Duetting: Memoir 66

Duetting: Memoir 66 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops images of the ones she loves in order to snuggly wrap up and put away into neat and safe nests.

Some things cannot be wrapped up, tied up and put neatly away. Like people. Like the love you have for them. There is no closure when it comes to the ones you have loved. We all talk about moving on but it doesn’t mean we have to purge ourselves of the memories and beautiful parts of our past lives.

I will go out into the world again, and see what I find, and find how I fit. This is what I tell myself in the spring of 2013, two years after my daughter’s death. I did not get to launch Marika. Instead, in 2013, she is launching me.

Typically, a child is sent forth fortified by the lessons and leanings of the parent. But now it’s me venturing out into the world, and I’m taking what I’ve learned from my daughter. Each new day, I drift farther from the course we shared, yet I carry her with me. Her spirit. Her smile. Her words. Her way of riding the wave of a birthday or victory or something she deemed exceptional, by celebrating the heck out of it. Her gravitation toward the light of others, toward gatherings. The ease with which she could snap out of a funk or get a friend to. Her stubbornness and resolve. These things grow in me now. And they are setting me in motion.

Except for the grief. It’s always there and it has a stifling effect on any movement forward. Grief is just all this love I still have, cooped up inside me, which I don’t know what to do with. It drains me. And it feels like I won’t ever be able to love again. It’s like when a friend comes over unannounced at dinnertime on a day when you have only a few leftovers in the fridge. And you think your cupboards are empty, that you have nothing to share. But somehow what’s there ends up being enough to feed you both. I have to remind myself: I’m still enough. Even with a wounded heart. The friends who keep calling, even though I’m often horribly unapproachable, see something worthwhile in me.

My friends. They listen, worry, and sometimes still raise a brow when I mention Marika. They’ve come to understand that I need to hear and talk about her, that I can’t stand the thought of her being forgotten. When they phone me on Marika’s birthday or send me flowers on the anniversaries of her death, I gush with gratitude. For the closest ones I make a huge salad every weekend. My salads are pure celebrations of life. Of the sweet and savory, the bitter and the bland. Into the greens I throw local ingredients and exotic delicacies, colorful vegetables, cheese, nuts, legumes, seafood, fruit or edible flowers. Each toss is a song of love for those who have hung in there, seeing me through hard times.

Almost every day, I hike with Suki and friends, all over Ithaca and beyond. In between, there are photo shoots, long sessions in Photoshop, and writing groups. I write daily and post a weekly blog. And fumble on social media sites, trying to expand and keep up with a growing group of followers. It’s exhilarating. It’s like flying. Tweeting and Friend-ing people; Marika would have loved this. It’s my life now. And she is my lodestar.

Once a month I take Rachel, I mean Ray, going on 526 days of sobriety in the spring of 2013, out to dinner. With his new wife. They chatter about their puppy, new jobs, and the upcoming move to their first shared apartment. Every so often Ray relinquishes a scarf or shirt that once belonged to Marika, and it’s like getting a precious gift from a past lifetime.

Laurie, as always, is only a phone call away. Late nights, we talk about going to Australia. Her knee has healed but I’m not sure about her heart. She collected the photographs from Marika’s Facebook page before it disappeared, and put them on a thumb drive for me, not knowing how for years I’d pick photos from it to virtually visit with Marika in Photoshop. Laurie treats every one of her patients like they’re her beloved niece.

“Mom, I leave for Afghanistan in two weeks,” Greg announces in April 2013, having accepted a position with a private security contractor. In my head a huge wave swells and I have to catch my breath to jump over it. For a long time I knew this was coming. My days disintegrate anyway. It snows at the end of April. The driveway floods. Another friend is diagnosed with cancer. But on Facebook new friends cheer me on. In Photoshop I dress Suki in armor, and superimpose several selfie-shots into one picture so it looks like I’m hugging myself. Maybe I like to ‘shop because it lets me control my universe. In Photoshop I’m not at the mercy of cancer or the changing tides. I can shift-click, drag-and-drop a girl running with her rabbit into the flaming sun. Stars shine and flowers bloom in my living room. I can move the moon. I can pretend I’m snuggly wrapping up the ones I love in intricately crafted nests. I ‘shop my son safe in his red Hummer in the driveway at home, far from the dangerous places on earth he’s drawn to.

“I love you, and I’ve loved having you here,” I tell Greg after his announcement about Afghanistan. “How can I help?”
“Uh, can you iron this shirt for me?” he shrugs.

 

 

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Duetting: Memoir 65

Duetting: Memoir 65 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York Photoshops a ghostly presence of her daughter who died.

Years ago I hated taking photographs. Having a camera in front of my eyes kept me from experiencing the world, I used to say, I couldn’t be present to what was around me if I was focusing through a camera. But now, with my digital Sony RX100 that fits in a pocket, I can capture so much I didn’t even realize was there. Its postage stamp-sized plastic chip holds a million memories in tiny thumbnail scenes. Memories, and sometimes surprises. I click, drag, and drop the tiny images from the chip into the Photoshop program on my computer where I can enlarge or erase, copy as-is, or change them. Then I spend hours remaking reality. In Photoshop there are intriguing “tools” to work with. Tools geared to fixing. A Patch Tool and a Path Selection Tool, a Dodge Tool and an Add Anchor Tool. A Magic Eraser and a Magic Wand … a Clone Stamp. And a Healing Brush.

One gray day in early March 2013, I pass an old abandoned home. I stop because I’d grown up across the street from a ‘haunted’ house, and as a curious kid I’d peeked into the clouded windows to find traces of former inhabitants. Even vacated, there remained a vague residue of the lives that came and went. This other empty house just outside Ithaca now captivates my imagination. Respectfully, I approach the threshold to snap pictures and consider how I might ‘shop a ghost-image of Marika onto its porch. But back home, I reconsider as I view the images in Photoshop. The house is beautiful in itself. It wears its own stories in chipped paint that reveals familiar patterns in the weathered wood underneath. There’s no need to imprint my own longings onto it. Two years after Marika’s death, I find I’m filled with a deeper regard for others’ hearts and homes that house memories of lost loved ones. Loss and grief do not belong only to me.

Sooner or later we all lose someone we love. Then, critically wounded, we wallow in hopeless despair, suffering regrets and guilt, fatigue, denial, depression, anger … all sorts of symptoms and phases of grief. And finally we scramble to adapt, to redefine our lives, and find our new selves amid the gutted remains of our broken hearts.

Why don’t we learn about death early on, like in grade school, I wonder? Why don’t they prepare us in high school for all the dying we’re going to be faced with in the course of our lives? We should know that the longer we live, the more people, pets, and plants will die before us, and that the deaths of the ones we love most are going to scour our hearts raw. Allowing ourselves to get slammed by death over and over again—is this the humanness of us? Watching the bereaved keen and crumple every time—is this godliness? And why aren’t we taught how to use all our pain and longing as a source of new strength?

To live on after loss is to hold on, and let go, and love again, all at the same time. There are no rules, no right or wrong ways to go about grieving. This whole grief thing is just our individual journeys or unique adaptations to loss, which may eventually lead to growth, but could alternatively wipe us out.

Before she died, Marika and I were in the middle of a great mother-daughter divide. She was almost out the door when cancer clobbered her. Us. After two years stuck together sallying through cancer, Marika was ready to move clear across the world to get away from me. And one day she would have come back. There would have been graduations, shopping trips for gowns, maybe a wedding … grandchildren. All the would-haves have disintegrated. Now I hold onto Marika’s memory and her words, and let go of her future. And the future I’d imagined for myself. But I will not let go of her. Her absence is a presence. Something still remains, and even without a physical presence there is still a relationship. I watch as it mellows with time.

And I discover almost daily that all around me there are others dealing with loss. Everybody’s dealing with something. Maybe the humanness is in recognizing this. Maybe the godliness is in our simply sitting with the brokenhearted, listening, and being a silent, compassionate, non-judgmental presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Duetting: Memoir 64

Duetting: Memoir 64 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops a memory of lighting candles on birthday cakes for her daughter who died.

Greg grills steaks outside in snowy December. Still home, waiting to see where his new job will take him next, my son shares his aged Dalmore whisky with me while across the valley Ithaca College lights up the dorm windows to display the digits 2013. Another New Year tiptoes in. Another year that will pull my son far from home. One more year that pulls me ever farther from my daughter, from our times together. The second holiday season without Marika evanesces somewhere between the late night drinks with Greg and the few quiet dinners at friends’ houses.

Awake at sunrise most mornings, half-dressed, I grab my coat and camera, and clamber outside in the cold to catch the earliest morning light kissing the pond. There have been no photography classes over the winter break so I’m trying to continue on my own, but I miss that community of students and photographers. I miss people in general over holidays. Everyone’s mostly wrapped up in their own families, absent to me, making the absence of my daughter even more pronounced. I crave company but I seem to have forgotten how to socialize.

At first, I was not to be the one to host the mid-January birthday party for Stephen, leader of the Ithaca hikers. But for too long I’d let everyone else do all the entertaining.

“Let’s do it at my place,” had suddenly fallen out of my mouth when I was giddy in the company of fellow hikers. For days I think of little else until thirteen of us, including two friends’ daughters, are squeezed around the table where I’ve been writing for a year and a half. After a lunch of make-your-own sandwiches, the daughters help clear the table and light the candles on the cake. They’ve already started to sing the Birthday Song when they hand the cake to me to place before Stephen. Don’t let the flames go out, I think, carrying the candlelit cake ten short steps to Stephen. Suddenly my head reels. There’s a jarring explosion of memories. Presenting birthday cakes to Marika. I was with her for every one of her birthdays. Twenty cakes, each year one more candle added. And one for good luck.
… Happy Birthday Dear Marika, Happy Birthday to …

No. Don’t go there now. It’s Stephen’s birthday and there are twelve people here, I tell myself, fighting back tears. I don’t know if I set the cake down carefully in front of Stephen, or if I threw it at him like a hot potato. But by the time the song ends, I collect myself, clap cheerfully, and serve the coffee. And note that the Birthday Song is now a powerful emotional trigger, along with Christmas carols, carrot cake, and actress Drew Barrymore.

“Susan and Stephen want us to come for brunch on Tuesday,” says Liz, over the phone on Friday, the first of March 2013.
“I can’t. I have my photography class on Tuesday,” I say.
“Well, how about Monday then?” Liz asks.
“No, I can’t on Monday.”
“Whatcha got going on Monday?” she pushes.
“Monday’s March 4th, the second anniversary of Marika’s death. I don’t want to do a get-together with people then. It’s the wrong kind of energy,” I say.
“Well, what are you doing on Monday?” she prods.
“Something quiet, reflective. Like light candles around the pond. Maybe a campfire. Yeah, Marika loved campfires.”
“Well, let me know how we can help,” Liz says, ready to hang up.
“You wanna help me build a campfire?”
“In the snow?” she laughs nervously, knowing I’m serious.
“Yeah. A little warmth in all the wet and cold, I don’t know,” I say, sensing a mutual doubt. “I haven’t figured it out yet. But there’s no way I’m gonna be fit for company on Monday,” I say, ending the conversation.

The period from March 4th to Mothers’ Day is my season of hailstorms and hurricanes. In between those dates fall my birthday and Marika’s, the first day of spring, Easter, and Passover. All are opportunities to wallow in misery and close off the world. Brain nausea sets in as I try to sort out what this day, the anniversary of Marika’s death, really means and how I should commemorate it. What keeps coming up is my Aunt Bertha. My favorite aunt lost her husband on her birthday over fifty years ago. She’s kept to herself for over half a century, feeding on little other than her immense sorrow. That is not living; it is dying in slow motion. The day my daughter died was the worst day of my life. It’s a date I’ll never forget. The only good thing about that time was the kindness and support of many friends. Without them, I would never have gotten through that day. Or the past two years.

“Hey Liz,” I call back. “Did you finalize a day for the brunch yet? Because I think getting together with friends is exactly what I need on Monday.” So, in recognition of the day I lost Marika but found my caring community, I take Suki to brunch with Liz at Susan and Stephen’s house. An hour later on the same day, my friends Barb and Jan take me out for lunch. I take Marika’s friend Rachel, now Ray, and the woman she will marry, out for sushi dinner. And in between, because the assignment in photo class this week is to take seventy pictures of people in their environments, I go to hikers Dennis and Virginia’s place, and then Dan and Celia’s with my camera. Counting friends. Counting blessings.

 

 

 

 

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Duetting: Memoir 63

Duetting: Memoir 63 Robin Botie of ithaca, New York photoshops a scene illustrating the day she was stopped by a flashing police car for speeding, as she sits low, wishing she was invisble, considering whether or not to pull the cancer card, the 'my daughter just died of cancer' card.

Driving home one autumn day, a police car blinks bright lights and trails me until I pull over in disbelief. It is Officer Barr, the same Officer Barr who had stopped me in the exact same spot years before, after my divorce. And here he is again, telling me I was speeding, but this time he also notices my inspection is three months overdue.

Waiting for him to do whatever cops issuing tickets do back in their vehicles flashing dazzling lightshows, I sit low in the car hoping no one driving by will recognize me. I look over at the seat where Marika used to sit, where, if she were here now, she’d be rolling her mascaraed eyes at me. Why always me, I’m kicking myself, why can’t I just become invisible? Officer Barr taps on the window. He looks no different from when I saw him eight years ago.

“It behooves you to go to court,” he says, handing me two tickets on four pieces of curled paper. And all I can think is, I need a break. Maybe I shouldn’t leave home for another year or two. What do I say in court? What do I wear in court? Should I “pull the cancer card” as Marika used to say? The ‘my-daughter-just-died-of-cancer card?’

For two weeks I wail about the tickets. I pick out and toss aside various outfits for my day in court. Friends warn me I will pay over a thousand dollars between the two fines and the surcharges. I cry over the phone to my friend Celia,
“I’m a wreck. I don’t know if it’s the court date or the rewriting of chapter ten.”
“What’s chapter ten?” Celia asks.
“It’s the one where Marika dies,” I say, trying to hold back the floodwaters swelling in my head. “No, it can’t be chapter ten. This is my third rewrite; Marika’s died a hundred times for me in my manuscript this past year, and I’ve never had a reaction like this.”
“You’ve got a lot going on,” Celia sympathizes.

On the October day I am to account for my deviant behavior, wearing a rust-colored skirt and sweater, I settle myself into the wooden pew-like benches of the Ithaca City Court. I survey the scene to find a familiar face, to figure out where I fit in, and if I am over or underdressed. A man in a black suit stands before the judge and is told to pay four dollars to a local food store with which he’d had some entanglement. A redheaded preteen squirms in his seat, nudging his father who wears khaki shorts and rubs his face every five minutes, looking nervously from side to side. A thin, pale woman is six months pregnant, out of work and paying off hundreds of dollars of previous violations, five dollars at a time each month. The judge jokes with a young man in an orange jumpsuit who wears chains around his waist and wrists.

The judge is the one I feel the most kinship with. A neon pink shirt is barely concealed under her black robe. She looks like someone who would understand a fleeting loss of control, about being human and making mistakes. But Judge Rossiter never gets to hear my story. I do not get to stand before her to plead my case. She suddenly leaves the courtroom and the city attorney approaches. He waves my papers at me, the papers which show how I diligently got my inspection taken care of the day after Officer Barr stopped me.

“I’ll make you a deal,” the attorney says.
“Uh, is that how it’s done?” I ask doubtfully, wondering why no one else had been offered “a deal” and why the judge had gone without seeing me.
“I’m going to dismiss the ticket for the inspection and charge you fifty dollars for the speeding. That’s the deal.”
“This is legal?” I ask, looking around for witnesses and still praying I won’t get charged the thousand dollars my friends had predicted.
“You can wait and present your case to the judge, but she doesn’t make deals. I make the deals,” he says. It feels like a bribe. I have no excuse for the speeding and haven’t yet figured out what to say to the judge about it. “And there’s an eighty-dollar surcharge,” he adds. But my mind is already made up.
“I’ll take the deal,” I say, rising, my skirt clinging to the backs of my legs.

As I leave the courthouse I pass people in suits, in uniforms, in tee shirts and jeans, and in rags. There are people in wheelchairs, in chains, in tears, in defiance. Some are in dire straits. I walk by a hundred different stories. I’m out a hundred thirty dollars, but I still have my house, my son, my car, a bank account, my friends, my health, … my manuscript. It’s the first time since cancer came that I can remember counting my blessings.

 

 

 

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Duetting: Memoir 62

Duetting: Memoir 62 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops a scene of a wild dance around a campfire as she considers the meaning of 'always'

In late September 2012, at a campfire with musicians, a friend’s daughter tends the fire. Bent low to the ground, she blows at the coals until waves of flame dance up and embers riddle the air in fireworks of crackling jewels. Her every movement matches the music, and I sit in a lawn-chair, watching, mesmerized. When the fire is really roaring and the fiddles whinny at a feverish pitch, the young woman steps up barefoot on the rocks that circle the campfire. She tiptoes around the fire gracefully from rock to rock as the firelight plays on her face.
“Marika, you’re too close to the fire.” That’s what’s about to burst from my mouth as I watch this girl-woman. I catch myself just before toppling off the edge of my seat.

No one is like Marika. My friends’ daughters don’t really remind me of her. But late the next day, as I stroll over crack-dry leaves in the driveway, there’s the sound of an approaching car crunching gravel, and I feel a hopping in my heart. For seconds, I hear the old dented Toyota pulling up, music blasting, leaves flying behind it. Marika would show up suddenly like this. Just before dinnertime. She’d tumble out of the car carrying a full laundry bag, with Suki pulling at her leash. A cool smoke-tinged breeze brushes by. My deepest sadness is triggered by these sounds and smells. Marika had come to me like this last autumn too. And it had taken a whole winter to creep up out of the dark depths of despair.

“You don’t magically recover in a year’s time,” says Meg, my CompassionNet social worker who still keeps tabs on me, a year and a half after Marika’s death.
“But I’m tired of these triggers wrenching my emotions, at being accident-prone and making poor choices. Forgetting. Falling. Losing things. Breaking things,” I tell her. “Missing appointments was something someone else always did. I can’t even dress myself right. I used to be a teacher. I was a lifeguard. I took care of other people’s children. Except for childbirth, I was never in a hospital for my own care until this past year. Now I’ve broken a wrist, my nose, and two toes. My eyes are cried permanently bloodshot. I had vertigo last week. And Lyme disease. My sister wants me tested for some kind of neurological impairment. Is this how it’s always going to be from now on?”

“Take care of yourself,” Meg says, her brows twisting in opposite directions off her face. And I think, Yeah, I’m my own lifeguard now.

Sometime after, Rachel phones, “You hafta meet my new girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend?” I’m caught off guard. Why would she want me to meet her new friend? This must be a really special new friend, I think. And then I finally meet up with them, Rachel and her Girlfriend. Not a boyfriend this time. I mull it over and over, trying to get comfortable with an ever-changing Rachel.

These days I’m desperate to have something stay the same. My whole life has changed. It seems like to live is to change, and I’ve been fighting it. And I thought that Marika, being dead, would not change. I’m finally getting to know who she really was, but even dead—and after a year and a half I can finally say ‘she is dead’—she is changing too. Or, maybe it’s our relationship that’s changed. Marika—her ghost—is no longer fighting me. I noticed that. Somehow, now, she’s cheering me on.

“Always, Marika,” she used to sign her letters, notes to friends, emails, … everything. Was that a plea to remember her or her pledge to always be there? Was it a wink at immortality? Or was it simply a pretty word that could sit next to one’s signature instead of ‘sincerely’ or ‘yours truly,’ without too much thought behind it?

Who dares to say “Always” in a world plagued by climate change and ozone layer depletion? How could she sign something “Always” with deadly global viruses, nuclear weapons proliferation, water pollution, terrorism, financial meltdowns, and ecological destruction all over the planet? With freak accidents, madmen with guns, asteroid impacts? With cancer. A million things can go wrong. It takes just one to end your “Always.” Always is every time, at all times and for all time. Forever. Continually, repeatedly, in any case and without end. Always is the sun rising and setting, hopefully. Time. Space. Rocks, maybe. Even earth may not be around for always.

I will not be around for always.

Shortly after Marika died I found a small gold ring in her room. In many cultures a ring, an unbroken circle, symbolizes infinity and undying love. However, this ring is one of those adjustable bands where the ends don’t meet. As soon as I put it on, I knew it would snag on something someday and fall off. Sooner or later I will lose it. But I’ll wear Marika’s ring as long as I have it; when it’s gone I won’t regret not tucking it away in a box or someplace safe. Can I treat people this way? Like they are not forever? Can I treat my own life this way, like it’s not for always? Marika lived like she had only an hour left. How differently might we all live if we had expiration dates stamped on us like cartons of milk?

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Duetting: Memoir 61

Duetting: Memoir 61 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops watching the moon after her healing journey to Australia when her daughter dies.

Barely twelve hours after landing in Ithaca, on my return from Australia, I fall head first and hard into my front door. And break my nose. Slowly, I lift myself up from the load I’d tried to carry into the house. Two huge garbage bags of cat-poop and soiled litter my cat-sitting friends had collected and sent back with the cat. The cat is still in the car, crying in his carrier. But I’m holding onto my head, barely able to breathe. A million things could have gone wrong in Australia, but they didn’t, and here I am, back on my own doorstep, losing my balance, falling apart.       

My nose rains blood. Stars flash before my eyes. My fingers fumble blindly over the newly reactivated cell phone in an effort to reach someone for help. In the emergency room, I hold my face for hours as my memories of Australia evaporate. I beg the doctor for a new nose, a nose job. Impossible, he says, but he can fix the break. I wake up after the surgery wishing I could sleep through the healing. But even sleeping is difficult, done sitting up in a zero-gravity lawn chair parked next to the bed where cat and dog keep vigil over me and the tray of tissues, pills, and tippy-cup with water.

Over the next weeks my face turns the color of stormy oceans, then of green-gray grass, and finally a yellowish shade like wheat ready for harvest. I write feverishly as I nurse my nose. I watch the crazy geese on the pond. They hoot and honk. They do their nesting and protective dances all over again. From the south windows I follow the geese and the slow changing of the moon.

“Hey, Marika in-the-moon,” I call to her when it’s a full moon. When it’s a fingernail moon. On moonless nights when I walk her dog. “Do you see the moon, Suki?” I talk to the dog. I talk to Marika. I talk and sing to Marika’s moonbeam smile in her life-size photograph that hangs prominently in the middle of the house. It all helps.

Late spring nights I try to sleep, breathing through my mouth, as around the pond the songs of a thousand frogs echo in high peeps and low gunk-gunks. Frogs gulp and grunt. They scream into the dark night. Windows open or closed, it doesn’t matter though. Mostly I hear only the muddled noise of my mind trying to make sense of life’s events. I wait in the tumult of the night until the din dies down, or doesn’t.

The days are filled with friends who check on me, prying me from my writing. They listen. It helps to have friends, especially those who also have lost loved ones.

My friend Andrea dies. My children’s mentor. The one who believed in me. Cancer.

I lie on my back on the living room floor. Suki, my inherited dog, stands over me, engrossed by this new perspective. She pokes her inquisitive little nose into my still-sore face, and I can’t help but smile. Then she drops a squeak-toy on my chest and I explode into laughter. The sound of my own high-pitched squeals fascinates me. But it soon dissolves into a howling cry as I sink back into sorrow. Marika. Now Andrea. Has cancer always destroyed so many lives and I just never noticed? Suki stares at me, terrified. When I quiet down she licks the tears around my healing nose.

By the end of June my blog site is up. If I want to be a writer, I’m told, I need to have a website and write a weekly blog. And find followers on Facebook and Twitter. Oh, if Marika could see this. More and more, it seems, I’m living my daughter’s life. Only I’m shy and clueless as to social media. Communicating with strangers makes my neck muscles tense up and renders me almost wordless. But it is the only commitment I have, so I treat it like it’s my job; every Monday morning, no matter where I am or how I am, I publish an article. I reach out to family and friends, to Marika’s friends, and to people I have not yet met. I’m never sure of what to say. So I write the stories of my stumbling into deep holes of grief, and my attempts to crawl back out. In the hope it will help someone. We’ve all lost someone or something we loved. There’s life after loss. That’s all I’m trying to say. Or, it’s what I’m trying to believe.

Way before our colliding with cancer I had developed an aversion to producing visual art. So I’m not sure what on earth led me to enroll in a Digital Photography course at Tompkins Cortland Community College in the fall after the Australia trip. I know nothing about photography. I’d borrowed a small point-and-shoot for Australia and could barely manage that. Computers and technology in general confound me. And here I am in a class with tech-savvy college students and a handful of retired folks with huge expensive cameras hanging around their necks like gigantic gaudy jewelry. The only thing I have going for me is my sense of design. And maybe my newly developed adventurous spirit born from the discovery that I need to actually do something in order to have something to write about in my blogs. But there’s this keen desire to breathe visible life into my memories of Marika. Like one huffs and puffs at the last embers of a dying campfire.

So I rent a digital camera from the school and photograph whatever sits still long enough for me to consider f-stops, shutter speeds, and ISO settings. Right off, I learn to photo-shop pale images of Marika’s face onto all my landscapes. Soon I’m ‘shopping away, trying to make impossible scenes appear somewhat real. I ‘shop Suki a dozen times all over the living room, in one picture. I enlarge Marika’s face until I can gaze into her life-sized eyes. Working in Photoshop is the closest I’ve come to finding peace. Or God, maybe. Time and troubles disappear when I ‘shop. The making of each picture is a prayer of gratitude. It’s comforting to me, if not actually useful. It’s challenging. I stagger out of class each week dizzy with new ideas. And in my weekly blogs I add photos to complement what I write. 

It doesn’t take long to notice that my approaches to writing and photography differ. I work hard to find the exact words to describe reality. How something feels, smells, sounds, and tastes. I could never write fiction. But when I photo-shop, I can tell a more colorful story. So I tell the truth in words, but shamelessly stretch it in my photos. And I call the whole thing ‘healing.’

 

 

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