essays by Shé

Ashes to Ashes

In Love on June 27, 2022 at 11:26 am

Signing the paperwork was hard. Fortunately, the funeral director kept getting it wrong. She also lied to my brother and niece, blaming me for the delay. Then more miscommunication ensued, this time about Mom’s titanium hips. Not miscommunication, lack of communication, despite multiple emails. Are they mechanical devices or not? Not. Check the other box.

When I asked two neighbors to witness my signature on the cremation documents, I couldn’t get the words out, and started crying. It’s one thing for Mom to continue to say, I’m not dead, it’s another to read legalese about pulverizing her bones.

On Monday I was antsy. Will they really send them? I called, but got the answering machine. That was the day her body went through the crematorium.

USPS has a million problems, but they sure haul ass with dead people. Have you ever tracked your mother? Yeah. For some reason I was surprised that this was emotionally difficult, too.

She landed in Honolulu Thursday night. Friday morning she was at the Kilauea post office down the street. It was all I could do to keep from running over there and demanding the package, right now! But I waited. All day. The tracking message didn’t change. I walked to the mailbox in the burning sun, twice.

Late afternoon, I gave up. One of my flip-flops is broken, so I tape it, then bike to the local shops looking for replacements. No joy. Read a free surf magazine. Try to bike to Kane’s, but Queenie won’t go down the hill. Don’t I need exercise? The ocean? I turn around, not even stopping for the soursop tree.

Check the mailbox again on the way up the driveway. A neighbor on the porch next door waves. “You got a package.” He picks up a small Priority Mail Express box. Bright orange stickers adorn every side: CREMATED REMAINS. I burst into tears. “That’s my mom!”

I can’t stop crying, but can finally take the box. My neighbor hugs me, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” He is sweaty and smells of tobacco, with many tattoos. “I’m sorry,” he says again and again while I sob and lean on him. Such kindness.

I can’t stop crying, but eventually I can leave. Open my gate, set her down by the door, wheel in Queenie, lock the gate, kneel on the stoop, and cry in earnest. No more waiting.

Mary Patricia Magonigle Kathleen VanTine, 1960
Mary Patricia Kathleen Magonigle VanTine, 1960


In Love on June 21, 2022 at 1:22 pm

“Paint the ocean,” said my dad, but I didn’t dare. His huge 3D map of the Americas covered a wall of his house, sans sea, and I was afraid to screw it up. I was fifteen.

Back in kindergarten, though, I painted a picture for my mother every day, so she would be alive when I got home. She was pregnant and bedridden, and the story was that she would die if she got up. (She often got up.) My favorite painting from that era was thick lines of alternating orange and brown hues, creating a square tunnel effect. A family friend was impressed, “Perspective!”

Eventually Mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy, whom I called Didi. Painting pictures faded, and Didi became the artist. Later I painted my face and body, then became an actor-dancer, proficient in character make-up and costumes. Then a writer, painting with words.

One day my young artist friend Maureen left her body suddenly and for good. Shocked, I signed up for art class, as a way to grieve. One of my pieces featured actual seaweed and stylized ocean folk. During a summer job, I painted scenery for a teen-written performance piece, and helped another friend with a mural.

Then a girlfriend got the idea to make a fish ladder out of a wooden utility ladder. (We lived in salmon country.) She created a school of beaten copper fish and asked me to paint water on the ladder, from sea to stream. I put it off, thinking, again, that I didn’t want to screw it up, but she persisted.

It was gorgeous.

I’ve always loved color and texture and shape and design. I created letterpress books bound with ribbons, elaborate guerrilla poetry pieces and flotillas, and painted sea creatures on furniture. I whitewashed the walls of my Hicks Lake shack in broad swooshes, and, in Flagler Beach, added cinnamon-colored sand to pigment, experimenting on big canvases. A Hawaiian friend gave me a tube of gold Liquitex for my birthday, and I had a field day.

The extreme joy of painting is anchored in the fact that I don’t have to be good at it. I can just do it for me. Just for fun.

Elizabethan Ocean Woman by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 2022

Ya Gotta Tell ’em

In Love on June 14, 2022 at 10:48 am

Pakala. Lying on my board on a small day, waiting for set waves. A stand-up paddle boarder startles me, swiftly passing on my immediate left. He’s gone before I can say anything, and I bob in his wake.

Another SUPer quickly paddles after him, yelling in Pidgin, “No do that! Respect da surfers! Whatchu problem, eh?” My champion!

The guy apologizes to her and me, chastened. My heroine glides over and says adamantly, “Ya gotta tell ’em.” She is right, and I thank her.

My brother has a habit of spewing ugly words. Because he is younger, I’ve tolerated this behavior for decades, making excuses for him, letting it slide. This has served me not at all, and it probably doesn’t serve him either. Yesterday I turned on the phone, and yep, another rant from the sibling.

Visceral response: full body flush, shaking, shallow breathing. My neck felt as if something was pressing on it. Yeah: my words. Got to respond!

Called and roared, “Don’t you ever talk to me that way again, or we are done! Do you hear me?”

Hung up, because it wasn’t a dialog. While I was at it, I yelled at a neighbor for idling his pickup under my windows — again!

It takes a lot to get me to this point. I write notes. I calmly explain the situation. I listen. But tolerating disrespect is over. I’m not having it anymore.

Pele by Shé, acrylic on canvas 2022
Pele by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 2022
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