One Year

My dear SS,

Today marks one year since you left us. One year since you made a conscious choice to take your own life. Somehow that time has gone so slowly, and impossibly fast at the same time. Those first few months were the roughest--wrestling with the guilt, the sense of failed responsibility, the unanswered questions, and the complete disbelief. I was immersed in our collaboration which meant also being immersed in your words, notes, and drawings. It meant investigating your thought patterns and trying to see things, artistically, from your point of view.

Good God you were brilliant. And fierce. And funny.

I have always said that I would never criticize someone for committing suicide. I personally could not even imagine getting to the point where suicide would be the only option, and going through with it. I have definitely had times in my life where I wished to simply not exist because the emotional pain was so great, but that was about where it stopped. Through all the frustration and hurt of you leaving us--all the questions and crying and anger--I still stand by my statement.

I am so sorry that I did not see the signs.
I am sorry if I didn't do enough.

I am sorry that you couldn't see how completely you were loved by the ones around you. And even if you could, that it wasn't enough.

I have learned that I will never stop feeling sorry. I will never cease to feel some sense of responsibility, even if it isn't true. But that's okay.

I am glad that you are free of your pain.

You will always be my fierce red-headed warrior--the woman who was always encouraging my fitness goals; the woman who got me to run a 5K; the woman who was so artistically brilliant that I will continually strive to have that kind of design sense and motivation. You were never afraid to try new things. Always up for challenges and adventures. You are my spirit animal in so many ways, and I miss you all the time.

From you, I learned to be unafraid of my love of certain things. To stop caring about what others think. To question the norm, to be bold and unafraid.

I will always hold you in my heart.

And even though no one else will get it....

The California of my heart

Once upon a time, my great grandparents built a cabin at Fallen Leaf Lake in California. There, along with many other families, they built a community. My grandmother, Virginia Chandler, helped to start the Fire Department, which still celebrates her each year with a wine tasting. My grandparents spent many summers there, and a few winters, as did our parents and ourselves. That place is in my soul--the smell of the dry, dark soil is in my blood. It is the scent of warm bark and pine needles and the kind of dark soil that stains your skin. It is beautiful. The cool of the glacial lakes courses through my veins--how many summers did I spend swimming around our dock, avoiding touching the ground for fear or being pinched by crawdads?

Over the years, the landscape started changing at Fallen Leaf. Someone figured out how to get around permits restricting structural size, and suddenly all the quaint rustic cabins were rebuilt into tiny mansions. Property prices started rising, and with that, taxes.

When my father passed away 10 years ago, various family members found it too difficult to maintain the property and expenses. So, it was sold for a hefty sum. I cannot lie--at the time, it was awful to lose such an important part of our family history. I can still smell the wood of the cabin, the funny scent of the tiny kitchen and back porch. I can feel the sooty soil between my toes, and the occasional needle sticking into my feet. The cool air rushing up the hill from the lake.

This year, we decided to mark the 10 years of my father's passing, and celebrate his birthday, by visiting South Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake. Over the years, I have learned to let go of material objects--accepting that they themselves are not a person, nor a memory, and that those things will always live on in our hearts. When we first arrived in Tahoe, we drove straight to Fallen Leaf Lake and parked at the cabin (I am so glad no one was home). It still stands there, missing many trees, railings, and awnings. It looks smaller now, but it is still there, as is 'The Little Cabin' and the wooden tent. I don't know how long it will last--families now expect more comfortable structures, and it is tiny at best.

We visited the Memorial Garden at the St. Francis Cathedral, where my family's plaques are. I love my family so deeply and am proud of where we came from, who we are. It was great to see them all memorialized in a place that is so beloved. I showed the hubby where we used to play in a river, and where the store was.

We spent the next few days with my Aunt and Uncle near Lake Tahoe, going on day hikes each day, and having dinner with them each evening. They are wonderful people.

On my father's birthday, August 24, Dave and I woke up early to a breakfast made by my Aunt Sue, and headed off to Mt. Tallac. It took us 5 hours to get to the top which, considering the wildfire smoke that was irritating my asthma and a short acclimation period (2 days!), is not bad at all. Coming from Portland which is at about 500 feet elevation, and jumping to 6,300 feet is an adjustment. Then ascending a peak which is 9,738' is no small feat. As a reward afterwards, we may have scarfed down plates of chili cheese fries at the Fallen Leaf Store (we totally intended to just get ice cream and coffee...oops).

The next day, we drove southwest to San Francisco and spent the next few days exploring during the day and hanging with my oldest brother in the evenings. His apartment is full of different family heirlooms, which was really nice to see. It was like being steeped in history. This was also Dave's first time being in San Francisco, which was really fun. We walked a lot each day, mostly because we were impatient and didn't want to bother figuring out public transportation.

The highlight of my visit to San Francisco was definitely visiting Velvet da Vinci for the first time, and getting to see the CoOperation:Garnish exhibition in person. What an incredible selection of work! Not only that, but the exhibition by Jo Pond is stunning. We also got to meet up with the lovely Amy Tavern for a visit before she started Grad School!

The drive north was rather hurried, and we didn't get to stop at as many places as we'd liked, but it was worth it to spend time with family and friends. We visited my cousins in Mill Valley, and I finally got to see where my Aunt Nancy Chandler had lived, as well as a lot of her artwork. Near Eureka, we visited Dave's oldest brother as well.

And now, we are home. The kitties are obsessed with us, and we are settling back into real life.

A Story of Retreat

I went to meditation today for the first time in over two years. When I stopped my practice (over two years ago), I was broken inside--my heart was shattered--and the ashram reminded me of what I saw as failures. I've 'planned' to go back many times, but always begged out. Tonight, after a blip of doubt, I buckled down and headed over to the ashram.

As soon as I stepped in the door and smelled that familiar smell I felt at peace. It was blissful, healing, invigorating. I can't wait to go again.

You see, I am a very giving, empathetic person. Often times, to a fault. I find joy in giving my love and energy to others, but sometimes I don't realize that I have given too much until it is 'too late,' and I am either drained or something gives. Sometimes I end up giving more than just my love and energy--without realizing, I give control to others--of how I feel about my life, or about myself. It is a strange thing. I am understanding it better as I get older.

Through a series of fissures, cracks, and other broken metaphors in my life, I have realized lately that I need to take back control of myself, my life, my emotions. The last couple of years have been hard, and because I was in school and working so much, I haven't taken too much time to deal with a lot of what went down. I don't know if it's the "American way" to just push through things, or if it's just how I was raised.

Push through it until you hit a wall.

So, I am retreating. I started retreating a bit ago--reaching out less, prioritizing my husband and our home life more, taking space. Drawing, coloring in coloring books, working on jigsaw puzzles. Meditation is part of that. Finding peace is part of that. Letting others reach out to me is part of that.

Yesterday, we went for a hike in Forest Park. It was a part of the park I hadn't been to before, up high near the ridges. You couldn't even hear the highway until you got to the very top. It was so nice just hiking up hills amongst the ferns and dead leaves, laughing with Dave as we stopped and started again. We came to the top where there is this crazy water tower from the 1960's, and found a patch of grass to lay down on.

The funny thing, this state of retreat is actually more of my natural state. Growing up, I was always more comfortable alone or with animals and books. So here we go--retreating, replenishing, returning to my natural state.