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Entries in red mesa camp (1)

Friday
Apr222011

With Death, Resurrection

It isn't that I had nothing to write for a journal in the last month. I did. I kept my notes in my old journal book that I started in shortly after it was given me by my mom for Christmas 2000. I wrote in that book for about seven months or so. The last entry was dated just days before I received my first computer. The rest, obviously, is history, mostly done on this site, or with a record of sent emails, and only a few short bursts of paper journal writing around special times like my stay at Halcyon or during the Rites of Passage last year. So that book that mom gave me sat empty for nearly a perfect decade. I knew it was only half used and was often left to wonder when I might pick it up to write again. What was going to be exceptional enough, or different enough to warrant using it again?

The book was the one where all the deep dark secrets of family were falling out of the various places they had been hiding. At the age of 27, the life I thought I had led and the life I thought I was about to lead were radically upset with outrageous revelations of a family life that preceded my arrival on the scene, and the early days of my life. The first half of this book contains within it my discovery and the worst of the news, and my response—anger, depression, grief, denial, and the whole sickening soup of it all. In some ways, it is clear to see, particularly on this Good Friday, that experience as a death of one version of myself, though of course, it was far from my imagination that a resurrected life awaited. At that time, there was plenty of darkness to go around.

me, 1978 with the table in the backgroundMe, c. 1978 with the table in the background at the Quapaw house

me and virginia 1981.Virginia and me, Christmas 1981Clearly there was no computer to be used while I was on my trip, nor was I interested in using one. So I took this journal along. What more, I took the table that I used to write at! The table, a dining room table that was at my house on Quapaw for as long as I ever went there, was the place where I sat for family dinners, sat to build plastic models or assemble puzzles as a kid, or to read or be read to by my grandmother. I typically was seated at the side up against the giant sliding glass door, facing the wall of the dining room with the kitchen on the back of that wall. I used to provoke some sharp responses when I leaned my chair back against the window frame, lest I fall through and shards come down on me and cut me to pieces or something.

When, in late November 2000, my grandmother fell and later got taken out of the house for the last time, I had the house to myself for six months before the situation changed and I got roommates. I took to writing at the dining room table instead of in my room, this time taking the spot my grandmother used to take, just opposite my old spot. It afforded me the view out the window instead. Usually I wrote after midnight when the world was quiet, but that seat at the table would otherwise be the place to look at the patio and the garden-like back yard with its terraced hillside overgrown with ivy. On a good day, it was a delightful suburban back yard with color and life. There were citrus trees and another pretty big tree.

the patio as seen from the vantage point of the old table. shot after it got turned into a jail cell, but after the jail cell got partially knocked out to be within compliance.From the dining room, summer 2005, as we were moving. The modified patio is now reduced back to something reasonable but it was still dark. The orange tree is starting to show some life nearly two years after it was hacked to a stump and primary branches.

That was, on a good day. G-ma died ten years ago tomorrow. After she died, and for a couple years, no one really took care of the back yard so it was on auto pilot. I guess I raked and cut a few things, but really I was in another place and so the back yard withered some. Then, in early 2003, the landlord-father of mine came over and began to knock out the wooden and colored-fiberglass patio to replace it with one that was dominated with block and steel, essentially replacing the open feeling, sunny enclosure with what I called a jail cell. It made the dining room and the living room quite dark and shady since the window faced west. So all the southern and western was essentially lost to this project. I never wanted it. I protested. I lost that battle too just like another equally hairbrained idea to hastily enclose the carport and fashion a garage. All of this was tasteless and illegal work. But the business of ignoring my requests and ideas was what helped push me toward depression and angst. At the same time, the roommates I had, two lazy and thrill-seeking guys of about 22-25 were trashing what left of the back yard with their slingshot and BB gun target practice. The owner, the man who once fancied himself father of mine, took saw to the oleanders on the fence and the lemon tree, leaving ugly oleander "trees" when they were nicer as fence-concealing shrubs, and just a stump and main branches on the lemon tree! It was outrageous. He didn't live there! He didn't have to see how ugly it was once he left!

When eventually the fissures turned into giant faults in the ground between us, and he evicted Kelli and me, all our furniture became a ball and chain. We had two dining room sets (one from a donation from a friend's family, and the one I am writing about), and so much else, some stuff duplicated needlessly, but that once fit in that large house. We've moved several times since that summer of 2005, and while we've had our ways to force things into place, or to store them at friend's houses or a garage, finally I found that I could donate the dining room table to the Red Mesa camp in New Mexico. Along with it went a pair of end tables that had taken a bit of a beating and were a bit awkward to fit places, and were essentially replaced by others that fit within the overall scheme of our natural wood furniture.

I got to Red Mesa on a Sunday night and put the three tables together in the living room of the bunk house, a double wide modular trailer house that was in a state of extensive remodeling. Bare wood floors, partially removed wainscoting on the walls. No real kitchen cabinetry, and no oven. Minimal furniture. Dusty with ranch dirt and fireplace ash and cat dander. It was a pretty stark place and I wondered what I got myself into for almost two weeks!

the table now at Red Mesa, New Mexico.The table, at its new home at Red Mesa

I was able to sit at the old dining room table on Monday. The journal was there for me to write in. Almost a decade had passed since I wrote in to log this trip. Then a remarkable thought sprung to mind. I realized I was once again at the table, with the journal, and once again at a giant window, but this time the window was not the window to the jail cell my father created in his uncanny knack for erecting walls, fences, gates, and other barriers. This time it wasn't even the parochial vista of my suburban back yard, not even in its beautiful incarnation with plants and vines. This was an even bigger view, facing south out of the trailer house and looking across the rolling hills in the foreground and maybe a hundred miles more to the mountains.

This realization about the table and journal, once brought to mind on my first full day there, gave me a way to view other happenings at Red Mesa. The ones that stick with me are similar realizations of death and resurrection are the stuff of life. The most potent of these chart a distinction between deeds and attitudes I was raised around, and new chances to respond to analagous situations. I may have to keep the lid on some of that for a while to let it sink in and teach me more, but sooner or later, I'll notice it affecting words and deeds of my own.