When reading, I’ve long had the habit to use bookmarks rather than turning down the page. My reasoning is that one day I’ll release my gathering hoard of books so that others might enjoy them as if they are still new. I’ll arrange them on my drive for a magnificent Saturday morning book sale, or cart their pristine titles to our local used book store. So I keep my books safe. Guarded. Lovely.
Mostly my bookmarks are corners torn from yesterday’s newspaper, or a magazine ready for tossing.
To me, it seems a thrifty way to go.
So today when I opened my newest read (Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout) and transferred my little torn paper bookmark, my eyes fell to the writing on it.
“Hold the Salt,” it read.
But NO, I thought.
I want salt. And cracked pepper shot across the top of everything.
And soy sauce, dark and salty as night. And ginger. And basil. And thyme.
I want to notice how thyme rhymes with time, because that’s what I want!
I want pesto, and garlic crushed beneath my knife,
Chopped cilantro and tomatoes,
Sweet basil crumbled through my fingers.
I want bright yellow curry and cumin that tastes like the earth.
I want peppers and onions strong enough to cry with me.
I want SPICE.
But Hold the Salt?
I considered the thought of life as spice as I (for once) folded down the corner of a book, and tossed that now-useless bookmark with its words of wisdom that don’t apply to me.
At least, not right now.
My sister was quiet today.
Not her usual quietude of wordlessness,
Yet still showing off a riot of facial expressions,
Head nodding yes,
Small head shakes of no.
Today, her body was quiet.
She seemed less able to track my words,
Her eyes drifted downward,
I think my sister is becoming weary.
Alzheimer’s rides heavy on the shoulders
Of its people.
I think she’s displaying weariness…
Or maybe it’s just a hot summer Phoenix day,
So soon after
The rising tide of
A Super Moon.
My sister no longer speaks.
Often she refuses food. Sometimes, she eats.
The thing I’m learning is that … it’s her choice.
She’s my sister. My SaSa. The person who took responsibility over me,
When there was no one else. We were children and she took my hand,
And she took me along with her … to the movies, to the store, to school.
She gave me herself.
Now it’s my turn to do the same for her.
So I’m learning.
There’s dignity in silence.
There’s grace within a turning-away from what is (to her) distasteful.
There’s love in quietly rocking oneself to whatever
Music plays in one’s head.
She is still leading me.
Still teaching me.
Still my SaSa. My big sister.
Still always my Sunflower Bouquet.
My beautiful sister is totally silent now
All words are gone
It diminishes my love for her …
Not one iota.
She’s my touchstone, my center.
I don’t care if she can’t talk,
She’s my sister!
Still, the family genetics live on.
Please consider donating to the Alzheimer’s Association here. They won’t FORGET your gift. Also, remember to pass on the arms-around-you, I’m-right-in-the-struggle-with-you message from the nationally award-winning novel, All the Dancing Birds. We’re considering the notion of making the story into a musical. After all, who doesn’t dance with the birds to the music of our souls?
Not that they were needed today,
Still, I’m thankful for any rare moment of tears.
I use them to clean the floor of my heart.
These are the days of misery in Phoenix.
We set temperature records.
We are an oven with one setting – hot, hot, hot!
We grow things with sharpened spines and teeth,
Hairy legs and lengths of coiled mouths.
We try not to think about it.
Still, we shake out our shoes and listen across the shimmering heat
For rattling sounds and
The night time cry of hungry coyotes,
And dust swirling high into the early evening sky.
My Dan and I are growing older.
We nap now.
We nod on the couch,
Or slide between cool sheets in a shade-drawn room.
We curl our bodies into
The shape of sleep,
And allow the day to carry us
— At least for an hour or so —
Into dreams of deep-grayed wisdom.
Today I held deep conversations about genetically modified foods, golf
and what techniques garner the best result on a score card,
and how to cook the perfect hard and soft-boiled eggs.
These were important conversations.
I learned. I listened. I contributed.
But the most important was the conversation I didn’t have.
Scooting a chair up, knee-to-knee to my sister, I smiled into her face.
I’m here, I said. She smiled.
My sister no longer speaks words. Her face is mostly still.
She is now a listener, while I’ve become the talker.
Some days, I don’t know what to say.
In spite of earlier conversations about food and golf and eggs,
Today was a silent day with my sister.
I’m elated to announce that All the Dancing Birds has been given an IPPY Gold Award for Popular Fiction. In the words of The Donald, this is YUUGE! An IPPY (Independent Publishers Book Award) is a prestigious acknowledgement of an author’s good work, and this year All the Dancing Birds competed against over 5,000 other titles. Wow!!!
Thank you all for your constant encouragement, your much-needed atta girls, and especially for your readership. I wrote the book for you … yes, you … and also for me. Alzheimer’s disease NEEDS us to encourage our leadership to enact legislation that will find a cure for this family devastation.
Until we find a cure, or even a reasonable treatment, know that as an author I love you all and I’m working diligently — as an Ambassador for the National Alzheimer’s Association — to acknowledge and also write about brain illness … from the inside-out.
I’m working hard on my next book — a mystery with a paranoid schizophrenic protagonist, and again from inside her mind. Yeah, I know.
All love to you!
On February 9, I’ll be pitching All the Dancing Birds to the nice folks at the Friends of the Phoenix Library.
Wish me luck!
Oh, we’re also entered with the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards to be announced some time in April.
More luck needed, and maybe lots of crossed fingers with that!