Origins.

The paths from where we came
Are not straight but winding
Around cliffs and abandoned buildings
Ghosts of former glory, decaying love
Contrasted against the beauty of Mother Nature’s nurture.

At night the owls call asking me “Who?”
As if I ever knew. As if I could ever hope to know.
Who, who?
In the dark I have no mirror to hold it up against.
In the dark I have no reference but the blood in my veins,
The same veins that contain venom from 21 years of life.
My blood cannot be trusted. It has been contaminated
By strands of DNA, codes telling cells how to act
The same bond determining the relationship on the outside–
Original telling the new how to live.

The owls never stop chanting at night.
Their questions keep me awake as I find branches to make into beds
To make into homes somehow.
I wish they would ask another question;
Though the hows and wheres are equally vague,
At least they are not phantoms sent to hunt.

Two wholes forms halves to make another whole,
But the equation always leaves something out.
The sum is not equal to its respective parts.
Ratios and fractions puzzle even the most versed.
The glue holds it together, barely,
Until something shakes the foundations and the cracks start to show.
Who, who?
If I could travel backward, find where the path started,
Find out how my halves made a whole,
But one whole is missing, leaving holes in the whole plan.
Too many bridges out, destroyed by fires, earthquakes, and other
Semi-natural disasters.

Forward, never knowing what came before,
What will come after.
A traveler with no navigation tools,
Completely unprepared for life on the road.
Yet the owls, with their nighttime eyes
And superior senses
Can see for miles in any direction their heads turn.
I ask them “where?”
But all they ever say is “who.”
Broken records that find their place among other broken things.

I lie down among the graveyard of broken,
With my twig-homes and dripping glue and tainted blood,
And I let the whos rock me to sleep.

Homecoming.

There’s no more light in the forest. I’ve been looking skyward for days, but the rainwater keeps getting in my eyes, blurring what used to be so crystal clear. I know, I know it should cleanse my soul, awaken me, but it’s drowning me out, carrying me away in a stream of debris. The deluge is reaching up to my neck, and I’m not so sure I can swim. The water is so cold it’s left me numb. I can’t tell if my feet are touching the bottom anymore, and even if I could, I would just feel the shards of broken bottles and empty memories. Each cut reminds me of what I had to give up to get here.

But what did the sacrifice mean? I am alone in a forest that never ends, where the light never reaches the floor of plants so starved for light that they stretch themselves thin and frail just reaching out for it, their cells shrinking until they are but whispers of their former selves.

I’ve been looking for a tree to rest against, just to catch my breath from all the traveling, but each one I lean on crumbles into dust the moment I let go. I know there’s a tree strong enough to hold me–to allow me to live my life out in its limbs, safe from the unending storm–but it takes destroying so many others that I’ve given up. Instead I seek my refuge in hollowed out logs, sharing my hideaway with the occasional rabbit or squirrel. I haven’t felt another human in weeks. One learns to look for warmth in other places after a while, but a water-logged forest does not lend itself to being temperate.

There are no paths anymore–no trails to follow. If anyone else has been here before, they certainly haven’t blazed anything, so I stumble blindly from place to place, everything blending into one unbroken canvas. It’s all the same anymore. I’m trying to find home, but no one ever taught me where that was. It has to be more than siding and walls, chimneys and roofs, but anywhere I’ve tried to hang my hat has gone up in flames so fast I didn’t even have time to cry.

I miss the sun on my skin. I miss anything warm, like a shoulder to rest on or a mug of tea or a good book. I miss the sound of my name being wrapped in the softness of compassion, miss the feeling of having flat ground under my tired feet, miss the smile of someone who has seen my heart but holds it anyway, even though it’s rough and bumpy sometimes… even though there are pieces missing. I miss feeling like being enough, even though I am one person who is very small and very tired. I miss the magic of 7:00 PM on a country road, weaving through green pastures and showing birds how to fly away.

No, I’m doomed to walk the forest, knowing that if I ever resurface, I will break through the tree line to see all those who promised to be there, smiling and saying, “We were worried, but we knew you could cross it.” And I will look at them, with their genuine eyes and their noble intentions, and I will walk away because when you tell someone you will walk with them, it means day or night, rain or sun, warm or cold. It means you will help them to their feet when another tree crumbles. It means you will reach out a hand when the current is holding them captive.

I stopped crying long ago; the sky sheds my tears now, providing life for others who are lost. Mother Nature… look how she mourns for me. She’s the only mother I’ve ever known to listen to the songs I sing while I gather sustenance for another night alone. The minor keys play on her heartstrings as she erases the clouds long enough to let me count the stars before I fall asleep. She is everywhere, but I cannot touch her–cannot feel her embrace because her life is separate from mine. Maybe she is home for me, but what a lonely home it is.

The Long Road.

My past is something that I’ve been running from for six years now. Typically I keep my thoughts and feelings to myself when it comes to my dad for many reasons:

1. It’s really difficult for people to find the “right” thing to say when you speak of loss, but really it’s more about the listening part than the speaking part. What I find interesting is that even though I have experience with difficult loss, I still find it hard being there for people who are going through the same thing. It shows how individualized the grief process is; when someone doesn’t handle grief the same way I do, I feel as though I’m doing more harm than good when we talk. (But when someone does handle things similarly, it’s amazing because we can understand each other on an extremely deep level.) Anyone who has lost someone knows how inadequate the phrase “I’m sorry” can feel, yet when we go to console someone else, what is the first phrase that pops into our heads? The idea is not to take the words at face value but rather brush them aside and get to the sentiment. I don’t want people to avoid me or avoid talking about what has happened to me because they don’t know what to say. It’s not the saying but the being there that really counts in the end.

2. It seems too personal even though it’s a universal human experience. There are some stories in our lives that are deeply personal, and we keep them to ourselves until others earn the right to know them. I could be friends with someone for three years and not tell them a damn thing about my father’s death, yet there could be someone I’ve known for a month that gets every single detail. It’s a feeling thing. Stories and memories are a kind of currency we exchange in order to become closer to another person. If we follow this metaphor, this story, the most defining of my life, is worth all of the chips. It’s the most emotional thing I have to give of myself, so in order to earn it someone has to be really important to me. Otherwise, I don’t feel anyone has the right to know.

3. I’m afraid. I am so damn afraid every single day of my life of having to come to terms with this. My last entry shows the optimism I cling to in order to keep orientation in my life, but the truth is, I haven’t dealt with this. I can see the positives of it, and I have to in order to start my journey through grief therapy. I’ve been running for six full years, but I’m tired of running. It’s not fair to my father’s memory, either, for me to run from my feelings about him. I need to start talking–a lot. I can’t be silent about a person who was part of my life every single day for fourteen years. I cannot ignore half of my genetic makeup just because it hurts so damn much. He’s my father. He’s always going to be my father, and he’s always going to take up an enormous part of my heart. Right now, that part of my heart isn’t healthy. It hurts. It’s dark. It deserves to be brought out into the light, and the response I received from total strangers in my last entry made me realize that I am never going to be alone in this. I know that people in my life are willing to be there for me, but to know that there is an entire online community ready to support each other through a terribly difficult time gives me so much hope. Thank you, everyone. It means so much.

So this list? Yeah, it’s going to disappear. I’m taking out the gag. This is my blog, and so often I try to tailor it to an audience. “No one wants to read this depressing shit. Lemme right about something funny or sarcastic.”

Well, yes, I can still write that stuff because I do enjoy writing it, but I have to be concerned about myself and this long healing process. If I can use this blog as a tool, great. If someone else can find comfort in my experience through the land of mourning, even better. If I can help even one person navigate this awful land, I will have done something truly beautiful. Really, that’s all I can ask for.

So, what do you say? Shall we walk the road together?

The Positives of Grief.

To say that to grieve and to have lost is a positive thing seems on the surface to be something insensitive and illogical. Even the words “loss” and “grief” conjure up images of unbelievable pain and sorrow, and, believe me, I cannot argue with such correlations. However, in every loss there is something beautiful, and even loss does not have the word “forever” stamped on it.

I know as well as anyone, if not better than most, that the road of healing after losing a loved one to the cold hands of death is a path that presents hardships no one can imagine. Each person’s journey through grief brings them to different obstacles; grief is an intensely personal experience, and no one can lump a group of people together and tell them a proper way to grieve because everyone has a different experience. On top of that, we all have our unique ways of dealing with hardships, and it can be difficult at times to even find a common denominator. Some people internalize everything, some people go into denial, some people outwardly fall apart, and some do all of these things at the same time. There’s no real way to predict or neatly describe what a person’s experience is, was, or is going to be.

There is a common thread, though, and it concerns both the mourners and the one being mourned–those whom we love will live on regardless of their presence on this little earth. I’m not talking about Heaven or the after-life, even though I believe in those things. What am I talking about, then?

Whenever you meet someone, whether it be the day you’re born or at the end of your life, you start to form a bond with them. If you’re lucky–really lucky–this bond becomes a true link between two souls, a common line of communication that we try to assign mortal words like “love” or “friendship.” The truth is, a bond with someone is more than what we’re equipped to describe, which is why grief is something so profound and troubling. When we mourn, we realize that we have lost something so beautiful it injures us at the deepest level possible. However, in loving someone, we internalize a lot of who that person is. In essence, they live in us. In any good relationship, there comes a point when you give enough to another person that they carry little bits of you with them wherever they go. The converse is true. Whenever someone tells you a personal story or shares a memorable experience with you, you unknowingly get a piece of them. We often try to think of souls in terms that we can understand and quantify, but really, is a soul something that has dimensions or can be confined in a small amount of space? One soul can dwell in many bodies by its influence and its light, and friendship, love, and family all encompass this exchange and sharing of souls.

When someone closes his eyes never to return to the mortal world, many get the idea of the one singular soul leaving the body to go wherever they believe souls go when we’re finished with life. What happens to those other parts of the soul that are living inside of that person’s closest companions? Do those pieces go, too? No. They remain here with those who cherish them most, and this is something so profoundly beautiful and hardly understood. While we can no longer physically see the person or touch them, we can look inside of ourselves and find the person exactly as we always loved them. We can even see them in things around us–a camera, a beam of light slanting across the floor, a butterfly. We are never without those we love; they live inside of us, and we keep them alive by remembering–and by grieving. To pretend that the deceased never existed is not only to do them a great disservice, but it’s also to try to kill off a part of yourself.

Many people, me included, avoid grief because of the pain. If you’ve ever lost someone, you know how immense the pain is, and it’s terrifying to think that you have to battle something so strong for such a long time. But there’s something incredible and stunning in the pain of loss: there was something to lose. Feeling such devastation is an indication that you experienced something so cherished in having that person in your life. You feel intense pain because you had intense love, and that’s something amazing, isn’t it? To have someone to lose in the first place is a gift, and even though losing a loved one is the most difficult thing to face, take comfort in the fact that the person you lost lives in you and so many others.

Almost everyone will go through the tragedy of losing a parent at some point in their lives. I have. It’s some of the deepest pain this life can cause. It’s hard to tell myself that it’s beautiful to have been loved by my father because his love was expected, just like every child hopes and expects their parents to love them. It’s hard to find that beauty in having loved, but the fact that I am the living, breathing embodiment of my father far outweighs that. My dad lives in me, and every parent lives inside of their child. It’s a biological fact as much as an emotional one. I can feel him when I look in the mirror and see his nose. I can feel him when I hold the viewfinder of a camera to my eye. I can feel him when I watch Monty Python. He is everywhere because he lives on in me. Our parents will always live in us more than anyone, so to lose a parent, while it’s unbearably painful, isn’t really to lose a parent. It’s horrible, but it’s bearable only for the fact that we can feel them all around us even after they are gone. They shape us, they guide us, and they are us in every way. We all say that we don’t want to turn into them, but after they’re gone, it’s a comfort to know that we could.

Grief is powerful, but it is born from something even more beautiful and profound: love, our comfort and our reason for living.

The Decline of the Age of Innocence.

I feel like I should add a disclaimer here at the top: despite what I say in this blog entry, I still love children more than almost anything. I merely think that our society is going to encounter more and more of a problem when it comes to the behavior of younger generations.

Sometimes I’m afraid of our future.

I have been a volunteer at a local after-school program for the past four years. I work with students in third, fourth, and fifth grade on an almost-daily basis, and throughout my time with the program, things have been changing.

During my first and the better part of my second year, things were exactly how you’d expect them to be; behavior was more or less age-appropriate, although we were not without out issues here and there. Toward the end of my second year with the program (my senior year of high school), we started to see a shift.

Kids at this age no longer have even the most basic respect. (And for the few who do, I apologize.) They don’t respect the adults in the program, and they certainly don’t respect each other. The director struggles to even read announcements; the various conversations amongst the children continue, they call out things to try to be funny, and they continue to play on their electronic devices. Something that should take five minutes turns into a twenty-minute struggle, complete with outbursts straight out of Family Guy.

Oh, yeah. They watch Family Guy. I also know for a fact that one of my third graders watches SNL on a weekly basis. Half of them have Facebooks, and I have finally stopped feeling guilty for denying the half dozen friend requests I get per week from the kids.

And let’s talk about electronic devices for a moment. I had one of my eight-year-old girls tell me today that she got an iPhone for Christmas when she already had an iPod touch. The iPhone itself would have been ridiculous, but when she already had pretty much the same device? This is ridiculous. I work with a lot of low-income families who can barely afford to clothe their kids, yet I can guarantee that each and every one of these children has either a Nintendo DS, a PSP, or a cell phone. In the case of one child, the principal of the school bought him a pair of shoes because he was without, yet I had to speak to him twice today about having a cell phone out in school.

I understand that every parent wants to give his or her child everything, but there have to be priorities. I’m thinking that you should probably buy your child shoes before you decide to buy him a new Playstation 3. These parents collect welfare from the tax payers, but instead of using it wisely, they milk the hell out of the system and buy luxury items that half of the taxpayers can’t even afford. It turns my stomach.

Instead of the children being grateful, they lament that they got the wrong cell phone or the wrong color DS. I remember a month or two ago when we brought in apple cider as a special treat for the kids. Rather than thank us, they stood and complained that we weren’t pouring the cider quickly enough. It doesn’t matter if you remind them about manners; they sigh, roll their eyes, and change for perhaps an hour before reverting back to thinking that they are entitled to everything the world has to offer.

What’s almost as bad, or possibly worse, is that they know entirely too much about sex, and because they see it and hear about it on TV, they think it’s the coolest thing in the world. I overheard a conversation about Megan Fox’s anus (those were the exact words) and had to walk over to the boys and tell them that it wasn’t a suitable topic for school. When the boys dance, they either pelvic thrust or grab their crotches a la Michael Jackson. (Actually, sometimes they aren’t even dancing then this happens.) Third graders are dating, and sometimes we even have to keep an eye on some pairs of kids who mysteriously disappear around the Big Toy. At times it feels like all we hear is sex and cursing… in an elementary school.

Innocence really is becoming a thing of the past, and that truly scares me. What’s so beautiful about children is the fact that they are innocent, in most senses of the word. I know plenty of wonderful, beautiful kids who are in primary school, and I’m almost afraid for them to enter the elementary school system because the students there have gotten so out of hand. Some don’t care about any consequence. They waltz out of detention declaring, “That was so freakin’ dumb. That kid I hit deserved it.”

My hope is that they manage to gain maturity as quickly as they have gained a vast vocabulary of sexual terms and an arsenal of video games. Otherwise? We’re screwed.

Thoughts. Words.

I go through phases when my brain won’t shut up. I sit for hours on end thinking about my life, other people’s lives, and the human condition in general, letting ideas spread like ivy across the walls of my mind. I can’t even do something simple without getting lost in my own head, and it comes as both a blessing and a curse–I analyze things until they’re either unfathomably beautiful or terrible.

Right now I’m in one of those phases. It takes me ages to fall asleep at night because I’m too busy contemplating what my life would be like if I didn’t meet the people in my life now, or marveling at the fact that people have a simultaneous capacity for immense love and unbridled hate.

The main problem with these little bouts of introspection is that I retreat into myself at the most random of times. I could be in the middle of hanging out with someone, and I suddenly get very quiet. They wonder what they’ve done, but really it’s just that I have way too many thoughts to deal with. Not bad ones, mind you–just an analysis of anything and everything. It’s hard to put any of the thoughts into words (sometimes), so I can’t even write about them because they can be so fleeting. Sometimes it’s not a thought but the whisper of a feeling, and I spend time trying to go back and expand on whatever it was I just experienced.

In these periods of time, words are even more beautiful to me than they usually are, and more often than not I default to looking up quotes online and feeling them way more deeply than should be possible. And then I start to think about how amazing the concept of language is, and then I make a list of all of the languages I’d like to learn before I die, and then I start trying to plan out my schedule at Marywood for the next few years so I can fit Italian into my schedule…

That’s what my head is like right now. I think I like it, but it’s kind of tiring. I mean, I’m like this all the time, but right now it’s at a heightened state.

Reading this back, it doesn’t make sense, but you know what? I’m gonna post it anyway because I’m a rebel. Also because I’m tired.

I like pie.

God Bless the Broken Road.

My life, when it comes to college education, has been a roller coaster. If you had asked me at the beginning of my senior year of high school where I planned to attend college, I would have immediately launched into my love-driven soliloquy about Carnegie Mellon. It was a last-minute choice not to apply early decision. Instead, I submitted applications to both Susquehanna University and Carnegie Mellon University, both for Creative Writing. When I got into both, I was faced with a decision that plagued me for quite some time.

It was a lot less difficult to pick when I found out that Carnegie Mellon requires C.W. majors to complete their core studies before even thinking about writing courses. I thought that was a waste of time for the amount of tuition I’d be paying (thanks for all of the invisible financial aid, CMU). I sent my deposit check off to SU, and I believed I had made the greatest decision possible.

I loved SU. I was blissfully happy for maybe three weeks, and then the homesickness hit. And then my cat died a week before the anniversary of my father’s death, and I found myself in the same state of mind I was four years prior to that moment. I lost direction, and I started developing horrible panic attacks in the middle of the night. I’d even have them at home. The worst happened at 3:00 in the morning at SU. It lasted two excruciating hours, and at one point I had completely lost feeling in my fingers. I couldn’t finish out the semester without mentally straining myself to breaking and getting horrible grades, so I took a medical leave of absence with the intention of returning for the spring semester.

The real me was gone for a while when I had come home from SU. I struggled with crushing feelings of failure and regret, and I was constantly afraid of the judgement of others. And, while I can talk about it openly, I still feel some of those emotions about the whole ordeal. I was, however, determined to go back… until I felt the registration deadline bearing down on me. I couldn’t face it, and the deadline passed without anyone saying a word.

I registered instead for an intersession course and several spring semester courses at Lackawanna College. They had a satellite center ten miles from me, so it all seemed very doable. Temporary, but doable. Pride-injuring, but doable.

I remember sitting down with my degree audit and planning what courses I’d take at Lackawanna and what ones I’d take at SU. I had everything planned down to the very last credit. I felt like the plan was going to work. I’m not sure when things started to change, but I know that by mid-January I had decided I’d never go back to SU. This decision was dual-faceted: I didn’t want to be far from home, and I didn’t want to be a Creative Writing major. Teaching! I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew a friend in Marywood’s education program. Marywood… yes, Marywood would be a good fit.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, why did I have to go through that journey? I am a firm believer in the mantra “everything happens for a reason,” so I have to believe that each step in this process was necessary.

Why Susquehanna?: I met Stacey, Hope, and Shannon, three people who are absolutely incredible. I found out that, yes, I can live on my own, but I have to sort out some of my demons first. I learned that Creative Writing is something I don’t need to be taught, and that writing critique letters was not a good use of my time. I had to learn there. SU will always be a part of me, and sometimes I miss it, but I now realize why I wasn’t meant to be there.

Why Lackawanna?: Well, first off it was a lesson in patience and learning how to be a student without being social. Mostly, I think I was destined to go to Lackawanna because I was meant to meet Nina, and that’s a good enough reason for me. I needed to be a student, because without working toward something bigger than myself, I fall into feeling useless. Lackawanna saved me from this.

Why Marywood is my fit: I hated Marywood at the beginning. There are still some things about Marywood I dislike, but I’ve really come to realize that I was meant to go here. It rekindled my love for a language that should have always been a part of my life, and if I hadn’t gone to Marywood, I would have been done with language. I love the Spanish component of my major, and it makes me sad to think that I could have missed out on something I love so much.

I love that the departments at Marywood are small and close-knit. Of course, it helps that I’m part of the two best departments in the school (and the most fun, omg). Walking into the English department after a long day feels like home, and wandering around Immaculata is what keeps me going. (I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that my room is right above the Foreign Language department.)

As always, though, it’s about the people. I’m so glad to have met Mike and Kasey; they’ve made this semester so great for me. Mike and I really are the same person, and I do think I was meant to meet him. Our Dora and Diego adventures have been some of the best moments of my life, and I wouldn’t trade that for prestigious, stuffy Carnegie Mellon if I could. I’m grateful to have met two women who serve as real inspirations both academically and personally. These four people have made the journey totally and completely worth it, and if I hadn’t had the long journey, I don’t think I’d appreciate just how wonderful things have been at Marywood. (Oh, yes, there have been dark moments at MU, but they made me stronger and appreciate the good that much more.)

I was meant to take this path, and I was definitely meant to end up at Marywood. Sometimes the path is winding, but we all get to where we’re meant to go in the end.