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Darkness and light

2 weeks before Jr’s birthday he announced he wanted a Chainsmokers hat.  After much bickering and back-and-forth about what we would listen to in the car, electronic music had become our common ground of choice the summer before – so this was not TOO shocking….

That being said, I gave him a hard no on that particular band name, as a 7 year old wearing a hat that says “Chainsmokers” was sure to earn us some heavy sideeye at the supermarket.  So I told him to name his current favorite songs, and ordered the hat of the artist with the heaviest representation.

His birthday came and went, with the hat on back order.  A month later my son’s prized Avicii hat arrived – 4 days after Tim Bergling passed away.  When we talked about it, Jr sat on my lap and said “I guess we are lucky he left his songs so we can keep him forever.”  Oh my heart…  yes my sweet doodle, we are lucky for that.

Still, I thought – oh I won’t write about that… Maybe it was ok to write about my experiences with generalized anxiety disorder, but  I am no mental health expert, after all.   I am so far from having my shit together, who am I to say anything about this man and his impossible decision?

Of course we talked about it, my friends and I, and said how our hearts hurt, and “oh how young” and nodded silently with eyes closed tight when someone commented about the importance of destigmatizing mental illness.  Like you do.  Because we all kind of know, don’t we?

And then the news came of Kate Spade, and we all shared pictures of our first KS bags on social media, and told the stories about how she was kind of everything to so many women looking so intently for SOMEONE to look up to – to show us how it was fucking done.  And her husband was eloquent and honest and raw and perfect in his truth about her and it was far more than we were entitled, I think.  But it meant something to so many – and again we nodded with closed eyes, like you do.  Because we all kind of know, don’t we?

Then as we were marinating in the news of that truth, Anthony Bourdain was gone.

ANTHONY FUCKING BOURDAIN.  This cannot be.  (If it seems like my use of the f-word is increasing as I keep writing, it is exactly because my use of it has increased with each news story as well.)

Chef Bourdain was…  he was a lot to me when I was very young, very lost, and VERY angry.

A friend shared his first piece in the New Yorker with me because of my love of all things culinary  – and early 20’s me soaked it up like a sponge.  At the time I told myself it was just the whole “kitchen thing” of it all – and I hung a copy of the essay above my desk in my single-girl condo and read it over and over again. (If you haven’t read it – read it here.  He was such a gifted storyteller.) He was talking about a world I felt locked out of by doctors and diagnosis…. But he was doing it in a voice that was almost my own, and OH how I ate up everything he did after that.

TV Shows and cookbooks and essays and interviews – his connection to all things human was a magnet.  His driven desire to embrace  the entirety of humanity, using the tools he understood – it was all a substantial gift.

Which could be said about them all.

It couldn’t hold them here. It couldn’t keep them from that action.

And then we are quiet and we nod our heads knowingly, with closed or downward eyes, so we don’t accidently make eye contact.

BECAUSE WE ALL KIND OF KNOW, DON’T WE?

We are all thinking of the family member who lost the fight, leaving us all shocked and sad in their absence. The friend from college or high school who tried and failed and everyone knew it, but it’s ok now because they are on facebook looking oh-so-perfect, so we can pretend that we know they are fine.

Or maybe we are thinking of ourselves.  No one wants to say that – no one wants to give voice to an intimate understanding of those thoughts. Maybe because they have clawed their way beyond that enveloping darkness and they fear that if they even glance back towards it, they will be sucked in once again.  Maybe because admitting it might mean confessing that is still very much where they are, and the true bitch of being in that space is that you really don’t think you want anyone to come into your darkness and try to connect with you – though that connection is the very thing that might save your life.

When I read that New Yorker piece – I was 23, and drowning in the sadness and anger and hopelessness that surround a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. I lashed out at those who tried to help with my (now I see) obvious and profound depression.   Everything was a scary and painful unknown.  The only truth I knew in my heart was that everyone EVER would better if I was not there. I was not able bodied, I could not take care of myself, I was costing everyone near me in time and money and energy and I was the least deserving and worthy of all they spent.   I was a horrific and total failure, at every single thing I tried to do. Knowing that I was such a failure that any attempt to leave this life would probably just be something else I fucked up, making me even more of a disappointment to the world, was the only thing that stole my thoughts from that most painful and permanent of choices.

I was lucky.  Because in that blackest, deepest, loudest, longest night trying to consume my soul, the people who loved me did not shut their eyes or nod knowingly and turn away in silence.  They fought.  They fought like hell, and they did not let me push them away – they grabbed on and clung to me and dragged my ass kicking and screaming away from that darkness, and tied me very unwillingly in the light. They unflinchingly reminded me of the truth of who I was, shouting over the demons of the darkness telling me I was the reason for all of their shame and pain.

I am lucky, because for me – it eventually worked.   That is not the case for everyone.  Not every battle waged is won, not every lifeboat offered is boarded.  It can be impossibly hard and feel like the dawn will never break.   It can be uncomfortable, it can be scary, and it can force us to face our own truths when we may not want to.

But never again will I nod knowingly, eyes cast downward, speaking in whispers, succumbing to the stigma that makes the already hard job of reaching those who are hurting even more difficult.

It may not be music, or fabulous shoes, or cookbooks and conscientious travel, but EVERYONE is a substantial gift to SOMEONE.  Everyone deserves to be seen, to know that the darkness tells lies, and that they can escape for the light of the truth.

_______________

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

 

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Aunt Carol’s Pie

Impossible Pie.

My Aunt Carol loved Impossible Pie.

I can’t remember exactly when she first made it for us – growing up it was just always kind of one of her things: if Aunt Carol was around, chances were good that there might be an Impossible Pie involved too.

Making this particular pie is easy, and fun, and no-fuss.   You stir together some ingredients: eggs, sugar, butter, milk, flour, and coconut, mainly… then you dump it into a baking dish and TAH DAH, out of the oven comes a fully made pie, having formed its own crust as it baked.

All the hard work goes on inside of the pie, and everything just kind of comes out like it should.

Aunt Carol was a lot like Impossible Pie.

Other pies are precise, with a carefully-made crust, and a finicky filling, maybe even an ornate top crust all layered up perfect and just-so.

But life isn’t like that, really, is it?  Your best-laid plans are always getting rerouted and mixed up and whirled all together.   And for a lot of people that can really throw you way off track.

Aunt Carol wasn’t one of those people.   Around her the joy and the pain and the hope and the trials and the EVERYTHING of real life swirled and swirled.   And she settled all the layers into a life full of the people she loved.

It was the same as she bravely battled cancer – the bowl was stirred, and inside of her body and soul so much work was going on to re-form the layers of her life…  things shifted and mixed and she moved forward, knowing they would settle again.

She was strong, and loving, and SO very funny – and all the layers of her combined perfectly.

This week my Aunt Carol’s battle with cancer ended .  Looking at pictures and thinking back on countless memories of her, I found myself in the kitchen, gathering together the ingredients to make Impossible Pie.

A simple recipe that I can make with Jr the way she used to make it with us, a way to share my memories of her, and let him share his –and a reminder from Aunt Carol that, in pie, and in life,  some of the sweetest rewards come from trusting in the impossible.

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Aunt Loretta’s Laugh Line

I grew a new wrinkle overnight.

This was not a phenomenon I actually knew could happen THAT FAST until I was about 5 months pregnant with Jr and I looked in the mirror one morning while washing the pregnant-lady sleep drool off my face and, BOOM –WTF!?   Brand new, super deep, never there at all before wrinkle above my mouth.

I attributed it to my dry-yet-zitty hormonal skin, but alas, it was here to stay.

Now I have a good handful of wrinkles that have names – along with the aforementioned “pregnant mouth wrinkle,” off my left eye there is the “Jr’s first really scary barfing illness” wrinkle…. The patch of lines in between my brows is the “are we actually going to get to buy this house constellation” (they all appeared about three years ago, as we lost then won the bidding war for The Casa.)

This newest one? It is a deep smile line on my left cheek.

It’s the Aunt Loretta line.

Yesterday evening my Aunt’s battle with cancer ended. Putting death into words is far more delicate and complex than I have tools to express – and I find myself writing and deleting additional sentences here, because it all sounds trite or somehow far too small for all that the topic means.

But noticing a line – a smile line, deep and pronounced and suddenly permanent, on this day of all days, was a gift.

My Aunt had laugh lines – from years and years of freely and easily sharing her amazing, infectious laugh with the large group of friends and family she loved so fully. That laugh lit her from within and spilled over, radiating out of her like a lighthouse, drawing people to her and enveloping everyone she encountered with joy. She was a fireball of joy… of energy, of love and giving and compassion and honesty and passion for living and doing and experiencing EVERYTHING.

Thank you for the line, Aunt Loretta.

Thank you for showing me how to live a life in which it, and all the others, are well and joyfully earned.

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Don’t read my blog…

No Really.

Don’t read my blog.  Read my amazing friend (and fellow dweller of the same suburb) Shannon’s blog.

She is a writer of truly clear and gifted voice, and we are all so grateful and honored to have her here continuing her battle right now.

http://www.sunshine-and-shadows.com/

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Did NOT see that coming.

I am a monumentally somewhat cynical person. I know this. I accept this.

So when the chance presented itself for me to attend a local fundraiser modeled after Dancing With The Stars (including prominent local figures paired with dance professionals,) I confess my internal dialogue went right to “um, that’s a little hokey, no?”

But it was presented as an opportunity to attend and then write an article about the evening and the foundation the evening benefits; so off I went in the back of my editor’s minivan, not quite knowing what to expect. Whatever I could have expected, it never could have compared to what I actually found – in the event, and in myself because of it.

It didn’t occur to me that I would see people I knew. Which seems ridiculous to say in hindsight – you were raised here, Keri. You know this town. This town knows you.

I’d forgotten. I had lost that; or maybe thought that all of us had lost that in the passing years. In the warm, genuine hugs and smiles and inquiries of wonderfully familiar faces I remembered again.

Sitting in the dark, surrounded by people who so love this place, people I know, children of people I know, I was overtaken by the sense of community. I hadn’t expected it, and It engulfed me like a tidal wave. I lost my breath.

I Could. Not. Stop. Smiling.  I found it (or rather it found me.) That connection I’d been missing since we moved back. The understanding of where I fit. Of belonging to a place. Of being home.

In that moment, in that space, my heart just swelled up, so fast and so completely full , and broke the internal Grinchy meter of my cynicism.

Oh.

Riding back home in the darkness and drizzle, I looked out that minivan window and suddenly I saw it all again – the bones and the soul of the little hometown I loved so fiercely in my youth. And the good things about what has grown and filled in and taken shape in my absence.

For the first time it didn’t feel like a betrayal to my “Reluctantly Suburban” persona to understand where I fit in the story of my hometown. Or even to be ok with it being my son’s hometown as well.

It didn’t feel like a threat to my love of the city to have a sense of belonging here – not just in my past, but in the present and in our family’s future as well.

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