Let me set hatred by for this one day let each feast with family full of joys leave that empty, no anger or dismay and maybe keep that chamber empty save for toys Let there be no bombs down from the sky let no one fall to firing with a gun let no flogging make any children cry let no one need to cower or to run I don’t know what to call this day right now Guilt day or day we stole this gorgeous land? I give thanks for love and wonder how We can heal the past, what demands? Two friends will come to feast and sip eggnog My cats will be surprised: they bring their dog.
We can work it out, the song says. But no, maybe not, not always.
Trauma bunnies together. Walking. Why would you walk with me, I am so down? Oh, you are a trauma bunny too. Walking on the beach, slowing down, looking at rocks. The walks get longer and longer. You bring FOOD and tell me I have food insecurity. I laugh. But it is true.
Comparing notes about childhood. You say yours was worse. Yours was terrifying. You ran away over and over and over, but came home. Small children need food and shelter. You get older. A neighbor says if you run away now, you will never stop running. You do not run away permanently. But you still run.
My childhood has no bruises to the skin. But the bruises to the heart are a nightmare. You finally say that I win, my childhood was worse. But I was not trying to win, I want to say. I was just telling you as you’ve told me.
We have both survived damage and coped. I have the resource of a grandmother with money who paid for medical school. I apply without telling my parents, after my mother says, “You don’t want to be a doctor. It’s too much work.” I am a poet, a writer, being a doctor so I can study people and have children and be certain there is food. Job security. And food security, true. With a husband or without.
You fight school all the way, but when you are told that you will be a failure or in jail, you decide that you will prove them wrong. You are still proving it. You won’t tell how you make your money, not to the locals, but the new car every two years tells them you have money. And it’s the wrong kind of car: a liberal car for a professed conservative. It stands out.
We start playing trauma bunnies after six months. You want me to come to dinner and I turn New Yorker and direct: is this a date? You are surprised. I set the boundaries and you think about it. And say yes.
But trauma bunnies is not as much fun as the beach. We get close and intimate and then you run. When you run, I run too: the other way. I don’t chase you. You haven’t experienced that before. You keep coming back. Why aren’t I chasing you? Because I too am a trauma bunny, remember?
Back and forth: close and far, together and apart. All holidays become times when you run, so that I will not be part of the family. I announce that I am now your mistress and you can’t be with my family either. Back and forth. Closer and then you refuse to come to my son’s wedding. Far again.
You say the summer will be very busy. You say your focus is music. You say we can go to one beach. One beach? For the whole summer? I run to europe and you are surprised. I ask, are you too busy to have me around? No, you say. But when I return, you have a friend staying with you. Intimacy disappears.
I am tired of it. My daughter is here.
At last I bring up sex: are we done with that?
No, you say. We have visitors.
Wouldn’t stop me, I say.
You say, sex is still on the table. Then you hem and haw. You say sex is not important, you can take or leave it. The friendship is more important. Well, the friendship is most important, but sex IS important to me and hello, it’s damn insulting of you to say you can take or leave it. Leave. This is all triggered by your yearly family get together. You need me at a distance so you won’t be tempted to invite me. You don’t want me there so I am distanced again.
And I am done, done, done. I dream of a small child, a wild woman, a woman doctor and someone new: a quiet woman. I think about the quiet woman and I ask the other three. Yes, they say.
The quiet woman is the adult. Not the mask of the professional, not the wild defense fighter, not the small child. The small child has healed. She is the connection to the Beloved, to the source of the poems. She blesses the others. The quiet woman takes over.
The quiet woman takes over. She says goodbye, farewell, Beloved keep you and bless you, you may contact me any time.
You are in your cave alone and do not answer.
You may end up there, alone, alone, alone. You want freedom most of all, you say. Another song: freedom is another word.
Yes it is. People can change and grow. But some want to and some don’t and sometimes we don’t grow at the same time.
Yes, says the quiet woman. Sometimes we don’t grow at the same time.
Fade to quiet.
I took the photograph from a canoe at Lake Matinenda in Ontario, Canada.
I have been in Rainshadow Chorale since 2000. My father, Malcolm Ottaway, was one of the eight people who started it in 1997. He and my mother moved here in 1996. My mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, died of ovarian cancer on May 15, 2000. Rainshadow agreed to sing a Byrd Mass for my mother’s memorial. My father asked if my sister and I could sing in the chorale for the memorial. We were told yes. I had moved to Port Townsend at the end of 1999.
After the Memorial, I asked if I could stay in the chorale. The answer was yes and I have been in it ever since.
Our director, Rebecca Rottsolk, is retiring from the chorale after our next concert. She has picked favorite pieces. I have sung in nearly every concert since 2000, though I couldn’t sing in the one right after my father died in 2013. He followed my sister, who died in 2012. My throat wouldn’t let me sing that one.
So Rebecca, thank you for the music and thank you for being a wonderful director and forcing us to level up over and over. I am sending you peace and love and joy.
And everyone else, put this concert on your calendar.
You were an artist You are an artist You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects And died at 61 I keep wondering what the art supplies are like and if you work on sunsets or mountains or lakes
Trey, 9 made a clay fish last summer that I admire He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.” He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots to fire in your ashes as you wished I ask what he’d make He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?” I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe he should make a vase and then being surprised that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine, too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.” I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.
Camille, 4. asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died. I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92. Camille asks how old I am. 40. When are you going to die? I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.
Camille studies me and is satisfied for now. She goes off. I think of you.
I perpetuate the Christmas cards you did with us upon my children. They each draw a card. We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors. Camille wants to draw an angel and says she can’t. I draw a simple angel and have her trace it. She has your fierce concentration bent over tracing through the thick paper She wants it right. The angel is transformed.
My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too. Each time I paint the angel to send to someone I love I think of Camille and you and genes and Heaven I see you everywhere
January 19, 2002
published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002
I never see you again you never speak to me again you never love your bearish parts you never let yourself get angry you never let yourself get sad you never let yourself feel you tell yourself you are happy you tell yourself everything is the way it should be
My daughter is home and we went on a beach walk yesterday! The stupid oxygen keeps me from going fast. She went for a bike ride afterwards. Hooray!
Yesterday evening she brought up social distancing and how careful she should be. She has about 5 friends who are home that she is going to walk with. I am still wearing a mask over my oxygen tubing most places. She will unmask if they are vaccinated and they don’t have a cold or anything else. Even a cold would make me worse at this point. It makes me grumpy to be vulnerable, but I appreciate the discussion.
Refugees welcome - Flüchtlinge willkommen I am teaching German to refugees. Ich unterrichte geflüchtete Menschen in der deutschen Sprache. I am writing this blog in English and German because my friends speak English and German. Ich schreibe auf Deutsch und Englisch, weil meine Freunde Deutsch und Englisch sprechen.