Surrender In A Box

My friend Cynthia has a God Can.  “Because God can,” she says.

I’m not quite that optimistic.

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My God Box.

I keep a God Box, instead – wooden and carved.  From Poland, I think.  My friend Patsy gave it to my ex and I as a wedding gift, stuffed with cards on which our guests might write their wishes for us.

I’ve used it as my God Box for a while now.  Long before my ex and I called it quits.

We moved the wishes into the bottom of a cherry-wood box holding black and white photographs of our big day.  Another gift from another friend.  I think I tossed the wishes in the recycle bin when I left Seattle a year and a half ago, but I’m not entirely certain.

Over the years I’ve stuffed the God Box with dreams, wishes and, perhaps most importantly, people and situations over which I have no control.  Which is pretty much everything and everyone…but in this case, those that caused me pain, anxiety, obsession.

Slips of paper and folded-over sticky notes with names.  Occasionally a few details.

My birth mother – she would have jumped into my skin if I would have let her.  In the early days of our reunion, she would call so often I didn’t have a chance to call back.

My mad crush in marriage – the one who bought me a whole smoked-salmon on my 39th birthday and nodded knowingly to seemingly every word I said.  My guru – the man who held space for everything that poured out of me.  Who saw me, was charmed by me, and knew how to hold a boundary.

I desperately wanted to keep each of them.  For each to fall into his or her proper place in my life.  That was my prayer.  To hold them near.  Available.  But without the pain of longing and attachment.

All that has come to pass...
All that has come to pass…

The Southern Svengali.  The man/boy who swept me off of my feet when my birth mom was dying in Charleston.  My divorce buddy – the one who spent long, intimate hours on the phone with me every night but insisted he did not have romantic feelings for me.

Orders to the universe.  For my condo, my apartment, my office.  Notes for a workshop I have yet to conduct.  Questions.  Who would drive back with me from Seattle to Chicago?  A dollar bill.   A prayer for prosperity.

I opened up the god box the other day and put a new slip of paper in it.

The name of a man 700 miles away.  Last week I told him I could no longer ponder the possibilities of a romantic relationship with him.   That he wasn’t available enough to me.  And I was no longer available for the knot in my stomach I called uncertainty.

That pain moved from my stomach to my heart.  I miss him.   I miss my heart leaping each time he calls or messages or just comments on my Facebook status – as if to say, “I see you.  I am here.”

What remains...God's work.
What remains…God’s work.

I wonder, will we be friends like we promised?  (I hope so.  We adore one another.)  But how?  How will he fall into his proper place in my life?While the box was open, I took out the mess of slips inside and read them.  I saw that most of these things had come to pass.  Had worked themselves out without my doing much of anything, other than writing words on slips of paper and stuffing them into a box.  And occasionally twisting, which I’ve learned is not essential to the process.

Most.  But some remained.  Unresolved.  Insistent questions about how I will support myself.  When, where and with whom I will have my next relationship, romantic encounter, date, sex, kiss.  Words cut out from a magazine, “dreams do come true…”  I left them in the box, along with the newest addition.

I’m not sure what to do with those that have come to pass.  Do I keep them as a reminder that things change — with or without me?  That new loves, losses and worries displace the old ones.  That more often than not, I receive some sort of version of what I want? Or do I burn them — as a prayer and an offering?

Meanwhile, there is a little more space in my God Box — room for my work, money and romantic possibilities to grow.  Room for God to work on them.  Room for me to act as if I believe that God is working on them — which is me doing my work.  Writing rather than worrying.  Right now.

Artist Date 52: Exactly Where I Am Supposed To Be

This time last year I was on my knees.  Literally.

It was my first holiday season divorced and living back in Chicago, alone.  My girlfriend called me out on my obsession with the man I like to call the Southern Svengali — the one I kissed for two nights while in Charleston in late October.  She said she could not hear about it, or him, anymore.

My non-relationship was affecting my relationships.

I felt desperate and scared.  I called a friend who advised me to get on my knees and ask God to remove my obsession him every day.

I did.  But I needed something more.

the artists wayI remembered the comfort I had found in the structured creativity of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and decided to pull it out again —  a hopeful, albeit artsy, roadmap out of myself.

This time, in addition to taking on the weekly reading and writing assignments, I committed to the weekly Artist Date – the weekly hour or so block of time, alone, to fill my creative coffers – and to a weekly blog about it for a year.  Fifty-two Artist Dates.  Fifty-two blogs.

Thursday is Artist Date 52.

I am sitting in a Starbucks on Michigan Avenue killing time before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.  It is 6 p.m. and I have been downtown since 11.  I am tired.  I am questioning the wisdom in staying here as opposed to driving home at 2 p.m. when I was finished with my work and returning later.

Until I get the text which lets me know I am exactly where I should me.  It is from my friend Matt.  He is at a coffee shop around the corner, also killing time, before his couple’s therapy session where he will ask his wife for a divorce.

I tell him where I am.  Within moments he is standing over me and then we are hugging each other tightly.  Teary.

I remember when he told me that he and his wife were separating, more than a year ago.  I still lived in Seattle, but was visiting Chicago – smack dab in the middle of my own divorce.

Matt is appropriately anxious.  I reflect back to him how thoughtful he has been through this entire process – never rash.  We hold hands and we pray together, in the middle of Starbucks.  It doesn’t seem strange.

He leaves.  And shortly after, I do too, pulling my wool long-underwear back on over my tights.  It is December and the temperatures are already in the teens.

I love Chicago at night.  Especially during the holidays.  Michigan Avenue twinkles with white lights, and skaters glide around in circles on the tiny patch of ice in Millenium Park.

Photo: The Inside Scoop Chicago
Photo: The Inside Scoop Chicago

I walk up “the hill” that is Randolph Street to the Harris Theater.  My body has once again adjusted to the flat Midwest and takes note of the incline.

I pick up my ticket at will-call and make a beeline for the bathroom, peeling off my long underwear.  Winter in Chicago is a lot of work.

My friend Lori is coming out.  We embrace and talk excitedly about her ceramics show.  Lori is a genius potter.  We met her at Lil Street Art Center, where I was stumbling through a beginners’ class.  Lori taught me how to glaze.

She asks if I will come back to Lil Street.  I am not certain as I have committed my creative energies to my writing and my dance – at least for now.

She asks if I remember Kevin from the clay studio and reminds me he is a member of Hubbard Street.  I do remember.  It is one of the reasons I am here.

We part company and I run into a woman I have danced with.  She is enrolled in Level three West African Dance.  I am in Level two.  Later, I see Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The world seems small and I am a citizen of it.  Or, at the very least, a citizen of Chicago.

The woman in the seat next to mine is alone.  As is the woman next to her.  We make easy conversation.  She is a Weight Watchers member.  I am a Weight Watchers leader.  She is looking for a massage therapist.  I am a massage therapist.  She is a widow.  I am a divorcee.

She tells me she lost her husband four years ago, and she tears up.  For the second time today I am clear that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  Right down to my seat: BB10.

The performance, One Thousand Pieces by Alejandro Cerrudo, is inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows – the installation I visit every time I am at the Art Institute, my favorite.  I shared it with Matt a few months ago when we met downtown for a member’s-only café re-opening.  It was summer and we sat in the courtyard noting who was checking the other out.  It seems a long time ago.

One Thousand Pieces, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
One Thousand Pieces, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

It is my first time seeing Hubbard Street Dance.  The dancers’ bodies are strong.  Gorgeous.  Not sinewy, like ballet bodies.  I think my legs approximate the same shape as theirs, albeit less toned and I feel at the same time cocky and ashamed admitting this to myself.

The stage is glossed and looks like water.  I am looking for Kevin.  My eyes occasionally roll back into my head.  This almost always happens to me at performances.  The lights go down and my sleepy kicks in.  Except for last year when I saw Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre  – twice.

My seats were good – dress circle one night, main floor the other.  My experience was dramatically altered by looking straight at the dancers as opposed to peering down at them.  I vowed then I would always buy good seats for dance.  These seats are good – the Harris Theatre is small and there are no “bad seats.”  But not good enough.

And then it is over.

The performance, but not my Artist Dates.  They “work.”  Like being on my knees works.  Not so much in desperation (although I am certain I will find myself there again many times in this life), but in prayer – the antidote to it.  Exactly where I am supposed to be.

Artist Date 50: When the Messenger is Hot

My friend Betsy gave me a book of hers a few days after I turned 40 – one that she wrote, as opposed to one that once upon a time made a difference in her life but is now collecting dust on the shelf.  Just after I told her about my crush on a mutual friend of ours.

when the messenger is hotI told her that I was committed to the commitment of my marriage.  That I loved my husband.  That we had grown in wildly different directions, and were continuing to do so.

That I would see this other guy, our mutual friend, every Saturday morning in a church basement, where we would sit across the table from one another.  That he was funny and smart, a writer.  That he spoke my brand of crazy, which meant that when I talked, he would nod in that knowing way.  The same way I nodded when he spoke.

That I was pretty sure he liked me after he brought me an entire smoked salmon for my 39th birthday.  And that I liked him.  (Blog: I Think the Fish Guy Likes Me)

Or perhaps I just liked the way he made me feel.  Seen.  Heard.  Understood.

Betsy made a happy-sad face and told me the story of When the Messenger is Hot.

I’m standing in The Brown Elephant thrift store in Andersonville – Artist Date 50.  Her book of short stories by the same name stares back at me from the shelves of fiction.

I smile a big toothy grin.  It’s some sort of message, I think.  Which is really the crux of the When the Messenger is Hot.

That people, objects, and experiences come into our lives for a reason.

Sometimes their appearance, or disappearance, is painful.  Sometimes it looks nothing like what we imagined.

And sometimes, according to Betsy, God provides a pretty attractive delivery vehicle to make certain we pay attention.  In her case, a bad boy with the heart of a poet and a tattoo on the inside of each of his wrists, Chinese symbols for “child of God.”

She thought he might be the love of her life.  Or at least great sex.  Instead, she came to see him, and their single date – which she rated among her top 5 – but never led to another, as a template of what a date should look like – “…love songs and flowers and candles and lollipops.”  A reason to have faith.  A harbinger of things to come.

I’m still not sure what message the Fish Guy came to deliver me.  That there are attractive men all around who will bring me clever and intimate gifts that say, “I know you?”  (Because really, I don’t know any women other than myself who would swoon over a piece of fish.)  That my then-husband wasn’t the only one?  My own harbinger of things to come?

That my brand of crazy really isn’t so crazy?  That that “too much” that I fear being, really isn’t too much?

The Fish Guy moved away from Chicago – to Florida, so he could fish.  Seriously.  But the message of When the Messenger is Hot stuck with me.

The words became my shorthand for meeting someone seemingly special and not getting what I thought I wanted.  And an opportunity to look for lessons where I thought there might be love.

The teacher who taught me about spiritual intimacy through shared prayer and meditation, and long conversations about God.

When I was the muse.
When I was the muse.

The Southern Svengali who taught me about creative companionship.  What it was to be inspired by another, to have a muse.  And to be a muse.

The divorce buddy who taught me about unconditional love and friendship.  Who packed my car and drove me home from the West Coast to Chicago, even when things were awkward and clunky between us.

I think about buying Betsy’s book, just because it is here.  Even though I already have a copy.  Even though I have sent copies to several of my friends.  But I leave it.

I pick up a collection of short stories titled Tongue Party, and a hardback copy of Like Water for Chocolate, both for $1.37, instead – curious what messages they will deliver.

A Birthday Story: Celebrating What Is

It is four something in the morning.  I woke up at the same ungodly hour yesterday – my 44th birthday.

I have always loved birthdays.

My birthday didn't begin with laughter...it ended with it.
My birthday didn’t begin with laughter…it ended with it.

I’m a big celebrator in general.  Ask any of my Weight Watchers members.  I love to clap and give out Bravo! Stickers for behavior changes.  Those subtle little miracles.

“Where else do you go that they clap for you?” I ask.

Well, 12-Step meetings.  But I don’t bring that up as it isn’t germane.

Birthdays are like that.  It seems the whole world is clapping, rooting for you, that day.  Mostly.

This year I awoke feeling a little less clap-y.  A little less celebratory.

I’d been aware of a low-grade sadness tugging at me for a few days.  Aware this was my first birthday since my birth mother died.

We found one another in October of my 40th year.

Ours was not always an easy relationship.  Some days I think she would have jumped in my skin if she could have, while I took a more tentative approach to our relationship.  Timing.  Expectations.  Boundaries.  Those were our lessons.  And we were one another’s teachers.

She sent me flowers when I turned 40.  A card the following year.  And then phone calls the next two.  She wasn’t well and it was difficult for her to get out – both physically and emotionally.  This year there would be no flowers, no card, no call.  I felt sad.

Like I did when her name was read at the memorial service on Yom Kippur.  Like I did when I returned from Ireland last month and felt like calling and for the first time realized I couldn’t.  I find myself surprised by the sadness, although I’m not sure why.  It makes perfect sense – at least on a cellular level.

So there was that.

And there was the aloneness of being not-so-suddenly, but-still, single.

My ex was a great gift giver.

Birthday and anniversary mornings I would find a card on the bed, slipped into place when I got up to shower.  A gift would come later.  Usually something I had spied and mentioned in passing months earlier.  Something I had forgotten about until I saw it again.  A hand-carved wooden jewelry box.  Strands of smoky quartz and hand-colored pearls.

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Kristin. Who reminds me of the love in my life when I cannot see it.

He gave me a watch when I turned 42 – my last birthday with him.  I had been wearing the same Seiko tank since I was 14, gift from my Aunt Betty.  She had lost hers.  Found it.  And gave the original to me.

I replaced the band and battery several dozen times over the years.  Until the crystal broke and a jeweler told me it couldn’t be fixed.

I didn’t like the watch he bought me.  I don’t know if I would have liked anything he bought me at that time.  He had recently asked me for a divorce – and then recanted the next day – but it was there.  The truth about our relationship.  It was over.  We just hadn’t cut the cord yet.

He was hurt and offended that I didn’t like his gift, but offered to take me shopping so I could pick out something else, anyway.  I couldn’t do it.  I kept the watch.  I am still wearing it.

When I woke up early yesterday, I noticed the absence of a card.  Of a body in my bed.  Specifically, my ex’s.  I do not crave him being there – but I was used to it.  To him, for so long.

I rolled off my mattress and dropped to my knees in child’s pose – both a stretch and a prayer.   “modeh ani lefanecha.  Thank you G-d for returning my soul to me.”  I asked for several obsessions to be removed.  And then, still on my knees, I opened Facebook on my phone.  The messages had already begun to pour in.  Old neighbors.  Acquaintances from grade school.  Family – by origin and by choice.  From Africa.  And from just down the street.

I wrote. Meditated. Showered and went to work.  Weight Watchers.  It felt life affirming.  As did dance class.  I made lunch and took myself shopping at my favorite resale shop.  I bought a grey wool coat that ties at the waist.  It fits as if it were made for me.

I talked to a few friends on the phone.  Around five a girlfriend picked me up and we went to do what we do to make sure we don’t drink today.

I used to make a big “to do” out of my birthday.  Or at least try to.  Those expectations often left me feeling sad and frustrated.  I was unclear why.  But today was delightfully ordinary.

Indian sweets.
Indian sweets.

It ended with cheap eats at a large, bright Pakistani restaurant on Devon Avenue.  The kind with a menu posted on a TV screen.  Where you wait in line to order food and pick it up on a tray.  Where you eat with plastic utensils.

Where I feel conspicuously white.

There were eight of us.  Among them, my divorce buddy – the man I walked lock step with through the dissolution of our marriages.  And then watched my friendship with him dissolve.  I hadn’t invited him.  But there he was.  I was delighted.

“Of course he’s here,” Kristin said.  “He loves you.”

I decided to believe her.  And to believe in all the love around the table.  JB’s.  Tom’s.  Matt’s.

Rebecca’s.  Brian’s.  Kristin’s.

And to focus on it.  To focus on who was there, instead of who wasn’t.  The calls, texts, cards and Facebook greetings I did receive.  Instead of those I didn’t.  (Well, mostly.)

We took pictures and ate fried bits of goodness – both sweet and savory.  Drank lassis and tea with evaporated milk.

I came home and ate the last of my sweets.  I felt a little overly-sugared.  Overly stimulated.

And I fell into bed.  Alone.  Sated.  Full.

Artist Date 34: In It’s Proper Place

2013-08-11 15.45.12I hired a professional organizer.

I have admitted that so many areas of my life had become unmanageable, and then asked for help.  So why not here?  I’m tired of the stacks and stacks of paper that have no home.

I am, as Maggie – the professional organizer – said, “the tidiest, unorganized person” she has ever met.

We met last week for a consultation.  My assignment prior to our first paid meeting, this coming Tuesday, was to go to The Container Store and “just browse.”  My only guidance was to think of “boxes” – four of them.  In.  Out.  To Be Dealt With.  Want to Keep – Just Because.

We agreed I would take photographs of items that interested me, but that I would buy nothing.  It seemed like an easy Artist Date – Number 34.

I was mistaken.

I rode my bike over to The Container Store this afternoon.  Tossed my basket in a cart and began my work.  Up and down every aisle.

Almost immediately, I was overcome with sadness.  All around me, groups of people.  Couples shopping together.   Roommates shopping together.  Moms and dads and bound-for-college kids shopping together.  Together.

I remembered shopping here with my ex – when we moved to Chicago for his residency.  I felt wistful stumbling over the collapsible mesh cubes – the kind we bought to store our record albums.  He didn’t think they would work well, but I knew better.  Three of them sat under the Parson’s table, holding our music collection – his and mine.  I left them in Seattle.

Albums I bought in high school at Sam’s Jams in Ferndale.  The Specials, debut album of the same name.  Elvis Costello, “Punch the Clock.”  Howard Jones, “Human’s Lib.”  My mother’s copy of the original Broadway production of “Hair.”  My brother’s copy of Queen, “A Night at the Opera.”  There is a piece of masking tape on the front cover with his name and our telephone number written in magic marker.  I’m not sure how I ended up with it.

hairI knew every word to every song, having spent hours on my blue-shag carpeting, in my bedroom, singing along with the words printed on the album sleeves.

I don’t have a record player, so I left them.  Plus, they were too cumbersome to pack.  Funny thing is, it’s not the lost records that choked me up.  It was the damn mesh cubes.

And the laundry aisle.  I remember spending hours trying to find just the right laundry bin to collect my massage sheets and take them back and forth from my office to home, to be washed and folded.  First I bought a cart with the idea that I would take the train to and from my office.  With sheets.  In the winter.  I quickly gave up this environmentally-conscious fantasy and started driving to work.

I found a lot where they cut me a deal because I was a local business owner – $14 a day.  A steal, considering I was right off of Michigan Avenue.

Tony, the Palestinian kid who hooked me up, got fired right before I moved away.  I always felt badly about it – even though I hadn’t done anything wrong.  I used a red, collapsible “laundry” backpack to haul my sheets the six blocks from the lot to my office.

I missed having someone to discuss options with today.  I suppose that is why I took photographs, to discuss them with Maggie.

I looked at fabric bins.  Metal bins.  Cardboard bins – some made of bright, solid colors, others printed with flowers and graphic designs.  Bins made of recycled paper.  I snapped photographs of each product and its accompanying card, describing the item and listing its price.

2013-08-11 15.38.34I got distracted by travel supplies.  Luggage tags.  Hanging dop kits.  (I need a new one.  Mine is torn.)  And Ziploc bags for creating more packing space – like the space bags I used when moving cross-country.  I stacked my dresses and trousers inside, while Michael used a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out.  We were giddy when the first was complete.  Shrink wrapped clothes.

I remembered that I needed hooks for hand-towels in my bathroom.  Milk crates for my prayer and meditation nook – to lift my deities and ritual items off of the floor,  and to be covered with a piece of fabric I bought in the market in Kigali.

I also remembered that Maggie and I discussed finding a solution that didn’t involve putting anything else on the dining table – which is also my writing desk, my art table, and where I spend about 80 percent of my time when I am home.

I looked at hanging solutions.  There weren’t many.  A few different kinds of folders that hang from the wall.  Some painted metal.  Some plastic.

Then I wandered into the Elfa department – custom solutions for the closet.  So complex there are employees specific to just this department.  I know people go wild for the yearly Elfa sale, as it is pricey.

And yet, open, wire drawers on casters seemed to make sense.  With a top to hold my printer.  I looked at other shelving units as well.  I remembered our conversation about rethinking how I consider my dining area.  That is it really more multi-purpose.  Think function rather than fois gras or fondue.  I serve neither.  But I do throw a hell of a dinner party.  And it needs to work for those occasions too – especially as Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner and for the past 19 years I have, more often than not, hosted a holiday meal for stray Jews and others.

I thought about my friend Tom who is going to string two lines of wire across the wall opposite the windows so I can hang photographs, cards and collages with metal clips – slightly reminiscent of the drying lines in the darkroom I once inhabited.

I picked up several catalogs, tucked them into my bike basket, and did a final sweep of the store.

I felt myself welling up the entire ride home.  I wanted to be excited but I wasn’t.  I was sad.  Acutely aware that this was yet another step in creating my home, my life, without my ex.  Acutely aware that we don’t talk much lately – my choice, to save both my heart and my sanity.  All of this necessary, but still painful – nearly a year after our divorce was final.  Time takes time.

I thought about something Maggie said.  That there is always something more under the disorganization – something else going on.  She believed the stacks of paper, the lack of “home” for my things, was me being afraid I couldn’t put my hands on something when I needed it.  A need to keep all of my things near.

My friend Kevin refers to this as my issue with object impermanence.  The notion that until a certain age, children do not believe in that which they cannot see.  Put a towel over your hand, et voila, you have no hand.  At least in their minds.

It’s like that with me and people sometimes.  If I can’t put my hands on them – see them, feel them, hear them – it is as if they were never there.  It’s better than it used to be.  At least to me.  I’m not sure what Kevin would say.

So this organizing business – finding a home for my things, learning to be ok with them in their proper place – maybe it will spill over into the other areas of my life.  That the people I can’t put my hands on anymore – for a variety of reasons –perhaps they too will find new homes.  Tucked away in my heart.  Never gone.  But in their proper place.

Artist’s Date 23: Seeing The Angels Who Have Stayed

The woman sitting next to me reeks.

Her two friends wave and come down the aisle to greet her.  One comments on how wonderful she smells.  She asks if it’s (insert name of fancy perfume here as I can’t remember it).  It is, she says, adding that she can only buy it in Paris now.  It’s no longer available in the United States.

“High class problems,” as my friend Dina likes to say.

She is coughing uncontrollably into a hanky.  Hacking,really.  She says she has been sick for weeks.  This is her first outing in as long as she can remember and she’s not even sure she can make it through the whole performance.

I am seething.  I say nothing.  I pray to myself, “Bless her.  Change me.”  My friend Dina taught me this too.  I say it like a mantra until the lights go down.

It is cold in here.  I pull on my wool hat.  It is May.

This is good.  I am not thinking about what I am going to write.  Not thinking that I have committed to 52 Artist Dates and that this is number 23.  I am simply “in it,” observing its smells, sounds, and temperature.

I am at Steppenwolf Theatre Company to see Head of Passes.  I’ve never been here before, but I know that it is a Chicago must – both a jewel and an institution.  The play has received good reviews.  Tickets were $20 plus a $7 handling fee on Goldstar.  When my friend Mimi called to cancel our plans, I took it as a sign and hit “purchase.”

head of passesOn the way here I have one of those “my life is really cool” gratitude moments.  I am driving to the theatre on a Thursday night, by myself, as casually as I might be driving to Trader Joes – as if “this is what I do.”  And it hits me, this IS what I do.  I fill my creative coffers every week.

They say it takes 30 days to create a habit.  I am only on day 23.

I pull into the garage as I realize I can’t feed the meters for the length of the performance.  $10.  A date would pay, right?  Why not me?  This has become my guiding principle – would someone who liked me do this for me?  If the answer is yes, I do too.  Another new habit.

The boy at will call is cute.  He hands me my ticket – second row, off-center to the right.  Awesome seats – illness and odor directly to my left notwithstanding.

The writing is good, rich with wonderful lines that make me laugh uncomfortably like, “Black people don’t like the rain.”  Another about the folly of loving something, someone, who is going to leave you.

Then I am full of folly.  My heart is big and shiny and open.  And someone is always leaving.  Through death, divorce, moving, changing.  I don’t take it as personally these days.  Not like when I was 18 and thought I was the only one experiencing the pain of loss.

I am sitting at my grandmother’s house with my mother and father.  They have come to visit me at university, and together we visit her, my father’s mother, who lives just a few miles away.  She and I are not close.

This visit is more painful than usual because the man I have lost my virginity to has left East Lansing for a spring internship in Illinois.  I am heartbroken.  He is gone.  He was never really there in the first place.  He is engaged, or engaged to be engaged, to a girl in his hometown.  I am not his only indiscretion.

My mother tells me these visits are hard for her too.  That she misses her own mother, my Nana.

“Everyone leaves me,” I sob, making it suddenly all about me.  Nana.  Bill, my red-headed Mr. Wrong.  My friends see him in the cafeteria and shake their heads.  They don’t see what I see.  He wanted me.  It was enough.

Selah laughs sweetly at the doctor – at his folly, for allowing himself to care for her, to be saddened by her imminent death.

But she doesn’t die.  Her children do – tragic, senseless deaths.  Two boys, now grown, delivered by the doctor. And a girl, also grown, brought to Selah as an infant by her husband, the father.

He reminds me of my red-headed Mr. Wrong.  He didn’t bring me a child, just a sexually transmitted disease.  I loved him anyway.  And Selah loved this girl, raising her as her own.

But first, the house collapses onto itself.  Onto Selah.

She emerges, covered in a white choir robe.  Her hair is closely cropped, like mine.  Her matronly dress and braided wig lost.  She is conducting church services – for herself, by herself.  She is the choir, the audience and the minister, all at once.  Her faith, if not her mind, intact.

In the final scene Selah slips back through the rabbit hole of sanity and out of the condemned house, assisted by a construction worker in a hard hat, a dead ringer for the angel who has visited her throughout the two acts.

I think of my own angels – the ones who have taken me by the elbow, guiding me out of my own mess, too many to name.   No longer focused on who has left – not even the woman to my left – I can clearly see who has stayed.