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Bear with me.

 

It’s a long journey around so many messy things and I lack the stamina to run it in one tidy breath.

 

Opening your eyes to the realization that somehow you must lift your burdened self out of bed so the show can go on. Peeling potatoes and stirring gravy so your children won’t think of this as the year they lost a Grandpa and Christmas Day. Stoically wading through a sea of memories that now contain a foreign element of hurt, so others can remember him the way you do. Battling tears and the desert that has become your mouth in order to send him off with the dignity he very much deserves.

 

Worrying someone will bring him up and then hurting when they don’t, planning only outfits with pockets to hold your twists of unscheduled Kleenex. Finding a way to preserve voicemails you’re so thankful you never deleted, fighting the guilt that you have saved the last ten, subconsciously aware you would come to rely on them one day soon. Holding on to the last time you saw him healthy and ruthlessly reliving the last horrible day that he wasn’t.

 

I used to think death was this obscure thing—a convoluted end that was hard to understand—marred by emotion and murky in its meaning. I was so wrong. Death is concise. It’s clear. It’s forever. And it’s final.

 

So I fumble for a bright side.

 

Hazy always ends in a positive spin. And although I’m desperate not to let her down, I’m having a really hard time grasping a silver lining through all of these ominous clouds.

 

I wish you heartache such as this in your life. Because despite the crumbling cliff it leaves you dangling from, it’s a true blessing to have loved someone this way.

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What was once decent in life, can, like magic, become disproportionate in death.

 

Our memories switch off the ability to recall missteps, unpleasantries and altercations. It takes those things by the neck and drags them deep into the folds of our conscience, tucking them in for a Snow White sleep.

 

The brain, nature, survival, whatever we choose to call it, takes over, and we remember solely the good—the kind words said, the times they made us smile, their soars and their successes.

 

But for the majority of breaths—theirs and ours—we brush our teeth, drive to work, eat our dinner and wash the dishes. One day comes after the other and we forge on, comfortable in the knowledge that we simply like, and contently love.

 

It’s that very love that protects us. It shields. It transforms what’s now gone into only what we need to remain—good deeds, helping hands and a softness of spirit.

 

And this is understandable. After all, less is more. We tend to scrape away disagreeable to accommodate the palatable on our plates.

 

But this wasn’t my Papa’s way. In life, as in death, he had no tolerance for waste.

 

That’s why he only made room for extraordinary his whole life long.

In loving memory of John Martin Murphy Sep 6 1927 - Dec 24  2014

In loving memory of John Martin Murphy
Sep 6 1927 – Dec 24
2014

 

 

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I try to eat. I really do. But the numbers keep jumbling around in my tummy—making their way up my throat and filling my mouth, leaving no room for food. I can barely stomach the math test I’m about to endure, never mind the syrupy oatmeal my mom has been simmering on the stove top for the last half hour.

 

The sweet smell is what woke me. A deep inhale, one eye open, then the other. What normally would have made me snuggle deeper into the mattress and relish what a lucky kid I was instead made my stomach twist and turn on this particular morning.

 

I’d stayed up most of the night meaning to study, the flashlight casting a warm glow beneath the covers, right down to my toes. Though it had shed enough light over the pages of my textbook, concentrating had been impossible. The equations consumed me. Each symbol became a joint and each line, a top or bottom jaw. They’d snapped at me amongst the shadows and the sharp edges of their difficulty had left imprints upon the worried creases in my mind.

 

“Breakfast!” My mother had cheerily called, oblivious to my grief.

 

Sitting now at the table, trying to not look as miserable as I am, I toy with a small spoonful of thick oats.

 

“Cream’s on the table,” my mother sing-songs. “You might want to thin it out.”

 

Her head is buried in the fridge, pen poised over a notepad as she makes a grocery list for her morning shop, but I can tell she’s picking up on something. She’s slowly raising her head and sniffing the air, honing in on my turmoil as only a mother can do.

 

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Grandpa mutters as he shuffles into the kitchen. He’s dressed for his walk in running shoes and track pants, but his sweatshirt is crumpled in his hands in a ball of frustration.

 

“What’s up, Gramps?” I ask, quite frankly happy for the distraction as my mother’s head ducks back into the fridge.

 

“The Goddamn string,” he snarls. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” He holds up the long cord that has come away from inside the seam of his hood. It dangles freely, no longer attached to his sweatshirt in any way.

 

My mother, clearly wanting to avoid any Grampa drama, turns her back and hums a loud, happy tune and as she opens and closes cupboard drawers, scribbling away.

 

“Let me see it,” I offer, holding out my hand.

 

He shoves the soft, grey material at me and sits down in a pout.

 

“You stay and eat your fruit,” I tell him. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

 

When I return, he’s concentrating on his getting flimsy pieces of mandarin and slippery chunks of pear from his bowl into his mouth without letting them slip off the fork.

 

“Good as new!” I announce, knowing this will make his day.

 

“How did you do this?” He asks, astonished. “I tried for so long…it seemed impossible.”

 

I take the large safety pin out of my pocket and show him how I’d pierced the string with it and fed it through the long tunnel of fabric, grabbing the pin and pulling it, and the string, further down the line as more fabric bunched up around it and until it popped out at the other end.

 

My Grandfather’s eyes widened as my mother’s rolled behind him.

 

“Amazing, just amazing.” But his pleasure is somewhat short-lived as his brain kicks into gear.

 

“What’s to stop this from happening again? I don’t want to have to do this every time I go for a walk.” His brow furrows as he brings his palms up to his face.

 

“You won’t have to, Grampa. Look.” I tie a small knot into each side of the drawstring, just at the base of the opening into the hood. “See? It’s not going anywhere now!”

 

“You’re a genius, my darling! A true genius!” The last part is muffled as he pulls the hoodie over his head, excited to be able to tug it tight.

 

I finally begin to smile as I watch my Grandfather head off to meet his pals at the park.

 

And why wouldn’t I? Geniuses after all, do not fail math tests.

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I dreamt all three of my children before they were born.

 

Now don’t click that little x. I am the most skeptical, non-hocus-pocus person you’ll ever meet. Promise. It comes standard with my RBF. (That was for a special friend, but I figure you may as well enjoy a laugh at my expense too.)

 

So, sanity aside, I did dream up all three of my kids before I ever met them. At three different stages of pregnancy, I had three different dreams about three different babies, at three different ages. My oldest was a newborn in my dream, my middle, three months and my daughter was just shy of a year.

 

Of course I dream all the time, but these dreams were different. They were tangible. In them, I could see, hear and taste as if awake. I could feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck as the downy silk of their cheeks brushed mine, I understood their dispositions and knew who I’d be meeting when the day finally came.

 

I would wake changed from when I’d gone to sleep. I’d come to know the tots forming in my belly. I’d been privy to what my future held. I’d been blessed with an extra day of their lives.

 

I can tell you there were no surprises. My first came early, slipping into our world as quietly as any living, breathing thing could. Our second, on his due date, with a head full of ebony hair and enough breath in his lungs to make up for his brother. The third, our daughter, swooped in on a magic carpet large enough to carry her and her big personality.

 

And I’d met them all before.

 

I am reminded of this because I was given another gift last night. Again, an extra day. Needless to say (I really hope it’s needless to say) I am not pregnant, but I had one of these dreams. Different, tangible, unmistakable.

 

Ava was about three years old. Her hair was cut into the short bob she used to wear and she wore a baseball cap. I could only see the back of her. Her squidgy little feet were covered in sand and she was struggling to get across a rocky patch. I asked her if she wanted me to pick her up and she said; “Could you, mumma,” in that tiny little voice she used to have.

Ava in her "Ash" cap

Ava in her “Ash” cap

 

My heart skipped and as I scooped her up, she melted in just like she was a part of me. It was one of those good holds. My arms wrapped under her teeny tushe and air could not have come between us.

 

“You’re the best mumma. I love you so much.” She whispered. And with the bubbles on her lips popping in my ear and the warmth of her comforting breaths, I felt the hair, once again, stand on the back of my neck.

 

I used to chalk my unique imaginings up to the whacky hormones of pregnancy, but after last night I know, dreams are just wishes your heart makes.

 

 

 

 

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A solution for nothing and not a thing to be solved, death loses him.

From the top of the hill, the tall fawn grass waves in the wind like the fringes we used to cut into the bottoms of our brown-bag puppets. We’d slice deep into the paper openings, my sister and I, making long hula skirts for the girls and stunted choppy shorts for the boys. Our stage, a bent up box, fashioned a Broadway buzz we’d only ever heard of, with its wide-open flaps draped in red.

The audience, made of the few neighborhood kids we’d manage to rope in, would wait while we tried desperately to remember our lines. More often than not, we’d end up filling the theatre that was our backyard with unplanned garbles and hysterical giggles ⎯both theirs and ours.

I look down at him now, from my perch on the hill, and although his feet are firmly set in the dark tousled dirt, he doesn’t know where he stands. He can’t fix this, so his hands are lost at his sides, compulsively ducking in and out of his trouser pockets. Weight shifts from one side to the other, but stays with him. Unable to shake it, he glances uphill, towards me.

We’d fought this morning⎯today of all days. Awakened from my fitful sleep by haunting catheter fuck-ups, I was tired and beyond sensible words, dreaming of broken needle tips, embedded and unreachable beneath her veiny skin. I’d envisioned the consequential surgeries and probable infections they would cause and the nightmare had stirred my sleepy heart, sending it stampeding through my ribs.

My eyes raced to find his for comfort, but as soon as he’d seen my sweat-glazed face shrouded in twisted sheets, impatience had crossed his own.

“You don’t have to worry about this anymore, Syd,” he’d said. “No more long days or late nights. We should move past it. We can move on.”

I’d looked away, sobbing. Crying until my softened soul frosted into a hard shell, like melted chocolate over ice cream.

“We?” We can move on?”

“Syd, I…”

We can’t do anything, Mark. Including care for my sister. That was me, not we.”

“That’s not fair, Sydney. I was here.”

“Yeah, here. Not there.”

I’d wanted to run. Put a literal distance between us, but I couldn’t. The day had different plans.

He became unrecognizable through my tear-clouded gaze and I’d dug my heels deep into the mattress, pushing against the headboard as tight as I could.

He’d sighed.

I’d buried myself in the useless warmth of the duvet, hoping he’d slide under and hold me, but when I heard the shower running, I’d dragged myself out to face the black buttoned blouse and matching skirt that darkened my closet door.

The stalky grass tickles my legs and I lift my bare feet up in the air. My toenails, normally primped and polished, are chipped and ragged⎯the skin on my shins, dry and scaly and suddenly, I can’t remember the last time I’d had more than a sip of water to wash down a Valium. My mouth is as dry as the Sahara.

“Do they make me look fat?” Stacey had joked as she slipped them over her long, twiggy fingers. I’d spent hours picking them out. Trying on pair after pair, imagining how they’d feel if my fingers were half the width. Finding a pair slim enough had been a challenging task and I’d taken great care so as not to stretch the fine black leather. But when she’d pulled them over her own hands, they’d fit, quite compassionately, like a glove.

“Well, they’re beautiful, but so are your hands.” I’d said. “I don’t think you have anything to cover up.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Stacey had balked. “I could be a hand double for Skeletor.”

As dramatic as she was, she’d earned it.

And, it was the truth.

I hold my hands up to the sun and study the opaque bones nestled inside the tangerine translucence of my own plump flesh⎯like Stacey’s hands are a part of mine. I slide back into my shoes, slap my sister’s well-worn gloves across my palm and for the first time in months, I’m light as I walk down the hillside.

After all, death is a solution for nothing and not a thing to be solved.

I can move on.

hands holding the sun at dawn

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When my daughter was four, I made her a promise. She was distraught over her dad leaving for a business trip and I told her she could sleep with me anytime he was away.

From. Then. On.

And. She. Did.

She has slept beside me, over the past nine and half years many, many times. More times than I can count. She kicks, punches, head butts and talks. She grinds her teeth reminding me the stresses she’s under and in short, freaks me right out.

But I’m sure you know what I’m going to say. I love having her with me. I love her with ever fiber of my being and I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

Because one day, she won’t be beside me.

Before I know it, my girl, the last baby of my brood will be off and out on her own, learning, living and leaving. Breaking free from the nest I have so carefully constructed around her.

I’ve been trying to write this post for a week now but it’s been difficult. Sure, I’ve been busy. In fact, I’ve barely had a moment’s peace. It’s been one job after another⎯never short of something to keep me busy. Which is weird, because I’m down one kid. You’d think I’d have at least a third more time.

Clearly, that’s not how it works.

My boy sailed off to University last week, and I don’t know how to feel. I know what I’m supposed to feel, but how do I really feel? Sad? Forlorn? Deserted? Happy? Proud? Excited? Broke.

Please note⎯that last one isn’t a question.

Truth be told, any mere mortal who reaches this stage in life will undoubtedly feel a cocktail of these emotions but hopefully, will be graced with one overwhelming standout⎯elation. We did it! We raised a child that not only meets the requirements of an excellent school, but one that also wants to go.

Rah, rah us!

Yes, it’s inevitable. Our kids will leave us. They may be eighteen. They may be older. They may be younger. Or heaven forbid, we might have to throw them out by the collar, but eventually they will leave.

In the meantime, I wonder if Ava and I can squeeze into that twin extra long…

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Unearthly quiet fills creeks and crevices. Swings sway loosely in the intermittent wind, their rusty chains straining against the tongue-tied backdrop. They make their way through littered streets, Luna’s fingers loosely curved around Elian’s palm like the branches of a wallowing willow.

 

“My feet are so sore,” she says sadly, stooping to poke a finger down the back of her slack boot.

 

He knows they’re too big, but a good score nonetheless. There they’d been, waiting for him it seemed, on the red and gold foyer rug. He’d swung open the heavy double doors and their soft leather had slouched, making them look half as tall, their laces still strong and intact.

 

He’d found them in a house, clearly once cozy and comforting, now forlorn and deserted. Unable to face a childless life, many had fled the outbreak thrust upon them, running in search of a life restored. Luna had long been wearing sandals that barely clung to her feet and with winter approaching, he’d known that despite the size difference they were meant for her.

 

Anything left behind is fair game as far as he is concerned.

 

They come upon the market with its soaped out windows now caked in dirt. A yellowed newspaper lounges on the cement, lazily waving in the breeze.

 

“Won’t be much in there,” she smiles a little. Her hair, lit by the cold sun, looks like the soft caramel he used to eat.

 

Panic had ensued as missing person reports increased by the day. Hours had dissolved into a myriad of search and rescues, candlelight vigils, prayers and séances. Confusion and chaos became a way to survive and finally, angst and torment, depression and mourning, a way of life.

 

“It’s boarded for a reason.”

 

Elian has always been wise but has had to hone his wits since this all began. He is responsible for Luna and will protect her with his life. However, he needs to ensure it doesn’t come to that. He must remain with her and avoid any risk that might separate them.

 

He walks Luna over to a dormant vending machine and has her lean against it while he checks the perimeter of the market. Once he decides it’s safe, he returns and begins prying off the boards that have been haphazardly slapped over the entryway. They come off easily enough but he feels Luna watching him intently and is again reminded why he needs to maintain his strength.

 

As he wrenches the last board, she is at his side, wiping imaginary sweat from his brow, anything to stop the useless feeling that often overcomes her.

 

She coughs as a billow of grime hits them in the face.

 

On the second day of what they now call The Salvage, Luna’s younger brother and sister had disappeared. Like so many others, gone without a trace. After months of searching and hoping her parents had decided to journey on in pursuit of peace, maybe to the next town, perhaps across the ocean, they didn’t know, but Luna would not go with them.

 

She and Elian had taken over the family home, but were forced to leave when it became overrun with drug-toting squatters. Again, Elian had been wise in realizing it wasn’t worth the fight. He’d had to pull Luna by the arm for miles while she sobbed, devastated her siblings might return to the nightmare she’d left behind.

 

“Normally, I’d say after you, but in this case…” Elian steps inside and bats away the cobwebs that immediately engulf his face.

 

There had been many town meetings in which ideas were thrown about. Terrified mothers worried there’d been a mass killing and the bodies just hadn’t been found. Fathers held their shotguns at the ready, waiting for whoever had taken what wasn’t theirs, to return.

 

It was a long time before sense was made, but bit-by-bit, the town’s people had little choice than to admit the children now gone were conceived without love. They were the ones that had grown from desperation or greed – a marriage that needed repairing or a hole that had to be filled. At times, money had been the motivator or sadly, some were born an appointed whipping post.

 

The women, eager to replace what had been lost, tried to conceive through despair but their loveless attempts were no longer fruitful.

 

Luna follows behind Elian as he clears a path. Once inside, they stop in awe. Canned goods and jars of jellies practically glow on the shelves.

 

Elian opens a package and spreads a thin plastic tablecloth over the dirty floor.

 

“You’re my everything, Luna.” He says watching his wife stroke her pregnant belly.

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