Saturday, May 25, 2013

The weight of Memorial Day


I hate Memorial Day weekend. Or maybe the word I want is dread. I dread it like you might dread a triple root canal or the last episode ever of The Office or the death of a relationship.

I don't dread it because it's a day to remember those who have died. If I were home in the small Iowa town I grew up in, I would attend the flag ceremony at the cemetery and shed a few tears as I gazed up at my dad's flag with his name on it. Some years a family member sends me photos, and even those are poignant. My dad was 46 when he died in 1983. He was proud of his service in the Army, and he would be proud to see his name flying on that flag.

I would also visit my grandmas' graves and leave a geranium at each.

When I was a child, we would all pile in the car with the two grandmas -- the maternal and the paternal -- and visit graves all over the county in tiny countryside cemeteries. We'd start early in the morning by cutting all of the perennial flowers from Grandma B's garden and putting them in water in plastic waste baskets. Dozens and dozens of iris, peonies, daisies, tiger lilies, and the ferns that grew along one side of her house.

Mom and the grandmas would pack a big picnic lunch with fried chicken, potato salad, strawberries and angel food cake that we'd wash down with lemonade. We'd eat around noon in whatever cemetery we were at, being careful not to sit on the actual dead people who were stretched out in front of their carved stones. The rest of the day we traveled to the graves of long-dead (at least to a kid) relatives and carefully laid the flowers at the headstones.

As we drove through the cemeteries, us kids would reach our hands out of the car windows and try to touch the granite gravestones with our fingers, but Dad told us if we hit one it would cut our fingers right off so we just pretended to touch them.

No, these memories aren't why I hate this holiday. I hate this holiday because try as I might to push them aside, those pesky anniversary feelings -- my friend the Hot Italian calls it a mild case of PTSD -- darkens the edges of my world, and colors the days leading up to it gray.

I'm waiting, you see. I'm waiting for the anvil that's tied above my head with a frayed rope to fall, like it has the past few years. That's why I hate this holiday.

I realize anniversary feelings are ghosts, the past, never to happen the same way again in my life. But I'm kind of on a roll here. The past three years this weekend has brought one kind of relationship hell or another, and I don't think it's crazy to greet these days with some trepidation. It's become a pattern. Instead of memorializing people who have passed on, Memorial Day weekend has come to represent the death of close relationships -- relationships with people I loved, who were important (to me). For three years in a row, this weekend was the time when the nails were pounded irreversibly into the coffins that held those relationships. (Sure it's a tired metaphor, but it's fitting, don't you think?)

I don't want to write the stories of those weekends or of those relationships, although I have to admit, they are kick-ass stories involving the police and lies upon lies and toxic hypocrisy so fucking deep it's not worth excavating, in that order, through those 3 years. I could write them; they are my stories to tell, but I don't want to relive them any more than the stupid anniversary feelings are making me.

So maybe someday I will tell those stories here, but not tonight. Tonight I can feel that anvil swinging and swinging above my head, and the snap of tiny fibers ...

Yeah, this anniversary stuff is just ghosts. I've been through rough patches with holidays before. I suffered through a string of Christmases that I thought would never end. The first one LtColEx had orders to Korea for a year after just spending 6 months in DC, and he was leaving January 2. The entire holiday felt like the Last Supper. The next year, he was still in Korea, and the kids and I celebrated alone. Even for a military family, it was a rough one.  The next year my dog died a horrible week-long death as his body attacked his red blood cells.  And the year after that I fell face-first into our brick hearth 4 days before Christmas. The damage took over a year and a half to repair -- as much as it could be repaired. I was lucky I didn't end up on the mantle next to the box of standard poodle ashes. It was almost as bad as all those Christmases when I didn't get a pony.

But the year after that, nothing horrible happened. And the year after that and after that ..... I know the pattern can be broken.

People often tell me everything happens for a reason, that there's a lesson and it will keep coming back until I learn it.

I'm not sure I believe that. There are certain lessons I don't need to have pushed in my face over and over. I get it.

If I've learned any lesson from the jagged edges of those broken Memorial Day relationships it's this: No matter how close you think you are to another person -- no matter how much you care for him or love him or want to take care of him -- we are all actors on our own lonely stages. I could have saved myself much heartbreak by remembering I'm just a walk-on in everybody else's play, so it's better to be the diva in my own story.

This year I've been smart. I haven't let anybody get close enough to leave a hole in my life if they disappear this weekend -- at least not at ground zero like the past 3 years.

If I could just become a hermit this weekend, avoid the entire thing, I would. But I'm babysitting both of my kids' dogs, so they'll be coming Sunday and Monday to pick them up. 

And Free to a Good Home is playing at a festival north of the city tomorrow evening. We've been practicing for months, so I have to get out there and face one day of the weekend.

But after the festival tomorrow, I am going to retreat from social media, from social engagements, from anybody I don't want to lose. Fortunately, that's a lot of people. More than enough to balance those Memorial Day losses of the past 3 years. I'll stay home, count my blessings, and hope Memorial Day passes me by this year.

Superstitious? I suppose it is. It's just one weekend though. Maybe I can change the pattern. Cross your fingers for me, OK?


  1. Love you. <3 Take care of yourself.

  2. So? Important relationships in tact? I think one of mine ended over the weekend. Actually, it probably ended in the weeks leading up to the weekend, but I only became aware of it on Sunday night. :-P But if you had a good weekend, I'm happy to have taken the bad mojo for you.

  3. I'm sorry, Siddaleah. I hope you can work things out, although I know it's not always possible or even healthy to do so.

    I got through the weekend unscathed as far as I know. I hid from everybody except my kids. But a ghost of the bad mojo followed me halfway into the week. Unpleasant as it was, it served as a reminder that I have sometimes let liars and cheaters into my life and given them too many chances. I have no sympathy that their behavior is fueled by cowardice and jealousy. But I can use their behavior as an example of the person I never want to become. And I can compare them with the many wonderful friends i cherish, and know that I would be far ahead should I choose to play their ugly, desperate games. Vague as my words are, maybe you can find a similar lesson in losing a relationship you valued.

  4. Actually, we did work things out, whether it was healthy to do so remains to be seen. It was healthy to finally confront the situation instead of ignoring it like I was doing, though. I was ignoring my inner wisdom while others were telling me not to open that can of worms. I think we're alike in that we give people many chances. For me, unconditional love and acceptance is a wonderful thing in a friendship, but lines get blurred and sometimes I find myself accepting behavior that should disqualify one from being my friend.