The Catalyst

A Writing Teacher Writes (plus some writing prompts and recipes)

Beginnings and Endings August 27, 2016

Filed under: Grief,Uncategorized,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 11:26 am
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The prompts this time were:        FullSizeRender

I never can say goodbye.

Where do I begin?

There’s no love like the future love.

What I wrote is below.

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My youngest nephew recently graduated from high school; in three months he’ll head to Oregon for college, and I will have to send him the care packages I promised my older nephew, but never delivered.

Does it matter, really, how good I am or how much I bake? Because I know that his love for me comes from feeling safe and heard, from receiving advice he can’t ask for from his mother, his father, or his sibling.

“No offense,” he said when he was fourteen, while we were shopping for new school clothes in a practically empty suburban Sears, “but sometimes I wish I were gay. Women can be so confusing.”

“No offense taken,” I said, and we sat together in that quiet, ridiculous, navy blue waiting area outside of the dressing rooms, the table between us holding a vase of silk flowers, the dim light buzzing above us. That day his gay uncle gave him advice about loving women and learning more about them. That day he asked about my dead mother—his grandma, a woman he never met—and my oldest brother, a man he doesn’t quite remember. That day we really became friends.

But he was always familiar. At six weeks, colicky and cranky, we passed him around the church before his baptism, while the priest droned on and on. The baby boy was wailing. Exhausted when he finally got to me, he fell asleep in my arms. I looked down at his tiny face and knew I already loved him.

At two-and-a-half, while playing in my new car, he suddenly turned to me and asked with great seriousness, “Where’s Pop-Pop?” It was what he called his grandfather, an Italian-American, who was, of course, in the kitchen, cooking. “C’mon!” he said, and we ran inside. “Pop-Pop,” he said, reaching out to take my father’s hand, “are you okay?” Pop laughed.

“Why yes, Tiger,” he said. “I’m fine.”

He has my mother’s pale skin, my grandfather’s big brows, his mother’s sarcasm, and a beautiful head of dark, shiny hair that is all his own. And I wonder who he might have been already, in another lifetime, determined this time to come back as a tall, sensitive, strong young man. And now of course, I wonder who he’ll become.

Am I allowed to feel this proud? He’s not my child after all; I didn’t choose an outfit for his kindergarten portrait; I didn’t drive him to the DMV to get his driver’s permit. But some part of me knows, beyond this projection of a childless man who wanted so much to be a parent, that we are somehow linked beyond DNA or history. We belong to a tribe of truth-seekers and sensitive men, of deep feelers and get-down-on-the-sidewalk dog lovers. We know one another; we will never be strangers.

At my father’s memorial, my nephew was barely twelve years old. Shy at the time, and quiet, he surprised me when he voluntarily spoke to the whole room—twenty or more of us, and many strangers to him—about a memory he had. My father witnessed him hitting a homerun one day, and he said it was “the best homerun” he had ever made. My father’s presence there that day on the baseball field had stayed in his young mind as a moment of being, a bright memory of being seen.

Pop-Pop had been a witness to the perfect crack of wood meeting leather, the little white ball arcing up into a pale blue afternoon sky. He still heard him clapping and cheering from the green bleachers, and my father’s voice, filled with praise, was still ringing in his ears.

And while I was surprised that he spoke, I was not surprised at the beautiful way he brought our beloved back to life again, because he has always done that for me. He reminds me of so many people in my family I have loved and lost. He reminds me to keep loving, to never stop, no matter the distance. And for that, I’m so very thankful.

 

At Sea August 14, 2016

Filed under: Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 9:32 am
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The prompt this time is this one photo. It’s what inspired what I wrote below.

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It’s a hot clear day in Corsica. Our ship is docked in the large port, well out of sight, and we’ve taken a fifteen-minute bus ride down the white hot coastline to spend the day at the beach. The Tyrrhenian Sea is so clear, you can see the sand beneath your feet a hundred yards from shore.

Everything is blue.

The beach is filled with beautiful, dark-skinned families with thick black hair and large brown eyes. But in line for the restroom, I share a tiny patch of shade with a man who looks more like me: fair-skinned with blue eyes. We have a conversation in broken English and French, and I notice he has a similar stocky frame, threads of silver in his dark blonde hair, a few lines on his forehead and around his eyes. He’s muscular, but has the softer stomach and chest that often come with middle age. I find him beautiful, and even more so later, as he lies on the chaise next to me, and I wonder for a moment if that’s how some people see me as well. For a moment, I stop self-denigrating and feel a strong appreciation for my own body, still vital and healthy after all these years of living.

When the sun becomes too hot, I lie on my back in the water, and I realize it’s been 26 years since I escaped this way: a long, lazy day at the beach, floating in the sea, looking up at the sky.

I can only see the sky above me and feel my body, weightless. With my ears in the water the only sound I can hear is my own breath, my lungs filling and emptying, filling and emptying, and I wonder how my breathing will feel different after surgery.

Everything is blue.

After we return to the ship, I can’t pull myself out of this lovely, languid laziness. We’ve pulled away from shore and are once again at sea. There’s a pool party going on on the Lido Deck; house music is pumping from the speakers and young men are dancing in their skimpy bathing suits. But I don’t feel like dancing, so I’ve found a shady chaise on the Observation Deck, starboard side, away from the views of land and three floors above the poolside disco. My friend has gone to get us drinks, and for a moment, I am alone on the deck with only the sea rushing by. Tall glass wind guards frame the view.

I have a sudden rush of gratitude for this life I’m living. A voice inside me hollers, “I want to live!” like Susan Hayward (which really means, “I’m afraid to die!”), and though I laugh at my own melodrama, I am also acutely aware of the short time left before my upcoming surgery—just thirteen days now—and that old fear rises up again like ice in my chest. Focusing on my breath takes on a whole new meaning when I feel anxious about losing a part of my lung, but I do it right then and there, and stare at all that beautiful blue moving swiftly by on the other side of the glass.

What if death is like this? I think, replacing my fear of nothingness. What if death is just a blue sky and a blue ocean rolling by endlessly? It could be true. What if the afterlife is simply an endless sunlit blue day at sea until we bloom again into something else: a grasshopper, a wild iris, a volcano, or a newborn baby? But the problem I have with the concept of reincarnation is that it still seems like just another way of dealing with our fear of death. Who knows what happens after you die? No one.

Anyway, I tell myself, nobody’s dying right now. We’re out at sea; we’re having cocktails; I’m reading a hardcover of beautiful prose, signed by the author, a gift from a friend who shook that author’s hand, who looked into his eyes. We’re heading to Rome tomorrow, then to Mallorca. We’re on a luxury cruise ship. There are no catastrophes here. None at all.