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

All That Terrible, Beautiful Music

          

What can I say, my daily mood is underscored by intense sadness. I lose my son every minute of every day—in the grocery aisle, at a red light when a BMW 350 xi passes by while an NPR guest discusses how breathwork and yoga changed her traumatized brain, saving her life. In every store I enter, the aisles blaring Christmas tunes, and the television shows we never tired of: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown’s Christmas— all that terrible beautiful music. The melodies that flowed through his fingertips to the Grande soundboard sleeping under the polished lid, across from the chair where I sipped coffee with Gilbert, and A. Rich, and the Purple Finch mining safflower. Every sensory experience is plaited into the life we created, together. The life I created with David, with Richard and Shina, with grandparents and cousins…

            This loss is cinched to the loss of my husband, and second marriage, like a stringer chain of slayed Bunker fish immersed and kept alive in an ocean of longing. Bunker being the most important fish in the sea, convert drifting living matter into packages which are crucial nourishment/sustenance for others to survive.

            I remember when Davin was two-and-a-half. It was 1995. Daddy and Davin wore matching argyle sweaters. Davin came down the stairs Christmas morning, clutching his Teddy bear, to unveil his first set of wooden trains. Dave and I had set it up in the living room on a lauan plywood board that he cut, mitered, and sanded as smooth as a fine rubbed carving board, and I painted a colorful country scene of grass, sand, and water. The entire miniature world was set in the center of the room atop the pine slab coffee table he had belt-sanded and sealed with several pourings of polyurethane, the reminants still evident on the basement floor.

            1996 was the year of our first live Christmas tree. I was 37-weeks pregnant with Dylan and Davin and I made all of the ornaments from pinecones, paper, and dough so we could chuck the entire spruce, with all of its environmentally-friendly trappings, to the curb when my water broke.

            All those Christmastides felt like a blur; school assemblies, gift shopping, baking pecan pies and painting sugar cookies, wrapping gifts and stuffing stockings past midnight, while maintaining a busy Speech therapy practice. Then suddenly it was over. Five-years later (2001), I was mail ordering the boys gifts to be sent to their cousin’s house 400-miles away. Joy had left our home and we escaped, leaving our house unadorned. Today, twenty-years later, I’m trapped in the void of their absence.

            The high holiday season scales the protective crust that forms over my wounds, exposing the most tender parts of me, opening the gash to weep into the dawn. It’s exhausting.

            The current buzz feed on many people’s minds concerns holiday plans. There’s chatter on the walking path of the many spiced Christmas cookies—whether to bake them before or after the kids and grandkids arrive, “Do you think I could put candied ginger in the gingerbread?” Some friends are baking sweet breads and pies with sisters and daughters, and whether to serve a turkey, or spiralized ham, or both. The thoughtful husbands who photoshop holiday cards and scale ladders to string synchronized light shows around their homes. (Which both, by the way, had always been my job.) Others said, “I ordered the cutest ornament for babies’ first Christmas.” “I’m worried that the matching Christmas pajama’s I bought for the entire family, may not be delivered in time for Christmas Eve.”

            And there’s no dismissing the inter-familial cold wars regarding vaxers inviting, excluding, or carding non-vaxers under the mistletoe.

I wish my son was living. I wish my surviving son wasn’t hurting. I wish both of my sisters and I could share recipes in a kitchen together. I wish my sister wasn’t waking up in a shelter. I wish I’d had my own mother to sip wine with. I wish I had a person, to hold my hand on a beach, warm sun on my skin. Someone brave enough to be with me even though I don’t have the perfect circumstances. Willing to rub the many colored salt-smoothed shards of bits. Someone able to see the beauty in the brokenness with a kind heart to go easy on me. I don’t need sugared cookies, flashy lights, or filigree hooks to hang my ornaments from. To be known, to live a meaningful life with purpose, to belong to something with continuity and caress a fragment of joy swaying from the mantle, are the miracles I long for.

            From 1993 to 2018, I too had created photo cards and one page synopsis’ highlighting the kids’ milestones and our family ventures. And although I fully understand how nauseating these types of things can be for others to read, especially now that 50% of my cast are gone, I am glad I wet stamps through all those hiemal midnights, because that 25-page collection of family cliff notes comprises the one true palimpsest of our existence. Evidence that our story was real. We had thrived.

  I used to cherish seeing the traditions carry on from my mother through me, to my boys. Especially, because they would ever know her. And I’d imagined the delight of seeing the continuity through grandchildren. Now, no tradition makes my heart sing. I feel disconnected from the joyful noise in the beating drum of my collective losses. It all hurts.

            So, following a two-year hiatus, this is my holiday greeting. The Garcia Express-ion of 2021: Dylan is thriving, I’m surviving, the house will be sold, and the ornaments of Christmas will remain tucked in our hearts. This year, Dylan and I will fly away to vacate in a place where we have no memories. To leave the trappings behind and venture to a place where we can begin to create our own peace on this Earth. Maybe.

            Meanwhile, the Christmas photo album lies on the pine slab table David sealed with a pouring of polyurethane twenty-five years ago— the spine broken, images scattered within the folds, calling for new pages to be bound to.

Peace.

© Deborah Garcia, 2021, All rights reserved
Images by Deborah Garcia

DAVIN R. GARCIA

365 days ago, fifty close family members and friends gathered on a rainy morning in Poughkeepsie, New York, during a pre-vaccinated pandemic, to pay tribute to my beautiful boy, Davin Richard Garcia. 8,760 hours ago, my tears washed over a white granite box, containing the fragments of a mother’s, and father’s, love and dreams for a beautiful life.

In moments where I feel I’m not strong, and when I feel alone and sad, and that no one gets it, I still wake up and I think it’s impossible that this is happening. I’ve become trapped, again, in a version of my life I hadn’t anticipated. And I know, that the only ones who can understand this, are those who are in their own version of darkness. What I’ve lost and what I continue to live through are two opposing things that exist simultaneously for me. There’s no returning to a previous version of myself, and I am expected to create a new one. I can’t claim deftness in how to accomplish this, but what I have learned is that when your architecture collapses in on you, you have to learn to live along the fault lines.

I’m always asking, what is the lesson? It will take the span of my lifetime to know this. Over the past twenty years of surviving with my sons, the unceasing life interruption of September 11th, 2001, I’ve felt conflicted over the need to be fully present for the boys, and the desire to create a life worth living for myself. What I do know is that for me, the survival and re-imagining of a life is its own creative act. Putting language to my thoughts and feelings in conversation with a friend, in a journal, or in a post, is a way for me to get unstuck. It’s my way of catching myself before I fall, so I can step toward my reckoning with it all.

I invite all readers to visit Davin’s Legacy.com tribute and add language to the page, in Davin’s memory, here.

 DAVIN 
 My sweet, beautiful son, 
 I have loved you for twenty-eight years. 
 From the moment I heard the eager beat of your heart, 
 when I saw the shadow of the shape of you 
 in my womb, 
 I was changed. 
 You gave me a name,
  Mommy. 
 Holding my hand, 
 you walked the bewildering journey beside me, 
 through this vague
  paradox. 
 What can a mother say
 about her beloved son 
 so injured by the World, 
 that his spirit could no longer 
 endure –
 gravity? 
 I pray for your soul 
 to find peace 
 in the resolve it seeks, 
 that you curl 
 in the loving arms of your father, 
 that you feel 
 comfort in the warmth of the glow 
 emanating from the hearts
 who’ve been touched
 by your –
 brilliant light. 
 This mother 
 wants you to know that 
 your life matters. 
 Your cast is wide, 
 extending deep 
 into the mortal expanse. 
 I long for your arrival in my dreams, 
 my dear sweet boy,
 to hear your beautiful music as 
 I draw you into the fold 
 of my loving bosom and 
 cradle your tender soul. 
 I love you forever,
 Mommy. 

© 2021 Deborah Garcia, all rights reserved
Images by Deborah Garcia

SELF PORTRAIT AS OYSTER

I am a sumptuous delicacy raked from shallows of brackish bays,

shucked through mantle by twisting blade,
popped hollows of creamy white meat
gulped—raw. If you wet your hunger with my tenderness,
you cede to be ruined. I will tranquilize your frailty
and cut you with my truths. To be vital, mustn’t one be capable of
keeping secrets--secure in their shell? The fraudulence
is what makes the presence of the naked soul
to the mourner necessary. Because grief is intoxicating
and it calls for a surreal response.

I am shaped by the bottom to which
I was originally attached—coarse, vociferant,
ardent—bone with crags, irregular surface
of shelters for others to reside—
clinging, tenacious. Outgrowth of body wall conceals
the exquisite inner surface—filtering pollutants, rebalancing ecosystems,
adhered to rock and berth--always orienting, with outer shell tilted
upward toward the verge. Splayed over a surface, like a nymph over an altar.

Sometimes when I’m careless, I think survival is easy.
Through the intercourse of daily life, you savor
what you have, or wrap the broken fragments with an inner nacre
until something manifests—strong, resilient, opulent.
I never expected to find art trapped in the word heartbreak,
to knife it open and lift it out like a wet pearl,
an invasive nucleus of inner-shell opulence, whose spectrum depends
on the shape of the irritant. Isn’t she a visionary spectacle of colorful surfaces,
changing with the angle of the view? Don’t you admire my transparency?
If you put a hand to the milky dappled vault in the margin between my shoulders
you can feel a smooth, rounded jewel.
I am an opaline mother-- phenomenal.

About this poem:

I wrote this poem as an exercise from a virtual writing workshop during the second phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, when entering vaccine queues was an extreme sport. April 2021, was also the impossible time of my son’s first birthday following his suicide, six months prior. I’ve chosen to publish on the solemn occasion of my own birthday, the last time we took a photo together. I am reminded of a time when my little boys plucked oysters from a bath, then held pearls in their palms–the violent surrender of it. Growing up on the Atlantic coastline in the east end of Long Island, I’ve always had a strong strong connection to the sea. Slurping the sweet brackish flesh always returns me to the turbulant waters from whence all life was formed.

About the image:

To break out from the isolation of my exteme grief, I took a Saturday afternoon collage-making class at a local art studio in Burlington, Vermont. There wasn’t a plan, just stacks of magazines, random paper scraps, a canvas and glue. It’s what happened. It’s all there, me. I leave it to the viewer to interpret.

© Deborah Garcia 2021, All rights reserved

David Garcia Memorial Service, October 13, 2001

On a severe clear Saturday, two-decades ago, my family and I remembered my love; husband, daddy, son, brother, uncle, cousin. Three weeks planning a funereal service on a barrier island in a public State Park and with the iconic Boardwalk restaurant, culminated in a beautiful celebration of life with violins and butterflies.

Funerals and memorial services are a fact of life which we’re all called upon to arrange and attend, however, this event deviated from the ordinary course of requiem. There was no body. The only proof that Dave wasn’t living was that he wasn’t on the boardwalk with us. He was, not so simply, missing. This service was on a much larger scale. My family was grieving on a public stage, during a time when nearly all of humanity was steeped in collective mourning. Hundreds of similar services and funerals were taking place across the tri-state area and beyond, some people were attending several a week, even two in a single day.

David’s cast in life was a wide as the ocean. The news of his service, spread by word of mouth and the obituary section of the Newsday, which was the largest section of the paper for several months. The notification reached over 500 known people who stood with uncountable drifters upon the salt-air-weathered planks. The lyrics of Beth Nielsen Chapman, chanted by friends, carried on the breeze to where our young family spent untold hours building castles in the sand and splashing in the shoals of Fire Island, as crimson sunsets dipped below the horizon.

This post is more than a simple reminiscence of a single day in my history, two-decades ago. It is an invitation, for all those who could not attend that day and who have come to know David through their visits to the fountains at the September 11th National Memorial and Museum, and my writings in this portal.

Your life was so precious and gracious.

Deborah

You are in every breath I take

Deborah
Sandor and Joyce Balint (family members)
Butterfly Release (following 3 weeks of butterfly incubation)

© 2021 Deborah Garcia, All rights reserved
All Images by Deborah Garcia
Location: Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, New York

BEAUTY

Beauty is the internal living flame that illuminates what we belong to.

Remembering the beauty of my mother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Teseny Rieb, on the occasion of her birth, 78 Septembers ago. Though the hangers in her closet hung bare, disrobed of her flowery pleated dresses and soft cotton cardigans weeks after my 18th birthday, her presence lives inside of my own inner recognition, beaming in the eternal candle’s glow.

Beauty is…

the twirling baton on a warm spring day…

the gentle smile that softens troubled hearts…

leaning quietly on the edge of what promises to steady us…

and gracefully shifts within the bright folds, poised above the shadow self, pure grace draped in pearls…

it is the buttery yellow cardigan embracing our curves, inviting us to open only as deep as we’re willing to reveal …

the small treasures we hold too precious to be left behind.

“Beauty is the harvest of presence that lives inside us where the imagination becomes a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now”

David Whyte

© Deborah Garcia 2021, All rights reserved
Images by Deborah Garcia private collection

Thank you

Image by Deborah Garcia

WAKING INTO SEPTEMBER 12TH, 2021 Continuing Beyond Twenty-Years of My 9/11 Life

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I sat in my living-room 25-miles west of my Freeport, Long Island home, transfixed to the terrorizing drama unfolding on every television station. My mood was one of disbelief, overwhelming anxiety, and hope, that one of the thousands of people racing through the streets of lower Manhattan and spanning the Brooklyn Bridge, were wearing green khakis and a striped oxford shirt with my husband’s face of determination. At 9:59 AM, as Tower Two imploded in a dust cloud, I fell to my knees screaming into the 32” curved window, “Run David, RUN!

I witnessed New York City drenched in chaos. Camera crews fled up avenues chased by rolling cancerous clouds, with lenses wide-opened to the ghosted individuals caught in the aperture. I witnessed news anchors weeping from their midtown studios, choking for words. All were one masked in white dust, moving in two contrails stretching north and eastward from lower Manhattan, like a long expression of vaporous energy scoring the blue sky. Suddenly, Tower One quaked with a tremulous chill, folding into itself in a total progressive collapse, in 15-seconds. So too did my life. Although the initial shattering can be measured in seconds, the healing stretches over the course of a lifetime.

The only way to move forward is to lean into the tenderness loop

Waking into September 12th has always felt like the clicking of a refresh wheel, resetting my life into another year, to begin again. Each year, as the summer tilts toward leaving, I lean into the grief, shrinking toward the same horizon of September 11th. There is a rising crescendo of happy memories knotted with an overture of haunting re-played images and bids to memorialize, along the passage moving me toward the day I watched my husband explode into the forget-me-not-sky. When the name David Garcia resounds in the symphony grosso, it’s like releasing a pearl held firm in my lips, and each year as I exit the stage, everything in my life shifts. I am forced to continue into the future of my 9/11 life.

Every year on the 11th of September, my sons and I lean into the reflecting pools, snap a selfie, cross West Street to walk the Esplanade and sit down to lunch. However, this time is different. This year I am mourning one more. Beside my 24-year-old son and I at the great fountain will be an unembodied shadow, the son who 365-days ago, wore a mask as the nation captured our embrace. The tunnel of lasts lengthens—the last Maine vacation, last memorial ceremony, last birthday celebration, without him—from the footprints of shattered dreams to the day my beautiful boy ended his life on October 31st, 2020.

Children raised in the footprints of 9/11 are locked into a continuous discontinuity, with constant reminders to never to forget. A forced vulnerability that ripples in the undercurrent of the war on terrorism and keeps them teetering on the edge of developing strong identities in a fearful world, and not. My children (8- and 4-years-old in 2001) have never known a world without the war and threat of terrorism that was ignited by their father’s murder on the 97th floor of One World Trade Center. It is the ceaseless death.

Although the initial shattering can be measured in seconds, the healing stretches over the course of a lifetime.

Over the span of two decades, through fierce love and fervent vigilance, I’ve provided my sons with positive life experiences through maintaining connections with extended family, mentors, education, extracurricular activities, and therapeutic support. The hope was that I had done enough to unravel the darkness so they could restitch their worlds. But the Fates weren’t having it. The pandemic pushed its heel into the tenderness. With the sudden suspension of employment that fueled aspirations, sporting and fitness activities that brought joy, and social engagements that instilled emotional balance, the unceasing life intermission of COVID-19 drew my boys into the maw of anxiety, isolation, and hopelessness. “The world is not a good place, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” are the words my 27-year-old wrote in the letter he left on the hotel room table.

Seven weeks later, my 24-year-old son, who had believed he had been too young to have suffered from the personal traumatic effects of 9/11, was hospitalized for an emotional breakdown, sending him home to Vermont for a long winter’s rest.

Today, I stand in the interval, of where the tunnel of last family memories lengthens the darkness toward a final passage through death’s days of firsts without our son. As I advance into the 49-days toward October 31st, I feel the life I had fought so hard to re-create, shrinking into the infinite expanse of my beautiful boy’s absence.

During this twentieth year, trembling alone in the dark, I’ve felt myself wavering on the edge of my breath. What evil has taken my lover? What force destroyed my son? Why wasn’t I enough for my second husband? What had I missed? Where am I and where do I go from here? How have I moved forward through the lengthening tunnel? How do I continue without getting lost in the darkness? As reminders of the losses persist through the coming years, I can never expect a smooth sheath to close over the wounds. I can recognize that pain is my constant companion, and I will never let the lives I’ve loved go. Thus, the only way to move forward, is to lean into the tenderness. To mourn, to remain present, to show myself the same compassion I extend to others, and find the courage to share my journey.

At the end of this epoch, the immediate shattering has ended: Bin Laden is dead, the footprints have been memorialized, the families have been compensated, my son’s ashes have been placed beside his father’s pulverized bones, and the author has moved through two decades of her narrative. But the continuous disquietude is interminable. Efforts to identify remains, the cancerous cascade of death, the pursuit of justice and national safety tag 9/11 as a current event.

What I hope for in my generation and the generations to follow is, within the interfold of simultaneous human dissonance, there exists a universal sympathy. A sympathy woven so deep in the fabric of our collective consciousness, that long after the witnesses are gone, a common hope threads through our differences, strengthening our resolve to continue the story.

© Deborah Garcia, 2021 all rights reserved
Reflection Pool image by Deborah Garcia
Tribute in Lights image by Dylan Garcia

%d bloggers like this: