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It’s a thin line
I dreamt of Jake last night. He’d come home and then left on a trip, and had stopped to stay in a small town somewhere up north where it’s green. It seemed like normal times but felt a little off, like I knew in my dream that I was dreaming.
In my dream, I said to him that I thought I’d move closer to him, and asked, “Do you want family closer, or no?” He said, “Oh, yes!” And it was settled.
I ‘ve been puttering around this morning thinking about Jake and how I feel like I saw Jake, physically, in person, for real. My waking self didn’t know the difference right away.
I still reach out to him in my dreams, hoping to make sense of the space between us, and in the back of my mind is the notion that he left because of me.
But even in my dream I couldn’t bring myself to ask if he wanted me close.
And I wonder if I will only ever see him in a dream. What if that’s the only place he actually exists?
There’ve been times when I wondered if I’d imagined his entire existence. But no, I HAD A SON NAMED JAKE.
Grief doesn’t diminish; it settles deeply into your bones like hidden mold, but somehow it doesn’t get into the hippocampus. Grief is invisible but it stinks like mold; I reek with grief and I’m the only one who can smell it. But that’s its nature.
This, I think, is why my empathy is sharper, my tolerance broader. I can’t smell your grief, but I know it’s there. You’re suffering as much as I am. Maybe more.
When your son might be dead
My hold on equanimity is precarious. I’m fixated on “Jake’s totally off the grid, if he’s alive and well.”
The implication is that he probably is not alive.
This supposition does not bring closure because there’s no body.
When others suppose your son could be dead, it only just barely penetrates your awareness. You can think the thoughts, but the actual possibility sits on the periphery, like the time your mother told you her cancer had metastasized and you were surprised when she died because you had this membrane of denial protecting you.
Except that membrane now has a couple of tears in it, and images of what could have happened to your son ooze in and take root and grow until all you see in your mind are barrels of acid, withered, leathery flesh, white bones, ragged t-shirts and holey shoes, a lone skeleton propped against a tree in meager shade.
It’s not just that he is dead. It’s how he died. Where he died. If he died.
When your son might be dead, you grieve and hope simultaneously.
The boy I swore to protect, my beloved young son–vibrant, lifeless, vibrant, lifeless, vibrant, lifeless.
I saw a license plate frame two days ago that tore the membrane: The best mothers graduate to be grandmothers.
Another mom’s celebration just tore my denial veil.
And again, I’m reminded of my mother. When she wrote about my decision to give a baby up for adoption many years ago, she described “grandmother empties.” But adoption is not death.
A disappearance is not death, and neither is another person’s supposition.
This is a comfort, this tiny flickering flame.
It’s wondrous that it has not been doused. It’s like one of those unkillable candles that you hate to have on your birthday cake.
I don’t usually tell people I’m praying for them because I think practical help is a better way to show love and support. But I accept and respect that others are praying for me because I sense this. I’m a strong person, but I can’t manufacture inner peace. I can meditate, but we’ve seen where my thoughts go. I’m dealing with monstrous grief and I have questionable coping skills and I have this inextinguishable flame. If you are praying for me, thank you.
I have no idea what will transpire. I cannot affect the physical outcome. I’m helpless, and I’m a reminder that we all are. But Viktor Frankl reminds me that I have the freedom to find meaning in the midst of my suffering. He states that even in the most miserable circumstances life has meaning. And he himself lived this truth when he was in a concentration camp. I’m living it now. Just as Jake is irreplaceable, so am I.
I have found that making quilts grounds me, so that’s what I do in my spare time.
Here is one I completed for my beloved Aunt Nancy:
878 days missing
When I calculated the days for this year so far, I was surprised that it’s only been 148 days since May 1. Two years ago on this date, Jake had only been missing 148 days. That doesn’t seem very long.
I don’t really live in days, anyway. If you calculate minutes, 148 days = 213,120 minutes. Today the total is 1,264,320, and lately I’ve been feeling each one that passes like a 10lb musket ball. I’m shot clean through, and some days I feel like there’s not much left of me.
I keep finding myself humming songs from my childhood, like there’s something in them that comforts me. Today it is Mouth and MacNeal’s How Do You Do.
I re-read Day 709 today, and I think I’m doing my math wrong. Just as well I don’t really count them.
I still carry his boots in my car, and I keep in sporadic contact with his former unit now that they’ve deployed. Sending baby wipes and handmade kerchiefs comforts me, too. Doing these things are little minutes I’m able to claim for myself.
Thank you for asking about Jake, George Morgan.
And thank you, Natashia Deon, for asking the right questions.
Write Rite Right of Passage
I am embarking on a trip in a few days that will lead me to connect with my past in good ways, and I am in full panic mode. I’m half convinced I’m going to die, the same way I used to feel in the past when I went over bridges. I read years ago that it was likely rooted in my fear of change. My therapist told me that a lot of people fear heights because they’re afraid they’ll succumb to the urge to jump.
In this case I’m taking the leap.
So I’ve got 3586.6 miles ahead of me.
(I shouldn’t have added that up. It adds a whole new layer of dread.)
But there it is.
And I am going.
I’m going to see my mother’s sister for the first time since the 70’s. Mama is dead, but I hear her voice when I talk to my aunt.
I’m going to meet my very first born son and his parents–him for the second time, them for the first. I am very blessed to be welcomed and loved there.
And then I’m visiting my best friend from elementary school, whom I have not seen since 1976.
How does so much time slip by?
I’ll write about it as I go to keep my brain occupied with the beauty and adventure. I’m bringing my sewing machine and some fabric, which strikes me as hilarious but I’m telling you, it’s absolutely necessary.
I will be thinking of Jake, too. He traveled up in the area where I’ll be the winter before he disappeared, and I know I’ll look for him. I’ll have to.
I won’t find him.
But I’ll have his boots in my trunk.
My mantra: When you’re going through hell, keep going.
The moon is packed. http://onegirlriot.com/2017/07/pack-up-the-moon
I haven’t written, but this ain’t me:
By vice of hermitry, I rarely venture out of the house unless I absolutely must. I’ve become a hermit because of grief, and I’ve yet to ascertain whether this is to my detriment.
Today I was reminded of the outside world and others who care about Jake, and me, to some degree by association.
The handle on the shut-off valve to our water tank broke this morning, which I knew would mean I’d need to go out in the heat, so I mentally lumped the task with other errands. But it turned out I didn’t need to because today was our water delivery day. But that’s not the cool thing. (Jake has not been found.)
When I took the handle out to inquire about how to get it fixed, I was told that our regular guy had called in, but he, Robert, would see to it that the info was passed on. As he was climbing down the ladder from filling the tank, he said, “I have an odd question for you.” I braced myself, thinking, “Oh, heavens, he saw the kitchen.” He stood carefully, like he was braced, too, and he said, “You have an unusual last name, so I’m wondering if you’re related to this guy I worked with.”
It took me couple of beats to move from Bodus to Furrer, and then I knew he meant Jake. “At the mine, you mean?” I asked.
He nodded. “He taught me some. I didn’t know him well, but, you know, sometimes we had 12-hour shifts in the truck.”
He didn’t realize that Jake was still missing, so I caught him up and gave him the URL here (http://onegirlriot.com/about-stacy/info-on-search-for-jake/) so he could stay abreast if he wished. Before he got back in his truck, he said, “I guess I should tell you this. Jake used to talk about getting back to basics, so you know, maybe that’s what he did.”
My takeaway: this was an enormous God-hug. The synchronicity delights me: regular guy calls in, my handle breaks, which prompts me to go talk to the new guy, new guy worked with Jake. I wouldn’t have gone out there if that dumb handle hadn’t snapped in my hands.
This situation is still difficult. I ache every day from the not-knowing and the fact that I do not have my son in my life at all. It also hurts that, if he is not dead, I am part of what he sought to escape. No mother wants that. I would have given him space if I had known, which I believe he understood, but I’m part of the community so ….
If you’re reading this, ever, Jake: I love you and hope you are safe and content.
There’s a way for you to reach out to me or anyone and remain unfound:
This song captures my heart for my sons. (Songwriter-performer Kelis wrote it for her son, who is in the last scene.)
Some of the lyrics:
I was walking, was living
My melody was acapella
There’s a beat I was missing
No tune or a scale I could play
The sound in the distance
No orchestra playing together
Like a boat out to sea
The silence was too deafening
My whole life was acapella
Now a symphony’s
The only song to sing
My whole life was acapella
Now a symphony’s
The only song to sing”
Even when they’re missing, they’re part of the symphony. It doesn’t matter where they are, your song will never again be acapella. My own symphony has music from the unknown and the known, and I am thankful.
I have Jake’s dog tags now. I’d forgotten he has O- blood. When I read that on the tag, I thought, “I can give him blood if he needs it.”
If I could find him. If he’s alive.
If he is alive, he turned 29 last week.
I put half of Jake’s belongings in storage today. I’ve been driving around with his stuff in my car since I picked it up, and I was vaguely aware that this was odd, that my car looked odd. I was indifferent to what people thought about it, but last night when my husband suggested we drive to VFW steak night together in my car, I had to tell him I had no room for him in my car.
I realized immediately that the full car was acting as my insulation, and that I’d need to do something with the stuff this weekend because I don’t want to push him away. But I really did not want to unpack the car.
In a way it was like having Jake in the car with me.
So today I went to storage to pay the bill and to get this task over with. I’d steeled myself for it, and planned to be in and out in maybe 20 minutes. This was not to be. The gate would not open to give me access to the site, and I thought it was broken, and I had a mini meltdown in my car because I couldn’t get any help for half an hour, and all I could think was that I needed to get Jake’s stuff out before I lost my nerve.
I didn’t realize till I wept that I was upset about unloading Jake’s stuff.
Like Shell Stacy is completely cut off from Inner Stacy.
It got sorted out, and I put Jake’s things into storage, and all day since I keep finding myself vaguely surprised that food is not working any magic. It does not dissolve heartache.
I did an involuntary visual inventory of his things. I didn’t want to think about the survival gear he’d collected yet left behind–a sleeping bag, a small shovel that makes me think of shallow gravesites, a two-man tent that would have kept him out of the elements this winter–and I think, oh, my God, what if he was in LA in one of the wooded areas where the fires hit?–a sturdy rucksack, boots in his actual size–and I think about his refusal to wear shoes that fit–, a huge blue tarp, a Swiss Army knife. All smart stuff for roughing it and finding yourself out in nature away from everyone, if you had it with you.
Until I found his suicide note, I was positive he had not gone to Mexico.
But it’s the perfect place to disappear, isn’t it? He could have died there and no one would catalog his bones to be put into the Unidentified Persons Database for me to ultimately find.
So now I need to go back to Semefo, where the people are kind but the surroundings are cold and silent.
I can’t bear to look at little boys now.
I love them in all their boisterousness and energy. They remind me of Jake.
In the end all I have are memories.
This is what keeps my head from spinning off, I think. You can’t make memories if you’re not present.
I regret that my youngest son lives 5 hours away, but I also see how lucky I am: he calls me several times a week, just to connect.
I never take this for granted. Each time we connect is another memory.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts.
I have never been able to open up those Pillsbury roll cans. I have walked outside and gone to a neighbor’s house and asked someone to open the can out of my earshot and then bring it back to me on the porch. I cannot bear not knowing when the can will pop. (I quit buying them. I’m sure the neighbors appreciate that.)
Heretofore I’ve been an eager watcher of suspense flicks, and now, if I hear the first note of tell-tale music dread marches up the skin of my arms to my throat and I have to plug my ears. I’ve been known to bolt from my seat to pace during scary parts of movies. Now I can’t bear suspenseful music, or the threat of physical violence–the threat, mind you. Not the actual violence. Once it’s happening I can relax.
I connect it to my not being able to know what has happened to my son. I have no control over that, and the longer he is missing, the worse the suspense is getting.
Today I talked with a colleague about some things I’m doing in my classes, and she said, “Oh, THAT’s why you’re here at work. You’re passionate about it.” She explained that she could see how focusing on work was helping me to deal with my ordeal.
I was relieved to hear this perspective because I’ve been feeling like there’s something wrong with me that I’m not massively depressed. I love my son, and I am fractured and fragile. I feel like a train wreck, and I think the journey’s miles are heavy on my face. I saw it today when I looked in the mirror. I’m old and gray today. You don’t get frequent flyer miles this way, but you do get some perspective.
Viktor Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl’s words of wisdom have helped me to maintain perspective.
Here are some more, all from Man’s Search for Meaning:
- “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
- “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
- “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
And I pray.
This is a hideous circumstance, but I see grace in my work, in my friends, in my beloved son, Josh, and husband, Tom.
Often I’m angry and despairing at how unfair this is. It is unfair.
But it’s also unfair for the woman whose toddler died on the beach.
It’s unfair for the woman whose daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
It’s unfair for the woman whose son is suffering from neuroblastoma and may die any day now.
Viktor Frankl has this to say, too: “The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
In love there is grace.
And I’m surrounded by both. Even when I can’t see it.
I’m taking care of myself by being open about my state of mind. If you ask me how I am, I will tell you the truth: not good. I am sad. And tired. I cry every day. I keep remembering all the times I could have been a better mother. No, I am not okay. But I am not depressed.
That seems oxymoronic.
Jake’s birthday is coming up. If I could take it to the neighbor’s house, I would.
“Pop this sucker open, wouldja? But wait till I’m down the block.”
Brain real estate at a premium right now
I’m thinking out loud here.
I waffle about posting about what I’m thinking and feeling about my son being missing. I am not adding any new information, and much of what I share is about what I deal with emotionally day by day. It’s repetitive. The grief never subsides, although my awareness of it ebbs and flows.
I ultimately choose to post about it because I don’t have another safe outlet to talk about this ordeal. And right now I’m giving myself this little note to remind myself that I have permission to be repetitive, to grieve through the written word, to write the things that keep me up at night. I have to do this because I inevitably second-guess myself and castigate myself for not shutting up. And I’m doing this for anyone else who can relate.
So: lately I’ve been sleepless and preoccupied with questions I can’t get answers to. I cannot shut my brain down.
- Where is my son? This is an obvious, simple question, but thinking about it and trying to answer it take up much of my brain time. I still search ditch banks. This is a reflexive action; I cannot help myself. My brain says, “No, you might have missed something the last time you looked. Look again.” I drive down alleys. I scope out the local cemeteries. And I still check the unidentified persons database. I’ve managed to put some days between my searches, but for nearly a year I was checking every day. My brain says, “Many volunteers contribute to this database. You have to stay abreast of the new. Check again.” I have stopped short of volunteering to work for the database and help them add more unidentified bodies. It’s tempting to think that I would have more control over this horrible circumstance if I were helping in that way. It is not off the table.
- Is my son dead? This also takes up a lot of brain time. I’m not thinking it when I’m searching, nor when I’m teaching, nor when I’m engaged in any of the stuff I do to mute the agitated neurons. (I’ve signed up for a lot: Kiwanis activities, organizing an upcoming teacher conference, writing projects, teaching and research, enrolling in graduate classes, reading, someday-quilting, and Clash Royale.) This is also when I tap my inner tape that says, “It’s easier to disappear on purpose than by accident.” It doesn’t matter that I don’t fully believe it. It temporarily sedates.I don’t fully believe it because my son’s smart enough to do it right. The one real comfort I have is that he did not seem to be thinking clearly before he disappeared.
- Is my son homeless and helpless? In the summer I worry that he doesn’t have water or shelter to get out of the heat. I know he hates being hot as much as I do. We both have metabolisms that make us radiate heat. We are always hot, and the summer is particularly miserable for us. Is his face sunburned? Does he have athlete’s foot and jock itch? Does he have soap and toothpaste and deodorant? Is he thinking he smells like garbage, or is he past caring? Does he have coherent thoughts? When he was in high school he found errors in his calculus book, used Legos to build puzzling geometric problems, and went by the online name of 2brncells1gun. When he worked at the mine, someone asked him if they used fresh water or saltwater to excavate, and he answered, “I don’t know. I’ve never tasted it.Is that Jake apparent to anyone around him now?
I worry now that winter is at the door because toes and fingers need protecting. Heads need covering. Weak bodies suffer more.
Is he wearing a coat when it’s cold?
Does he have those cursed small boots on, still? Is he punishing himself?
Is he sleeping under a bus station bench and getting kicked by people who hate homeless people?
Does he have dirty hair and a dirty beard and grungy clothes that disgust people when they see him?
Does he get rained on and then have stiff frozen clothes when it freezes overnight?Is he wearing a trash bag over his clothes?
- Is my need to know where my son is more important than his right to be left alone? Am I invading his privacy by writing about him? Am I keeping him away because he is afraid everyone will shame him? If I shut up will he come home? If I do everything perfectly will he appear? Oh, toxic thinking.
- How can I best love my son? Am I doing it correctly now? When did I do it right? What did that look like? Is it too late?
- Do I have to parade my faith for it to be evident? I can’t make myself do that. I believe there’s a bigger picture that I can’t see. I believe I am not singled out for suffering. I believe that talking about my suffering gives others permission to talk about theirs. I think that is unconditional love in action. I believe that those pockets of indescribable peace come from trusting God. I think perhaps I don’t blurt my faith walk because I fail so much. If I trusted God more I’d have more peace, y’know? I worry about this because I think it’s built in me to worry about what people think. I need more songs to pipe into my brain to help me shed that habit.
- Today, a new question: How can I help other mothers? I grieve over suffering children, and today on Twitter I saw the link below.This is happening right now: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-13/yemen-blockade:-sick-and-starving-trapped/9143140
A few days ago, “…at al-Sabheen hospital in the capital, the ABC’s producer in Sanaa witnessed more than a dozen emaciated babies and toddlers receiving treatment in the
malnutrition ward. Their tiny skeletal bodies are evidence of the dire food crisis that is overwhelming this country” (Mcneill).I found this: http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/06/world/iyw-yemen-resource-list/index.html
And this: https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/nigeria-somalia-south-sudan-yemen/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-famine
It feels so small. I feel so small. And I wish I could see the actual help.
I hope others will join me in this.
We are small. And we matter even when it doesn’t feel like we do.
Giving Voice to Bear
*Jake has not been found. Thank you for checking.
A phrase keeps going through my head: “give voice to bear.”
That phrase makes no sense to me but I feel like I’ve heard it somewhere.
I looked it up, and Google has no idea what I’m talking about.
It did, however, point me toward an interesting book called Giving Voice to Bear: North American Indian Myths, Rituals, and Images of the Bear, by David Rockwell. It does not contain the phrase I’m looking for, but it yielded this tidbit: “Joseph Henderson, in his book Thresholds of Initiation, tells us that bears…symbolize the ethics of maternity” (4).
I guess I’m trying to give voice to my bear.
Every day that I drive to and from work I weep. It’s the only time I do this, and it always catches me by surprise. You’d think that if I do it every day it should not surprise me. But it does.
One minute I’m belting out Meghan Trainor’s “Me, Too,” and the next I’m weeping because I don’t know where Jake is. Or I’ll be thinking about one class or another, and suddenly I’m crying because maybe Jake’s dead. It’s like PTSD, but weirder because there’s no body memory and no trigger. It’s like the route from home to work and back belongs to sorrow.
Occasionally I ask aloud why other mothers get to keep their sons. It’s a fleeting question, and I’m embarrassed by this, too, because millions of children die every year, according to the World Health Organization. Mothers grieve everywhere. I am one of many. It doesn’t diminish my grief, but it reminds me that I haven’t been singled out. Life isn’t fair.
You have all this tar inside you but you still have to do your job. Show up, which I do. And I engage, and find meaning in what I do, and yet I feel sort of drift-y. Full of tar and drift-y.
Gah. Tar is too heavy to drift.
So tomorrow I’ll drive the sorrow road and get to class and then forget for a while. I’m thankful to be busy, to be doing meaningful work, to be doing what I love.
This guy here is who got me hooked on Trainor’s song. I want to live with that exuberance.
*Jake has not been found. Thank you for checking.
Everyone knows that the big, bitey, scaley lizard-looking thing in the Everglades is an alligator. That single word encapsulates everything it is and stands for.
My grief is an alligator, lately.
For centuries–millennia–eons–mothers have coped with the loss of their children. Miscarriages. Stillbirth. Childhood illnesses. Adult illnesses, accidents and other unforeseen circumstances. Any loss at any time is backwards and devastating, and yet we have no single word for that now-childless mother.
But she isn’t really childless, either. She has a mother void. Or is it a child void? Is she now a void mother?
I struggle for words lately, like my vocabulary has deserted me. But the problem is that what I need to articulate doesn’t have words in my lexicon.
I don’t know an English word that captures what my motherness is concerning one of my children.
And all of the phrases are awkward:
- mother of a murdered child
- mother of a child who died of cancer
- mother of a stillborn baby
- mother of a kidnapped child
- mother of a suicide victim
- mother of a missing son
I need a name for it.
It’s not for the sake of having a label to go by. It has to do with navigating the muddy swamp of grief. I have no bearings.
I need a word that tells people NO CRAP TODAY OR I WILL IMPLODE.
A word that reminds people that I look functional but sometimes I am tsunami wreckage inside. And anything can be a trigger.
I am whole but silent.
I care only a little bit that fractal is beautiful. I recognize that beauty rises from the ashes but right now everything just burns.
When Jake moved out I felt the loss keenly. But he was not lost.
When he joined the National Guard I got to practice again. But he was not lost.
And when he stopped speaking to me it was more practice. But he was not lost.
Then he disappeared. And it was the real thing.
And most days this is enough to put some distance between me and the alligator.