Under the Influence

My head moves more fluidly (inside and out) after a smattering of beer—usually about half a bottle of Moose Drool. I achieve similar results by playing with the right amount of paint, rusted metal, knotty slabs of wood, rocks, or dirt. The right amount of God is a different formula. It ranges from less than none to cosmic tons.

“What do you mean, similar results?” God asks lazily from the kitchen where he’s adding a lot of cream to his coffee.

“Hmmm. Let me think about that,” I say, as if I’m going to answer. I’m sipping my Moose Drool, adjusting my lists, and enjoying the bright yellow birds hopping around in our diversely-cultured front yard. God melts through the window and into the lawn so quietly the birds don’t even notice they are now hopping around on God’s chest. This tickles God. He tries to hold still but the earth trembles. The great heart of God is gathering force as it comes apart in the dirt.

The trick with God is to stall. He’s got the worst case of attention deficit disorder ever. Humans with attention problems face a lot of challenges, but with God, it’s just another glorious day of goldfinches flitting across the wide expanse of everywhere at once.

Ah ha! Everywhere at once. That’s it. That’s my answer. The result of just enough paint, canvas, rock, metal, or beer is the momentary assurance that I’m in the right river, and I’m not going to drown. I’m everywhere and everyone. connected but alone, safe and in mortal danger; and I accept this eternally transitory condition as my own. As God. As a bright yellow bird.

“God,” I shout. “I have it!”

God surfaces and blinks. He’d fallen asleep among the holy invisibilities of existence. “You have what?” he asks, not fully awake.

“I have your answer,” I say, disappointed at his apparent confusion.

God scratches his rangy head. “I think I forgot the question, honey. Sorry about that.”

“God,” I say. “Sometimes, it seems like you’re not paying any attention to me at all. You’re too busy enjoying the yellow birds.”

 “You’re right. You’re absolutely right,” God admits with a guilty grin. “They’re so beguiling and fragile. So perfect and temporary. But then, so are you. I’ll try harder.”

“O.K.” I agree. It’s time to get dressed. I put on my bright yellow pants and a yellow hoodie.

“Look!” I shout to God from my yellowness. “This should make it easier for you.”  I’ve also added hot pink high-tops to my outfit. We both think this is very funny.

Editing

Few writers love the editing process, but it’s a necessary tedium. The English professor on my dissertation committee marked ninety-three comma errors in my first draft, but as my co-author, God rarely has the patience to look for comma errors even though the need remains. She excuses herself, citing the liberating Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi: the mistake, the flaw, the imperfection becomes the passageway to a deeper understanding of perfection. I don’t like it. There are things I need to articulate, and I could use some skilled but kindly help to do it well.

The grandchildren visited for the weekend. The youngest fought the haze of sleep while I sat on a stack of pillows, providing what safety I could. In a voice softened by the mystical quality of those entering the other realm, she murmured her final conscious thought. “I want my mommy,” she said.

It wasn’t a full-throated protest or a ploy to stay awake. It was the final whisper that defines us all. Her eyes closed, and her body relaxed. My heart ached as I watched her sleep. I want my mommy, too. Not my real, deceased mother—the one who tried hard but sometimes failed. No, I want the perfect mommy.

“But what about me?” God said as she slipped into my head. “Am I not the mother of which you speak?” She was joking around like people do when they’re sure of themselves.

“No,” I told her. “No, you’re not.” I felt mean as I said it, but honestly, I have no time for this.

She might be perfect, but the way we interact is not. Her editing is whimsical, her grip on reality questionable, her motives often unclear. Not the mothering I imagine at all. “It’s complicated,” I hastened to add. “It’s not entirely your fault.” But it was too late. Her indignation seethed, and a torrent of grief swept over the face of the earth. Sea levels rose, and the dark wings of the birds of prey covered the sun. A bitter ending was palpable on the near horizon.

“Wait!” I said, “I’m sorry. I meant to say that you’re not what I expected, but you’ll do. You’re a pretty decent mother as mothers go. You’ll do.”

“But you can imagine better?” God countered, eyes boring through my body to the eternity at my back.

Ah, what to say. What to say. What to think. Could I imagine better? Was this a trick question? Was there any way out? I froze.

“C’mere,” God said. The waters receded. “Enough. You need some rest.” She motioned me to a soft, dark place.

I don’t know what I whispered as I fell asleep, but I know God stayed awake, sitting uncomfortably nearby. And honestly, what more can I ask?

Grieving in the Old Blue Chair

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Today, I sit in the light of the rising sun, rocking myself in the old blue chair–the one I loaned my mom before she died. It’s an unusually small recliner. For a few months, with planning and effort, she could get out of it by herself. But then she couldn’t. She fell and laid helpless on the institutionally-bland carpet for who knows how long? They found her tangled in the floor lamp, alive but not coherent, her body bruised from her efforts to get up. That was Mom. Never stop trying to get back up.

Dylan Thomas would have approved. Mom did not “go gentle” into any dark nights. In her stubborn way, she raged against the dying of the light. When faced with a challenge, she’d clamp her thin lips tight, stomp on the gas and shoot down the road, her ever-shrinking body taut with determination. She’d arrive in her shiny white Ford, peering at the road from just above the steering wheel. She never stayed long.

God has stopped by to reminisce. He’s wearing decades on his shoulders, and our whole upstairs has become quite crowded. “Oh God,” I say, shifting to make room, glad for the company. “Remember how she believed that when she got to heaven, she’d have to give Dad an account of how she managed the ranch after he died?” God nods, a little teary. He really admired my mom over the years. “And remember how much she gave away?” I added. God smiles with pride.

There’s not much else to say. Those last three days, death pulled her tenderly down through the layers of life until it was just her brain stem fighting for air. The Wasabi sting of emotion threatens my placid mood as I sit with the memory of her  insistent breath, sucked in and out, in and out, irregular and awful. Not a memory anyone needs to have.

After she fell out of this chair, she never sat in it again. I brought it home—slightly more worn. I’ll keep it a while.

“Tell her, will you?” I ask God.

“Tell her yourself,” God answers, and holds up a mirror Mom carried in her purse. She used it to reapply her lipstick and smooth her hair. God slips open the purple plastic cover, and I see the unadorned eyes and lips of eternity–of now and forever. I see the eyes of God, wide like a baby, and the lips of God, as full as Bob Marley’s, singing.

I fight to let God’s swaying body save me–to believe in mercy and compassion in this broken, greedy, hungry world. To use my breath for good, and welcome my demise with grace. I rock in the old blue chair, sun warming my bones, while God, as audacious and angular as ever, dips and weaves as he hammers out the beat on the steelpan drums.