Lost

2013-08-11 12.36.54

Eight years and 3 months ago Cortney and I sat in these chairs for the first time. They were wedding shower gifts from someone. A couple’s wedding shower. I don’t want to tell that story (or maybe ever because it’s sort of embarrassing), but Cort’s dad had a lot to do with that shower since it was held at the marina where Cort’s dad and stepdad slipped their boat and it was all the boating people Cortney had grown up with plus both of our families and our wedding party.

We still have these chairs eight years later.

I’ve sat in them numerous times, but this summer I have found myself in one or the other almost daily. They are on the back patio and they are the perfect chair to lean back and read or watch the boys play in the backyard. It has quickly become my favorite spot.

At one point this summer I put my book down, breathed in deeply, and thought about my father-in-law.

I didn’t know him long, but whenever I went with Cortney to the marina to visit with him and his stepmom (they were there in all of their free time), he was sitting in a chair just like mine under a specific tree by the docks.

The first time we ever sat in these chairs.

The first time we ever sat in these chairs.

I have thought of him often this summer as I plant myself in my chair.

Each time the wind blows, I close my eyes and try to feel his presence. I look at my children–his grandchildren–and I try to imagine what he would be like with my kids. How would he laugh as Charlie runs at full speed with his curls flopping around behind him? How would he play with Eddie?

And I don’t know.

I can’t remember.

I try so hard to squeeze my eyes shut and imagine his face…but it’s fading.  We have his picture out, yes, but it’s hard for me to actually remember him from my own mental photo albums. I remember seeing him when Cort and I were dating. I remember telling him about our engagement. I remember all the times we were along for doctor visits. I remember the events before he physically changed from himself into The Cancer Patient.

But I don’t remember him.

Before I knew him, with Cort's stepmom

Before I knew him, with Cort’s stepmom

I stare into the eyes of those photos we have living in our computers.

I see Cortney and his brother Cody and their Grandma Sluiter the most in those eyes and cheeks and chin and nose and smile.

When I look from this photo to one of my boys my eyes burn, and my heart hardens.

Why do I have to search for similarities and guess at their relationship with each other?  Why will I never ever get to see them together?  Why can’t I remember his laugh, damnit?

The only picture we have of us with ALL our parents

The only picture we have of us with ALL our parents

Already he was slipping away in that photo. He is so small and not the same man in the physical sense. By that time, I had already started to forget what he was like before Cancer.

And it had only been four months since his diagnosis.

He was always in his chair after that and surrounded by friends and family. He was never ever alone.

This meant as a newbie to the family I never ever spent one on one time with my father-in-law. But I knew he was a great man who everyone loved.

always the goof.

always the goof.

I never knew him in the normal, every day way.

I can’t remember anything other than moments that were touched and tainted and special and beautiful because we knew he wouldn’t be around for more of those moments. But they were not private moments. At least not many of them.

There were always other people around.

Cortney says his dad could tell a great story.

I don’t know.

Cortney says his dad was a good listener.

I don’t know.

Cortney gets tears in his eyes and talks about how much his dad would love to be a Papa.

I. Don’t. Know.

Laying Cort's dad to rest in his favorite place.

Laying Cort’s dad to rest in his favorite place.

Lots of people see my last name and ask me if I am related to him. I proudly say he was my father-in-law.

People often smile and simply say, “he was a really, really great man.”

I nod. I know.

But I don’t know.

I miss him.

Not because I knew him, but because I didn’t.

And hell yes, I am bitter about that because I should have known him.

He died two months after Cortney and I were married, eight years ago today.

It doesn’t get easier to have him gone. The weight still presses on my chest thinking about “never” and “forever”.

But just in case “never” and “forever” don’t mean what I think they do, I have a seat saved for him in the backyard to watch his grandsons laugh and play.

the anchor and the helms wheel

I asked him on our way if he was nervous or scared.  Surprisingly–to himself–he was not.

He sees flashes of his dad in pictures of himself, in the laugh of his son, in the smiles of his aunts and uncles, in the gait of his brother.

The design he had emailed back and forth on for months–even years–with his best friend and graphic design artist rested in the space beneath the radio in the dash.

He can feel his father on the breeze off the lake, in the waves lapping against the beach, in the embrace of his grandmother.

I had joked with him earlier if he needed to shave his leg himself  and if he was ready for the fun of stubble on his calf as the hair grew back.

There is an emptiness in the dark of night when he wonders what it would be like to have his dad around to help with basement remodels and yard projects and son-rearing.

He is remarkably calm and even jovial as he cracks jokes with the artist and gets settled on the bench.

He has no idea how much he is his dad right now.  Facing pain with a smile and a joke.  Making those around him comfortable in the presence of what will be HIS pain.

He is deep in thought as his wife and the artist chat and joke and discuss the process. It’s good that she came.  It’s good that she is there with him for this.

Even in the pain he can feel his dad.  Each week, in the same arm, a needle was stuck.  But it was not infusing ink under his dad’s skin.  It was poison that was being injected.

Sooner than later–after winces, but no sound–it was over.

His dad is his guide.  Even in spirit.

His anchor and his helms wheel.

His Pops.

This week’s prompt was to tell a story–fiction or non–about a tattoo in 300 words or less.  This is a true story from my imaginationFor a picture, go here.

a little bit rock n roll

I have one of those poster-sized frames in my classrooms behind my desk, and at least once a week (because why would my class all pay attention at once and get the info once), someone asks me what all the tickets in it are for.

I love to talk about those tickets.

They are the ticket stubs of every concert I have ever gone to that required a ticket.

In order.

Filling up almost the entire poster frame (four columns and many, many rows).

Inevitably, someone wanders up to the poster and gasps, “wait, you went to these concerts???”

Yup.

The first ones are all wrinkled and faded, but I can still remember them, even sitting here at my kitchen table.

The very first one is a pink and blue ticket master stub from 1994.

My aunt had tickets to see Aerosmith at The Palace in Auburn Hills (near Detroit), but ended up with better tickets.  Knowing I was a HUGE fan even at the age of 15, she offered to sell me and my high school boyfriend the tickets.

Surprisingly, my mom thought it was a good idea too.

In fact, I remember my mom saying, “I like Aerosmith.  They seem to be a good, clean band.”

Yeah, I’ll give you a minute to chuckle at that too.

My mom is a sweetie. Naive, but sweet.

(and yes, I would use this later in life to go to many, many more concerts of bands that she thought were “nice” by what she heard on the radio.  Sorry, mom.  It’s true.  LOVE YOU!)

That Aerosmith concert was the first time I got to road trip with a boy (yes, he brought me home back across the state after the concert.  I was a GOOD girl.  Shut up, I really was.), the first time I got beer spilled on me, the first time I smelled pot, the first time I realized that live bands meant lots and lots of f words in the middle of songs I never heard f words in before.

It was also my first concert T-shirt.  So I could prove the next day as I sleepily went through my day (that was mom’s rule: you may go, but NO skipping school because you are tired) that I was there.  That I saw the LIVE.

That concert launched an all out addiction.

Because I have always been a rather eclectic music lover, my concert-going past shows that.  Much to some people’s surprise.  Here is a quick list of just SOME of the bands I’ve seen (some more than once…some more than three times)….

Aerosmith
Tom Petty
Dave Matthews Band
Metallica
Pantera
Type O Negative
Beck
Ben Folds Five
Pearl Jam (countless times, really)
REM
Marilyn Manson
Stone Temple Pilots
Foo Fighters
Corrosion of Conformity
Clutch (also countless times)
Neil Young
Nine Inch Nails
Tool
Jewel
Rusted Root
Limp Bizkit
Korn
Bare Naked Ladies

And so many more…I can’t even think of them all…

Mind you, I wasn’t much of a passive concert-goer either.

No way.  It only took me about two “general admission” concerts to realize A) they are my favorite way to see live music and B) I am much better (and tougher) on my own.

In case you didn’t figure it out, I have never been much of a risk-taker.  Never.  I like to play it safe and follow rules.

Oh, I talk the big talk and can get nasty if  have to, but I would much rather just get through my life without confrontation and drama.

And as a teenager, I wasn’t much of a rebel.

I didn’t drink, smoke, or do any drugs (ok, I drank AND smoked in college, but the smoking was short-lived and more of a check-me-out-being-a-rebel-thing.  I was really to afraid of cancer to keep smoking.  plus I was terrible at it).  I kept my curfew.  I didn’t lie to my parents (much).  I didn’t go where I knew I shouldn’t be, and I didn’t skip school.

I was the kid all the parents wanted their kid to hang out with.

Not that my friends weren’t rule-breakers, but I was the one in the group who would drive their sorry butts home and sneak them past their parents.  All the while not breaking any of my own parents’ rules.

But somehow concerts were my way to rebel.

My concert uniform became old jeans, a concert T-shirt (NOT the band I was there to see…duh), and steel-toed boots.

I did not get hooched up for a concert because that was not the point for me.

I had one goal.  To get as close as humanly possible to the front and rock out.

I always stood with my friends through the crappy openers.  We would inch our way forward, but no one pushed.  It was just standing and waiting (unless the opening band was, say, Red Hot Chili Peppers…then the pushing would commence early).

The biggest rush of my life is that minute that the arena goes pitch black and the roar of the crowd goes up to the ceiling.

I can still feel it if I close my eyes.

Before the first song even begins I used the darkness to wiggle away from my friends and slide through thick bodies to the front.

I always made it to the front.

Always.

We don’t get to many concerts anymore (the last stub I have is from 2008 before getting pregnant with Eddie), but Cort and I have fun telling stories about the ones we did go to.  I have many more stories than he has, but he likes to smile at my toughness, since he was always the guy back by the soundboard.  He didn’t need to be at the front to enjoy the live show.

But I did.  I need to see the sweat fling from the guitarist’s fingers as he rapidly assaulted the strings.

I had to be able to witness the lead singer taking a drink of his beer that was behind an amp.

It was part of the music for me.

So it makes me smile when my students…who are the same age I was when I first walked into The Palace to see Aerosmith…ask me about those stubs.

The stubs that are wrinkled and faded from being jammed in a sweaty pocket while I wormed my way through sweaty dudes and drunken chicks to get to my place at the rail in the front.

The stubs that show that yes, I was  somewhat rebellious.

Even if I did get up and go to school on time the next day.

it all happened at once

It was unexpected.

We went to our small town’s annual Memorial Day Parade with Eddie.

Eddie loves parades.

It’s not that we weren’t thinking about the meaning of the parade, but when you have a toddler you are mostly thinking of how he will like the drums.

And of course we were watching for Great Grand-dad in the group of WWII vets.

the strapping young man on the left is my paternal grandpa

and just after we waved to Great Grand Dad, it happened.

I wasn’t prepared.

A car of WWII vets drove by.

Eddie waved.

One kind vet saluted my son.

My small, blue-eyed, blond curly headed boy watched intently as the kind-faced vet rolled away in his car.

The crowd continued to stand and clap.

More vets rolled by.

And my thoughts followed my little boy up through school and beyond high school.

It never occurred to me until that moment that my son might choose the military.

Neither Cort’s dad nor mine did.

But Cort’s stepdad, both my grandpas, Cort’s maternal grandpa, and his uncle did.

College was the assumed path for my husband, me, and our siblings.

But what if Eddie chooses to give himself to his country and serve?

My heart started beating with the pride of that possibility.  Of  my son in uniform.

Just then the Gold Star Mothers rode past.

And my heart fell out of my chest.

I realized whatever Eddie chooses, my heart will explode with pride and break with worry.

all at once.

*************

Sluiter Nation would like to thank all the men and women who have chosen to serve the United States of America.

You are so brave.

We honor you.

Happy Memorial Day.

the cue

ahhhhh GO!

He runs full speed down the hallway in just a diaper.  His run is more of a prance and his blond curls bounce in rhythm to his quick trot.

Smack!  He gets to the end and both hands slap the wall.

When he turns he is all smiles and eye twinkles.

He backs up straight and tall with his back and palms flat against the wall, and pauses to make sure I am ready.

This is my cue.

I snap my arms and legs open toward him.

This is his cue.

MA MA!  GO!

He leans forward and with complete trust, rushes down the hall toward me.

His giggle melts me.

I can’t wait for him to get to my embrace.

His curls blow back from his face revealing the gleam of joy in his eye.

He doesn’t slow his pace as he approaches, flinging himself with all his force into me.

There is no fear of hurt.

He trusts me completely.

And in an instant, we are one person.

I wrap him up in me, close my eyes, and fall backwards.

We are one like we were in the beginning.

Our hilarity and tears and mischief are the same.

Time stops, but our merriment does not.

He has buried his face in my neck and wrapped his arms around me.

He is gasping for breath through giggles.

I am filing these feelings away into my heart.

His hair will not always be this soft and silky and blond.

His fingers will not always have the little dimples instead of knuckles.

His feet will not always be round and smooth.

He will not always smell of baby lotion and graham crackers.

He will not always trust me so freely.

Running into his mom’s arms will not always be his first choice.

I lie on my back and release him.

He scoots down and takes my hand and instructs me in his gibberish to sit back up.

Once I am up, he decides to lean in one more time before starting the game again.

Awww Ma Ma!

He hugs me and bends in to touch his nose to mine.

And with a snap, he turns to run back down the hall.

Ahhhh GO!

A blur of giggles, curls, and baby skin goes running from me.

My smile twitches.

And my heart makes a promise to that boy.

I will always be here for you to run back to.  My arms will always snap open for you.  Just give me the cue.

deluge

The windshield looked like it was melting.

The rain wasn’t coming down in individual drops; it was a steady stream washing out everything in its path.

Including roads.

I shifted the weight of my distended middle so that I was leaning on the center counsel armrest.

I fruitlessly attempted to pull the black maternity dress back down over my lap where it belonged, and my red wedges had been cast off long before we had gotten into the truck so that I could wade through the rushing water to get into our vehicle.

Because we couldn’t stay at the restaurant.  There was no power.

We had been in the truck for over an hour and had only gone about 3 miles.

The normally easy 20-minute route home around the lake had turned into rivers of detours.

Each time we tried to turn we were faced with more streets acting as reservoirs for the deluge we were experiencing.

We were on the Southside trying to weave our way to our Northside home, but the land in between was low, and the safe paths were few.

Each time we were forced to take a water-logged road, I held the door handle tightly, peering out my passenger-side window as the waves lapped the door and almost covered the tires.

I had to use the bathroom, but I wasn’t about to say anything.  There was nothing he could do about it and whining would just make the situation worse.

I tried to quietly massage Eddie into a different position–one that didn’t involve his foot in my bladder.

I started breathing calmly through my mouth to avoid thinking about the liquid jostling under my son.

Cort gave me a worried sideways glance.

“No, I am not in labor.  Just have to pee.”

“Do you want me to pull over?”

“Where?  No, just keep driving.  It can’t be too much longer.  The rain is letting up.  I am sure we will be home soon.”

I had no idea it would be another hour before we got to our subdivision, only to find the entrance completely flooded forcing us on yet another detour to find dry land.

We had no idea what was ahead, but we were trying to have a good outlook, stay calm, and not have an accident before it was all over.

This post was nonfiction.

Please vote for Sluiter Nation in the Mom Central Grant Contest on facebook.  You may vote once every 24 hours.  Thank you.

forced labor

I am pretty sure it was always somewhere around a hundred degrees outside, and we had at LEAST thirty bushes to pick between the two of us.

My mom would tell you that I am exaggerating.  If fact, she will chuckle and say all of this is exaggerated.  And maybe it is.

source: Jsanckenphotography

But it is what I remember.

It was the middle of the summer and it was hot.  My long hair was damp and clung to the back of my neck, my forehead, and my cheeks as I would stoop to get the berries from the lowest branches.

The ugly camouflaged hat of my dad’s did nothing to keep the deer flies from swarming around my head, but it did help them stay out of my hair.  Because no one wants to pick tangled, angry flies from their long hair.  Nobody.

It maybe wouldn’t have been so bad, but the bushes were so far from the house.  My brothers and I, buckets in hand, would trek down the path through the woods in our backyard out to the clearing where my dad had planted apple trees and blueberry bushes–the two fruits that completely Michigany.

The apples were to feed the deer.  The blueberries to feed the humans.

My brother also insisted on lugging along our little boom box so he could listen to Ernie Harwell call the Detroit Tigers’ games through the loud buzz of AM radio.

We would spend more time trying to find just the right spot to get the least amount of interference than actually picking berries.  Many times we would make our baby brother hold the radio and move around until it was how we wanted it.

Stand closer to that tree.  No!  Farther away.  Ok put one foot on that stump and hold the apple tree branch with the other hand.  Maybe if you put the antenna in your mouth.  STOP!  That is exactly perfect.  Oh quit crabbing.  You don’t have to pick.

Starting on different ends, we would go for the brilliantly blue ones first–the ones our dad warned us that the birds would pick off if we weren’t out here every day. The ones our baby brother would munch on if we didn’t put him on radio duty.

The ones we would pop into our own mouths so we could taste summer while we worked.

We didn’t say  much as we picked.  If anyone said anything, it usually resulted in arguing and someone storming off in tears to “tell”.  So we quietly listened to what there was to hear.

thud thud thud

Until the bottom was covered and the second layer of berries began.

Plop plop plop

The shuffle of bare legs in the tall grass as they moved around the bushes.

The occasional slap at a mosquito or deer fly on our legs and arms.

The rustle of blueberry bush leaves as our hands moved around them.

The relentless plopping of berries on berries.

And the strike of a baseball bat hitting a foul ball with Ernie letting us know that “the kid from Freemont caught that one.”

My parents still have those bushes, although when I venture back to the clearing there are only about eight bushes. My nephew loves to help my mom pick, and I wonder if Eddie will stain his hands and lips blue just like I did when I was younger.

This piece is did not come out the way it was behind my eyes…if that makes sense.  Concrit is welcome.Please vote for Sluiter Nation every 24 hours to help me with a grant that will get me to BlogHer and help Sluiter Nation do BIG things!

3010

It was always hot.

I was the only one who thought so.  Everyone who walked in was delighted by the coolness compared to the triple digit temperatures outside.

But I was always sweating.

They even gave me a fan, but that just made me shiver from the sweat that dried on my exhausted body.

The room was more spacious than anyone expected.  We quite easily fit five members of my side of the family along with three of Cort’s in addition to the three of us.

And it still felt big.

But maybe that is because I suddenly felt small.

Even with the throngs of people coming in and out?  I felt that we were shielded somehow.

This was a room for miracles.

(Even if my miracle happened downstairs in a different room.)

I had everything I needed contained in this one room:

A Styrofoam cup full of ice water.

Sleeping pills.

My meals delivered.

My laptop and my phone.

A private bathroom with a much used grab bar.

A doting husband.

A happy baby (yes, I said happy).

In this room…

I slept better and harder than I ever have in my life.

I sniffed my baby’s head for the first time.

I sweated, and pushed, and cried, and shed all inhibitions in exchange for feeling better and having a healthy child.

I trusted completely.

I healed.

This room took care of our needs and made it ok for us to be partitioned and sheltered from the rest of the world.

Life was out there…moving and growing…but in here?  In this room?  Time stood still.

We were a small family:  a mom in her adjustable bed, a dad resting on a small couch, and a son swaddled and asleep on his father’s chest.  In the dark room we watched the Detroit Tigers sweep the Cubs.

We witnessed the departure of the King of Pop.

We absorbed the fall of an Angel.

We marked the exit of a treasured Announcer…all while being disconnected from the world…as a family.

We felt safe and untouchable here.

That is why, as I stood at the window in the first real clothes that I could squeeze into in days with my baby in his first real clothes of his life, I cried.

As my husband took our bags to the truck and prepared to usher his family…not just his wife…to their home, I wept.

This room was were our family had begun.

This was all my son knew of the world.  He was safe. I was safe.

Nothing touched us here.

And so much would once we left room 3010.

psst.  I am over at my friend, Natalie’s blog, Mommy of a Monster and Twins, today too sharing about a Monster Mommy Moment of mine.  Please tell me you can relate to this…it will make me feel so much better!

pssst again…I am trying to win a grant to fund my trip to BlogHer.  If you are on facebook, please click here to vote every day!

promises kept

I could never have imagined the power behind the vows I was uttering.

I could never have fathomed that each line would come to fruition in fewer than six years.

For better…

we were three people who were once two, alone in a hospital room.  a family.

me drowsing–belly sore, limbs bloated, womb empty.

Cort resting–eyes closed, feet up on the little couch, head back, a small bundle on his chest.

Eddie sleeping–warm and dry, breathing in the world.

…or for worse…

All eyes on us–the poor children–as we lead the procession into the sanctuary.

We sat alone in the second row–behind only the widow, the preacher, and the eulogists.

Cort, me, Cody, Liz, Kenzie…and mom squeezed in from back in her row up to be next to her daughter to hold her hand and catch her tears. to be there for her kids.

The rest?  Is a blur.

…for richer…

we have each other.

we have a sweet boy.

we have a house.

we have two vehicles.

we have love.

…or for poorer…

We thought it would be me losing my job.

Every year the cuts got closer.

So close I actually saw MY name on a cut list while Eddie kicked happily and obliviously inside.

But it never happened.

I continued to work.

But he did not.

…in sickness…

Cort has a three scars–none even an inch long.

He doesn’t have an appendix.  It left him the same day his dad left this world.

I have one visible scar–probably around close to seven inches long.

It was the best way to become a mother and still stay in this world.

Cort has scars you can’t see.

Battle wounds from a verbally abusive, mentally sick wife.

I have invisible scars too.

Etched on my heart from mastering the art of losing.

…and in health.

Cort lounges sleepily on the couch only slightly aware that a curly-haired toddler is barreling toward him.

Eddie throws himself at the couch and climbs clumsily and awkwardly grabbing at Cort.

Once on the couch he steamrolls his daddy and monsters his way into position next to him.

Not to be left out, I pounce across the room and join the snuggly, giggly pile.

I do.

When Cort leaned in to kiss me for the first time as his wife?  We didn’t feel what happened…but we would soon find out.

Our whole world shifted.

I was syndicated on BlogHer.com

My Mother’s Hands

I seem to spend a lot of time looking at my hands.

I see them out of my peripheral vision as they fly across the computer keys, but I really see them when I need to pause and think about my next words.

I rest them flatly on the keyboard when I am thinking.

And I look at my hands.

And I think about her hands.

My mother’s hands.

Her hands are not tiny and delicate.  She does not have neatly manicured nails.

My moms hands are rough.  Soft, but rough with work.

They have spent countless hours in bleach and lysol and and dishwater.

They have pruned up while scrubbing baby fingers and toes.

She has cut and packaged steaks and burger and roasts that were destined for someone else’s dinner plate.

She has folded countless loads of laundry and smoothed many sheets across beds.

They are the hands of someone who knows hard work.

Though our family is not full of hugs, she has never been stingy with loving touches.  Her fingers would glide over my arm in church; her hand across my baby brother’s tiny toddler back while he watched TV; her palms would cup my younger brother’s small hand while she read him a story.

Those hands held the books that incited my love affair with words.  They pulled and brushed my straight, blond hair into pony tails. They picked up fuzzies and hairs off my shirts to keep me looking just right.

Her blunt fingers strung needles and bobbins that made clothes for my dolls and the blankie I slept with each night.

She has wrinkley, thin hands.

They are not pretty.

They are beautiful.

My own hands rest on my computer keys.

The nails are short because longer nails click funny on my keyboard.

My knuckles are wrinkled and the veins are visible on the palms and tops of my hands, and small lines are beginning to etch themselves permanent homes everywhere.

Like my mom, there is a permanent indention where I wear my wedding band.  The difference is that hers is so much deeper, much more…there.  Mine is still a beginning.

They have washed dishes for other people.

They have handled hot parts off a paint line.

They have smoothed paper and photographs into countless albums.

They have flipped through countless essays and tests and quizzes and journal entries.

And there on my right middle finger is the large callous made by many years of pen to paper.

Now those hands aren’t wielding highlighters or pens or pencils.  Not as often.

More frequently they run across computer keys.

But they also bathe baby limbs…

and scrub floors…

and put toys back in their temporary put away position…

and wipe and wipe and wipe and wipe and wipe…

and trace the outline of a little boy’s face while he sleeps.

They are not pretty…

but they are my mother’s hands.
I was syndicated on BlogHer.com

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