If I want to write a poem
What do I say?
How do I fit the entirety of all this life stuff
I lost a cat last week.
I lost a cat five years ago and 6 years ago and 8 years ago.
I lost a cat 21 years ago.
I saved a cat once.
From a plastic bag on the edge of the lake I grew up on.
From the ravaged and burned hills of a shattered neighborhood.
From a life in a shelter.
From a tree.
From a dog.
I saved a dog once.
It was old and it was winter and my uncle was driving his boat to show me the cold Virginia lake.
We saw commotion and steered near. As we got close the old boy gave up and went down.
I had to stretch and reach to my greatest extent.
Shoulder and face in the water
And I grabbed him just before he sunk out of reach
By the scruff of the neck
And pulled him onto the boat.
I would have dove in for him.
I lost my Mom eleven years ago.
Oscar Wilde would call me careless.
Those kinds of losses never really end, but they do fade a little in the dailiness of it all.
I lost my step dad before he saw me make good.
I lost my dad when I was a ratty teen and didn’t notice till I was nearly 50.
I lost a dream.
The first was devastating, the second, liberating.
Losses are love.
Tony Sirerol died today.
How often do we not see those that matter to us?
I knew Tony when I was 2. And 4. And 9. And 10.
Somewhere around, or just after that, we didn’t see the Sirerols anymore.
He was my Dad’s best friend. Tony and Tony.
I remember their house. The stairs, the hallway, the kitchen.
I remember the back yard with the big swing – two love-seat-sized wooden slatted chairs with a table in between. And it would shush over the grass as it swung to and fro. The grass was so long. Luscious deep grass, soft as moss. Springy and cushy. I’ve never seen a lawn so thick since.
I remember laughter and dancing and sometimes, something that resembled Feats of Strength.
One daughter my age with hair so beautiful I always thought of it as doll hair, lush and thick like the lawn. She was the first girl I ever knew to have and actual boyfriend. I remember her showing me his picture in her bedroom. And one daughter older – and oh so much cooler for it. She’s glamourous in my memories, so pretty and sophisticated.
Lush and rich – I guess that’s how I think of life around the Sirerols. Things were fun then.
Truth is, I’ve suppressed so many memories of my younger times. Like a door shut around age 10 or 11. Like my actual childhood ended. Not that I recognized it then (or any moment before this one here.)
Awful realities that juxtaposed the jolly times came to a dramatic end one afternoon and I was glad for it. But I never paid attention to the fault lines. The crack that opened and separated before from after.
After. I started to grow up. Almost a teen. Middle School, then High School. I didn’t look back. I stood next to my Mom and moved forward.
Somewhere in my late 40s I acquired the awareness of how completely I’d let go of Tony, my dad. When he left I was glad to see him go. I visited him when I was 16 or 17 (I never thought I’d forget!) and he died while I was there. I didn’t stay for the funeral. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances. But the fact still stands there – stark and bright.
And I let that go too. Completely. It was merely the first in a very long line of California adventures.
It was when I got real about getting rid of the detritus of my life. The boxes packed away when I was a teen, when Mom died, every time I attempted to clean.
So many stories here, all intertwined. How I became a packrat. A story I may never understand.
Bits of Tony appeared, and they made me smile. And I began to think and wonder about him. I carry so much of Tony in my heart, mind and soul. And I’m grateful for it.
I have much to apologize for in the way I treated his reality and even his memory for so many years. Discarded like a once favored dress.
In an old phone book, in shaky script, I saw it one day. A name I’d vaguely wondered about a time or two. I remembered how to say it – and I’d even googled a time or two with no luck – but there. Sirerol. That’s how it’s spelled.
Hello facebook. Are you there?
You are! Well hello!!! Remember me?
Let’s get together.
And we did.
Tony and Anne! Margie and Mary!
I knew them so well! Tony’s lovely smile. Anne’s eyes. Familiar laughs. Mannerisms striking deep chords. And every story ripped tiny openings in thick veils.
And we should do this again. Yes we will. We certainly will. Someday there will be slides and photo albums and more laughter and stories.
And we actually let a few more years slip by? What the fuck is wrong with us?
A call to attend Tony’s 80th birthday. I went. Buffet Brunch and good cheer, but no alone time.
We should get together again. Yes we will. We certainly will. Someday there will be slides and photo albums and more laughter and stories.
Earlier this winter I got in touch and said – really yes, let’s make this happen. And We will. Very soon. And then the weather set in and I went into hibernation mode.
And this morning I got the text.
And it hurts.
I began this journey telling the people around me that I was “going walkabout, ‘cept I’m taking my car.”
At first it just meant, to me, that I was going wandering.
Aboriginals in Australia go Walkabout and they follow the songlines. The Songlines have been there ever since the ancestors sang the world into existence during the Dreamtime. I’ve always been one to appreciate a good creation myth thanks to my early fascination with Joseph Campbell. Singing the land into existence? Wow, that’s beautiful. And powerful.
They go Walkabout in order to keep the land alive. (I don’t remember where I copied the following quote from…)
“So important are Songlines to Aborigines that unsung land is dead land, and if a song is forgotten, any land which is no longer sung over, will die. To allow such a thing to occur is the worst possible crime for an Aborigine. To be able to sing a Songline indicates an historically unbroken, intimate knowledge of the land. In short, it marries people to place. This is called ownership.”
Traditionally this was done as a sort of coming of age ritual. It is a time of transformation from one stage of life – childhood – to that of adulthood, and responsibility. If they followed the Songlines etched in their entire beings, and etched in the story of the land, they could not get lost in the vast expanse of the Australian Outback. If I pretended to be an expert on the origins of the Walkabout I’d be a liar. (Or I’d be up all night turning myself into one.)
Modern day Walkabouts are not rare. Many people do them in an attempt to define the direction of their lives. A Walkabout is a time of solitude and soul searching. Which is exactly what I needed, what I wanted, and what was required for my life this winter. (Who the hell have I become at this age? Am I still who I think I am? And what do I want to do now/next?)
So off I go on my Walkabout. It’s nearly two months ago now, that I left. Telling myself I’m following the songlines. MY songlines.
There’s something tricky about following the songlines. Most especially because I’m not completely sure what I mean by that. Be it etched in the land, or etched in my own psyche, I just know that there is a path out here. Through this country. For me. And maybe (likely) it’d be a different path at a different time, but right now there is a very specific path. There’s a story. Of the now. And I need to find it and follow it.
I’m trying very hard to do just that.
Sometimes it’s about something to experience or a place to be. Sometimes it’s about someone to meet or a friend to see at just the right time. Sometimes it’s about a particular road to travel.
Sometimes I lose the songlines. Or I think I do.
I struggle at times with exactly where to go and what to do.
There are things and places and people I want to see but what if the songlines don’t go that way?
Some mornings I make up my mind on the direction to go, then I get out on the road and go a completely different way.
This happened in Atlanta. I thought, from there, that I was headed to visit my best friend’s parents and then I was going to Birmingham. But then the songlines pulled me north, into Tennessee. I went with it.
This happened also when I was in Dallas. I had determined all along to visit Austin on my westward journey. But I stayed in Dallas longer than planned and then the songlines dragged me west to Las Cruces for Xmas Eve. Literally, I woke planning to head for Austin, but got on the road and went west instead of south.
It happened again as I was leaving Las Cruces. I wanted to go to Tucson. I’d been feeling the pull of the Sonoran Desert since before the journey began. But then a friend in Albuquerque was going on vacation and offered me his apartment while he was gone. This sounded ideal. So I forced myself north to Albuquerque, but when I got there I felt it in my whole being – no. no. no. This is wrong. wrong. wrong. I knew I’d veered from my songlines so I had dinner with said friend, brought him to the airport at 5am and high-tailed it to Tucson to reunite with my path.
I’m not kidding when I say it’s hard to follow the songlines. The wester I get, the feinter they seem. (Is feinter even a word? Well. I guess it is now.)
I wrote the following a few weeks ago –
“Just now, around noon on January 7th I’ve pulled over in order to type this.
I left Scottsdale yesterday sure that I was headed for San Diego directly. I still think I’m headed there. Just not so directly.
I thought I was headed for Yuma when I left. But no. The songlines steered my car to Blythe. I didn’t know why until I woke this morning. I knew I was headed towards the Salton Sea. And this road!
Oh my! THIS road!
It’s wonderful. Two lanes. 65 mph. I am mostly alone rolling through the desert. At first it zoomed through fields that the great majority of America’s veggies come from this time of year. Then came the small mountains – the road winds through and around them in glorious sweeping curves. And the desert here is lovely.
The road swims through dips. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. So much fun to cruise along. 65 mph. The sun. The sand. The scrub. Me. My car. The land. The day. This country. This lifetime.
And where I’ve just stopped, ahead of me are sand dunes. The Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area.
Looks like the Sahara.
And I’m gonna start driving again. And I’m gonna pull over somewhere and take a walk in the sand because that is where I am, and that is why I am here.
Yay for songlines!”
So a few weeks ago I was clearly still on my songlines. Or at least I felt like I was.
But today. Not so much. (I think.)
I’ve been pondering this the past few days and have come to some conclusions.
Northern California and the Northwest really isn’t (aren’t?) part of my songlines this time around. Well. I suppose that’s not completely true, since, here I am.
It’s more of a nostalgia trip up here.
I knew this. Knew it before I left.
But I’d spent so much time out here in my younger days. There are so many people I love out here that I haven’t seen in 20 years and more. San Diego was definitely part of the lines. I’d spent two days there when I was 17 and didn’t feel that counted as really having been to San Diego. And I had to go to Riverside and find Tony’s grave. That was a part of the songlines too. But from there it gets a little cloudy.
I was lured ever onward by tricks and trails of the heart.
I considered not exploring California this time around but there were people I REALLY wanted to see.
So I figured I’d go to Laguna Beach. Either way, I needed a dose of the sunny pacific. There I would stop a few days and think. And consider if I was indeed going north.
And since I was this close I simply HAD to go in to LA. Some of my favorite people have four new girls since I saw them last and I want to know who these girls are as people. That’s important to me. Especially since I’m this close. And in LA there are some museums I would love to visit. So I went to LA.
One of my best friends in the world recently bought a house in Vallejo. I’d really like to see him and his new house and he really wants me to visit and smile at his choices. So I went to Vallejo. I wanted to.
Now. Once I’m in the Bay Area there are so many people to visit. But I’m off the songlines and I know it. I can turn back soon. I’ll just go visit my friends in Novato and have a night at Terrapin Crossroads. I mean. Since I’m this close. I would be silly not to do that much.
And there’s a bunch of friends in Santa Rosa. And some of my Oregon people are in Santa Rosa for the weekend too. It would be crazy not to go there for dinner. Especially since I’m this close.
Do you see what keeps happening?
And those who live in the mountain towns of northern California off 101. It’s only a couple more hours. And how lovely it would be to drive those vistas. I’ll go for dinner and a mini-reunion. It will be fun and I’ll get to see people that I haven’t seen in forever, children that are grown and starting their own families, towns that used to be so familiar to me. I had a wonderful dinner with old friends.
As I drove north from Redway, towards the Oregon Coast my mind and heart were stressed – what am I doing? What am I doing? What the hell am I doing?
Why do I just keep moving north? I should get to the border of CA and just turn around and head back south till I can find the songlines again.
But that would be crazy – I’m really not so far from Seattle and all the people I love and would love to see in Seattle, Portland, Eugene. Some are very close friends and some are weak connections with a beautiful chance to strengthen relationships. Turn acquaintances into friends. Yes? This kind of thing is what life is all about.
A grade school friend with a creative restaurant. A close high school friend’s ex boyfriend. (Yeah. Follow that thought a minute.)
I want to know these people better. And if I turn around now, I might never get the chance.
And that night, as if he read my mind, I got a text from a friend I met in 1983 and I haven’t seen him in possibly close to 30 years, that said “Come to Portland, Please!”
Lured onward still.
And I’ve been trying to figure how I can squish everyone in as quickly as possible; see everyone and move on. ASAP.
My friend, on the phone the other night, said that I’ve seemed slightly annoyed ever since I left LA. Not that I’ve consciously felt it, but he might be right. There has, perhaps, been some resentment in my soul that I’ve left and/or lost the songlines.
And I told one of my favorite people in the world (She’s in Seattle!) that I was feeling squished and rushed and like my dance card was over-full. And she said that if I didn’t have time for her, she understood. But I should tell her where I will be and she’ll drive to see me. “I’ll drive 100 miles for a hug.” She said.
I am on a most fabulous adventure.
And if I’ve veered from the songlines I imagined, so be it.
I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. Songlines or no songlines.
I chose to travel this road so I could visit with people who make my heart smile.
I will not rush this.
I am in no hurry. So what if I take longer to get home. What’s home?
So I’ve had to adjust my perspective. I’ve quieted the voices asking “what the hell am I doing?”
I’m may not be on the songlines at the moment. (Or maybe I am?)
Right now it’s not about that.
Perhaps I’m singing this land to make sure it doesn’t die to me. From the quote near the beginning of this post – “any land which is no longer sung over, will die.”
I do not ever wish to forget this northwestern song.
It’s about people and relationships and if I think I’m off my path I’m likely wrong.
The thoughts that I am off my path are about me not living in the moment.
And that, right there, is the crazy part.
Be. Here. Now.
Seattle, Portland, Eugene, here I come.
This morning feels so oppressive.
Grey. Smog. Dingy southern California. The grey hides the usually shiny veneer.
I feel my own mortality this morning. What with Tony being my age when he died.
I feel the weight of millions of dead and dying dreams here. Tony’s included.
Screaming children in the hotel parking lot.
A young check out clerk with puffed up visions of her own importance. With her huge fake lashes and carefully contrived eyebrows that look scary, stark, as if they are planning an attack.
The sad talk of the baristas at Starbucks in a dingy strip mall in the depths of all that’s bad about the edges of LA. She wishes she lived in Boston.
The family pushing a week’s worth of groceries down the street, tiredly. He with the grocery cart a mile from the closest store and fully over-flowing. Her with the stroller, two kids.
Dead dreams feel oppressive and they hurt. They press.
It really pissed me off.
My mother’s brother, youngest of eight siblings, did three tours in Vietnam.
That part didn’t piss me off. I don’t know the circumstances around his decision to enter the military, I don’t even know if he was drafted against his will. But he did his duty to our country and I’ve always respected him for that.
When I was a stoned teenager I enjoyed listening to his stories of sitting in jungle trees, high on acid, watching the tracer bullets.
And all of my life I enjoyed his perspectives and his unique sense of humor.
What pissed me off was in 2002 on a random visit to his VA doctor, when the doctor said to my Uncle David “We’ll I’ll be damned! You’ve got that same tumor the rest of your company got. And it’s as big as a grapefruit.”
Really US Veterans Affairs, REALLY?
If the whole rest of his company got “the same tumor” why weren’t you monitoring him for it? Watching him closely for signs??? Then maybe you could have gotten it when it was the size of a pea, or if that’s too much to ask of modern medicine, the size of a golf ball at least. Not a fucking grapefruit.
My Uncle died on Christmas Eve 2003.
Boy can Uncle Same make corpses
Boy can Uncle Same make orphans
Boy can Uncle Same make Wi-ih-dooooes,,,,
Easy as toast
Bah dah dah daaaaaaaah
~~~~~~~~~ Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Sanders (The Fugs)