Happy Birthday, Kelly

Dear Kelly,
Happy Birthday, Dove! You were always the best at celebrating birthdays, yours and others.

Today, as I was enjoying some quiet morning yoga and meditation in an empty house, the sun peaked out and shined right on my face. Like right on it! It felt like a massive gift and got me thinking about you and the birthdays and get-a-ways and celebrations we've shared the last 10 years.

Remember this platter you made for Jess, Niki, and I two years ago at the Octopus Hole house?

I could stare at that perfectly sliced fruit for hours, conjuring up images of your hands holding a knife, cutting for days. This was your quintessential meal in summer or spring. In winter or fall, always a hot bowl of nourishing soup or stew with your homemade sourdough bread.

You fed us so well.

I feel quiet today. My thoughts wander to your mom...how this day 38 years ago, she pushed you into this world. What did baby Kelly's cry sound like? Were you scrawny or chubby? Did you eat right away or take your time learning to suckle? (I see you smirking. I know, I hate that word too...suckle. Which reminds me of a recipe of yours I read recently where you said "frothy" and then "god, I hate that word." You always left little notes like that. I'd ask for a recipe and it would be laced with goofy comments throughout...thank you for leaving breadcrumbs of yourself all over my life.)

We went out this weekend for your birthday...it was strange. You were so present it was distracting.  We ordered all the things and tried each other's food like always. When we let Brad choose the bottle of wine (because as you know, Joel choosing bottles of wine could put us all in debt, so we let Brad choose since it was your bday and you'd be the one choosing), the server brought three glasses. After the first pour, Brad asked her to bring one more glass. He poured out a taste for you, and just like that, all eyes were red and wet. "Here's to you, babe," he said.

The first time we went out for your birthday was to Salty's. Brad had won a gift card for the crab brunch and so we went there on a Saturday, you in your flower DVF maxi, and ate a shit-ton of seafood. That's what you always want for your bday, some seafood meal with oysters, please. The last time we went out for your birthday meal, we were at Copine - ogling each other's plates, ordering too much, chatting about home-ownership.

On your actual birthday, you would have gotten out of bed at some ungodly hour to see the sunrise, over a mountain or at the beach. I just spent time lingering over this post you wrote on your 34th birthday. You would have made a day of it, and I feel sad that I can't do that today, that I didn't plan for it.

But then I ask myself, what would you have done? And I answer that I could have gotten up at sunrise, taken myself out to breakfast, taken the day off work to meditate and embrace grief, flew to Costa Rica like we always said we would, write this damn book, establish a foundation in your name...you know, all in a day's work. I jest, but that's the truth. All of the rituals and trips and doings in the world will not be enough to express what you meant to me, never enough to feel like yes! I've finally honored Kelly.

Even today, I want to write something epic, something profound. A wisdom bomb, you would say. But I don't have anything. I am surviving off of breadcrumbs and it's taking all my willpower to not post every single bday picture and tell every single bday memory right now...but something hungry inside of me halts. I will need that nourishment. There's a lot more birthdays without you we'll need to get through.

So I will honor you in the small ways. A hot cup of chamomile from a mug I bought thinking of you. Hugging my legs to my chest in the galaxy leggings you wore. Maybe meticulously cut up some fruit and veg for lunch. Meandering through your blog and Instagram posts.

And write you a letter.

Always your friend and partner in birthday bashes,

Found: a Spring letter

We just passed the 14th of the month and for the first time, I don't immediately know how many months ago Kelly died, not without counting. Curious.

Did I tell you? I am writing a book. A book about Kelly and our friendship and grief and her death and my unsatisfactory life without her. A life of bitter pain but little suffering. Part of that book will contain her hand-written letters to me (and hopefully mine to hers if I can get into her archives soon).

As I transcribe these letters, I found one that feels especially timely since it's nearly the same time of year that she wrote it, only 8 years ago. Every drop of ink is just so Kelly. Her letters were exactly like sitting down to a cup of coffee with her: she'd tell me about her purchases, how people in the country always gawked oddly at her, and we'd discuss our latest developments and research in gardening. Then we'd spend hours shopping for plants. Then she'd come over and help me plant them all.

Kelly was such a massive help to me. Without her, I feel like I am trying to lift 300 lbs of life. Maybe that's why I am always so tired. I've lost one of my main sources of energy and motivation.

I am a very amateur gardener, pots only so far. But my body is naturally awakening to this desire to plant again. Last year, it took all I had to plant a few herbs, strawberries, several tomato plants, and a shit ton of lavender when she got sick - simply because it made me feel close to her. Knowing that she'd be doing the same, working in the wild, if she could, motivated me. It was my medicine to her - to do what she couldn't.

We purchased several of those plants together at our annual day together in May, an edible plant sale. We've gone every year since 2012, and every year, Kelly's crate of purchased plants got bigger and bigger. We would walk back to my house and have brunch and a lazy day of laying in the sun, grab a hot dog for mid-day dinner, and do some sort of communal dinner that evening.

As I read this letter, smiling for the indelible Kelly Clarkness of it all, I thought you might like a smile too - even if it breaks your heart.

I am missing

There once was a me
I knew

But you died and took me
with you.

In place of me, a new
confused thing will do

Strange things like
hoard your every shoe.

The earth you walked,
the dirt you knew

Stained on the bottom
of a boot no one else can have
but you.

But you, not here, left me to hide
those shoes.

Your quirky socks I wear,
Will they walk my feet to you?

The wise old owl of me used to have
the redwood tree of you

A tall and lanky perch
from which to view

The shirking prey, the darkest night, the darting truth.
Tell me, my guru,

What now? What can I do
without the branches of you?

"Stop," you say,
to choose

For I left, but I am not gone," you say.
"And I have news for you.

I am more than tree.
I am all colors, spirit-hewed.

Stop denying that same is true for you.

I promise, my owl
Everything you need, you already have
deep, deep, deep inside of you.

Go plant a new tree,
the tree of you.

Please believe me, you would
If you could see you as I do.

Strong as stalwart, as in your youth
Firmly-planted, leaves true blue.

There is no way out of this
You must go through."

But I am blind, wing-bound.
My vision slight, talons eschew.
I cannot be as I was once used to.

I am missing,
I am missing,
I am misssing

I am missing,
I am missing,
I am missing
me, too.

Frida and field trips

Last night, I lost it. Like properly. Like big, ugly tears. I couldn't see and I couldn't stop.

Last week, just a few minutes before leaving my therapy session, I lost it. Less ugly - there was someone watching, after all. But no less big and broken.

I broke down during those particular instances NOT because Kelly has died and is dead. Well, not directly.

Last week at therapy, I cried because my therapist asked me to identify some heroes for an exercise we are doing. I said Frida Kahlo almost immediately and when she said why, I choked on my sudden tears. I said because of her immense suffering and her wild power and her fucking resilience in the face of extreme tragedy and her ability and dogged determination to learn to paint and express herself from that place of persistence and pain.

I cried because I realized I had actually just described Kelly.

"Anger" an early prototype of a tarot card for a deck Kelly was flirting with making

Last night, I cried because I got an email from Bowie's school saying I wasn't picked to chaperone Bowie's first Kindergarten field trip. I not only wanted to go see a play with her, but I also wanted to make sure she was taken care of in the special way she needs right now (Kindergarten has been a tough for bathroom times). And for some reason, getting an email from her teacher saying, "I will take care of Bowie" made me weep. And then I wept for teachers who answer fucking emails all hours of the day after spending every ounce of energy on kids. And then I wept for the people affected by the California fires. And then I wept for the victims in Las Vegas and their families and friends...for Puerto Rico, for Spain, for Mexico, Houston, for women and minorities (and our climate!) in America under this President. And then I wept for this planet and the end of everything, how the knowledge that everyone I love will die means something different to me now and how it feels less hopeless but more deeply, deeply sad. And then I wept because there is so little time to get our life's work done and I've been wasting it. And then I wept because I am grief-tired and didn't mean to waste it and felt judged by myself.

And then I wept for Kelly and for how she was so much of my daily living and guide toward mystical lands and hand-holder on the mutually paced path of self-discovery and maker of massive salads and bringer of green smoothies and wearer of billowy skirts with combat boots and speaker of truth in the dark and preserver of privacy and believer in mother and then, and then...

sitting in the hot bath with cold tears running down my face,
I remembered when she told me that she thought I was doing it right. That I was a good mother.

That's when I lost it.
I wept for me.

For me, for me, for me. For Bowie not getting to know Kelly as an adult. For Kelly not being here to help me with my sacred altar. For all the new ways I'm required to be that I don't want to be.

And I didn't want to stay there because I didn't want to feel sorry for myself, surely other people's loss is greater - Brad, Kathy, Jay, surely it's not my place to feel sorry for myself, look at how beautiful a death we were given, look at the life she lived, look how I got to love her, look how rich this soil is, look at how much more color the world has, look, look, look!

But I couldn't lift my chin this time.
I couldn't look up
I couldn't look at other people's sorrow anymore. I could only see mine.
I didn't go looking for her in my tarot deck or the night sky.

And it was time to face the me part of the grief. Weeping for little Candace, young, pitiful, incensed, raging and indignant. I thought of Bowie wailing about a necklace she lost and I imagined what it would be like to so unabashedly express loss.

Likely, it looks just like this.

Where she lives now.

I feel myself coming back to life,
if that's what you want
to call it. Life.

Seems like a massive stretch.
I resist and resent it.
I don't want to start putting the broken pieces back together
When your physical form isn't one of those pieces.
I'd rather stay shattered.

I said I could never go on
without you; here I am
Going on.

I scry into this crystalline ball of murk,
a cocktail of guilt, anxiety, exhaustion, and excitement.

There are a lot of faces here.
They speak.
Where is mine? Where is my voice? Will I find it
without you here, megaphoning my voice back to me always
Gently holding, fiercely protecting, lovingly knowing
my desperate, soul-shattering need for solitude.

I scry into the eyes of women
new and old
and see such deep, knowledgeable, wild
pain. So comforting, reassuring
that you are still close.

My spirit rages against my ribs, tearing its own flesh since it has no garment to shred from its corpus.
But the anger has also taken a rest.
Now the fear, the fear that as the days go by, you'll begin to fade.
Writing that last line, "you'll begin to fade"' that's what finally got me crying again, after days and days.

I keep thinking about the title of a book that I might read.
"After the Ecstasy, the Laundry."
The what's next after we shared a moment standing at the veil and you held my face before you parted the curtain and said, "Find me in your imagination. I will always live there."

I took your hands, blew into them my owlwind, and trilled for you. Releasing you, yelling go.

And then you slipped through a white, gauze-like curtain.
But I lied, I didn't want you to go. I don't want you to go.
Please, don't go.

You did.
So now what?

The tears, after days of dryness.
Sweet, welcome
The tears remind me of your hands again
holding my face.
And pointing me inward
to the you and me that is not under threat, scrutiny, admiration, interpretation, or definition.

"Find me in your imagination," you whisper again.
I ask the deck, where the fuck do you live now?
She says back "in your imagination."

So you've taken up residence in the most creative space of my inner self. Okay.

Truth sayer,
Miracle maker,
Heart breaker,
Death slayer,
I hear you. I hear you with my ancient owl heart and repeat it back.

Pursue yourself.
Pursue yourself.
Pursue yourself.
Pursue yourself.

That's where you live now.