Porch Swings

I had a dream a few weeks ago, and it feels important enough to write down. My aunt Bertha (“Bert”) had a covered porch growing up. It was screened in off the back of her house in Waynesboro. She had a little brick Cape Cod on a corner lot, and since she bought the lot next door, her yard was the biggest on the block. These were the suburbs, but not when she bought. She used the extra lot as her garden, growing vegetables and herbs, and even had a grape arbor.

Two large, creaky swings faced each other on her back porch, and every inch of it was covered with canning supplies, burlap bags, all kinds of junk. But that porch was my favorite place in the whole world. We’d sit out there for hours talking. Bert’s canary, “Birdy” would tweet at us from the dining room, and we’d snack on those long, little peanut butter wafer cookies. I’d pick mine apart to make it last longer.

My aunt Bert was always old, the half-sister of my Muddy. Her gray bun was always neat, and she always wore an apron over her housedress. Her ankles were thick with age over her black shoes. My grandaddy would buy her groceries—she hadn’t left her house in 30 years since her husband died. Just never saw any need to. She never had any kids, so my sister and I were some of her only family.

I remember playing my violin for her, watching “Hee Haw” and “Lawrence Welk” on Saturday nights, and helping her snap beans on that back porch. She would have us sniff the mint in her garden, and I would marvel that it smelled just like toothpaste. Walking through her arbor was magical, especially in the fall when the grapes smelled like jam.

And the creaking of the swing was like a song to me. I loved my Aunt Bert, the quiet purpose of her life, the calmness I always felt in her house. Why do I write about this now? Because I had a dream that my family and the Harveys were all on that porch.

I read an article about Kathryn several weeks ago that mentioned her love for her own screened-in porch, maybe this is why I had the dream. Anyway, in the dream we were all there, my whole family, along with Bryan, Kathryn and their children. We swung on the swings, drinking beer or iced tea and the children played beneath our feet. It was twilight and the fireflies would soon come out. The crickets were having a jamboree and all was right with the world. I’d like to carry this dream with me, it was so peaceful, quietly happy, and healing. I’d like to think that wherever they are now, that this is what they’re doing. Preparing to chase fireflies and laughing, talking, and creaking that swing to beat the band with not a care in the world and no place whatsoever to go anytime soon.

Red Star

I just keep working, keep trying to “remember them well”. I went online and bought a red coral star on a silver chain. Red for Ruby, and a star for Stella. It lies heavy against my throat, and it reminds me to live my life vigorously every day. With love, with music, with art, and with hope. I was able to listen to Cakewalk yesterday and only cry a little, that’s something. I miss them so much, but more than that I want to honor them. I want to live my life with laughter and happy tears.

So many memories flood me, and even more come to mind as the days go on. Has this tragedy brought on a mid-life crisis? Who knows, and does it really matter. I’ll record them, in short little “coughs” as best I can.

Today, I remember hanging a flyer at the first incarnation of World of Mirth, way back in 1993. Kathryn was reluctant at first, but gave in when I promised I’d only keep it up a week, in a little, nondescript corner near the entrance at the top of the stairs. I was looking for a roommate, and I figured anyone who shopped at WOM would be the kind of person I’d gladly share an apartment with.

I spent hours, composing every word with the care of a personal ad, and surrounding it with clever, retro clipart. I wanted it to fit in with the decor of the place, not stand out and look cheap. It seems silly now, but then I was so grateful she was letting me do this that I felt like anything less would let her down.

The roommate I found didn’t work out, but I’ll always remember this…she helped me pass through one of those rites of young 20’s-hood.

Am I putting too much importance on this small event of finding my first roommate? Maybe. Probably. Hell, that’s what nostalghia does, right? And I’m certainly in the throes of that at this point…Big Love.

Paul Bowles Quote

Since I’ve been thinking and writing so much about the Harveys, when I came across this quote, it seemed just too damn appropriate. I haven’t been able to stop thinking on it.

“…because we don’t know [when we will die], we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

——-Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

Traveling Light….With Windchimes

So why “bogged down?” It’s not that I’m a depressive person, or morose, or sad, although recent events have made me more so. I guess I feel like stuff inside me is bogging me down, and this is the place to relieve that. So I’m lighter, less heavy. Like Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” I’d much rather live my life light than heavy.

Why do people have blogs anyway? To “dump” somewhere? Is it vanity? Does it matter? I’m sure this question has been posed and pondered way before, and much better than I’m trying to do right now.

I started this blog because of the Harveys. To remember them, to write about them so that others could know them too. To help myself and my sadness. I call myself a writer, but ironically, I haven’t written anything in years. Wouldn’t it be, I dunno, neat, if I started writing regularly again because of something so horrific, so tragic, so awful. Okay, neat isn’t the word, but I know Bryan and Kathryn both would give me a big hug if they knew (and they do) that I was writing again because of this awful, unreal situation. Unreal because I still can’t get my mind around it. I’m trying, though, I’m trying. They want us all to try.

I read a wonderful tribute to the Harveys here at “Three Wheels” by Triscula. Very touching, very positive. I hadn’t taken my tree down yet either, it didn’t seem right somehow. But after reading this, I did.

This blog was so positive in fact it made me want to change my title, from “bogged down”. Hey, you create your own reality, right? Maybe I should call it “Wall of Light” or something more ethereal. Eh, who knows. I can’t help feel that the blog is in fact a repository of sorts, not a dumping ground really, but a place to store stuff so it’s not crawling around and around in my craw for years and years. I can put is somewhere safe, like a photograph in an album, instead of carrying it around with me. Like I said I want to travel light. So whenever I’m “bogged down” here I will come.

Style Weekly did some wonderful tributes as well, especially this one by Elizabeth Cogar. It made me laugh through my tears because I can remember telling Kathryn things I was looking for, 50’s style furniture and lamps, especially lamps! She would take out her little notebook and write down yet another item on the page with my name. I had totally forgotten this about her. Now my house is full of the lamps she found, topped with the beautifully crafted shades that were made to my specifications. I can’t remember who made these, but wherever you are, thank you. I love them.

I still feel very homesick. It was blustery again here yesterday, the wind blowing incessantly. It made my windchimes go like mad, and I had a sudden thought. I wonder if the Harvey house had windchimes. If so, are they still there? I think when I go back I’ll hang one. One that resonates like Kathryn’s laugh. Full of depth, rolling, infectious. Hey, if that’s too dorky for you, I don’t care. Her laugh rocked, and I want people to remember it.

What Is Resilience?

And how can I get some? Sitting here on a blustery yucky Saturday afternoon having a complete pity party. Part of me thinks it’s valid, and part of me feels guilty because the sadness I feel can’t even compare to the sadness that Johnny or Kathryn’s friend who dropped Stella off must be going through. God, I wish I could hug them and tell them it’s going to be okay.

Actually today is the first day where I’ve had a whole day to sit home and DEAL with how I feel about this whole thing. I’m a teacher, at least for a little while, and when I found out, in second period study hall, I had to push it so far down into myself. If I didn’t I would have collapsed on the floor in front of a bunch of very scared 8th graders. “Just wait til 3, just wait til 3,” I told myself. All last week and this, it has taken all I have to not just freak out screaming at my students, “DON’T YOU REALIZE WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE YOU IMMATURE FREAKS!”

I’m completely burned out from teaching as you can see. I just can’t handle the drama anymore. I’m counting the months until I quit and start a new life, but in the meantime, life has decided to throw me so many curveballs that my sense of purpose, of “self” feels as thin as gossimer. Yeah, I know, waaah waaaah waaaah.

I just feel like I have absolutely no resilience left. I’m completely burned out from teaching, right before Christmas I was in a major 6-car accident on a busy highway, and now this. My nerves are completely shot, and my reserves are empty. Just so damn empty.

The minister’s words, friends’ words ring in my head, “They wouldn’t want you to live your life sad” and again, what I feel can’t be what the family feels, what the close friends feel. So why can’t I get past this? How long are you supposed to grieve from something like this? What is the appropriate “time frame” before it moves from regular grief from a horrific tragedy into a “pity me, pity us, pity our plight” opportunity to fish for sympathy?

Or do I just think too damn much?

I had a dream last night that I was living in a different city, closer to home, in a newer house, with a dog and a new job. I was telling someone about Kathryn, how great she was. And I was happy. I was really, truly, happy. All the stupid aggravation and frustration and damn anger I now feel for my job was over, was finished. The sadness was gone. Wow, if only I could hibernate like a bear in a dream like this until it all went away, and I could bring the dream into my reality. I feel like I want to do that, hide away until my wounds heal.

Too, I think a lot of what I feel is homesickness. The place I call “home” now doesn’t feel like it, there is no sense of neighborliness and community that I felt and remembered when I went back to Richmond last week. God, I miss it. People you might not know personally but who you’d say “hello” to in the store or on the street. And it was bright and sunny. Cold as hell, but bright and sunny. So it felt warm, much warmer than where I live now.

An old friend commented that she was glad she had “gotten out of there finally” and talked about all the losers who had stayed. I couldn’t disagree more. I feel like I left looking for something, but it was there all along. People always talk about how dangerous Richmond is, and sure, I know it. But that’s where the community comes in, in some weird way. People hold together, look out for each other, ask about each other, because we know we are only here by some tenuous thread. Anything could happen, anytime. So when it finally did, we pulled together, and last Saturday 1400 people pulled together to talk, hug, and remember, to remember how precious life is, how precious what we have is. You can’t tell me that’s not community.

At my school people noticed how down I was, and asked what was wrong. When I told them, instead of offering comfort, they started to tell me what was going wrong in THEIR life, how they had gotten bit by a dog, or their neighbor was cutting down all the trees bordering their yard, etc. I wanted to scream, “What the fuck is the matter with you! I just told you some of my friends were brutally murdered!” Instead of offering condolences and support, they dumped their problems on me because my “news” made them uncomfortable. It’s like no one ever taught them what to do in this kind of situation. I kept thinking they were sorry they asked. “Hey, I don’t need to know your life story or anything, I’m just making conversation.”

My principal even stopped me when I started to tell him. “I don’t really need all the details,” he said, “I just noticed you weren’t your usual self.” At the beginning of the year he made this big speech about how we all need to help each other, how we were a community of professionals, of colleagues, there to help and give support. He even gave some analogy about if one of us is down in a ditch, per se, we should offer a hand and pull them up. Complete utter lip-service bullshit.

Whether it’s a cultural thing to this area or because the news was so horrifying that they didn’t know how to act or what to say, it still left a bad taste in my mouth. People, when someone gives you bad news, you offer support, a shoulder to cry on, a good ear for listening, and Kleenex. That’s what you do. I mean, good lord, isn’t that the human thing to do?

Thanks for listening to my rant. Big Love.

Tuesday Night

I sit here in my study, the echoes of a freight train rumbling outside my window, which brings to mind all of the places I’ve lived. Every one of them had that sound. Late at night the moan, the wailing, soft cry of a train. It’s appropriate that this sound conjures up memories from the past because I’ve been thinking a lot about the past lately.

I can’t get the images and feelings from the memorial service out of my mind. There are so many that I really want to give each of them their due. I’ll try my best, but even as I read over my weak attempts at writing, I know it’s as the minister said, “Words are too thin.” It’s just that each image pulls at me. I cry, but as she said too, “Tears are not enough.” I’m trying to move on, to “remember them well” but all I can do lately is remember them and sink. Grieve. Moan. Weep.

I was fine as my husband and I walked toward the service. It was so bright and sunny, so different from where I live that it immediately made me homesick. But it was also cold, chilling cold, and it sank deep and stayed. We approached the storefront and it was covered with tokens, candles, and flowers. Beautiful and sad. But I was still okay, I was still holding it together. And then I watched the video.

Bryan was performing for Stella’s class at school, his famous “Fat Elvis” complete with huge, oily, black pompadour and sparkly jumpsuit. His glasses reminded me of a friend’s motorcycle goggles more than they did Elvis’s trademark shades. He swaggered out and windmilled his arm wildly, then held up his hand in a “come hither” motion while looking toward the floor. Classic Elvis.

I totally lost it. Behind my own huge sunglasses the enormity of what had happened hit me. It was so quintessentially Bryan, so fucking hilarious, so purely him, that the loss of ALL THIS just hit me like a mack truck. God, I, we, all of us were going to miss this so much.

The kids sat on the floor enthralled, all smiles. They knew how silly, how great this was going to be too. And all the while Kathryn stood backstage, in a doorway really, watching everything quietly. She wore a black tee shirt and had her arms folded, her hand up at her mouth. She smiled quietly, as if to say, “Yeah, that’s my guy all right, I’ve seen this all before, and boy, do I love him anyway.”

Her look made me laugh behind my tears. It was one I’d given to my own husband when he wasn’t looking many times before. The cameraman must have seen what I did, because slowly, the camera moved in for a closeup.

As it did, her look changed ever so slightly. Where before her eyes had spoken a quiet bemusement, briefly, ever so briefly, a look of concern and worry, even fear? passed over them. So quickly that if you blinked, or you were still weeping, you might have missed it.

But I didn’t, and that looks haunts me more than anything else I’ve read or seen or heard. It was like a shadow passed over my heart and for a split second, there was a sharp pain in the pit of my stomach.

What did she see? What was she thinking just then? What was it? I’d never be so bold as to even venture a guess, but it just got to me more than anything else. For a split second in that video, I saw a brief glimmer of darkness where there had been none before. It was so haunting, so unexpected, that I have lain awake nights thinking on it.
Big Love.

Remembering The Harveys…

………..please go visit these websites:

The Harvey Family

Interview With Kathryn

On New Year’s Day, 2006, Kathryn and Bryan Harvey and their two daughters Stella and Ruby were found murdered in their basement, bound, with their throats cut.

The Harveys were my friends. Way back when I needed a second job badly, Kathryn hired me. Twelve years ago when I was beyond poor, I worked in her store for credit, which helped me furnish my then-bare apartment. It was the best job I ever had, and she was the greatest, most creative, kindest boss I’ve ever known.

Soon, they both became friends. Bryan and I used to tease each other about having the same birthday, “Are ya gonna have another one this year? Yeah, I guess so….” And now he’s gone.

Truly, I have never known a sweeter couple. Whenever I went home I would always stop in to her store and say hello. She gave hugs freely and her smile and laugh were contagious. Bryan helped move my new couch after I literally bought it out from under him. I sit here and half my house is furnished by World of Mirth or I have collections of the quirky items she sold. All the memories have flooded me and I am beyond grief.

Since I learned of their death I just can’t seem to get my head around it. This is harder than losing my mother, because I always thought they’d be there. I always knew that those sweet girls would be behind the counter when I went to visit. I’d watch them grow, and later when I had kids I’d shop there even more. I guess I just always thought I’d be part of their world somehow, because it was the world I grew up in too.

I just want everyone to know and learn what great people they were. The world is truly a little bit less silly, a little bit less creative, and seems ugly now that they’re gone. They touched everyone they met – it sounds so hokey, but dammit with the Harveys it’s true.

If it’s true that you create the heaven you go to by the way you live your life on earth, then the Harvey’s heaven is full of love, laughter, art, music, and great chili.

I wish for all the family and friends of the Harveys only peace and love. Remember them with smiles and laughter, because that is what they would want. I know in my heart that they are looking down and beaming because of all the love and memories that have been shared recently.

I can see them clearly, sitting on their porch, enjoying the sunshine and those two precious girls are holding hands in the yard and dancing.

Hug and kiss your spouses and children my friends.
We are so blessed. Sending warm, warm light your way this evening.