Friday, December 07, 2012

In the beginning of darkness

I find myself in this dark place where everything outside seems either darker than inside or alien, as if who I am is no longer the person I knew not long ago.

Two and a half years ago I knelt on the bed of a person who I knew, at least in some inner way, was close to the end 0f her life. It was a heartbreaking knowledge and as I looked in her eyes, I think I saw that she knew too, but she was not as bothered by the awareness of death as I.

I had just lifted her off the floor and quite literally pulled her onto the bed I then knelt on. Her husband and daughter where there too, and the three of us struggled to not let her, and each other see our individual pain. But I knew we failed in hiding what was clearly written on our faces and the quavering our words.

We attempted to convince her to eat as if even a slight bit of nourishment could somehow stave off the inevitable. I held her up in a sitting position while she worked at swallowing a small spoonful of soup. An effort she obviously made for us and not herself.

When we accepted her inability to eat, I think none of us were yet ready to accept what else was happening. As I tried to help her get into a more comfortable position, with my arms around her, struggling to balance us both on the soft mattress, she had a heart attack. Pain crumbled her face as she gasped from its intensity.

"Indigestion," we thought and announced. When it passed she groaned and said softly, in a voice that seemed torn by the brief experience, "That was awful."

I still knelt there watching her as if I could do something if only I could understand what that something might be. Yet after it was decided that all she needed was to rest, sleep and she would be fine, I helped her to lay down, and then moved off the bed.

Although I know her passing was not something anyone could have prevented, I did then and do now believe I should have done more. I think that was when a small hole of darkness burst into existence that late summer afternoon, burrowed into my soul where it's sat and slowly grew as I watched people I cared about, people I loved fall like the leaves of late autumn burying me in a grief almost more tangible then the air I breathed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I do not know why I thought of her recently. Might have to do with so many lives passing in the past two to three years. Reminds me of pages fluttering when I scan a book while searching for a particular passage. And not finding what I want but seeing something I need instead.

So I suppose when I saw a photo of an old harmonica that brought her name to mind.

We called her Mimi, but her name was Maria Rhatigan. She was born 31 May 1952 and died in an auto accident on a lonely road in the middle of the night in a town called Quogue in Suffolk County, New York. That was in March 1976. A short life filled with promise as she worked towards a degree in fine arts. I drove out a few days later and found her old Chevy. It did not seem damaged enough to cause her death, but if she did not wear a seat belt, that might have done it.

The car was parked alongside an old time gas station as if no one wanted to claim it, and perhaps no one did.

When I returned from combat loaded with unknown and undiagnosed PTSD, I often sought places of solitude where no one would bother me as I sat trying to feel my way through the mess I had tumbling inside my head.

I found a spot in a woods overlooking a harbor on the north shore of Long Island. I had my father's old harmonica, which I played while there.

Nearly every time I did, Mimi would wander into the woods and sit with me. She would not talk until I was ready and then we talked about the life around us not where I was while fighting, not whether or not I killed anyone, or maimed civilians as a soldier.

She was a gentle warm spirit and went through her much too short life with a kind smile, warm touch and never asked for anything but friendship in return.

I wish I had a photo of her, or even recalled the sound of her voice. I do recall she had a small red sailboat that we sat under when it rained. And I remember seeing her out in it one morning as if she and the breeze were all that was needed to complete a connection she alone might have felt with her world.

Why do we lose so many people like her long before they get to fulfill their dreams?




Saturday, March 10, 2012

Grounded in Today



I thought, one day, that the snow would never end.
That the sky had split like a torn pillow burying the earth in white.
And window glass etched with frost blurred the stillness of midnight.
It wasn't a time or place where my mind could wander.
Instead, it was a time when emotion might.
No person should witness such bleakness and feel as tranquil surrounded by winter's blight.
Yet there I stood knowing that the past's door swung slowly shut and the future lay shrouded in mysterious height.

Larry Schliessmann 05 March 2012

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Christmas Eve

A profound sense of emotion brought on by the death of someone dear to me, haunts me this Christmas Eve. It would be easy to turn back fifteen months and look at myself standing graveside with a small group of mourners, blame that one moment in time for how I feel. It would also be wrong.

My wife suffers from losing her mother and, too, watching, feeling helpless about the silent intensity of her father’s pain. He moves through his days with an effort weighed down by his personal suffering and loss.

My oldest daughter suffers from losing her boyfriend to a single rash act, a moment in her life so pivotal as to be staggering in its profundity.

This Christmas Eve, it seems to me, moments of the past strung together like bitter pearls of minutes of missed opportunity slowly steal the future, or, at least, tarnish the possible shine of a new day with the anger they bear with them. The mirror of images viewed so frequently becomes smeared with regret and what is then seen instead appears more like a future filled with sorrow than a chance for life’s opportunity and joys, the past a cocoon of comfort, not a smothering haven of mixed and faded memories.

Now I am not one to stare into crystal balls, or read cards spread across a tabletop. I do not attempt to convince myself that a miracle awaits around corners where demons hide to deter access. I do not believe in the simplicity of answers born from the misery of the past, or of the pretension that if I do nothing but seek solace in the errors I once made, I will somehow find the key to changing the indelible truth of it all.

Honestly, I am not sure there is such a truth, but do know the past is irrefutable. I suppose the more I stare backwards the more I see, but also see less of what was and more of what I wish could have been. Perhaps that is the way we hope to change our failures instead of learning and applying that to how we live now.

Pain seems to be more attractive, drawing us into its inescapable spiderweb of tangled horror, than the pleasure drawn from possibility is.

I do not believe that life must make some kind of rational sense, that loss stops the flow of what is good like the love surrounding me. I do not want to or need to stifle the mystery of it all. Sure pain and loss stagger me, but if that is what we live for, a reaction to that which overwhelms, instead of trying to enjoy all that remains, then I can only wonder how any person finds any joy in today, Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The 2011 Christmas Story

Death and Christmas seemed incompatible. Yet as I stood at the foot of the grave, still unmarked by a headstone, acceptance quivered around me as if riding the thin snowflakes as they landed like individuals determined to blanket the past.

It bothered me that I would no longer hear her voice, her footsteps as she entered the room where we waited. It bothered me that seasonal customs suddenly seemed more about who she was and what she had wanted when alive. Did we ever want something else? Was her desires a definition of us, our beliefs, too? Had her past determined her future so thoroughly that she could not redefine it for herself, as we seemed unable to do for ourselves?

Perhaps she knew more about living, or more about acceptance. Her life led her through a time and places long gone. Neither offered experiences we could meld into our own without her there to show us the way.


I brushed the accumulating snow with the edge of my boot as if attempting to draw a snow angel without the commitment of laying in it. Then drew a weak Christmas tree shape and knew that I wanted to ignore my feelings instead of sorting through how crippled I felt by them.

There was a chance, I knew, that the true meaning of Christmas was locked into experiences and memories of Christmas' past that I suddenly felt I no longer knew how to access. How sad was it that I felt the season was now an aimless trek from store to store, with a brief visit here and there. The droning overhead music sounded trapped in a bubble that appeared on an earlier date each year. The songs ran together without definition.

A cold wind snapped at the collar of my coat. I stuffed my hands into my pockets hoping for some warmth and knew the warmth I needed came from somewhere else.

The wreath I brought with me looked festive, colors brilliant. Unlike the withered wreath forgotten on a marked grave in the back of the cemetery. That one seemed as old as I felt.

I squatted, and smoothed the snow off the red ribbon, then quickly jammed my hand back in my pocket.

Behind me, a car horn sounded impatiently, along with the roar of an engine, chirping tires. Even a place as remote as a cemetery offered little escape from the bleating crowds that did not care for meaning beyond the gifts they bought and received.

Expression sat in ribbon festooned boxes, piled under decorated trees that, come the day after Christmas, meant nothing more than landfill.

I began to understand what truly bothered me. I was feeling that there was no reason to celebrate Christmas. All the effort provided nothing. We stress giving as the meaning for the season, yet it seems that it's receiving we care most about.

I don't think she ever felt that way. I think she understood giving in a way others did not.

Giving to receive is not giving, but is receiving only.

Okay, I thought. Maybe that's part of it, a place to start.

The snow fell steadily, thicker flakes that piled up and buried my drawn tree. I could feel it on my head, trickling down my neck and with a final quiet message I did not want to speak aloud, I turned and walked the snow buried path and hoped I could now begin to find a Christmas I might call my own.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Slaughter

Here in coastal south carolina, the only species on planet Earth that kills for joy, for pleasure - humans - are blasting 14 ounce ducks to death with 12 gauge shotguns.






And we wonder why we cannot live in peace.
God wept.