Friday, May 30, 2008

On my 34th Birthday

It's a strange feeling to reach the age my mother was when she died. In a few days I'll be older than she ever was. Simply put: much too young to die.

Thus, this year was no ordinary birthday for me.

As a gift, Tobin researched, hired, and paid a piano tuner to coax my old upright piano back to melodic perfection. To me, this celebrated the positive ways in which I take after my mother.

And to honor the myriad of ways that I am different from my mother, I gave myself a gift: I researched, hired, and paid to have my nose pierced.

Lean in closer, and receive the message that my pierced nose proclaims:

I am young.
I embrace change.
I am beautiful.
I am happy with who I am.
I am alive.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Many years ago, my paternal Grandma awoke with a start in the middle of the night. Something—she’ll tell you it was God—told her get down on your knees and pray for Wes. She climbed out of bed and did what she was told. For many hours, she prayed for her son without knowing why. Wes called from the hospital the next morning to tell her his appendix had burst in the middle of the night.

Many years later, my cousin Shauna traveled from Kentucky to Oregon to visit my Grandma. When it came time for Shauna to leave, she told her father, "I just can't get on that flight." Shauna postponed it, rerouting through a different city. The plane—the one Shauna was originally scheduled to be on—went down in a cornfield in the mid-west.

Around that same time, my maternal Grandmother went to the nursing home to break the news to my Great-Grandmother, Nonnie that my mother had died. But before Grandmother could say a word, Nonnie told her, “I know. I know.” Nonnie said she had a vision of my mother rising up and being received into the arms of Nonnie’s husband, who had died 6 years earlier.

I have visions, too. Premonitions. A sense of knowing. I guess it runs in the family. It’s nothing lucrative or transactional, like the ability to predict the stock market or winning lottery numbers. It’s more akin to a leaky faucet than a fire hose, coming and going at random intervals. It’s always intertwined with human relationships, powered by love, faith, and common sense.

Eleanor was nine months old in 2002, when we temporarily misplaced her. We were vacationing for a weekend with a group of friends in a big, old Victorian house. After playing a board game, I went to check on Eleanor, who’d been playing at Tobin’s feet in the next room. “Where’s Eleanor?” I asked when I didn’t see her on the floor. “I thought you had her,” Tobin replied. As if snapping a photograph, a single image flashed in my mind: the sweeping wooden staircase with its multiple landings. I ran to the stairs and took them in twos. I found Eleanor, who could crawl and not walk, who could climb up stairs but not negotiate her way back down, sitting at the top. Facing forward, she dangled her legs over the top stair. She hummed happily and rocked back and forth as she contemplated her next move.

Nine months later, I was making dinner in the kitchen while 18-month-old Eleanor played in her room. Chopping an onion, my knife poised mid-air, I became certain that Eleanor had thrown up onto the rocking chair in her room. Grabbing a towel, I padded down the hallway to her room. I found her standing wide-eyed by the chair, pointing at the pile of vomit.

All in all, I’m glad I inherited this family trait. It certainly can be useful.

My sister only got knobby knees and bony elbows.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A post-- not fit for Mother's Day-- About My Mother

She plays the piano with gusto, waving her long fingers over the keys with astonishing speed. Like a snake charmer, she coaxes forth melodies composed by the piano itself.

Uninvited, Anorexia sidles next to her on the piano bench. With hot breath, it whispers promises in her ear with no intension of keeping them. It beckons her to follow, luring with a curved finger.

How can she resist? Her internal alarm should provide warning, but a thick layer of self-doubt muffles its clang. She sets off, in pursuit of lies too good to be true.

At first, she has the capacity to choose. She eats, then eradicates all traces of eating; only a few calories leak into her body. The results are impressive. Her chubby thighs, meaty biceps, and flabby post-partum belly disappear as if by magic. She is the magician.

The needle on the scale reflects her loss: 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 pounds.

Then the pain starts. The imbalance of electrolytes causes leg spasms like hot knives searing into her calves. She seeks solace in hot baths, augmenting the temperature with boiling water from the stove.

Anorexia sucks the pink out of her cheeks, leaving them the pallid gray of dry cement. Dark clouds cover her sunken eyes. Her skin hangs from her bones like melting wax. With no remaining body insulation, she tries in vain to make up in blankets what she’s lost in fat.

Now she plays the piano only for a few minutes at a time, tucking several afghans around her small frame. Depressing the piano’s keys taxes her creaking finger joints.

Anorexia removes her ability to choose. Stealthily, it rewires her brain, distorting her body image and ridding her of insight. The scale says 87 pounds, but she is unable to discern its prophecy. In a fit of honesty, a relative tells her she looks “like a walking corpse.” She hears the description, but can’t reconcile it to herself.

Like her atrophied body, the world darkens and shrinks. Days bleed into years. She lies in a waterbed trying to find a comfortable position. Her life fits neatly within the four walls of her bedroom.

That’s where they find her, when they arrive home from school.

Her husband and two daughters remove their shoes and walk on the plush blue carpet, down the hallway that leads to her room. They see. Her body is in bed, but her mind has traveled to the dark, unknown realm of a coma.

She dies two days later.

The piano is silent, covered by a thin layer of dust.