Eric

The sun streams through the window, and I stir from a dark, dreamless sleep. I feel the warmth of my dogs by my side, hear the low whistle of the distant train. For a small moment, the day feels normal; a warm summer morning.

Then I remember and my heart shatters anew.

I lost my brother Eric Sunday morning. My life will never be the same. He’s always been in my life. He was there, singing funny songs on my voicemail, being the generous uncle to my daughters, scratching a dog behind the ears, playing his classic rock way too loud. And now he is gone.

I won’t be able to call him when I’m in need; when he was always there for me to fix a broken house, a broken promise, a broken heart. “Do you need me to come out there, Katie?” he would ask.

My brother was a true character. He bartended at the Green Parrot, a favorite local’s bar in Key West. His dog ran for mayor of Key West one year, and he had t-shirts made up: Jeremiah – Integrity. He fired a starter’s cannon off the balcony of his house during an annual festival, and they came and arrested him. The next year he was officially invited to start the festival by firing that same cannon. He was that kind of guy. He could piss you off and then disarm you. Even when he was exasperating, people loved him.

He was the first person I smoked pot with. I had crushes on all his friends in high school. (I later married – and divorced- one of Eric’s friends.) He was my cool big brother who played trombone, was on the wrestling team, and drove the red Roadrunner with the horn that said “Beep! Beep!” in the cartoon voice. He let me drive it once and showed me how to accelerate around a corner. I almost put us in the ditch.

He took in my troubled 17 year old daughter, who had experienced trauma and needed to complete high school in a different town. Who does that? Only a brother.

He loved his family. He loved his wife, who he would playfully summon from across the room by calling out: “Wench!” He opened up a general store in his community so that people had a place to get the things they needed without driving into town, half an hour away, although he barely made a living wage at it. He had the biggest heart on the planet. He would do anything for those he loved. He wanted to take care of everyone in need, all the time.

But he didn’t take enough care of himself.

He had been addicted to alcohol for a long time. His physical health was deteriorating; in his youth he was strong, fearless, and unstoppable. These days, walking around saying “My head hurts”, a result of his upper spine injury combined with years of rough living. He was suffering. He needed help. Doctors hadn’t found a way to do it yet. Our family was helping him get settled here close to us so we could all work on healing him together; finding better resources and medical care here.

We never got that chance.

The day he died I was at a yoga event, and we were chanting. We recited in Sanskrit: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu – may all beings be happy and free from suffering. We chanted the words from a song by Trevor Hall:

You can’t rush your healing

Darkness has its teachings

Love is never leaving

You can’t rush your healing

I had never heard it before; I felt moved but not touched by it. After all, everything in my life was fine. I was practicing with my most treasured teacher, and the next day I was leaving for another yoga event to start a ten-day vacation. Everything in my life was grooving along.

But then I got the phone call. And my world forever changed.

I miss you, my brother. I am besieged with regrets; could I have done more, done it sooner? Might I have stepped in and saved your precious beautiful life, cut too short at the age of 54? I can’t believe I will never hear your crazy messages on my voice mail again. I’ll never feel your bear hugs. I’ll never go to your house and find you watching “Second Hand Lions” or “The Kid” for the 100th time. You were going to teach me to make pizza. You were going to help me refinish my wood floors. I was going to finally talk you into doing some yoga with me. How can all that be gone?

I don’t know how to walk through this world that Eric is not a part of. How does someone live without a big brother?  The task is insurmountable. How do people move on in life after a loss like this? Yet I know that they do, every day. I am not alone in this process. It’s a universal pain; we all must learn to deal with death and grief and pain. My brother isn’t suffering any more. He will get to throw a Frisbee for Jeremiah, the almost-mayor dog, at long last. My brother Eric is gone and the rest of us must keep going, although the world will never be the same without him.  My grief will remain within me forever; a raw testament to how much we loved each other. Like an oyster forming a pearl around the irritation of loss, I will create a pearl inside my heat, a shining memory of one I loved so much and lost too soon.

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Goodnight My Sweet Prince

Goodnight my Sweet Prince

I heard the news that Prince died today. Both of my daughters texted me. I was at work, teaching 4 year olds how to write in their journals. I wanted to break down and cry, but I couldn’t. Not then.

I saw my parents. I expressed my deep sadness. My dad (82) asked, “Did you know him?”

No. But yes. I knew that in my youth, with my tenuous sexuality and shaky self-confidence, “Dirty Mind” made me feel playful and kinky and happy. I know that the day “Purple Rain” came out, I skipped work to watch the VHS I had reserved in advance. I loved “1999”, and the song “International Lover” became my secret song, listening to Prince telling how he can please his passenger:

“Good evening, this is your pilot Prince speaking. You are flying aboard the Seduction 747. And this plane is fully equipped with anything your body desires…” cue moans and groans.

I believed it. In a world where I had nothing but seedy New York bars and smoky trysts in dark corners, then a long sleepy subway ride home, I still had Prince to tell me things could be exactly as I desired. For a while, a poster of him adorned my ceiling. This was the 80’s. I only saw him in concert once.

How could I explain to my dad what the passing of this great, talented artist meant to me? Even my dad knew something about a girl Prince had met in a hotel lobby, masturbating with a magazine. He turned his mouth up in a scowl, but I could not help myself. I began to sing “Darling Nikki” – eliminating that lyric, of course.

How can I say it? Prince’s music defined a part of my life. And although I have grown up, moved on, and not kept up with everything he did, I believe that his music shaped my life. So, no, I didn’t really know him. But somehow when you love someone, just knowing they are out there in the world helps the world maintain its balance. When you lose them – when the world loses them – it throws off your equilibrium.

So R.I.P. my beautiful Prince. I loved you, and will continue to love you. You left us a legacy, and I am forever grateful. Thank you for all you contributed to our lives.

 

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First Day in Barbados

I find myself in Barbados this year for spring break. After getting amazingly lost looking for the guesthouse – Our Lady of Perpetual Lostness strikes again! – I am settled in.

It’s as if my senses had retired and now are woken up, starving for input. My hostess, dressed like a glamorous dove for a funeral she was attending, all white ruffles with black edging and absolutely gorgeous, serves up some pumpkin fritters before she leaves. I am entranced by the smell of them as I break open an orange fragrant sample, savoring cinnamon and raisins when I take the first delicious bite.

I slip on a bathing suit, usually a dreaded feeling. But today I feel beautiful, full breasts spilling out of a string top, firm bubble butt covered by semi-modest black boy shorts. I top it off with the tie-die tshirt dress I bought just for this occasion and admire my shape in the mirror.

It’s windy as I walk down the lane. I smile and say “good morning” to the neighbors, and they return the smile. “You goin’ to take a sea bath?” one man asks in a lilting Caribbean sing-song.  Indeed I am! I turn the corner, and my eyes light up. The surf shop, “De Action” is resplendent with bright colors and painted signs that proclaim the beach philosophy statements, the laid-back vibe washes over me like the jade waves that caress the sand twenty yards away. I chat with the proprietor, who sits on the steps caressing a big black Labrador. The man’s deeply tanned skin and blond locks set off eyes that echo the color of the sea. We talk about surfing. He tells me it’s easy as he hauls out some boards for the group lesson later. “Tomorrow, maybe,” I tell him.

I find a place to lie in the sun and check the time. It won’t do to get burnt on my first day. I’m slightly tan now, for me, but pale in comparison to everyone here. The sun is strong and the wind deceives as it takes my mind off of the heat.  A dozen kite-surfers bob in the waves, their kites arching above them like daytime fireworks in bright neon colors. I flip at half-time, like turning an egg easy over. On my belly, legs spread, I am suddenly goosed as the sea creeps up and pushes a tangle of seaweed against my thighs. It feels absurdly sexual and playful, and I want to turn and scold this invisible lover who is teasing me so.

As I relinquish my place in the sand a friendly local lady squawks at me like a seagull and gives me the thumbs up.

Later I will take a van to Bridgetown. I’m learning my way around. Solo travel can be liberating, but one must be persistent to get the most of it. A few men have already offered to “show me the island”, but I can’t be certain that’s all they want to show me. Instead, one of the women staying here has agreed to chauffeur if I rent a car this week.

The week will go by quickly, I know. I hope to soak up everything my senses can handle. Maybe even learn to surf! (And PS I got sun burned anyway!)

 

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PIECING TOGETHER MY SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

I am blessed to have a week and a half in India, a place brimming with sacred energy and the roots of the spiritual practices about which I am learning. Piecing together your own spiritual practice is a bit like a buffet lunch.

I have had many buffets this last week. In fact I shall be very happy not to see one for a while! The choices are many: different types of bread, fruit, juices, Indian food, veggie, non-veggie, and of course dessert. These are the offerings; it is all there and it is up to the customer to decide what to choose. My favorite strategy is to cruise the entire thing, looking over my choices before I pick what I want. I want to avoid stuffing myself merely because it is all there.

When I look at spirituality this way, I can also avoid stuffing just because it is there. The practices we are learning about include a daily ritual, or Pooja, aryuvedic morning routines, meditation and chanting in Sanskrit, Hindu deities and their stories and various powers. It’s a large buffet! And studying it in its entirety can be overwhelming.

But I can listen to my teachers and benefit from their expertise. I can take up the parts of the practice that call to me and leave the rest behind. Are ancient Sanskrit mantras, joyfully sung in repetition, actually powerful? Who knows. But if they speak to my heart, what harm is done in taking up this beautiful practice?

And in our culture, where achieving is everything, and whoever dies with the most toys wins, it is beneficial to find a place of calm between the moments of chaos. And why is this important, in the grand scheme of things? Is my personal peace serving others, or is it just hippy-dippy naval gazing?

There have been studies that show levels of violence recede when people meditate. Not just for those people, but for their entire community. Hey, peace rubs off! Who’d have thunk it? I look at it this way: the world can be seen as a giant jigsaw puzzle, where each of us is a single piece. No matter what some people pretend, they are only a solitary piece of the whole puzzle. (Hate to break it to you, reality show celebrities.) It’s a beautiful picture, but if a single piece is marred, or missing, the whole thing is thrown off. Have you ever done a one thousand piece puzzle only to fall short when you are missing one last piece? That’s what I imagine our world is like. At the moment, whole sections of the picture are marred or absent. When one person gets their spiritual shit together, their individual piece is polished and ready. We fit.

So my delving into these practices causes a ripple effect. First my close relationships are more harmonious. Then it affects the people I work with; all my little clients are recipients of a more pleasant vibration as my inner peace radiates. Maybe I can spread the feeling to my neighborhood, Historic East Side, yo! So when I sit and meditate or chant, by myself or with others, my consciousness raises and others are touched as a consequence.

I’m not saying I won’t mutter, “where is your turn signal, asshole?” while I’m driving to work. But maybe I’ll do it less often. I’ll still yell at my dog when he gets into the garbage. My neighbor’s obsession with street parking will annoy me. And my mother, well, you know! But I will have a place inside myself to go when I get off-balance. I can touch it and remember. Maybe Ganesha and Lakshmi will be helpful in my life, and maybe they won’t. If I finally memorize that darn sun chant to perfection, I won’t get any points or gold stars.

But maybe, just maybe, if I clean the dust off my puzzle piece, I can make the whole puzzle more beautiful. Here’s hoping!

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We Need to Talk – About Gun Control

In the wake of the shooting in Roseburg Oregon, the panic set in again. It’s a real feeling for me, not paranoia. I work in a school. Sure, I could be shot by one of these random gunmen in a prayer group or perhaps even a yoga class, a restaurant, or a theatre. They seem to pick eclectic locations, to prey on whoever is there. It could be me. It could be you. It could be my kid.

But schools, for whatever reason, are often the setting. It’s a place we’ve all been. And I am there every day. I teach preschool.

This week we have a lockdown drill. We’ve had them before. It’s important to stay calm, to stay quiet, and to keep the kids still. But in my heart there is terror. The drill we had after Sandy Hook was especially hard. It could be real.  I sat in the corner with the class of fifteen three and four-year-olds. It was dark and quiet. One girl started crying. I wanted to cry too, but instead I tried my best to reassure her. I cried later. It’s too real.

Last night I hesitantly picked up a book: “We Need to Talk about Kevin”. I have read it before. It is heart-wrenching. I picked it up again as a response to my friend’s question, “I wonder what the parents of these kids go through?” The book is a fictionalized account of the parent of a kid who does a school shooting (not giving anything away; the reader knows this from the beginning.) It touches on the pathology of the shooter.

And this is what we are trying to understand. It’s what the gun enthusiasts hope we go to first. A friend posted on Facebook, “Cain killed Able with a rock. It’s not a gun problem; it’s a heart problem.”

But isn’t it both?

How many kids could the Sandy Hook murderer have killed if he had a rock, or, hell, give him a whole bag of rocks? Could he have killed twenty, most of them six-year olds?  The Aurora theatre shooter might have killed a few, instead of 12. The availability of guns is what makes these shootings possible.

NRA dudes, I don’t want to take your guns away. I just want it to be reasonable! Do you need a rifle to kill (innocent) deer and elk? OK! Do you need a gun by your bedside, loaded, to kill possible intruders? Fine. Do you need an uzi, a machine gun, a semi-automatic, or whatever other gun shoots 100 rounds? NO. NO ONE NEEDS THAT GUN.

So, yes we do need to talk. About Kevin, about Sandy Hook, Aurora, Roseburg. President Obama said we are growing numb to this problem.  We can’t let that happen. We should be outraged. We need to talk about gun control versus 2nd amendment gun rights. About mental health. About peace and safety and helping each other. We need to talk, and we need to listen.

And then we need to do something. Before more innocent lives are lost.

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On Love (or Happy New Year – in August!)

Note: while editing my memoir – or avoiding it – I was scrolling through blogs I’d written.  I wrote this one on New Years and somehow neglected to post it.  Better late than never, right!  Happy New Year, friends!

Love, sweet love.  the pursuit of which is a driving force.  Is it merely cultural?  A combination of Disney and Hollywood that leaves us, facing reality and hopelessly fucked?

In my half-century I’ve had many lovers:  a famous punk rock singer and a married writer in my New York days, as well as many random post-clubbing bonks (“What was your name again?  Don’t bother calling a cab, I’ll take the subway.”) What can I say, it was the 80’s.

I had a 15 year marriage.  After that a five year torrid sex-fueled romance.

But I can only conclude that:

A – No one has ever really loved me.

Or

B – They have, but love – contrary to the typical Hollywood story – does not last.

I wish for the days of naïve youth, where compatibility means you hang out with the same crowd and can quote the same TV shows.  But then again, in youth one still needs to get the education and career going, buy a house, make some babies….

Check, check, and check.

Now I want more than that.  These days I can pluck lovers like fruit from the trees.  (It’s that easy for girls)  And sometimes, I admit, I do.  But I still want more.

I want a true connection with an age-appropriate human being.  I want to cook up a Thai curry together naked in the kitchen, sipping wine and talking about God.  I want to make travel plans with someone instead of always alone.  I want to walk my dog with his dog, holding hands.  I even want to argue and fight and get so mad because he ALWAYS does that thing that I HATE.

And in the midst of hair ripping angsty thoughts of – maybe I’ll never meet my soulmate –

The obvious answer is – So What?

I have a good life.  My family is around me and my kids still talk to me.  I love my job, my house, my dog. I’m not stagnant.  I have travelled to 5 continents, many islands, and still have many destinations on my go-to list.  I do what I want, when I want to.

But I do miss being in love.  Perhaps it’s not a realistic goal at my age.

The last time I was in love, I knew from the beginning it wouldn’t last.  I glued it together with hot sticky sex, sometimes 3 or 4 times a day, knowing that was all that was making him stay.  Eventually, when I asked for more than that, it all fell apart, as I had always known it would.  He’s married now, to a lady who looks like a nice gal, a once-a-week gal, a blow-job-on-your-birthday type.  I might just be the scar on his psychic body, the kind you get if you fall against a hot grill –  ouch!- then recover yourself.

I’m in the Bahamas for the New Year.  How cool is that?  Junkanoo tonight!  I have a lover for the week, a personal driver you might say.  He takes me where I want to go.  A very sweet guy.  Last night we drank champagne and watched the fireworks over the harbor.

Life marches on.

Maybe the folks at Disney will never cast me as a princess in an animated feature.  And maybe I have somehow missed my chance at love, the romantic kind, anyway.  Aside from that, my life is filled with love, overflowing with wonderful friends, family, and animals.  And the occasional chance encounter with someone special, if only for a week.

Order another Bahama Mama for me, will you?  Maybe I’m doing okay.

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Up, Up and Away

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To tell the truth, I was somewhat nervous. Okay, fine, I was terrified. I was about to go 600 meters  up in the sky in a wicker basket held up by a giant balloon that was in dangerous proximity to a shooting tower of flame. What could possibly be scary about that?

As I paced among a crowd of total strangers, trying to drink piping hot instant coffee, my hands trembled. It was dark, not yet 5 AM. We wore our group numbers around our necks like cattle at an auction. Hissing sounds echoed as dozens of balloons were slowly inflated with bursts from the propane flame burners. The globes were enormous, sleeping dinosaurs slowly coming to life as they lolled on the ground, stretching and filling, then miraculously righting themselves and rising up.

I was not cold, but I found myself shivering. I’m a little afraid of heights. I cannot stand on a balcony more than two stories up without butterflies in my stomach. I think the feeling is called vertigo; am I scared to fall, or is it that I am possessed with an overwhelming desire to see what would happen if I jumped?

Should I chicken out? It’s not too late…

Suddenly through the darkness a ghostly shape drifts toward me. A dog – big, white and furry, comes directly to me and thrusts his giant head into my hand. I relax a little. I scratch him behind his ears and run my hands through his warm fur. Is he hungry? I walk the few steps back to the coffee cart to get him a bread roll, and when I turn back, he is gone. I ask someone, “Did you see where the dog went?” As quickly as he had come he disappeared.

Maybe he wasn’t a dog after all, but an angel sent to reassure me.

Our group number was called and suddenly I was being led to a grey and red balloon, and I climbed into the basket along with nineteen others. Our balloon driver gave us instructions; most importantly he showed us the landing position, crouched down holding straps inside the basket.

And slowly, gradually, the balloon lifted us into the sky. I felt the basket leave solid ground. All around us, other balloons were also slowly lifting off. (I calculated later that there were at least 50 balloons in the sky. It was otherworldly.)

From the sky we could see the pointed rock formations that make up the fairy land of Cappadocia. We floated through the air over Red Valley. The volcanic rock formations rose up like pink fingers stretching toward us. The sun rose through a navy sky, a glowing pink neon orb. Its fiery glow was punctuated with the burst of flame that our captain sent periodically into the belly of the balloon. I rested against the interior wall of the basket, which is portioned into four pockets with the captain and his fiery mechanism in the middle; it is like a big cutlery holder for a picnic.

And what a picnic! I feasted my eyes on the vista that stretched out beneath us: hills and valleys of pink and tan, dark green trees and bushes, and a slowly lightening sky peppered with colorful dots of balloons. Bit by bit I grew brave enough to peer over the edge of the basket, gripping the support pole with both hands. The view took my breath away.

When we landed about forty-five minutes later, the balloon began a slow descent. A large brown jackrabbit scampered out of our way. We drifted just inches away from spiky bushes and our captain yelled “Landing position, please!” We all crouched down and the basket touched the earth with a jolt.

I climbed out with shaky legs and soon received my sparkling cider and my certificate. I made it!

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