No Love in Things

So this is a ghost story about how we are haunted by things.

In the mid-1980’s, my mother was a cross-stitch artisan. She made some absolutely flawless work. We had even tested out several design software packages to create our own patterns for images. I also created some pieces, but nothing as intricate or challenging as the pieces she made.  For my grandmother’s birthday, she had a brilliant idea of making an entire cross-stitch quilt.

quilt3

The quilt design was 25 squares, each with a different rose picture. My grandmother LOVED roses. I was to make 12 and my mother would make 13.  Once they were completed, we would have it sashed with green ivy fabric and quilted by the ladies at The Neighborhood House for a donation.

quilt1

Whatever else was going on, we made that happen. It was a beautiful quilt.

And this was a big deal to us.  My grandmother, the quilt’s recipient, had made a masterpiece of her own that had hung in a couple different fabric/quilt shows and museums.  She had make a double-embroidered quilt of all the birds and flowers from all 50 states in alphabetical order.  It was enormous! Five years of work, countless episodes of All My Children, holding her mouth just right while threading the needle.  She had a bent fingernail because of the constant pressure against the fabric to get the stitch just right.

My grandmother loved our gift. And being from the generation who lived through the Great Depression, she wrapped it up and put it away for safe keeping. I would not see it again for 30 years.

quilt 2

When my grandmother died, my mother moved into her house. She quietly gave the quilt to a childhood friend of hers. The quilt was still new – wrapped up and folded neatly in plastic. And in exchange, he gave her a lamp.

lamp2

It was no ordinary lamp. He had lovingly made a Tiffany-style pink and white lampshade just for her and attached it to an ornate metal base. It was a table-lamp and it suited my mother and all her pastel belongings to a tee.

Now these were two specific, unique and priceless things.  A great deal of feeling and sentiment were attached.  A great deal of creative work (including my own) transpired to bring them into being. The trade between my mother and her friend was one of equality and mutual admiration. And yet, they were THINGS.  Not people. Not loved ones.  Things.

When my mother passed in 2010, it was a chaotic time.  I am an only child and there was no will. I did my absolute best to put the nuts and bolts of her life in order and try to honor her in a way that would suit her. I did not allow myself to grieve in public or at all for at least another two months. I had help.  My mother’s friend Shirley and her close neighbors, Sonya and Emilio helped me immensely.  We sold as much as we could to take care of funeral expenses and set up a memorial service.

I held my breath for two months. I dealt with releasing her house to the bank and sending out death certificates to creditors. I felt loved and supported by people who just showed up and pitched in. Because we all loved her.

 

I held my breath and when I exhaled, I was alone. One night at 2 a.m. I just sat up in bed.  Her dog Doc, who became my dog, laying on the end of my bed staring at the closet.  Her ashes were on my top shelf. They had handed me her remains in a green velvet bag. I awoke and began to really feel the empty space in my life where she had been. We had talked daily often more than once. She made me laugh. She was the best grandma to my son. She was gone.

And there was not a THING that I wished to hold on to. None of it contained her heart, her soul, her spirit, her light. I didn’t need any of it because I carried the best of her with me. Always.

I had neither the quilt nor the lamp. And I was grieving and healing.

And it slowly got better. I miss her now, today, this moment. So does everyone else. And we live on connected by that.

So this is the haunting part, the life lesson:

A few months ago, my mother’s childhood friend showed up and found me.  He had the quilt. Honestly, I didn’t know it still existed.  But there it was, still folded immaculately in pristine plastic. He wanted to give it back to me. And, just for kicks, he wanted to know if I had the lamp. Because in his eyes, I had not been a good steward of my mother’s THINGS.  Because at some time while I was holding my breath and THINGS were being sold, I let the lamp get sold too.  Because when I was dealing with the tidal wave, I did not happen to grab his lamp and anchor it to myself while I withstood the storm.

aladdin

I was polite. I understood his point of view. I told him honestly that I did not know here it was or whom had it.  He talked on in a very heavy-handed way about disrespect.

“I’m giving this back to you because I know where things go.”

He was trying passively to shame me for not possessing HIS lamp. A lamp that was his then my mom’s, but never mine in the first place. A lamp that was so important to him still, that six years after my mother’s death, he found me just to emphasize its loss.

I remained polite. I much prefer people who speak plainly if they have an issue with me. But it was apparently that HIS lamp and HIS loss were not MY lamp nor MY loss.

I never wanted the lamp.  I never wanted the quilt back. It was given as a gift.  And my understanding of a gift is that once it is given, you do not take it back.

His attempt to hang six years of guilt on me for a lost THING didn’t work. In fact, it made me very sure that I will never charge another person with curating or keeping my THINGS.

marley
Jacob Marley wearing his chains of THINGS

I have the quilt, but I am donating it. The quilting is still crisp.  The stitches still look fresh.  In its 30 year existence, this quilt has never warmed anyone. It has never been loved. Its beauty has been made bitter by those who buried it away, suffocated it in plastic in the back of a closet. I am hoping that donating it allows the magic to finally grow. So much care and love went into it.

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My real hope is that whomever ended up with the lamp truly finds joy in it. Maybe it’s a beacon for a little girl reading stories. Maybe it’s the perfect source of light and comfort for someone who is alone. It could not be any of those things for me.

It was never my lamp.

Poetry: In the Midnight Garden – The Power of Dreams

One August night three years ago, I woke up blind sobbing.  I could not snap myself awake because this dream held on to me.
I dreamed of the man I love being called by Death.
Death is not a stranger to me.  My grandparents, parents – all no longer in this life. It is an honor to be truly present when someone passes.  I was there for my maternal grandparents and my mother. I held my grandfather’s small, blue hand and felt all of his memories pass through him; his life in rural Kentucky as a child, his mother’s face, his dogs, his children when they were small, his continued strength and determination and I knew firsthand the blessing it left on me.
mort
T-shirt design by Daz L’asrtist
Aside from my wonderful son, I have no immediate family. I have built one with friends and specifically with this man. This man who is fearless and kind and creative and magic and steady and real.
So when she came to collect, in this dream, in her guise – I made a deal.
Please enjoy the poem below:
In The Midnight Garden
She stole in through indigo bough under the weight and glory of
a full, gold moon
A ghost of a girl moving like breeze through gaudy forsythia
Her limbs birch white and eye pale grey blue like the pulsing
vein of a wild dove
Her ebon hair whipping savage and smile curving down
She sang her rain crow song, weaving through phantom
wisteria
She called to me with a lover’s voice by my secret name and
brought me out under the darkling stars
“I know you by your eye and your song.” She croaked softly
and offered me her cold hand as if gifting me a lily.
Her cool breath stole across my shoulders and slowed my blood. The
Death crow had coming to steal away my love.
Steal him from his life and waken in him another. A birth into
fretless abyss and humming oblivion.
To waken in me endless
empty hours and stillness without peace,
To tear him from his life and so from mine.
“How will you keep him with flesh that alters and weakens?
How will he love the finite and imperfect? When art and beauty
are timeless?
How can he stay with you? When I am Evolution and Omega.”
“I know you by your cold and illusion.” I sang softly and placed
my warming hand on her icy brow as if feeling a child’s face
for fever.
She wavered a bit but stood frozen, defiant. The Death crow demanded her treasure.
“I know you will take him. Into the desert darkness
where life is only a covetous idea.
I know he will love the journey and waken from the dream of
this life.And you may have him when my heart stops and me
too for the bargain.
But first listen…”
She smiled a curving downward crescent and let her head fall to
one side.
Her raven mane falling over the shifting planes of her
silver face altering into pain.
She heard
Loud and hard and hot and fierce the insistent beating of my heart.
The Death crow’s eyes grew wide as the moon. “I’ll be back.”
I smiled. “Take your time. We will be a while yet.”

Poetry: Mermaids

The first mermaid legend came from Assyria. Sea goddess Atargatis was made half-human for accidentally killing her human lover. Sirens, undines, malevolent waves and crests, selkies stories are ancient. As old as lamia or Lilith or were-creatures. Each story built on themes of sex and and death and the desire to possess abilities and beauty without consequence.
A-ningyo
A-Ningyo
Why? There are enough earthbound mythic monstrosities roaming the haunted forests and windy moors. Witches and bogeymen aplenty lurking in caves and closets. Fear of our demise through the supernatural has been around since our common grunting ancestors heard something in the dark that was not familiar.  And then there is the sea. It’s no coincidence that historically, biblically and geographically that Mesopotamia (the cradle of civilization) is nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates. Water is life. But even greater, water is bacteria!
Fiji-Mermaid
The Fiji Mermaid
On January 30, 2017, Sam Russell published this article:
It’s a mind-blowing read. It’s the prequel to Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Eschewing the primate loop, abandoning the man with one less rib in a pefect garden. It postulates that the stuff that makes us the creature we are today, was basically a primordial kombucha batch from 540 million years ago. And we were NOT attractive in the least.
saccorhytus
A Saccorhytus. Our ancestors?
So what is it we fear with mermaids?
Drowning?  Losing our life by the pressure and glory of taking in all that salt, all that bacteria, all that magick to become fish food. To give our corporeal selves over to desire, drift in the siren song until our breath is not enough to sustain us. To attach ourselves in a haze to beauty until it murders us. To willingly love a creature whose world we cannot inhabit.
mermainchurch
Mermaid carved in a bench Zennor Church, Cornwall UK.
Or is it simply to give in to the call of what we once were?  To reconnect with ancestors in a way far deeper than anything that can be mapped through genealogy. What do we lose in ourselves when we blindly believe a theory?  What do we regain in ourselves when we allow a story to take root in us?
Are you a dreamer or an independent thinker?  Are you driven by love or fear?
egypt
Egyptian cave drawings depicting merfolk.
If mermaids are us, then they are that part of us that stubbornly refused to leave the ancient waters. They are the part of us that builds unseen, ornate kingdoms where only the imagination can visit without dying. They are the part of us that wants revenge on ourselves for buying into the idea that life is so much better on land.  Mermaids want to prove that they were right all along to stay in the briny, prehistoric depths where technology, money, fashion, celebrity and all modern human trappings mean nothing.
Remember what you where before you became what you are? Mermaids do. That is what their siren songs are about.  There is a beauty beyond all this earthly treasure, there is an authenticity to your being for which evolution provides no escape.
In my poem below, the mermaids have surrounded a drowning man. He is no more to them than a toy, an air-filled thing that has come untethered, an amusement.
Mermaids
You spring from the green
sea, a bloated
baby half-airborne, pink
fat nude bald sentient,
wheezing like some beached orca. Earth bleached salt
and scales from
your body.
You vanish; only your
sunburntscalp, salmon pink breaks the milky
surface.
Hairs on your back
prickle, clinging beads of ocean water.
Your hand, stripped of
its webbing clamors to your
sky-god. He does
nothing
to save
you.
You evolved from
dark ooze
without Him.
You bob against the waves like
some grotesque purple
ragdoll.
Your skin colored with madness.
You receive our briny kiss.
Lungs fail. Machines stop with hollow,
empty roaring like the inside
of a spiral shell.
We mermaids embrace you.
We wrap you in seaweed, pickle you in
brine, place green bronze coins
over your pale
dead eyes, and breathe into
your gaping futile
mouth;
It’s an old joke, still
it makes
us laugh.