Declan, soaking wet, runs through the spouting jets of the fountain. His wild and tender innocence ignites a place inside me grown dry and sere, that he lights with his joy. It burns in my breast, brighter than the firecrackers we lit as kids. I’m so many years away from how it feels to be that alive, racing with joy into each unfolding moment and the next and the next, into the center of my own fire. 

The audience laughs and hoots but not from ridicule. Declan’s spontaneous play has reached inside where their young children still live and all of us are transported back in time. Can my heart hold all the love I feel for him? Will it break from joy and catapult me somewhere more real, more honest, where I say, “yes, this is where I want to be?” I want to be drunk on this love forever. I want to grab the world and bring it inside. I want to believe all of it is fine: the good, the bad, and what seems ugly. Can I go back that far, before I got taught what the world was? Will this beautiful young boy gradually be tamed and the only memory I have will be the video I took of him racing from one jet of spewing water to another in an impromptu dance of life? I want to play like that again—no filters between me and the moment, like a fuse that burns endlessly—no holding on.

When it’s time to go, he’s shivering but doesn’t want to leave. We pull him away. Enough, you are wet and it is dark and it is time to go home. He could run and squeal with delight until he drops. I love this little boy with all the love I was afraid I hadn’t given to my own son. In this way I am healed. In this way some huge shift has already grabbed me and refuses to let go. I am his Grandma GiGi.


Night Ride to Atlanta

May 11, 2012

When my daughter Jenny got ready to go back home to Georgia after she moved, she always left late, over my protests of “stay the night!”

Out in my driveway, she zipped out the windows of her jacked-up Jeep and put the top down. After goodbyes, hugs and kisses, she hoisted herself up into the cockpit of her macho machine, tied her hair in a ponytail, and put on her baseball cap. Laid out on the empty passenger’s seat were a pack of Marlboro Lights, a liter of Diet Coke, her cell phone and CDs ready to be slipped into the waiting slot, so the music could sway and jive her through the night. She’d already been up since morning and a fifteen-hour drive lay ahead. This was how she liked it—living on the edge, with the wild wind streaming her hair out behind her as she drove 90 mph down dark highways, rap blasting out and cigarette after cigarette her companions as she fled back into her own life.

Her Jeep’s huge tires propped her up above every car and I imagined truckers flashing their lights and blowing their horns. You’re one of us, nighttime babe, taking chances and gearing up, shifting down, flying back to the warmth of the South, leaving the memories.

She needed time to get her own rhythms back. The Jeep made it hard to hear the voices; her hair whipped around and slapped her awake. The wind twirled around her slim young body. It pulsed with life and promise.

Untethered from the past, from moorings that had grown too tight and memories that hurt—fifteen hours of forward motion would do it, would clear her head so she could breathe again. By the end of Virginia, the sun already coming up over the lowlands, she flew headlong down into North Carolina, Galax the next town.

I often wondered what that word meant. Sounded like someone had spelled GALAXY wrong, dropped off the Y, so crucial to the question we had no answer to.       



April 5, 2012

The sun rose slowly, one infinitesimal inch at a time. I stared at the horizon imagining light, imagining the faintest glow, wondering if it was all in my mind. Was I making it up? I turned away and turned back. No, there was a faint light, a slight easing of the dark. Gradually the sun rose. It was hard to see its movement but by measuring it against a stationary object, I could see it rise.

My healing happened in this manner also—hardly noticed in my daily existence but edging ever onward.

Clouds formed in the sky and temporarily blotted out the sun, yet it still rose behind the mist.

In my life, there were setbacks—anniversaries, birthdays, seeing a healthy young man who reminded me of Jeremy or a freckle-faced young boy. Then I retreated and mourned as if his death had happened yesterday—my breath taken away with the power of it. But I rose again, back to the present.

I remembered a jazz concert. I was riveted, listening to the saxophone answer the guitar, so soft, almost a whisper…it pulled me down into my heart. How could I be here, because I was at the hospital taking care of Jeremy. No one in the theater knew my son had died. I sat like everyone else, listening. But I had a secret—I had come from another world, the world of children who weren’t home safe in bed. The guitar understood, the sax blew; yes we understand. Yes, yes, let us take you up, up, let us rock you. Yes, you are here. He is not, not, so sorry, sorry.

The tears came silent and hot, running down my cheeks in the darkened theater.

Like the sun, I continued to climb past the dark clouds and the storms. A deep part of me moved forward. Living it, I couldn’t see where I had come to. Only when I stepped back from my life did I have a glimpse of the grieving mother and realized I had survived. One day I passed a cash machine near 34th Street where a younger me, mother of a dying child, had sobbed, unable to press the buttons of the ATM machine.

I still grieved but now there were small periods of time where the great weight lifted. Maybe later that day it happened again—small holes in the dark clouds enclosing me, letting in light. I began to believe I might actually come back to life. How could I have survived when he didn’t?

I wasn’t the old me; I was different. Part of this process was getting to know who I had become, to meet the one who walked through the dark. A phrase from Albert Camus, “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer” gave me hope.