good. But.

She puts on the previous pack again, walks around for a bit. Switches again to the other. Walks some more. This one? That one? Hmmmm. How to know which one is best?

Eventually, it becomes clear: THIS one feels the most right. This is the right one.

So we buy a Deuter, the newest model, and I don’t cry even though this purchase feels like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence that starts “I got unexpectedly pregnant after I’d camped in Iceland — because my body had been exposed to around-the-clock light, and even though it seemed impossible for me to get pregnant because my period had ended two days before, I did get pregnant the night your dad, the right one, proposed, and when we found out you were coming, we changed the date of our wedding, and then right before the wedding, I had a miscarriage, and we cried for days, and then we went to the hospital and found out there was still a YOU in there even though your twin was gone, and then my water broke during a Creation vs. Evolution debate, and bam you came, and I cried in the garage when we brought you home from the hospital — my mom, standing by us out there next to the car, wondered why I was crying — and then you had colic, and I held your dad’s hand in the living room and cried some more and wailed ‘I don’t know how I can make it six more weeks,’ and ten months later I shoveled the driveway with you strapped into a pack on my back, and the whole time I sweated and threw snow to create space, I could feel your tiny, gentle hands pulling at strands of my hair as we sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ together, and now today I was shoveling by myself, trying to get my car in from the alley after the snowplow went through, and you looked out the bathroom window and saw me, and then I heard your voice calling ‘Do you need some help?’, and suddenly you were next to me, halving the task, humming happily even when we had to take off our coats because carving space is sweaty work…”

I’m shifting person now. It takes time to keep “you” as the audience when I’ve decided I want “you” to be my daughter.

And so we checked out today after Pat helped us for so long, buying you a backpack as a graduation gift to help launch you into the world. You went with a Deuter pack, so now you are the Deuter Daughter.

This summer, I will bring this backpack to you before you fly to Scotland to meet friends, and I won’t cry because I am so happy for who you are.

But when we part, after hugging you at the airport, as I watch you head one direction while I head another, I will reach for your dad’s hand — he’s not the man I bought an Osprey pack with during 12% of my life when I wasn’t loved; no, he’s the right one — and we will hang onto each other as we watch you walk away from us, down a long corridor, all on your own.

And really, honestly, I promise you: I’ll try not to cry.

But there will never be a day for the rest of my life when I don’t feel the shadow memory of your tiny hands pulling at the strands of my hair.

——————————————-

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Foiled One: Sunday, February 25

Perkily, she greets him. “Hi, Haakon!”

As is his way, he extends a quiet hello.

Then, at loose ends for the few minutes until class starts, she notices someone else she can greet.

“Are you Haakon’s mom?” she asks, extending her hand towards me. As I nod, she adds, “I’m Mrs. Rebecca King.” We shake hands.

Mrs. Rebecca King! So the giggly, bouncy, upbeat, prone-to-yelping, always-bringing-the-fun lady in Paco’s fencing class has a name? And it’s not “Caitlyn Marie”?

Now this is interesting.

I’ve always liked that she’s in the class, one of the few females, definitely the only one who doesn’t read manga, for her energy is a perfect counterpoint to the male “I love weaponry” ponytailed vibe of the rest of the participants. Even more, I’ve always been glad when she and Paco are partners in a bout; he relaxes with her because she’s chatty and so clearly having a good time. When they are facing off, he smiles and talks during the lulls.

You make my beloved kid smile and talk, you are my very special Mrs. Rebecca King forever.

I like her even more once the introductions are over — because what she wants to say is “Haakon is such a nice boy” and “He is so polite” and “He’s a gentle giant. I actually have to tell him ‘It’s okay. You can stab Mrs. King!'”

Why, thank you for the nice words about my kid, Mrs. Rebecca King. Do you perhaps need a kidney? A piggyback out to your car after class? A pair of matching French braids woven into your hair by freckled hands?

In return, I tell her the things I’ve long thought: that she brings great energy to the third floor of the YMCA every Sunday afternoon and changes the feel of the whole class, that I’m always so happy when she and Paco are paired off, that she has a gift of sunshine.

Life policy: say the nice things out loud to the people. The potential effects are boundless.

As we continue to talk, I learn that this slip of a woman is mother to five children, all grown and gone. My astonished reaction is genuine. Seriously, Mrs. Rebecca King is built like a figure skater working on her triple loop, and she appears to be about 31. When I tell her this, she tries to shuck off my observations as thin compliments, but I’m serious. If quizzed, I would have written in ink that I believe she’s 31.

Clearly, upbeat energy keeps skin unlined and eyes bright.

So her kids range in age from 26 down to 19, which means she bore five kids in seven years. Yes, it was crazy, she assures me, but now that they’re gone, she misses it — even though having gotten through the intense years of motherhood means “I eat sometimes now…and I get to do things like taking fencing!”

When I ask her how she came to enroll in fencing classes, her answer, as with everything about her, is easy. “I just always wanted to. Always. And now I can. The only people in my life who were surprised when I announced I had signed up were my mom and brother. Everybody else saw it coming.”

It’s almost time for her to go out onto the wooden floor and start warming up with footwork, almost time for me to start running on the track that loops the wooden floor. But first, she wants to tell me where her kids and their spouses live — from Alaska to Ohio — and I want Byron, who’s just arrived, to say hi.

The rhythm changes. We are almost done, and the introduction of new information is replaced by reiterations of previous niceties. At some point as we wind down, Mrs. Rebecca King says, referring to herself, “Hey, not bad for an Amish lady, right?”

And then she’s gone, in her white jacket with the strap laced between her legs, with her slightly wild hair springing until her face mask tames it, having skipped out to the middle of the wooden floor.

Twenty feet away, I tuck in my earbuds and fire up a podcast. We had a quick moment, we two moms on the third floor, but now we each focus on our own business.

For the next hour, I run, and I run, and I run, circling the clanking foils, circumscribing the changing pairings of the fencers, drawing a line with my feet around their thrusts and parries. I move my body, grin at my husband, answer a few messages, listen to stories, and think, my brain circling and circumscribing and drawing lines:

“Excuse me. An Amish lady?”

After class, I ask Byron what he thinks, and he posits she’s more a Mennonite or some other offshoot that isn’t quite Amish but is still “sect-ular” in nature. He’s noticed previously that sometimes a couple younger girls in slightly old-fashioned dresses, tights, and shoes accompany Mrs. Rebecca King, sitting on chairs during class and looking at their phones. Paco knows that she’s a teacher at a Christian school. But still my brain circles.

Life policy: say the questions out loud to the people. The potential effects are boundless.

Thus, by the end of the hour, I have readied myself to approach her again and say, “I just have to ask: you were sort of joking earlier when you said you are an Amish lady, but you sort of weren’t. Do you mind if I ask about that?”

But I’m out of luck.

Mrs. Rebecca King changes into her winter wear while talking to a teenage boy from the class; their conversation is intent, and she moves rapidly as she buttons her coat. She dashes — always, she dashes! — to the top of the staircase, and before she starts pattering down, the boy calls out to her: “God be with you.”

“And God be with you,” she replies to the round-faced red-head whose brothers and pastor father are packing up their gear nearby.

They are Godsmacked, and I am gobsmacked. Are we the only heathens in the fencing mix? Did we stumble into a homeschooling extracurricular? Should these Good People be stabbing each other on a Sunday? Have I ever in the past year dropped a 20-pound weight on my foot while doing bicep curls and inadvertently yelled “FUCK”? Do I owe anyone an apology? Should I follow my impulses in this moment and dodge over to Mrs. Rebecca King to say, “My regrets if I’ve ever yelled a swearsie, and do you have a bonnet with dangling strings?”

Ah, but she’s gone, Mrs. Rebecca King is, gone down the stairs, gear tucked into her arms, coat buttons askew, hair flying. She missed class last week because she lives “due north,” out in the country, and her husband hadn’t plowed them out in time for her to get into town. This week, she had him prepared and on the job: she wanted to go to her fencing class. Good as his word, the father of her five children cleared the snow so she could get out —

his wife, that mother, this yelping, happy foil-wielder–

so she could attend her class —

the class she always wanted to take —

from the time she was a young girl until now, when she looks 31 —

and all along the way, it appears one thing about this open, light-hearted woman has always been true:

God has been with her.


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Seven Goods: Saturday, February 24

Things Farmers Like About February

My sister-in-law, Erin, her husband, Ben, and their daughter, Allia, live on and run an organic farm in central Minnesota — selling Community Supported Agriculture shares to people in their community, providing vegetables to local colleges and Twin Cities’ school districts, and committing their values to their daily work.

And it’s hard work, this business of raising food with a brave spirit of entrepreneurship. The rhythms of their lives are dictated by the seasons, with heartbreak as likely as success. 

As they visit us this weekend, I asked if they could articulate the best things about being farmers when it comes to a month like February, a time of year that can feel dark, dull, and eternal. 

  1. They love having more time — for things like yoga, reading, and playing. Time to just BE with each other is golden.
  2. Erin really appreciates having psychic and emotional space from deadlines.
  3. Allia likes that since they have land, they have some small hills that were really fun for sledding this time of year when she was younger. Now that she’s 7, though, they need go go off the farm to find hills that are exciting.
  4. Ben loves February for skiing and chickadees and super-warm sun.
  5. Erin enjoys this time of year because it’s when she can actually reach the end of her to-do lists. Allia comments, “You always have lists, Mama.”
  6. The whole family appreciates this time of year because, as Allia notes, “Papa is around more,” and she loves doing bed tricks and tickle time games where she lays down on top of her dad, and together they create lifts and postures — sometimes he does her hair while she dangles upside down from his feet.
  7. And finally, both Ben and Erin acknowledge that February is the time of year when they are rejuvenated enough to get ambitious. For vegetable growers, no matter how busy or crazy the year has been, by February they have a new idea that they would have said “NO!” to in November. For them this year, that means they’ve just decided to go ahead and grow 4,000 more pounds of cantaloupes this year.


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Five in Five: Friday, February 23

Things Virginia Has Written on Slips of Paper and Dropped into the Gratitude Bowl in the Narthex of the Congregational Church

My dear friend Virginia has jotted down her thanks for these humble things:

1. See-through plastic bags — she can see what’s in them without taking things apart and doesn’t have to empty the contents just to find out it’s not what she’s looking for

2. Bendy straws — try drinking with a regular straw if you’re bedridden

3. The natural colors of our environment — she is so glad grass is green, not blue, so glad the sky is blue, not pink, and so happy water has no color when it could be yellow — and that it’s not sticky

4. Nose Hairs – after she lost her hair from chemo, one day she saw sun shine at about 4 p.m. onto her dark wood floors; in that moment, she saw motes floating around and landing onto their floors, and she realized that these are in the air that we breath, that with every intake, we are inhaling these motes, that they are going into our lungs where they can cause no end of problems. With her domestic world thusly illuminated, Virginia appreciated very deeply it’s the nose hairs that filter the motes. Now, with gratitude in her heart, she calls them the Divine Sifters

5. Not yet submitted for fear of giving offense — pantyliners


What would you write down and put into the Gratitude Bowl in the narthex?

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One and Forever: Thursday, February 22

It’s a candy cigarette, so calm your tits.

It matters to this story that dusk is creeping around the edges, and thick, quiet snow is falling slowly, slowly from the sky, accumulating into a desert of white dunes outside the large picture window behind my back.

She’s talking, my great pal Virginia is, as she lies on the couch to my left, her feet elevated to help the fluids drain from her leg that swells each day from edema caused by the tumor that has inhabited in her pelvis for twenty years. Every day, to get through the day, her slight body is mobbed, swabbed, bundled, padded, and hooked — with nephrostomy tubes and bags, an under-skin pain pump the size of a hockey puck, gauze, tape, hooks, back-up systems. She is swaddled by the accoutrements of unbudgeable cancer, living graciously and gratefully in constant pain.

Very few people live an example.

Virginia lives an example.

Despite the lashings of medical equipment that snake beneath her clothes, Virginia’s brain roams wide and free. I’m taking trips with her brain now, as she talks over there on the couch, because we are catching stories for her next book, trying to capture them before she has a colostomy in a couple weeks, the next procedure aimed at improving quality of life. Writing is difficult business when sitting is often impossible, but if she can lie with her legs up, she can talk, and I can type.

So far, she’s told me seven-and-a-half stories — five of them about a neighbor boy she fostered, one about injustice on the playground, another about a woman on a park bench in Germany,. By way of a breather, we’ve let ourselves get derailed from a story about the day she met her future in-laws after I’ve asked some follow-up questions.

 

Now we’re talking about Richard, the youngest of her four brothers, the one I sometimes forget about because he was gone before I met her.

She was a senior in high school when he was born, but despite — maybe because of — that age difference, they felt a genuine connection. He loved writing, wanted to get into film, got a job with a kind of documentary company that at some point did a commercial involving a wallaby and luggage. Virginia remembers being so envious that Richard got to be on set with a wallaby, and she didn’t.

Not too long after Virginia returned home from a trip to Europe, her brother Dan called her to tell her that Richard, then 26, had been driving to Jackson Hole from Minnesota with a friend, for a vacation. Near Billings, in central Montana, Richard fell asleep at the wheel, and then awakening with a jolt, he over-corrected, and the car flipped and rolled into a ditch. With no seat belt on, he was thrown from the car and died within three minutes. His friend lived.

Later, after the immediate worst of it, after an undertaker named Mr. Graves readied Richard for permanent rest, Virginia awoke in the night, her heart racing. Panicked by the atrial fibrillation, she went to the emergency room, clutching her chest, and told the doctor, “It feels like my heart is broken.”

It was.

After Richard’s death, as his mother and siblings sifted through his belongings, Virginia claimed some treasures to keep her brother close: a pottery serving bowl which she had gifted to him, reclaimed now; a pair of his wool socks, eventually worn to nubs; a blue-and-green plaid flannel shirt, also worn to threads, and his belt, which became her default belt, her go-to, the only one she has worn now, as her own life winds down, these past two years.

Thirty-seven years have passed since Richard died, and his belt is with her as she dies by millimeters.

And so it matters to this story that darkness filters through the glass, soft snow sifts to blanket the ice-locked ground.


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