And Then, Death Comes

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And we watch it as it leaves

As much as I believe I am prepared for death, I never am. I could have a head-start, running miles around it — fearless of losing, but — in rare and unadulterated form, it proves to me, I don’t know what I’m doing. I spent the last three months with my friend of twenty years, waiting while his father was dying. This, a man who has fought various forms of cancer and survived, had now succumbed to prostate cancer. My friend — the loving, kind, generous, and soft-spoken man he is — is calm. This is something for which he’s been waiting.

Waiting . . .
Waiting . . .

I’ve found myself grieving with him on so many levels, but I know my pain cannot match his. I knew his father from afar — applauded his love for his son and looked up to a man who had an undying passion and loyalty to his wife before she passed away. My friend, now a parentless child — has buried both of his parents within a few years. I asked him the other day, “Have you cried?” There was a pause — a few moments passed for the air to settle in the question and he said, “Not yet. It’s strange. I feel so calm.”

I find myself praying for his storm, that it doesn’t come when he doesn’t have the time to sit through it — to get wet from the downpour. But when you’ve waited and waited and waited for a death predicted to come sooner than it did, maybe there’s no storm? Maybe the storm was in the waiting.

“It’s strange, I feel so calm.”

He is a one-man show, my friend. He handled everything effortlessly, even communicating with his job about the leave he’d need to take and why. He found himself swatting down a few family members who want to tell him what to do, yet, they had no earthly idea of what he’d have to do — the pressure of it all, the pain. I can only be his sounding board. I have listened willingly.

We have waited for death and when he communicated his father’s passing to me, I still felt the ache — I still flinched from the pain. I wasn’t ready. He wasn’t either.


My mother’s childhood friend died on the morning of Friday, July 31, 2020, a few days after my friend’s father’s death. I was driving and called her to share how my dog’s vet visit went after not being able to take her this past April due to the Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic. I had good news and she had bad news. At sixty-three, just four years older than my mother, her childhood friend died from the very thing we’ve been combating for nearly five months. She worked in a nursing home and contracted it from someone there.

She knew of the torture — how this strong and healthy woman failed over a short span of time, and she cried in a way I had not heard her do in what feels like years. “I’m glad I saw her when I did — glad I got the chance to see her smiling and happy before all of this.”

I mentioned I was driving — thankful for the Bluetooth syncing, I acknowledged the fact that I was going to need a moment. This was a woman whose mother kept me when I was young. I spent many days parading around Frazier Homes in Savannah, GA with my friends — her nieces and nephews — her family. I shook my head in disbelief. This is close to home, again. This is so close to home and as much as I wanted to listen to my mother as she cried about the loss of her friend, I didn’t want it to be true.

Had she told me of this a few months ago and it was some other God-awful way of dying, I would have found a way to soldier on through the drive, but an overpowering ache of sadness consumed me. Death doesn’t give us a time or date. It doesn’t make itself known in fancy little dresses or frilly patterns. It swoops in, ready to consume every fiber of our being and if we are not able to sustain throughout its reign, we will falter.

“I’m glad I saw her when I did — glad I got the chance to see her smiling and happy before all of this.”

My childhood friend, my mother’s childhood friend’s niece was who I needed to contact. We never have been the “sit-on-the-phone-and-talk” kind of friends, but we text each other regularly, making sure we’re both still braving this thing called life. I sent a text message to her, then I called before the weekend disappeared. I had to. It wouldn’t have felt right if I didn’t, not within me. I had to hear her voice, if only for her to say, “Girl, I can’t believe it” as I’ve read many times about those we know and have lost.

I had to leave a message.

I hate those text messages that come a few days before the phone call, but sometimes, as I am learning, they’re actually preferred. My friend’s response to the text message, “Girl, it’s all just too much right now. I love you” hit me in the gut. “It’s all just too much right now.” Her family is a tower. I told her this. I have never seen a more close-knit family ever in my life and they will all get together and whoop someone’s ass if they needed to. I was happy to have grown up around such strength, loyalty, and camaraderie — especially in the face of evil.

My mother’s side of the family is like this as well, but aside from her mother and sister and a few of my cousins, I didn’t spend much time around them. Something about not wanting us to see too much violence, but for various other reasons, we still witnessed it within and outside our home.


I know of death. I smell its stench whenever it is near. I know of the way it sneaks in greedily and eager to devour the souls of the dying. I sat with it as I watched my great-grandmother lose her mind, then her life. All the waiting, all the preparing and getting things “just right” are not enough for you to be ready when you need to be.

Death comes and the only thing you can do is watch it when it leaves.


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The Strange, Unforgettable Little World of Tyson Liston

Part II: The Stapler Thief

Photo by Everyday basics via Unsplash

“Son! Have you seen my stapler?”

Roger looks all over their cabin-style home for his favorite stapler. He has a project he’s working on and one of the key tools to use is his heavy-duty stapler. Their home is quiet — only the hum or the a.c. unit can be heard. Dena and Celia are both out doing the weekly shopping, so he and Tyson are manning the fort.

“Son! The stapler, have you seen it?!”

Tyson is fiddling with a few knick-knacks for his train set — careful not to misplace anything. Since he found out the magical toy comes to life when no adults are around, he is adamant about being discreet. He is mindful of how he explains what he’s doing and why. The last thing he needs is for his parents or sister to begin snooping around his “secret place.” He barely hears his father as he enters the family room.

“Shh! I think I hear my dad coming.” He warns Tyson#2 as he risks his existence to listen carefully for Roger.

“Son. Hey, Tyson, buddy. Did you hear me? Have you seen my stapler? I am working on a project for your mom and I need it.”

“No, sir. I haven’t seen it. I thought Celia had it last, but then again, Mom likes that stapler too.”

“Oh, God. If your mom had her hands on it, there’s no telling where it is by now. I’ll just wait until they come back from the store and I’ll ask her about it. How’s the train set?”

Tyson watches his dad’s eyebrows arch in a peaked position — eager to hear his report about his grandpa’s gift. The old man did a little two-step when he heard the whistle blow last night. Tyson was going to have to keep his eyes on him.

“It’s great! It’s the perfect gift! I’m nearly done setting up the village.”

Roger tousles his son’s hair, turns on his heels, and walks briskly down the hall to the kitchen. Tyson checks on Tyson#2 and finds him standing by the window.


Photo by Brandon Morgan via Unsplash

“Hey, there. What are you doing?”

“That thing your dad’s, (well, our dad) looking for. Is it big, pink & white, and has a floppy, sharp edge?”

“Yes! It’s his favorite stapler! Why?! Have you seen it?”

Tiny Tyson has a look of guilt plastered on his face. He tries to find the right words to explain to Tyson the whereabouts of the stapler.

“Well, yeah . . . kinda. Johnny Boots, Tommy Townes, Mikey Loops, and me — we dragged it out back, made ourselves a diving board for the pool. It’s so hot out. We were going to put it back later, didn’t think anyone would miss it.”

“A diving board? You guys could’ve gotten hurt. Do you even know what a stapler does?”

“Well, it’s a pretty good diving board right now.”

Tyson waves Tiny Tyson off with the flick of his hand. He leans his head over the roof of their tiny home, looks to his right, and locates the stapler.

“I’m putting this back where it belongs. This isn’t a toy.”

“You sound like one of the grownups.”

“Well. Well . . . Someone needs to be a grownup in this here village. You can’t go stealing things or taking them without asking. You’ll get me into big trouble if you do.”

“Okay, calm down. I didn’t know it would stir up such a fuss. I’ll be more careful.”

Tyson runs as quickly as he can to his dad’s tool shed. He finds his toolbox, lifts it quietly, and places the stapler in the upper compartment. Roger circles back around for one more check.

“Buddy, I can’t believe this. I’ve looked everywhere. Are you sure you haven’t seen my stapler?”

“I’m sure, Dad. Have you checked your toolbox?”

“I did! That’s the first place I looked. I’ll go and give it another look-see, though. Couldn’t harm things at all.”

Roger shuffles off to his tool shed, picks up his toolbox, and breathes out a sigh of relief. His stapler sat perfectly placed in the upper compartment.

“Found it!” He yells to his son excitedly.

Tyson looks at Tiny Tyson, stifles a giggle, and signals him to be quiet.

“Shh, that’ll be our little secret.”

And it was.


Part I

Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

 

 

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Family Owned

Part IV: Listening to the Birds

Mockingbird|Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

Buddy’s presence left a foul taste in Starla’s mouth. Who was he to come around barking orders after being missing-in-action for four days? Being the middle child has its advantages, but being the woman middle child does not. Their father left the business to them, however, he listed Buddy as the primary overseer.

Buddy, the only one out of the three of them who was the most irresponsible — if he had his way, he’d relieve himself of his duties, but he felt the old man’s spirit would toss and turn in its grave if he did. Starla had enough of his arrogance and lack of dependability.

“Who does he think he is? Those mushrooms don’t look bad at all. Like I said, I think they give the place a bit of character. What do you think, Chloe?”

Chloe is too busy focusing on the mockingbird that flew above them at that moment and settled on the roof of the B & B. She listens to it as it mocks the other birds around them — its melody much more hypnotic.

“I like a bit of character. They look good now, Auntie Star, but what’ll we do when they start turning that ungodly brown and growing bigger than normal, then breaking off into mushy pieces?”

The kid had a point. Those mushrooms did wonders for the aesthetic appeal of the lawn now, but what about later?

What comes along with their aging?

“You know what, Chloe? You’ve got a point. We better have your daddy pull them up as soon as he comes by today. I’ll schedule an additional lawn treatment with Stephan next week — see if there’s anything we can do about them.”

“I didn’t mean to just get rid of them. I only want to know, what would we do then? Remember when that cancer started eating away at mommy’s lungs and daddy couldn’t care for her anymore? He brought someone to care for her directly to her. Those last few months were an improvement because someone who was trained cared enough to make them so. Can’t we find a way to treat them when they age?”

Starla finds herself at a loss for words. Her niece, this fifteen-year-old still struggling with grief, is sharing her wisdom. She knows not what to do but she knows what they shouldn’t do. Starla has an idea that’ll solve their Buddy-the-perfectionist problems.

The mockingbird sings its tune louder. Its beak trembling with every tone. They sit and they listen. They sit and they grow.

Together.

“Chloe, I do believe I’ve got an idea about those mushrooms but I won’t pursue it this weekend. Nope. We’ll start fresh on them Monday morning. You and me. How you feel about that?”

Chloe leans into the melody of the birdsong, taps her feet lightly on the wooden deck, and smiles at her aunt with inquiring eyes.

“I’d like that, Aunt Star. I really would.”


Originally published via A Cornered Gurl on Medium.

Part I, Part II, and Part III

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I Can’t Carry Your Bad Dreams

And I don’t want to.

Photo by Harrison Haines via Pexels

My mom called twice this past Saturday, to tell me she’s been dreaming of my father — bad dreams and I didn’t want specifics. I can’t carry the weight of her fears about his life in my veins. I don’t want to bleed his death — don’t want to aid in the byproduct of the potentially foreseen.

My parents have been divorced since I was twelve years old. I am forty. My mom has never dreamed about my dad before, at least, not in the way she’s dreaming of him now. What does it mean when a former spouse dreams about their ex dying more than once?

According to Dream Moods, a list of explanations regarding dying in one’s dreams or death and dying of another in your dreams includes the following:

In such dreams, the death is often represented by someone else. So if you dream that someone is dead, then it means that you want to repress that aspect of yourself that is represented by the dying person. Whatever that person represents has no part in your own life anymore.

The above statement is from the section, “Death means a part of you has died.” I understand this. This is a statement I can get behind to support, but how do I convince my mother of this?

Could these dreams be the signal she needs to alert her in feeling and knowing the pieces still lingering and holding on to their past are finally breaking off — finally dying? Could she be in the beginning stages of renewal so many years beyond their end date?

Writer, Molly Longman, takes the above thought-process a bit further. “Death in dreams actually means there’s some sort of change or ending happening in your life. To the subconscious mind, this represents the end of life ‘as you now know it.’” There are several milestones that have occurred and are on the verge of occurring in my mother’s life.

She overcame hard drug abuse, is cutting back on smoking cigarettes, has cut drinking liquor out of her recreational activities, and she will be fifty-nine in September. With her being so close to sixty years old, we often talk about how hard the road has been for her — for us and we reflect on those times, grateful to be where we are as mother and daughter.


I am not a dream expert, but I have often been told that our dreams have more to do with us than anyone else and I feel as though this could be the case in this instance, but how do I approach this angle with my mom? How do I tell her the deep soul-searching she should try is probably tapping away at her psyche and she’d be wise to get ready to swim?

“I had another dream about your dad. Is he all right? Have you been keeping up with him regularly?”

My responses have been generic, but reassuring. I don’t want to get into anything too deep with her because I want to respect my dad’s boundaries. I also don’t want to start stoking any fires that have no reason to burn.

“Perhaps life is just that . . . a dream and a fear. “— Joseph Conrad

There is a thin line between listening to comfort one parent and blindly assisting them with their clouded beliefs or feelings. It is not in my best interest to give my mom any ammunition to further fuel her “bad dreams.” I want to be able to make her understand that dreams aren’t always what they seem and are often pathways to many doors we should open ourselves.

“As far as I know, Mom, he’s alive and well. Everything is okay on his end. Everything is okay.” And currently, all is indeed well with my dad.

I believe that and even if I did not, it is not my place to state otherwise unless I am told I can. My mom has enough fear within her about these dreams — I wish to aid her in finding her path away from them. “Perhaps life is just that . . . a dream and a fear.”— Joseph Conrad

If you have been having dreams of someone else dying — a mutual friend, a close relative, or one of your children, I would suggest researching the possible why of it — look into what could be transforming within you first.

I would not suggest tossing those bad dreams on to someone else. I assure you, that person is probably carrying enough, they do not need your misguided fears too.


Originally published in P.S. I Love You via Medium.

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Family Owned

Mushrooms|Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

Part III: Buddy Visits

Starla and Chloe finished up for the day in the shop and decided to sit out front near the walkway leading up to the B & B. The sun tilts its head just right over the building and a slight breeze nestles on the oak trees’ leaves. Chloe listens as her aunt rants and raves about her good-for-nothing brother Buddy, who finally decides to show up.

“Well, looky here! If it ain’t the horse’s taint and sullied hind-end, Buddy. What you know good? We were just talkin’ about you.”

“Good things, I hope.”

Buddy leans in to kiss his niece’s cheek and shoots a stern look toward his sister.

“When will I ever have good things to say about you? You bring the deposit slip?”

“I did. And I’m here to pick up the other deposits to drop off to the bank before me and Daria head north for the weekend.”

Daria is Buddy’s thin-mint girlfriend. She’s about as entertaining as wet cement drying and a night spent with food poisoning. He plans to marry her — when, they don’t know.

“Ugh. Daria. You still messin’ around with her?”

“Yes, I’m still messin’ around with her, Starla. I intend to marry her.”

“Yes, you keep sayin’ that, but when? It’s been four years already and no engagement.”

“When I’m good-in-hell-ready, Starla! I ain’t on your schedule and we’re not ready for marriage yet, but I will marry her!”


Starla, married and divorced twice, knew what would last and what had the potential to crash and burn. She decides to keep these thoughts to herself as she drifts away to her own past.

“Okay, Buddy. Okay . . . In your own time. Will you please try to bring the deposit slips back before you head north? I’d like to document them and reconcile the numbers before the weekend’s out.”

“Yeah, I’ll swing back by tomorrow morning. It’ll be early cuz we wanna beat this holiday traffic.”

Buddy notices the God-forsaken mushrooms have grown once again on the plush grass of their family’s B & B landscape. He is instantly annoyed by them.

“I thought Stephan and his men did something about those damn mushrooms the last time they were out here. Got this place lookin’ like some old hippie retreat. Have them do something about those mushrooms the next time they’re out here! Why hasn’t Davie Boy removed them?”

“Because Davie Boy has been busy doing the things you are supposed to do as well as his own share of work around here. You want something done about them, Buddy, you do it. Besides, I kinda like them, gives the place a little character.”

Buddy slings the deposit bag toward his sister, kisses his niece goodbye, and vanishes just as quickly as he appeared.

“That’s your uncle, Chloe. We can’t do anything but love him, but I’ll be honest, it’s hard sometimes.”

The wind sneaks over to their faces, lands on each one, and leaves its mark.

Tomorrow, they’ll pull the mushrooms up.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Part I and Part II

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