I should have known better

I should have known better. I saw “Breast Cancer” on the caller I.D. when I picked up my landline—the line only my parents and telemarketers use. I pushed talk. I should have known better. We beat ourselves up for should have known better.

A pause before the caller picked up—a surefire sign of a telemarketer—“You are a tough lady to reach!” My eyebrows knit together, do I know her? She is perky.

“I’m calling for the Breast Cancer something something.”  I think of Debby. “We provide services for women who are dealing with breast cancer.”  I think of Cheri. “Can I put a postcard in the mail and see if you can donate a little something to help us out?” She sounds too damn perky to be calling me about cancer.

“You can put it in the mail and I’ll look at it and see what extra I have after my other donations.” I answer, terse. I’m suspect that she’s some random charity. I’m not sure if I have donated to them before. I think of Meagan. I think of Hannah and how my latest cancer donation body part is pancreatic.

“Aren’t you an angel!” She cheers, sweetness dripping from her lips, through the landline and all over my sudden and involuntary mourning. I can’t even stop to tell her to take me off her list. I can’t stop to tell her just send the damn thing. I can’t stop to tell her to tone done the syrup. I pull the phone away from my ear and click END.

I’m swamped with guilt. She was just doing her job. I have tears in my eyes.   I want to apologize without having to talk to her. I want to say, “It’s not that I don’t want to give you money. My friends just keep dying.”

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Why We Write it Down…stories we forget

Last night, I needed to find some photos of a dear friend.  It was the kind of urgency that comes with the dying, the definitive timeline, and has no wiggle room.  If only I could find the photos, maybe there would be one I had forgotten about, one that would make me say out loud in the quiet of my home, “Oh my gosh, I forgot about that one…”  That photo would carry a balm, a sense of You are losing that person, but not really, because you still have this..  

Would there be any pictures of us?  You know the ones.  Those photos where you can tell how well the friends connect from their comfort in the frame.  You can see the ease, the banter, the unapologetic mutual adoration, and silliness.

Pulling the cardboard box off the steel shelving in my guest room closet, I bent the folding flaps in my hurry to get to the albums.  Grabbing inside I tugged at the first of 3 small albums and opened it flat on my lap.  After only a couple of pages, there they were, pictures from conference.  One in particular had Dear Friend with a grin–not unusual–standing outside with my friend Nicole.

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Then I remembered what I didn’t know I had forgotten.

Nicole and I had been in charge of a cabin of seniors in high school.  DF was 18 and was in the cabin (DF is now an adult by the way) and Nicole and I had discovered–as you do at camp–that we connected.  We told the girls we were going for a quick walk while they finished getting ready for bed.  Our group was mellow and they’d likely chat a little and go to sleep.

We wandered the camp and even up to the edge of camp property–talking constantly–and eventually came back….MUCH later than planned.  I imagine we were easily an hour later than we’d planned.  Shameful, I know.  They were fine, by the way.

As we walked up the wooden steps of the cabin we noticed a piece of paper attached to the door.  Our names were on it.  It said, WHERE have you BEEN?  We have been worried SICK.  You said you would be gone for a little bit and it has been over an HOUR.  Sincerely, your CABIN.  

It is possible they grounded us.

We burst out laughing.   I couldn’t have felt more busted than if I had broken curfew as a teenager with my own parents.  We quietly opened the door, unsure of who was still awake.  One foot in the cabin and Dear Friend’s voice nailed us.  “Well look who decided to come back!”   She was clearly enjoying this, this role-reversal.  A teenage fantasy to put the adult in their life on the other end of a reprimand.  Except Dear Friend was trying very hard to keep a straight face.

The photo had brought it all back.  I’d forgotten this.  I thought it had been about the pictures, but the pictures were what brought back the story.  A story that now feels as needed as the photos of my Dear Friend.

And when I wonder if this text will be the last one she sends me, when impending and current sadness hides around the corner, I think I’ll say those same words in my mind and reprimand her.  “Where have you been?  I have been worried sick.”  I will flip it right back at her.

She’ll get it.

Capturing Personality

 

ImageIf you have seen other photos of mine you know there are a lot of nature shots, but this is one of my favorite portraits I’ve done. This kid–who long ago stopped being a kid, but is a teen in this pic–was the greatest combination of smarty pants and compassion.  It didn’t take much work to see who he was beneath the humor.  This shot shows a little of the humor and I love how he is looking right at me.  He was like that in person.  He let you see the real him.

Mother’s Day Casualties

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My hands have been typing for 5 hours today.   Solid.  When I was done, I’d written 9380 words for a grand total of 22 glorious pages.  To be totally honest, I didn’t have to think up most of the words, they were already in pen in my notebook. 

But it is Mother’s Day.  And, as much as my own mother gets her day and her shout out, I’ve been thinking a lot more today about all the folks for whom Mother’s Day is a minefield. 

1)   A dear friend who only days ago had her mom’s funeral.   

2)   A mother whose college-age daughter passed less than 2 months ago. 

3)   A new mom who is celebrating her first Mother’s Day without her mom who passed when she was 17. 

4)   All the women who want to be moms but are pounding their fists against the wall of infertility.

So why the words you ask?  Why the explosion of typing bonanza?  Why risk my fingers falling off?  What do these words have to do with the above people?

Simple.  I’d been holding onto the words of #2’s daughter (my friend.)  Hours of conversation, sharing and openness have been tucked away in my writing notebook.    For weeks they have been talking to me (nagging me really, but I’m trying to be nice.) 

“Hey, you need to share us with her mom…this will mean a lot to her.”

And there is nothing like the dead to prompt me into action. 

So I text her mom…

Me:  Would you like to have our early conversations?  See the things she shared?  Her answers to questions?

Her mom:  Oh [insert my name] that would be wonderful!

And when I am tempted to apologize to her for how ridiculously long it is—22 pages? I mean  really would it kill me to revise??  I warn her to get comfy before she sits down to read.  I am tempted to warn her that—even though it is over text—that it is heavy.  That her daughter says things like “I’m not dead yet.”  But I don’t warn her.  There’s nothing I could say that she hasn’t thought, heard or experienced in the last few years of this.   Instead, I give her her daughter’s words—and with it, many of mine, many of my sharings—and hope that she finds it helpful and warming to the soul.  

Why I Press the Shutter…Why Certain Images Grill My Cheese

ImageWhat is it that makes someone me press the shutter?  What is it about that moment that makes a photographer–I sound so swanky when I refer to myself that way–say, “Now”?  As someone who got on WordPress to write, I take photos for the same reason I write.  I want to capture something.  I want to get it exactly like it was…a moment, a look, a conversation, an image.  

Above image-Little Cottonwood Canyon near Alta Ski Resort, Salt Lake City, Utah.  

This photo was my respite from an incredibly stressful funeral for my grandmother.  Even late into the fall, it still held surprises as we drove further up the canyon.  It was an escape. 

 

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Above image-a close-up of one of the oxygen tanks I used.  

Cart around an oxygen tank for 2.5 years and you might find yourself taking its picture too.  The oxygen, my regular companion–loathed and appreciated at the same time–was never something I saw in my future and never something I felt would ever be “normal” for me.  It would always be an awkward appendage.  This picture isn’t about irritation though.  When I took it this was about acceptance. 

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Above image-a dear friend, in a cemetery.

What draws me to this picture is the warmth despite the winter trees, the bare branches and the fact that 20 feet away were acres of headstones.  When photographing people I know, I am drawn to the idea of being able to capture “them.”  Writing is the same way for me. When I write about people I know, I want the reader to see them the way I do.  My friend S says “You always write me better than I am,” but that is how I see her.

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Above image-a ghost town jail in Western Montana.  This is where they would chain the prisoners to the floor.

The macro lens lets me see every grain of dirt in the floor, the scratches in the metal, and the grain in the wood.  In the same cell there was a small window that looked up on the hill where the prisoners’ hanging would take place.  When I look at this photo, I think of all the people that were attached to the metal and all the stories I don’t know.  

 

 

 

The Words We Say

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Words are my scrapbook.  I collect them.  Not the big and fancy ones–although at times they enhance my writing–but the ones that connect to my memory.  In the way that the smell of Purell–real Purell, green specifically–transports me back to the hospital, or the way the song “Two of Us Riding Nowhere” from the I am Sam soundtrack puts me in my red 2-door (2 cars ago) and back on the road to Maple Valley, words are my best memory.  They are the closest thing to traveling back in time and reliving moments.  

I remember words people say. 

I write them down. 

I save them like pressed flowers written on journals. 

Another friend–Debby–as she was in the last months of her life and we were talking on the phone (me-frantically writing down everything she was saying) would say–during awkward pauses when I’d stop mid-conversation, “You’re writing this down, huh?”

She knew I was saving the words.  She graciously allowed for pauses.  

Sometimes I retrieve words.  Usually these are in moments of needed comfort when everyday strategies fail me.  These are the kinds of moments when reliving the event, the conversation, the memory is imperative.  When nothing else seems to do the job. Moments of I want to remember. 

I want to remember how the generosity of words fills my soul. Kind, generous and compassionate words are a balm for rough days.  They are a light and firework for great days.  But more than that, the generosity of words from people that I know is something I savor and tuck away like precious bits of comfort that remind me who I am and who I am to others

Tonight I went word hunting.  Scouring my phone, racking my brain, “Where did I put those words?” I am looking for my friend’s words.  I know they are in my writing notebooks, tucked in the back so I didn’t confuse them with my writing-writing.  They are written quick and tight.  I just wanted to get them down, to make them permanent and to keep up with the conversation.  They are also in my phone and I search for the words–notes I’ve saved from conversations–hoping that they will be sufficient to sustain me. 

Here are some of them….gathered memories.

* I teased her that her cancer–Signet Cell Ring–sounded like something Voldemort would put a Horcrux in.

*We joked that “Friendship bracelets are nice, but friendship diamonds are WAY better.”

*When I shared my Girl Scout Cookies with her–in an act of clear self-sacrifice–and said, “Bet you love me now, huh?” 

and she said, “Yeah.  But I loved you already.”

*When she shared with me that she was cancer free–however brief that was–and added, “Thank you for talking and listening when I needed it.”

Words are the script to some of my very best days.  They remind me of some of the people I miss most.  This friend in particular.  I miss her already.  Being present with another is the essence of compassion, the foundation of these words.  

It is a reminder to me to be more generous with my own words, to see words as service and to see the withholding of warm and compassionate words as a lost opportunity for connection.

“Compassion doesn’t always call for grand or heroic efforts.  It asks you to find in your heart the simple but profound willingness to be present, with a commitment to end sorrow and contribute to the well-being and ease of all beings.  A word of kindness, a loving touch, a patient presence, a willingness to step beyond your fears and reactions are all gestures of compassion that can transform a moment of fear or pain.”

-Christina Feldman Compassion:  Listening to the Cries of the World