The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Wrapped Up December 24, 2014

I’m alone in my house on Christmas Eve. That in of itself isn’t so bad, not really, but I’ve come down with quite a cold, a furious case of pink eye, and there’s nothing much of interest on hand to eat. There’s the nagging feeling that my mom’s alone in her house too, and so is my brother. And we’re approaching the year anniversary of dad’s death. It adds to the strange, unresolved ache of the day. And there’s just too much time to think about it. Elihu called from Illinois a little while ago. He too feels that something’s missing. “There’s no magic” he told me. “It just feels like another regular day”. I know the absence of snow there doesn’t help, but there’s more to it than just that. “Does Santa still bring you anything?” he asked in a quiet voice. I could tell he was continuing to test the waters. I told him no. “When did Santa stop bringing you presents?” I deliver my answer as tenderly as I possibly can…”High school, college… I suppose around the time I kinda became a grownup.” There was a long pause. As I sat on the couch, looking past the Christmas tree to the field of melting snow and misty woods beyond, I could feel something shifting in my son. He was resisting this coming of age thing. I knew it, he knew it, but neither of us dared to say it aloud. I’d thought this year would be it, and it might be, but his poor heart can’t let go of the last shreds of hope… Neither can mine.

Myself, I can’t remember a defining moment. When I knew for sure. Plenty of folks have had them – Elihu’s own father knew the jig was up when crawling through the attic he came upon his presents wrapped and ready to go – but I can’t recall one moment when it all became clear. I, like my son, resisted the bleak, harsh truth; the end of youth, magic and suspense. Who knows when I knew Santa didn’t exist? Was I nine? Nineteen? No one in my family ever discussed it, and so for me it kinda faded out gradually. I’m conflicted about this whole thing, do I just tell him? Write him a letter? Wait for him to ask me point-blank? He’s asked me about as directly as he was able, and I, not wanting to cave, had begun to laugh. Then he began to laugh. And once again, we had evaded the question… and the answer. There’s just so much loneliness and heartbreak in the world, and I’m feeling it now so keenly – that I can’t bear to bring more of the world’s reality down upon my little man. So I keep letting it go.

I had told Elihu earlier that I missed him, but that he didn’t have to feel like he missed me too. “Oh, I don’t. I’m too busy here to miss you. But I do sometimes miss the feeling of the Hillhouse. You know, the feeling. Because it’s always go, go go when I’m here. Sometimes I get tired.” We sat in silence for a moment, sharing the space between us, feeling each other’s presence. A moment later his little brother banged open the door to his room and announced it was lunchtime. The household of two small boys and a hyperactive, non-allergenic dog had come to reclaim my son. I heard voices in the room calling for him to join them. “Merry Christmas” he said, and then hung up.

Just about an hour ago I got a message from a friend that her father was not doing well. He’d just turned 88 yesterday, and now it seems his body was beginning to shut down. I’d seen him year before last and even then had noticed that he seemed slower, more mellowed. Older. I’d called his music shop only the day before to say hello, and he’d been very much on my mind of late. I hadn’t heard back and had planned on calling him again soon. My heart raced when I saw the message, and rather than plan a simple phone call, I began to plan for a trip to Chicago. But the reality is that I’m sick and broke, and I have chickens. It’s not very likely I’ll go. Even if I could afford train fare, rental car and someone to watch over my flock, I couldn’t go til I was well. I couldn’t visit him sick as I was. It hit me, and I sat with the weight of the truth in my gut. It wasn’t very likely that I’d ever see him again. Crap.

What keeps running through my mind is the last time I saw him and how I had left my camera at home. I wasn’t able to take any photos of us together. And it bothers me. And I think of all the times I’d wanted to call him just to thank him for mentoring me all those years ago – and all the times I just put it off til later – to find that there may not be a later. I remember my own father’s last days, likely a year ago today even that I had thanked him for giving me the gift of music. Through a cascade of tears I kissed him and held his hand and tried to make up for all the years I’d never expressed myself to him. This time, with this man, I likely won’t have the chance. It eats at me, and I try to find resolution. I’ll have his daughter tell him that I love him, that I thank him. It’ll have to do. One more sorrow I don’t know what to do with on this rainy Christmas Eve.

It was twenty-eight years ago tonight that I first met my future parents-in-law. My ex and I had had our first date the night before, and the next thing I knew I was having Christmas Eve dinner at his parent’s home. It was essentially the start of our relationship. And it was also this time of year that my ex had asked for a divorce. So this whole holiday time is kinda loaded for me. And being here all alone, I begin to wonder how it must be for so many out there in the world for whom things must be so much more dire. I don’t have things bad by any means, but the isolation is giving me too much time for reflection, and it’s getting to me. I think of all the other people out there across the land who themselves are locked in their own private despair, and my heart aches. It aches for the world.

Knowing I’d be facing a few days at home recuperating, yesterday I stocked up on books at the library. These days I have no need for fiction – I’m ravenous for memoirs. I cannot get enough of people’s stories. I want to know how they do it. How everyone manages… Just how stoic are people being? How fed up are they, really? How scared? I gravitate to the self-effacing, phobic types. I think to myself, yes, I get it, they get it, I’m not so bad off… But then I realize they were together enough to format their writing, to pitch it, to submit it, to actually get it published. And I feel bad again, I guess I am so bad off. The very thing I’d sought is what ends up deflating me. So I turn to Nora Ephron. She’s been through shit and come out on the other side, glorious. But of course, she’s gone now, and that gets to me. I can hardly read. Last night I discovered her movie Heartburn, and through the miracle (it’s still new to me) of Netflix, was able to watch the whole thing…

I watched, riveted. I couldn’t believe her story, I felt it so keenly. I knew how she felt; I have lived it myself. After the movie finished, I followed thread upon thread on Wikipedia, following the stories beyond the versions trimmed for print. So-and-so slept with so-and-so, children were born out-of-wedlock, families broken… I see people married several times in their lives, and I can’t wrap my brain around it, although no one else seems to have trouble with it. How can you make one family, leave them behind and go on to make another?  Clearly lots of folks start over. But I can’t see it. My childbearing years are over, I can’t have another family. So sadly for me, that’s not an option. I keep searching… I need something, but what? I know what’s missing: I’m looking for resolution. I want a happy ending that I can envision for myself. None is to be found. Something is nagging at me, beyond the dysfunction of my own family, beyond the emptiness of the moment and the lack of a complete family. It’s that ‘why are we here’ thing again. And with all this goddam spirit of Christmas talk, you’d think I’d get it. But I fucking don’t. Why isn’t this stupid, goddam life easier? Why can’t we all just find our mates, our families, and stay put? When a pregnant Rachel cries to her father about her cad of a husband in Heartburn, her dad responds “If monogamy is what you want, you should marry a swan.” Sigh.

It’s not just the split family thing that eats at me, although that sucks. I can’t watch television – a couple of commercials and I start to get angry – because it doesn’t represent the truth. We’re sold this false notion of happiness and belonging, of precious beginnings and tidy endings. Maybe I’m mad at myself for wanting to buy it. Like the Santa thing. So mixed on all of this. I want my son to enjoy a full and bustling home for Christmas – but goddam it, why can’t it be me with my family, my children, my husband, even my goddam dog? But then again, I wouldn’t know this life. It’s just not all a tidy affair, this life business.

I suppose the only way to wrap things up nice and tidy is with paper and ribbon.

_________________________________________________

Here’s a video of me singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (complete with the seldom-heard verse!) on Christmas Eve, six years ago tonight. I was completely doped up on antidepressants, as that was what made it possible for me to spend the night in my own house with Elihu, my husband, his girlfriend and their new baby down the hall… I can’t believe I was there… it still seems like a bizarre dream… I had gone back to Illinois to show my son some sort of brave front, to show that nothing was amiss… Some may wonder how in hell I could have subjected myself to such a thing, but the situation was still fresh, and I still didn’t quite believe it was happening. My friend Karen (at the piano) saved me that night as she did many times in those difficult, early years. We really had fun doing a couple of these impromptu songs with her and her brother and it helped keep my spirits up… It’s a cute video, give it a watch. Maybe it’ll make up for some of my grinchiness. !

 

We Are Three! March 1, 2014

The Hillhouse turns 3 today! Wow, what a lotta stuff here… Some 440 posts, over a thousand subscribers, visitors from over 100 countries… Sitting here in this tiny room, just the two of us, it’s almost impossible to imagine it.

I can hardly remember so much of our past three years (especially the first one), as it all seems so far away now… It kinda feels as if these days we’re living a completely new chapter. I guess we are. My fiftieth year is nearly behind me now, I have a regular job, my father is gone and the Studio is emerging as the new adventure… We’ve learned how to raise and butcher our own chickens and grow our own food. My son has braces, he’s becoming more capable and independent every day, and he has discovered a passion for upright bass…. Yeah, things these days are indeed new and different.

As I pass casually over the old posts I’m reminded of our three-year ride here; in the beginning, Elihu was baby-toothed, had an adorable lisp and his passion for birds – as well as his collection of books on the subject – was just beginning to grow. We shared our life with avian friends of all sorts – from homing pigeons to exotic pheasants and much in between (I particularly loved our button quail, King George, who, along with our cat, lived free-range in our house and made strange, espresso machine-like sounds in the dead of night in his vain search for a mate). The bird adventures still amaze me. We’ve tamed our current bird experiences a bit; having sent our goose Maximus away, we’ve nothing left but some chickens (one of them is in the kitchen recuperating on sick leave from the coop as I write this).

While this blog officially started three years ago today, we’d already lived here for two years. I think of those first two as the lost years, as I was still fairly reeling from the loss of my husband and old life in Chicago. This blog came about as a means to express myself, to free myself from the ceaseless internal turmoil. My ruminations circulated, around and around in my head without resolution, without any sounding board, any witness… And the whole thing had felt very unfair (let’s be honest, it still kinda does). There was no legal justice coming my way, so at the very least I though perhaps I might glean some emotional justice if I could only share my story. So it started as a therapeutic device – but ended up being so much more.

What an amazing world this is in which we live; even when separated by half a globe, we can participate in each other’s lives, give each other support and continue to grow and learn from each other in ways we never could have anticipated. The world in which Elihu will grow up both thrills and frightens me. I can’t being to imagine the challenges his and future generations face, but at the same time I marvel over the potential before them… The planet will continue to shrink as social media and platforms like ours help to bring us all together – so that we may unite in our common goals as one human family. I’m convinced there’s enough on the planet to go around – and I pray that in the not-too-distant future the distribution of wealth and resources will begin to level out. Hopefully the better our ability to express ourselves and communicate, the happier and healthier our futures will all be.

While we haven’t ever known true hardship, Elihu and I have experienced enough challenges here at The Hillhouse to have learned a few important things. May I share them with you? As we see it, here are the top three ‘things’ to have in your bag of tricks as you go along: 1) A sense of humor (cannot be overstated); 2) A sense of adventure (life is a game, be bold and take chances, play as hard and creatively as you’re able) and 3) in the end, act in love as often as possible (for us, gratitude goes into this pot too). Look at that! Three years here, three little pearls to share.

Having said that, I think at this juncture it might be a healthy energetic move to wish my ex, his wife and their two boys, Elihu’s sister and her mother too, my love and good wishes for their futures… I don’t wish any of them ill. Not saying my heart’s not still recovering, or that it doesn’t pose a challenge for me going forward… This whole process – this very blog – has been driven by my discomfort with that situation. But I can say that I’m working on it. I don’t harbor bad feelings for my ex’s new family, and I wish it publicly known. All I wish for is that everyone here on this globe get a fair shake at a good life. And that includes people who’ve hurt me, intentionally or not. I guess we’re all just doing our best. So on with the adventure, and peace to us all.

To all of our dear readers, thanks for being part of our global family of friends; your love and energetic support means so much to us, and we send it back to you too.

E & E

 

Holding Pattern December 19, 2013

I’m afraid my last post was probably too emotionally charged. It generated many responses and communications from people and had me wondering if I hadn’t made too much of a stink about things. Even though I expressed myself truthfully, I wonder if it wasn’t a bit self-indulgent. And I wonder if I may have stirred the pot too soon, as it were. I say this now because, after making a big deal of all that’s been going on, I begin to wonder if Dad won’t be here a little longer than I’d originally thought after all…

Why? Because he’s got a big, comfy hospital-style bed in the living room now. A bed which self-inflates and self-deflates in different zones in twenty minute intervals in order to prevent bed sores and keep circulation going, a bed which can raise him up to eat in a sitting position, and lower him down to sleep. He has been given – through this miracle operation of hospice – a full range of gadgets and accessories that promise to make his life cleaner, more comfortable and healthier than it has been over the past few weeks (if not months). All that and his lasting and evident sense of humor are telling me he may stick around for a bit.

I kinda wish I had a bed like that myself to hide out in right about now. Frazzled with a sudden influx of things going on at school and falling behind in a myriad of domestic chores, I haven’t showered in at least three days and my son and I haven’t had a fresh vegetable in nearly a week as I’ve had no time to catch up. I know it’s not just me; this time of year we grown-ups have a lot on our hands. With presents and parties and cards and driveways to shovel, I know I’m not the only one up to my ears in laundry and dirty dishes. Even the gal who drives my son to school in the mornings – usually a fairly upbeat and energetic woman – even she seemed a little worn and tired this morning. I thought I recognized that look, I certainly felt the same. So now that dad and mom are getting into their new groove, I’m feeling a bit of relief. This afternoon we finally have no commitments. No doctor’s appointments (Elihu had his braces put on yesterday), no car pool duty, no chorus to accompany, no students. So I’m taking the opportunity to go grocery shopping. Last night we ate the last of the pasta in the house and rounded things out with leftover party food. Ich. Can’t wait for a salad…

Elihu flies to Chicago this weekend too. I’m so very happy for him, he’s beside himself with anticipation. I’ve never seen him fill the Advent calendar so eagerly (ours is a series of pockets into which we insert a feather a day). I’m happy for him, and also relieved in that I don’t think dad will go while he’s gone. Never know, but I have a feeling. Having the house to myself is most welcome, but at this time of year it can be bittersweet, too. Last year was my only Christmas with Elihu here, and it wasn’t exactly a success. Santa found him alright, but a household of just two can be lonely on Christmas morning. So my heart is lifted to know he’ll be with his baby brothers, grandma and full household. On our end, it will be strange. Dad in his big bed, Andrew wordless, silent, unreadable, and mom chattering away to fill the space. And the tv on behind it all. I’d say jokingly that alcohol is a welcome buffer, but is it then fair to drink in front of Andrew? I don’t know. I really don’t like this situation. Likely I’ll drink. Most likely.

Mom and dad have the same birthday, January 6th. Epiphany. Imagine that. I still find it fascinating. I mean, what are the odds? They’re seven years apart, and their total years always add up to an odd number. A quick tally tells me they’ll be 165 this year. I find myself wondering if dad might wait til then. I wonder. Nothing is certain. How we’ll handle it, how I’ll be able to keep my professional self together until then, and after then. How life continues. I realize I’m sounding like the first person ever to have gone through this, but until an experience is personally yours, it kinda feels like it has no relevance at all to you. And really, it doesn’t. You pay so much more careful attention when you are living through something. You just don’t fully notice or appreciate things until you’re dealing with them. Like buying a car, or getting a haircut, or having a baby. As soon as it’s on your mind you start to seek out information. You want to hear other folk’s take on things. And then when that’s done, it’s off your mind again. And the time in between events is sort of a coasting, a living on auto pilot sort of thing. At least for me it is; it seems I travel through life from one heightened sense of awareness to another, with great wafts of less intense time in between. I feel a queer mix of both right now. With the house soon to be empty, and this great not-knowing going on, I don’t feel I’m really anywhere. Strange place, this nowhere.

The weather might be a bit blustery for travel this weekend, so part of my attention is going to that situation too. I think of my son’s plane, being de-iced, sitting, waiting on the tarmac for the opportunity for departure. Here too is an uncertain situation. He’ll be bringing a good book, a bottle of water and his DS. So he’s prepared for a long wait if need be. Never once in his years of travel has he ever been re-routed on account of weather, and I pray things remain thus. Nothing I can do about the outcome, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

There’s a lot of wait and see these days. Like an airplane in search of safe landing, we’re all just in a holding pattern for now.