Jilly D.

Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Dance me to the end of time

In Mourning, Uncategorized on February 24, 2013 at 6:50 am

Leonard Cohen’s song is an earworm.

“Dance me to the end of time,” he croons.

Flashbacks to dances from my past. Maybe from my future. Til the end of time. A slow song.

The YMCA overlooking the Fox River. Charlie Daniels concert in Stevens Point. The disco ball in Cleo’s on College Avenue. Singing Van Morrison inside the warehouse in the flats. Polka dancing at the 1st Annual Otto Grunsky Bike Race. The Lascivious Ball  in Hyde Park. The Athens sound with R.E.M. and Dixie Chicks. Rockabilly in the Ramada Lounge. Kumas formerly known as the Woodside. Grass Roots.The Rongo.

Madison is still on the bucket list for rooftop rocking. Future August adventure sweating to the oldies?

Sam and I rarely danced. I desperately wanted him to dance me to the end of time. Please, lead. In tempo to the dance of our lives, I expected him to lead.

I could not follow his final steps.

Guilt. I could not follow him by ending my life when he ended his. I never imagined I could go on without him. It’s more than three years and I still can’t fathom one more day without Sam. It happens anyway.

Shame. Why did he do this and leave the stigma on me? Everyone thinks I must be the reason why. No one knows our intimacies or the sexual longings I can hardly control. He’d left me after one of the most passionate and peaceful nights we’d ever spent together. I wanted to be with him.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t actualize my suicidal ideations.  I had no reason to continue living without Sam. I lost everything. He defined me.  I desperately wanted to merge my soul with his. Joining him on the other side proved particularly seductive. But I couldn’t self-inflict pain. I sought pain relief.  Sam’s death ripped us physically apart and the open wounds left me very much alive and suffering. How I envied him the restful peace of eternal sleep.

Dancing to the end of time. I dance with Sam in my dreams. I close my eyes and whirl around, snap my fingers, shake my hips. He won’t dance, but he’ll watch. Then grab me around the waist and pull me close as we laugh and he whispers loudly in my ear that he loves me. The wondrous sensation of his passion fills my dream life. When I awake crying, only his dogs lie beside me. Their groans sorrowful.

I dance through the Spruce, Red and White Pine, Ash and Beech trees in the Shindagin Hollow Forest. Warm enough to rain instead of more snow. The dogs and I march into the night and greet the darkness and solitude. The only music here plays in my mind.

Dance me to the end of time.


Wheelies on ice.

In Pictures and memories on February 22, 2013 at 3:52 am

Having learned to drive in Appleton, Wisconsin, I am a back-roads follow-the-plow kind of driver. Living now high on top of Buffalo Hill past the drifting areas across Snow farm, I navigate the eastern hills of Ithaca just fine. My mom really taught me the art of driving in this kind of weather.

The winter of 1975 had been wicked for high winds, icy patches on the road, white-out driving conditions. My mother’s white knuckled fears of me behind the wheel with my learner’s permit landed us in the school parking lot, just across the field from our driveway. I’d backed out of the garage without denting Dad’s mint green Lincoln Continental just fine.

Mom grew up on Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, where there are only three months a year that aren’t winter. So driving a car meant navigating winter road conditions. Some of her relation and some of our Appleton neighbors took to driving their cars out onto frozen lakes and rivers for ice fishing. Scared at the prospects of the family car in my adolescent hands, she suggested we practice in the ice-covered parking lot at school. Good idea.

Back then Driver’s Education was a mandated part of the state curriculum for public high schools and we had a driving course that included in-class instruction (lots of scary filmstrips about car crashes) and on-the-road supervised instruction. Three students and the teacher got into a Chevette equipped with both student and teacher foot and hand pedals. Each of us got a chance to drive through the obstacle course of plastic orange cones and practice parking and other maneuvers required to pass the state driver’s test. I knew I could do this. The in-class assignments were easy and I could pass the multiple choice test in my sleep.

Practical application in my parents’ car? An entirely different matter. Very little in the eye-hand coordination department, I had my mother worried about what would happen should I ever encounter any real slick ice; like every time I drove in winter. So I agreed with her for once and pulled into the parking lot at Appleton East High School and came to a stop with her in the passenger seat.

“Floor it. Give it everything you got.” Mom told me. She looked wild with fear. “Let’s do it. I want you to try to do a donut.” I knew what she meant. Really? You’re scaring me, mom. I floored it. Wheeeee. We both screamed and laughed as the heavy boat of this low-riding vehicle took off and the steering wheel spun of its own accord as my mittened hands lost control and let go. Peeling out at full throttle, I gave that Lincoln a gunning on the accelerator pedal and didn’t step off until we’d done a full 360.

“Do it again!” Mom seemed thrilled. My heart pounded in terror. This was scarier than learning how to skate on ice. “Come on. Do it again and when I say stop, put on the brakes.” I knew she was crazy.

I started slower this time and built up the speed across the diagonal of  the empty parking lot and then hit a patch of ice and let the car spin, again and again until it came to a stop on its own.

“Turn into it,” mom said. That seemed the opposite of what I’d been inclined to do if I could have done anything. “Turn the direction your wheels go until you catch control and then correct. Your tires will grab the road. You’ll feel it.” I wasn’t so sure. It felt reckless. “Do a donut again. You can do it.”

I looked around that open empty icy parking lot and the snow banks and the clear blue sky. I realized the worst that could happen here is I could spin out of control and hit a snowbank. She let me feel the power of 2,000 lbs of steel in my hands on a steering wheel I couldn’t manage on ice. And I felt how out of control skidding and sliding on ice presented itself as an experience. She helped it become familiar and real. To face this fear and work it through before such situations would arise every winter.

So as another winter storm crosses into Missouri with twenty inches of snow, I sit upon Buffalo Hill and contemplate the family stories. Skating on thin ice as both my mom and dad take up a honeymoon suite in room 405 at the Cox Medical Center in Branson tonight. Dad recovering quickly from pneumonia. Mom not so quickly recovering from everything as they sit out the storm and keep their kind nurses entertained with our family stories. Nobody should get in a car during this storm. We weather it by phone.

I try to turn into this. My dashboard to daily life spins out of control on this icy patch. Will I catch myself from falling? Will catching myself twist something worse? Do I fall into the snow and relax as I leave a snow angel imprint? Get traction, my tires grip the road to weary, and I resist the worst.

“What could you do in Branson?” my mother asked me. I knew the answer. Bingo palaces. Senior shuffle board? I couldn’t even apparently get there except by the most circuitous routes from Ithaca by air and it’s a 17.5 hour drive according to Google Maps. And I’m a loud mouthed New Yorker daughter who will piss off their nice doctors, nurses, therapists and caregivers they’ve come to know and love in the past two weeks. I got the picture. I’d only make matters worse.

“I love you,” dad said when he hung up tonight. He’d thought his roomie would want to talk with me but mom was having some kind of therapy and unable to talk; tomorrow. Call tomorrow.

“If only you knew how much I loved you,” mom said when she got the fresh cut flowers in her room last Friday. Like I had no idea. Sometimes too much. I knew the chaplain had been in her room just before I talked with her. I’d called during his visit and she asked me to phone back. When I did, she felt certain she’d soon be released, they could enjoy a few warm days and then drive home to Minnesota. Enough with the vacation already.

It’s wheelies on ice. Treacherous terrain. Caution. Prudence. All that stuff my mom tried to teach me. Face the fear. When things are out of your control, go into it instead of fighting against it. Burn rubber on ice.

Livid vivid: A photograph that lied

In Pictures and memories, Uncategorized on February 13, 2013 at 1:25 am

Windblown and sunbleached wild head of hair, full beard and straw colored mustache. A pale mint cotton oxford shirt, sleeves rolled up, weathered bluejeans and both hands grip the handrail on the front porch. Sam stares into the camera with a smirking ferocity.

Straw colored sleeveless jumper revealing tanned arms crossed in front, head turned towards him. Wisps of long auburn hair aloft in the hot breeze with a rosy cheek-pinching smile.

Those who gaze upon our image standing in front of our cabin stop and stare.

“You look so happy.”

I stare at that picture. Really? That everyone mistakes this moment as a golden memory just because someone caught it on camera confirms my belief that people see what they imagine and not necessarily what is there.

Hopping mad. Ready to scream, kick and fight.

The previous eight weeks I’d planted, hoed, watered, weeded, and tended 1,000 row feet of Wando peas. That doesn’t mean much too most folks but I knew Sam had more than a vague idea since he’d watched me sweat.

“Having fun yet?” he’d asked on numerous occasions when he’d found me in the pea patch working as hard and as fast as I could to insure a bounty crop for those who’d pay premium for old-fashioned shelling peas. The pea patch laid just west of the fenced pens and chute facility where the American Elk and European Deer couldn’t reach them.

That day Cody Mikalunas called to arrange a pickup of deer and elk to transport to his ranch. He’d arrived and Sam directed him to back his trailer through the pea patch. The jerk seemed to have made a point of driving on top of my precious plants instead of the dirt in the row between. Sam didn’t say anything about him killing my pea plants and the two men acted as though it didn’t matter. And I got mad.

I got madder when Cody asked to take our picture. I couldn’t look into the camera lens for fear I’d spit in Cody’s face. Instead I looked at Sam and put on the most sarcastic smile I could muster without crying.  Belittled by their manly man bullshit, I kept my mouth shut.   My inside rage seems self-evident by my body language in the photo. Why doesn’t anyone else see it? Yes, I loved Sam, but I was mad in that polaroid moment. I was mad at Sam for being a foil to Cody’s scam. Smile. Candid.

I got really mad when Cody sent us the 8X10 picture instead of paying us for the animals he’d bought.  Mad at myself that I’d so graciously offered them a supper where meat flew off the grill and the dogs had nothing to lick off the plates. Mad that I’d originally done the internet research to find their family farm in the Catskills, convinced Sam to take a day trip and visit their farm operation, and madder still that I hadn’t said anything or stood up to them taking advantage of us in so many ways that day.

This photo is one of several I see everyday to remind me of the good times and the bad. Our life wasn’t always pleasurable. It was joyful. Huge difference. All the complications of love, not just pleasure.

I don’t look happy in that photo. That’s Joy on my face.

Gently falling snow in the bleak midwinter: gift of being left alone

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2013 at 2:05 am

When Sam died I needed to be alone, to pull back, to shield myself from others’ grief because I could not bear their grief on top of mine.

I needed my grief like a shawl to protect me in the storm. Could not deal with others’ realities. Mine was purely liminal. The blur of faces at the funeral service, the unexpected visitors at the door, the unwanted phone calls. Their eyes pierced me with questions: how could this happen? what will you do? what can I do?

My entire universe collapsed around me and time could not march on. I wouldn’t let it. The outside world around me didn’t exist. I was with Sam and Sam alone. His spirit hovered near me. In the scent of the sheets, wearing his MadBomber rabbit lined winter hat, burning the wood he’d split.

I could not help anyone else with their grief over Sam. I needed their help with mine. But well-intentioned words inflicted new wounds.

“You’re still young and you’ll be able to move on and find a new love.”

“He was my first boyfriend and I loved him, too.”

“My brother died and I know how you feel.”

“He was my best friend and I owe him a big one.”

“If only I’d known…..”

And the most offensive verbal attempt to soothe my soul?

“Time heals all wounds.” I seriously considered punching an elderly woman in the face when I’d heard that line one too many times. Helping others grieve? Not my problem. I got served a plate already full of my own sorrow and there was nothing more I cared to sup.

Help arrived in unexpected ways.

When Bangs’ Ambulance arrived on the scene, there at my door was Bobby Arnold’s daughter in uniform and performing like a professional First Responder when all I could see was that teenage girl with a black lab puppy I knew a decade earlier. She put her arm around me and told me she would help me. Her steady reassurance, physical strength at my side, led me away from the horror of the scene at hand.

My parents got in the car and drove from Minnesota as soon as I called them sometime in the middle of that night in shock. Amy and Tracy got on a plane and I think I picked them up at an airport, but I don’t really remember much except that Tracy took over the driving before we got out of Elmira city limits. My sister came from Germany where she left Eric, her husband, and my niece, Emma, and nephew, Ben, on their family vacation at US Customs to catch a flight in time for the funeral. I gave Tina my passwords and she took charge of letting everyone know what was going on and also commanding their respect to give me some time and space to grieve. Her kindness is just letting me cry while we worked together the greatest gift.

Help came  in the form of soups and stews and salads delivered to my doorstep without need for conversation from friends and neighbors. I remember an incredible apple pie that arrived on an October afternoon, delivered silently by a woman who I had met only once. She said nothing. She put it in my hands, smiled, and walked away. It was the best pie I ever ate. It was the first food I had tasted in almost a month.

Scrabble one afternoon with Gloria, one of the church ladies from Cayutaville Methodist. His other “moms” came calling: Joyce and Pat. There were others who came and went but most required conversation I couldn’t yet stomach. More time passed.

Most real help came from people I hardly knew and least expected. Months after the funeral was over and life went on as usual for everyone else, strangers became helpers on my journey back from the brink of death. These strangers weren’t estranged by Sam’s death. They were part of my community. While I didn’t know (and may not yet fully know) who I was without Sam, others in my community felt sure they knew who I am, was, would be, could be, should be. Before I could take all of that in, I needed to know myself who I might be in the suddenness of my unbearable grief. Strangers became a refuge.

The bank teller who didn’t say anything about my red puffy eyes. The couple in the laundromat with their kids playing bumper cars with the wired baskets on wheels who acted like nothing was out of the ordinary except the dryers all had names. Skip, who owns the laundromat in Tburg, opened the doors when my arms where full and all he’d say was have a nice day.The incredible librarians at the Ulysses Philomatic Society demonstrated to me some of the best and most elegant methods for being both silent and supportive.

Months stretch into years. Death is personal. Death is private. Like a fresh wound, you pull it in, cover it, protect it. To sit quietly and breathe is a disciplined practice for personal refuge from the pain of separation.

The gift to those who grieve is silence. No words suffice. Like the gently falling snow in this bleak midwinter. God ripped open a feather pillow and the down silently falls upon us.

Compassionate quiet.

Lux veritas lux

Lux veritas lux

No words.

In Grief on February 8, 2013 at 3:46 am

No words.

A silent vigil inside the Methodist church tonight in Trumansburg. Up and down Main Street, cars are parked for blocks on both sides and it’s a school night. Car doors slam and feet shuffle in winter boots, but no one is talking. They walk towards the lit up church steeple. At the main door stands a bicycle with a basket. Quietly people enter and walk up the stairs.

The altar covered in candles, the sanctuary dark and still. Each person picks up a candle and holds the light of Collin’s spirit in their hands.

The pews fill. So many candles. And it grows darker still.

Together and yet so alone with our sadness. I hear others sniffling and sobbing, stifling the wails of grief shouting from the inside. The woman in front of me got down on her knees and silently wept as she bent her head in prayer. Inside I’m screaming: no. This can’t be so.

There are no words. Only tears. Wet, salty tears. A silent faucet of compassion from an entire community. People came, they left, more people came, others left. No words.

Help. Please. Thank you. These pleas to a larger power are nothing but noisy chatter in our monkey minds. Mercy, Grace, and Gratitude went unspoken as the solemn petition in the community of Trumansburg tonight.  And I argued with God again, like that ever makes a difference. God, they tell me, always forgives, but I have a hard time forgiving God sometimes. This was one of those times.

No words.

Torn asunder

In Grief, The Farm on February 7, 2013 at 1:58 am

Collin Anderson loved Rachel F. I know why.

Rachel coordinated a Crop Mob at On Warren Pond Farm the summer after Sam died. She organized a community group of volunteers to help me bring in the last of the summer’s produce. During my year of magical thinking, Rachel appeared like an angel. We’ve remained in touch through social media and because of our mutual interests in Groundswell and Cornell University’s Small Farms Programs.

What sweet coincidence that Collin’s parents became the new stewards of the farm in 2010 and that this year he and Rachel had moved into our home; the cabin Sam built. I adored the Andersons for reclamating our love shack and it seemed fitting to see a young couple dedicated with heart and mind to sustainability in our old haunt.

I had just learned from Violet Stone that she’d fallen in love this past summer along the edge of the pond on the farm. She and Josh are expecting a baby. This land is sacred land. I love it still. Sam loved it even more.

Bitter irony that Rachel and I have become sisters in suffering the sudden loss of the love of our lives. Bitter irony that the rough cut lumber inside her home are the same walls to which I wailed in pain at the breaking of my heart when Sam died. Rachel and Collin mirrored the best of my romance with Sam. What Alonzo Wilder meant to Laura Ingalls, so Sam meant to me. He could do anything he set his heart upon.

Bitter taste when I felt the horror Suzanne and Daryl, Collin’s parents, his sisters and brother, and Rachel went through today in letting Collin go to the other side. My tears won’t subside.

My heart pounds. Death came to my door on Saturday afternoon and I wasn’t home. Someone knocked and my dogsitter, Antonia, afraid of the big bad wolf in the woods, hid upstairs and let Lucy and Scooby bark until he went away. So the Grim Reaper took another?  When I heard the news from my friend Mary about the accident early Monday morning, the scene flashed into my mind. I witnessed it in my subconscious as some sign from Sam.

There was a car full of people partying and they kept slowing down and speeding up in front of Rachel and Collin. I could hear Sam’s voice getting irritated at stupid drivers. He turned the radio down and sat up straight.

Signaling left, Rachel flicked on her turning signal and pulled into the left lane to pass. When she did the car to her right sped up like a high school drag race on an icy highway. They approached Van Dorn Road on the left. The water tower and the old Perry City Poor House appeared on the right.  When the car full of fools kept speeding up, Rachel touched the brake to slow back down and pull in behind them and then the car began to spin out of control.

The partiers sped up and disappeared as they watched the Toyota crash into a truck that had just pulled onto SR 96 from Van Dorn Road. Uninvolved? Who was in that vehicle? I heard the helicopters arrive. The rest of this memory becomes a blur and a physical reaction. That same gut punch I felt at the funeral home to make arrangements for Sam’s funeral have caught me by surprise. Makes me want to vomit.

I wasn’t there. It didn’t happen that way. I can’t shake it loose from inside my memory maker.

The familiarity of how grief slaps you across the face when you least expect it, or deserve it. The recognition of how a slash in time allows no goodbyes. The grotesque reality you can’t take it back. There are no retakes, no rewinds. The what ifs will forever remain an unsolved mystery. The rich, passionate, fulfilling love experienced between two souls meant for one another torn asunder.

Torn asunder.

Peace Collin. Give Sam a kiss from me and Rachel. That will make him squirm. Collin is very much the son Sam wished he’d been a father, friend and mentor. I hope their spirits meet and share the love of music, words, the land, sustainability, family and farming. Sam was a friend to everyone and generous to a fault. While I didn’t know Collin very well, they seem to have shared these qualities too.

We are all connected. My friend who had been in a car accident and broken her wrist wept when I told her I was sad and why. My friend whose son is the same age as Collin and who feels bonded because their boys were involved since childhood and their paths have crossed many times in this community of friends. We are all connected. Friends who have lost children, parents, and friends. We are all connected by grief.

Torn asunder.

Blond, lanky man at the end of the pond

In Grief on February 6, 2013 at 2:38 am

Invited to the Andersons for Sunday brunch with my friends Mary and Sharon, I returned to the farm I knew as “On Warren Pond” on January 27th. As I drove down the lane and the fields opened before me, I saw the pond and its panoramic beauty soothed me. Awakened by my own sobbing in the darkest hours, I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep, felt depressed, and wasn’t sure I even wanted to go back to this place I’d called home for more than a decade. Greeted by compassion, it felt good to be in their company.

Suzanne and Daryl gave us a tour of their stunning new straw bale house that sits where the cabin Sam built had its stone foundation. Then they fed us like royalty. Quiche made with goat milk and goat yoghurt for the fresh fruit; goats in the barn Sam built. We toasted the good life with fresh orange juice mixed with Champagne and fresh ground coffee.

Looking over the land and pond warmed my soul. Sam would have been so proud of their efforts to raise goats, chickens, start a honeybee hive, launch a CSA, and use what he’d built as a foundation to their own sustainability efforts. Even the root cellar was in good repair with a cleared path. The Andersons had moved the cabin on skids to the south end of the pond and their son, Collin, and his girlfriend, Rachel Firak live there now.

Looking out Suzanne’s kitchen windows I saw a blond, lanky man at the far side of the pond walk out onto the dock. He broke a hole into the ice and raised up a bucket of water. I stared. It could have been Sam. It was Collin.


Just a week later on Saturday afternoon Rachel and Collin were in a car accident on Route 96 just outside Ithaca, near Rascal’s tavern on the crossroad of Van Dorn. Both were airlifted to Rochester, Rachel was released and Collin remains in a coma. In less than a minute, the whole world changed irrevocably. Grief wells up inside of me and my heart splits open to let some of their pain inside and hold its unbearableness with mine.