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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It's Still His Room - How Sophie Helped Me Donate Parrish's Clothes

Parrish was a clothes horse, and when he died, his closet was filled with more items than one man ever needed. I suppose I am partially to blame. His first sweater was a white cardigan with a baby blue monogram, and before he could walk, I dressed him in short overalls in soft cotton plaids with a white collared shirt or pastel turtleneck underneath. He wore white knee socks and miniature brown and white bucks. At two, he had his own style, and his blond curls topped off the look. 
As a teen, he rarely wore jeans, preferring khakis with polo shirts. Marnie used to tease him about it. He wore brown loafers, sometimes with socks, sometimes without. Later, he never got so sick he “let himself go”, and after money became a problem, he dressed himself from thrift stores and Wal Mart, and no one could guess his clothes didn't have designer labels. When he couldn’t afford regular haircuts, he kept a buzz cut rather than have scraggly hair.
    He, who literally gave the shirt off his back to a stranger more than once, would want someone to have his things. The time came to clean out his closet and donate his clothes. There are men who need clothes, who don’t have a pair of dress pants or khakis, who need a collared shirt and a pair of leather shoes and a good belt for a job interview. They need something to wear to church.
Last month, I tried to sort out his things and get them ready to go to Goodwill, and even though Sophie—the only person in the world who could help me with the sad chore—was here, I just couldn’t find a starting place. When I walked into his room, I was paralyzed with sadness and weak with grief. I clutched the full length of his body pillow and breathed deeply of his smell, then I turned around and left, shaking with sobs. Sophie, who loved and was dearly loved by Parrish, emptied his dresser and organized his things, with no help from me.
On the 15th of this month, I brought Sophie back for a two week visit. Having her near gives me strength and hope. Everyone should have a friend like her. She makes me want to be a better person, do better things, take better care of myself. She is, no doubt, an angel—my angel.     
     A few days after she arrived, boxes in tow, Sophie and I went into Parrish’s room to begin sorting and packing his things for Goodwill. After standing and staring at his bed for a moment, I put the boxes on it and began to fill them. I had to pull back from myself, almost as though I were watching from across the room. To focus on the reality was impossible. 
I stacked his white undershirts in neat columns in the first box. I realized I was holding my breath and reminded myself to exhale. Then I moved on to his tee shirts, the casual ones with logos—Salt Life, Livestrong, Patagonia. I couldn’t make myself pack his yellow SeaTow shirt and instead put it to the side to keep. Sophie helped me take his collared polo shirts off their hangers, and I carefully folded them and started a new box. I left his new sport coat on the hanger and hung it on the door knob.
Knowing the contents of the boxes would be unceremoniously tossed into a bin at the Goodwill drop-off, I nevertheless folded them deliberately and packed them as though P were leaving for a long trip. I pushed the fact he’d been for dead six months to the very back of my mind and did what I had to do.
Sophie helped me organize everything, and her peaceful presence is the reason I was able to continue. I folded P’s white linen shirt and placed it on top of the SeaTow shirt. I folded all but one of this ties and tucked them into a box. I folded the madras one and positioned it at the collar of his white shirt as though I were laying out an outfit.
Out of nowhere, the job almost complete, I froze. I gazed around the room at his golf trophies and his Alcoholics Anonymous book and the photo of me on his bedside table as though I had never seen them. I picked up the picture of him with my brother John and my nephew Wil, taken just a few months before John’s death in 2000. I kissed it and put it back. I riffled through 10% Happier, the book I gave him for Christmas.
“I have to stop,” I whispered to Sophie.
“Go on out then,” she replied. “You have done real good, so rest yourself and we’ll finish later.”
I plopped down on the red leather chaise in the sun room and silent tears morphed into choking sobs. Honey jumped up to comfort me and I sat there for a while and finished crying.
Three days passed before I could go back into Parrish’s room. I packed his trousers and belts and shoes, put some odd items into the boxes as well—two of his watches, his handkerchiefs and cycling gloves. I put his helmet on a shelf in the closet. I took the vase of dead roses and put them in the trash. Polly brought them to me the day after he died. For the first time since his passing, I noticed two boxes on his dresser. He must have found them in the hall closet, because they were mine. I saved every letter and card he sent me over the years, and many of them were in those boxes. There was the big white envelope with his baby things—his immunization record and baptismal papers, the baby bracelet they put on him in the nursery when he was born, his report cards and more. How long had those things been in there? Was he reliving the past by reading them? Was he trying to recapture the complete happiness of his childhood? He was searching for something, but I’ll never know what.
I didn’t start crying while we loaded all the boxes into the back of my SUV. I was dry-eyed as I told Honey we would be back soon and took my wallet and keys and walked out the door. It was only after I turned over the engine that tears started rolling down my face. I backed slowly out of the drive, sniffed and brushed them away. I sniveled as we traveled the short distance to the drop-off station. And when we got there, I couldn’t get out. I could not make myself hand over the boxes to the nice lady who dumped them into the canvas bin, so Sophie did it for me. 
The heat index was over 100ยบ. I told you she’s an angel.
Yesterday, I drove her back to Macon, and the house is aching for her presence. The very walls seem sad. I know I can’t keep her forever; after all, she has a family of her own, and they need her loving kindness, too. She’ll be back, though, and I have that to be thankful for.

This morning, just like almost every morning, I went into P’s room and sat down on the bed. Sophie arranged his books on top of his chest and tucked his school annuals into his gray trunk before she left. I gazed at the paintings above his bed, portraits of our dogs, Boxers Baby and Belle, and the watercolors of quail and wild turkeys. The picture of his daddy waving from the deck of the pilot boat still sits in it’s place on the bedside chest. His childhood trophies are still on the painted yellow table where the cable box rests. I pulled his body pillow off the closet shelf and held it to me, breathed deeply of it. His scent is still there, but it’s fading.

© 2015 cj Schlottman



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Spirit Animal? Me?

     I spent last week on Tybee Island, Georgia, attending Rosemary Daniell’s annual Zona Rosa writing retreat for women. Since I met Rosemary in 1997, and became a part of her ongoing workshop for women writers that meets once a month at her house in Savannah, I have attended several Tybee retreats. I've always come away renewed in my writing spirit, and this year was no different.
     For a week, eight writers shared the nine bedroom “Happy House” Rosemary has rented for a number of years now. There were two other writers who joined us later in the week, and there were those who attended the sessions just in the daytime. Ages ranged between 33 and 70-something. Rosemary invited special guests, published authors who came to share their work and listen to ours.
     The wonder of the retreat is always in its students. Excellent writers all and ranging in experience from “just beginning” to published, we come together to share our experiences in writing and feed from the energy of our collective consciousness. The environment is conducive to creativity, with mornings devoted to writing and afternoons spent in session, reading from our works and receiving feedback and encouragement from Rosemary and the group.
     On Sunday, the day devoted to settling in and exploring, my precious granddaughter, Addie, came and spent a couple of hours with me. While others were out and about, we stayed at Happy House and were, well, happy. 
     I’ve had a memoir trapped inside me for several years, begging to be written. I wrote the first draft of the prologue before going to Tybee, and Rosemary read it to the group for me for me. Feedback was positive, and I felt empowered to start Chapter One. And, two days later, I did just that while sitting on the deck off my room. I don’t know what I expected to feel when I began the project in ernest, shedding all my excuses and rationalizations about not having done so sooner, so I was surprised at the sensation of freedom and that came over me. I felt ready. And I got excited. I haven’t been excited about much since Parrish died, and the feeling is heady and sweet. 
     That was the first time I saw the spider.
     Some of my readers may remember when, in August of 2011, I accidentally set myself on fire trying to incinerate a spider with a fireplace lighter. We know how that turned out, and it wasn’t the spider who suffered. On that muggy morning on Tybee, I looked up to see a huge spider web spun between a fan palm and the wooden fence. Right in the middle of the silky strands that glimmered in the sunlight was a creature that looked a great deal like my nemesis, all eight legs stretched to their limit. As the days passed, I watched as the web got bigger and more intricate. 
     Never having given much thought to what spiders might symbolize or that I might have a spiritual connection to them (or any other non-human being in the world), after a brief exchange with my fellow writers who knew of such things, I decided to do some research. 
     I offer this, copied and pasted unabashedly from Wikipedia:  “Totemism is a belief in which each human is thought to have a spiritual connection or a kinship with another physical being, such as an animal or plant, often called a "spirit-being" or "totem." The totem is thought to interact with a given kin group or an individual and to serve as their emblem or symbol.”
     Taking something from each of the several articles I read about the symbolism of spiders, I put together as simple a synopsis as I could. So, here goes: 
     In many cultures, the spider is a symbol of creativity, a spinner of delicate and intricate webs—engineering marvels of nature. It is often seen as the powerful female spirit, the giver of life. If the spider is your spirit animal, it may try to bring your attention to your own individuality and ingenuity. You may have an affinity for acts of creation and the ability to build your own fine patterns that are delicate yet strong. 
     Did I tell you I love to knit, that I knit lace?
     The appearance of a spider may serve as a reminder that you and you alone are responsible for what you build around you. It may also appear to remind you not to abandon your creative gifts and goals. 
     Did I tell you about my recent dream in which two spiders, the size of the back of my hand, were attached to my right hand, one atop the other? There was a sensation of suction but no pain, and I gently pried up their hairy legs and they walked away?
     The following day, another, smaller spider had begun spinning her web on the chair next to where I sat writing in my journal.
     Two spiders, and I made no move to harm either of them.
     When we checked out of the house on Saturday morning, July 11, I went with two of my long-time writing compatriots to The Breakfast Club for a final meal together. When I got in my car to leave, there was a spider, about the size of a thumbtack, sitting on the steering wheel. I gently nudged it toward the window with my parking receipt and saw it safely out the window before I turned over the engine and drove home. When I stepped into my bathroom to wash my hands and face, yes, there was a small spider sitting on the rim of the sink, just looking at me.
     Since I got home, I've been writing my ass off.

© 2015 cj Schlottman