Monday, December 21, 2015

Dream of the Long Walk: Solstice, One Year Ago

This is a dream I had one year ago last night, taken verbatim from my journal:

It was the End of Things. Society had broken down. There was lightning in the sky, and a cross between a comet and a bombing. There was an ongoing struggle against shadows. Fear shadows, pain shadows.

The choices: cower in the ruins of our homes in the woods, apart from everything we couldn't remember. Or start walking. Walking was an act of faith. Of surrender. 

At first, there was a veneer of camaraderie. Once you started walking, you found others to talk with as you walked. But as the stream of walkers grew, you lost touch with some, then forgot and met others. Then we just walked in silence.

We walked until we reached covered walkways like markets, but they stretched for miles. Some had people selling eggs, bartering. Then there were concrete paths, stairs through structures with objects on either side, on tables or just heaped. Clothing, watches, phones, shoes, for sale or barter. And also assembled in hopes that one of our steady stream of walkers passing by would see something they remembered.

When we were too tired to walk, we lay down next to the walkway. People gave us something to eat, and a blanket. Then when we woke, we'd start walking again.

As I walked, I realized I had a real left leg, though it should have been an above-knee prosthetic. I began to understand that the people at the sides of the walkways had already remembered, and, more importantly, had found objects that were clues to themselves and what they needed to do now. Gradually, I realized some of them were resistance fighters. Guerrilla warriors fighting for memory, fighting amnesia, on missions to fight the shadows. I identified with them. I wanted to help them. I knew I should have been too old (fifty-three!) and an amputee, but I was neither.

The farther I walked, the more patient, knowledgeable people I met waiting beside the tables to help us remember. I knew the ones who were afraid to remember and discover were still outside this place, clinging to the ruins they couldn't identify anymore. You had to be willing to walk. Everyone walking was ready to consider and confront what they might find.

Then I saw forks in the walkway that led to woodsy, rural areas with animals. There were bears in some enclosures along with cows, and I think the bears had forgotten too because they weren't especially dangerous. There was the potential for us to find the animal we needed to be paired with, like a totem, or an actual individual animal. These people who identified their animal-partner could join with the animal and go fight the shadows, understanding that you both could be obliterated in that battle. Then you'd have to start the walk again.

I found a table of t-shirts, I I shuffled through them. One said Tioga Park [where I exercised racehorses in the 1980's] and I said, This means something... At another table, a phone rang: an old, black phone with a curly cord. Whenever this happened, the person closest had to answer it. It was my boyfriend, Perry. But he wasn't sure where he was. I wasn't sure whether he was walking yet.

Then I passed through a building built on a pillar. To clean it, everything was secured and the whole structure tipped on its side so the wind could blow through, then tipped back.

Then I reached a farm with ponies and cows and pigs in a field. I said, THIS IS ME! We crawled under the fence and I put my hands on a chestnut pony that looked like Cupcake, the Shetland I owned for twenty years who taught my daughters to ride. I started to cry. The people helping me said, Good! This is good! 

They took me to see more horses. I remembered Laredo, and I fell down in the grass and clover and sobbed. I saw an appaloosa that looked like her, but wasn't, then another that could have been her just as I was different, with my real leg. I put my hands on this Laredo-mare, and I sobbed. The people with me said, This is your spirit partner! You'll both join the fight when you're ready. You don't have to walk anymore.


So this was my Walking Dream, solstice 2014. My journal entry ended, I'd like to put a photi of Laredo  **HERE**   but tonight the blog just gives me a frowny-face. Alas. You'll have to use you imagination. Happy Solstice. Tomorrow the daylight starts to increase.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Stories We Need to Tell

This week I heard storyteller and writer Regi Carpenter speak about her craft & upcoming memoir at a Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators meeting in Ithaca. The most powerful moment for me came when she described how her bother died and she realized many of his stories could never be known.

Then she asked, "What story are you not telling?"

It pierced me in two ways. While I've been writing down events in my life I used to be unable to even think about, other topics still make me hesitate, though I know that's one characteristic of interesting writing. To meet the hardest, most personal stuff head-on is to share elements commonly hidden at our core.

The other part is that I've been grieving the unknown stories of my boyfriend, best friend, lover and partner, Perry, who died last August 9 after a week on life support. It still seems impossible he's gone. 

I helped write his obituary, which seemed ludicrous, impossible that I was doing it, even as I did. I never used to understand why you would write, "passed away after a brief illness." But that was the line I used. Everything around his death was impossible. I included the basics (grew up in Blauvelt NY, educated at New England College & came to manage a rock back in Ithaca in the early 1970's, before managing a grounds crew at Cornell Plantations until his retirement) but I had to leave out the details that made him so complicated, funny, resilient and fair. How he married a millionaire, flew planes, drove race cars and traveled the world, but eventually divorced her. His heroin addiction in his late twenties and the arrest that probably saved his life. How he and I drove around various Finger Lakes in his '62 Corvette or his Porche, discussing families, love and breakups, depression, religion and atheism. On weekends, at his house twenty miles from mine, he grilled steaks or salmon, steamed vegetables and baked potatoes, and we watched NASCAR, golf and horse racing. With our gang at a pub called The Rose, we watched American Pharoah win the triple crown. Now every memory is a push-pin in my map of our last months, designating a decreasing distance to the end of my time with him. 

We were fixed up by a mutual friend the summer after my amputation in 2007. We hit it off, and spent weekends together for eighteen months. Perry called me almost  every single night, though I told him I knew he'd start slacking off the routine...but he didn't. After a year and a half, I was struggling with our age difference (he was 60 then, I was 46) and what I felt was a class difference. I was very aware he was semi-retired, and divorced from the millionaire; it struck me as a different world from my starving-artist/homesteader scramble of a life. I knew his background involved chainsaws and backhoes, rural as mine. I just couldn't quite see it.

I broke up with him. I call this my Three Year Brain-fart. But we still exchanged birthday cards. (He was a Gemini, like my horse.) I turned fifty in January of 2012. Got over myself. Got Perry's  birthday card, and decided to take up his offer of having coffee.

The last three and a half-plus years were wonderful. Solid, dependable. The kind of adult partnership I've never had. Even if conflicts twitched me off balance, I reveled in it; it was part of the relationship. I kidded him he might be too young for me. We talked about traveling to Scotland someday. We joked about trying to see if we could live together. We were happy. I feel like I let my guard down. Me, of all people, usually expecting disaster. I was content.

Perry hadn't felt well in a long time. Yeah, he was a lifelong smoker. He'd been seeing doctors for various symptoms, awaiting test dates for CT scans, MRIs. He kept playing golf, but we never did rent a houseboat in the Thousand Islands like we planned. It was impossible that his shortness of breath worsened so suddenly that I drove him to the ER, where he was put in the ICU, then on a ventilator by midnight. A "spot" on his lung x-ray two weeks before had massed into a hurricane filling the picture. Perry stayed on the ventilator for a week. This is what they mean by "life-support," by "medically-induced coma." Then it was removed. They gave Perry morphine. He was too weak to speak, semi-conscious. He died the day after. He was 67.

Going through his belongings with his relatives, we found a stash of photographs, the ones Perry had told me about, assumed lost in various moves.  My puzzle picture of Perry had been filling in gradually, with big empty hollows. Some  gaps filled in when his family arrived at the hospital where I'd camped out all week. Then a flood of photos in the hidden boxes... Some matched stories I'd heard from him in detail. Other offered questions and incidents. Except I can't find out now. I can't ask him.

 Death is still new to me. Rindle, the pony I raised, owned, loved and eventually put down, described on this blog, has been my only preparation. She taught me to grieve. It helps now.

I've deactivated my facebook account for now. I'm trying to sort things out in my head as I work on my fences, give some smart-lessons to my new mini-cayuse, write another novel in verse, pursue publication. And sort things out in print right here. It's been a strange lesson, losing Perry after I'd finally relaxed into a relationship with no more restlessness. When I took him to the hospital, I was sure there would be time to discuss and approach the events, good or bad. When they were about to put Perry on the ventilator, I was afraid of being over-dramatic, but I was also just plain afraid. I said, "Wait--" and slipped his oxygen mask down so I could kiss him and tell him I love him. 

I'm so glad I did. I miss him so much. It's hard when the phone doesn't ring each night at ten.     

Perry's obit is here, if you're interested. Perry Huested

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What We Do

A long time ago I began telling myself, Things might look different in the morning. It was when I'd left my first marriage and moved with my toddler daughter and our animals to this hilltop, and also begun to leave Christian Science, the religion that warped and defined my whole life.

It was the first glimpse of doubt permitted in what had been an absolute, iron-clad faith. But the ability to doubt is an underhanded stealth-skill everyone should learn. On some of my worst days I've been able to cast doubt on whether events could actually get any worse, and therefore might improve. It can be a back door to hope.

Last winter was snowy and bitterly cold for two months straight. We never did have a January thaw around New Year's, as we almost always do in central upstate NY. One of my daughter's old 4H goats died, but the other hung on through the sub-zero temps. I got over my goat-craze long ago (I drove here from Boston in 1982 with my first goats in the back seat) but this year I caved. I got the old goat a heat lamp, then a blanket. I bonded with the old girl, one old goat to another. (If the British Horse Society examiners could have seen me blanketing that goat...) Spring was a long time coming, and I struggled through my worst depression in years. It was directly related to my interactions with my elderly parents, who live ten miles away. Our relationship has varied wildly, and seems determined to zigzag some more now that I thought my emotions were neatly sorted.

While I was gritting my teeth, busy enduring winter, I got a phone call: NUMBER UNKNOWN. I almost didn't answer, but decided I had strength enough to chase away a collection agency one more time...except it was a fellow with a British accent, hesitant and stumbling. Was I Liz Heywood? I probably thought he was crazy...but he'd promised his wife he would call me after she died, to thank me for my blog.

I hadn't touched this blog in eighteen months at that point, and only posted a few times the previous year. I don't know the statistics on blog abandonment, but I'd guess there are more blogs in arrears than not. I felt I should apologize about this to the Brit (his name was Mark, apparently calling from England) but he told me his wife had loved reading my blog, that she too was an amputee and horseman, and that she'd made a list of people for him to call after she died, to thank. I topped the list.

I've thought before about the incidents and anecdotes I've come across all through my life, way before the inter-web universe, music and writing, photos, stories and cryptic observations, mental burdocks that cling tight. I've known I've been able to touch others just as I've been touched. But it's amazing to find out the pebble I dropped in my pond has rippled so far beyond the water I see.

It would be great to say my depression ended after that phone call. It didn't. It limped on unil it was smothered by sun and leaves and grass. I can be a world-class blog-procrastinator, claiming I hate the pressure of even a self-inflicted deadline, but I've just spent weeks working like a fiend, fencing in my pasture for my mare. She's been boarded at a farm the past couple years since I put my old pony, Rindle, down. A week ago, Laredo and the mini I bought as her roommate stepped off the trailer into the head-high jungle of pasture. Part of my self slid back into adjustment better than my best visit to my chiropractor.

Today was my pony Rindle's birthday, back in 1984. My horses have always pushed and pulled me into action, gotten me up (out of bed or off the ground) to continue. I had no intention of building fences in my fifties, but what the hey. 

It's summer, and we're still kicking. I'm getting ready to send another novel in verse manuscript to my agent, and who knows?  Life might not be as bad as we fear. If you'll excuse me, I have to go chase the goat off my porch.