In Memoriam: My Aunt Baby.

I did not know how to say how I loved you.

Once I knew you had passed, my mind began to map out the area of three-dimensional space you had inhabited in my heart.

I never knew just how much.

And once I had mapped it, I knew its breadth, its height and its depth.

It was vast.

I was sad.

Your absence left a vacuum in my life.

It’s palpable.

My Aunt Baby passed away this past Tuesday. Her real name was Viola, but her family nickname was Baby.

Oldest sibling of my mother’s five – two males, four females in all – my Aunt Baby was a formidable woman – strong like a granite fist, her mind for most of her life, razor sharp.

Yet she laughed at the ridiculous and the absurd – and that’s one of the things I loved about her. She also had her fussy ways and I know that despite the distance that created between us, she loved me.

The love I felt from her was like the love you’d want to feel from your favorite elementary school teacher, or librarian.

It was distant, but it was neither cold nor dismissive nor neglectful.

It was a very certain and specific love, the dimensions of which were easy to comprehend. And yet, maybe, in spite of that, or perhaps because of it, you knew that she loved you to the near-bursting point of those boundaries.

And it was that knowledge that made it good and true.

It made me feel safe, the reliability of it. The security.

It was balanced, and it was nice.

I did not know you that well while you lived, but your presence served as one of a select few guideposts that defined my life:

Be well-read.

Don’t hide your intelligence.

Speak your mind.

Live with dignity.

Enjoy the small things.

I am so thankful that you were in my life, Aunt Baby. I didn’t know that I needed you in it.

1930-2018

A Dying Bee, My Brother, a Chance at Good Karma.

The dying bee landed on my chest.

It fell seemingly from nowhere.

At first I didn’t know that it was a bee. Nor did know that it was dying – yet.

A cloud of flies and mosquitoes skimmed and buzzed about me as I lay on our outdoor patio sofa as if I was an Imperial Cruiser under attack from Rebellion fighters. They didn’t really bother me. I didn’t really feel anything. I was numb and drowsy from the day, from pipe tobacco smoke, from dragon smoke. My mind wandered far afield.

About two weeks ago, during a lull between the constant rain showers that came with the hurricane storm systems from the Texas Gulf, I took advantage of the semi-fair weather and brought out the sofa cushions to laze about on my Saturday afternoon.

The mosquitoes and flies had the same idea, apparently.

I did feel the small but substantial thump on my chest.

I did see the small insect bounce off my chest and arc down onto the patio concrete.

My senses weren’t so completely numb to make me believe that it was a huge fly.

It took me a second to register that what I had saw and felt was a bee.

I looked down from the sofa. The bee crawled around the cracked concrete of the patio. Something was wrong with it. One of it’s wings was opening and closing slowly, out of sync with the other.

You know that cliché about staggering drunkenly? That’s exactly what the bee was doing, in circles, and leaning to one side. I reached down and as gingerly as I could try to help right itself with my index finger. It didn’t help.

You see, I had held bees before.

Many bees had entered my classroom, and being a teacher of children, their reaction, after shrieking in fright or delight, is always to swat it or crush it. But I don’t want to encourage that in my students. I want to encourage them to have a healthy respect for all living things. So I would just quickly but calmly reach for it, and let it land on my hand, let roam about. I would explain to them that bees only sting when they feel threatened, which they do anytime anyone projects their fear and shrieks.

I would show them how harmless they could be if they were treated gently and with respect, then I would open my classroom door and then open the door that led outside ( I’ve been lucky to have a classroom right by the hallway exit) and release it.

I don’t like killing living creatures – even insects. If they look dangerous, and are in my house, then I do, because I don’t want to risk my mother being bitten by something poisonous. Call it guilt-ridden anxiety. But bees are fine.

Except this particular bee was obviously not, however.

The bee flipped upside down. My own buzz was just making it worse. I tried to calm myself and focus – I didn’t want to damage it’s wings. After a few more attempts I sat up and reached down with both hands. I was finally able to get the bee onto my hand.

I studied it, sadly. It was dying. The thumping landing on my chest made sense now.

A thought occurred to me then.

My older brother had had a really bad weekend a week prior to this. He and his partner had moved back down to Laredo from San Antonio three years ago to help care for my father who had been diagnosed with terminal gall bladder and liver cancer, and they have stayed ever since. But like any couple moving from their own home in which they lived alone for years back into the home of a parent, their space has become limited.

I’d been in that situation before – my ex-wife and I had to share living spaces with her mother and their family many times over the eighteen-year period we were married. Those times were at best, manageable. So the cabin-fever brought on by days of rain culminated that weekend prior.

Then there was the squirrel.

Later that week my brother had told me that the tipping point for that weekend was a squirrel. He had found a dead squirrel out in the front of our house. He had found something to wrap it in and placed it in our trash bin outside.

Later the thought had occurred to me why he hadn’t buried it – I would’ve gladly helped – but in retrospect the idea of burying the poor creature would have been too much for him. After dad, the aspects and realities of death and dying affected all of our family in varying and unexpected ways.

I laid the bee gently down on the blue seat cushion, where my ashtray, pipe, and pipe tobacco rested, making sure it was placed so that it would not fall off again. I thought of my brother and his weekend from Hell before. I hesitated a moment. Then I texted him to come outside quickly.

This felt right.

He came outside to the backyard. I held the bee out towards him in my hand, showing him, and I told him. It’s dying, help me place it somewhere safe so it will die in peace, without fear of being eaten.

Where, he asked.

I looked about our backyard – and I saw one of the bushes growing lush with bright yellow bell blossoms, the wells inside of which would keep it well-hidden from predators or from falling back onto the unforgiving lawn.

I handed him the bee. Place it in there, I told him. With both hands out, he took it. We walked over to the bush, found an upright bell with a sturdy stem. My brother placed it gently inside. There you go, he said softly. The bee slid gently into the well.

There, I said, a fine place for a bee to rest. Then I hugged my brother. Karma, I told him, a little light to drive away the dark. A little positive energy to counter the negative.

The moment passed. We stepped apart to let the space of the world back in. I told him that I was still going to hang out here and smoke for awhile longer. He said okay. He went back inside.

I love my older brother.

We clash, of course. We wouldn’t be brothers otherwise. But he’s been both father and mother to me countless times, when my parents couldn’t. He’s been my sounding board ever since he moved back and I had to admit to him my weaknesses that my Major Depression and ADHD brought about – even when medicated. He’s been the voice of reason in my head the few times I stood too close to the edge, and brought me back.

We’re ten years apart. He’s now fifty-three while I’m forty-three – the oldest and the youngest in our family.

He still looks out after me.

The least I can do help his spirit when it sinks.

The least I can do is remind him that there is still some magic in this world, faded though it is.

The least I can do is look after him for all the times he’s looked out after me.

I do.

I always will.

He’s my brother.

What I’m listening to:
Human Qualities by Explosions in the Sky.

Rain and My Mind Wanders …

Rainy days always put me in a thoughtful mood – more so than usual.

Rain drops falling steadily like tears …

Not the tears of a broken heart, but healing tears, as you make up after a fight with your lover.

Not tears of hopelessness, but tears of relief, after the test results come back negative.

Rain brings growth. Rain cleanses. Once the rain stops, the sun, eventually, emerges, and shines.

Rain is a mug of good, hot coffee. Tea, mellow, thoughtful and sweet – like your favorite friend.

Rain is reading good books curled up on the couch.

Rain is listening to music while you stare out at the graygreen world.

Buried under blankets, hugging a pile of pillows, watching your favorite movies.

Rain offers us a break from mad dashing to and fro from the self-imposed prisons we call life, responsibilities, obligations.

Rain says, take a break, I got this. You’ll just be in my way.

Rain forces us to be together, to talk about what’s been bothering us, to tell “Remember when” stories, makes us laugh.

Rain reminds us gently of Mother Nature’s power, gently puts us back in our place, keeps our ever-growing selfish sense of self-importance in check.

Rain forces us to pause and be thoughtful. To take stock of our lives, to slow down, to breathe.

The smell of rainy days, to me, are like the smell of fall and winter – it’s the scent of being in love, the scent of being alive, the scent of living.

How many great poems were written, because of rainy days?

How many great songs composed?

How many great novels were inspired by rainy days just like this?

How many loves, friendships, solidified, during rainy days?

Rainy days are magic.

I came downstairs this morning.

I said good morning to my mother.

It’s an ugly day outside, she said.

I looked out the kitchen window to our backyard. The rain had turned our Laredo dry grass into a verdant and lush paradise, an enchanted forest.

I was alive, so was my mom – so were my brother and his partner.

We had safety and shelter from the storm.

We have survived so much.

Death, mental illness, physical illness, arguments, fights, spats, conflicts, disagreements – survived them all, and helped heal afterwards. A glacier’s pace often, but forward motion is still moving forward. And we’ve grown closer because of it.

My depression has mellowed with my medication.

So much.

So much life.

I stared out, lulled by the repetition of steady falling raindrops.

It’s so beautiful, I said.

***

What I’m listening to now:

On the Warm Side by Mimicking Birds.