Monday, March 21, 2011

Who Will Watch Over My Hostas?

A lovely man, attorney, good tenant of mine, hung himself on a Monday, March 7, 2011.  He had intended to do it a week earlier as evidenced by the letter he wrote telling me he was dead.  Four years ago, I had negotiated what was to be his last five year renewal in my building.  He had been battling cancer and at the time, he wasn't yet certain he would win the battle. He asked me to incorporate a "death" provision into his lease.  This was not uncommon, especially given his circumstances being a sole practitioner. Should something happen to him, he did not want the long term obligations of a lease to encumber his estate. Understandable.  Done. But did he negotiate that provision with something else in mind?

First, I received a letter from him telling me he was dead - his office had been instructed to mail said letter in the event of his death.  Within minutes of receiving the letter I was surprised to find an email from him apologizing for the mistaken mailing and assuring me he was alive and well.  My response went something along the lines of this....." so happy to know you are alive but don't you ever do that to me again......"

A few days later, he asked me to mail him a full copy of his lease and within a week of that, he went to his basement and hung himself, but not before hand writing a letter to me with date and initial just before he did it.

I have since been able to piece together just a few fragments.  He reportedly was in financial trouble; yet he paid his rent right up the the very end. He left behind two long term sub-tenants who had no more of an inkling of his plans than I. He carefully and thoughtfully placed notes in his house to warn his live-in girlfriend to 1) remember him as he was and 2) to not go down to the basement but instead to call 911.

Walking through his office the next day, it looked as if he had left for the night, nothing unusual, nothing out of place, newspaper on the cafe table, something he might finish reading when he returned.  Law books carefully organized and two bewildered sub-tenants who had leased from him for ten years. They told me how they had been receiving phone calls from vendors who seemed to know of his death before it occurred, just as I had been notified.  Placing the fragmented pieces of the last desperate puzzle together, it became clear - he attempted it once then changed his mind just long enough to unravel the unrest he had sent out to the universe, only to attempt it again, this time with success (so very hard to use that word in this context).

When I held his second letter in my hand, knowing it was real, knowing he dated and signed it hours or perhaps minutes before he hung himself, I wondered.  Had the very act of mailing the letters a second time provided him the impetus to not turn back? He couldn't call me a second time and tell me he was alive. He couldn't explain two such letters mailed in error for an attorney is much too pragmatic for that.  He mailed the letter and knew, this time, he would end it.  The Wisconsin Bar Association notified me before I got the second letter. I had time to question my actions.  Had I been cordial to him after the first letter or had I been a hard ass landlord interested in collecting rent?

And why didn't I take the time to connect with him on a level of which I am most familiar? Hurt, loss, financial trouble, depression, regret?  You've just got to keep fucking fighting the best fucking way you know how.  This life can be hard beyond our ability to cope but I also know when you are done, you are done. His kids were grown, he had faced death once......maybe he came to a place of acceptance that no living soul will ever understand.  Not one of life, but of death.

I will miss you and I will think of you each time I view this property and see the Hostas along "your" front walkway struggling to survive amidst the salt and plow damage from the winter.  But rest assured my friend, this year, I will plant nothing less than a soliloquy of seasonal, breathtaking, foliage in your name.  For I know you were the one who always took the time to notice and care for your surroundings.

Your lessons will not be forgotten.

Even in the midst of the greatest pain, the final reckoning, the encore that brought you back from the dead, you were always surrounded by the bountiful offerings of the earth. Why was that not enough to save you? Why couldn't you hold on for one more spring? I suppose the thought of the rose that would bloom was mired by your own belief that death had come to the vine.

And whether it's a twisted, thorny vine or a Hosta that held on as long as it could but eventually gave way to the bitter elements of a cold, hard winter, I believe life will come again for with the The Charge of the Light Brigade, "....Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die: into the valley of Death, rode the six hundred. 

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

The Charge of The Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Lieu of My Refrain

For the love of Webster, here I am stringing words together again. I love to write and thankfully, I have enjoyed attention for it:
  • Elementary school -  poem published in the school newspaper. 
  • Honored by the Masonic Temple as tops in my class during 6th grade grad ceremony.
  • Junior High - met Coach Carter and started to write for real.
  • Went to NYC in junior year, attended the Columbia University Journalism Convention at Coach Carter's insistence.
  • High School - Editor of the Jet Express.
  • Recruited Robin Thomas to write reviews on movies, music and anything else that was on her mind. For those of you who know her, just imagine her very first blog.
  • Won First Place, Oklahoma Interscholastic Press Association Award for Editorial writing.
  • Freshman year at junior college - first essay written was singled out by professor, resulting in scholarship nomination and award of $125.00 US dollars toward my education.
  • Subsequently recruited by the junior college newspaper for a staff writing position. Covered many hot topics including the need for more student parking on campus.
Then it stopped, not the opportunities, not the praise, but me.  I stopped.

Life happened.

Had a child, got a real job, became an accountant, got married and divorced and married and divorced again. Had three more kids along the way. See prior blog posts if you must.

Last night while enjoying a moment with my children, watching one of their Nickelodeon TV shows, I was blindsided by the choices I've made in my life, or to be more specific, the life I thought I would have as a writer.

So innocent was the thought behind the words, so pure was the message, I laughed, hugged, applauded, then explained to my nearly nine year old daughter how the words she had so quietly and irreverently spoken were equally inspirational and brilliant.  These words came from the daughter who does not put herself out there very often.  She saves her moments, she processes and intellectualizes while her sister is charging the windmills of her Don Quixote inspired spirit.  This introspective, happy-go-lucky, beautiful child asked me if I had ever wanted to be famous.

Sure, I said.  I always imagined myself being a famous writer some day.

And with that, came the six words that pierced the veil of my very existence, "when did you change your mind"? 

I should have known this would come from her. I have not dared write or speak of this as I wasn't sure if reality was in charge that night or I was under the delusion of some postpartum induced fantasy. And if it was real, how could I possibly find the words to describe how this gentle daughter of mine allowed me to see the universe on the night she was born.

I suppose it was fortunate I was in extreme pain, which left me no choice but to be wide awake when it happened. Holding her, propped up on my knees, staring at her as she stirred and then in the blink of an eye, or maybe it was five minutes, or perhaps an hour, I saw into her past and I knew from where she had come. Many lifetimes, so much wisdom, it felt like staring into an infinite mirror where the reflection was beyond my mortal understanding and yet it was recognizable even into infinity. It was me. She was me, she was my choice and she was a wise old soul here for some serious business.

So many times I have questioned this moment as I observe her in her daily comings and goings. Can it be true? Surely it is the wild one who was sent to teach me, not her, not the one who rarely ever expresses but almost always compromises to the whims of her identical twin.

I almost missed her message. After she said it, I remember thinking about it for just a moment before I realized the gravity of it. What made you change your mind?

And just as she had done on the night she was born, she had once again allowed me to see a glimpse of my own truth 1) either wake the fuck up and believe what you know or 2) go back to sleep and pretend none of this ever happened.  I get the mediocrity of my bullet points above. I realize I was not changing the world or even working hard at this craft. Yet, the messages were finding their way to me, in spite of my denial and in lieu of my refrain.

I haven't changed my mind baby girl, but I have been acting like I have.  Thank you gracious, tenacious.

Thank God for you, quiet messenger of the universe that you are. May I always be open to the gifts you bring.