essays by Shé

Posts Tagged ‘loss’

Bat Signal

In Love on September 19, 2022 at 1:39 pm

I bought the ring after Emmett died. When you pressed the button on the side, the Bat Signal lit up. It was hugely satisfying. John and I used to tear around the house with towels around our necks, fighting crime. Nanananananananana – Batman!

I’d snagged the window seat on a flight to Oakland. The plane was full, except for the middle seat in my row. The last passenger to board wove her way from seatback to seatback, and the fit, dark-haired guy on the aisle stood to let her in. A flight attendant took her carryon to the back, and she shoved her purse under the seat in front of her. “The kids are with the in-laws on another flight,” she smiled, “in case something happens.” She tossed her curly hair out of her face. “I’m with the body.”

Airborne and leveled out, she ordered cocktails, then confided that this was her last flight of the day, she was newly widowed, the in-laws wanted the kids. “Not gonna happen.” When her first drink arrived, the guy on the aisle paid for it. He paid for all of them. “Thank you! Everybody is so nice!” He looked at me, and I silently agreed. She was in our care for the duration.

She was heading home after the military memorial. She noticed my ring, and I showed her how it worked. “I love it!” she said, so I pulled it off and gave it to her, saying, “Maybe it’ll come in handy.”

She exited the plane as she entered, reeling from side to side, smiling, chatty. But this time the Bat ring lit her path. Yeah, I know, just a bauble, a bangle, a steel gew-gaw. But it brought me comfort. I hope it did the same for her.

Hearts Aloft by Shé, 2019
Hearts Aloft by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 2019

Memory Problems

In Love on August 9, 2022 at 11:10 am

My father seems to have memory problems. He forgets that his only daughter loves him and means him no harm. And so he writes venomous missives.

The first time this happened, I’d just published “Free Love Ain’t” in a national anthology of essays by folks who’d survived so-called counterculture parents. Back then I read and responded to his poison pen letters and bizarre accusations for months. Finally realizing his contempt was bottomless, and his words were killing me, I returned them to sender. He then sent a registered letter, which a friend of mine read. More of the same, she said, so I burned it.

Hiking through the mountains recently, I noticed that the intensity of his current wrath is similar to that back in 2000. Then a funny thing happened: it dawned on me that it has nothing to do with me. Not one thing. It was a huge relief. I’d heard this theory, of course, and understood it intellectually, but here, on this mountain, on this island in the middle of the Pacific, I comprehended it viscerally. And smiled. I’ve done nothing wrong. I do not deserve his disrespect. I never did.

I’ve heard him talk to himself. His self-loathing rivals my mother’s. I imagine that his thinking is much worse than anything he’s ever said or written to me.

I know I’ve inherited their bad behavior. I, too, have said and done terrible things to those I love. These days I talk to Rage instead of stabbing anyone with it; talk to Grief instead of drowning in alcohol; talk to Terror instead of sprinting down the road. They’ve been highly educational. Best of all? They dissipate after bit, and I am lighter. The tide of Happiness comes in, with waves of Compassion.

I wish him well, I always have. And I wish me well, too.

Shé with Dad and Mom, 1963
Shé with Dad and Mom, 1963

Struggling with Wait

In Love on July 5, 2022 at 6:33 am

I have been heavier. I have been lighter. It rarely has anything to do with calories. Mostly it has to do with happiness.

When I set my needs and wants aside – for work, family, friends – I suffer. Self-loathing sets in, the mind attacks the body: you’re fat. You’re over-weight. But in fact I’m over-wait: waiting for permission to exist, to write, to paint, to dance, to surf, to swim, to live how I please. I am distracted by others’ needs and wants, thinking they are somehow my business.

I’ve heard, and intellectually understand, that there is no right way to Be. But ‘monkey see, monkey do’ has a strong pull. I follow ‘rules’ for housing, working, playing, loving with no consideration to the quiet inner voice that murmurs, ocean ocean ocean or dance your ass off or write your truth or look at the stars or leave this moldy house/relationship/job.

I believed I should be available: phone on and answered; responsive to the knock at the door; ready at work. I set aside my need for solitude and happiness, and made myself sick — over and over and over again. I was over-weight and over-wait.

Nowadays the phone is only on three days a week. I cruise the internet for research, then turn off the computer. After a lifetime of waiting – for parents, bosses, lovers — the only thing I want to wait for these days is clarity. I give myself permission to be happy: to play in the ocean, speak my truth, blow bubbles, float with gardenias while remembering my mom; to paint, write, look at the stars, take up space. Be Me.

I am shedding wait.

Love Translated Too, choreographed by Shé
Love Translated Too, choreographed by Shé, circa 2010

Words of Love

In Love on May 17, 2022 at 1:17 pm

“I’m not dead,” said John. I’m sitting on his grave in Queen of Heaven Cemetery. The headstone dates read: May 28, 1964 – September 30, 1967. Today is September 30, 2019. I’ve been here before, but I’ve never heard him quite so clearly.

I believe him. And it is a huge relief. I have spent decades missing my Irish twin. No need.

Is this wishful thinking? I ponder. There was the time I was suicidally depressed, lying on an old futon in Venice. Suddenly, he was there, physically holding me. My body felt his body. My body knew his body. We spooned. The comfort was indescribable.

For how long? Infinity. Long enough for me to remember that I am loved. As are you. As are we all.

Yesterday was my father’s eighty-fifth birthday. We Skyped, at my instigation. I wanted to see his face. Surprise: he is aging. He is slower. So am I.

After we disconnected (is that possible?), I sat on the edge of my bed and listened to Sorrow and Fear. Then I distracted myself with work. Then I took a nap. And then, fortunately, my neighbors irritated me. Hello Anger. I was able to get righteously pissed-off at their unapologetic thoughtlessness, cigarette smoke, and noisy boy ways. Finally I hopped on my bike and pedaled to Kilauea Point. Shearwaters nest there, burrowed into the red dirt cliff. That worked for awhile, then herds of humans arrived to glory in the sight as well. Ocean ocean ocean. Our original home.

Up a hill, nice and sweaty, I take a road I’ve been curious about. Why not? It leads to a cemetery, with Italian and Japanese names. One Omar Kalif. The view of the mountains is incredible, west of me, west of the sea. I lie on the poky grass and watch the sky. Mynah birds discuss various edibles.

The mountains say, all is death, nothing is death. As I look at their sheer majestic mass, I remember: oh yeah, nothing dies, everything dies. Clarity. Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegle, a race of small fightin’ folk, believe that this is heaven. They can’t die because they’re already dead. Nothing to fear.

Since hearing my brother’s voice so clearly that day, I’ve taken to talking to him. I know he has my back, and my best interests at heart. And while I’m at it I talk to Maureen and Mimi and Pappap and Nana and Grandpa and Coe Coe, Wild Bill Magonigle, and even a rotten uncle. Why should I be deprived of their excellent advice?

Johnny and Shé, 1966

Essay #34: security

In Love on October 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I never thought it was necessary – security. I thought it was a mirage, an impossibility. Amused and bemused when others thought it possible with locks and alarms and stocks and bonds.

I was wrong.

Here are some definitions, courtesy of msWord:

  • the state or feeling of being safe and protected
  • freedom from worries of loss
  • the assurance that something of value will not be taken away

Before I was five, I lost everything: my brother died, my father moved away, my mother turned into someone I didn’t recognize. We lived in a new city, I went to a new school. I never knew, when I came home from kindergarten, whether my mother would be alive. Enduring a difficult pregnancy, she was supposed to stay in bed. The doctor said she might die if she didn’t.

My routine, then: go to school, paint a picture; go home, check on Mom, show her the magic painting. I believed I could paint her back to health. I believed I could paint her back to happy. (She remembers pictures of happy mothers, but the one I remember was lines of color, disappearing into a square-shaped infinity. Her friend thought I was a genius, painting perspective at age five, but maybe I just liked color and shape.)

Constant fear of death is exhausting for a five-year-old. And a ten-year-old, a thirty-year-old. 44 years of fear. Corrosive.

I did not build good structures for my tomatoes this year. They grew bigger and faster than I anticipated. I kept adding on strips of wood, trying to support them. They produced gorgeous fruit anyway, but it could’ve been easier. Maybe the tomatoes didn’t care.

I do, though. I am tired of swinging free in the breeze, battered by storms and scared of crashing trees. How can I flourish if I don’t feel safe? supported? secure?

My new rain boots came in the mail today. Sturdy, waterproof, red. Good for slippery trails and muddy puddles. Protection for high-arched, hard-working, dancing feet.

Happy Hallowe’en. Be safe.

Essay #1: accent on E

In Love on March 7, 2011 at 1:24 am

Today marks the 48th anniversary of my birth. To celebrate these years on the planet, I plan to post 48 personal essays here, one every Monday. Why?

A few years ago, my best friend died.


The first time it happened, I was 4 and he was my brother John.

The second time, I was 44 and he was my dog Emmett.

Both young males, both had cancer, both loved me unconditionally and unceasingly.

The second loss brought up the first one in extraordinarily painful, but ultimately healing, ways.

Flash back to New Year’s Eve 2007
I am in an examining room, with the door closed.
Veterinary staff are trying to resuscitate Emmett, on a table in another room. I can hear them, but I can’t see them.
I am on my knees, praying.
Love pours through me and out the closed door toward him.
It’s huge, this love, and effortless.

My friend Dinah arrives and I grab her hand, hard.
The vet comes in, says, “We’ve been working on him for half an hour.”
I understand this to mean that he has left his body for good.

I follow her out the door. Turns out, he’s been facing me the entire time. We’ve been facing each other, through the closed door.

As soon as I see him, I know he’s gone. I nod to the vet tech and she stops CPR. She’s crying, too.

I pet his gorgeous black malamute fur, his huge plumy tail.
“Thank you,” I tell him. “I love you. I’m sorry.”
Over and over:
Thank you.
I love you.
I’m sorry.

These are crucial phrases. They can get you a long way in various situations. Perhaps we should memorize them in a few different languages:
Gracias. Te amo. Lo siento.
Merci. Je t’aime. Je suis désolé.
Grazie. Ti amo. Mi dispiace.
Danke. Ich liebe dich. Es tut mir leid.

Sting sings, “Love is a big fat river in flood.”

My heart broke open that day. When I focused all my loving on Emmett, wringing every ounce from every cell of my body, I unknowingly let the big fat river of love break its banks and forge a wide-ass channel. I can’t even see the other shore. Could be an ocean, for all I know.

With Emmett as my focus — my Buddha, my Jesus — I discovered that I am swimming in love. We all are.

Emmett’s secret name was joy.
I finally realized that mine is, too.

Thanks for reading.

%d bloggers like this: