Ritual – page 24

Matruska covers my hand with her own, an aloof November moon beaming full and indifferent.

“Let me see what I can bring forth,” she says, closing her eyes.

Time passes slowly as I wait, beginning to chill from the night. Her face looks pained and her brow furrowed as she speaks.

 “You have a dark anguish of absence, having to do with a child, a son. He is waiting, wanting to come into your life but can not come through the man you knew as your husband. It is not possible.”

“So,” I interrupt. “I do have a husband! You can see him?”  My heart throbs with excitement, an elation I have not felt.

Matruska is slow to continue as if pulling information from the stars that are just now coming out.

“I see the shadow of a man alone who grieves from the bottom of his soul, believing you are dead. He is lost now, moving from place to place without purpose.”

“Please,” I beg, grasping her hand. “What else can you see?”

Matruska quiets herself again, waiting for images.

“I see another man, a traveller, who enters your body to bring forth a son, then walks away, which is as it should be.”

I am put off by her suggestion, finding it crude and impossible.

“Do you not comprehend? I seek my husband. What can I do to find my husband? Please use your sight for that. If I am married surely our love would flow into one another to create a child. How can you suggest I leave his bed?”

Matruska’s mood darkens. “Let me become your ally, Maya. You must calm yourself and listen with an open spirit. Seeing into the future, into someone’s heart and mind requires being truthful. What is seen may not be to your liking, but must be said. Please, child, I can only help if you allow me to.”

I am heated and tense. “Then help!”

“There is no leaving what is not there,” she challenges, referring to my husband’s bed. Now! Listen to me carefully. On the first day of May there is purification on the mountains and hillsides. Cattle will be driven between bonfires to bring us luck. At that time the triple Goddess will be near the earth; maiden, mother, crone. It is her medicine you need to mend what is broken, until then you must wait. Spring and Beltane will bring clarity and gifts.

I get up, wrapping my shawl around me, wishing for Angelina and Marko to take me away. Being with this woman is suddenly too much. I feel exhausted, too opened and much too seen.

As I make my way back to the house, there is a stirring deep within, another remembering making me dizzy. I drop to the earth, shaken, holding back tears, feeling the touch of Matruska’s hand upon my shoulder.

“Forceful energies are moving through you, Maya. Do not try to stop them.”

I am angry. “It’s too much,” I protest. “I want them to stop!”

The face of a young boy enters my vision as I stagger to my feet. It is a face I know, a face from a dream, his body glowing, eyes overflowing with light. I look at him, finding myself in his eyes.

“Mother,” he whispers, before the image fades, and I know I must do it. I must give him life, whatever the cost.


the-queenMy mother, Verse, is 93. She came to Oregon to visit for the last time when she was 88. I remember pushing her to the counter of the airlines ticket desk in a wheel-chair, while she dug in her oversized purse to find her passport. She was always smiling and eager to visit. She loved telling the adventure stories that lived behind each passport stamp gathered from around the world.

My mother is an amazing woman, so bright she skipped two grades in high school, graduating at age fifteen. She was academically gifted, but suffered from a painful childhood. As a girl, her mother explained that there was no such thing as love, and demonstrated by abandoning her in every way possible. She learned love from her father, but he left both the marriage and his daughter at an early age.

She sang in a big band before she met my dad, then left to manage a successful restaurant and motel. No, she did not manage it; she owned, lived and breathed it every moment of our growing up years, putting her dreams of studying law or medicine aside. My mother gave birth to three girls and two boys. All, without exception, worked in the restaurant below. It was a thriving business full of constant coming and going. It was the place to watch the World Series on the small screen television angled above the bar. It was a businessman’s lunch table, and the destination for every club and civic organization in town. The restaurant had the elegance to house wedding receptions and the warmth to invite family diners to return on a weekly basis. The travel-weary were given a warm welcome and the factory crowd brought their brotherhood to the bar. The romantic played the jukebox and danced, while teens drank cherry cokes and competed on the bowling machine.

I was her middle child, with a sister and brother older, and a sister and brother younger. I worked in the restaurant for years before going off to a Vermont Boarding School. During that time, I watched my mother make sure the meats being delivered were of the highest quality, the breads taken to the table were freshly baked, and the portions were plentiful and appealing. After a long day of work, she and I would sit at a small out-of-the-way table, her tiny shoes trailing built-up oven grease from the kitchen floor, her hands clutching volumes of receipts to be counted, her face drained of vitality and charm.

I don’t want this life for you, she would tell me. Go away from this place. Be more than this.

When she was finally freed of obligation to family, business, marriage and striving, she found her wings and began to explore. At eighty years of age, her gypsy blood bubbled to the surface.  With nothing to lose she decided to give herself as many adventures as possible. She tore across raging water on a jet ski in California, rode camels in Egypt, visited the Great Wall of China, flew across Antarctica, soared in a hot air balloon, took a safari in Africa, floated the Amazon river, and was the oldest woman ever to go hand gliding in New Zealand.  When we crossed the British channel, she was in the ballroom dancing in her new prom dress, while I stayed below, blue in the face from motion sickness. I think your mother is stronger than you are, the maid volunteered.

She waits in the airport wheelchair, beautifully dressed, her attitude full of determination and intention, but the clerk will not look at her. She addresses me instead. My mother does not exist for her. She is just an old woman to be patronized and called, Honey and Sweetie. Her passport is handed back quickly without a glance in her direction, its wealth of stories left untold. I watch my mother’s face fall as her existence is publically diminished.


 I couldn’t do math to save my life, still can’t. I didn’t get those brain cells. But my mother did. She was a business woman and book-keeper, who believed that her daughter should be able to navigate the world of numbers by some miracle of genetic biology. When that failed, she hired math tutors – lots of them. They were dead-on serious people, who sat in over-lit rooms arranging columns of tiny numbers so they fit in miniscule boxes. They used rulers and charts and made up non-sense stories about a person traveling to Cleveland going twenty miles an hour – and how long did it take if they stopped for a coffee and donut on the way, and how much longer did it take, if they had to stop at their Aunt Lizzie’s house as well, who lived thirty minutes from the interstate? It seemed a lot easier to stay home or have Aunt Lizzie visit them.

In seventh grade my mother decided I should forgo the usual horseback riding, baseball games, manure fights, fort building and hiding out in the woods, so I could devote my entire summer to…you guessed it…math!

She got up each morning to drive me into the city, like I was going to the hospital to get urgent care. I tried to comply but couldn’t. Two whole days passed before busting out. I knew she wouldn’t take it well, so we continued our morning routine. I’d give her a long-faced troubled look to avoid suspicion, then wave good-bye before catching the number 10 bus to the swimming pool. That summer I perfected my skill on the high boards doing swan dives, the jack knife, half-gainer, half-gainer with a twist, double flip and the ‘look out, here she comes’ cannon ball. Work on my suntan and social skills completed the day.

This went on for an entire glorious month before coming to an abrupt halt. I no longer remember if it was the lack of report card, a school visit or the fact that my teacher had no memory of any student by that name, that finally alerted her to trouble. But one day, I returned from the pool to find her standing on the front steps of the school, smoke coming out of her ears. She was so angry she couldn’t speak, and what little she must have said, I’ve thankfully repressed. I do remember those eyes in the rear view mirror as they glared at me on the way home. I sat wet and humbled in the back seat. Her eyes full of anger and disappointment, but mostly a kind of hopeless exasperation about what to do with her ‘problem child.’

Death Visits

Death is around my mother now like an energetic cocoon waiting to merge with her physical body and dissolve its solidity into an expansive freedom.

It doesn’t stand by the door the way it does during childbirth. It is more a curious observer there, wondering if mother or child will pass beyond the edge of reality and need a companion to guide their spirit home. No, it is not that kind of death that awaits my mother. That kind of death comes for an otherwise healthy body. Its occasion is sudden, accidental or unexpected.

The death that waits for my mother is slow and subtle. Each day it sucks away minuscule amounts of desire, until her once-active body can no longer will itself to turn the pages of the latest mystery novel arriving in the mail.

The slender hands that once fashioned silky strands of childrens hair into intricate french braids, now struggles to hold a comb or press the spring that fastens her silver hair clip.

The morning reunions she enjoyed with friends at her favorite breakfast café, have been replaced with bottles of painkiller and a glimpse at the newspaper before returning to bed.

This was the woman who danced, sang heart-felt blues at the upright piano and raced around the globe in search of adventure and inspiration. She has no desire to die. Her grasp on life has always been full and present, holding as much of it in each hand as she could manage.

But now she swallows anti-depressants so she can stomach her reality, the reality  of having life’s brilliant dance move farther and farther from her feet. I am not living. I am only existing, she admitted with sadness and resignation. My mother does not believe in complaining, finding fault or dwelling on the negative. She has never referred to herself as old, and continued wearing prom dresses into her eighties.

Death has not claimed her yet, but has moved close enough to examine her breath, weaken her heart and shrivel her body. Her mouth is flung wide in sleep, her breathing open and labored. I know she is fighting. She is thumbing her nose at death and saying, You will not close my mouth or steal my connection to life. Witness the strength of my breathing. Witness the power of my will.

But death does not come at her like a warrior or an avalanche. Death is patient and quiet. Death has time and the confidence that comes from assured victory. It moves slowly, taking back a tablespoon of vitality here, a cup of life force there. It has already stolen the radiance from her smile and precious memories from her heart.

Can she hear death whispering? It is coming closer every day. It’s okay to sleep, death assures her. Let your bed comfort you now. The world is too fast and too noisy. Enjoy the softness of your sheets, the twilight haven of your room. Feel your chest move up and down. There is nothing else that’s important. Just watch your breath move in and out. Begin to surrender. Begin to think about letting go. I have you. As soon as you’re ready, I have you. There is nothing to fear.

One day soon my mother will free herself, like a ship coming untethered from the shore, and we will have her no more.

written 9.25.2008

In the fire

I woke this morning with a start, a kind of fearful cold water thrown on an unsettled heart. I’m 60 years old now. I probably have twenty useful years before me. This is fact, reality, sterile and unbiased. What can a person do with twenty more years of life? I can watch my granddaughters become women and my children enter their fifties.  How long will it be before I lie in my bed like the mother I just visited, no bigger than a pipe cleaner, unable to stop my jaw from shaking, unable to make a fist with arthritic fingers, unable to keep the expression of pain and hopelessness from my face? How will it be to watch my friends die? To use all my energy to get out of bed in the morning trapped in a body that no longer serves me? Will my now distant children care enough to show up, or will I sit in my independence looking out at life unable to participate? And what of love and home? Will that be created in the next twenty years, or will I still be flying by the seat of my pants, the spiritual bird that can’t touch down?

I am in a time of fire. Everything is being burned away. They say, whoever they are, that a fire in the forest cleans the underbrush making space for new life. Don’t give up until they throw dirt on your face. Today I feel old, worn, dirty and tired.

I have moments in the day when I stop to weep from a deep and frightened place inside myself. Crying is something that has to happen now. I no longer question it. I just try to be gentle because I know I’m in the fire. I know the fire burns. I try not to thrash around and stir the flames. I put on a good face, breathe deep and wake with a cold and lonely fear in my heart.

written 5-25-05