Tag Archives | memories

Fade to Black

In the process of packing up the house in anticipation of our move, I’ve unearthed boxes that have been stowed in the

July 1, 1999 blurb in the local paper

July 1, 1999 blurb in the local paper

farthest, darkest corners of the garage.  Boxes that haven’t been opened in more than 17 years.  The boxes contained things that belonged to my first husband – who, as I’ve written before, died of a drug overdose in a stranger’s front yard in June, 1999.  A lot of photos, including his old school photos dating back to early grade school.  Collector coins his dad foisted on him every year for Christmas.  A video tape of his first (and only) skydive.  An old blanket.  Old cards.  Books from his childhood.  Old schoolwork.  His wallet, which was on his person when he died.  Belongings found in his truck after his death.  Our wedding rings.

I boxed this stuff up after he died, and wrote on the boxes: “KELLY’S STUFF – SAVE FOR KEVIN.”  Kevin was two when his dad died, and I believed that it was important to save mementos for Kevin because Kevin would want them someday.  I assumed he would long for some connection to the man who contributed half of his DNA.

The last photo ever taken of Kevin and Kelly.  May, 1999, about a month before he died.

The last photo ever taken of Kevin and Kelly. May, 1999, about a month before he died.

As it turns out, though, Kevin has no interest in any of this stuff.  He has no memories of his biological father, and he mostly feels contempt for him, knowing that he was a wife-beater, a liar, an unapologetic manipulator, alcoholic, and drug addict who couldn’t or wouldn’t get his shit together, even for his baby son.  It’s true that I’m responsible for Kevin’s perception of his father, but it’s all based on pure truth, and if I have any regrets about being brutally honest with Kevin about Kelly, those regrets have only to do with how it has possibly shaped Kevin’s self-perception, and not with anything I may owe to Kelly’s memory.  I didn’t set out to poison Kelly against his dead father, but I always answered his questions with total honesty, and by the time he was an adolescent, he had a pretty clear picture of what life was like for me and for us when Kelly was alive.

After all these years, I still carry around bitterness and pain and anger towards Kelly for everything he did.  I don’t dwell on it, but the hard kernel of it in my heart swells when memories come to the surface.  I struggle to dredge up any happy memories (though I have no doubt there were happy times; it’s just that what good there was was way overshadowed by the ugliness that went on for so many years).

So, I don’t want his old stuff.  Kevin doesn’t want it.  And it occurred to me today as I tossed most of it into our rented dumpster (with the exception of the coins and the books, which are going to Goodwill) that there really isn’t anyone left who cares about these old mementos.  Kelly’s biological mother is long dead, his dad is dead, and his one living brother has made not even the tiniest shred of effort to know or connect with Kevin – his nephew! the one child of his dead brother! – in the more than 17 years since Kelly died (which tells me that he also doesn’t care).  The one living person who might care would be Kelly’s step-mother, but she’s got plenty of mementos already, and anyway, she cut me out of her life years ago.  So into the dumpster Kelly’s stuff went.

Maybe it reveals me as cold.  On some level, it strikes me as sad that a person lived for 33 years and died, and his memory is fading to black.  But mostly, I feel like, well, this is what happens when you live like a son of a bitch, leaving destruction in your wake.

Sister, Sister

Many of my Facebook homies were surprised last week when I announced that I had found my long-lost sister.  “You have a sister?” a lot of them said.  Let me explain:

I have a step-sister.  Actually, an ex-step-sister.

My mother married her father – totally and completely on the rebound, as my father had just recently yanked the rug out from under all of us by getting remarried (we – my brothers and I, and I guess even my mother – had been led to believe that Mom and Dad were going to try to get back together – again) after knowing him for approximately three months (he moved in with us a week after their first date).  I was 14 at the time.  I was very unhappy about my dad’s marriage and my mom’s marriage – I was pretty miserable in general, actually – so much chaos and instability, so much unhappiness . . .

Anyway, I got a sister out of the deal.  Actually, two, as my step-father had two daughters, but it was Kerri who filled a void for me.  I still remember our very first meeting.  Her dad had brought her and her older sister over to our house to meet us, and at one point, I slipped out of the house and went to my usual corner of the yard to sneak a cigarette.  I stood there, sullenly smoking, and along comes Kerri.  She lit up her own cigarette, and we eyed each other.  That sealed it: we were sisters.

She moved in with us, and she and I were inseparable.  She was a year and a half younger than me, but in many ways I looked up to her because in many ways she was more worldly than I.  She knew way more about boys than I did, for one thing.  She showed me how to use a tampon (I was forbidden by my mother to use them).  With her, I let loose and entered a period of rebellion.  We smoked, we drank, we got high, we shoplifted, we snuck out of our bedroom window at night and went to parties, we turned up our boombox full blast.  And we got in trouble.  But we always had each other’s backs.

That time seemed to stretch on and on, but when I look back now, I realize that it was probably shorter-lived than it seemed.  Kerri lived with us for probably less than a year.  At some point, the rules and constant groundings, the craziness of our parents’ tumultuous marriage got to be too much – plus, looking back, I’m sure Kerri was just homesick for her mom – and one day she left and went back to live with her mom.  I remember it coming out of nowhere, although all these years later, I don’t know if that’s really what happened; maybe I did know it was coming at the time.  In any case, I remember vividly the day she left – I was absolutely inconsolable.  It felt like a death, like my heart had been ripped out.  I remember sobbing on the living room sofa as my friend Michelle who lived next door, sat with her arms around me, trying to console me.  I grieved, I mourned, I couldn’t eat or sleep.  I was bereft without my sister.

At some point when I was 15 – so probably not all that long after Kerri left – I left home for the first time.  Things at home were out of control.  One afternoon, my younger brother ran to a neighbor’s and called the police because my mother and step-father were beating the crap out of me for some infraction.  The police came and questioned everyone, and nothing came of it that I know of, but I went to live with an aunt for several months.  During that time, I spent a lot of time with Kerri again, because my aunt allowed me to go visit her where she lived with her mom (my mother never would have allowed that).  I became very close with her mom, too, during that time.

After living with my aunt for about seven months, I went back home.  Before another year was out, I left town with my boyfriend (who would later become my husband, and whom I had met through Kerri).  During the year and a half I was a runaway, living in another state, I wasn’t in touch with Kerri.  I wasn’t in touch with anyone.  But eventually we came back to California, and discovered that Kerri was again living at my mother’s house, despite the fact that by that time her dad and my mother had split up (they were only married for three years).  Shortly after Kelly and I returned to California, he and I split up for the first time (something about him pinning me down and choking me and the police being called . . . yeah, one red flag among many . . .) and I moved back into my mother’s house.  Kerri and I shared a bedroom, just like old times, and we picked up where we had left off.

But I went back to Kelly and married him, and life went on.  Kerri got married, had kids, moved far enough away that it was a trek to visit.  I eventually had a kid.  She and I kept in touch over those years, but the distance grew.  There was no falling out, but eventually we just lost touch.  The last time I saw her was at Kelly’s funeral almost fifteen years ago.

I found her on Facebook a few months back.  I discovered that she has a different last name now, so I guessed that she had remarried.  I sent her a friend request, but she didn’t respond.  After a while I figured that maybe she was still in touch with my mother and brother and thought as highly of me as they do.  Oh well, I wasn’t going to push it.

Then I couple weeks ago I started going through old boxes in my garage, where I found old diaries and lots of old photos.  So many memories came flooding back.  Memories of good times and bad.  Memories of me and Kerri.  My sister.

I sent her a PM on Facebook, attaching an old photo of us together and a note telling her that I thought of her.  She wrote back sayingIMG_3567 that she had gotten my friend request but hadn’t recognized my last name and didn’t realize it was me.  She said she’s been looking for me for years.  We talked on the phone that day, for the first time in almost fifteen years.  Hearing her voice, it was like no time at all had passed.

“Remember how we used to sneak cigarettes and blow the smoke out the crack of the window?”

“I remember!”

“Oh my god!  Remember how you carved Mark’s name into your leg?”

“Yes!  You can still see the scar if you look really close!”

“No way!”

“Yes!  Remember how we would sneak out of our bedroom window at night?”

“Oh my god, yes!  It’s amazing we survived all that.”

So much has changed in the last fifteen years.  I was shocked to learn that she’s on her way to becoming a grandma (!!!), and she was shocked to learn that I have seven kids.  We’re both remarried, and fifteen years older.

There is nothing like having someone who shares the same memories you do, who has ties to the same history.

Sister of my heart.



DSC_0004There is a certain quality the light takes on as the day is winding down into evening, a golden, dreamy quality that somehow makes me melancholy if I sit still and take it in.

Another day gone, and I sit and contemplate, and often regret.  Another day I’ll never get back, never get to do over.  Was I the mother I set out to be today?  Hardly.  Was I the person, the woman I want to be?  I’m sure I fell short.  But more than that is just the knowledge that, however we spend it, time passes.  The days march by, and when we look back, it all seems a blur.

Maybe it’s that very often at dusk, I’m sitting quietly with Scarlett, nursing her to sleep.  TheDSC_0001 room is quiet, but I can usually hear the other kids in other parts of the house.  I gaze out the window as the sun goes down, lengthening the shadows minute by minute, and my mind revisits the day that has passed, and sometimes old memories are called up.  Flashes.  Playing baseball in the street with my brothers and neighborhood kids.  Walking around the block with my step-sister, furtively smoking filched cigarettes.  Sitting on cold sand, watching the sun set over the ocean.  A man, a picnic basket, champagne glasses, cold, damp grass, butterflies in my stomach.  Nursing other babies in this very rocking chair.  All of those things seem so impossibly far away, and yet, I can almost touch them if I close my eyes and concentrate.

I think it’s something I struggle with a lot – the passage of time, the knowing all that is behind me, and the impossibility of making the most of every day, because real life is full of drudgery and foibles.

Life.  It’s a head trip sometimes.


I undecorated the Christmas tree this afternoon and felt sad.  I’m usually something of a humbug – I find the holiday season mostly stressful and am totally over it and ready to kick the tree to the curb by December 26, but this year was different.  It really felt this year like Christmas came and went too quickly, and I wasn’t in any hurry to take the tree down, but alas, it was mostly dead and dropping needles everywhere.  I can’t tell you why this year felt different, because I don’t know myself.  Maybe I’m going soft in my old age.

I spent a week baking up a storm, and then gave boxes of treats away to neighbors.  I got all my shopping done with little fuss, and didn’t mind being up late wrapping after the kids went to bed.  Even the Elf was good for some laughs!  The hustle and bustle seemed cheerful instead of stressful.  And Christmas day . . . being awakened in the cold, barely light morning, the kids all wound up with anticipation, the sea of wrapping paper that grew in the living room as the kids tore open their gifts . . . and the food: gooey cinnamon rolls, sausage, and eggs for breakfast, and steak and fondue for dinner – all of us gathered around the table together, loud and rowdy.

DSC_0030Our tree is decorated each year with a hodgepodge of ornaments – some store-bought, some handmade.  As I took them off the tree today and wrapped them in tissue paper and packed them away, memories of Christmases past filled me with nostalgia.  There are plaster ornaments that I painstakingly painted way before I ever had kids, filled with hope and visions of future Christmases that would include children scampering about.  There are numerous “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments from the kids’ first Christmases, and ornaments with their DSC_0028names and later dates marked on them from subsequent Christmases.  So many of the ornaments hold particular memories – if not of that specific Christmas, then memorable events from that particular year – like bookmarks in the past.  A slideshow of images parades through my head: chubby hands . . . round cheeks . . . warm fuzzy jammies and a sleep-creased face . . . eyes lighting up over a Brio train . . . early mornings watching Bob the Builder . . . soft, damp curls glowing by nightlight as I reach into the crib.

And that’s the thing, I guess – when you’re in the moment, it’s hard to fathom how precious the memory of it will one day be.  I think the older my kids get, the more sentimental I become over my memories of their childhoods.  I look back with my mind’s eye and want to hold all those moments in my heart forever, vivid and cherished.  It’s all so fleeting, gone in an instant.


When Finn was a newborn and doing his time in the NICU after his surgery, I was given a little flannel doll by the nursing staff.  I wrote about it during that dark and woozy time:

I walk around with a ragdoll the NICU provided me with, stuffed into my bra for Finn. I sleep with it as well. I hope when he is able to have it, my scent will help him remember his mommy when I can’t be there with him. I hope it makes him somehow feel how very much I love him.

It was a sort of bridge between me and my new, sick baby.  I couldn’t be with him all the time, I couldn’t snuggle with him and wrap myself around him as I longed to do, and the doll came to represent his missing form for me on some level, and a way for him to know his mommy’s presence through scent.

When he came home, I placed the doll in his bassinet with him, where it remained until he finally outgrew the bassinet and moved into a crib in his own room.  At that point, I put it away in a drawer in his room.  He had never really developed any attachment to it; I think I had hoped it might become his “lovey,” but it never did.

All this time – three years now – it’s been stowed away in the back of a drawer, along with baby blankets long outgrown.

Then this morning, I found it in the girls’ playroom, casually tossed aside with a pile of toys, forlorn and undone.

It used to have a little yellow flannel hat stitched on, and a yellow length of yarn tied in a bow around its neck.  Now it was just a shapeless piece of flannel with a gob of cotton stuffed inside.  I felt like crying.  I was furious.  Furious that the girls had taken something that didn’t belong to them and ruined it without a thought.  That they so casually demeaned something that, as it turns out, means so much to me.

I ranted and yelled at them.  And I felt a grief well up inside me.  Why did this silly doll mean so much to me?  Why have I hung onto this talisman of sadness in the first place?  Finn was never attached to it – I don’t even know if he really got something from it during his time in the NICU.  I’m still trying to figure out exactly what my attachment to it is.  What does it represent?  An ability to do something during a time of what felt like utter helplessness?  Maybe.  And what about now?

Maybe it’s as simple as being a sometimes much-needed reminder of a tough time we got through.  Intact and thriving.

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