To Dust

February 28, 2017 § 6 Comments


It is six years to the day that my mom was found dead, and I still have some of the afterglow of the trauma. You’d think it would be gone if you followed the American model of mourning and had never lost anyone close. The rest of you know. The sad seeps through my day, and I don’t care that it is Mardi Gras and don’t want to go to the party—after all, this is New Jersey, and there will be no costumes, and on a Tuesday, no drinking after 10:30. We have work tomorrow.

But tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and I remember that my mom was way into Lent and Ash Wednesday. And what you remember after someone dies becomes them.

I ask my kids what they remember of her. They both give the same answer: She had a bag filled with change and she gave them all the quarters. Cole, who studies such things, says generosity sticks in the mind. Jack Henry was nine, so lots of quarters were a big deal. A soft blue Crown Royal bag full of change is what my children remember of their grandmother. She was pretty smart. They think of the gift, forget the rest.

My mom was raised sort of Baptist, but went to Catholic school, and became Episcopal as an adult, so that’s what I was raised as. I remember the ashes, smudged on her forehead. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The darkest of days, after the pancake supper, dust. I remember going to school. You weren’t supposed to be embarrassed, to look in the mirror and see the dark smudge. You couldn’t wipe it off.

Nobody said, um you’ve got something right here. It was a remembrance. And I am not religious. Maybe on the tiniest edge of spiritual. I believe in ashes, of course. To dust I will return. I believe in forty days in the wilderness, at least. I believe in confusion and trying to make sense of the world. I remember the fog of trying to understand death. Sometimes it is good to have a real mark on your forehead. And then you are supposed to give something up. I know about this.


Good Night, Irene.

February 1, 2017 § 4 Comments


I was tempted to say good night to Irene, my check out lady, as I left the grocery late on a Tuesday night, but I figured in her 50 or so years, Irene had heard that plenty and might get a little annoyed. Instead, I asked her about the noise, the jack hammering into the customer service counter that was pulsing down my spine.

“Does that bother you?” I asked.

“I’ve got the headache,” she said. Irene did not elaborate.

She figured I’d know about the headache. I did. She kept scanning my groceries.

“Any idea when they’ll be finished?” I said. “Every time I come in here, they’ve moved everything around.”

Irene shrugged. “Tell me about it,” she said.

She endured my many brought-from-home-bags, but insisted on double bagging my meat in plastic, as if to say, Plastic Island will engulf us, whether you bring those or not. Do you really want chicken blood on everything? I had confidence that I could make it 3 miles and into the house without the chicken package exploding, but Irene did not, and here, I deferred. Irene had seen a lot.

In the magazine rack, Us featured the “first family,” which is to say, the Trump children from all the marriages. One of them was pulling another by the necktie, in a jovial way. I hadn’t thought they’d be featured in magazines, but they are, as some kind of Brady Bunch that spans forty years. Of course they are. Still, I thought the necktie thing might be subversive. On another shelf, the paper screamed about the insanity of Bannon.

It could have been the chicken blood that nearly brought me to tears in my car once I’d returned my cart to the “corral”; maybe it was the plastic bags. Right now, anything could do it.

The world was going to shit, and still I was buying groceries. I regret not standing up about the plastic bags. I worry about the necktie. I wonder why I am here on a Tuesday night, when I could be doing anything else—some small thing to resist.

But we all need to be fed. My children can’t wait. Nobody’s children can wait. That’s why I’m here. Why we all are, I suppose.

Irene was here last week, and I figure she’ll be here next, when our food runs out again. She works nights, despite the headache, the constant blast of unpleasant noise, the disruption with no apparent end. I’ll have to too.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for February, 2017 at stephwhet.