so long, harry.

what do you say about a grandfather who couldn’t remember your name? a grandfather who we only got back in touch with a few years ago? a grandfather whose house you lived in for a year and a half while he rotted in a nursing home?

harry was not my grampa. he never earned that affectionate nickname. i was lucky enough to have grown up with grama’s second husband, george. he was quiet, like me. phone conversations got a little bit silly with how tight lipped we both were. but i remember having a lot of fun with him. he taught me to swim, drove me to second grade and tried to dry my tears with a silly song about a peanut on the railroad tracks. the only line i remember was the punch at the end… “toot toot!! peanut butter!” he was a wonderful, caring man who looked out for my well being. even when i was mad at him for making me take the dog for a walk to get some exercise because i was getting chubby in those preteen years, i knew he cared. i was so proud this afternoon when mom remarked about how george adored me. grampa george would’ve turned 99 earlier this month. and i realized he’s been gone for 20 years.

harry died this morning. i found out in an email at work and i surprised myself by saying shit and bursting into tears. my boss sent me home to be with my mom.

frankly, i expected her to be more broken up about it. but she wasn’t crying. my auntie barb, his other daughter, wants nothing to do with him. but my mom forgave and forgot. in her late 40s and early 50s she decided better late than never and formed a relationship with her long lost father. she feels very proud (and self-righteous and judgemental of her sister for chosing another path) about this, and i’ve struggled with it for my own daddy issues, but i’m happy for her and i admire that ability to allow a new relationship with him.

harry left the family when my mom was just a baby, after a mental breakdown. one night he got into bed with grama and pulled his hand out from under the sheets, bloodied from scratching at his penis and exclaimed, “look! the blood of christ!” this memory always conjures a kind of stupefied laughter between us when we retell it at family gatherings, but how fucking creepy man… what was grama thinking then? what happens when you realize you’ve married a madman?

grama moved on, worked and raised her children. george and harry actually knew each other from church and the neighborhood and when my mom was 11 or 12, grama married grampa george. even though i don’t remember hearing about harry coming around for those ten years, it was unspoken after the wedding that harry’s place as a father to my mom and aunt had been taken. every once in a while i think he got to visit with them. the next thing i remember hearing about is his disapproval of my mom’s marriage to an african man, and his certain… if not lack of understanding, then genuine disdain for a biracial baby. me. i was aware of other racism in parts of my family who i spent more time with, so i didn’t even really consider harry. i have a way of completely closing down any emotion at all toward the people who have rejected me for reasons i can’t understand.

harry drove the city bus. when my mom worked downtown, occasionally she would find herself paying a fare to her father. she would cheerfully say, “hi daddy!” and hop on. she had a complete lack of hard feelings that i could never wrap my head around. i remember one holiday season with him buzzing the security door of our apartment and bringing us unwrapped ugly knit hat/scarf sets (all in one piece) for christmas. he didn’t stay. he just dropped them off.

several years later he started coming around. he and his longtime lady friend, anora, would invite us to dinner at perkins or something and we’d all sit around with awkward smiles and obligitory catch-you-up-on-my-life monologues. i never really cared, i went because my mom wanted us there. i didn’t stifle my little sister’s genuine and sweet friendliness by telling her what i knew. but one thing i could never get over was that he couldn’t remember my name.  when he would search his memory for it in my presence, he reminded me of my little sister as she was just beginning to talk… “llll llllalllll llla lllla …” it was so offensive to me.

his wasn’t a hateful racism, just ignorant. he actually became pretty close with my sister and my stepdad because they gave him their time and energy, and probably most importantly their openness. i was never interested. i should probably work on grudges.

eventually his lady friend died, my mom had long since had the idea that anora was insecure and wouldn’t let harry see his old family. mom clung to this reason for his lack of initiative. and with anora gone, my mom did spend more time with her dad. gradually she took more of a role in his life, became a caregiver and took care of his business affairs, hired nurses for him when he started getting older, weaker, sicker. when one full time nurse wasn’t enough, and the emergency room visits got more frequent, she checked him into a nursing home. shortly after she asked if i wouldn’t mind moving into my grandfather’s house so it remained occupied; in return i would put my rent into a savings account so i could buy a car, a house, whatever at the end of my stay. it took me a little while to agree to leave my safe haven of uptown, but i agreed. it helped me buy my house today.

living in his home, going through his things in preparation for a garage sale, i got to know a little bit more about him. his obsession with books on religion and boxes upon dusty boxes of the religious tracts he used to hand out to even his family. cash stashed everywhere – in books, in pockets, in dirty old boxes. an interest in health and science. an absolutely mind-numbing pack-rat-icism. mail, magazines and memberships from the 80s. artifacts that to me were convincing arguments of anything from religious fanatacism to out and out insanity. he was always an off guy with a lot of questions and faulty logic – especially about religion. searching and never finding, donations to wacky evangelists, an interest in seventh day adventists. sweet as my grama is, she would be one of the rare people to visit him first at home, then at the nursing home, and answer his questions to the best of her ability.

and now he’s dead.

but why did i cry?

i cried for a truly pathetic man whose blood runs through my veins. and i don’t mean pathetic as an insult, i say it with compassion. he has spent the past two and a half years in a nursing home that i’ve only seen on his birthdays and maybe if my mom was occasionally successful in convincing us to go after our joy-filled family holidays, the joy seeping away in the presense of this sad man who could barely open his eyes anymore, who doesn’t share our history and laughter and time spent together. i cried for a man who maybe realized far too late that you have to work hard on your personal connections to win the loyalty of your family and friends. i cry for a man with so many questions and so few answers, but a faith that hopes that it will get him somewhere.

i cry for my fear that i will end up in the same place as my grandfather. a crazy old fool dying alone in a nursing home with a hospice nurse singing the old rugged cross, still nervously wondering about where i’m going.

it’s for people like my grandfather that i hope salvation is real. the journey of the unwaivering faithful is one thing, but a happy ending for those that have questions and doubts and fears… but still want so badly to believe is where i hope God reaches a loving hand toward us.

so long, harry. i hope you’ve found answers and peace.

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gifts and responsibility

creativity is a gift. it’s something you are born with. i’m talking here about talent, too. if you are blessed with something wonderful and unique, it’s a beautiful opportunity to be able to hone that craft. practice, experiment and make it yours – fantastic!

but there are some who have unique talents, who through lot in life or circumstance or family situation are unable to give attention and practice to making themselves sharper.

i used to be a great performer, who was a little too self-conscious to ever give it my complete all, at least until curtain time. i never quite came enough from inside myself to see my full potential. people who knew me when i was younger still ask me, years and years later, “Lola? why don’t you sing or act anymore? you were so talented…”

lately, being an extra in an awesome little local movie, and watching big time movies that my old friends are in, i’ve given a second thought to what could be if i honed my craft. because it’s not just about natural talent. it’s about practice, experiment, and making it yours.

i’m finding new ways and new mediums. but i think about it sometimes… a little effort in another direction could mean something totally different on your path…

summer breeze

i had a passing idea to lay in the grass during my lunch break. i’m really good at having fantastic ideas and not following through. somehow i wised up last summer and decided to keep a blanket in my trunk for little moments like these. so i drove to the tiny park nearby, snapped my blanket into the air, and let it fall quietly to the ground. i followed.

i love the wind. it makes me feel alive, like a kid who still feels like they might someday be carried away by the power of it. i like the the interplay in the trees – the way it moves the heavy branches in a gentle rock, and the way it shimmers the delicate leaves. i revel in the sensation of wind pushing soft curls around my face. i like the feeling of clothes pushed recklessly around, the momentary terror of my shirt coming just above my navel, then realizing who cares right now if my tummy isn’t flat; the juxtaposition of sun pressing down on my skin and warm wind sweeping over me.

i lay there for 20 minutes, alternately looking into the trees, catching the sun peeking through at me… then closing my eyes to hear the birds chirping in a call and response with the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze and the vague industrial sounds from a few blocks away. i am relaxed. content.

lay quietly in the summer breeze.

robotics

i’ve read and heard people talking about robots lately. i’ve always enjoyed robots. where did it all begin? maybe with star wars? or with small wonder on saturday mornings? i can sing you that whole theme song. i have a lot of old tv jingles in the recesses of my memory. i get requests for the crispy critters cereal theme on occasion (and let me tell you, i’m magnificent).

but enough about that, the topic was robots.

when i was a preschool teacher somehow robots came up. and being that robots are totally rad, the kids were super into talking about them. “if i were a robot,” i told them, “my name would be lobot.” max was maxbot 5000. calvin was calvitron. (i hope you read that with robot inflection.) we got into practicing our robot moves and robot voices. we laughed really hard during those times. teaching 3 yr olds how to robot out is pretty awesome, you should try it!

my other robot story is how chris, natasha and i would get all high and then natasha and i would robot out on chris and scare the shit out of him. it still tickles me to think of the horror and genuine fear on his face… cuz we weren’t super realistic or talented at it. i think it was mainly about the scary robot eye. that and the death threats.

who cares?

sometimes a series of events, an ill-timed comment, or a conversation completely unrelated to me throws me into an intense, memory of a feeling so strong and it makes me wonder…

will i ever get over it? will this keep coming back again and again?

this is not one thing in particular. this is vague because i have a feeling everyone has these things. but there are certain painful memories, identities, relationships that leave a scar. you can heal the wound a little bit, or maybe a lot, at a time. but that unrelated event, comment, conversation can break it open fresh. and it stings. sometimes cripples.

it used to make me feel like… i used to feel like when the icky feelings came back, that’s what was real, like i had been living a fakey happy life but that i would always come back to this pain and despair, that this was the reality.

now i’m beginning to wonder if the real answer is who cares? i read, “do you find yourself or create yourself?” i read about someone wondering about faith and free will and meaning. sometimes i rally against that idea of who cares? who cares about the past? i do, because it’s important to acknowledge the past and learn from it about who i am! then again, maybe it’s not so brash and abrasive, this who cares. maybe it’s refreshing.

not sure yet.

highly sensitive

i like the word sensitive because it has a mostly specific connotation to do with being delicate and emotional, but it’s actually so much richer than that. the five senses, a sixth sense… it has to do with taking in information through the different vessels of your being. actively or passively, sometimes consciously but sometimes the sensations creeping up on you like something in your peripheral vision suddenly snapping into focus.

we’re taught about the five senses as children. i don’t even remember it being more than a passing literal almost object recognition lesson. “your eyes see, your nose smells…” but what about the subtleties? thinking about it now it seems like a jip, i think that just as children learn languages rapidly, maybe there’s a heightened lesson in sensory perception. maybe it could enhance the lives of people who don’t think so much about the senses, while comforting, validating and improving the lives of the highly sensitive. when i first read the book, the highly sensitive person, it made me shake a little bit, it felt like someone was standing behind me scanning brain and putting it on the page. there was an anecdote in the beginning of the book about a woman who walks into a room, looks at the flower arrangement, and gleans some of the mood of the person who arranged; or a person who walks into a familiar place and knows it “feels different” but if pressed they could probably tell you every little thing that’s different. laura’s like that. when i talked to her about this book, she said “highly sensitive? i thought i was touched by jesus.”

i don’t think that being sensitive is something special. it’s got incredibly positive things, but incredibly negative ones, just like everything else. it’s just a way of processing your surroundings.

read the book for more explanation if it speaks to you, but i have found comfort in the idea and the research that some people are more sensitive and unconsciously observant of what they’re taking in through all of their channels. bringing some of these stimuli into my conscious mind has helped me and calmed me.

i thought about this today because i was recently demoted at work. and yes, that’s just as awesome as it sounds! it’s actually not so bad. i’m finding myself refreshed and more relaxed now that i just talk to people on the phone than interact face to face. don’t get me wrong, i’m still taking my original gift from the front desk – the knowledge that i really am a social person and i do like people and enjoy helping them. but when i’m bombarded hour after hour with no support, gradually surrounded by angry and impatient faces, gestures, postures… it starts to weigh on me real heavy. so yes i can have quite a wicked internal monologue about people when i can feel them through all my senses closing in on me… the shape of an eye, slight furrow in the brow, voice pitch and tone raising with an anxiousness, shifting weight… i feel it so much more clearly for what it is when i go up there now: overstimulation in a negative way. i can’t help but be keenly aware of all the little stuff even if i’m not consciously processing it at the time. all i know is the sum of the parts makes me want to take off at a sprint in the other direction. with my temperament and the way i take in information, that was not the best place for me, at least not long term. so i can come to peace with this.

the funniest thing about this though is that i have barely any visual memory for details. if you ask me about the color of someone’s eyes or shirt after the fact, there’s no way i can tell you. are there other senses that are compensating? or do i just take things as a whole? i wanna read that book again.

the company of men

there was a time when i had a lot of guy friends. i’m not sure what happened but i found myself recently with very few, which is too bad.

i think that having male friends is important. as a single woman it helps to remind me that there are great guys out there, and not get so caught up in the bad examples i see. plus i think there’s just an important exchange of male and female essence that is fulfilling to me. i miss it.

in the past little while i have had a chance to start some more male friendships. i’m glad about it! it feels really nice. and i want to pursue those more fully. of course this brings the age old question of “can men and women really be friends?” i think so. i think there’s a balance you need to strike between attraction and platonic energy. because i think it’s kind of naive to think that there would be no attraction at all between a man and woman who like each other and care about one another. and i think that balance needs adjustment when one of the people gets into a relationship. i can be a jealous person in that way, but it’s more about respect. if i’m seeing someone, i wouldn’t want an outside party watching them interact with other women to assume they’re available. keep your friendships, just adjust your behaviors to show respect.

that being said, i think that for me at least, having more male friends will help me prepare for my next relationship. it’s good to have men in your life who appreciate you and care about you. as many as you can.