First term of graduate school

In which I wake up in the 7’s every morning and feel oppressively tired by 8 in the evening.

In which there are a minimum of 3 word documents and 3-7 articles open on my computer screen at any given time.

In which I use a planner for the first time in my life.  And I make (and obsessively consult) a weekly to-do list.  And a wall calendar of due dates.

In which I begin scheduling social time in my planner.

In which I regularly cry while reading for class.  Because the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Because people in my field understand the soul-crushing ramifications of poverty.  Because it’s miraculous and just soul-brimming when children with special needs get their needs met.  Because here are all these people who understand, who love the difficult kids.  And I’m a sap.

In which a memoir about traumatic brain injury triggers me so intensely I think I’ve contracted the stomach flu.

In which I begin to learn about Autism.

In which I discover I can take spiders out of my house in cups. Much more than being in grad school, this convinces me I am growing up.

In which I buy and care for a plant, and it does not die.

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Bookends

25 years ago you came into the world. Our Mama’s body pushed you wet and red from the safety of her womb, and we became sisters. When I met you I wiped my snotty nose on your head. I was a baby then, too, 16 months.

When I was 6, I moved into your bedroom. From our beds at night we pretended to be twins. You would wind up when you were tired. “SHIT-DAMN-SHIT-DAMN-SHIT-DAMN!” you’d exclaim from the top bunk, and down you’d swing over the side of your bed, wild hair flying. You slept in a nest of stuffed animals, a little bare patch in the middle where your body could fit. You didn’t wake easily. Your radio alarm seemed to play for minutes each morning before you’d stir and turn it off. We wanted a little brother. We wanted a castle. We were sisters.

As teenagers, I would drive us to school. You nagged me out the door each morning. I had study hall first period, you had math. I could be late. You were determined to be on time. Driving east on 29th each morning I would notice the sky. “Red light!” you would yell, as I gazed at the clouds. “Look at the sky!” I would say. We would pull into our spot just as the first bell rang. You would open your door as I put the car in park.

You hated that I had a Mormon boyfriend, that I was trying to be Mormon. We would argue bitterly. You had no patience, no tolerance for my choices. But the winter of my senior year of high school, you sewed me a quilt for Chanukah. You had never sewn anything serious in your life, but you labored in secret for weeks, and on Chanukah I unwrapped a picture of us you had made in cloth. I don’t remember what I gave you that year. Something our parents bought on my behalf. Nothing I gave any thought. You gave me your love. I sleep with it still in the winter.

I was 24 years old when you died. Your mouth made an O as you took your last breath. Almost like pursing your lips. Almost an expression of surprise. They laid you flat. The hospital personnel made ready to take you away. I bent and wiped my snotty nose on your hair. Bookends. Holy snot.

Now I am 26. I started graduate school this morning. First, I visited your grave. In the morning light, I climbed the cemetery hill carrying flowers that reminded me of your hair. There wasn’t room for dead sisters at my program orientation, just a hubbub of new things, new people. I tried to take you anyway. I wore blue. I dressed in your underwear and your earrings. They asked us to share a place we’d like to go, and who we’d travel with. I told the room I would like to travel with my sisters. They didn’t know you were missing. They didn’t know you existed at all.

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Most of my family–Abi, Tsi, Mama, Papa–are away on vacation, and my Talia-Is-Dead brain says that they are all going to die while they’re out of my eyesight. The fact that their initial destination was Seattle does not help (but they didn’t die in Seattle, and that does help, some).

The cat at my parents’ is an old lady now, and she tucks her head into my neck and purrs when I hold her, and I’m pretty sure that counts as somatic therapy. And I picked 6 cups of blackberries yesterday (and thought of Talia​, and our Saba in Vancouver who would dress in a full-body plastic suit to avoid blackberry barbs when he took us picking), and today I made a crumble, and I’m pretty sure that is also therapy. Today I will pick more blackberries, and I might watch more Grey’s Anatomy (which is like sitting in the hospital with dying-Talia and sitting on a couch with living-Talia all at once).

Our bodies know how to take care of us. This week I’ve run into unplanned, unstructured time and space (unscheduled afternoons, an empty house), and my instincts lead me right to Talia. Watching Grey’s Anatomy yesterday cracked me open. I’ve avoided the show for that very reason for months, but my gut said, “watch.” Sometimes we are ripe for splitting, and the torrent that rushed from me yesterday was full of sweetness. When I lock away my sadness, so much of the good goes with it. It was rich to feel my sister so tangibly, even though I had to wash my glasses in the aftermath. She is in each blackberry I pick. She is in the felt cutouts I made last week for my boyfriend’s son: in the trip to the craft store, in the drawing of templates and the cutting of cloth, in the joy of watching a child play, and learn, and grow.

I forget so often that in order to feel I must first make space; that in order to see and know the shape of my grief and love, I must first seek the stillness into which instinct can speak. I forget that the sum of what I feel for Talia is bigger than grief. That she is more to me than a hole, a missing, a longing. She is a pulse that beats music in my soul.

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Mothers Day 2015

To children who have lost mamas, and mamas who have lost children. To the moms of broken homes, who split time with their children. To the children of incarcerated moms, and moms of incarcerated children. To the children of abusive moms. To children who have been cut off by their moms, or who have cut themselves off out of self-preservation. To women who want to be mothers. To women who struggle to get pregnant. To women who want nothing to do with motherhood. To women who mother children they did not birth. To stepmoms. To families with two dads and no moms, and to families with multiple moms. To trans moms. To queer parents who can’t or won’t fit in a binary holiday. To the many moms and children whose relationships are fraught. To all those I am inevitably forgetting.

To my sister Talia, who loved our Mama fiercely, and to Mama, who loved Talia. I miss her every day. To Jaclyn and Adie and Abi and Tsion, who have all lost mothers. I am so glad you’re here, so glad we are siblings. What a complicated holiday.

To Mama, who has always understood my intensity, who still knows better than me when my body needs food or rest, who picks up the phone for every crisis, whose love and understanding has helped me flourish. I love you. I wish Talia were here, too.

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Feb 6

Dear heart,

Last year on this day, February 6, we were sisters. Last year, this day, a Thursday, we talked over text message as my train ambled south from Portland. “Cousin sighting!” I said. “Neeva is on this train, too.”

In Eugene you packed frantically. My train got in late, you had extra time to throw your things together. To move, higgledy-piggledy, to the downstairs room at Mama and Papa’s so you could have 24-hour care after surgery. You came and picked me up at the station afterward and Neeva saw you, for the last time, snow falling in your wild red hair. Coming home, on the descent between 27th and 28th on Jefferson, you realized I couldn’t hear a word you were saying for my anxiety about driving in the snow. “You can’t a hear a word I’m saying, can you?” Sisters. You probably rolled your eyes, but you made room for my paranoia.

On this day one year ago we stood in the shadow of your death and none of us knew it. I have an urge now to hunker down for the duration of our long anniversary, to recount in detail the before and during and after of your slow death. I want to dedicate myself entirely to the telling, the reliving, of what happened. A sort of second shiva. Last night, in the hour before therapy, I sat with Mama and Papa and we discussed those (these) days before the surgery. It felt like standing in the wreckage of a hurricane, picking up shards, where does this go? How does it fit? Last year these pieces made something whole. What did our world look like, before the winds tore everything apart?

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eleven months

Eleven months and no sister. I did not think I could bear this place, and perhaps last year I could not. What was weighty then is no lighter now, but my muscles are more accustomed to the strain. And after nearly a year of walking with unbearable pain I am here, at the threshold of the twelfth month, cowering in awe of the year mark. It stands like a tower before me. The shadow is long. The air before it is damp, the way forward dark. I tread now on hallowed ground. It is raw and scarred from the death march of last year. I am re-entering a nightmare, a time out of place.

I suspect that the letdown when we pass a year will be as huge as the apprehension I feel now with her death date approaching. In the second year she will still be gone. The world will turn as it has and must. Talia’s bones will lie in the ground still, decaying further in the absence of her life force. The grave is hollow; my sister is not there. The grave is full; there is what remains of the person I loved.

I think, in some childish, magically oriented part of my mind, I imagined that when I arrived at the year mark, I could maybe have her back. That if I walked the circuit from February to February, I would arrive back at the beginning, and there she’d be. I am realizing she is still gone, and the agony is breathtaking. I am realizing I must lose her again each year. That again we must proceed through the year’s holidays and birthdays and milestones, again without Talia. How can our grief grow lesser when the distance between a living Talia and us grows greater?

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circle

I am drafting my grad school statement of purpose while listening to Zach Sobiech’s Clouds. The last time I looped this song was the morning after Talia died, lying on my stomach on the dining room floor of our friends’ house in Seattle. It was the soundtrack to my shock and disbelief and my attempt at cushioning the dread and fear and anger as I waited for my parents to arrive from the hospital.

I cried for two hours last night on my parents orange couch. As my mother bent to hug me I remembered how Talia curled in the very same spot after our grandmother died. I remembered how I cradled her and sang lullabies. I remembered her sob-wracked body. Did she know I loved her? Did she know?

I remember Talia this time last year. I remember how I felt at the end of February, the middle of February. That hellish month that I fear will be one long vigil this time round. There is a strange sense of closeness right now, like the thread of our year is bending to form a circle. The end overlaps with the beginning. I stand now where I have stood before.

I dread the year mark, the finish line we are forced to cross. The assholes and the fools will think we are done with our grief. That one hallowed year makes us whole. I worry that the grace of the community will run out. Meanwhile, it will be more than a year since she breathed. More than a year since she walked. Everything in me screams against that truth. Can I not slow time?

As this year closes I feel the same ripping in my core that I felt when we lost her, the sense that something precious, something life sustaining is being torn from my gut. My soul is splitting.

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