Top 10 List for May’s 2012

I cannot believe this year. So much has happened, and I have only 56 entries to show for it. At least there are fewer blog posts to choose from for the annual countdown.

10. May: No one told me I’d eventually get to play against the BYU quarterback. I joined an intramural kickball team, and tonight was our first game.

9. July: Smartphone apps have a tiny dear place in my heart.  I looked around to see that I wasn’t the only one crying. I loved it.

8. July: This is the year I really got into hiking. And most of it during the season of a broken camera. Thank the Lord for making geology pretty.

7. August: Reilly’s birthday, and first time in New York City. We wondered about Glenn Close.

6. January: Careful to put ego-puffing somewhere in the middle. Being published in an academic, peer-reviewed journal would be a nice touch to my last semester.

5. September: The Oklahoma visit went along with going to NYC. Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things.

4. November: What an election year. I’m sorry to the friends I may have pissed off. But,  I spent maybe at least 5 minutes voting/playing with the fancy machine.

3. October: Recap of April’s commencement ceremony. I only slept because my friends who sat by me made me so very comfortable.

2.5. April: Full of transitions and excitement and bending rules for lists of 10.  The past four days have knocked me squarely on my rear. Three flights, up and down, up and down. My things, my books. His things, his books.

2. December: Can we distinguish the source of our tears in December? We talk about future names, but what is the name of our future?

1. June: Well, duh. Mindblowing. Incredible. Fantastic. Amazing. This.

This list doesn’t even include events like Christmas and wedding showers and getting jobs. It’s true that I am often vague in my blog posts, but know that these top 10 entries include the top people in my life. You’re always in my thoughts and prayers. You’ve done so much for my happiness and helped me to become a decent person. Thank you for your support. Thank you especially for your friendship and kindness and generosity, which I know will carry over into the new year and our upcoming and continued lives together.

I wish you all the blessings and happiness you deserve. Nothing less.

I Shoot Guns Here

The metaphor of taking aim and the satisfaction of hitting one’s target in the safety of a shooting range are so different than what I would imagine sighting a human being through a scope and creating a void in the universe by taking that person’s life.

My friend Eleece lives in Oklahoma. I was excited for her to take me on my very first shooting adventure. I was open to doing anything else, but this is the one thing I really wanted to do. We went to a range where Eleece and her husband are members, and she brought a few guns and her bag of ammunition. We bought two paper targets, and Eleece let me and Reilly shoot a few rounds from each gun. She taught us how to hold and load the guns and be safe with the safety. We wore earplugs and eye protection. Something about the whole experience was relaxing and exciting at the same time.

Naturally I looked forward to visiting New York City, but I definitely wanted to visit Oklahoma. My dad and his sister live about 80 miles east of Tulsa. My aunt and her husband own dozens of acres of open land, where fish swim and breed in ponds scattered around their property. They catch the fish. They eat the fish. Buddy the dog likes to run in front of the truck that tumbles over the rampant, tall grass. He doesn’t bound quite as high as he did two years ago when I last saw him. But he does seem to eat an entire pack of hot dogs with his usual, efficient flair.

Reilly and I entered my aunt’s trailer, and the television blared Fox News. This aunt loves to give advice and tell stories about her days in northern Arizona, where she held various occupations and caused her share of trouble. The renegade of the siblings, she does whatever she wants but believes the things she believes with more conviction than anyone I know. I found her comparisons of Barack Obama and Hitler rather outlandish and very unconvincing, but she rattled off her theories as if they were truth. If you’re in your 70s and have made choices in the name of unforeseen wisdom, then I won’t mind whatever your political proclivities are.

My stomach sank when my aunt’s husband said how glad he was that we were able to visit, because he thinks this might be the last time I’ll be able to see my dad.

My aunt took us to the assisted living facility where my dad is staying. The dementia seems to be somewhat at bay. He talks far less than he used to, and whenever we talked on the phone in the past year, he’d describe the birds outside his window or how he watches this one particular squirrel scramble about the yard. The difference between having a clear mind and having an empty mind becomes heartbreakingly clear in my dad. My aunt told stories about how he nearly drowned when he was a child, how he had seizures and always had trouble in school. This is so different than my childhood perception of him, but this knowledge helps me to understand him, his passion for cooking that he no longer has, his meticulous cleaning habits that he couldn’t care less about now, because those thoughts never cross his mind anymore. I wonder if he’ll even know what I’m talking about if I tell him I’ve forgiven him for that time when I was 8 and 9 years old. I wonder if it really even matters.

Staring at the television, staring out the window. It scares me to think when his mind will shut off, when the power button on the remote will get pressed and the screen goes blank. Dark.

This growing mental void brings no satisfaction, but a type of grace emerges, makes itself known.

Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things. Him being able to walk, even though it’s much more labored with a weak heart and weight gain, and stricken with varicose veins and arthritis. The birds and the squirrels. Him seeing me with my husband. Him being able to tell me in person that he loves me. If hearts are the target and love and understanding are the weapons, then we’re finally becoming sharpshooters. Aiming across a thousand miles at each other, we’re turning into snipers, feeling more alive with every shot.

Fishing

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The bob sits perfectly in a dimple it made for itself. I just cast my line and reeled in the slack. My eyes have adjusted to dusk. The sky glows orangey-pink just above the horizon, silhouettes the treetops across the way. The water mimics the sky. I realize it’s not the other way around: I don’t see a bob floating where the stars will soon appear.

Two evenings before, the scenario is similar, except we’re not fishing. At exit 72 on Interstate 540 in Arkansas, we head west on Route 412. We enter Oklahoma and head north on Route 59/10. This road gently winds and rolls and climbs, and about 90 minutes south of our destination of Miami, Oklahoma, is Lake Eucha State Park. A bridge splits the lake, which is a decent size, and at the right moment at sunset, it offers a breathtaking scape – open, expansive – of a significantly big enough body of water (the first we’ve seen since the Mississippi) that forces me to pull the car over so that I can take a few pictures.

Nothing’s biting. I’ve moved about 50 feet away from the truck where my mom and aunt and my aunt’s husband are, and I’ve found a spot to stand in the tall grass surrounding the pond. We may have started a bit on the early side, but this time of day, this is when the fish are hungry. This is when I find out how patient I am. I squint to see that the bob is still. To either side of it, little vortexes appear and vanish, creating subtle ripples, as fish feed on insects resting on the water’s surface. I consider casting my line again, but I decide against it. Disturbing the water might mess up the sky.

Many people – which means close to everybody – think my mom and I look very much alike. Many people mistake us for sisters or confuse one for the other. We’re about the same height; I’m a smidge taller. We have the same color hair and similar complexions. Our faces don’t look very much the same, though a friend of mine finally made the distinction that I inherited the top half of my mother’s face. So, if you were to look only at our eyes and foreheads, it would be harder to tell us apart. Maybe that’s what many people do. Our builds are somewhat different; we’re girthier in opposite halves of our bodies, which is to say she’s got broader shoulders while I have the bigger rear end. But I guess that’s not what people notice.

We have pretty deviating personalities. In some aspects, I’m definitely my mother’s daughter. We’re people-pleasers, which sometimes makes us indecisive. We’re also very good at blaming ourselves for things that aren’t our fault. We both have strong, stubborn tendencies. My hard-headedness might be more resistant  – a mutant strain – to humbling experiences, which I acknowledge as more hubris than a desirable quality. We worry differently; our thought processes aren’t the same. Our temperaments, our prejudices, and our perspectives can be, have been, and are quite disparate.

We disagree about a lot of things. But we somehow understand each other.

The crickets are loud. I’m not being very social, but that isn’t news. Mom is talking with my aunt and my aunt’s relatively new husband. They’re catching up on old times; they haven’t seen each other in at least 10 years, maybe 15 or more. Mom keeps reeling and casting. I have my camera around my neck and am holding the fishing pole with both hands. I shift the pole to my left hand to take some pictures; it’s something to do while waiting for the bob to move.

This doesn’t mean I’m more patient by any means. Mom may have just been practicing her cast; I may have just exhibited an attention deficit. We came to an agreement on the road that she would drive during the day, and I would get the twilight shifts. Since the days are longer in the summer she clearly volunteered to do the majority of the driving. It’s 100 degrees in the Plains and the deep South. Factor in humidity and be grateful the rental car has a decent air conditioner. Still, the heat manages to pierce the windshield, and it drowses this passenger, even with all my picture taking and tweeting and text messaging.

Mom lets me DJ and sings the catchy parts of some of the songs. I don’t see how she stays awake. Well, energy drinks. But even they can only do so much.

When it is my turn to drive, the only thing I don’t do is take pictures, except when I have to pull over because the sunset demands it, but then I’m not actually driving. But it’s like a big joke, because capturing those moments on camera during a road trip is impossible. Mom notices the sunset first and points at the water. I turn to one side of the road, then I turn around and cross the road onto a path, hoping the sun doesn’t disappear before I can park.

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Some parts of the lake are glassy, polished smooth. A slight breeze gently wakes other parts of the lake, adding texture to its reflection of the sky. The sun went down a little too quickly. I admit my defeat but heartily welcome the break from the car. Mom and I walk around the campground for a while, taking in the fresh air. We’re both a little paranoid about leaving the car alone for too long. When we get back to the car, we take a deep breath, and we brace ourselves for the next couple of hours. During the final stretch, I send a few more tweets and texts, and I check my voicemail and return some calls. I give Mom background on the friends who are communicating with me. She listens attentively.

The pond continues to darken as the sky. I see my bob dip underwater, and I feel a tug on my line. I quickly yank back while reeling. Whatever’s dragging through the water on my hook excites me. The friction, the fight. The end of the pole bows and I wind up the rest of my line, which brings up a floppy fish.

I don’t know whether I’m part of the sky or the pond. They look so much alike, but their contrasting properties create that very illusion. There’s just enough to discern the reflecting images aren’t identical: stars, brush, pole, bob. The mirror isn’t entirely true.

Are my mother and I purely individual, or are we products of each other, even though we’re not exact images, visual echoes?

Maybe we’re both.

Not five minutes later, Mom catches a fish, too.