Mother’s Day

Posted in Poetry on May 14, 2017 by 1writegirl

I think I would prefer to die
my second death

Now while the scent of him lingers yet
in the soiled clothes strewn around on the
floor of his bedroom

While his footprint remains oil on glass
from our last long road trip
on the windshield of my car
valuable no longer for its re-sale value
nor cargo carrying capacity
but only for this fading track

While his voice is still trapped in someone’s answering machine
Why can’t it be mine?
so that when they come to town
they can play it for me
They haven’t yet erased it
but they will

Before I close my eyes and can no longer see his eyes
Or the dimple in his cheek
Or the mole on his back
Or the dozen other things
that made him mine
especially, mostly, but never all

Before I have lost all trace
and the fine line between memory
and fantasy blurs
and he becomes a saint
or a hero
or a legend

Instead of just a boy
Whom I loved above all others,
All else, present

In the silent aftermath of my
first and last deep breath

So long Croatia

Posted in Prose on May 8, 2017 by 1writegirl

I find myself, at the end of my time in Croatia, in the coastal town of Zadar, home to a unique musical instrument constructed from the combination of man made steps meeting the tide in just the right way, called a “sea organ.” My arrival in this small yet vibrant community coincided with an annual charity race called Wings of Life (or something like that). I dropped my bags off at my lodging then walked the short distance to the old town where, on the outskirts of the ancient rock wall that encloses the original boundaries of Zadar, hundreds if not thousands of runners, joggers, woggers and walkers were setting off en masse. They were a mix of all ages, shapes and sizes, athletic abilities and preparation. I saw people in wheelchairs, mothers pushing strollers, and a couple of nuclear families holding hands and running as one. My landlord tells me that this is one of twenty such races held simultaneously around the world, all with the goal of raising money for charity.

A few words about my experience with Sixt, the car rental company. When I picked up the car in Porec, the counter agent tried to talk me into upgrading to a more expensive car, claiming that the low-end economy car I’d reserved was older with a lot of miles under its belt, and didn’t get good gas mileage like the diesel model he wanted me to rent instead (for an extra $6/day.) When you’re paying $10 a day for your rental car and congratulating yourself on getting a great deal, you don’t want to hear that kind of talk. So I asked a few questions, and learned by “old” he meant 2 years and by “lots of miles,” he meant roughly 20,000. As a lifelong owner of used cars with no fewer than 100k miles at purchase, his suggestion to upgrade struck me as a ridiculous proposition, a clear and obvious attempt at increasing his commission and nothing more. Ditto for the extra collision policy he tried to get me to purchase; my credit card covers me for any damage I might incur. After refusing, albeit politely, the “extras”, he looked knowingly at his colleague (I’m sure I saw him smirk) and they conversed quietly for a few minutes in Croatian and, while I don’t speak or understand the language, I’m pretty sure what they were saying about my quick and immediate dismissal of their generosity wasn’t a compliment. Then we went outside, did our mutual walk-around of the car where he spent about 30 seconds showing me the current scrapes and abrasion the car came with and I concurred, then we were done and I was free to go. But I wasn’t ready to drive away just yet; I wanted to walk downtown to the farmers market and pick up a few things. “No problem,” he said, they’d park the car outside the lot and when I returned it would be waiting for me. This we did, and after about 45 minutes, I came back, got in my little Space Star, and drove it back to my apartment and there it sat, while I took about 3 hours to explore the town on foot. As I climbed the stairwell of my dwelling upon my return, I happened to look down at the bright orange vehicle sitting all by itself in the driveway reserved just for me (the guest) and saw, in the glare of the bright sunlight, something I hadn’t seen in the darkened Sixt parking lot either during or after the transfer of the car into my custody: a small dent in the fender on the passenger side. Alarmed, I immediately sent an email, as the local office was closed by this time, to the address in my inbox from Sixt, which I knew was their headquarters, informing them of my discovery of this dent after I’d retrieved the car, and my intention not to be held accountable for this dent which I had not inflicted. The next morning, having heard nothing back, I returned to the local office where the same counter agent was again on duty. He shook his head and sighed audibly when I walked in the door and before I could even explain why I was there, he cut me off. Yes, yes, he knew, his supervisor had forwarded my email to him, and I shouldn’t worry, they knew the dent was already there; I wouldn’t be charged for it.

Now, 8 days later, the counter agent in Zadar had different ideas. Rather than 30 seconds of sidelong and casual glancing, he spent ten minutes with a magnifying glass in an intimate embrace with every surface of my little Space Star. When he was finished, with a grave face and shake of his head, he informed me that there were 2 new scratches that weren’t there before, and, most disturbingly, a dent on the fender of the passenger side. Oh no, I said, the scratches maybe, but not the dent. Absolutely not the dent. I explained to him about what happened in Porec; he looked at me pityingly, disbelieving, and tut-tutted. “This is why we suggest to customers the collision coverage. I see here you refused the collision coverage. Tut-tut.”

“I’m not paying for that, and I’m not signing anything that says I will,” I declared. In stand-off mode, I held my ground and protested vociferously, though I did not say what I was thinking for fear of sounding paranoid and therefore being summarily dismissed as a whack-job: that while I was off shopping for my vegetables in Porec for 45 minutes after the car had been inspected and the paperwork completed, the counter agent and/or his complicit colleague had had a bit of fun and revenge at my expense, assuming that I wouldn’t see the dent until it was too late and obviously underestimating my ability to be a resolute and tenacious bitch when circumstances dictate this the appropriate course of action. I will gladly (okay, maybe not gladly, but willingly anyway) take responsibility for what I’ve done, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be held accountable for what someone else has done.

After about half an hour, during which he was on and off the phone with the mysterious supervisor, he informed me that due to the fact that it was unclear as to when the damages were actually incurred, they would not be charging me for them. “Even the scratches?” I asked. “Even the scratches,” he replied, tight-lipped and subdued. Lesson learned? Once you pay for the car, take it with you, or if you don’t, inspect it again before you drive it away.

The Space Star, by the way, was a little jewel. Easy to handle, smooth shifting, tight on curves, and very fuel efficient. In 8 days, I got gas only once.

The highlight of my time in Croatia was its natural beauty. I visited three national parks (Papuk, Northern Velebit, and Plitvice Lakes) and enjoyed them all, but my favorite was Plitvice Lakes. Even a downpour of rain the entire day couldn’t disguise how spectacular and highly unusual a place it is, with thousands of waterfalls from small to gigantic, and this being spring, they were all flowing like mad. I hiked my heart out.

I’ve read there roam bear, lynx and wolves in each of these parks. I yearned here, as I always do when I enter wild places, to see these creatures but alas, here as elsewhere they have earned their reputation for elusiveness, so that while I frequently suspect they are aware of my presence when I’m in their territory, they so rarely allow me to be aware of theirs. It’s been no exception here, but this does not detract from the experience of being in the wilderness, being alone in the splendiferous and magnificent company that is the grandeur of Nature. If you know her and love her, she needs no introduction, no explanation and no instructions beyond what we do automatically – see, hear, smell, and breathe her in.

 

Istria, Croatia

Posted in Prose on May 1, 2017 by 1writegirl

I set out yesterday morning in my Space Star. When the man at the rental car counter in Porec told his assistant to go get it, I laughed, thinking he must be joking around.

The sun was shining as I put the windows down and headed up the coast to Novigrad (the first of two of four towns by that name in Croatia I’ll have visited by the time I leave the country), before turning inland.

For the next three or so hours I drove from one small, picturesque town to another with names like Motovun, Groznjan, and Buzet, no less charming for being almost identical to one another with their ancient rock walls and a church at the center. The winding roads took me past fields of grazing sheep, vineyards, and olive groves. I passed one motorcycle after another, in groups, pairs and alone; the vast majority were two-up, and my heart fluttered with yearning to trade places, if only for the afternoon, with any pillion I passed. How can a lifelong love affair that began at the tender age of seven have simmered so slowly on the back burner for so long before boiling over? One of these days, I’ve promised myself, and sooner rather than later, I will learn to ride for myself, then no longer will I be dependent on the agenda, equipment or whims of another. But in the meantime a pillion is all I know how to be, and it’s what I wish for. These roads, as most roads in every European country I’ve been in thus far, seem to have been made for motorcycles with their sharp twists and turns, their narrowness, their rolling, abrupt ends. Again and again a red sporty Suzuki zoomed up behind me and passed me, the rider all in black, enough times that it began to feel personal, until he dropped off along the way once and for all, and I found myself in Hum. I parked in the small gravel lot next to a great big, and rather showy, Royal Star Venture by Yamaha and a Kawasaki I didn’t recognize (which would be most of them.)

Hum is, by all accounts and in spite of an inconsistent answer to the question, “What’s the population?,” the smallest town in the world. I got out to stretch my legs and try a local brandy made with mistletoe called Biska at the town’s only (well what can one expect, with something between 7 and 27 inhabitants) tavern. Either mistletoe is a subtle flavor or my palate is less than discriminating when it comes to brandy. Then I wandered up to the old church and discovered a beautiful cemetery unlike any I’ve ever seen. Each neat grave was covered by a pristine slab of marble, black in most cases but with a few gray and one beautiful speckled brown one thrown in. On the headstones set beside the names were gleaming silver-framed black and white photographs of the buried. Names like Ivan, Josip, Mareja, and Veronika were common. One grave of a couple had the images of their photos etched onto a separate, small roundish marble stone atop it; the only other one like it was that of a boy born the same year as me, who died at a mere 16 years old. He was buried alone, unlike most, and a picture of his sweet smiling face was engraved into the headstone alongside his framed photograph. One family of five, each member born in different years and all buried together in one plot, all died in 1944 except for the mother, who lived a few years beyond. The war? Disease? Coincidence? I could only wonder.

Artificial flowers adorned most of the graves but a few had live plantings that cascaded the entire girth if not the length of the plot, while the graves of the children, set apart from the rest, were planted with rose bushes and other flowering shrubs. These tiny graves were marked in each case but one by a simple wooden cross with no writing anywhere, as if these deaths were too private to share, or too permanently devastating to the psyches of those they left behind to necessitate, even justify, demarcation. I can understand that.

Back in my Space Star I drove toward my last destination of the day before returning to my little apartment rental in Porec – a family owned tavern or konoba called Jadruhi. On the way, as they’d done all day, cars zoomed past me. It’s not that I was driving particularly slowly, it’s that Croatian drivers like to drive fast, well over the speed limits. They like it so much, in fact, that they let little stand in their way; I was passed in no-passing zones, on curves, up hills, within city limits where the speed limit was 30kph, and in a school zone where the lights were flashing. Yet while they’re aggressive about it, they are also, incongruously, polite: they don’t get right up on your ass, they don’t flash their lights or honk at you; they don’t even, so far as I could see, give you the finger. They merely wait for the right opportunity, which doesn’t take long to present itself given almost any situation will do, then dart around you.

At Jadruhi my waitress spoke very little English and asked me if I spoke German. I shook my head and asked in turn “Parlez-vous Francais?” to which she employed the universal sign for a little bit with her hand. We got by. I spent the next hour and a half – not because it actually took me that long to eat but because slow service here, like in most of Southern Europe, is the norm and considered desirable – eating an appetizer of local cheeses, olives and cured meats like prosciutto and salami, and a creamy, incredibly delicious pasta with truffles entree along with an impressively good house red wine. It was my first splurge since I’ve been in Croatia, my first meal out. (I have to space out these decadent ventures, so I get rentals with kitchenettes as much as possible.)

It was late afternoon and the place was almost empty. A few people sat outside on the terrace but it was windy so I chose to eat inside where only one other table was occupied, a party of 5 or 6. They talked between them the entire time, and I was reminded of what a social event a meal is in this part of the world. I felt self conscious in my aloneness, and lonely too, wishing for conversation, for interest and camaraderie if only because the meal was so long and so good that I longed to share it with someone, to sigh and smile and lick my lips in admiration and appreciation with a dinner companion who loves real and delectable food and drink as much as I do; to make a memory that will be part of someone else’s life too.

In the background they were playing a wild variety of music and I was at my most melancholy when I heard a song by Lionel Ritchie, the lead singer of The Commodores before he struck out on his own. I was in my early teens in the late 70’s when they were so popular, and a memory floated back to me now of my 13th summer when I worked as a junior counselor at a summer camp for small children. A friend of mine and I were in a car with two boys we had crushes on, brothers; she was up front with one, I was in the back seat with Kirk, the other. I was sleepy, it was late, and The Commodores came on the radio singing Easy. I scooted over and lay down with my head in Kirk’s lap and closed my eyes, listening to the music and feeling that singular combination of excitement, trepidation and reckless abandon that is the frequent domain of the adolescent, when Kirk ever so gently leaned over and kissed me. What I remember about that kiss is how sensual it was, how tender and inviting, and how soft his lips were.

Here I sat at a wooden table in a small restaurant on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia on a spring afternoon almost 40 years after that summer evening, and within one or two seconds of hearing that song, I felt that kiss again. That is one of music’s gifts, the way it can evoke memory in that way, like a smell can, the way it can take us back decades to a time when we had no knowledge of the cruelty or brevity of life, and suddenly, until the song ends, we are that young naive person again with our entire lives stretching out wide before us; we see, hear, smell and taste that moment again so that it is no longer the words of the song that fill our minds but rather the very kiss itself, and the perception of how soft, how incredibly soft, his lips were.

Croatia: Week Two

Posted in Prose on April 24, 2017 by 1writegirl

It rained most of my time in Zagreb and was much colder than I’d expected (Croatia is the same latitude as Maine, so had I done my homework…) and I had a bad case of jet lag that wouldn’t resolve even with the help of sleeping pills. Thus I ventured out into the city on only two of my four days there. I visited the center square adorned by a large bronze statue of Josip Jelačić von Bužim (a count, general and all-around good guy widely admired for his abolition of serfdom) astride his trusty steed. Under the horse’s tail is a common meeting place it seems. After that I wandered into the Zagreb Cathedral – Croatia’s tallest building – and the Dolac (farmer’s) Market. Another day I visited the botanical gardens, fairly small as those things go but quite lovely nonetheless. I wish I’d had the energy and motivation to explore this city further.

The weekend found me in Velika, in the eastern part of the country on the edge of Papuk Geopark, or “nature park” as the locals call it. The owner of my rental, Anton, is a charming young man who speaks excellent English (learned from watching American movies with English subtitles he tells me) if you discount his habit of beginning every other sentence with “To be honest.” He committed one helpful task after another for me from the moment he picked me up at the train station. I was highly impressed. After showing me my apartment and helping me settle in, he started a fire in the bedroom fireplace for me, then drove me back into town to get groceries. Upon our return he downloaded an app on my phone of hiking trails in the park, and helped me sort out my SIM card situation: down with Vipme – who charged me 80 kuna for voice, SMS and unlimited data, then “suspended” my account after only one day and couldn’t offer an explanation or reinstatement of active status despite Anton’s best efforts – up with Bon Bon! (that’s good good in French, while bombon means candy in Croatian) which incidentally uses the T-Mobile network. That done, I poured us each a glass of wine and asked him about the places he’s traveled (everywhere in Europe except the Baltic states, Greece and Scandinavia.) He gave me lots of good advice about what to see where, both in Croatia and elsewhere.

The apartment is a “flat” in a 3 story century old stone house, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom with deep tub, and separate toilet room. Outside my bedroom is a balcony, and the house is on the edge of the forest, with beautiful views both front and back. It snowed 6 inches the night before I arrived, and after Anton left I moved from room to room, from warm to cold and back again, reminded of my grandparents farmhouse in Kentucky where only the main rooms downstairs were heated while the rest of the house – hallways, stairwells and bedrooms – were so cold in winter you could see your breath at night as you closed the doors to the warmth and light and scurried across the linoleum floors, diving into a bed piled high with down comforters and blankets. Here it’s so cold in the toilet that I’ve taken to placing strips of toilet paper on the seat prior to sitting down on an ice cube.

Last night I stepped out onto the balcony, breathed in the fresh, frigid air and thought about someone I traveled with for some time; he was my daily companion for several months and I feel his absence acutely now as I travel alone. My hands quickly turned cold but my legs stayed warm in the leggings he gave me, “gifted” he called it. I wear them each night like pajamas, and little fool that I am, take comfort in the illusion of proximity to him such a small gesture allows me. I gazed up at the sky riddled with stars and my heart ached beyond the steady grip to which I’ve grown accustomed, with bittersweet pangs of conflicting emotions – an old familiar story, what we have versus what we want; in this case an appreciation of the natural beauty surrounding me and the recollection, so specific and vivid, of wanting to sleep out under the stars with him, if only once. He wanted it too I think. We just never seemed to get around to it. As I prepared to return to the warmth of the flat the nearby church bell tolled but once: a quarter past the hour. Fifteen minutes later three peals rang out. This goes on throughout the day and night and reminds me of the Islamic call to prayer so common in some of the Asian countries we traveled through.

Back inside, as I crawled into bed, the sleeve of my motorcycle jacket peeked out from the wardrobe and caught the light from the fire as it would a headlight, its fabric designed to be seen after dark, to glow in the beam of oncoming traffic and keep its wearer safe as she barrels along into the night. Another memory, another twinge. Where are you tonight? I wondered, my whisper just another night sound, like the sighing of old floorboards or the wind in the trees. It is perhaps both my greatest strength and weakness that I don’t love easily but I do love hard.

Today the sun came out and the temperature rose to damn near 60 degrees so I hiked up a very steep trail to Velicki Grad, the ruins of a fortress town from, at best guess, the 13th century. I was completely alone in the forest except for its countless mostly unseen residents, and it was a relief, as it always is, to be in a wild and unspoiled place sans other human beings. I’d say that any child of a naturalist couldn’t help but feel this way, only I know better; neither of my brothers feels half as drawn to and captivated by the natural world as I do. As I silently wished beyond any realistic measure that as quietly as I treaded I might come upon one of the wolves Anton told me have begun to make this place their home again after decades of absence, it occurred to me for the nth time that of all the myriad ways there are to die in this world, I’d much rather meet my end in the fierce embrace of a hungry carnivore, a grizzly bear or mountain lion for instance, just doing what comes naturally, than at the hands of just about any human for any reason, except perhaps as a personal favor and therein act of kindness. If I could bring myself to believe in the fairy tale of reincarnation, I’d be convinced Jackson would come back as a wolf.

While in Zagreb I did little shopping, so I had no cream on hand for my coffee. Not usually a fan of black coffee as I find it somewhat bitter. Culinary tip, passed on to me by my friend in Toronto: Put a tiny pinch of salt in your coffee to remove the bitterness. It works.

Croatia: an introduction

Posted in Prose on April 17, 2017 by 1writegirl

For the past two and a half years, I’ve found that in addition to writing and reading, traveling to new places and exposing myself to new people, food, cultures and customs provides a measure of solace and relief to the angry grief that gnaws silently and sometimes voraciously upon my heart, and thus my life. The more of the world I see and learn about, the greater my understanding of the universal plight of suffering we as humans all endure to some degree at one time or another.

In the immediate aftermath of my son’s death I went to Spain and walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, a well-known and heavily traversed path of primarily spiritual intent for the bulk of its hikers. In my case, I was seeking merely a long – a very long – walk. Since then, I’ve been to New Zealand, Central Europe, and a few countries in Asia. Along the way I’ve met almost entirely friendly and good-hearted people, and even managed to make a few new friends.

Last night I landed in Croatia, wanting to be some place cheap (I’m living off my one remaining credit card so unfortunately that fact dictates the choices available to me) and warm. So far, cheap it is proving to be, with bus fare from the airport in Zagreb to the city center at ~$4, an Uber ride to my lodging at less than $2, and private accommodation through Airbnb at less than $25 a night (not as cheap as Asia but, alas, where is?) At a nearby neighborhood market today I found a bottle of red wine and one of Chardonnay for 10 kuna (slightly more than $1) each; the white is traditional glass with a cork while the red is in a plastic bottle with screw top. I tried them both this evening and although the white is slightly better, the red has nothing to be ashamed of.

Warm, Zagreb is not, at least not as warm as I was hoping for. It’s raining this week to boot. It is Spring, I remind myself. Warm will come.

I stopped in Toronto on my way here to spend a few days with a friend I met on The Camino. The flight to Toronto, delayed 4 hours due to weather conditions in Canada, took off to the west, just as the sun was going down. It is the first time in all my years of flying that I can say, with neither cliche nor metaphor in mind, I flew off into the sunset. The sky above the clouds quickly grew dark and heavy with mist and I lost all sense of direction, but almost immediately the setting sun outside my little porthole of a window was replaced with the full (or damn near close to full) moon. Nature is more romantic than any man I’ve known for some time.

On the flight from Toronto to Zagreb via Istanbul, Turkish Airlines made every announcement first in Turkish, then in English, then in French. Each and every announcement began: “Ladies and gentlemen and dear children.” More than a few of us smiled at this original greeting.

To those of you looking for something to read, I recommend The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Fiction.

Statement to The Court, SLO County

Posted in Prose on April 1, 2017 by 1writegirl

My last post on this blog was in early June of 2014, shortly after the death of my former fiancé Leigh Binder. I found myself grieving deeply for him both during his swift decline from a brain tumor and in the aftermath of his death from it, crying at work every day, having to leave early on more than one occasion, even taking “mental health” sick days. His death was so sudden, coming at a time when we were both still getting used to thinking of each other as “friend” rather than “partner,” that it felt like he’d never left the home he had shared with me and my son Jackson in California for four years.

As difficult as those weeks were, if I’d known then what was to come, I can only imagine how I might have spent that time instead. Those of you who know me personally already know what I’m going to say next. For those of you who don’t, consider this an update of my life since then, as well as an explanation of my abrupt absence from writing here.

On June 18th, two weeks after Leigh died, my son Jackson was driving home from the YMCA when a car coming the other way driven by a young man, under the influence of heroin and meth, crossed over the center line and hit Jackson’s car head-on. Jackson died at the scene. He was 18 years old, and had just graduated from high school. He was my only child.

It’s been almost three years now and I’ve only recently begun to write again, if you don’t count my regular journal/diary entries. I am taking tentative steps in the direction of writing about what happened and my life as a result. We’ll see how it goes.

It took over two and a half years from the time of the car crash for the defendant to plead “no contest” to the charge of Gross Vehicular Manslaughter by an Intoxicated Person. The sentencing hearing occurred on Monday, March 20th, 2017. Jackson’s friends and family were invited to speak to the court. Below is the statement I read on this occasion: (for the time being, anything I post here will remain closed to comments.)

I didn’t want to come here today. I’ve dreaded it as long as I’ve known it was going to happen, because I didn’t want to have to see the man who killed my son. I didn’t want to see his parents, to look into the eyes of his mother and see what? Pity, anger, remorse? Relief? How would I feel if I were Alexander’s mother? How would I live with what my son did? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I can tell you without a doubt that however sorry she is for what her son did, she wouldn’t trade places with me for anything in the world. Because even though her son did a terrible thing, he is alive. He will get a second chance to live in the free world, to work, to fall in love, to have children of his own, to find something to be passionate about. And no mother in her right mind would sacrifice that for anything or anyone else.

Jackson would barely recognize me if he could see me now. I haven’t been able to return to work, and am on the verge of tears at all times. I can barely talk about my son to others, nor can I bring myself to go through his personal belongings, except to dig through his dirty laundry periodically to find a new piece of clothing with his scent on it that I can hold close and breathe in. My best friend is my grief counselor. I feel, at the same time, both empty and full: Empty because of what was so violently ripped away from me and I can never replace, and full of something that doesn’t even have a word in the English language to describe it, it is so far beyond sorrow or anguish. I don’t know who I am anymore, because for 18 years, I was Jackson’s mom. I was a daughter, a sister, a friend. A woman and a writer. I’m still those things, but every single relationship in my life has been affected by my son’s death. I’ve lost friends, become estranged from family, and fumbled my way in then out again of potentially loving and life-affirming new relationships. It was Jackson more than anything or anyone who gave my life purpose and meaning, who brought me joy and laughter. Without him, I’m just plain lost.

I live in Los Osos. The cemetery is on one end of town, and on the other is the stretch of S. Bay Blvd where Jackson had the misfortune to be at 5:05 p.m. on June 18, 2014. I can’t go in either direction without passing either the place he died or the place he is buried. As I look out the window of my condo onto what I believed, until June 18th 2014 to be a little paradise, I see boys from the neighborhood riding past on their bicycles and I think, “That should be Jackson.” I see a car drive by with a surfboard on the roof and I think, “That should be Jackson.” I see a young couple stroll past arm in arm, laughing and self-conscious, and I think “That should be Jackson.” When I see a teenage paraplegic in a wheelchair being pushed by his mother, I think, “I’d take that.” When I read about a young man with brain damage learning to walk and talk all over again, I think, “I’d take that.” If I could die so that he would live again, I’d take that too. Gladly I would take that.

I can’t tell you what Jackson would say, but I know what he was. Jackson was intelligent, kind, philosophical and inquisitive. He had a strong sense of responsibility beyond his years, a lively sense of humor, and an abundantly generous heart. He loved animals and nature, and believed passionately in our responsibility as humans to protect and care for our environment and all its creatures. He dreamed of traveling to faraway places, making a difference in the world, and experiencing new people, cultures and ideas. He loved to play chess and board games, to ride his bike, to hang out with his friends and play video games. He enjoyed road trips, especially to Yellowstone National Park where we went every summer from the time he was 3 years old. He was learning to surf. He had just enrolled in Cuesta College, where he planned to study Psychology, and then join the Peace Corps. He loved his family, and was a friend to many without regard to social or economic status, age, sex, mental or physical abilities, skin color, or religion. Jackson treated all people with kindness and respect, the way he wished to be treated, and he always spoke up for the underdog. He was loyal to a fault. He was a gentle soul and a free spirit. He wasn’t a planned child, but he was the greatest gift I could have ever asked of this life.

What would Jackson want for Alexander Gonzales, who chose to take meth and heroin before getting behind the wheel of a car, who knew he was an addict, who knew he was a danger to others and could have prevented that car crash from happening? I’m sure he’d want him to be held accountable for his actions. You can’t go through life expecting other people to clean up your messes. At 18, Jackson knew this. He knew this when he was 6. And if you do a bad thing, if you hurt someone, you say you’re sorry and you do everything you can to make it right, and never do it again. He’d want him to stop using drugs. He’d want our justice system to treat his addiction as everybody’s problem, not just his. He’d want him to contribute something positive and useful to society. He’d want him to do something to help someone else out of a dark and hopeless situation. He’d want him to be sorry for what he has done.

Then he would look at me, this boy who always erred on the side of forgiveness. He taught me more about being patient, tolerant and open-minded than I ever taught him. He would want me to find a way to forgive Alexander Gonzales, not so much because it would help Gonzales, who for all I know doesn’t care or need anyone’s forgiveness, but because it would help me. To live with hatred and resentment in your heart is to let the trespass committed against you consume you. It crowds out the love that belongs there, and victimizes you again and again. Jackson wouldn’t want that for me, he wouldn’t want me to suffer any more than I’m already suffering as a result of his death, because he loved me. Because he knew how much I loved him. So I’ve tried, and I’ll continue to try, and maybe one of these days I’ll get there. It’s the second biggest challenge I have ever faced. The first one is living without Jackson. It’s been 1,006 days since he died, and every single one of those days has been hell for me.

We all will live with this for the rest of our lives. Alexander Gonzales will live with whatever punishment the court sees fit. He, his parents and his doctors will live with their consciences. I will live without my son, and the world will live without the intelligent, creative, generous and optimistic young citizen that was Jackson Garland. We will all suffer as a result of what happened, and we are all diminished as human beings by it. There is no victory here for anyone.

My love, my friend, Leigh Binder

Posted in Prose on June 5, 2014 by 1writegirl

IMG_2400January 25, 1959 – June 4, 2014

Leigh died last night, two weeks and 3 days after receiving a diagnosis of Glioblastoma (brain tumor). Until the end, he was funny, gentle, passionate and honest. He accepted his fate with courage and dignity, and while my heart broke to watch him die, it soared to see him fill these last ominous days with a genuine and abandoned embrace of life. He leaves a powerful legacy of love to those who knew him best, and to everyone, the vision, beauty, humor and imagination of his poetry and prose. His astute and often profound understanding of the human condition will live on.