I have gathered the roses, I have 
tucked the brown bottle in my purse, I have
pocketed my mournful verse.

Maybe you think love is snapshots glued
on acid-free paper, bound
in embellished vacation-themed scrapbooks

I have put on my life vest, and climbed 
into the camp boat, facing 
the wilderness, and motored out

into the sunset. I have crossed the still-water and leaned
over the frame. 
I have emptied

Into the Great Pond 

© Deborah Garcia 2022, All rights reserved

About this poem

Our family has been vacationing the same week in August in the Belgrades, ME, since 1999. “This is the best place on Earth,” my boys always said. One year ago this week, my surviving son and I released some of my son’s ashes in the cove at his favorite fishing spot.

al-Queda Coordinator of the September 11th, 2001 Murders is Killed.

August 1, 2022: President Biden delivered a message, “Sunday, al-Queda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, in a successful counterterrorism operation.”

News outlets report:

Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the terror attacks in the United States, the Justice Department said.

Want to know how this family member reacts? Read on, otherwise, scroll by.

Let’s not forget that the effects of the attacks on American soil, 21-years ago, is still claiming victims with over 5,000 deaths of responders and others who have died from cancer-related illnesses. Thousands of American soldiers have and continue to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation from the extremist activity that continues to threaten our safety since that wake-up call. New widows and family members appear in my Zoom support groups, as the numbers continue to rise. The attacks of that fated day are the unceasing human tragedy that spans across generations, perpetuated and funded by a nation that fuels our rides, mines corporate American portfolios, and strokes par in our golf-courses. A murderous force that continues to unfold in the present tense. None of us escape the fallout.

Justice has been delivered.

Presiden Joe Biden, August 1, 2022

Has it? Is this “closure?” For whom? CLOSURE ( “a bringing to an end; conclusion. The sense of psychological certainty or completeness.” Full Disclosure… NOT CLOSURE! This is not over! There is still more to come. So much yet to be done. We cannot sleep.

When Osama bin-Laden was extinguished in May, 2, 2011, nine-days before my late husband, David’s, 50th birthday, my phone buzzed, hungry for indemnification… “Congratulations. So happy for you? Can you have closure now?” Given reasonable latititude to the limits of human grief-speak, and sincere adoration for all of my family and friends, my response was then as it is now “Not Closed.” “Never Closed!” The love of my life is murdered, continuously, from a stage my sons can not not escape. An unyielding sadness my beautiful 27-year old boy, quelled, giving into the darkness, twenty-years later, exhausted .

President Biden, I feel gratitude for the intelligence and risks taken by our leaders and service men and women to hunt down and extinguish this monster. We can never forget. We will not lie down. However, this is not closed. We cannot forget. We will never cede the pursuit of “justice” until full disclosure occurs and atonement is made by the nations that conceal the truth. Then, perhaps, we can engage in a conversation of reconciliation and peaceful relations.

I will end with words captured in conversation with our six-year old:

Dylan – “Why can’t my Dad be here?

Mom – I don’t know, I think you should ask God that question when you get there.

D – How do we get to Heaven? I know, we take an airplane!

M – The souls of the people who love you, who are already in Heaven, come and get you.

D – So Daddy is an angel. I know we can’t see angels so that means Daddy is sitting next to me right now. Is Daddy sitting next to me mommy?

M – Maybe.

D – He is! (He’s sitting in Daddy’s chair at the dining table).

D – Why can’t God send him back to Earth again? Why can’t God just throw him down so I can see my Dad again? I’d rather kill the people that killed our Dad. I’d rather sue the person that killed our Dad. Even though it’s not just one person, it’s 100.”

Dylan, May, 22, 2003


After Sharon Olds “I Go Back to May 1937”

I see them standing at the nuptial threshold before their witnesses
She sees her groom smiling
at the verge of the nacre vault
the gloam blue waves climax like glistening
strands of diamonds behind his profile, He
sees his bride with a stargazer lily in her hair
standing at the fringe made of sand and stone,
the horizon still obscured all around her, its
white haze aglow in the July air,
they are about to wed, they are about to build a life,
they are young, they are hopeful, all they know is they are
naive, they would never break their promise to love
and protect each other.
I want to raise my hand from the gallery and say Hold On,
--she's the prophetess of courage ,
he's the king of tears, you are going to endure things
you cannot see, and do things that will terrify you,
you are going to explode into the theatre of the world,
you are going to sacrifice the innocence of children,
you are going to suffer in ways you cannot think of,
he's going to die--she's going to want to die. I want to call
out to them there in the late July afternoon glow and cry it,
her ravenous blue eyes turning to me,
her pathetic beautiful animal body,
but I don't do it. I want them to live this
day, cup my hand around the unity candle, to
curb the wind from the flame. I
clutch their hands like bride and groom
cake dolls and cinch the knot that binds them
at the marrow, like the rigging of divine ships, as if to
secure the load of gold in the
hold of their vessels, I say
answer to the calling of the love that
brings you life, and she will write about it.

About this poem: July 25th, 2022 marks thte 35th wedding anniversary of David and I. We wed on the lip of a Long Island cove, former land of the Massapequa branch of the Algonquin people, on a hazy, hot and humid July afternoon. Although the style of this piece was borrowed, the inspiration was bubbling in the dorm room of my writing retreat in Beverly, MA. All of the sensory, emotional, and situational elements are my own. My love for David and the sons we carried into the world is the legacy I have been assigned to carry and the gold I must share.

©: Deborah Garcia 2022, All rights reserved


For someone who dreads the holiday, treading by mothers and offspring laughing together along the mountain path, young families testing each other’s flavors of frozen custard, and having a similar-aged bubbly stranger feeling sexy in her new dress, arm-locked with her partner to their dinner reservation, stop dead in front of me to exclaim, “Happy Mother’s Day!” as I walk out with my takeout bag, here is my Mother’s Day post.

This past week has been a trifecta of heavy life-events, each of which warrant a story of their own. Sunday May 8, I spent the fairest day of the year thus far, with my 11-year-old best girl, my Border Collie, Joni. We hiked our favorite Vermont paths, lapped-up maple creemies at Palmer Lane, chased balls, spun and leapt into the blue for Frisbees, and splashed in the Brown’s River. Monday morning, I cradled her beautiful 43-pound body in my arms, tearfully kissing her goodbye as she took her last breath. I’m grateful for the grace of the beautiful times we had and, I’m heartbroken. Wednesday was my late husband David’s 61st birthday. 21-years after his little boys joined him in blowing out the candles of the last cake I iced “Happy Birthday Daddy.” Thursday, I closed on our home in Long Island, New York, where our 24- and 26-year-old former selves built and lived-out our dreams from 1988-2001.

This is for the motherless daughter, the grieving mother, the mourning widow and divorcee, the mothers who wait by the phone, and the women who were birthed but not birthers, whether by misfortune or choosing. All but the latter which wears as hammered metal distress on my animal body ,on any day, particularly on the second Sunday of May. Despite the uncountable circumstances that shape our womanhood, and the fallacies we vex ourselves with, we are all of mothers in common.

If there’s one thing that my obsessive passion in ancestry research has shown me it’s that every mother’s passage within and through generations is difficult. From the moment the cosmic explosion of cells forms tailless spines and fingernails, we all survive by blind will, make choices with fraudulent insurance, and eat sugar when the milk turns sour.

When I sat down two weeks ago to write this year’s “Mother’s Day” post, I didn’t want to re-write my wistful, and complex, motherly-daughterly story, nor gift-wrap some sage log of aromatic smoke to shade the lines with positivity, too noxious for my own amenability. So I defaulted to my palliative list-making decompression tool by opening my family tree in pedigree view and made a vertical list of the mothers who came before the mothers, unto a continuous unfolding of maiden signatures, fanning horizontally beyond the margins in expanding binary sequence. (This would make my late IT programmer husband very happy with me.)

Wow, so many mothers labored, nursed, washed, threaded, crossed boundaries and oceans. They survived long enough to birth sons and daughters to be re-born, again and again into daughters they’ll never name. How a single cell waits quivering in the vessel cradled in a female ovary, the moment she’s born, again, and again. Until I am in the World, naming them. We are fertile versions of one another, arising from something familiar, opening to a forthcoming, like nesting dolls. Within each of us there is an indirect knowing. We are a suggestion. A run-on sentence. An ongoing conversation that is transcribed as the strands that encode us unwind and replicate.

About this poem: This poem is the result of seven years of ancestry research culminating in the form of a List Poem. As I generated the list of my direct-line maternal lineage on both maternal and paternal sides, a pattern in the shape of a helix emerged. The names of my mothers are framed by Great-Grandmother Generation (i.e., 2x, 3x…), thirteen in all, and birth-year. In this work, I’m descended from 15 generations of women. Though 163 of my foremothers are named to date, 16,384 Great-Grandmothers have birthed thirteen generations of women over a span of 439-years so that my signature joins the linkage.


MOTHER'S Maternal Mothers – My Mother: Elizabeth Anna (Manhattan, NYC) – 1943
HAJDU: (Romania / Hungary)
   GM - Karolina “Anna” -1904
      G-GM - Julia Major – 1880

Maternal Grandfather’s Mothers:
TESENY / TESENYI: (Lastovce & Zemplin Hungary / Trebisŏv, Slovakia)
      G-GM - Julianna - 1883
         2x - Maria  - 1855
            3x – (Anna – 1844)
               4x - Mária - 1795
	       5x - Ersébet – abt. 1770
            3x Veronica - 1835

Father’s Maternal Mothers – My paternal grandmother: Eleanor Elizabeth (Bronx, NYC) - 1915
EYNON: (Gloucestershire, England)
  * G-GM – Louis “Lulu” - 1883
     ** 2x Anna Maria - 1845
            3x - Anne – 1818
               4x - Sarah – 1783
                 5x - Sarah – 1758
                    6x – Sara – abt. 1735
                   6x - Elizabeth  - abt. 1730      
                 5x - Sarah – 1753
              4x - Mary – 1787
                 5x - Sarah – 1748
                   6x - Elizabeth – 1720
                   6x - Ann – 1712
                     7x - Anna – 1691
                       8x - Mary – 1664
                           9x - Mary – 1638
                               10x - Frances – 1613
                                  11x - Margery – 1595
                        8x – Maria “Mary” - 1650
                               10x - Isobel – 1579
                                  11x - Margaret Ann - 1562
                   5x - Sarah – 1754
                      6x - Elizabeth Alice– 1729
                         7x - Alice – 1709
                         7x – Sarah - 1675
                            8x - Margrett – 1641
                               9x - Joseyas – 1605
                                 10x - Susanna – 1557 
                                    11x - Elizabeth – 1528
                                    11x - Elizabeth – 1524
                                 10x - Elizabeth – 1585
                                    11x - Margery – 1560
LOHSE: (Germany)
 * G-GM - Louise “Lulu” – 1883
    ** 2x - Anna Maria - 1845
            3x - Elisabeth - 1820
              4x – Christina – abt. 1798
              4x - Anna Maria - 1794
                  5x - Anne Marie – abt. 177
                      6x - Eva - 1728
                         7x - Anna Maria  - 1701
                             8x - Anna Maria – abt. 1680
                             8x - Anna Maria – abt. 1679
                                 9x - Anna Maria – abt. 1655
            3x - Henriette Sophie Caroline - 1815
              4x - Henriette Wilhelmine - 1795
              4x - Louise Catherine - 1769
                 5x - Barbara – 1775
PRICE: (England & Wales)
     2x - Elizabeth – 1855
        3x - Elizabeth “Betsy” – 1828
           4x - Catherine – 1800
              5x - Sarah – 1774
                  6x - Barbara – 1749
                     7x - Frances - 1729
                  6x - Jane - 1750
             5x - Rebekah – 1764
                6x - Elizabeth – 1736
                    7x - Elizabeth – abt. 1716
                           9x - Mary – 1685
            3x - Margaret Bridget – 1801
                4x - Elizabeth – 1779
                    5x - Elizabeth – 1750
                        6x - Margery – 1726
                            7x - Elizabeth – 1700
                            7x - Hannah – 1700
                            7x - Dorothy – 1708
                               8x - Sarah – 1680
                                  9x - Elizabeth - 1650
                       5x - Hannah – 1725
                           6x - Hester – 1700
                              7x - Anne – 1675
                                 8x – Lady Margaret - 1591
                                       10x – Lady Bridget – 1550
                                          11x – Lady Bridget - 1524
                                 8x - Sarah – 1635
                                    9x - Mary – 1594
                                       10x - Lady Joan – 1578
                      5x - Anne - 1769 

Father’s Paternal Mothers:
PFLUM: (Germany / Ireland)
   G-GM - Ethel – 1889
       2x - Mary – 1867
          3x - Bridget – 1835
          3x – Catherine Dorothea – 1823
              4x – Margaretha – abt. 1800
              4x – Maria – abt. 1817
              4x – Maria Katharina – 1786
                 5x – Apollonia – 1741
                    6x – Anna Catharina – abt. 1720
                    6x – Anna Maria – 1728
                       7x – Anna Maria – 1688
                           8x – Anna Ottilla – 1655
                              9x – Anna - 1623
                              9x – Anna Maria – 1617
                                 10x – Margaretha – abt. 1597
                                     11x – Anna – abt. 1570
                                     11x – Margaretha – abt. 1560
                                        12x – Barbara – 1538
                                           13x - Maria Barbara - 1530
                                        12x – Martha - 1539
                                  10x – Maria - 1567
                            8x – Maria – 1665
                                9x – Anna Maria – 1628
                                   10x – Catharina – 1605
                                      11x – Maria – 1570
                                          12x – Zephia – 1522
                            8x – Maria – 1627
                               9x – Anna – 1592
                                   10x – Margaretha – 1571
                            8x – Anna – abt. 1600
                  5x – Anna – 1764
                     6x – Margaretha – 1731  
                        7x – Anna – 1671
                           8x – Anna 1631
                              9x – Maria - 1608
                           8x – Barbara – 1635
                              9x – Eva – abt. 1592
                                 10x – Anna - 1549
FARRELL: (Ireland)
   2x G-GM – Mary Ann – 1867
      3x – Julia - 1837
          4x – Elizabeth – 1801
              5x – Julian – 1775
           4x – Sarah – 1805
              5x – Mary – 1780
MESSNER: (Germany)
           4x – Eva Elisabetha – 1817
              5x – Catharina Elisabetha – 1789
                  6x – Catherina - 1765
                     7x – Louisa/Lovisa – 1745
                     7x – Maria Magdelina – 1740
               5x – Anna Eva – 1755
                   6x – Anna Maria Dorothea – 1746
                       7x – Anna Maria - 1720
                5x – Anna Barbara – 1769
                   6x – Maria Catharina – 1740
                      7x – Maria Katharina – 1710
                         8x – Anna Eva – 1684
                            9x – Eva - 1655
                            9x – Anna Margaretha – 1650
                            9x – Anna - 1665
                         8x – Lucia – 1688
                      7x – Maria Barbara - 1708
                    6x – Maria Elisabetha – 1719
                       7x – Maria Eva – 1687
                       7x – Maria Katharina – 1680
                          8x – Margaretha – 1625
                             9x - Margaretha – 1604
                                10x – Margaretha – 1577
                                   11x – Barbara Elizabeth - 1570
                          8x – Margaretha – 1660
                          8x – Veronica – 1649
                             9x – Veronica - 1615
                             9x – Veronika – 1626
                                10x – Veronika N. – 1604
                                10x – Catharina – 1604
                                    11x – Appollonia – 1580
                                    11x – Catharina – 1559
             4x – Johanna “Joanna” – abt. 1804

Also the auxiliary mother-figures who enhance my life experience; my lovely God-Mother, Carol. And my mother from a lover, Hiro.

Also my sisters, aunts, cousins, and nieces who have enriched the texture of my life.

© Deborah Garcia 2022. All rights reserved.


His sound is a hidden train set in the attic:
cadent, absolute, always vernal.

The seabirds laughing above the lip of their tourmaline sea,
the shimmering keys of Ravel's Ondine,

the Mystic Blue Beemer whirring up the way
with littlenecks and cream chattering in their paper sack,

the pop pop popping of balls
on the Open Blue, shedding their coats of baize,

the click click clicking of interlocking bricks,
building worlds on the painted plank, the fans

forever waving their stiff flags
at the trains that always return home.


Davin had “Perfect Pitch,” imitating musical scores, the sounds of laughing gulls & trains for extended periods before he formed words, transcending into musical compositions through adulthood. He loved his trains, Legos, fishing, tennis, his BMW, and perfecting his Clam Chowder recipe. Continuing our tradition of handmade cards with personalized sentiments, this birthday card is my 29th gift to my beautiful boy, whose sounds are unfading.

Art: Deborah Garcia, acrylic on stock. April, 2022

© Deborah Garcia 2022, All rights reserved

My Departed Darlings

My darlings have departed who embodied

the fiber the pith of my secret self,
the vertebral steel when
the world folded into the landscape.

My darlings who knew me as I knew them
their bodies burnt to ash ribs pulverized to grit
if I enter the vault behind Virgil’s maxim
will I collect fragments of my marrow resting in the chambers?

I’m alive. For what?
Neither childhood nor future grows...
Excess of being wells up in my heart!

My darlings—without whom I’d not qualify to enter—are stardust.

© Deborah Garcia 2020, All rights reserved


Written this morning, this poem is the fifth of a 365-day project I began on 2/17/2022. I’m committing myself to learning the craft of poetry by writing a poem-a-day in response to daily prompts received in my inbox every morning. Today’s prompt was “My Dead Friends,”–Marie Howe. Though my plans neither include completing nor posting my daily writings, I felt compelled to post this exercise after looking at today’s date: 2/22/2022. It’s theorized that the number two symbolizes balance, duality, and harmony, A unifying energy about finding a power between opposing forces.

This poem is about Elizabeth Rieb, David Garcia, Davin Garcia, and Daniel Burgess: Beloved souls in my spirit circle whose titles are Mother, Husband, Son, Friend. The italicized lines are from the ninth elegy of the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke. The last lines read: “See I live. On what? Neither childhood nor future grows less… Excess of being wells up in my heart.”

On Being A Beginner, Again

I know how to do a lot of things. I know how to search for a missing person with a toothbrush and a comb. I know how to stage a funeral when there’s no body, and how to resurrect a broken one. I know how to take my child to a doctor when the bleeding doesn’t stop and when the blade of fear serrates the inter-be. What I don’t know is how to live in this world without my son.

When I say I don’t feel joy anymore, I’m not just having a down day. My brain has learned to protect itself from comments like, everything’s gonna be alright, nothing else bad can happen to you! But what if that bad thing is true? I know this is an inside job. We all try to talk ourselves loose from the grip of ruination during fearful times but, I have a LinkedIn feed with Hades, because those really bad things are true. They’re real, they’re molten, and they are mine.

And I don’t know how to reframe with this suffering. These ghosts, and us, are not isolated entities. We’re all a part of each other, his brother and I, their dead father, the house, the music, the ponds, the air. Our shared existence has outlasted two fathers and a foremother who co-created him. We’ve endured terrorism, ambiguous loss, relocation, depression, addiction, resurrection. I’ve rallied through baseball seasons, tennis tournaments, music festivals, and college tours. And 27 delicious, hand-sifted birthday cakes. Suicide. Fuck! That breaks everything. My brain is still trying to cope.

My therapist says it’s not my wrong, for not saving him. Friends tell me that I should be happy that my other son is here and doing well. And yes, I really am grateful, but he still isn’t really here. Suicide takes so much. He’s not who he was before the suicide, before the ensuing emotional crashing and mid-COVID hospitalization. He’s apprehensive visiting home, making their music, and returning the shots they used to serve each other. He’s strip-wired, fidgety in my company, anxious on the phone, cautious of my grief while grasping for unbroken remnants of the mother he hungers for.

And the pandemic has been no Dormouse dozing in the back row of the theater— reminding my Gen-Z’s that death is random and imminent, that regardless of your laudable human qualities, bad things can take you out faster than you can shout “wait… don’t tell me!” And it did, for them it took jobs, apartments, friends, safety, and aspirations. Sudden, unexpected death has shifted the lens through which I see the world. It’s changed the way I feel about my life, again.

The recent bad things have accelerated my need for mental health work and journeying out from under my weighted blanket to explore new places and relationships. But, I feel like so many of my relationships are on hold. I can communicate through social media, PM’s, and memojis, but I don’t know how to be me when I socialize. Because I’m so complex. Because I see my traumas mirrored in their eyes before they shift to palliate their own discomfort. And it’s so exhausting.

So, when it comes to feeling joy and happiness, I’m a beginner all over again. A journeywoman seeking alignment with my higher good, brushing the untouched surfaces of the golden topaz that’s been buried face-down in the sand. I want to rediscover joy. I want to be different. It’s not so much that I’m afraid to be vulnerable, it’s about listening to the messengers drumming my spine. I’ve come to realize that I can be both grateful and terrified, which means I’m so grateful that I’m alive and I have my son today, but it’s so different, and the world is so much more fragile now.

© Deborah Garcia 2022, All rights reserved
Image by Deborah Garcia

Superbowl Sunday

I’m not an American football fan. The oldest in a family of three girls, I didn’t grow up around football. My father was on the high school track team in the 1950’s and my mother was cheerleader and an usherette in high school. I ran track and Cross Country and played Little League Softball throughout my youth. Honestly, I still don’t understand all the downs and penalty kicks and point system.

Mom, Liz, is third from right.

“At every play, concert, or operetta, a chic group of charming ladies act as social receptionists. These beautifully dressed girls escort guests to their sets, distribute programs, and give each social event their own gracious hospitality. The Usherettes deliver telephone messages to doctors and professional people and see to it that flowers for stars and sponsors arrive at the stage at the right time.”

I really have no recollection of Superbowl and betting pools however, I do recall the parades—The Rose Bowl Parade, The Orange Bowl Parade, the Fiesta Bowl Parade. I guess one could say, we were “parade people.” Besides attending these and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade every year on the scarlet cut-pile of our living room floor (there was only one chair in there until 1977, and it was my father’s), we either attended or marched in every parade in town. My father was a Lion’s Club member and we rode the floats they spent weeks building, in the Fourth of July Parade.

            My first husband, Dave, wasn’t a football enthusiast either. His parents were interested in tossing weighted balls down allies to score 7-10 splits. And due to Dave’s limited peripheral vision, he couldn’t track balls or bodies, so instead he spent his teen years tearing up sand lots on dirt bikes, skiing and recording albums onto cassettes. We viewed Superbowl Sunday as the perfect opportunity to extend a ski weekend to ride the lifts like it was the first day of school and ski a mountain with a low collision factor. Mostly, locals would be on the hills on Superbowl Sunday morning. By 1:00, you could re-trace your own tracks in the glades.

            During the seven post-9/11 years it was just me and the boys in our home in Freeport, Long Island. Their gigs were baseball, tennis, and Lego’s. We spent a Superbowl Sunday or two with cousins but for us, it was all about the chatter, chardonnay and team-inspired cupcakes, and of course, Jamie’s stuffed mushrooms and sausage and peppers.

            It wasn’t until 2009, after we moved to Vermont to live with my second husband Rich, when televised National League Football became a family room guest in our lives. Rich rarely missed a Monday night football game, nor Saturday afternoon playoff. This is the time in my life  when Superbowl became a weeks-long anticipated event that involved betting pools and charts that Richard was often in design and command of ,both at work and in our home.

He’d say, “put your initials in a bunch of squares.”

“What does it all mean?”

“It doesn’t matter, just pick anything.”

I did it for the show of support, it was his way, I guess, of getting the kids excited about the game. But I didn’t support gambling and betting beyond inserting $1 scratch-off tickets in birthday cards.

            Since I wasn’t interested in the game, nor making myself feel more inept than I was by asking incessant questions during the game, I did what any party-loving person would do, I strung streamers, and made wings, sliders, and football-shaped brownies served in themed-dishes on an synthetic-turf table topper lined with strips of white medical tape. So we all spent a family-day in front of the fireplace noshing, cheering, and crossing out boxes. A few times we invited neighbor friends to join in.

            This epoch lasted all of eight-years, until everyone had left the house, including Rich, ironically on Superbowl weekend, 2018.

Superbowl 2019, was only myself and Davin, six-weeks following twelve-weeks of rehab. Although I made his favorite finger-foods, there were no decorations, no beer, nor boxes to fill. It was really just fine, low-key, though it wasn’t really fine. Everyone had split, there was tremendous acrimony between Richard and us, Davin was “gray,” Dylan and Shina were building their own lives, avoiding all of us, and I was counting my breath. Superbowl 2020, Davin watched the game at Rich’s place, the first house we lived in when we moved to Essex Junction, Vermont. I watched an Antiques Road Show marathon.

Superbowl 2021 was solemn, in the wake of Davin’s absence, and Dylan’s mental health breakdown. Dylan was home with me, recuperating from his January hospitalization. My sister and nephew, Brady were here. I think Brady built a fire, we ate air-fried wings and pizza, and simply watched the game on my new 65″ smart T.V.

This year, It’s me, the dog and the cat. I’ll light a fire and binge-watch Sweet Magnolias. I’ll pause to view the half-time show to check out the stage my cousin’s husband built. And yes, those are my ex’s gym clothes on the floor in the photo! Not missing that either. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I couldn’t give a shit. I’ll give the dog a heart-shaped cookie and treat myself to a supermarket boiled lobster and a dirty martini.

© Deborah Garcia 2022. All rights reserved
Feature image by Deborah Garcia
Usherettes image– Earl L Vandermuelen H.S. Yearbook

January 20, 1982

[In memory of Elizabeth “Lizzie”Anna Rieb, nee TesenySeptember 22, 1943 – January 20, 1982]

I think we know that nothing lasts forever. That every day something in our relationships, our social strata, our bodies, is ending. Let’s say your taxi-mom job is ending when your son drives himself to a movie in your car with his new driver’s license tucked in his wallet. Or a spouse leaves a marriage for someone he left for you, more than a decade after you stood on a wedding-moon beach sliding a ring on his finger. A beloved pet dies. A pregnancy ends. We move to another neighborhood, state, or country. You twist an ankle while attempting to balance the same bag of groceries in your left hand, and a coffee tumbler in the other, while climbing the three steps you scale so often that you really ought to have the spatial memory imprinted in your brain. Once, a cousin blocked me on Facebook, and her life because I cited political-fueled 9/11 misinformation she shared on a news feed, which was not only personally offensive, but a proven slant of falsehoods by Snopes. Things just change.

Maybe it’s annoying and inconvenient but we cry and we limp and we eventually acclimate to the changes and move on through our days, living our lives. Or we try to. It doesn’t make us a bad person or a hero. We’re neither weaker nor stronger than others. We never fully get over the losses, sudden or gradual, large or small, we scrape up what remains, and carry it in our bodies and our hearts believing that each ending is clearing a space for something new. What choice do we have? Without endings there’s no change, and without change there are no lessons, no openings for new versions of ourself.

But some endings have bigger impacts, even consequences. Even though, most times they just happen. Sometimes they happen quickly—a deer leaps into the road and totals your car, family memories are destroyed in a flood, someone close dies in their sleep, a speeding car side-swipes your sister’s minivan, rendering a life-altering brain injury, a pandemic ends your job, forcing a career change. Other times, endings come with a droning swell to the verge—a marriage dissolves, depression abbreviates, and after a five-year battle with cancer, a mother dies.

Becoming a young adult on a college campus, no matter the distance from home, is a huge transition. On the day you walk onto that quadrangle and plink your toothbrush into a Solo cup on your dorm room desk, there’s a whole new set of relationships, tasks and choices in your world that only you are responsible for. You’re suddenly faced with keeping yourself alive or slipping back into the of net of your parents’ safety. But what if there were no safety net. What if the day you carried your baggage out of the door of your home, was the last day you’d sit at the kitchen table eating the apple pancakes your mother sizzled in butter, or the last day you’d hear the sound of her voice humming The Way We Were?

The little five-room red brick house I grew up in (albeit often disquieting) containing a mother, a father and three girls, was so snug that by the time I had crossed over the George Washington Bridge, my sister Wendy, had already slid her Cabbage Patch doll and red Keds (the ones with the white rubber toe) under my bed. A fortuitous opportunity for a nine-year-old to claim her own space after sharing a room only large enough to fit a trundle bed, with our contentious thirteen-year-old sister, Lori. My grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins lived within walking distance. I had never traveled beyond the northeast stretch between Philadelphia, PA and Springfield, MA. My world was small.

What if at the same moment you’re expanding, though you don’t yet know it, the life you left is a memory shrinking into the distance of the rearview mirror. What if the transition you’re racing toward, an emancipation you’ve anticipated since you aged double digits, is actually a shift that would have you yearning for connection throughout the entirety of your life? Even though you had been expecting an ending for several years, you were never really convinced that it would happen.

Sometimes when we’re young, and busy, and racing towards our own futures, the only thing we can see is our own experience. Despite my mom barely making it through my high school graduation, I was head-strong to eat my cake and continue moving toward the next chapter of my life. However, when I hugged my mother goodbye that warm, late-August morning, I saw a tinge of something, an undersong, yielding to a fated postlude, both of us clinging to the hope that her essence resonates in me, far beyond the measure of her own vanishing.

When transitioning from your childhood home into adulthood, there’s a whole new world you’ve never experienced before and you have to figure out. You’re learning how to manage your own life and it feels potentially huge. Do I stay in the basement and wait for my laundry to finish or do I go to supper? Do I go downtown Friday night with the new people I’ve met or do I buy the anatomy and physiology textbook that I can’t afford? Have I eaten too much? Have I not eaten enough? Do I sleep too much or do I not sleep enough? How do I return home for the holidays? Spend a week’s work-study earnings on a Greyhound or hitch a ride from some upperclassman I don’t know posting on the student union board? My parents aren’t driving the 300 miles to get me, and my mom, well, she’s sick.

Every transition from childhood to adulthood includes the unexpected. But for me and my two sisters, the list of unexpected things is long. When my mother dies, my life begins to weep in ways that are still surprising me. At eighteen, I’m a motherless daughter. My mother never picks up the phone and asks how my classes are going nor answers when I’m doubled-over in pain from food poisoning, nor stood beside me and the love of my life in a photo.

As a matter of fact, she’ll be filtered out of every Kodak moment for the four decades it’s taken to get to this page. My mother, Lizzie, never serves apple pancakes to the love of my life. She doesn’t throw me an engagement party or say yes to the dress. After calling on several people who were busy in their own lives, I culled the simplest and cheapest dress off the J.C Penny rack by myself. The bulleted list of motherless moments is long and tidal, an infinite series of waves curling through the shadowy highs and lows of my adult life. My mom would never fuss over wedding arrangements or plan a baby shower. She won’t rush to the hospital when I’m caught off guard in a premature birth, then supply the nursery with diapers and a bassinet. And no one will stop by with a casserole to sing Beetles love songs to my baby when I’m pinned to the couch with a hot, infected duct in my chest. This is what my friend’s and cousin’s parents do, what they’ve always done, what I’ve done for my own children, they show up. And even though I’ve soldiered through setbacks and triumphs countless times before, I truly never cease dreaming-up alternate scenarios with my mother in the world. Sometimes the pancakes are burning because I’m lost in the imaginary space where there’s a second plate on the table. Other times, I’m thanking her for guiding me toward a parking space in Bushwick and cradling my breath during a mammography.

In this story, there are no Mother’s Day brunches at the Vineyards, no recipe shares, or heart emojis. My mother doesn’t hear me screaming into the wildness of the most devastating moments of my life or see me bursting into the sunny hallelujah’s. Yet, in each instance when I’ve shaken off the salt and risen from the wake of the receding raging tides, I ache to hear the lilt of my mother’s sweet song.

At eighteen-years of age, I had no idea how to help a mother die. It was an adult space that I clearly was not a part of. When I walked down the corridor past visiting hours, two days before boarding a Greyhound Bus to return to my college life, I knew I couldn’t compose her ending, so I was writing my own. “I don’t think mommy’s going to make it,” were my father’s parting words to me. With the Royal manual typewriter she gave me for Christmas set by the door, (a clunky-keyed apparatus with a black and red-inked strip,) that she spent her unused chemo-prescription dollars for, I kissed her forehead and exited through the folds of the pale green curtain to continue the promise of the college education and liberation she surrendered to my birth eighteen-years before, when she was my age. The last gift unwrapped.

Dave and I had only had one date a few days before winter break. We shared our first kiss two days before I left for Christmas break, in the back stairwell of the student union building after a night of studying for final exams. The December afternoon of my leaving, I returned from my final exam to find a Boynton greeting card that Dave had slid under my door. “This was a beat week to get to know each other… I hope we get to see a little more of each other next semester…” Mid-January, during the break, he penned me a nine-page letter (4×6 note pad) in which he rambled on about the highlights of his life, essentially introducing me to friends, favorite hiking spots, his Hudson Valley landscape, his passion for bass guitarists, his tape deck, dirt bike, and a mention of the logistical challenges his legal blindness presents on the final page. In the early 1980’s, letter writing was all many new lovers could afford to do. I wasn’t able to make long-distance calls from my parent’s home phone. These were the days of placing the occasional collect call, where the receiver accepts the charge to receive a call from others outside of their region who can’t afford to pay for long-distance service. An embarrassing condition of which I had been forced to surrender on several occasions in the afterward.

First card from Dave Dec. 1981

I returned to SUNY Cortland on a Tuesday afternoon to commence my second semester.

On Wednesday, January 20, 1982, I walked up campus hill in the sunshine, passing the rolling hills of the cemetery directly across from my dorm, and attended the first classes of the second semester of my Freshman year, from 8:00 AM to noon. After grabbing a sandwich from the student union and returning to my room to finish unpacking, Dave knocked on my dorm door. Seeing his grinning face in the opening whirled me into the moment, like a vignette, blurring the edges of all the defined space that came before me and what was looming ahead. Softening into his firm embrace diffused the anguish that was expanding like a balloon in my chest, exhaling in a long, impassioned kiss

Dave was bubbling with reportage of his intersession life. His Christmas was quiet and pleasant with his parents and his brother and sister-in-law. He hung out with friends and smoked some good weed, hiked mountains, raced along the Hudson River on his dirt bike, and saw some great blues and jazz concerts. Mine was also quiet, not pleasant. I decorated and cleaned house, spent my work-study savings on items from my sister’s wish lists that my father wasn’t going to spring for… a pair of Jordache Jeans and a Simon Electronic game for Lori, a denim jacket and Mousetrap game for Wendy. I sprinkled red and green crystals on sugar cookies with my little sisters, the way mom and I had done through seventeen Christmases past, while she diminished in morphine dreams, her substance melting into the colonial couch hollows of the broken revolution. I hadn’t filled Dave in on much of the details of my life, especially my mother’s doomed cancer diagnosis. No pity-dates for this Lon-Gisland girl. I had broken away from the inescapable truth of small-village life and was going to give my Scorpio charm a chance to shine.

December 25, 1981 (sugar cookies on table, Royal typewriter in box, Christmas pajamas I bought girls)

At around 1:00 PM, there was another knock at my door. Excited that it was a girlfriend, I bounced up from my seat and opened the door to find my Aunt Trudy and Uncle Bob (my mother’s brother) from Connecticut. The shock of their presence informed me that this news had to do with my mom, and it was bad. After a brief and awkward introduction, they solemnly announced “Debbie, your mother has passed early this morning. We made the trip because we didn’t want you to be alone when you got the news. We’re taking you home.” I allowed Dave to hug me in the doorway on his way out.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t fall to pieces. I quietly slid my faux leather suitcase from under my bed and re-packed. I didn’t want sympathy from my potential boyfriend. I actually felt a little embarrassed to be the foci of attention. Yet, I also felt guilty for not collapsing into a heaving ball of despair. Perhaps it was because I had been anticipating this every day for months. Perhaps the lingering had gone on for all of my teen years, that I had relaxed into the leaving. Maybe I had already said goodbye enough times that I was in a good place with the death. At that very moment, on January 20, 1982, I had become a motherless daughter.

Well, actually my mother had passed at 12:30 AM. I just hadn’t been informed.

Motoring south on I-81, I knew that the road would never lead me home again. I don’t remember anything about the five-hour car ride. When I got home there were a flurry of aunts and neighbors, and our parish minister’s wife coming by with condolences and casseroles. I recall walking up Munsell Road and tearing-up with my girlhood friend, “my mother’s dead. I don’t have a mother. It will always be this way. That’s it. Now what?” My head was swirling with conflicting questions; do I stay and take care of my sisters, or do I return to ceramics class? Do I wash and fold the laundry? Take my sister’s shopping for funeral dresses? Do I tell my girlfriend I’ve met someone? How long am I supposed to cry and stare at the floor? Is it inappropriate to smile and say my truth, when extended family and funereal guests greet me—I’m doing well and looking forward to returning to school, or do I say maybe when they suggest that it’s my place now to honor my mother and take care of my little sisters?

I felt the same conflicting emotions the sunny August day I first left for Cortland. It felt as though I were in a movie all along, where I was watching actors move through a transposed, adolescent-version of Terms of Endearment, where following a contentious relationship, a daughter steps up for her terminally ill mother, anticipating the ending while assuming remission. Although I was reasonably aware that my mother wouldn’t survive to see another spring, at seventeen, I couldn’t have anticipated the permeating stress cracks that the void would render throughout mine and my sister’s lives. Although the thoughts of a teenage daydreamer may have saved me during the pernicious five-year stretch of my mother’s ravage, I would occasionally, imagine what it might be like to be motherless.

On January 19, 1981, while I was travelling North on I-81, my dad was in the hospital, sitting by mom’s side all day. Her mother, sister and sister in-laws shifted about, doing whatever they could to bring her comfort. Slipping in and out of lucid pockets of consciousness, she said to dad, “look at that beautiful crucifix on the wall. It’s glowing bright in warm gold light.” Dad turned to see only a plain, white wall. Feeling a chill he thought, this isn’t good. He left at midnight to return to my ten and thirteen-year-old sisters who were home with a family member, tucked in their beds. Fifteen-minutes after entering the house, the avocado rotary phone sounded from the kitchen counter. Lizzie was gone. She slipped away in a moment of her own, the morphine dripping into collapsed veins that could no longer sustain her.

I wonder what were the last sounds she heard—The beeping of the oximeter taped to her index finger? The faint padding of white oxfords on linoleum? Had she drifted off to sleep with the resonance of her own voice echoing in the dimming corners of her mind? Was the last glint of light in the world an opening scored on a wall, glowing, brilliant, gold?

© Deborah Garcia 2022, All rights reserved
Images by Deborah Garcia

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