And as she took her last breath, she finally, for that precious tenth of a second, had no thoughts at all.

Death had been on her mind for quite some time. She really did try to push those thoughts away; she tried replacing them with gratitude and love.  She made an effort to be around those less fortunate in body, soul and economics.  She read. She studied.  She worked.  She wrote.  And yet death was her constant companion, her daily visitor.  She was indeed in a relationship with death.  She was married to the possibilities of how it would finally arrive and dreamt of the future when they would inevitably be together.

Catherine, like other teenagers, fantasized about her death in those angsty awkwardly uncomfortable years.  She thought about who would be at her funeral and who would cry the most.  She imagined the memorials and Catholic masses that would be given in her honor and thought of how she would enjoy watching everything from above.  Like a bird.  Hovering.  She really did not focus on the details of her expiration, only the scenes afterward and the reactions of the people she knew.  As she got older, she varied the people, the church, the things that were said…

Catherine was raised on the island in a simple house on a simple street.  She played with the children in her neighborhood and at her school.  When she was eight years old, Catherine suddenly became self aware.  She realized she was not the most beautiful or the most popular but the other kids knew who she was and she got along with everyone.  She felt liked by her friends and loved by her family.  She had close girl friends and had crushes on boys.  Catherine, like every child her age, longed for summer.  The summer meant her days were spent on the beach swimming and diving off the dock at summer camp, singing around the campfire and gazing at the stars at night.  She felt happiest then.  Free.  She played and laughed.  All the girls cried on the last day of camp because they were going to miss their friends.  Catherine cried because she did not want to go home.  She wanted her life to be an endless summer.  Catherine wanted to be eight forever.

At age eleven, Catherine sat on the floor of her mother’s sewing room as she had done a thousand times before.  Her mother was sewing pink curtains for Catherine’s bedroom.  Her mama – Catherine always called her mama – wore her glasses at the tip of her nose and was sitting crouched over the needle of the Necchi sewing machine.  She was whistling, which was her habit.  Catherine dug her index finger into the grooves of the dark red carpet and imagined one of the grooves was a river in a far away land.  She looked up at her mother and said in a matter of fact way, “I won’t have any children.  I want you to know that it won’t happen.”  Her mother froze.  She looked at her daughter in disbelief.  “What are you saying?”  Catherine looked right into her mother’s eyes, tilting her head a bit and said in a sincerely apologetic voice, “Mama, it’s true, I just wanted to tell you now, so you know.”  To which her mother replied harshly, “This is not true, Catherine!  You will marry and have beautiful children.  This is the way of life.”  Catherine shrugged her shoulders.  She had no answer, but she really just knew it.  She knew it like she knew she was a girl.  She knew it like she knew her mother could never understand.  She just knew. She continued tracing the red rivers in the carpet and imagined far away lands she had read about in the Encylopedia Britanicas on the shelf of the family library.  Catherine knew other things.  Darker things.  But she knew she had upset her mother and did not want to upset her anymore.

Catherine grew up and at various points in her early adulthood had trouble sleeping.  She was sporadically visited by images of her demise.  While on her daily train commute to her teaching job in the city, she imagined she might leave this world in a horrible train wreck.  While flying to Italy, which would be her home for nearly seven years, she imagined she would fall from the sky in a plane crash.  While riding on the back of her Italian lover’s motorcycle through the vineyards of northern Italy, she pictured the romance of twisted limbs and metal as they died together in an unfortunate accident.   Upon returning to the United States to help care for her dying mother, she imagined dying alone, in her apartment in the silent white stillness of her bed, with no one finding out until months later because the smell of her rotting body would finally disturb the other tenants that lived on her floor.   She even toyed with the idea of taking her own life but did not want to experience pain in her final moments.  You see, Catherine had fashioned her life so that she was isolated.  Alone.  The quiet of her un-ringing phone filled her ears to the point of madness.  When not working, days- even weeks- would pass without her ever speaking a word aloud or hearing the voice of another human who was not trapped inside the t.v.  She had trouble connecting to the people she worked with, commuted with and lived in the vicinity of though she truly longed to make connections and friendships.  Catherine began to see people around her as false.  It was as though she had learned so many lessons in her life that she could now detect falsity, insincerity or some other disdainful quality in others almost immediately.  Catherine had become a loner.  She grew to long for her longtime companion in a new way.  She began to prepare for its arrival in the way one prepares for a reunion with a longtime friend.   She updated her life insurance policy beneficiaries, wrote and had her will notarized, and left instructions at her bank for how to distribute her worldy goods. So many things – wonderful things – had happened in her life, yet there was always this looming expectation for the inevitable.  Don’t misunderstand, Catherine felt real true joy in her life.  She loved her lovers and laughed with friends so much her sides hurt.  She wept in museums for the beauty of the world and the power of the creative mind.  She even pushed her own limitations by experiencing the creative process by painting, cooking for others and truly appreciating all that she had experienced and would experience.  But there was always the conscious understanding that even in those beautiful moments, as with the difficult ones, all things are temporary.  Including her very existence, and the pain she often felt.

On the day it came, and she knew it would come but was surprised when it did, she was not sick, she was not involved in a wreck.  Catherine was simply lying in her bed, staring at the bare white ceiling just having awaken from sleep.  She breathed in.  Out.  In.  Out.  And began thinking about what she would do.  Cereal or eggs today? And then her thoughts stopped completely.  She was just looking at the ceiling, not thinking anything.  This had never happened in her forty five years of life.  No thoughts at all.  Just being.  Then her heart beat for the one hundred ninety one million, one hundred six thousand, eight hundred ninety third time.  And stopped.

And as she took her last breath, she finally, for that precious tenth of a second, had no thoughts at all.

It’s the Fabergé Organics Shampoo principle:  I tell two friends, then they’ll tell two friends and so on, and so on….Being a child of the ’70’s I grew up watching commercials like this: 

I mean, this is marketing genius!  A modestly dressed woman with shiny long brown hair and friendly smile speaking to me as though she were my friend.  She tells me about this great shampoo, then asks me to tell just two other friends.  It’s shampoo, for chrissakes. They just want you to make sure you buy the right one – the original – and that you tell people about it so they’ll buy more of it.  Perfect.

So now, ignore my hair and yours.  Go tell two friends about this blog, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on….

Or, you could just go buy the shampoo.  I hear it’s still available somewhere.

Up until this point, The Ghost didn’t hold an honest job for longer than a few months at a time.

But this is a story about the good times.  Some of the best in fact.  This is the story of salty skin, a party boat, blue eyes filled with tears and two lovers learning the intimacy of their union.  If only for a little, wonderful while.

There was one job The Ghost kept for three consecutive years – excluding about two to three months a year due to wicked weather in the winter months.  It was on a fishing boat that did daily charter trips.  They were called party boats because they were also used occasionally on weekend nights for one to three hour booze cruises.  There were a half dozen boats going out of this particular town near our home.  There were usually two three hour day trips; one was very early leaving at five in the morning, and the next left at nine am.  The trips were three hours long and this meant The Ghost would have to work two shifts daily.   The Ghost did some asking around and decided to pursue one particular boat for employment.  Not having any previous experience with boating or fishing, The Ghost won the captain over with his charm – and he could be very charming.  I guess the captain could see that he was enthusiastic and strong and the rest would take care of itself.

The Ghost loved being near the water.  He loved being on a boat, and he knew a thing or two about cooking fish.  The pay was good but he soon found out it was grueling work.  This position taught him discipline; for getting up early, getting there on time (the boat would leave without him, otherwise) and a whole lot about weather and aquatic life.  I had to drive him to the dock every morning because he had his license revoked a few years previously but I didn’t mind.  So in this way, we were partners.  It was his job, but it was our life together and we were a team.  He was drinking less and really loving the physicality of the job.  He was getting healthier due to the regimented schedule and even lost a few pounds because he was getting more physically fit.  I was enjoying watching his child like enthusiasm and growing interest in fishing.  He became fluent in the language of line and tackle and developed an intuitive sense of when they would have big “hits” (this meant that fish were biting the bait on the hooks) just by looking out the window and gauging the weather.  His skin was soaked with sun and salt at the end of his long days.  His blue eyes began to sparkle with joy.

The Ghost loved coming  back to the dock with lots of happy fishermen whose buckets were full of the fresh catch of the day.  When his boat went out from that particular inlet on the south shore of Long Island, they would find mostly fluke, flounder, porgy and blackfish.  A little further out into ocean waters, they would get striped bass and further out on full day trips, they would find big stripped bass and blue fish.  Ocean fishing was a favorite of The Ghost’s.  He loved the action of the rougher waters and the constant hits on the customers’ lines.  Every day on the water was different and I think that’s why he loved this job so much.  The Ghost was also very much a people person.  He was outgoing and could find a way to start a conversation and connect to anyone.  He made lots of friends while working on the party boat.  He would chat with the guys who worked on the neighboring boats and occasionally he would also make a connection with one of the customers who would request trips based on when The Ghost was working.  There were days when he would have a beer with the Captain and other deck hands after a trip – but only one.  The Captain, a quiet man in his mid thirties who rarely looked you in the eye, gave the impression he had seen too much and wanted to see much less.  He never took off his hat, a broken down dirty army green hat that his brown waves curled up against.  He had a beard like the Gorton’s Fisherman minus the mustache and pipe.  The Captain was against drunkenness and drug use.  He made it clear from the start that would not be tolerated. The Ghost heeded this warning.  He was particularly serious about not doing any drugs because after a few trips on the boat, realized he would need to be completely clear headed.  The Ghost use to say to me, “The sea can take us at any time – it’s stronger than we can imagine.”

One particular benefit of this job for both of us, was the increased time we were able to spend together.  He was home and finished with work and cleaned up by about three o’clock in the afternoon.  I was usually home by four o’clock in the afternoon if I worked the early shift and opened the bookstore where I was the manager.  So, we often had time to go to the beach, cook dinner together and have long romantic summer evenings. There even came a point when he would voluntarily do laundry or clean up around the house and even have dinner ready for me by the time I got home on my late nights.  He really did make an effort and those were the days when I couldn’t wait to get home to him and be wrapped in his arms.

As I said, these were some of the best times we spent together.  We were very much in love.   I was driving him to the docks early in the morning and though it was only a ten minute drive each way, it was still four hours before I had to be at work myself.  I didn’t mind.  Things were going well for us both.  There was money coming in and we seemed to be focused on the same goals in terms of our life together.  Our days off were by far the best.  We would try to coordinate them so we would be off together.  After his first two months on the party boat, The Ghost was converted into a full fledged angler.  We went to the local West Marine shop to buy matching overall surf fishing waders in hunter green; giant rubber overalls that were a stiff onesie from boot to shoulder strap.  The top of the smallest pair came up to my chest (me being all of 5’1″), while his came up to his waist.  We bought shiny new surf poles, a giant tackle box and and all the accessories.  The Ghost would spend nights organizing the goodies in his tackle box, re-stringing his pole and teaching me how to do the same.  Each day he learned something new from the captain and enthusiastically share the information with me at night.  The Ghost began reading The Fisherman Magazine, and listening to the Fishing Report on AM radio.  I think something about this experience replaced his childhood pigeon coop passion.  He was able to do this on his own terms and because he was a man now, no one was able to get in his way.  Eventually, he got into his own way, but like I said, this story is about the good times.

Things went on like this for a while and The Ghost reach a point, if just for a while, of calm and happiness.  We also began to explore our spirituality together and decided to return to church.  We attended services on Sunday, taking communion tougher and eventually both volunteered for the parish San Genaro feast.  I worked in the kitchen with the ladies making acres of sausage and peppers, while he chummed up to the guys and ran the concessions selling tickets for rides, soda, fries and beer.  We were becoming a part of the community and growing closer by the day.

Our union was so stormy, like the sea itself.  There were so many ups and downs, mostly due to his chemical excesses, and my inability to cope with them.  Interestingly, it was the days of fishing together when I felt closest to The Ghost.  We had those ridiculous waders on, in the moments just before the sun rose in the horizon before us, together in our purpose but silent.  There was communication without words – the pass of a hook,  him re-baiting my hook and throwing out some chum to lure the fish before I reached the bait bucket or tugging on my line to see if I’d got a hit.  We’d steal moment to hold hands and kiss while our poles were nestled in the white pole holders buried deep in the sand.  I remember clearly one time I caught him looking at me with tears in his big blue eyes.  He stood there with a ribbon of pink and orange dancing in the sky behind him, looking at me with his head turned away from his pole and said nothing.  In that moment, I knew how happy he was, and how he couldn’t say it in words.  “I know,” I said.  “Me too.”

 Fishing Wisdom I learned from those very beautiful days:

Some things take time and patience, but the stillness of the wait can stop your heart with its beauty.

While you’re waiting, don’t concentrate on what hasn’t come along; appreciate the beauty of what is before you now.

Any experience requires all your senses.  Be glad you have them.

It can get rough out there, but there may be hidden treasures in rough waters.

The best catch might come in the darkest wee hours when the rest of the world is sleeping.

Anything that hooks you could make your day or might potentially be bad news.

I still can’t tell the difference between a Fluke and a Flounder.  Either way, you probably shouldn’t trust a fish that has both eyes on the same side of it’s face specifically so it can hide on the ocean floor- camouflaged- and still see everything that’s going on.

Fishing… well, it’s never really about the fish.

I close my eyes.

February 17, 2015 — Leave a comment

I close my eyes.

I close the door to  Via Sant’Orsola No.1 and turn right.  My feet begin to walk.  I am wearing the red patent leather flats I bought in the shop on the little street behind the Duomo.  What was it called? I can’t remember.  They are making a click clack sound on the damp cobblestones as I approach Via San Maurilio. I turn to my left and consider the church on the corner for a moment.  Yellow with white florid details.  Paint chipping.  There is grass in front.  An old man walks his bouncy brown dog.  My eyes move back to my shoes and up my bare legs and I see the hem of my skirt which stops exactly mid-calf.  It is pale yellow cotton with little red and white flowers.  I have a small red handbag on my left forearm.  With both hands I turn up the crisp white color of my sleeveless blouse.   The old man with the dog nods approvingly in my direction.  The morning sun is pouring through spaces between the buildings.  I spot Ale through the window of the bar.  He is behind the counter making cappuccino for the lawyer with the blue pinstripe suit.  He has a red handkerchief in his left lapel.  His hand is waving in the air as he leans against the bar, no doubt telling Ale about his latest case.   Ale sees me through the window.  He smiles and waves.  I smile and wave.  I smell the warm buttery brioche (that’s what Italians call croissant) but I keep walking.  A Vespa purrs behind me.  I step to my right so it can pass.  The street is narrow and bumpy.  Cobblestones.  The Vespa shoots past carrying a handsome young man wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and a perfectly pressed beige Armani suit.  I read the blue street sign on the side of the building as he passes.  Via Santa Marta.  I stop walking and say this to myself several times before I continue on my way.  Buongiorno, signora!  I look to my left and am greeted by a smile and wave from the man hosing down the concrete.  I smile, I wave and continue my walk.  I hear the dinging of the trams passing on the main road just ahead.  Now the shop owners are out unlocking and opening their steel gates and preparing for their customers.  It is morning in Milano.

At this point I feel the tears falling from my eyes.  And just when I think I can’t take anymore, I close my eyes tighter and walk one block further.  I turn another corner. The sun is brighter now.  Right here from my grey chair.

I close my eyes.

Billsta on the Balcony

February 16, 2015 — 2 Comments

I originally brought Billsta home to my mother’s house from Ikea about five years ago.  My mother needed a small breakfast table and it was the perfect size for her small kitchen.  I remember putting it together by following one of those wordless direction pamphlets that comes with everything from there.   It was simple enough because there were only three parts to put together: the smooth round 27 1/2″ melamine table top, the 40″ base and the four piece foot stand. I fished out the correct screws and had it put together in a few minutes with very little effort.  The chairs that match have short rounded backs and I really like the way my body fits perfectly in them.   Billsta is of a sturdy Swedish design that didn’t look prone to wobbling, which I loved.  I smoothed my hand across the surface in sweet satisfaction.  there would be no splintering or splitting.  For years my mother had a table in her kitchen that wobbled as soon as someone sat down.  All through meals it would wobble and that became the norm.  But Billsta would never wobble.  Swedish engineering made sure of that.

We sold my mother’s house in the spring of last year, and by June I moved to a new apartment on the thirteenth floor.  I had the movers put Billsta on the west facing balcony.  It was summer when I moved in and I thought it would be the perfect place to have my tea or coffee in the morning.  Billsta looked much smaller in my place than it had at my mother’s house.  It looked great on the balcony and left plenty of room for a recliner and end table that I had my eye on, but still haven’t purchased.  I used Billsta often, sipping tea and occasionally coffee.   Resting my mug on its smooth melamine surface.  The balcony is high enough and far away from neighbors that I didn’t feel awkward shuffling out in my bathrobe with my hair a mess to execute my morning ritual;  tea in my mug, feet propped up on the second chair, and the morning light dancing on the glass of the downtown buildings now pink, then orange then settling nicely into a cheery yellow.  Billsta and I were getting along very nicely.

I brought the chairs inside the first time it rained.  They have these little round beige cushions on them, and I didn’t want them to get wet and squishy.  I brought them inside again when I was traveling in the summer months.  I brought them in yet again when I started teaching in the fall because I didn’t want an unexpected rain to ruin them.  I found other uses for the chairs, like standing on one when I needed to store something at the top of my closet, or when cleaning the top shelf of my tall bookcases.  I even sat on one as I read a book one afternoon.  Billsta stayed outside.  I even thought of bringing Billsta inside for dinner.  You should know that Billsta looks unimposing, but is actually heavy and I just didn’t want to be weighed down by it.  I thought it would just get in my way and invade my space. I have no real need for Billsta in my immediate living space.  It’s well suited on the balcony.

It is now mid-February and for the past few days I’ve been writing on my laptop occasionally looking out the glass doors at Billsta.  It’s been out there on the balcony all these months withstanding sun, rain, wind and more recently, snow. I’ve only now just noticed that all this time Billsta looked so dependable and solid out there on the balcony.  But now I see it moved from the place I originally had it.  It’s closer to the railing now.  In fact, one of the feet of the base is under the black iron railing tucked into the four inch space between the concrete and the bottom of the iron railing.  I have a feeling Billsta is distancing itself away from me.  Did Billsta feel so neglected that it slowly made its way to the edge?

I  walk across the room now and upon closer inspection, I see Billsta’s  smooth melamine surface is warped.  It is slightly slanted now – not much – just enough from me to notice its disappointed frown.  There is some water resting there.  Looking like a stain of tears.  The table in it’s dying has come to life. Billsta has given up on me but still stands strong.  In the cold, gray afternoon, with the still white sky, I realize there has been no one resting their teacup on Billsta.  No one running their hands across its once smooth malamine surface.  I haven’t been there to appreciate Billsta as it was meant to be enjoyed.  it’s become a dirty, cold, warped shell of a table.  Damaged from neglect and disuse.

And now, it seems, I have a decision to make.

Right View, Wrong City

February 15, 2015 — Leave a comment

Sipping hot Earl Grey from my favorite chair and looking at this view doesn’t suck.

IMG_5472Here, on the thirteenth floor, I can see the city center’s concrete lego bricks lay in their deceitful permanence.  There’s a major train line and interstate highway that would sit at the foreground of this photo.  I have the luxury of knowing what the weather and traffic are doing before I leave my place just by looking out the window.  The thing is, I live in Connecticut.  I have nothing against the state or its people, but I am a New Yorker through and through.  When I walk out the lobby doors of my building, I won’t be able to hail down a cab, walk two blocks to the subway or stumble across a great new gallery in the next neighborhood on my walk after dinner.  I can’t pick up Sunday’s New York Times late Saturday afternoon, grab a nosh at Zabar’s and catch a last minute foreign film, all without the need for a car.  I’ve not passed a pile of garbaged and feared the presence of rats or giant cockroaches on my walks here.  There’s no risk here.  No everyday adventure.  No grit. I belong in New York City.  I’d love to make that happen.  This is not a negative view of where I am.  Just the opposite.  It’s a realization.  An embrace of my most authentic self.  I feel grateful every day that I have this apartment, this view, this home but…

I’m pretty sure it’s in the wrong city.

For now, it will have to do.  And like I said, it doesn’t suck.

 

The Ghost never gave me anything he didn’t take back and sell.  There was one gift he gave me that he never knew about.  At first, neither did I.

I forgave him as he beat me on the last night I’d ever seen him.  That was July 4th, 1999.  With each blow I asked God to forgive him.  I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.  I could tell his pain was worse than mine, in fact I was numb to his blows.

I knew his story.  He told me about how his childhood was stolen from him.  He told me about the pigeon coop.  How he use to train pigeons and built a coop for them on the roof of his building with the help of his stepfather.  Dick is what he called him.  I never found out if that was his real name – short for Richard – or just what he called him.  Dick did what all pedophiles do; gained this nine year old boy’s trust  – seduced him as it were – with the lure of pigeons.  Building a coop and teaching the young, blue eyed boy all about bird flight training.  These were not “street rat” pigeons, mind you, but flights, tiplets… those are the only names I remembered from what he told me.  There are a whole group of bird flyers and trainers all over NYC, the outer boroughs – and the world.  Apparently flying pigeons is a thing.

The Ghost grew up in The Bronx.  In his neighborhood it was not uncommon for there to be coops on the rooftops of buildings.  He told me how he used to run up to the roof every day after school to clean the coop and feed the pigeons.  He spoke about it with such pride.  He use to compete with the other kids on the buildings across the street and a few blocks down.  He’d brag about how he had the cleanest coop and the nicest birds.  One day while he was up there cleaning the coop, Dick came up to have a chat with him.  He stood there with his Brill Creamed hair, thin lips and his pen protector holding always exactly three Bic pens.  He smelled of Old Spice and Doublemint gum.  The Ghost always got a strange feeling when he was around Dick.  He told me something about Dick creeped him out and gave him the chills.  The instincts of a child are powerful.

So, he endured sexual abuse by his stepfather.  Of course he told his mother immediately.  She just stared at him and then told him to stop telling lies.   Accused her golden haired blue-eyed cherub of lying.  Lying and trying to ruin her happiness.  Again.  She’d blamed him for everything since he was three.  He was the bad one and Mickey was the good one.  It had always felt that way, at least.  The Ghost was always trying to win back her love, but his attempts were futile at best.

She blamed him for everything.  You see, when The Ghost was three years old, his mother told him to draw a bath for his brother and himself.  Bathing together was not uncommon, as the boys were only a year apart.  Irish twins, everyone called them.  Proud to take on this big boy job, he marched into the bathroom plugged up the tub with the rubber stopper, and turned one of the handles.  He couldn’t reach the  second handle but he turned the one closest to him.  The one with the letter “H” on it.  He’s seen his mommy do this many times.  She had tossed her finger under the tap but he wasn’t sure why, but he did that to.  The tub began to fill and he gave the Mr. Bubble bottle a squeeze.  He watched the bubbles grow a bit.  He left the bathroom and went to find his brother, Mickey.

Mickey, short for Michael, was in their room.  The Ghost announced it was time for their bath, and as the boys undressed the Ghost pulling his shirt of his head, Mickey shouted, “Last one in is a rotten egg!”  and ran out of the room.  The Ghost wanted to be first in the tub.  He fumbled with is shirt, but got it off.  He started looking for his Popeye doll to bring to the tub.  In the background he could hear the tub filling and his mother talking on the phone in the kitchen.  She was cooking dinner.  Irish stew.  Mickey’s favorite.  The smells were wafting through the small Bronx apartment.  The Ghost was getting hungry.  He found his Popeye doll and turned toward their bedroom door.  Before he could get to the bathroom he heard his brother screaming.  A scary sound unlike any he’d heard before.  The Ghost froze.  He peered out the bedroom door and saw his mother running.  He walked slowly toward the bathroom, the dark wood floorboards creaking under his feet and stopped when he reached threshold of the bathroom.  His mother was screaming “Why did you do this?  Why him?  This is all your fault!”  She cradled Mickey’s shivering body, fell on the floor and rocked her scalded baby in her arms.  Mickey was screaming and crying.  His wrinkled red body was shiny from the water and he had Mr. Bubbles shiny foam bubbles in his hair.  It all happened so fast.  All The Ghost could see was the bright red wrinkled skin on the right side of Mickey’s face and neck.  He looked like a monster from one of the comic books at the corner store.  He’d later learn the monster’s name “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  It scared him.  That wasn’t Mickey?  What was wrong with him?  I was looking for Popeye.  What happened?  Mommy, what did I do?

Mickey never healed completely.  They were able to do a skin graft, but he spent his life feeling self-conscious and fought off stares all through his adolescence.  Eventually he married and had children of his own.  He grew up hating his brother.  Resenting what he had done to him.  He blamed The Ghost for his disfigurement.  So did their mother.  By the time The Ghost encountered Dick, there was no one to listen.  No one to help.  No one who believed him.

It was the beginning of the end and this child was doomed to a life of mistrust and misfortune.

When he told me this story, I knew The Ghost had given me a gift but I could not identify it at the time.  It took some time for me to come to this realization, but I came to understand that the gift he gave me was gratitude.  Because of his story, I was able to truly appreciate my happy childhood.

It was my happy childhood that saved me when The Ghost’s damaged childhood came to visit him in the form of drugs, alcohol and the abuse he inflicted on my body.  There came a time when I could no longer take his blows.  I could no longer let his words penetrate my spirit.  For years I would tell my story saying I had no choice but to leave.  I had no choice because he beat me out of our home.  The truth is, I knew I could not take one more moment in his presence.  The love was gone long before that night.  I don’t know what made me stay.  If I stayed I knew he would kill me and I wasn’t ready to be dead.

So I left with nothing but the clothes on my back – not even shoes on my feet – and the gift he didn’t even know he had given me.

Smokey Whispers

January 17, 2015 — 4 Comments

Smokey Whispers on a star-filled fall night,

reminding me of weekends on the shore and the smell of sun on our skin.

Smokey whispers with the deep red hues of italian wine

(you drank it from the glass and I tasted it on your lips).

Smokey whispers in my ear, as your hands found that spot that you loved to touch

Like the smoke once lifting from your lips, your smokey whispers

are frozen in the stillness of cold dark memories.

Smokey whispers from the past haunt me and sit alongside

the ghosts that came before you.

And now no cigarettes burn but the smoke fills my eyes

and their smoke can’t be washed from my fingertips.

 

accessories

January 17, 2015 — 2 Comments

hot tips led me to make bad investments in futures with italians artists academics and such
a spontaneous splurge with a seersucker suit one rainy summer night in soho bought me a third negroni and had me stripping down to my strapless wacol by midnight and doing the walk of shame past the guy in the hugo boss suit by sunrise

elegantly strewn across a dirty mattress alongside a homeless guy (both having had drunken evenings we were the same) as the sun rose over bleeker street

me in my crooked max&co shades and black h&m dress inside out minus the slim silver anne klein belt which was
accidentally left
behind in the seersucker’s hotel room carelessly tossed across… i should have gone back for the belt.
that belt went with everything

and now it goes with nothing

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written a legitimate blog post here.  Over a year, in fact.  And, it’s been quite a year, indeed.  I survived my fourteenth year of teaching, after a year away and having dipped my feet into the world of art gallery sales, traveled to Costa Rica, drove cross-country on a whim and fulfilled my dream of flying a plane – not just in a plane but actually logging my first legitimate hour of flight towards my pilot’s license.  Those who know me intimately will know that flying is a dream I buried many years ago.  Back to the days of The Ghost I call husband. Long before I knew The Ghost, I read Beryl Markham’s West With The Night and wanted to one day fly a plane.  I was obsessed with Amelia Earhart and the accomplishments she made as an aviator – and having the wanderlust myself, travel was always on my mind.  Taking the yoke and flying myself was something I knew I had to do and always hovered in the back of my mind.  So, one day, while I was living with The Ghost, I drove up to Republic Airport and signed myself up for flight classes, leaving my 50% deposit of $600 for flight school.  I was to start the following weekend, sue to my work schedule.  When I came home, excited to share my news, The Ghost did not share my enthusiasm.  His face turned sour and he said to get my money back because there was no way he would allow it.  For some reason, which I still don’t understand, I listened to him.  We weren’t even married and I listened to him.  I went back the next morning and got my money back, cancelled my classes and drove back to The Ghost.

I was a tender twenty five years of age when I crushed my own dreams of flight.  I can’t really blame The Ghost.  After all, I didn’t put up a fight, I just listened to him.  Perhaps some part of me knew, very deep down, that it wasn’t the right time.  Perhaps I was afraid to fulfill a dream.  Perhaps I wanted someone to tame my wild ambition.  I don’t know what the reasons were at the time, but I complied.  I do remember being very disappointed in myself for listening to him, but if I am completely honest with myself, I must say that I probably did not want to be allowed to fly.  When I finally did leave, a time I’ve written about here), I remember feeling that I was given a second chance at life.  He wanted to kill me that night, that’s the account Aidan relayed to me.  He told me The Ghost had a plan to kill me my tying my feet to cinder blocks and throwing me off our boat.  He wanted me dead.  Dead. He was high enough, and strong enough to do it.   When he was beating me that last night I’d ever see him, with every punch he’d thrown at my head, my face, my stomach, I knew that if I survived that night, my life would finally begin.  That I could live again.

As I’ve accounted here, I was in a fog for a long time after that night.  Not just for a few hours or days, but really for a few years.  It wasn’t until the divorce was final, some four years later that I felt some sense of relief.  Release.  Even then, I felt the eerie sensation that I would always need to look over my shoulder as long as I lived in New York because there was always the chance that he would find me and finish what he started.  Though I forgave him the minute I left the house, I knew I would never sleep a full night peacefully as long as I lived in New York.  And I didn’t.

The Ghost visited me every night as I put my head down on the pillow.  I could see his face next to mine in the bed or feel the curve of his body behind me as I drifted off to sleep.  A sensation which jolted me awake and refused to let me find peace in slumber.  I worked.  Made new friends.  Found moments of  joy with the children I worked with but my heart pounded a few beats too fast when I returned home and had to face the darkness.  Though we were physically parted, The Ghost had entered my mind and taken up residence there.

The divorce was finalized and I set my sights on living in Europe.  I got a teaching job in Italy and moved.  Movers came to my mother’s house and took my things. I got on a plane.  The next chapter was beginning.  I don’t think I ever told anyone this, but even after I got to Italy, I would look out the window of my apartment, onto the streets of the small town outside of Milan, on the tram, bus, or at the street markets expecting to see The Ghost.  He couldn’t make his way up to Putnam County, New York and I expected to see him on the streets of Opera, in the Commune di Milano?  Completely irrational, but totally true.  No, it didn’t take too long for to feel safe again, but because I could not change my name back to my maiden name before leaving the country (it would have complicated my paperwork upon entry to Italy), I kept The Ghost’s name.  It became a part of me.  It’s how I was known professionally, and by kids.  Upon leaving him, I recreated a new identity around this name, shedding any old identity and leaving it far behind in the damp, small town where I left him on Long Island.  Like a butterfly I spread my wings and became a re-entered the world.  Beautiful and alive.

I found love in Italy and for a short time, The Ghost was out of my mind.  He hovered close, but for the most part I was able to enjoy a new romance that was pure, and good and wonderful.  With Andrea, I learned what kindness and gentleness from a man could be like.  He was humble and vulnerable in ways The Ghost never knew.  He struggled with sharing that which ultimately ended our union.  After that, I knew his role in my life was to teach me men can be good and kind and that I could be loved.

Through the years, and moves, and jobs and lovers,  I have reinvented myself.  I’ve only recently come to realize that through my reinventions I have been searching for my most authentic true self.  I have been on a journey to discover my purpose in this world.  Why have I been though what  I have, why I lived where I have, why the people who have left marks on my heart and furthered me along my path have come, gone or stayed.

I’ve come to realize, that flying a plane became the ultimate metaphor for taking control of my life.  When I grabbed the yoke this summer, I took back my life.

So, The Ghost I call Husband gave me my name.  I have been through so many changes that my name is now very much mine and has a completely new meaning to me.  It defines me, tells about where I’ve been and now truly is my identity more than ever.  And here I write, inventing Maria McCabe.