Eight years ago if you had told me that I would be able to survive, I would have looked at you in disbelief. If you had predicted that I would find ways to heal, I would have been astonished. After my son's death, I could only put one foot in front of the other, day by day. I had tremendous love from friends and family and support from colleagues and counseling and yet, I was in such a state of shock that I was operating on instincts, not rational, not able to foresee any future at all.
My instincts told me to go back to work, that it was better than the agony of my own turbulent guilt, and I did until the wheel of fortune took me to Mexico and Alejandro. My instincts told me to hold onto Alejandro, who was both a distraction and a refuge. He knew how to live on a pendulum between deep denial and enjoying life's sensual pleasures. I knew he would not pity me, but in fact, one of the last straws between us was the way he demanded I show up to work at the gallery when I had dengue fever and should have been in bed recuperating, with a kind hand bringing me cool drinks and Tylenol.
Seven years ago when I moved to Minneapolis, if you had told me that I would find ways to meld my gift with my passion to be of service, I would not have believed you, even though my hunger for poetry had come back. Coming to Minneapolis was another turn of the wheel of fortune: my son asked for my help with childcare. I used to claim I would never live in such a cold place. Here I still am, 7 years later.
That first winter, I attended a poetry reading at The Loft for the publication release of Songs Along the Way. I remember it because the temperature was 20 below and I asked my daughter-in-law to give me a ride. I assumed there would be a small turn out. I was still disoriented, in an altered state, and raw with grief that felt like my skin of my heart had peeled away. I was surprised to watch the auditorium fill up but despite standing room only, the seat next to me remained vacant. Was it Sam's spirit come to comfort me? I left that reading to go home and write my first poem since leaving Mexico.
Five years ago if you had predicted that I would create a life I love, I would have seen a small glimmer through the fog. I would have considered the Twin Cities writer's community as a place to begin. I created brochures and sent out proposals, showed up for open mics and asked questions, attended every reading I could get to. Won a McKnight grant, published a book of poetry.
Three years ago if you had told me that I would feel joy, astounding joy that permeates my entire being, the joy of doing what I am meant to do, of using my gift and my desire and my vision, that I would heal, I would have been astonished. I would not have been able to imagine it. But joy has been gifted me, I feel blessed.
Sam's death is not something I got over or ever forget. If I choose to hold the moment of getting the phone call in my mind, or seeing his body at the funeral home, or the afternoon at the Chama where we scattered his ashes, the visceral reaction is as potent as ever. Sharp unbearable pain shoots through my heart. In the poem I wrote a description of my grandson, "When he smiles, it is enough to crack the scotch-taped fissures of my heart back into shards. It is your smile, carbon copy family trait." These memories are enough to crack all the fissures back into shards. The fissures that I have spent the last seven years filling in with gold lacquer, painstakingly matching each surface to the other to resemble the whole.
Poetry performances for Dia de los Muertos where I shared my anguish, poetry performance at Patrick's Cabaret where I told the story also healed me as I realized that death comes for all, death is part of the cycle of life. Death is natural. Sam's death was a choice he made and I can choose the way I mourn, publically and privately.
What I learned as a writing instructor/facilitator is that when I write, there are two paths. One will take me deeper and deeper into the story: what happened to me and what I feel about it. There is no end to that branch of the story. I can tell it over and over, because the emotional pull is powerful. Or I can choose another branch: what it means, what patterns I see, where it leads me, what has been the lesson, and how I can change and transform because of it. And as the writer responsible for the circle, I deliberately choose that branch. That is what I write about and share. When I led workshops under the funding of the grant, writing with battered women and homeless youth and heart patients and care-givers, I was writing weekly or twice weekly and choosing that path over and over again. What does it mean to me, what did I learn, where do I find inner courage and strength, what do I still have, what are my blessings? And I began to heal, not only enough to keep going, not only enough to be engaged with laughter and friendship and love and curiosity and pleasure, but real joy. An inner knowing that I am where I am meant to be, that I am living my dreams, that I am connected to others in deep ways and that I love my life. I am blessed. I am grateful.
If you had told me even last year, that I would be overwhelmed with ecstatic bliss, that I would dance again under the Mexican moon, that I would be filled with Presence of Spirit and that I would be overcome with love, I would have been incredulous. This joy is beyond any previous experience I have ever had. Beyond when I fell in love, when I gave birth, when I sat in a Spanish cafe and listened to flamenco, when I celebrated with friends, when I held my first book in my hands, when I spoke my truth on stage and was held in the arms of my audience. This joy is a state of being. I have come home to myself after long years of wandering. Like Dorothy clicking together her ruby slippers and saying No place like home. It is the center towards which I have been traveling all my life. While I am here, I know I can always return. Whenever grief or disappointment or frustration or longing knock me off-kilter, I know it is here, waiting for me, invincible, mine.