Six Crows

v572vyxew5xydyjd5bdzy4rijA small murder of hopping-and-clucking crows crossed my path today while I was walking. One old bird took to the air, flew right over me, and lit on a telephone wire, glared down at me and gave me an earful. Caw! Caw! she seemed be saying in that sassy way that crows have, We’re back! You can kiss your sweet summer goodbye! Caw! Caw! The leaves of the trees, too, were starting to show the wear of our hot, dry California summer. It will be a while before they change color, those that do, but on close inspection, I could see they were curling at the edges. A light breeze blew, carrying with it the imminent death of summer.

The intention of the walk was to help me come up with something to blog about, because, make no mistake, Jove Belle and Andi Marquette’s request of me to blog the third Wednesday of the every month had wrenched me from the skin-sucking, thick mud of grief. Apparently, when my father died five weeks back, my desire to write died along with him. Or that’s what it feels like. I carried with me a small pad and a pen to write down any flashes of inspiration I might have, something the old me, the pre-grief me, did fairly regularly. The new me could barely imagine doing such a thing; she is too caught up with the wonder of the living, the intractableness of its finiteness. But I made her. It was time to jump back in the literary saddle.

The problem is, while I am drawn to write about the particulars of my father’s death, I’m not ready to do so yet. If feels too soon—may always feel too soon. I’ve been taking notes, recording some of the twists and turns of a tale that had many, but they’re nothing I want to share in a blog. Which leaves me writing about death in general. I know, I know, generalities are never a writer’s friend. But bear with me; I’ve got to hover outside of this life-changing event for a while—at least publicly.

I recently read Margaret Drabble’s book The Dark Flood Rises. In it, one of her characters feels sorry for the young who fixate too soon on death, says something along the lines of: Why should they waste their time on this? There will be plenty of time to worry about dying as they age. The line made me laugh out loud. See, I’m one of those people who’s been thinking about death since, well, since I knew that it was going to happen to me one day.

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Remember the days?

I remember an afternoon when I was developing family photos in the basement darkroom with my dad. I was twelve, and loving the alone time with him. With three siblings competing for his attention, I didn’t get it much. Also, my dad, typical of the era, was a workaholic who left most of the child rearing to my mother, retreating to his home study every night after a day at the hospital. A nephrologist doing cutting edge research, he was, by his own admission, afraid that if he didn’t keep up with the latest journals, someone might die due to his ignorance. Such a burden to bear! And, come to think on it, likely (in part) responsible for my young fixation on death. Speculation aside, though, I asked him on that day, in that stuffy, scarily pitch-black room, if he was afraid to die. His answer: “No. But I’m not ready just yet. There are still too many things I want to do.” Did I take reassurance from this? Hell no. There were lots of things that scared me that didn’t scare him. I just added this to the list.

You can see my obsession with death in my novels. Between the lines of Spanking New, it’s pretty obvious that, though it professes to be a story about life before life, it’s really about Spanky crossing over into the great unknown. In Maye’s Request, Maye, teetering on the edge of death, inspires her family to come together. In Rest Home Runaways, Morgan, who decorates her house with Day of the Dead ornaments, chases after her father who is running from death. (Subtle? Me?) My forthcoming novel too, out in Spring of 2018, Perfect Little Worlds, gives a pretty significant nod to death too. Here is the first unedited paragraph.

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Book Cover by Duke Houston

As a child I had this terror of the night. It would kick in after Alice nodded off. I’d lie in bed and listen for the moment her breathing changed from the quick, light breath of her wakefulness to the long, peaceful sucking and blowing of her sleep. Next, I’d listen for my dad wearily plodding in from the garage, my mom putting up the last of the dishes, straining my ears for the click of the lights being switched off as they trundled to bed, imagining the house growing darker with each click. Kitchen. Click. Outside porch light. Click. Living Room. Click. Hallway. Click. The small standing lamp at the end of the hallway. Click. Water would run. The toilet would flush. Depending on the house and on how much they’d been drinking, I would hear my parents’ muffled conversation or argument or the soft thump-thumps of their carnal roughhousing, my father’s rhythmic grunting, my mother’s, Oh…yes… oh…oh…ohhhhh! A door might slam. A peal of laughter might ring out. Under no circumstances were Alice and I allowed to disturb them once their bedroom door was closed. My mother’s rule. “It could scar you for life, trust me,” she’d say. I didn’t trust her, but knew better than to go against her. So I’d lie there imagining the terrifying hush of the darkness wrapping itself around the throw pillows on the couch, around the ankles of our kitchen table. I’d feel as though I were the only person alive.

It’s one thing to write about death; another to experience it on such an intimate level. And it’s aftermath! Wow. Didn’t see this coming. The oddest things set me off. For instance, the other day, when I was pruning my juicy red rose bush, I inadvertently lopped off a bud on the verge of becoming a glorious bloom. It made me sob.

Come September, my partner, Dixie, and I will be taking our cool conversion van up to Oregon to collect a third of his ashes. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, thank you for listening. It helps.

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The only way to travel!
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25 thoughts on “Six Crows

  1. I’m so sorry that your grief has weighed you down but impressed with your determination to make art from your experiences. Take your time and translate it into whatever tale feels best. But I will say this, you caught me with 1/3 of his ashes… There’s a story there…

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  2. Sounds like you are being appropriately gentle with yourself. There is something difficult about the snap of part of the branch of the family tree you are hanging from. May your journey toward us in Oregon be healing.

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    1. So I am finding! Some days all seems well then pow! But I have lots of people who love me. That helps. Sounds like you have some experience in this realm. Life, man, it is a trip. And death, it’s a trip too, but on a train with a hidden destination.

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  3. So sorry for your loss, Clifford. Your imagery of the memories of your dad are beautiful. May they sustain you and thank you for sharing them and your own struggles with us. Sending you peaceful vibes.

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  4. You are not alone, my friend. I do believe that we all grieve the loss of our parents in different ways. Your grief has your initials stamped on it. It looks and feels like the relationship you had with your father. My grief reflects the relationship I had with my mother. Perhaps the only feature of grief that we ALL share is expressed by Allison R. Solomon, above. “…expect the unexpected.”
    Your writing days will return as surely as long forgotten memories of your dad will alternately force a tear from your eyes and a broad smile from your lips.

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  5. What a gentle and interesting piece. I too have a tendency to notice the crows when I am out. I live in the country and there are always crows around. I find myself stopping to watch them, they always seem to be up to something, often something other worldly. They make me think about things that have been lurking just under the surface, thoughts behind thoughts. I often arrive home from walking feeling a bit more grounded, calmer and less stressed, not that I have worked everything out, I just seem more content with the same situation.
    So sorry that you are feeling so raw at the moment, your loss is a profound one and though your world has changed forever, it will take time for some of those changes to reveal themselves. Meanwhile, you must take care of yourself, notice the odd things you do, the reactions you cannot explain, but don’t dwell there, let the new facets of you emerge and settle easily.
    Hopefully your writing will help you through this tough time. You are certainly talented in that regard. I found your description of the darkness creeping through the house very evocative. Wonderful description of a very laden moment for a child.

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  6. Thank you, Jean. What a lovely response. Yes. Noticing the odd things, the forgetfulness, is good advice. My dreams too have been vivid. And yes, the lovely crows. Always entertaining. And always up to something. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

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  7. So glad those crows got your attention cuz you have amazing words, images and ideas to share. I can only imagine what is going on inside as I re-establish my relationship with my parents on a daily basis after an almost 40 year drought. Love you Cliffie.

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    1. Paula, thank you. I think of you often over there in Florida. Can’t imagine what it feels like to have such an abrupt change in your life. It’s times like these, I’m grateful for FB. Hang in, dear friend. And thanks for stopping by.

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  8. Clifford, I am so sorry to hear of your father’s death. I know how important he was to you. I am sending my love to you as you navigate your grief. I, too have thought about death since a very young age with a lot of fear. After experiencing so many losses now I find myself less afraid and more interested in life. I am grateful for you, your writing, and your friendship

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    1. Joyce! I totally here you about focusing on life. And yes, my fear has abated since my younger days. But really, the avalanche of emotions following my dad’s death have been such a surprise. Our relationship was not always perfect. Sometimes far from it. But the loss of him has been huge. And interesting that you are someone who has thought about death since youth. Not surprising, know you. Wise, deep. Thanks for taking the time to check in.

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  9. First I want to give my condolences. I can picture the darkroom perfectly. Grief affects in all ways at any time. I can relate to the flowers. For years (and still occasionally) I can see my daughter while driving down the street, shopping in a grocery store, contestants in singing competitions, and so on. Always out of reach, but there for one shining moment that always brings tears. I consider myself blessed that she comes to visit me when the house is quiet. She talks to me in the songs I hear, and her favorite songs we sang together. I jolted when I read of the crows. On the morning she died, a crow was sitting on top of a streetlight and cawing at me – loudly. It seems as if every life changing moment I’ve had – I’ve seen the crows. Many blessings to you and your family – the love you project is felt here by me sitting at my keyboard. I hope you can feel the love coming back to you.

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  10. Thank you, Yvonne. I cannot imagine loosing a child, am amazed anyone survives it. And yet, those I know who have are some of the kindest people. And wise. And what is it about those crows! They are magic birds. Shadow birds. Condolences on your loss. I don’t know how long ago you lost your daughter, but I imagine time is irrelevant. I really appreciate you checking in. It helps.

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  11. This made me cry, but in a good way. My heart hurts for you. He was a wonderful man. It will get easier, I promise. Luvs & hugs to both.

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  12. The death of a parent is a uniquely bittersweet experience. We think of the good times, we dwell on the bad, and we always wonder if we could have used our time more wisely, said things differently, did things another way. I hope your grief turns to fond memories sooner rather than later, Clifford, and the new book sounds amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

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