Monthly Archives: June 2016

Not the Same Anymore

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, takes time out from gardening to photoshop headlines of global changes.“I am not the same person I was before.” Another mother said this, as the setting sun seared the landscape behind her. Sitting on the edge of a deckchair, hunched over an almost-empty plate, I looked up suddenly. Sweet light danced on her hair, on the pond beyond her, in the gardens, and in the faces of the others around us, the ones whose old selves had been torn apart by tragedies that now brought us together.

I looked back down at my dirt-rimmed fingernails and at my very respectable outfit from the day before that I’d hastily thrown on to replace the ragged clothes worn all day hiking with the dog, working on the computer, and messing around in the garden. It had been a full day. A good day. And now I was sitting around someone else’s pond with friends and good food. Far away from the rest of the world and troubles I couldn’t control.

“Not a trace remains of who I used to be,” the other mother said. And I knew what she meant. Immediately. Exactly. Sadly. And Joyfully.

 

Are you who you used to be? How do you hold on to who you are and your beliefs when the world around you seems to be changing in ways that challenge your core values?

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Craving Pink

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a digital montage of pink peonies after a week of craving pink.“Lady, if you can’t control your brat, we’re gonna call the police,” the salesman in Ithaca’s old Dick’s Sporting Goods said. In the store’s stockroom that served as a makeshift dressing room, four-year-old Marika, in one of her monumental tantrums, was hurling helmets, cross-country skis, and whatever other merchandise she could reach.
“I don’t want the yellow snowsuit. I want the pink one. It’s not too little for me, mom,” she bellowed. Unable to lift her, I dragged her out of the store, through the mall, kicking and screaming.

More than two decades later, I told the woman spraying spirea bushes in the Garden Center at Agway, “I need a pink peony.” She pointed to all the white and deep fuchsia peony plants. “No. It has to be pink. Pale pink. Cool pink like the color of sand on a beach at sunset. Like the fluff on top of a cherry ice cream soda. Peeony-pink, like little-girl-princess clothes.” No. Sorry, she said. More determined than ever, I left the place, and drove around the countryside in search of pink peonies. All week long. By the time I landed in Lowes Outdoor Center, all the peonies had already bloomed and dropped their petals. A few spent plants were tucked away in the back, their beautiful shaped leaves looking colorless next to all the pansies and bright hibiscus.

“These are really going to be pink next year?” I asked, paying for the last three supposedly-pink peony plants. Then, peeved about having to put off my instant-pink gratification until next June, I went to the wine store and bought half a case of pale pink rose.

Who’s the spoiled brat now?

 

Do you ever find yourself feeling entitled? What are some of the less desirable things you inherited or adopted from your loved ones who died? What color makes you happy? What color makes you hungry? What do your cravings say about you?

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Free to Fly

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops daylilies and hosta plants, and birds flying free in a garden of grief.“You should write some final wishes. Just in case,” I’d told my daughter, like I was asking her to make a shopping list. It was back in November 2010, before her stem cell transplant. She was going to kick cancer. So, except for handing me her healthcare proxy, “Here. You can have this,” we weren’t discussing death or dying. In fact, I’d often scolded her for living her life like it was an endless party, like it could never end.

Marika’s final wishes were found the day after they pulled the plug on her life support. I was the one who’d had to sign the papers. That night, alone in her room, hugging her belongings, I found her poems. And now I have to wonder: did she have any idea what a gift this poem would be?

FREE ME by Marika Joy Warden

Free me.
Let me be.
Spread my wings for me, for all to see.
You hold me, you’re holding me
Back too tight, I can’t break free.
The cells, the cells of red and white,
They’ve given flight to my family,
But not to me, because I’m free.
Free, up above the world I know,
Away I’ll go, don’t hold me so,
Don’t hold me back. I’m stuck in black
And darkness here. The light’s so near!
Just do not fear. I can go now.
Some way, somehow, I’ll learn to fly
I’ll reach the sky, float over you,
Look up, it’s true. You’ll see me there
With regrown hair and regrown hope,
Surpassed the slope that I slid down,
Down to the ground, but now, no more.
For now I soar above the sea,
No catching me ‘cause now I’m free.
You have freed me.

Leaves of daylilies grow skyward like wings lifting in the wind. Hostas raise hundreds of leaf-hands in search of the sun. It’s June, five years later, and I’m whirling in a sea of fragrant honeysuckle. Singing as I pull weeds and water new plantings, I watch every bird and butterfly, each duck and goose that flies over the pond. Fireflies. Damselflies. Moths. Which one will linger, circling over me? Which one will land and look my way?

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Preserving Family Memories

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an image of her deceased father from an old VHS videotaped recording converted to DVD.On a small computer screen, in a blurred DVD converted from an old VHS recording, bleared further through my tears, I watched my father laughing. I’d last seen his face in 2009. He wasn’t laughing then. At the end of his life, he was angry, ready to go. Done.

Now in the recovered footage, My father sat in a row alongside his siblings and in-laws. The seven of them smiled nervously, lined up in front of a video camera in 1993. My father, always fascinated by cameras, seemed amused to be on the other side of this newfangled movie-making instrument. Within minutes, he warmed to the camera and to the questions his niece and daughters were posing to the group. He laughed, talking on past his turn. It was hard to shut him up. I’d forgotten what he was like when he was happy. The video zoomed in and out, focusing on the group, closing in on him.

Videotaping aging relatives. We’d all noticed the changing population at the family reunions. “To preserve the family history,” my cousin Brigite, the one who came up with the idea and produced the project, had said.

But for me, years later approaching Father’s Day, fixated on the fuzzy computer image, it was the preservation of my father’s bright face and the sound of his laughter. And of all the pixelated memories of being my father’s daughter. For days after, I talked to him, and walked in the warmth of his smile.

 

 

What memories are brought up for you by viewing photos or video footage of your loved ones who died?

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