What is, what isn't and what might have been



A whirlwind trip to Chicago, the last season of an HBO series, and the death of a contemporary all have me thinking about impermanence.

As my husband and I strolled the busy streets of downtown Chicago last week, we noted the similarities between The Windy City and The Motor City. If you are from Detroit, you might agree. I don’t think residents of Chicagoland, however, would appreciate the comparison. In an up-close kind of way, the older architecture, some of the street names, the climate and geography all are similar enough to make us dream a little dream: We imagine that our home city has maintained the world-class status it held in the early 20th century, that it has continued to grow and prosper, compounding its assets rather than imploding into the decaying husk it is today. Things like this article and the reports from the “D Shack” seem edgy at best, as if journalists have been embedded in a war zone, and as the butt of a joke at worst. As much as I get angry about outside depictions of this area, a daily drive through it all only serves as a grim reminder of what is, what isn’t, and what might have been.

A day after our return to Day-Twah we attend a memorial service for a business associate of my husband. As we stand in the shadowy art gallery watching a still-photo montage of the guy’s life projected onto a wall, with tracks from the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” filling the painful gaps in conversation, I realize the obvious: This is all we have. This moment. This now, with its gnawing desires to be somewhere in the future or its aches for what’s left in the past.  I watch the images loop endlessly as the deceased progresses from a pink-faced teen with a mullet hanging out with his buddies in their suburban neighborhood to a grown man with the responsibilities of a wife and two children. Unlike life, the slide show allows us to rewind time and start again. For a brief moment, we can trick ourselves into forgetting that death is why he is a two-dimensional image on a wall, that maybe he’s in the audience laughing and weeping with the rest of the group. I see the grieving cling to what cannot be held in hand; in a defining moment death bounces what is into what is not. All that remains is what might have been.

Our thoughts shift to a friend we lost to suicide a few years back. He was an avid fan of  HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” We never watched it during its original run, but have been working our way through all five seasons on DVD. We are a half dozen episodes away from the finale.  I have grown so attached to this show, to these characters, that I agonize over the fact that it will end. We’ve decided not to rush through to the final episode, but rather we’ll watch a few each week and let the story marinate. We watch the show with added interest, knowing our friend often discussed the characters and plot lines with us, even though we were clueless at the time. Now, we look for clues in a show that suggests a thousand different ways to die. We now understand what attracted him to the characters and story lines. We hope we don’t see the way in which he chose to end his life at 40.

In his death and in the closing of this show I realize I cannot get all the answers.  I cannot make something go beyond its expiration date. Maybe I’m more Detroit than Chicago, not fully realized yet, but with some seeds of hope for bigger and better things.   Like the real Detroit, the one a visitor or embedded reporter may not know, everything has some element worth knowing, some reason to stick around to make what might have been or what is not into something that is.


Detroit/credit umich.edu

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Blame it on 'Six Feet Under'


by frostnova via creative commons

Blame it on a virus that zapped all my energy.

Blame it on a tight project deadline and a babysitter on vacation.

Blame it on watching three episodes in a row of “Six Feet Under” Season Four, including one in which the mortuary drains back up, spewing copious amounts of human blood onto the floors and up through kitchen sinks.

When I went to check on Girl from the East last night and found her face down in a small pool of blood, which had soaked a pillow, the sheets and her nightgown, I freaked.

And when I picked her up and it spilled out of her mouth and all over my sweatshirt, I really freaked out.

And when I looked at the clock and saw that it was 12:43 a.m. and remembered that my husband was in Massachusetts on business, that my closest friend to call upon was in Pennsylvania on vacation, and the doctor’s office merely advised me to call 911, that’s what I did.

I felt slightly irrational.

I mean, all that blood. Is that normal for a nosebleed? Was it a nosebleed? Had she fallen? Did she stuff something up there?Did the cats do something to her? My mind raced and came up short of any common-sense answers.  All I knew was that the blood just kept flowing.

I don’t like blood. Blood makes me crazy.

I told the dispatcher that I didn’t want a fuss. I didn’t think it was life and death. I just couldn’t get the bleeding to stop enough to get her to the car and drive the three and a half miles to the area hospital.

So they showed up, quietly, but with lights flashing, and further riled my already totally freaked-out girl.

Long story short, the EMTs seemed to think it was a severe nosebleed and that I should take her to the doctor soon and get the humidity adjusted in our house.

An already long day stretched taut. My frayed nerves nearly snapped. My mothering skills as useless and spent as the soaked wash cloth I’d used to pinch her nostrils.

Is it the adoptive mother in me that reacts so irrationally to even the slightest scrape with this Girl from the East? Is it the last-time-around mother in me that cannot abide by illness and accidents threatening our perfect joy? I am gripped at times by an uncontrollable fear and panic over this Girl from the East, who didn’t come to us easily, who didn’t really seem ours until we passed through U.S. Immigration gates, even though we’d fed, clothed, diapered and loved her for weeks in her homeland, who held out loving and trusting us until we had proven ourselves worthy. So many hoops to jump through to get to today, to this blood and fear.

I had a full day of work today, but I could barely part company with her, fearing the worst.

Her precious beauty tears at my insides. I cannot contemplate the worst. I cannot fix the worst. I cannot change that which is already predetermined. I cannot let go of the irrational worry and panic that fills my heart when even the slightest thing seems wrong.

I do not know her health history. I do not know to what she was exposed before she landed in our arms. I do not know what is hereditary in her family. There is no one to call, no records to request. It’s all a blank.

The blood tears me apart, but it bonds us together.

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