Moving in Time…Hello, 50

David Bowie has resurfaced in my iTunes lately.  Along with Squeeze and Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and Chrissie Hynde.  That music has a curious power over me; I feel it in my belly, carrying the beat and bringing me back to another time, while sitting contentedly, happily in my present.  (Depending on whose car you were in, Madonna and Prince accompanied our dreams and longings, too.) The 80s made as much of an impression on me as the 70s or 60s or any other decade did for those who gained their footing with the music du jour flooding the airwaves.  I was 18 in 1984 — the legal drinking age in those days — and I dove deeply into freedom and fumbling.

What were the 80s, my 80s?  I remember pointed-toe boots and faded peg leg jeans; wall phones and cassette players; smoke-filled bars and conversations that had nothing to do with key-tapping; big, sprayed hair and serious eyeliner; anxious expectation for who knew what and a hunger and satiety kindled and quelled by friends and music; upbeat longing while having all the answers and blatant, unapologetic, searching; singing out loud together in the car and dancing together once we arrived.   fullsizerender

It was classes by day, work in the evening, then out with friends –– needing little sleep, as it is for everyone at that age.  Meet first at Margaritas on Lark Street for a warmup, then move next door to dance on the second floor of 288 or at Putting On The Ritz on lower Central, a few doors up from where Metroland was at the time.  Minutes ticked by like seconds, and 18 became 20 became 25…

Today’s prevailing search for centeredness supplanted an unstoppable, angst-ridden rollercoaster through peaks and valleys.  They must add up to the same, mustn’t they?  Centeredness can not be a constant state, but a balance of highs and lows, whether we want them or not, just like any other time.  I doubt any of us look for center at that age as much as the highest peak.

But those 80s.  They were a sugar rush of schemes and consolations, hopes and heartbreaks, mended more or less by much-needed, reliable, good friends — and always good tunes that seemed to know what we were feeling.  We moved like a fluctuating herd of who could or couldn’t make it that night, but we always knew there would be the next night and that we’d be there for each other.  Until one day we weren’t.  Until one day we looked up and turned a corner.  Some had the luck or privilege or wisdom to say goodbye.  And some did not.

On October 26, 2016, I will turn 50, surpassing the too-young age my biological mother lived to be –– a quiet, suppressed worry of mine for years.  Hence the palmful of daily vitamins and yoga and attempts at positive thinking.  I am determined to live a long life with Mick, to make up for late starts and to reach those long-held goals that present themselves upon waking every day with increasing urgency.

I’ve thought about the 80s’ hold on me more and more lately as I approach 50.  It’s been a long time since those wide-eyed days and yet they sometimes feel like yesterday.  And always they bring an ache to my throat if I think about them too pointedly.  It’s because it was the time of flight, when the world held only promise and possibility.  Now, arriving at the age that I’d thought frighteningly close to the grave when my Dad turned 50 and loving the life I have now, I do find myself looking back a bit, wondering if I should have done anything differently and if I would, given the opportunity.

img_0052David Bowie died this past January, and Elvis Costello is coming to the Palace on my birthday, in fact.  I had considered going, but plans with those I love took on a life of their own, and I am happy to live in the now.  The clock ticks on and so must we.  That era of music will always have the power to transport me, not to the past, per se, but to the same sense of hope and yearning and trying and forging ahead so that maybe when I am nearing 70 or 80, I’ll look back and think I tried my best and took a few risks.  I hope.  Though it comes with a chance of grief or disappointment, it comes, too, with a shot at victory.

I want always to move, to set my sights on something and try with all my might to grab hold of it.  I want always to sing — off key, windows up — and dream and scheme and be carried somewhere by a song, and I hope that for everyone.  Let’s Dance.

Advertisements

Navigate

For someone who has spent her whole life wondering where on earth she belongs, the past week has spun me ‘round wildly.  I learned that I have not one half-brother, but two.

Rewind a moment:  I imagine that my quest for connection has something to do with the fact that I was adopted as a newborn and never knew my birth family or much about them.  Qualification:  there was no them, not that I ever heard.  There was a mother, a mother who wanted and tried to keep me, but it didn’t work.  Not everything does, regardless of how much or little we want it or try.  And I was raised by caring people who loved me — including a brother I’ve always adored — so my curiosity was just there, coasting alongside a fine upbringing.

I spent my childhood –– which has seeped into my adulthood with determined sustenance ––  wondering why I didn’t fit into her plan, this romanticized, imagined woman with the auburn hair spilling down her back.  Let’s call her Peggy.  She didn’t want me, couldn’t keep me, however it went…no drama, just the way life goes, sometimes.  It was the 1960s when I was born, and life for a girl brought to this country when she was a year old in the 1930s by parents trying to make their way in a new country couldn’t have been easy.

ReneeSitka

My first (much loved) dog, Sitka, and me, circa 1973.

 

I did learn at some point in my thirties that Peggy had died when I was fourteen.  I resigned myself to never knowing facts, but I have always thought my private lore and fantasy of her would provide me with an endless bank of writerly possibilities.  I have taken solace in my self-spun justification that her mystery has been and will always be my writer’s rudder through depthless waters.

Still, a girl will wonder about her mother.  Walking sleepily into the bathroom each morning, searching for what the previous night’s sleep brought, I wonder if my face is somehow morphing into hers –– or if it has always been hers –– and if I am like her in any way.

Fast-forward again:  A party at the house of friends last Fall kindled conversation about ancestry.com.  I did it, thinking, I just want to know about Peggy.  That’s it; I just want a little history of her and what it was like then…for her.  I’ve wanted to know her story for as long as I can remember.  I took the test and learned some stats.  A bit of this bloodline and this much of that, relatives here and there.  It was cool and I thought it was all I’d ever learn, and that was okay.  I’d never really know what it was like for her anyway.

With a stem of curiosity abated, I put the whole notion of ethnicity and blood and relations out of my mind.  I moved back into the land of the present.  Until a few nights ago when I received a call from a woman, a private investigator, claiming to represent my half-brother.

Mind you, I’ve never wanted to meet any of my blood relations, if there were any even out there.  Enter video-streaming here of 1970s or 1980s programming of 20/20 with Barbara Walters, profiling newly connected biological families who rushed into each other’s arms.  It made me uncomfortable, sitting on the couch,  my mother across the room.  I thought it must make her feel sad.  The mother who raised me.  It certainly made me feel awkward.  Misdirected, desperate love, that’s what I thought.  Skeptical, then and now.  With this new Ancestry knowledge, I just wanted some facts to enrich my story of her.  Of Peggy.

We’ve had some email exchanges, and it seems he is who he claims to be, this half-brother of mine.  He has a younger brother — both older than me.  From a couple of written exchanges, he seems kind and smart.  I like him, from what I can tell.  And he seems curious in the way I have always been about from where we came; and that makes me want to override my propensity for extreme caution, to give him a chance, at least.  I’ll go slowly, and it will either bloom, stagnate or generate a new life’s fiction.  I’ve told him some details from the spider-webbed memory banks of utterances from my parents, and he’s shared with me what he has. Your volley, is how I signed off on my last missive to Pete.  Pete.  So we’ll see.  This could be just another page in my diary of Peggy, which will continue to fuel me as a writer for the rest of my days, I hope.  Or it could be something else.  I’ll navigate slowly, watchfully, as I always have.  Whether this goes anywhere beyond my private library, it is another page in my book.

Seeking Creatures

Easter and Mother’s Day have come and gone along with the tulips, which the deer ate a few nights ago; and the sounds of lawn mowers and birdsong are revving up for the season. The summer holidays are a heartbeat away. I am ready.

The barbecue is prepped, and the glorious sun that has graced recent days has gone down, bringing with it a light chill, and will rise again, with the promise of those summer days ahead.  Squeeze has been playing on my iTunes lately, taking me back, back, back to those sometimes reckless and always hopeful eighties.  My younger of two stepdaughters, dwelling upstairs as much as possible and guarding her desperately needed privacy –– I get it; I remember –– is as elusive as the rabbit poking around the neighborhood lately, which I’ve named Hazel.

FullSizeRender copy

We –– my neighbor and husband and I –– think Hazel is an escaped or lost pet.  (We put out the word that she is here, but thus far, no one has come for her.)  She has the coloring of an appaloosa and kohl-rimmed eyes, giving her an exotic, Cleopatra look; and when I call to her, she sometimes comes.  We don’t have any pets.  And for some reason, I have fallen in love with Hazel.

Just the thought of it, someone’s beloved pet now roaming our back yards like a freed captive or a fearful, lost creature, touches me.  As an adoptee who once packed her paper bag suit case and sat on the front steps waiting for the adoption people to drive by and pick me up, as a woman who has never given birth to my own children but is now the stepmom to two loving girls, and as half of a petless and deeply happy couple, I find myself craving the unconditional love of an animal.  Maybe it’s a version of spring fever; and if so, Hazel’s arrival was timely.

My neighbor texted me earlier today that Hazel was poking about her yard; and when I came home this evening, she was in our back yard, just behind where I backed in my car.  I got out, and she stayed.  This was progress, the staying.   I talked to her in an embarrassingly singsong voice –– embarrassing, but she seemed to like it.  She hung around for a bit, noshing on grass while I talked to her like an overeager stepmom.  I wondered, as I wonder at other times, if she liked the singsong or was just being nice.  Regardless, I was grateful.  And overly optimistic or not, I had faith in her comfort with me just then.  I mean, think of it:  I had come home and there she was, and there she stayed for a little while, as comfort-seeking creatures will do.  There we were.

With the window boxes filled and overflowing with black soil and tender plants, the scent of simmering stock and heady herbs fills the house.  This is the precipice of the jubilant June days ahead.  The sun has now gone down for today, but this is the beginning of it all, the long days of light that promise a forever and disappear before you know it.

We’ll keep an eye out for Hazel, welcoming her when she wants to share herself with us, and trying to provide the security a lost pet needs, knowing that her owner may show up at any time.  The trees’ canopy will fill out with green, the plants will grow and stepdaughters will continue to discover and share splinters of their discoveries with us.  Through it all, life’s cycle, we will plant and reap, love and weep, grow, change, care and dare to live.

Blowing off the Dust

It is thick, this layer of dust on my mostly abandoned blog, with seasons and changes, days and years…gone without written proof that the moments that peppered them existed at all.  Or that I did.  Why I let that happen has surprised me in some widening splinter of recognition every day.  Summer splendor and winter weariness, year to year, mostly gone –– little pen to paper in that private world of a journal or public view of a blog, started and then left to dangle.  Shouldn’t that be a writer’s milk?  When I think of all the experiences not documented, feelings not recorded, I feel a kind of recurring death; a killing of moments let to pass, of thoughts and feelings, actions and words let to slip through my fingers like grains of Cape Cod sand, forever washed away with the changing tides.

Can we ever recapture them?  I don’t think so, but we can learn anew. FullSizeRender

When I was younger and thought life as I’d always known it would continue to be there for me until the day I was finally ready to attend, I let plenty slide.  My family, the house I grew up in, the books I first came to love, that pink and white quilt on my childhood bed.  And then one day, it was too late.  And now they are long gone, irretrievable, their memories shapeshifting with every passing hour.  What was it Mom said when I wrote that first short story?  How many fish had Dad and I caught that July Saturday at Onesquethaw Creek?  What was it about Anne Frank and Jem and Scout that had invited me into their difficult worlds with such befriending ease?  Young adult pain and mistakes, college lit class discoveries that catapulted me into the land of the curious and restless, early trips abroad…gone, gone, gone.

I wish I’d written it all down…and every day since those earliest of days, from high school graduation and boyfriends to post-school friends who tried to help me save my own life.  From college courage to a first husband’s honest and kind yearning, with which I’d tried to braid my own.  The long stream of workdays and dreaming nights until a rupture from which extrication was frightening and sweeping and eyeopening.  Followed by a fresh and lifesaving beginning with my new husband, which still takes my breath away.  And yet most of it has escaped the trailing thread of ink that would have told me how it truly was for me at the time.  Now all I have is my superimposed and ever changing memories of days gone by.  Will I ever really know?  I doubt it, but what I do have is the first page of my new book of old and now me.