31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Halloween Ghosts

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This morning I am awakened by the sounds of the shower from down the hall. Little Jeffrey is up early to report to the high school so the whole retinue can get on the road for another band competition. I’m tired from a late night of working the hot chocolate station for the band concessions during the football game. My arm is sore from the flu shot I got on Thursday, and I slept fitfully for some reason, dreaming of milk and puppies. It’s still dark outside, but I get up to make the boy a good breakfast—he’ll be gone all day and into the evening.

The bacon sizzles and I flip his favorite pancakes while he studies who-knows-what on his phone screen. He feels so far away lately, coming and going like a ghost, moving in and out of the house on my peripheries. I study him studying the screen and I am seized with that feeling again, that terrible sadness that comes with being left behind.

I know the almost-empty is meant to prepare me for the empty-empty but sometimes my heart refuses to budge. The earth is filled with longing and preparation for a sleep that gives new life but my roots long for the sun.

The boys and I have kept this tradition. Every year, before Halloween, we dig out their old radio flyer and march up the sidewalk a mile or so to the Halfway Market. There, we tap on and inspect every pumpkin before making our picks. One for Ted, one for Jeffy, and a small one for the resident dog. Then we trudge back home with our loaded wagon and proudly place said pumpkins on the porch until carving time. This year, with Teddy gone and Jeffrey ghosting in and out of the house constantly, their dad and I picked out two plump pumpkins at Kroger when we were grocery shopping one day. No pomp. No circumstance. We barely got the things carved in time for trick-or-treat.

Last week, I realized it would be the first Halloween with no Ted. So I sent him a care package with some Halloween goodies—a collection of light-up necklaces and glow-in-the-dark stuff to share with his friends. I wondered as I bought the trinkets if it was a waste of money. Surely he will think his mother has lost her mind. “Now if you go out haunting late at night, at least you’ll be visible in the dark,” I wrote, in the Happy Halloween card enclosed. Before I left for the game last night, he texted to tell me to check Facebook for a picture of him and a couple friends sporting some of the “stuff.” “I shared the stuff,” he said. “Some people said nice things about you for sending them.”

It made me smile but I still missed him.

On trick-or-treat night, after all the ghosts and goblins were back inside with bags full of candy, Jeff and I sat outside under the stars a little bit longer. As we sat with Bon, the little girl from across the street skipped over to visit with us for a moment. She had doffed her Cleopatra costume but still wore the remnants of her Egyptian makeup. “I went to every house,” she bragged. And we exclaimed over her fortitude, making much over the huge amounts of candy she amassed. This little sprite always fills my heart and I must fight the urge to scoop her up, pepper her white brow with little kisses. But I realize this would be beneath her. She is, after all, a world champion trick-or-treater.

So I just smile and memorize the curve of her face in the moonlight and sigh as I think how it was only yesterday my boys were small and their short legs were challenged to walk these streets with their pumpkin-shaped buckets full of candy.

And this morning, I make Jeffrey pancakes. And sit with him while he eats, showing him the little watercolor vignettes I’m working on for some friends, reading to him from my bird field guide all the particulars about the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Before he leaves, he bends over me to hug me tight and kiss me on the cheek.

“I love you, mama,” he says. And then he ghosts away.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Touch the Sky

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The mornings are dark and trimmed with frost of late. On Tuesday I stood out back and watched my breath tendril up into the slow approaching dawn. The Hunter’s moon was on the wane, but still gave the appearance of being full and I could smell the light slowly undoing the night. The wind is beginning to loosen the leaves a little more each day and the hillsides lush with color are beginning to undress. Yesterday at work, I spoke with a patient’s family member who had driven up from Lewisburg to visit.

“How are the leaves down there?” I asked.

With a sad smile she said, “They are gone.” Then she spoke to her loved one about the blazing glory the Maples made in the back yard.

Grief pooled at the corners of his eyes as she gave to him her word pictures. This is what the deep ones mourn—not the loss of limb or weakness of body, but the theft of time. They grieve the sudden pulling of their lives out from under them; how they must abandon all that gives joy to tend to their physical needs for a season.

I try to return these moments to them, point out the beauty available right here, right now. The pulse of life still beats strongly under the roof of the hospital. The losses they have suffered seem to tender their heart and open its door wide to all the losses over the course of life. A rare few recognize the gift in their tears—this drawing near to the holy, to the things that matter most.

I learn from their bravery, how best to view the moments of my days. In autumn, the longing looms large, just as C.S. Lewis said. I cry when I see the birds flock across the sky, the sudden lift of their wings birthing anew within me the awareness of my feet of clay—I am earthbound.

In my reading this morning, Diane Ackerman tells me, “One of the first words we think humans spoke, recorded in Indo-European as pleu, meant: It flies! It is an ancient longing.”

I long for flight of many kinds but mostly, I want to touch the sky, to scoop her blue in my cupped hands and carry it home. Is there a way to carry the sky inside of me? In his poem “Two Stranger Birds in Our Feathers,” Mahmoud Darwish says, “ … spread over me an endless blue wing … “

This is what I want too—to be lost in the ecstasy of a love so great I lose all sense of self but become one with earth and sky and sun and star. Overshadowed by mystery.

This is Love. This is Faith. I let these longings lead me deeper into the heart of God.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Memoir

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Writing is a powerful search mechanism, and one of its satisfactions is that it allows you to come to terms with your life narrative.”~William Zinsser, “How to Write Your Memoir.”

“Remember,” she said. “Writing is discovery. You will learn things about yourself you never would have imagined as you put word to page.”

I’ve experienced this truth repeatedly over the years, but my jaded self needed reminded. I was in a workshop on writing memoir, and the leaders were giving us a series of writing prompts. Cat Pleska and Fran Simone are successful memoirists and experienced teachers of the craft, but also, they trust in this process. Writing—putting words to one’s own story—has the power to heal.

“There are many good reasons for writing that have nothing to do with being published,” says William Zinsser in the above-mentioned essay.

Yes.

So we wrote. We read George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From” and wrote a version of our own. Then we chose a few lines from our poems of origin and wrote some more on the three elements of memoir: scene, summary, and reflection. We listened to the brave ones read their scratchings (I wasn’t one). And then we wrote some more.

A friend once told me I must write my memoir. You have to, she said. And I felt an odd sort of churning inside of me. I will have to wait until a few people I love pass into the next life, I said.

So, when I wrote my poem of origin, I was well aware of those elements of my life that made my friend say, you must.

I am from whispers in the dark,
scratchy kisses—scent of beer; open windows, curtains blowing inside-out, fresh-hoed corn,
and Johnny Cash playing on the stereo …

The leaves are almost at peak color in our little valley and the way they scatter in the breeze feel like a slow, peeling away of all the things we hide behind. This almost-empty nest has me thinking about the nest from which I flew. And I remember: writing is discovery.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: When Obama Came to Town

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I’ll never forget the look on his face. “I’m trying to make a better life,” he said. “I have kids. I have a good job. There’s no way I’m going back to the person I was.”

Helpless. That’s how he felt. He’d been attacked from behind, claimed he didn’t know why. But people don’t want you to get out, he said. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

How do you fight against a system on the outside, and the inside? Where do you go to find the help you need?

I remember asking one patient how he did it. For years he lived a life of crime to feed his addiction. Dependent on prescription pain medication. “It’s so hard to beat,” I said. “How’d you do it?”

“Oh, I was in prison,” he said. “I didn’t have a choice. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Something is wrong when prison is the only place our kids can go to get clean.

President Obama was in my neighborhood yesterday, talking about prescription drug and heroin addiction. See, my sweet little home state of West Virginia claims the particular honor of the highest rate of overdose deaths in the nation. And we all feel it. These deaths touch us all in some way.

President Obama said more Americans now die from drug overdoses than they do motor vehicle accidents.

“The numbers are big,” he said. “But behind those numbers is incredible pain for families … ”

I am a mother of two teenage boys. My nest is almost empty. They are good boys: straight A students, church-raised, please-and-thank you kind of kids. I still worry.

It only takes one time.

I need to know there are others out there looking out for us. Our community has fallen victim to dark ways. My husband has forbidden me to run down the out-of-the-way hollows so prevalent in this old farmland. He fears I will run upon a meth lab.

There is not just one cause of this epidemic. Our little community just happens to have the perfect storm: economic hardship and high unemployment, chronic pain/job-related injuries from years of back-breaking work, lax oversight of medical/prescription capabilities, lack of intervention programs, low educational level … the list goes on and on.

It is a system. A system that has failed.

Our president said it would take everyone working together to beat this problem. Everyone.

“… These are our kids. It’s not somebody else’s kids. It’s our kids. It’s not somebody else’s neighborhood. It’s our neighborhood. And they deserve every chance. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing right by them … We’ve all got a role to play,” Obama said.

Good words. And true. No government mandate will cure this ill. Will you join me in prayer for this problem? For our children, for our communities, for the future of our nation? We need a new way—creative leaders to carve out a new path.

And we all need to do our part.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Unlocking Time

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This morning, the sky looks like a giant canvas of sand art—grainy clouds sweep across a blooming horizon and I rise before the sun. I set my alarm early, to do this writing thing, but my body would rather stay in bed, my mind is sleepy. It’s cold outside. I try not to think about my pepper plants as I stare out the window at the sinking moon. We’re supposed to have another warm spell this week. Hold on, little ones, I whisper against the glass.

Yesterday, we had new French doors installed in the back of our house, a project long overdue. I may have mentioned before, I don’t like to let go of things. As the workers carried our old doors away I had to fight the urge to ask them to leave them behind. Wouldn’t they make a nice rustic table? Maybe some kind of outdoor project, with flowering vines? But I know better. If left, the doors would languish in the garage with all the other left-behinds: old laminate flooring, boxes of tile, half-empty cans of paint, forgotten homebrew equipment, all the neglected bicycles, and the boys’ old radio flyer. No, best to let them go.

When we ordered our door, the salesman neglected to tell us we had to buy our own doorknob and dead bolt. As a placeholder, the installers put the old one back in—the one that never locked properly, the one with the ugly corroded brass. So, when Jeff came home from work, we went for a quick walk and then over to The Home Depot. Who knew there were so many different kinds of doorknobs? We found a set that seemed perfect and were getting ready to make our way to the register when the one other person in the doorknob aisle approached us.

“If you all want a secure lock, you should buy Schlage instead of that one.”

He pointed to the package he was holding. “I’m a locksmith. I just learned from a guy in the CIA that the lock you are holding can be picked in eleven seconds.”

Jeff and I looked at each other and moved over to the Schlage section. The man went on to give several pointers about secure locks and what we should purchase. “If it says ‘G1,’ that’s what you want. That’s the most secure.” We found our G1 Schlage knob and dead bolt set, thanked the man, and left.

It seemed like a stroke of luck to be in the aisle the same time as a locksmith evangelist. I couldn’t help feeling well cared for as we drove on home. But the thing I noticed most was how the entire interaction felt so … spacious. Before the almost-empty nest, these kinds of errands were always cutthroat, get in/get out kinds of things. No time to talk with a locksmith evangelist in the doorknob aisle. What’s more, they were usually a divide and conquer episode. Rarely would Jeff and I go together to purchase something like a doorknob.

As we drove home from The Home Depot and night began to fall softly over our little valley, I whispered a prayer of thanks for changing seasons. And the way time seems to expand in this almost-empty nest.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. 

Almost Empty