Fragments of Wholeness

Spaghetti for breakfast, because as I told you on Monday, we always have leftover pasta. Garlic bread strong enough to wake the dead and make them hungry. Brown coffee in a green mug. Rain. Traffic on the interstate. Gurgles from the coffee pot indicating The Chef is brewing more at the other end of the hall. I reach over and scratch away some something dried and dirty on the edge of my side table. A smudge of something. Wonder what it was? Organic matter. Life juice.

If I was dead and could come back for a visit — think vacation or quick weekend getaway — I would want garlic. I would come back for garlic. And the sight of sunlight shining through colored glass. And the sound of rain. The smell of pumpernickel rye. And citrus. And fir. I’d be grateful for the mindfulness practices which allowed me to store and catalog sensory pleasures while I was here. Clean cotton pillowcases. Bare feet on hardwoods. Layers of paint. The landscape of skin.

A very long time ago during a time of great suffering I wrote a poem about the landscape of a lover’s skin. In the half light of a room with a single window. He was sleeping. I was watching the light change upon his nakedness and it brought to mind juniper scrubbing the foothills of the Rockies. The last line of the poem was a gesture of amusement that I could truthfully claim his body reminded me of being on vacation. Of all of my gifts I am best at the last lines of poems. The last lines of my poems are my Crown Jewels.

I would come back for poetry too but I’m not sure I would need to. I think poetry endures into the afterlife. All my brilliant last lines will be there. All the brilliant other lines of other poets will there too.

I chose my frag of the day back while my coffee was still cold. I’ve been sitting with it in prolonged consideration, many minutes now.

When I was younger I was interested in interior design. I know with wrinkle-deep certainty that this was a side effect of growing up as poor white trash. Wallowing in dark, crowded, shabby, stink I longed to grow up, move away, make my own money, and live in a home not decorated with depression, disorder, addiction, abuse, and poverty. I’d have nicer things and I’d feel good there and I’d want to be there. Better lighting. No cockroaches. No plastic sheeting over the windows. No furniture reeking of cigarette smoke. No closets full of Vietnam. No carpets full of broken bones. So I read books and magazines about creating gracious interiors and dreamed of the day I’d be not-poor white not-trash. In those books and magazines I beheld things described as Italianate.

I’m no big fan of the style but I am a fan of the style of the word. This is how I beheld my Frag of the Day. Not fortunate. Fortune-nate, like Italianate. In the Fortunate style. Of the Fortunate style. Corner lot brick Fortunate cottage. This chipped Fortunate glass vase. This smudged Fortunate side table. This Fortunate embroidered pillow with an un-Fortunate orange juice stain.

I have to stop there. Pivot with me.

The closet full of Vietnam. Did I ever tell you about that? High on a hill in a horrible basement apartment lived my father, his four children, and the occasional live-in girlfriend. Dark. Depressed. Destitute. I was in high school, the most miserable time of my life. In the hallway was a closet where my dad stored everything he brought back from Vietnam. We were not supposed to open the closet or mess with anything inside the closet, which was pretty much an invitation and a dare. We were left alone a lot. I was the oldest, which meant primary caregiver when Dad was gone. My siblings and I opened the Vietnam closet to explore the forbidden.

Photographs, uniforms, Army field gear, weapons, tools, even MREs. Holey wool blankets. Paperwork and assorted records. Medals. His baby brother, our uncle, had gone too. He was infantry. After Uncle went to prison some of his Vietnam stuff got mixed into the closet as well. We went through the closet several times, depending on how long Dad was scheduled to be gone versus the odds of getting caught. I was entrusted with remembering how it had all been stored so we could put it all back in place and reduce the chances that our security breach would be discovered. We needn’t have worried about it. Dad never looked in there until it was time to move again.

He’d been an Army medic. He was 17 when he enlisted. He turned 18 in basic training. Got my mother pregnant just before he flew out of the country. Had a shotgun wedding. I was born while he was away. He came back to the US on leave to meet me a year and a half later. Went back, came home when the conflict ended. He’s 65 now. My last birthday was a little over two weeks ago. He sent me a text. He has picked up my habit of telling people I am really glad you were born instead of stupid Happy Birthday. I thanked him. He wrote back:

“I should be thanking you. You probably saved my life.”

I didn’t have to ask what he meant. In the closet full of Vietnam I found a photograph of the moment we met. My mother took it at the airport when his plane landed. She handed me over to him. He sat down, still in his uniform, and held me. My mother snapped a black and white Polaroid. In the Fortunate style. He didn’t look at the camera. He looked at me. His face.

His face.

I know what he meant.

There is no photograph of the day he went back.

The Fortunate style is another manifestation of re-integration. Welcoming back everything I rejected before I understood that recovery is not a makeover. Or a do-over. Dad waited 46 years to talk about it and when he did he could only manage that single line of text. But that’s how it goes; sometimes we reclaim in fragments. Micro-movements. Small shifts. Wholeness in progress. The last line of a poem I wrote about it years before all of my closets were fully functional:

The path to enlightenment is paved with the places we stand along the way.

— Mercy

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