Monday, July 10, 2017

The end of Them

We think we understand a thing called divorce. We see it happen to naive newlyweds and those crushed by crises. Sometimes it is a welcome release though mostly it is sad. But there is a kind of divorce few have seen that is the strangest and saddest of all -- divorce after a lifetime spent together. After children, dreams, careers, retirements. Divorce that isn’t so much a separation of two lives as the splitting of one being.

A lifetime of answering unasked questions. He knows to bring home a certain ice cream bar for her when he goes out. She knows to check that he has his wallet and keys before he leaves. Only she understands the system for their ancient file cabinet, and only he can decrypt their tax forms. At times no one else can make sense of his foggy-minded conversation, and when she needs to be brought on board, he’s knows exactly what to say. Now, no one does.

A lifetime of habit. His arm always finds hers when they climb stairs side-by-side. She always reaches out at night to cover him with the blanket that he tends to kick off. He is an excellent driver with a terrible sense of direction, and her arthritic knees do not cooperate with driving, but her mind still navigates well. “Together, you guys are one decent driver. Just don’t go out alone!”, their kids will joke. Now, they both must.

A lifetime of sharing. There is no his and hers. Only ours and theirs -- bedroom, bathroom, bank account, and Scrabble board. Their home, carried from house to house, is decades of flotsam of which neither can remember the source and now neither wish to own. It will end up claimed by their adult children for utility or discrete bittersweet memories, the rest, given to charity. Their family traditions will also be left orphaned and unwanted, tainted by this tragedy, further hollowing out holidays and get-togethers. Now, they start from scratch.

Like two wind-beaten trees, they survived the battering of time by growing into and around each other. To painfully uncoil and pull apart after decades leaves both unbalanced and exposed. And yet, they have. They stand alone, willfully ignoring their raw and weak parts, trying to straighten out into independent stability. Each denying the constant nagging existence of the marital phantom limb. Fighting the habits. Ignoring the unanswered questions. Seeking comfort with control and ownership. Struggling to define and manage themselves as individuals again for the first time since first becoming adults. It is a pain and process unlike any. May your parents never have to experience it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Come to Terms

How does it work, this coming of terms?
Does it mean that I have become so well acquainted
with the hitherto nameless horror
that it has been subject to the indignity of taxonomy?
And having been accorded a category, title and alias,
It now sits meekly on a shelf, between First Heartbreak and Car Crash.

Does it matter, the terms I choose?
Is honesty important, with labels like:
“The Time I Tried to Kill Myself After A Year of Failures”.
Or should I encrypt my grief and mask it with mockery.
After all, “Miss Tiddlywinks” or “The Jellybean” doesn’t sound so bad.
Making what was an unimaginable, indescribable blow
an amusing misadventure in my madcap life.

Could it be the power is in the act of articulation?
And by capturing and framing the wound in words,
I am able to loose its piercing grip and evict it from my heart?
Or are the ‘terms’ to come to instead a relationship,
That I must concede between the thing and I?
A point of shared reference so close that we become family,
(And the sins of family can be borne no matter the cost).

But then, perhaps I am being too abstract.
And “come to terms” was always intended as an order.
Where “terms” was somewhere to go.
A mystical place where the wounded heal,
And no aching loss or painful memory can follow.
Because I have tried all these approaches but the last

And I am still not there.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Bag in My Closet

In the bottom of my closet
Sits a dusty old duffel bag.
That smells of triumphs and losses.
Crammed among cleats and balls,
Are my faint but stubborn hopes.
That my body will recover.
Cushioning my kit is that dream
Of an old and wrinkled me
Cackling round the bases.
Harbored and hidden away
Is the life I led for so long
That I have not yet given up on.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Floating Particles

When was it that the idea of heaven and hell first coalesced in my mind? It must have been during those slow summer days in the apartment on Elmdale. The one I was born in, literally, my mother having been traumatized by her sister’s hospital birth stories. By the time I, her third, was ready to enter the world, she was an experienced home-birther and my parents’ bedroom would go on to be the delivery room for my younger brother too.

I remember sitting at the front room window overlooking the street, watching the dust motes in the air, wondering at their providence – divine? Was that fairy dust? No, just the regular kind. They would hang in the afternoon light, waiting for a breeze to determine whether they’d end up dust on the sill or fly away. I’d study the dust motes as only kids can, filling my sight and horizon with their mysterious movements. And I’d think about God and religion.

I heard those words a lot in our home. Our home, where my father was a Muslim and my mother was a Mormon. Our home of uneasy alliances and fragile peace. A peace so fragile I once broke it with a tiny angel figurine. It was a parting gift from Great Aunt Mabel. She let me pick one out from the countless beautiful little people that covered every surface of her pink doilyed sitting room. I chose a beautiful blonde angel, with a long white dress, glittery wings, and golden halo.

When we got home, I excitedly showed it to my dad, which resulted in another bewildering parental argument that ended with powdered figurine in the air. Muslims do not believe in haloed and winged angels. Muslims do not keep idols in their homes. I should never have called it an angel when I ran excitedly to show it to my father, who’d stayed back, as always, to work. If I’d only called it a fairy, perhaps I’d still have it to this day. But then maybe I wouldn’t have learned about heaven and hell the way did, when I did.

There were two religions in my world – Muslims and Mormons – and I was a Muslim. And that meant no angel figurines, no trick-or-treating at Halloween, no more shorts and tank-tops in the summer, no tap-dancing lessons, no shimmying in the school winter musical – when everyone else shook their booties, I, in concession to my inherited faith would hold very still then. If not? Then hell. What was hell? A bad place. You didn’t want to go there. There, people were burned for being bad.

But these rules didn’t apply to momma. She was Mormon. She wore dresses, had experienced marshmallows and gummy worms, could eat meat outside our house and shimmy if she wanted to. We believed in one god, and she believed in a god, his son and a spirit. Momma went to church where she got special little bits of bread and water, and we went to masjid where sometimes we’d get donuts. Momma couldn’t have coffee and we couldn’t have pork. Neither of my parents could drink or gamble, and we were all supposed to be kind and honest. Her rules were hers, and ours were ours.

What did that really mean though, beyond the ominous and empty words of God and religion? I don’t recall asking or maybe my dad’s answers were too complex or evasive to understand. I was only five or six when all of these realities, like dust motes and broken figurine particles, were still settling. So there was never a sudden epiphany of what me being Muslim, and momma not, signified. Not like when I realized on the way home from grandma’s house that my grandparents were old and would die, and in fact, we’d all die. Or when a summer trip to visit my dad’s family suddenly illuminated the mystery of his darker skin, preference for strong tea, and somber songs in another language.

What all of it really meant would take years to sink in, but back then, in those sleepy simple days, I was certain only that it was not good. I know this because the first thing I ever prayed for, in a quiet whisper gathered in my tiny child hands, was for God to fix it. Make momma Muslim. It was prayer poured over the dull muffled debates that leaked under my bedroom door at night. Make momma Muslim. It harmonized with the sing-song squawk of the swing-set that babysat me across the street. Make momma Muslim. And it would churn those dust motes in wait for wind or gravity to determine their final destinations. In wait for God. As I still am. Please God, make momma Muslim.