(A cop out. And nod to all the times you said “I don’t know” when I asked you what was wrong.)
The fact of the matter she said. Like facts matter. You can say Please do the dishes but what I hear is The labor you perform is insufficient/You are insufficient/You are too much not enough. She wrapped hands too small for their great strength around the barrel of a needle, made incisions in the cloth left behind at crime scenes, looked deep at the source of hurt so she could turn her back on her own. The fact of the matter hung between. A long forgotten murmurance. A shadow highlighting obstruction. Say things too often and they lose their meaning. The fact of the matter. The matter. The fact. The matter of fact. The matter of fact way she dissected us. Laid the body on a metal slab. Went through the motions. Fingers sure and palms unsweaty as they ran over the upset messy tangle of organs and infected tissue. Say things too often and they lose their meaning. Or take on new ones. Like I love you. Like please do the dishes. Like forever. Like goodbye.
the ides make me think of what i would do to your heart or your back if exposed to me in a square before all of your followers
march marches, each one new and strange the mingling of spring and winter weather not unlike the twisting of your temperament
each march is different and, in this one, i find myself devoid of you, fantasizing about all the things i never said that were too painful for you to hear. me, your grand protector valiantly succumbing to the ground beneath your boots
in my dreams, i picture my dagger in your back retribution for the impact of your fist on my skin and the delicate intersection of scars left by your words laced and interlocked against the softness of my belly
I spent my day today surrounded everyone around me ebbing and flowing and me, a jetty, stoic and unmoved.
That’s how it is for me, PTSD pushes me from one extreme to the other so emotional I cannot be touched then so far removed nothing can touch me.
Today I let the salt run down me and I stood in the midst of it eyes dry and heart still trying to find a way to reach out from the haze surrounding me to touch each and every one of you.
All I want to do is enfold you take each trembling drop of you and press you into stillness in each of my cracks and crevices build a home within where you can rest your weary bones.
You have been breaking for so long I don’t remember a time when I didn’t hear you, didn’t register your cries in the night, cold fingers of your hands grasping at me only to slide back into the sea and recommence your crashing melody.
Today I spent my day surrounded wanting to reach out, to do more but unable to shake myself from my foundation.
All I can do at times like these is stand. And hope my stillness gives you something you can safely break against.
I am sure that my definition of friendship is different from most peoples’. There is, of course, the laughter. Laughter is a big part of it. I cannot make jokes and have a person sit still and stare and blink. Because I’m fucking hilarious. Just ask anyone. They’ll tell you.
The laughter is a big part of it. There is, also, the understanding. The person who holds on to me in the darkness and who lets me see them. Letting me see them is important. And, though it is difficult, having them see me. The seeing and the being seen is paramount. Bigger than laughter.
Then there is the hard part. The part where the world sometimes tips. The part where I sit vigil over a telephone or a hospital bed and worry. The part where you answer the phone and I am weeping. That part. The part where one of us cracks open and the other fills the cracks with gold.
Standing by with precious metals is the hard part. Having metals melted. Having tongs to hold the dangerous, hot things away from yourself. Finding a way to fill in the cracks without getting burned. Without hurting. Without hurting more than you have to, anyway. Without adding trauma.
I am sure that my definition of friendship is different from most peoples’. I am so grateful that some people have written the same dictionary as me. Some people, when they look for that word in their private libraries find melted gold. Find laughter. And a telephone they always answer.
I close my eyes every time as I inhale the soft skin of your neck. The atmosphere of your pores rushing through me softens the inside of my mouth and shivers the deepest part of my stomach. You smell, my love, quite simply like the deepest, hottest summers of my childhood. Like ice cream melting across my hands and the rising heat of asphalt too scorched to press my naked feet against. You smell, my dearest, like endless afternoons spent lying on the couch, wrapped in each other against the winter cold outside our small apartment. You smell like home.
It’s so easy to sit in judgment of parents and children and zookeepers and strangers. People who you’ve never met.
It’s so easy.
It’s infinitely harder to person up. To pull loose your heart strings. To release the strict hold you keep on your borders and really look at another person.
Because really seeing means letting yourself be seen. Means being vulnerable. Means realizing that the things that we judge other people for are things that we do all the time.
Who hasn’t been guilty of letting our guard down for a moment? The only difference between all of us and certain mothers and zookeepers is that we weren’t the ones taking our eyes off of our child at that crucial second.
We weren’t. But we could have been.
And that fact is the thing that keeps us from true empathy with other human beings.
Because acknowledging that the only thing separating us and them is a cruel blend of circumstance and blind luck is too terrifying to handle.
So we blame. And we stand up and call for the heads of people who have made the same small mistakes that we make every day at a critical moment that ended in tragedy.
Blame is easier. Judgment is easier. Hatred is easier.
Love is hard. Empathy is hard. Compassion is hard.
Within those three things dwells the sharp knowledge that we, in all of our convictions and certainty, are as fragile and as vulnerable to harm as the people we are so quick to villainize.
Empathy is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The easier it becomes to do the hard work of looking at another person and recognizing yourself.
Last night I went to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society here in center city. I got there way early for my 6PM meeting with the other Grave Gardeners. Our talk for the evening was entitled Forget me Not: Planting a Cemetery Garden.
I am new to gardening, but in no way am I new to cemeteries. I spent my life up until I was 21 living across the street from Magnolia Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.
I spent most of my childhood running around that cemetery. We didn’t have much of a yard at our house, so the “cem” – a word that I have only encountered in the vernacular of my neighborhood compatriots – acted like a natural extension of my childish territory. Fully half of it was empty, so we used the half not occupied by the dead to play baseball, set off fireworks on holidays, play tag, and generally run amok on.
As I got older, I went to the cem to read. I had a favorite tree that I would sit beneath and friends that I would visit when I journaled.
I was fiercely protective of the cem. When I was 16 I caught a guy peeing on a grave and chased him with a large branch that had fallen from a tree. He ran, dick flapping in the breeze, terrified of the young girl threatening to beat him with a part of the very place he was defacing.
It’s been a long time since I felt as connected to any place as I was to the neighborhood where I grew up. The cemetery and the Wawa and the streets where my childhood was spent.
Recently Frankie and I moved to a house in West Philadelphia. It’s on a quiet little street and, in the months since we moved there, it has become a home to me in a way that nowhere has been since I left Magnolia Cemetery and my childhood home behind.
A few months ago, a dear friend posted a link to the West Philly Local calling for Grave Gardeners. I got deeply excited immediately at the prospect of beautifying a graveyard. And the Woodlands is not far from where I live, so it seemed ideal.
Along with my excitement came the immediate apprehension at the prospect of confronting my legendary Black Thumb head on. I have never been able to keep plants alive. It’s a serious detriment to my image of myself as a nurturing human. I recently got a plant for my desk that I have named Oscar. Oscar has lived for several months on the edge of my desk, in view just above the edge of my computer screen. He was dying in the office of one of my colleagues because she has no windows. But I have access to all the light Oscar could possibly want in my front office.
Against the calling of my Black Thumb, I sent in my application to the Grave Gardeners and awaited their response. I was surprised and delighted when they told me that I had been accepted. Our first class was last month and concerned a history of cemeteries in the United States, the transcript of which I will make into a blog entry at a later date.
Last night’s class was our second meeting, and the last one that will be held outside of the bounds of The Woodlands itself. And the most exciting thing is that, last night, we got our grave assignments.
It is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce you to Mary Siffert Ruehmann. A resident of the 29th Ward here in Philadelphia, Mary was born to Frederick Ruehmann and Caroline Ludy on January 27th, 1846 and died on the 12th of May, 1909 at the age of 63. At this point, I do not know if she had any children. It does not seem likely since she died with her father’s name, but I am going to try to do some more research and see what I come up with.
I have not fully decided what I would like to do to pay tribute to Mary. I am going to visit her over the weekend and see what her grave calls for. Since it doesn’t look like there is any writing visible on the headstone part of her cradle grave, I will likely put roses or some sort of vine up there as a large backdrop to what I will do below.
Any advice that any of my gardening friends have would be most welcome. She is placed in such a way that her garden will receive full sunlight, so do keep that in mind.
I am very excited to begin working on this project in earnest. There will be a lot more blog entries coming as I learn more about gardening and as Mary’s plot develops over the summer. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!
The holiday is pretty much directly upon me. This weekend I have Christmas with my family. We are going up tomorrow night.
But I don’t feel super merry. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin. Like butter spread over too much bread.”
It has been a long and tumultuous year. The world has continued to terrify me with its ability to be random and cruel while simultaneously delighting me with the warmth and full hearts and adorable cat photos that I have found within it.
Normally at this point in the season I am wearing a festive hat and bouncing around the house to Christmas music like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not doing either of those things. And what’s weird is that I don’t really care to.
I’ve talked before about the exhaustion that comes from dealing with social justice stuff all the time. The compassion fatigue that we all can feel merely from having access to the internet on a daily basis.
It wears. It takes a toll.
I’m not in a place right this second where I can talk about how to cope with that toll. I’m in it. I’m just looking forward to going home tonight, slapping on some Christmas music and faking it as if I’m going to be making it while I mix up some holiday cookies.
We cope. That’s all we can do sometimes. And I’m just learning now that it’s OK to just cope. To breathe into whatever we’re going through and to be not 100% for a while.
That’s actually a pretty good Christmas gift for me to give myself, now that I think about it.