Friday, December 31, 2010

527: Colville

On our last day of 2010, we took a small walk around Colville. This pregnancy and all its morning-sick glories have kept me indoors too much; most weeks, my journeys took me only to campus and back. I'm desperate for some sense of fresh air, of observation of the slow moving waters, creaking winter trees.

Ryan and the pups ventured out on the ice, and I quacked back at the ducks.

They say walking is a natural inducer of labor, so I suspect I'll be doing this a good deal over the next several days, waddling along flat paths in town. She's not due until Thursday, but at my forty-one week appointment, there is the threat of medical induction, so I'll take my chances with tea and walks and other gentle attempts. There's far less kicking and much more slithering about; she's truly run out of room.

In 2011, I'll be a mama. So strange. We'll be parents!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

526: Robert Rayner, 1956-2010

Memory: I am five years old, in Chicago, an enormous city. At some point on this trip, I remember wearing my pajamas in the Hilton lobby, dazzled by all the gold thread and glass chandeliers. We attend my first musical, and I am entranced, leaning forward in my seat, black shoes kicking, watching men and women dance around a stage in cat costumes. At intermission, my uncle takes my hand, and we weave through the crowds; he wants to take me backstage to meet the actors, to see the magic. I am not sure if I am a token in his own curiosity, but at five, I cannot suspect ulterior motives. Only that I want to meet the king cat himself.

Memory: My bangs are shaggy, and I have to brush them from my eyes. It is the only time I have deviated, truly, from the same hairstyle I've had since preschool: long, straight, parted in the middle. In 4th grade, I had a home perm and bangs, and in 5th grade, I am growing it back out. It is Christmas, and we are in my grandmother's home in Massachusetts, a house I love for its wooden floors and painted wooden block houses, its country charm and potpourri smell. My present from my uncle is a purple fanny pack, and inside is a New York City subway token, an exotic coin of an adventurous place I'd never been before but could only imagine. He tells me it is his lucky token and not to lose it, which may have been an untruth, he may have fished it off his dresser before flying out to meet us, but I treasure it, am flattered and honored that he would pick me to have this something. This is also the year my father gets juggling balls--was it from my uncle too?--and my father stands in front of the door at the base of the stairs and teaches himself until he is flawless, though he is long teased in the process, and it's true--my father is awkward and clumsy. I've inherited that.

Memory: In sixth grade, my last year in Chattanooga, we drive out to Albuquerque, New Mexico with my aunt, my sister, my mother. This is where my uncle lives, in the midst of mountains and dry, flat land. We take skiing lessons, drink hot chocolate, see American Indian dancers, fall in love with beaded and feathered jewelry. I wear a locket my first boyfriend gave me, a thick heart that plays "Love Me Tender," which I lose on April 2nd of that coming year, the one-year anniversary with said boyfriend. But in the videos, I see it at my neck, swinging heavily, as my family wends its way in the markets.

Memory: Some time after we move to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where my father has gotten a professorship at the university, my mother has my sister and myself come into her bedroom, sits us on her bed and tells us she has something serious to share. My uncle is HIV-positive, has been for a dramatically long while. Because he works in the medical field and because he is meticulous, he has always kept abreast in medications and trials and keeps himself alive despite the diagnosis. But we can't know this yet; this is still when AIDS is a death sentence. My closest friend from pre-school on had lost both of her parents to AIDS; my mother took me to her mother's funeral. We sat in the back. When I turn fourteen or fifteen, I begin volunteering at the local AIDS clinic, on a dangerous patch in Green Bay. I put together what are called "condom six-packs" and my first job is to de-ice a freezer with two women schoolbus drivers, one small and perky and the other large and grumpy, like cartoon dogs. We use a crowbar. I also work on Fridays in the summer, answering phones, and sorting through client forms, anonymous surveys that give out sordid details of sexual pasts, drugs. When I first volunteered there, I had never been kissed; years later, after I've been trained as a youth educator, gone to a conference in Milwaukee, I end my time volunteering with a girlfriend of my own.

Memory: The summer between 10th and 11th grade, the summer before I'll have my own mother as an AP Language teacher and bring books from her book list with me, we go to San Francisco, where my uncle now lives. I don't know why, but he ignores me blatantly and showers my sister with compliments--she is the future movie star, the adorable one, and I am lazy because I have rolled a sleeping back with the tie inside. I am surly; I am a teenager, after all. We see some of the most beautiful things I've ever seen on this trip: we camp at Yosemite, we travel to the Hearst Castle, we go to the Muir Woods, we touch the trunks of redwoods, we read on the beach, we stay in gorgeous wood cabins in state parks, we drive along the coast of California, that famed Hwy 1, to LA, where my mother, sister, and I fly back to Wisconsin. I am hurt, in a selfish way, but love my sister.

Memory: It's my 20th birthday, and I'm living in Minneapolis, my first few months away from home, going to the university for an English degree (the first of three I will receive from this institution). My boyfriend is there; he gives me a heart pendant with twenty diamond chips in it. This is his first birthday he will spend with me; eleven years later, we are celebrating my thirty-first. My parents have come out, my sister with her leg in a cast from a frightening and deadly car crash, and my uncle happens to be there too, for a medical conference. He takes us out to a fancy restaurant in St Paul, lets me taste his olive tapenade. For breakfast on Sunday, we eat at the Hilton Hotel's lush restaurant, our fruit fresh and pricey. We don't speak much, and it's the last time I'll see him; we'll miss one another on family trips to Chattanooga, to North Carolina, Massachusetts. He still seems so strange to me, speaking when he deigns to speak to me, teasing and joking about family members in his way, his face squinched on one side from complications of his illness.

This morning, my mother called to let me know my Uncle Rob passed away some time before midnight, in hospice, of pancreatic cancer. It had nothing to do with his HIV; he had beaten that already. Some time near Halloween, my mother and uncle flew to Chattanooga to be with my aunt and grandmother one last time; my mother was teaching him to knit. Near Thanksgiving, he called to let them know, "This is it," and entered the hospital, not fulfilling his vow to take pills instead of ending his days in the halls where he once worked, ushering others to the place he was now headed. He never went home. The same aunt, grandmother, mother, were by his side much of this month, finalizing what needed to be finalized, meeting the man who was not his lover but dear, dear friend, and watched as the man they grew up with began to waste away. Pancreatic cancer is one of the cruelest, and, in fact, it wasn't the cancer that took him, but the chemotherapy that weakened him. In the end, he was disoriented and surly, confused and upset. His passing after this is truly a blessing, a bringing of peace. His body will be turned to ashes, sent to his mother in Tennessee, and eventually spread in the ocean, at one of their childhood beaches.

There's so much tied up in family--so much hurt when it comes to this kind of event. We always knew he would never end his estrangement from his father, an estrangement that has extended to other family members as well (I think of myself as having two grandparents--two grandmothers--remaining, and Walter, my step-grandfather), a brother of his who did not call but sent a strange painting. There are so many secret rules and wants when it comes to the disposing of the dead's things--the intensely small condo with seven packed boxes, the closet with arrow-straight clothes. Who calls whom, how the information is disseminated in the circle of distance.

I send my love to my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, whose bravery at facing good-bye is immense, whose tenderness in those last few days was so important. It's never easy, family, good-byes, and as I think about this little life inside of me, I think of all the cycles around me, all the people who are gone from this earth in this way, how we remember the good things, how I hope Sophie can hold that goodness in her heart as she ages, loves and becomes loved.

525: the blue canoe

It's actually green, but you wouldn't know it until you pull up her drapes. Ryan gave this to me a bit before we left for Wisconsin; he said he figured he couldn't hide it on the way there or even wrap it in much more than a tarp. He also told me on the phone that he had "left one of my presents lying around." Tricky boy, he is. Even trickier is how he picked it up while I was at book club, from the very home where book club was hosted; we bought the canoe from some very good friends who weren't using it any more.

I cannot wait for summer, for lakes and for introducing the minnow to the peace that is paddling along, enjoying fresh air and quiet.

It's a Wenonah canoe and cared for by the Urtels... I pity the poor thing in our hands, but I truly hope it will get to see many adventures with us, bruised or unscathed.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

524: falling behind

It's strange how small weeks can whip by in such frantic succession. I will give snippets:

- The semester has ended, which is an enormous relief, though, because of sicknesses and other disruptions, I may have to take an incomplete in one class with the goal of wrapping that up before my maternity leave is over. Most importantly, I got grades in--early--and finished thesis seminar.

- Just after the semester ended, my friend Emily hosted a dinner to celebrate the release of my chapbook The Recent History of Middle Sand Lake. We went to the Craftsman; I loved the Brussels sprouts. The table was filled with a dozen of us, and Emily had a cake made in the image of the cover. It's pretty remarkable. (Mmm, carrot.)

- Christmas was spent in Wisconsin; indeed, we braved the five-hour trek with my 38-week pregnancy progress, which turned out to be fine, our hospital bag strapped into the trunk, our car seat beside it. It was actually the visit that became the challenge--as Christmas Eve turned to Christmas, I contracted the stomach virus that had encumbered a nephew and a mama-in-law, though this was a bit more fierce for me, thirty-five bouts of illness in one day with three loads of laundry cycling, reducing me to a desperate child. I'm close to better now, but it certainly crushed me more than I expected, eclipsing the morning sickness for a few days.

- We've had several winter storms, one a full-on blizzard, in the past few weeks. The snow is up to our windows. The first was twenty inches, and Christmas Eve, while I was enjoying a few final moments of health, our town was getting covered in seven more inches (and several snows in between).

- I'm due in a week, essentially. For the gory details: I'm mildly cramping, and my mucus plug has begun to slip as of this afternoon. This means exactly what I could have told you without the earlier signs: labor could begin in a matter of hours or a matter of weeks. Very helpful, these early signs of labor, yes? My skin covers such a taut uterus; I don't feel as if there is any where else for the minnow to go. But I do hope she'll hold out until January, which is so very close. While my friend Michelle actually had a Christmas baby (10 lbs, 10 oz., named Crosby James McWoolery), I'd like more space from the raucous holiday.

I deeply look forward to the other side of this pregnancy. I've loved feeling her so close to me, those internal kicks and nudges, the reason why I gave her this little nickname, but I'm most certainly ready to meet her and begin this new journey.

I also deeply miss being outdoors. I know it is too cold for an infant to be outdoors for long, but I yearn for those deep tromps in the woods Ryan and I take with the dogs. I haven't been mobile in a great long while. Making it from class to class was enough draining effort, and at the shallow end of this virus, my snippets of energy are spent nesting as best I can.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

523: molly mayhem

Last night, the Urtels took us on a little journey to the roller derby, and after watching Whip It a few weeks ago, I was enamored. I'm really hoping Angie decides to join up; I'm ready to be a serious fan. It was fun to watch last night's bout, but without any connection to any of the four teams, I simply watched curiously, trying to understand the art of scoring and how a foul occurred. I enjoyed watching the skids, the quick moves of the jammers through the clasp of skaters, the accessories of flashy tights and elaborate tattoos.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Keeping quiet and balanced these days. The focus has truly been on the stuttering growth of my stomach, whose fundus has begun to outpace the weeks-along. I've found myself fighting to balance morning sickness with school responsibilities, leaving social pleasures by the wayside. Some days, I feel as if all I can do is keep my jaw jutting above the waterline, and days like these, while still burdened by the scholastic countdown, I feel a bit more at peace. I cannot explain why one wins out over the other, how I let the simple breath crash against the shore.

Here is an updated photograph, taken this afternoon, of my baby-belly. You can see I still have that waffle-iron burn mark--faded, but very present. It is not my most recent klutz-adventure, but a little reminder of Ryan's declaration--to make it through these last five weeks of pregnancy, he's suggested a pill-a-day organizer, bubble wrap, and a helmet. Sometimes, I think I might just hide under the bed and wait and see. Maybe the semester can end gracefully without me.

Small, lately comforts: the word daughter, organic milk, poem treasures, afternoon naps, tracks in the snow, handwritten letters, wool and wooden needles, butternut squash soup.