Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Up, Up and Away ...

"This one's for you, Uncle Jamie ..." - Caryn Conley Bowen
©2010 cliff bowen/halfglassistan
Sometimes truth just happens. It just happens and can be a beautiful accident. And it just sucks at the same time.

This unprompted photo of my nephew J.C. was taken last year on Halloween night in Atlanta. His mama, my baby sister Caryn, was 300-something miles away in South Carolina, fielding phone calls, fetching fast food, giving Nurse Tilly much needed breaks and — along with my big sister, Chrisie — basically making sure whatever was happening around me just happened. If without my knowing, at least without my worrying about it. Because in less than 24 hours, Mr. J would be — I choose to think — in the heavens where the above almost-two-years-old John Conley Bowen is looking. And, it must be noted, saluting with a Tootsie Pop, my favorite simile for describing Mr. J's personality. Hard outside. Soft inside. Meltable parts always much closer to the surface than he'd ever have you believe.

Caryn didn't caption this photo until a week later, November 8, what would have been Mr. J's 48th birthday. Mr. J did not like to celebrate his birthday, but as he was reminded every year, " ... you knew what you were getting into when you married me. Birthdays are not ignored in my world ..." Last year, it was celebrated on Facebook, where still-stunned friends and family posted simple messages.

Mr. J's death was surrounded by what I am choosing to call — instead of cruel coincidences or circumstance — beautiful accidents of truth. He died two days after our 11th wedding anniversary. He died the day after Halloween (Trust me, there's a story here and it's coming, too. Soonish.). He died on his father's birthday. He died on All Saint's Day. (I would have gone to light a candle for him for the rest of my days regardless. Way to go, baby, dying on a Holy Day. Now every year, you're gonna get that full-blown ritual of Mass that you dug so much.) He died a week before his own birthday. I choose — I very definitively choose — to see poetry rather than pity in these coincidences.

Except the truth that just sucks. My brilliant, beautiful nephew J.C. will only know his brilliant and beautiful Uncle Jamie through stories and pictures — as will so many of our Munchkins. And the eerie poetic quality of this undeniable circumstance of suckitude? When I had just turned three, my Aunt Betty Ann died of cancer. She was, as my beloved Uncle Ray has so often expressed without anyone contradicting him, "The best of them all," meaning my mother's siblings. That phrase repeated itself a year ago when my beloved brother-in-law Rob said many times of Mr. J, "He was the best of all of us," meaning his siblings.

I'm not equipped to pass judgment on either declaration. But I am all too familiar with the pangs of loving — deeply and desperately — someone you never knew. The blessing in Betty Ann's death ... Wait. What's that you say? Yes. Yes, more coincidences. ... Betty Ann left behind a teenaged daughter, Lynn. Who just happens to be my godmother. And as a too-early-widowed woman herself, she is also a guide, a comfort and everything I've needed a second mother to be. Lynn is also the mother of the mothers of many of my oft-mentioned Munchkin tribe who has given me so much joy over the past year — Mommies and Munchkins alike. And finally, no coincidence at all, her latest grandchild's name, James. Whose two-month birthday does just happen to be today.

So. I've decided that every year, the November chapter of The Ballad of Uncle Jamie will be about happiness. About love. And I will think to myself about the way all of these independently unconnected dates and details are pressed into a imperfectly perfect tale.

November 1 marks the one-year anniversary of Mr. J's departure from this world. I'll be Atlanta for the week, receiving very much needed sister, parent, puppy and J.C. therapy. And the opening page of the story to come will be a sky filled with bright, free-flying symbols of weightless — and painless — shiny, happy messages to Mr. J.

I know, without a doubt, even though he's another place, he's with me. With all who love him. But when I think of him, when I talk to him, when I stop whatever I'm doing to just breathe, I look to the sky. So that's where the messages are headed.

With J.C.'s help, I'll be releasing 50 balloons — 49 for Mr. J's birthday that I still will never ignore — and truly one to grow on for Baby James. To them, I'll tie names, messages, anything that's light enough to float and from whomever would like them attached.

CatCon will be fielding and organizing any requests. (I know. I've already had to tell her three times: "No. Glitter.") Comment here on the blog. Click on the e-mail the author link below. Email me here. Post it on my half-glassed life's Facebook page.

As I've said before, here in Halfglassistan, we welcome all. And as we say here in South Carolina, "Y'all come." Bring on the love.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Wonder That's Keeping The Stars Apart

Every child of the military knows where home is. Our mothers taught us that "home is wherever Daddy is."

That's been true all of my life and luckily, still is today. The SGM has been retired for decades now but just as Mom did for 30 years all over the world, she has maintained that one constant security for her children.

I've also been blessed to have the comfort and love of many others whose doors are open to me, providing not only safe haven — but also that undefinable, yet instantly recognizable essence that is home. Sisters. Cousins. Aunts. Friends. Even the familiar voices of faces I'd not seen since adolescence — one in Memphis, one in Phoenix and one in Kentucky — can reach through a cell phone and wrap me in a cloak of solace as surely as if they were tucking a blanket around me as I curled up on their couch.

But as safe — and perhaps much more importantly, loved — each of these make me feel, none has erased a singular longing.

I want to go home. My father holds me and tells me in his living room, "You are home."

I lie with my head in my big sister's lap, as she strokes my hair while I weep and long for home.

My baby sister holds me tight, both of us crying in her driveway. "You have so many homes. So many people who love you."

"No. I want my home." She holds me tighter.

I look at my godmother, who 15 years ago was also widowed in her early 40's. "I want to go home," I sob. Her shining eyes mirror mine.

And she says: " I know."

On a quiet November afternoon, in the home we had made, I peacefully held my husband in my arms as I waited for the gentlemen in the dapper suits to arrive. I calmly walked outside with them as they prepared to take him for one last ride. I kissed his beautiful face and watched as they closed the heavy black door. I turned to walk back inside, still determined and head held high. I summoned the same posture of dignity I'd tried to maintain throughout every challenge of the previous years.

I stood straight and tall until I recrossed the threshold of what was now just walls and floors, windows and doors. Just a house. Mocking me. I have no idea how many steps I took before I hit the floor. I have no idea how quickly, or how many, arms wrapped around me. How many I reached for and clutched.

In the moment, I had no idea where the grotesque sounds I heard were coming from. Sounds I'd never heard and hoped I never would again. I soon realized they were coming from me, and all too soon, realized I would hear them again. And again. And again as the months passed. Even if only in my mind as my mouth formed silent screams. It could have been at 3 p.m. and I was locked in the restroom in my office, hoping the running water would mask any gasp that escaped. More often, it was 3 a.m. and I couldn't stop long enough to catch my breath, much less think — or care — about what my neighbors might have thought if they heard. 

More days than I care to admit, at the end of the day, I'd pull my phone out as I walked to my car and punched 2 to tell Mr. J that I was on my way home.

But there was no home.

Because my best friend, my confidante, my cheerleader, my protector whose eyes and arms could erase fears in an instant and my playmate who could make me laugh and sing just as quickly was no longer there.

Over the past year, it's taken me a long time to realize that the same metaphor that marked the first twenty-odd years of my life is still true.

Now Jamie's heart equals home. And home is, was, and always will be where he is.

"... and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart. i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart.)"

And as long as I can keep sight of that wonder, I'm safe at home.

excerpt from i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) ©1952 e.e. cummings 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

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