Every two or three years, the sickness hits me. My heart starts to feel heavy, my mind drifts off to a faraway place, my lungs cannot fill with adequate air. The walls seem to be drawing closer, and the ceiling lower, by fractions of millimeters each day, until I’m struck with an almost paralyzing fear that I’m living in a coffin. I run outside before the lid can slam shut. However, the air outdoors isn’t breathable; it is stagnant and suffocating. The faces I see are familiar. They have names attached to them that I should know, but just can’t seem to recall. They smile paper smiles and wave their mannequin hands at me, in gestures of false friendliness.
And I know I have to go.
The inevitable question people ask when I tell I’m going back home for a visit is: “Do you still have family out there?” The answer is “no.” I have zero family members back home, me being an only child, and my parents and grandparents being deceased. The asker will look confused when I tell them this, but I don’t bother to try to ease their confusion with an explanation. They’d never understand.
Home IS my family. My family IS my home.
When I set foot on the sidewalks of my childhood, my heart is filled with a euphoria that I thought I would never find again. Twenty years of disappointments, illness and loss disappear. My body feels young and strong. The whole world seems so much brighter, it hurts my eyes to look at it. My smile returns.
It doesn’t matter that strangers now live in the house where I grew up, while other unknown souls dwell in the houses that belonged to my neighbors. Or that only two of the ten shops on the quaint Main Street of my little town still bear the same names. My old school is much bigger, but those are the doors I walked through as a teenager! This is the curb where I stepped off the schoolbus! The same concrete under my feet.
The very air is different here; unlike any other in the world. There is no way to replicate the salt air smell that arises from the Bay and the Sound. It’s my favorite smell in the world. I swear, it has healing properties, like a vitamin. It soothes my soul, calms me to the core, and lulls me to sleep at night.
Look! The ice cream parlor is still there, where my father used to take me to get a sweet treat in a Dixie cup. And there is the theater, where I saw so many scary movies with my best friend. And the pizza parlor (with a different name now) where that same friend and I would argue over what songs to play on the jukebox. My dad and my old friend, are both gone from this world, but Home is still here. No matter how much it changes, I’ll always recognize it.
I’m not so sad when I must leave, to fly back to the Place Where I Now Live (I’ll never call it “home”). I’ve dusted off old memories so that they shine like new, and taken countless snapshots of the scenery with the camera of my eyes. I’ve collected so much joy that I have an abundant supply of bliss, which I can eke out in small doses over the next couple of years. Just enough to keep me going…
Until it is time to go Home again.
“Homesickness is nothing. Fifty percent of the people in the world are homesick all the time.” ~John Cheever
I’ve been going through boxes of family mementos, unearthing a hodgepodge of my own memories, and mysterious, black and white photographs from long before I was born.
One item I found caught me by surprise. It was a poem I had written long ago. I haven’t thought of it in years. Although there were no notations, including a date, I remembered exactly when I wrote it, and who it was about.
In the summer of 2001, a dear friend of mine took his own life. We used to write songs together and record them. He was a brilliant musician & recording engineer, and a dear friend. I loved him. I’d harbored hopes that someday he and I might be more than friends. Unfortunately, his demons stole him from this world.
I’ve edited the original poem. I’m sure there are many of you who can apply it to someone dear in your life.
Go On Living ©2001 Holly Cordova
It was a shock to lose you
No one was prepared
You were everything to everyone
Then suddenly… not there
In my broken heart
I know you haven’t died
For as long as my heart’s beating
You’ll always be alive
I’m reminded of your smile
When the sun is shining bright
And I think about your eyes
When I see the stars at night
You live on in my conscience
I clearly hear your voice
Giving clarity and guidance
So I make the wisest choice
Since you left this world
Each day I take the time
To count blessings, and not worries
And cherish all that’s mine
Although the words “I love you”
Weren’t often said aloud
I know you did, and so I’ll live
In a way to make you proud
I know that you are happy
In a Paradise above
While here, you go on living
In the hearts of all you loved
I’m still plowing ahead with my promise to read at least 4 books per month throughout 2017… and I’m also trying to expand my horizons, so to speak, by reading some books outside my normal, favorite genres. Here’s a run-down on what I read in April.
The Awakening and the Selected Short Stories– Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin was the author of two novels and approximately 100 short stories, which were originally published in the 1890s. She wrote mostly about race relations in the south, just a few decades after the Civil War. Many of her stories featured independent, free-thinking women protagonists, who questioned societal norms and challenged traditional female roles. At the time, Chopin’s work was considered controversial, even “vulgar.” In particular, critics singled out her novel, “The Awakening,” which was even banned at one point. It was not until five decades after her death, that Kate Chopin’s works were rediscovered by a new generation and praised for their strong feminist viewpoints. Chopin was merely a woman way ahead of her time. Read one of her most powerful short stories, Desiree’s Baby, by clicking on the link.
If Loving You is Wrong– Gregg Olsen
How funny that I was preparing to write this report, only to wake up to the news that Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau have separated after twelve years of marriage. Names don’t ring a bell? Guess you weren’t around in 1997, when the couple made nationwide headlines with their controversial affair. What was the big deal? Well, Mary Kay was married with four children at the time, and Vili was 12 years old. 34-year-old Mary was his teacher. She went to prison twice for her involvement with the manchild and bore him two daughters… the second being born while her mother was incarcerated. A very interesting True Crime read, which delves deep into Mary Kay’s psyche, taking a look back at her childhood and how it may have shaped the desperate woman she became.
Breaking Point- Suzy Spencer
Yes, so I went on a True Crime spree in April… reading-wise, I mean! For those of you who don’t know, I work in a bookstore. A customer purchased this book, and it sparked my interest, as I remember the news story very well. We had another copy in stock, so I was able to read the whole, shocking thing. It is not a book that you should read all at once; it’s barely digestible in small doses. It covers the horrific crime committed by Andrea Yates in 2001. In a fit of post-partum psychosis (or just plain psychosis, maybe), Yates drowned her five children, aged six months through seven years old, in a bathtub. At times I wanted to throw the book against a wall, or abandon it entirely. The portion of this book covering the murder trial is rather tedious. An intriguing read for those interested in abnormal psychology, but too unsettling for most.
The Wicked Girls– Alex Marwood
This was a re-read for me. Don’t want my old books to lay neglected, taking up space, after having only been read once! This British thriller centers on Bel and Jade, both eleven years old when they meet for the first and only time during their childhood. On that fateful day, the “wicked girls” accidentally kill a 4-year-old child left in their care. Both are sent to separate juvenile detention facilities, given new identities, and ordered never to see or contact one another again. Fast-forward twenty-five years. The child-killers, now known as Amber and Kirsty, are grown women living normal (although drastically different) lives. It’s purely by accident that they meet again… Kirsty is a journalist covering a string of murders in the area, and one victim happened to be slain in the amusement park where Amber works. Naturally, with all the media attention, someone is bound to recognize one of the women as the “wicked girl” who killed an innocent child so long ago, and now both Amber’s and Kirsty’s lives are in danger. Highly recommended for its fast-paced thrills, and unpredictable ending!
The Good, Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood – Sy Montgomery
I don’t normally gravitate towards animal stories (unless they’re about cats), but a Facebook friend made a post asking if anyone wanted to borrow and read this book. Never one to pass up the opportunity for a good (free!) read, I said “sure.” The premise is simple: It’s a true story, about a runt of a piglet who was adopted by a loving family (the author and her husband) and he grew up to be an enormous hog (750 lbs, to be exact) with an even larger fan following. This was pre-internet, mind you, so Christopher Hogwood never rose to Grumpy Cat heights. He was, however, featured in national publications, such as USA Today and on National Public Radio. Readers will enjoy tales about the pig’s comical antics, as well as heartwarming stories of friendship and humanity. It’s amazing that a pig could bring so many people together. Many lifelong bonds were formed, thanks to Chris.
That sums up my literary adventures for April. I went a little crazy in May… We’ll talk about it in a future post!
Mom ©2017 Holly E. Gaskin
You hated having your picture taken.
I guess that explains why there are only three photographs of us together when I was a baby. One, when I was in your tummy, just days before entering the world.
A second picture was snapped when I was just a few days old, snugly wrapped in your bathrobe-clad arms.
And a third, when I was 16-or-18-months old. I was dressed in a bright red jacket with a pointy hood, and you looked beautiful, all made up and donning your best wig.
Looking through the photo album of me growing up, a stranger might assume that you died shortly thereafter that picture was taken. Because you never appeared with me in another photograph until my wedding day, some 31 years later.
I understand now that you were ashamed of yourself, and that makes me sad. I realize that you were a prisoner in a morbidly obese body that so humiliated you, that you chose to lock yourself in your bedroom and hide whenever I had friends over. You wouldn’t meet my friends’ mothers, because you compared yourself to them and you were embarrassed. I guess that’s the same reason you would drop me off at church, but never set foot inside yourself. Instead of engaging with me as a parent, you chose to lose yourself in an alternative world. Namely, the ABC soap opera lineup, and piles of tabloids, like the Star, Globe, and National Enquirer.
Even though I was smiling in most of my childhood photos, I was extremely lonely. I was an only child, one with few friends, with an absentee father, and a stepfather whom I feared. You didn’t care. You merely cooked for me, but you nourished yourself and fed your feelings with Suzy Q’s, potato chips, and (once, when you were really drunk), raw hotdogs. Day after day, you were curled up on the sofa, dressed in your nightgown and bathrobe in the middle of the afternoon, watching All My Children and One Life to Live. I’d try to cuddle up next to you, and you LITERALLY pushed me away.
By that time (I was about 10 years old), I was writing in a diary, and creating my own stories, plays and poems. But never once did I write about the way you treated me, or how it hurt. At that young age, I did not yet have the words to express such a profound, deep despair.
When I got to be a teenager, I suffered the exact opposite affliction as you; I became anorexic. Eventually, I got down to 68 pounds. I was in a hospital in Amityville for four months. You acted like it was a chore to come see me every weekend. Even my counselor confronted you, asking: “How come you never ask about Holly’s treatment plan, and what we’re doing for her here? Do you think we’re working magic to make her better?” You just shrugged and blushed, an imbecilic expression on your face. I felt humiliated and resentful. After all… You LET me get down to 68 pounds!!!! It was only when a dermatologist I saw became alarmed at my skeletal appearance, and insisted that I be admitted to a hospital, that action was taken. Otherwise, I would likely have died.
Years later, I moved 400 miles away to Watertown, NY. After we’d spent a couple of years apart, you moved up here to escape the high cost of living on Long Island. You got into real estate, buying several rental properties. I couldn’t help but notice there was something different about you. You were less shy, more carefree, funnier. You made bold decisions (like buying the income properties) that you never would have done before. You made new friends, especially with Gloria, your gambling buddy. One day I looked at you closely and noticed that one corner of your mouth drooped a little. When I asked you about it, you reluctantly admitted that you “might have had an incident…” A what? “Maybe a mini-stroke,” you said, and changed the subject.
While that alleged mini-stroke did not cause any permanent physical damage, it changed you… for the better. It switched off that part of your brain that caused you to be painfully shy, soft-spoken, and submissive. For the first time in your life, you had spunk and confidence. I really, really loved the New You! For the first time in our lives, we were Friends. In May of 2004, looking glamorous in a royal blue pantsuit, you gave me away at my wedding.
I wish I’d been able to spend more time with that fun-loving stranger who gave birth to me, way back in 1972. We enjoyed some cool casino trips and concerts together, and family gatherings with my then-husband and his folks. But, Fate being the cruel monster that she is, robbed you from me in one, heartbreaking instant. A car accident, two weeks before Christmas… and also two weeks after we had our final photograph together.
I love and miss you, Mom. But I’m still angry. Angry at you for taking more than thirty years to be the Mother I’d always needed. Angry at God for taking you away without warning. And angry at myself, for not being able to just “let it go.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom…. wherever you are.
Happy 77th birthday to my Dad, Adolph Robert Cordova, Jr. We spent more years apart than together. There’s no making up for that much lost time, especially taking into consideration his Alzheimer’s/ Dementia/ Paranoid Schizophrenia. Also, the physical distance between us. I hope they did something nice for him in his nursing home in Brookline, Massachusetts. A slice of cake, a scoop of ice cream, a “Happy Birthday” serenade. Last visit was so painful. He thought that I was 15 and that he was 58. Dream on, if it makes you happy. I wish my father peace of mind and the realization that he has family that loves him, even though we can’t be there physically to keep him company (most of his family is far out west, in Wyoming and Utah). I send him cards and letters, plus cookies on holidays. I never hear a word back. I pray for him silently, privately, constantly.
I love you, Dad.
I think readers would be surprised to learn that many authors don’t read their own books once they finish writing them. I’m one of those authors. My reason is, I’m always moving on to the Next Big Idea.
However, there’s always exceptions. Since I made the decision to add new chapters to my 2011 book, Finding My Father, I kind of had no choice. And I am cringing through every chapter. I guess I’ve become a better writer (or proofreader, at least) over the past five years. I see a lot of poor sentence structure throughout the book, and just things I could have said better.
So, in short, the new version of Finding My Father will not only contain all-new chapters, but the original text will be improved!
I can’t say I’m bubbling over with excitement, given the sadness of the topic, but I will be personally satisfied and proud when I’ve completed this project.
This one’s for you, Dad.
The weather forecast had called for perfect, sunny weather for the four days I’d be in Brookline. When I arrived in the city, however, the scenario changed. Now it looked as though Tuesday (my third day there) was going to be a washout. Since I don’t drive, I was counting on my feet, and Boston’s convenient Public Transportation System to get me around. Granted, there was a T station right across the street from where I was staying, but still… I’d have to walk a couple of blocks from my stop at Coolidge Corners to Park Street, where Dad’s nursing home was. So on Monday, I made sure to pop into a CVS drug store, where I purchased a hot pink umbrella.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning… I brought my trusty new umbrella with me as I walked the few blocks to get breakfast, then back to my rented room. As I sipped my coffee, I reflected on yesterday’s visit with Dad and his care team. It had been a depressing mission; my heart was still heavy from seeing him in such feeble condition. I needed to find some uplifting way to spend the morning before I returned to visit my father again. I opted to make my way across town to Quincy Market, which always bustling with tourists and food vendors, selling delicious wares.
So, I’m standing on the platform, waiting on the Green Line, when I notice that a young man also waiting for the train is holding something in his hand that is missing from mine: an umbrella! DANG! After spending $8.99 on a brand new umbrella, I’d left the stupid thing on my bed! Well, no time to go back for it; the train was coming. It was just starting to drizzle as I got on board.
As my eyes scanned the train car for available seats, I did a double take. Hanging practically in front of me was… an umbrella!
I looked around, expecting another passenger to grab it, having recognized it as their own. But as the train started moving down the tracks, I realized that some unfortunate commuter must have accidentally left it behind. I felt guilty taking it, but by the time I reached my stop, the rain was coming down steadily. Grateful for the cover, I hurried into Quincy Market. I took my time wandering the length of the building, surrounded on both sides by delicious aromas of every type of food imaginable: Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, and of course, dishes that Boston is famous for, like Boston baked beans and authentic clam “Chowdah.” I smiled as I watched a bunch of kids who were there on a field trip, their excitement apparent in their eyes and smiles.
I exited the busy market and crossed the way to Faneuil Hall, one of the countless historic sites in Boston. I’ve walked the Freedom Trail during previous Boston visits, but my heart wasn’t in it that day, between the rain and my worries about Dad. So, under shelter of my newfound umbrella, I searched for the nearest T station and rode back to the other side of Boston.
As I trudged up the steps of Dad’s nursing home, I felt a sense of doom, like I was walking up the steps of a morgue. I took the elevator up to the third floor. When the doors opened, Dad was right there, his wheelchair parked directly in front of me! There’s no way he could have known I was coming at that exact time! My heart gave a little leap of joy.
“Hi, Dad!” I said, as if I saw him every day, and not for the second time in five years.
He mumbled a greeting. He was just being served lunch… a tray of typically unappetizing-looking hospital food. He had trouble feeding himself. As much food ended up in his lap as in his mouth. He ate less than a quarter of what was on his plate.
His spirits seemed to have declined since the day before. Nothing I said made him smile. I got to talking with some of the other nursing home residents in the rec room, and they, too, tried to cheer him up. Even when the art/ music/ games lady, a vivacious woman named Beverly, whirled into the room and put on some Earth, Wind and Fire, Dad was one of the few patients who didn’t react to the infectious groove. My father had always loved music.
There was no engaging him in conversation. I asked if there was anything he needed, anything I could do for him. He just shook his head “no.” All I could do was tell him I loved him.
“Good!” he said, still avoiding my eyes.
I hugged him as best I could, with him slouched over in his wheelchair. I didn’t say “goodbye.” He already seemed to sense I would not be back.
I was relieved to get out of the gloomy building. Once on the sidewalk, I took a deep breath of fresh air. It was a freedom my father would probably never enjoy again.
By the time I walked to the T station, it had stopped raining. The sun winked down from the cool March sky. I folded my “borrowed” umbrella and hung it on a metal gate next to the train stop. It would be there for the next person who needed it.