Friday, June 4, 2021


I’m eating rhubarb pie on the patio, watching a pair of chickadees hover over the wet lawn, listening to the cool wind rustle through the tree boughs, and thinking about the stories we tell ourselves.

Our minds are fueled by story. Stories unite us, warn us, soothe us, infuse us with courage. We use them to transmit our values, to slip truth into dangerous places, to remember, to escape, to fight, to heal, to find each other.

Story is what humans do. Consciously or not, we are constantly building stories to make sense of the world around us. Stories cushion the mind--keeping the brain from breaking every time the heart does.

Over the last year, reeling as loss chased after loss, we’ve needed story as much as ever. 

My sister should have turned 25 this week.
Her ashes have been in a jar for three months.  

Painting the day after I heard.

It wasn’t like we hadn’t braced for bad news.

Still, it came out of nowhere. She’d just recovered from Covid after all. Quarantined, gone back to work. She had work, again, despite the closures, despite everything else. 

Scattered from coast to coast, what else could we siblings do but begin piecing together a story? What happened to her? When and how and why? In an instinctive expression of human grief, we shared memories, pooling our knowledge of Glory Anna's life so we would remember. We all knew her so differently; we even call her by different names.

I mostly recall her infancy—she was born into chaos and conflict. I left home the next year; we only shared a roof for two years of her first five. I listened to stories from the years after: stories that infuriated me, stories that made me proud, stories that broke my tired heart.

I could tell Glory’s story a dozen different ways, each version with a different villain to despise but always the same abrupt ending. (How does the math work? Am I still the oldest of 11? Does our baby sister move up to tenth place? What do we do with the gap?)

The true story? It’s all of them. The story that soothes me is that, though we’d never met as adults—distanced by twenty years and a thousand miles, in the weeks before her death Glory told me the stories she needed me to know. Those are the things I want most to remember. Our parents will include none of them in their stories, as they don’t fit their criteria for remembrance. We tell ourselves the stories that bring us comfort, after all. My bedtime reading is their nightmare, and vice versa.

Religions offer prepackaged story sets that remain popular in part because they claim, to varying degrees, they can keep the weight of the universe from crushing our little minds. Some achieve this by locking the mind in an airtight box while others leave room for add-on stories, or let you choose your own adventure. Stories gave me flight; stories keep my parents trapped and sad.

As a child, Glory was a storyteller. She saw power in stories, a means of escape from small minds and small hearts. When she got older, she tried other escapes.

I hesitate to speak of her death—my neighbors don’t know, nor my in-laws—because I resent hearing “I’m sorry for your loss” when news headlines remind me daily that the world doesn’t actually care. If I was a child, or poor, or black, or gay; addicted, homeless, pregnant, stalked by an ex; Asian, African, Jewish, born in Palestine? The world wouldn’t give a damn about my loss. Ohio didn’t care enough to give Glory unemployment. Michigan saddled her with medical bills. No one checked on us to be sure we were getting an education and healthcare and not just whippings and whooping cough.

When therapy is inaccessible and street drugs easier to obtain than prescription ones, “I’m sorry” feels…offensive. I resent hearing “I’m sorry” while millions of Americans mourn 600,000 Covid dead while being told we just need to “get back to normal” capitalism. People lost spouses, providers, children, teachers. Disease stole parents from 40,000 kids in this country alone. We’re losing our planet, our democracy, and our humanity, but, yeah, enjoy that normalcy. 

I resent hearing it from people who can’t grasp that my loss is just the same as hers: a safe childhood, education matched to our potential, parents who loved us more than their sadistic sex-obsessed god. I lost Glory when she was a toddler and I moved far, far away, crying at my therapist’s because I had my own kids now but still worried over the babies I’d left behind. I lost her again when she was 16, when my own escape and healing meant estrangement from our parents. I never expected it to be permanent. As my recovery progressed, I slowly reconnected with five other sisters, but I never saw Glory again.

I am angry that Glory had to fight so hard just to live in this unfair world. Her loss was far greater than mine because when I left that world at 24, I found the support to heal and build a new one, while she had to support herself however she could, forgoing the education she could have excelled at. She was winsome, brave, intelligent, resourceful, and kind. There is comfort in knowing she can’t be hurt anymore.

Glory tried so hard to live on her own terms; I wish she could still be exercising that privilege today. 

Tonight her siblings will remember her on her birthday. We will tell the best stories and stay away from the sad ones. We may comfort ourselves by weaving tales of dreams, ghosts, dandelions, or mermaids. Because Glory, who refused to be limited to a tangible world, would like that. 

Glory and me a decade ago.

Monday, May 31, 2021

A Time To Give Up As Lost

A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost...

My youngest gets her second Pfizer jab this week.

I bought her a chocolate malt to celebrate the first but the real prize was my sense of relief. 

After 14 scary months, months of loss upon loss, could we be getting back the future tense the pandemic stole from us?

For a long while last year I held hope that we could pick up where we left off. Return to school, resume activities, keep events on the calendar. But as one thing after another was canceled (graduation, vacation, book club, enrollment, music theater, holidays), I got the message. The world we knew would no longer exist when we finally caught up.

I'm ready for the losses to stop, if only to give me space to grieve all the things that aren't coming back. 

There are people I loved who didn't make it this far, people I mourned alone when I should have been celebrating them with the many who miss them. My trust is damaged; my sense of safety--carved slowly and deliberately over a decade--lies slashed and mangled. I don't know how it can be restored. 

But in the last six months my daughter has finally won me over to love Dr. Who (horror, adventure, loss, romance, socially awkward aliens--what's not to like?) and if there's anything we're good at, it's regeneration. Pretty sure I must be 600 years old by now, I've lived so many lives.

Who I'll be next it's too early to tell, but the process is starting as I begin, cautiously, to explore the new post-vaccine world. I'll have the old memories, fresh perspective, and no idea what time means anymore.

One of my first ventures out was a glass weaving class. Four of us, masked, working at separate tables in a spacious room. 

I'd never worked with glass before and the breadth of sensations suited me: smooth glass sheets, the tiny-pizza-wheel scoring tool etching a gritty trail, biting the glass between rubber-tipped running pliers, the snap of a clean break, the clink of cut glass shapes in my palm, the whirr of a motor switched on, pressing glass strips against the grinder to wear sharp edges and corners smooth. I was so engrossed I even forgot to be anxious, or hold my breath inside my mask.  

To weave the strips for my design, half of them had to soften in the kiln to create waves. Interesting, huh? 

I feel like the glass some days: strong, inflexible, sharp, brittle, translucent, slumping where my supports fall away. 

This week, when I take my daughter downtown for her shot, we'll stop by the studio to see how my art came out. I can't wait to hang it on my wall as a symbol of new starts and taking new shapes.

Look, I'm using future tenses again! Yippee!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Fantasy World

Like many people, I've spent a lot of time in my head the last year. 

It's not unlike my childhood when I pretended my home was *actually* a boarding school for the blind, our bikes were horses, and instead of parents I was surrounded by professional educators who were warm, competent, and certainly childless. 

Or like my adolescence when I spent an inordinate amount of time struggling to picture heaven from all angles: from mathematical (try dividing eternity by 2 next time you have insomnia) to optical (no sun, no night, colors that don't exist on our color wheel?) to moral (how can people be happy in heaven if their relatives are on a perpetual barbecue in hell? is ignorance bliss?)

My fantasy world these days makes NURTURING ITS YOUNG its #1 priority. I dream of a society that refuses to buy police one more tank or even rubber bullet until EVERY school is stocked with paper towels, hand soap, free lunch that smells good, and a full-time nurse. Imagine if we agreed that all children--regardless of zip code or parentage--deserve real food, clean water and air, a safe home, health care, education, protection from violence, and the right to play at recess even if they forgot their ID.

Teaching would be honored, and financially rewarded, as a noble profession, with no tolerance for adults who model bullying in the classroom. (In the same vein, cops who violate the public trust, and men who commit violence at home, would forever forfeit any right to carry firearms.)

Mental health screenings--for all kids and caregivers--would be as regular as dental ones. New parents, or abusive parents flagged by checkups, would receive mentoring. Cities would competitively invest in quality childcare to attract companies. Children would be taught from toddlerhood how to care for their bodies and their minds, how to expect respect, and how to say no. Schools would get all the resources they need to fully fund music programs AND drivers' ed. And the healthcare coverage! Funded by taxing the corporations getting fat off our consumption, helpful drugs and therapies would finally be easier to get than deadly ones, even for teens or young moms surviving on $2/hr plus tips!

We'd keep strong families, of whatever shape or immigration status, intact--never killing or jailing or deporting parents over pieces of paper. We wouldn't let fostered children simply disappear. We'd interrupt the detention-to-incarceration pipeline with targeted social support until private prisons go bankrupt and law “enforcers” have to stop using body armor manufactured by American slaves. Maybe fewer kids would grow up wanting to wear a bully’s uniform or to escape their lives by dropping bombs on other kids with a remote control and would instead find meaning in trauma-informed social science, biological research, diplomacy, the arts.

We'd cease building prisons and we'd start centers for healing, with trees and gardens and libraries where Neil Gaiman's work isn't banned. Lots of sunlight. Treatment would focus on recovery, restoration, reconnection, relationships. And probably pancakes and puppies.

Maybe my fantasies are a buffer for my mental health, or maybe they're a threat to it. 

I used to imagine I was blind. 
Now imagination is the only way I can live with my eyes open.