The Inconvenient Body

I am still surprised by details of living, by things that never cross your mind to question until you find yourself facing it.  The things I want to call administrative, though that isn’t really the right term for it.  How, in a goodbye, there is never the swelling moment of music, the fade to black.  How you can find yourself sitting on the floor with your sister, shocked at the amount of ashes your father became. The weight of them. The ridiculous polka-dot box you have in front of you to send him home to your house across the country because, while it’s legal to fly with someone, it’s illegal to fly with their remains.

Let me backtrack. Life is full of moments that are ridiculous.  After my dad’s memorial my sister and I had a box and had to do something with the substance that used to be my dad. I’m not trying to be cold in this—the body laid out that memorial wasn’t my father—it was just what was left behind.  No smile, no gesture, no laughter.  But you still have to do something with it, and so he was cremated. I remember when we scattered my grandmother’s ashes, so it shouldn’t have surprised me just how much substance there was.  My dad was a large man, and even through sickness he was still tall, even if he’d lost a lot of weight.  We opened the box; the funeral home had put ash in bags for us, but even so, there was more than we knew what to do with. We thought, ok, we don’t want urns, but maybe we can find nice wooden boxes, like something my dad would have made. Maybe there’s something nice at a place to buy tea—a nice wooden box that’s not meant for a body but feels more true to our father.

We found ourselves at the Short Hills mall, walking into Tevanna, looking at the shelves in despair. Everything nice was so small, and everything large was made of china and, well, looked like an urn.  A guy came up to us to see if he could help, and stutteringly we explained that we were looking for something like a tea container, but larger. “Well, how much tea are you keeping?” And, instead of doing the kind thing, where we kept to our story, we spilled out that, in fact, we were looking for something to put ashes into, because our dad had just died, and we thought maybe…

The guy blinked, and then rolled with it. He laughed to join in with our awkward stumbling laughter and looked down at the box in his hand. “Yeah, this is pretty small.” He looked around the store and pointed at a shelf with elaborate white china with blue willow type patterns dancing across their shape. “I’m sure you saw those but… too urn-like, right?” We nodded.  He checked a few more places, but kept returning with things too small or made of too much delicate china. “Maybe try Williams Sonoma? Kitchen N Things?”

We walked out and stood for a moment.  My dad liked cooking—Williams Sonoma was a frequent stop on our holiday shopping lists.  Perhaps it’s fitting that we walked from kitchen store to kitchen store, looking for one last present for him, settling on double walled stainless steel container from Crate & Barrel and a story that involved less detail to the hapless staff trying to assist two grieving and laughing sisters.

Would my dad have been upset? I don’t think so. I think he would have laughed and retold the story in his quiet way, sitting a little back from the crowd at a family party.  There are lately so many things I would have liked to ask him, there are so many stories I want to share.  I still find myself wanting those cinematic stops—his body lifting lightly in the wind off of Rainier when we scatter him.  In all actuality I suspect that when I eventually reach the summit the wind will tear him from me.  I know that I won’t be able to bring the whole container of ashes—each ounce matters and I think he’d rather I take water than a coffee container.  I’ll get back to my apartment after all is said and done and there most of him will be, still waiting on my book shelf.  I’ll be tired and sore.  It might be my first attempt, it might be a later attempt—weather cares little for what your plans are, what ceremony is intended.

There are no nice bows to wrap things up, there are no good endings.  He died years ago now, and still I am angry that I can’t tell him about the first 5.12 I climbed in the gym, about the multi-pitches I did in Mexico. I can’t call him from Oregon this Thanksgiving or send him pictures of my friends, our hands chalky, our skin sunburnt. I’m angry I can’t talk to him about when he met my mom, I can’t tell him shyly about a man I like or tell him, after it’s all gone to hell, about how I’m still trying to figure my life out.  I don’t know if my friends know what the silver container on my shelf is, but it’s my dad.  Because bodies suck and his betrayed him and now, because his gave out, I have to be stronger than I was then. And I am, I’m getting there.

Vantage, WA

Firsts

I am continually thankful for my family here in Seattle.  Perhaps it isn’t giving myself enough credit, to think I couldn’t have made it without Lou and Dave, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank them enough for all of their help and kindness and general amazing everything.  This weekend they invited me out to Whidbey Island to spend time in a friend’s cabin.  What a restorative few days.

Lou and I took a walk the first evening along the water, and I found a few pieces of sea glass.  As tends to happen, part of our conversation circled back to when my grandmother, her mother, was dying in New Jersey.  Just about the entire extended family was able to make it to the hospital within hours of her turning blue in the elevator.  I don’t remember driving there from college, but I remember walking into the hospital room.  I also remember my grandmother, awake and lucid, rubbing the fabric of my new long sleeve running shirt between her fingers and complimenting it.  (I know I will wear it to threads before getting rid of it, just because of this.)  None of us slept and I played endless rounds of gin rummy with my uncles, I knit with my sister and mother and aunts.

I think of now, and how far away I am, and how difficult it would be for me to return.  I love Seattle, and I’m afraid if I were to leave I might not be able to come back.  As of May 1st I will have been living in the co-op for a full year, and each day I fall in love with the skyline of downtown or the black and yellow tulips or the cat climbing over our fence.  Sometimes it takes leaving a place to realize just how much it means, and getting out of town was a nice way to look back at where I am and know that I am truly happy here.

Of course, there were more firsts this weekend.  Fresh asparagus from Carrie’s garden and a Doctor Who slumber party, a Welcome the Grey Whale parade with more observers than participants, a friend’s daughter running grinning into my arms as the sound laps at the rocky beach.  A dull push mower and a slightly sharper push mower and the satisfaction of clearing at least a little bit of the lawn.  Teaching my green curry recipe and learning to play hearts.

Now I am reading Wislawa Szymorska for my book club, with another book at the ready and poems for the Bodie project finally started.  Incense is curling into the air of my room and my body is slightly sore from an after-work run in the spring rain.  My roommate will be making tuna melts when he gets back from work, I will pour myself a glass of wine.  How did I end up here, so lucky, so happy?

Proximity

Some places are close enough to walk. Others are a bus ride. Others are by car, and still others are only really feasible by plane or boat.

A year ago, I’d never been to Tost.  Now I’ve lost track.  I’ve been there with friends I had yet to really know, balancing cupcakes and decked in sequins.  I’ve been there to celebrate a new home with a friend who has since moved out of the neighborhood.  I’ve been there to dance and to drink and to listen to music.  I can’t say it’s always been amazing, but it’s always been its own sort of fun.  This is a place I can walk.

I’ve been thinking about proximity a lot, and today forced the concept of closeness into sharper focus.  Phone calls and vague information about family, and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be worried or if I’m supposed to be moving about the day to day as if nothing is happening (because, well, maybe nothing is.)

It is easy for me to pay attention to those around me.  I pay too much attention to those around me, and the friends and family who are a more than a bus ride away drift into the periphery.

I love this city. I love the way downtown looks in the mornings- fogged over or glinting or jagged and outlined by mountains.  I have met amazing people and made good friends.  But sometimes I want to go home, by which I mean, crawl into a space I know will not shift.  I no longer think this place exists. I have too many histories, too many versions of myself to combine to one perfect image, easily held.

Family

mom collage

Ballard Locks

Water a slip slickness behind glass–

salmon struggle against current.

The girl beside me presses her face

to the greenness, all nose smudge and forehead.

.

Thick bodies squirming with the effort

of returning home.  Outside the viewing room

.

the air is brine-scented, the sky optimistic blue.

I have not seen my mother in months

but I know above her the dusk is pulling across clouds–

the first stars emerging.  The nights are shorter here,

.

as if afterthoughts.

*

I am missing my family, and I don’t know when I’ll be back East to see them next.  I am finally placing my roots here, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten where I’ve come from.  I wish sometimes that I could populate my own village, with the people I love and care about.  The world is such a vast place.  Right now, I know people who have been asleep for hours, I know people who have a dark sky above them.  I’m not sure that I know anyone just beginning to wake, but it’s a matter of time.  How large, this earth.  How incredibly vast.