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Sitting in the hammock, listening to music with the dog and getting nostalgic because of conversations earlier in the night. There are a handful of you–a big handful, I’m lucky– who have been with me most or all of my life, through the best and hardest of times. Thank you, all of you (many of whom will never read this blog) for helping make me the person I am today. I wouldn’t have known what to do without you.

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Love, More Or Less.

You don’t get to choose who you love. You don’t get to choose whether or not they will love you back. But you do get to choose how long and how badly you’ll let it affect you if they don’t.

They say the one who loves less in a relationship is the one who has the power. This is only true if the one who loves more doesn’t recognize their own self worth and that they deserve better and walk away when that lack of love starts to show.

In an ideal relationship, people just love. Not more, not less, just love. I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, either.

Love should never be about power.

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Dear Mercury: Fuck You.

So apparently Mercury went into retrograde yesterday. Yeah… That fits.

Yesterday morning I had another of a series of bizarre dreams in which I’m cooped up in a small space with a bunch of crazy and annoying people I don’t know. I’m attributing these dreams to:
a) The fact that I’ve been hanging out with a guy that I really like, but cannot figure out… and
b) The fact that it’s August. Slow walkers, hordes of prosti-tots, loud Jersey women, pretentious dicks with black AmEx cards and the world’s worst drivers have all convened on Martha’s Vineyard for a free-for-all. Every local I know is either practicing “zen parking,” seething with road (and sidewalk) rage, or hiding in the woods with their cell phone off.

Yesterday was also the day that I woke up in a frenzy of anxious productivity and started slaying the Unpleasant List like a champ. I got all of my errands and unpleasant phone calls done, deep-cleaned the bar like a crazed maniac (think Monica from Friends) without being asked to, and stayed up until 4:30 a.m. brainstorming on how to fix the Biggest Problem In My Life.

A friend who owed me money that I wasn’t chasing came through with the best timing in the world and paid me in full at a moment when I was grasping at every possible source of cash (see: Biggest Problem. Note: Biggest Problem needs lots of money I don’t have to be thrown at it).

Two of my best girlfriends have had MAJOR SHIT happen in the past couple of days, and I’m not talking good shit. My niece, who I love more than anything in the world, is spinning around frantically in her own particular orbit, trying to figure out what to do with her life, and there have been facebook posts that indicate that Mercury has SNAFUed her SNAFU even more. My best guy friend, who’s 44, is apparently dating a 21-year-old with awful tattoos–and he’s a tattoo officionado. There’s a stranger on my couch, and the cat is completely out of his mind. I can’t stop sneezing, but I don’t feel sick. It’s August, and I’m tempted to put socks on because my toes are cold.

And the boy, as usual, texted just when I’d given up on hearing from him and shifted into “another one bites the dust” mode. Go figure.

Mercury, you’re winning. I don’t know which way is up, and I hate you for it… but I’m thankful for the good surprises. I’m not accustomed to many of those.

Take it easy on me this weekend, though. I need it to be a good one.

Family Nostalgia Observations

Happy Wednesday

My sister used to send Happy Wednesday cards, and my mother before her. For all I know, my grandmother sent them, too. For this reason, I’ve always been aware of Wednesdays, and the idea that they’re supposed to be happier than other days.

In my experience, there are happy days, and there are Happy Wednesdays–the Wednesdays somehow ending up better than normal happy (for no explicable reason). Today was just such a Wednesday, and I am grateful.

It was a mellow day, a wake up late and take your time day, a lazy, sit in the sun in the driveway like a lizard day. And at the end of it, before the sun expired, it was a great ride in the warm wind on the back of a damn sexy Harley day. Good vibrations, baby.

Sometimes I wish every day could be Wednesday. Maybe my mother had good luck with Wednesdays, too.

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The Heavy Heavy Hurt

It’s never the things that you think will make you cry that actually bring the tears. It’s always something stupid like broken plans, or a parking ticket. For the past month and a half, I have been carrying around a load of hurt so heavy that I feel like if I try to put it down, it will crush me. I don’t often cry these days; in fact I think I cry less than I did before. And when I do cry, it’s not about that heavy, heavy hurt. It’s about the disappointment of not being able to move into my new place early, or a stupid comment from a coworker. Once the tears start coming, though, it’s all about Dad, and it comes from somewhere so deep in my guts that it actually feels like it’s being yanked out of me.

This week, there’s been a little of mom, too. Tonight I was recounting to a friend one of my favorite memories of my mother. We were driving in her old black MG (red leather interior), and she had on a flowy head scarf and big sunglasses–the same ones she was wearing in the one picture I have of my parents happy together. We were on a dirt road in Edgartown, going to visit Jim Blaine, her boyfriend at the time, who lived out in the boonies and looked a lot like my dad. It was hot summer, and I was five or so and probably barefoot, and the radio was on loud playing Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” and my mom was singing along. I don’t know what we did after we got there, and I don’t think it much matters, because the drive itself was obviously more memorable.

I didn’t realize at first that Wednesday was my mother’s anniversary. I woke up that day in a funk, something more than what I’ve been feeling. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. My best friend was in a funk, too, and she couldn’t explain it either. We laid on the floor in her basement apartment and didn’t really talk to each other for an hour. Then we bought pets to cheer ourselves up, but it didn’t last long. I had hoped to hang out with another friend that evening, but they had other plans, and when I snapped my phone shut from reading the message, I burst into tears. The first four or five tears were probably about disappointment, but the rest were about, to quote an old poem, the empty spot that’s so big I should give it a name, and address, an area code. I should have my mail forwarded there.

The next morning I was having coffee with my sister, who it turned out had had an equally horrible Wednesday. At one point, she turned to me in the car and said, “You know what yesterday was, don’t you?” And then the heavy icky feeling and the sensitivity and the piles of tears made sense. On some subconscious level, I think I had known. And for the first time, I was feeling the loss of them both–at the same time.

I cried today, too. This time it started with a mild case of the cold shoulder, and ended with a crying jag in my best friend’s shop that lasted half an hour and somehow ended with me designing a T-shirt in memory of my father and laughing about how funny he would have found it. After I let the big guns out, I didn’t care so much about the brushoff anymore. It was like I’d somehow been recalibrated. I almost wanted to thank the offender for helping me to cry. I’m tempted to contract people to hurt my feelings in some small way once a day, so I can get this heavy hurt off my back faster.

I haven’t felt like myself the past few days. I’ve felt completely uncomfortable in my body, and in my life. Not unhappy with either, just uncomfortable, like shoes that haven’t been broken in yet. I need to break in my new life. I need to take pictures with my new camera and cook dinner in my new apartment, and bring home the first paycheck from one of my two new jobs. I need to remind myself that if something won’t matter a week from now, it’s probably not worth getting upset about now. I need to speak at my father’s memorial service if I can hold it together long enough, and I need to go through his closet and find an old sweatshirt that I can wear when I’m down and keep until it falls apart from wear. I need to start believing that he’s gone. And I need to cry about it.

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The Steel-Toed Boot of Sadness

I’ve never been really excited about holidays. Not since I was a little kid and looking forward to getting big boxes of presents. Religion passed me by, and I’ve always had a small family, which is perpetually shrinking, and has shrunk now to the point that the people I consider my family are not even related to me in the technical sense. It’s not just Christmas, either. Growing up, I never had a Valentine, and half of the kids in my class didn’t even give me the ones they gave everyone. As an adult, I’ve only been in a relationship at Valentine’s Day twice, and both times were rocky. So Valentine is out, Santa is out. I object to the celebration of Christopher Columbus’s men giving a bunch of Native Americans small pox, so Columbus Day is out. Aside from the fun of using explosives, the Fourth of July is out. I suppose what’s left is Halloween, Thanksgiving (which I celebrate merely for the gluttony), and April Fool’s Day.

Christmas is particularly hard. When I was living in California, I either didn’t celebrate it at all, or I celebrated it by drinking. It seems as though the past few years when I’ve been home, the drinking has followed me. This year, I have to do my best not to turn Christmas into a full-blown, sloppy whiskey jag. In the words of a dear friend, I want to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me.

There are multiple reasons that I dislike Christmas, some deep and some shallow. There’s the obvious sadness that accompanies a holiday that’s bookended with tragedy–my mother’s anniversary is January 9th; my dad died the day before Thanksgiving. There’s the feeling of an ever-shrinking family, the loneliness of surviving, the feeling that survival coupled with such intense loneliness is not survival at all. There’s the cold, and the horrendous bells, and the terrible commercials, and the commercialism, and the awful combination of red and green. There’s the theory that if you’re not well-behaved you’ll get nothing, which in my experience has proven just the opposite. There’s the smell of cinnamon, which makes my nose itch, and the knowledge that my favorite thing about Christmas–egg nog–will very rapidly increase the size of my posterior. There’s the memory of my mother slipping me slightly-spiked egg nog when I was ten, which reminds me of the first time my father gave me a beer, which reminds me how happy he was when I threw him that 50th birthday party, which reminds me that he just barely made it to 60, which makes me want to hurl myself off of something tall just so that I’ll feel enough pain to actually cry.


I haven’t bought most of my Christmas presents yet. I’m broke, and I hate shopping, and every time I go near a mall I have to restrain myself from bashing the bell-ringer (there is a less obnoxious way to do that, I’m sure of it). Most of all, though, the reason I’ve put it all off is because every time I’ve attempted, I find a dozen things I want to buy for my Dad. I want to get him something that will make him smile like the surprise party did, like the iPod I got him for Father’s Day did, like every semester I made the Dean’s List did. But it won’t work. I could spend a thousand bucks on things he’d love and I’d still have no one to give them to. I can make a hundred people smile, but it will never be his smile, and it will never make me feel the way it made me feel to see that he knew that I loved him, and he felt appreciated, and he was proud of me.

A year ago, maybe two, I talked with a good friend of mine about going to Mexico for Christmas, just us girls. It was to be an escape from family, a voluntary excusing of ourselves from the drama and bullshit. I wish that was what I was doing this Christmas. But it wouldn’t be an escape from family this time. It would be an escape from the steel-toed boot that’s been kicking me in the chest every five minutes for almost a month.

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Tonight, it was proven to me why I want to move back to Martha’s Vineyard, at least for a while. For the past week or so, two of my good friends have been organizing a benefit concert and dinner to raise money to help me pay for my father’s services and expenses. It’s something my friends did on their own, from finding bands to play for free, to booking the space, to organizing people to bring food and serve it. The newspapers offered free ads, a local cornware merchant donated plates and cups and plasticware, the radio station advertised, a bunch of people stayed afterward to clean… the outpouring of generosity was astounding. 

More people came to the show than I could ever have expected, and the benefit raised over 1900 dollars. Because I don’t feel right about taking the money outright, I’m going to donate a matching amount back to the community, after his estate is settled, in the form of a Scholarship Fund in my dad’s name for high school students who want to pursue metal working.

 I’m completely overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of community–this wouldn’t happen anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I don’t really know what to say, except Thanks, Martha’s Vineyard–Thank you for caring, and for remembering my Dad so fondly. Even if I only end up staying a month or two and leaving in the spring, I’ll know what it was that brought me back, and will continue to bring me back throughout my life. The Vineyard, as twisted and backwards as it can be at times, has a firm grasp on what it means to be a community. This island helps its own, without asking why, and every one of its children is raised by a lot more than a village. Even when you leave for years, it will remember you, and it will be there when you need it to be. Thanks again, islanders. I won’t forget to give back.

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Freedom Disguised As An Excuse

For the past several years, I have wanted to move back to the West Coast. I kept telling myself, and other people, that the reason I did not was because my father was here, and he didn’t want me to be so far away. This reasoning became ever stronger when he became sick last March. I will not leave my Dad, I said. But who knows how long that will keep me here?

 With the terribly premature passing of my Dad last week (I thought we had years left, maybe decades–they said they’d get him a liver, and they lied), I inherited a bunch of stuff. I am now the proud owner of a house in the middle of a town I’ll never have a desire to live in (and my father knew this–he wanted me to use it as collateral to buy my own home, which I will do). I also own a grey minivan that I’ll probably never use as my own because it’s so old and run down that it only makes sense for a gearhead like my dad to own. I’ve got a half-built hot rod, and a shop full of incredibly cool tools I don’t know how to use (but hopefully will someday), and a cherry red 1953 GMC 630 semi with a white Coke-bottle stripe that’s fully restored. And a decent chunk of change, too, the amount of which I will not specify.

 And I have the freedom to go wherever I want to go, without feeling guilty about it, or missing the most important person in my life. Because the most important person in my life is gone.

 And I thought about it, too. Years ago, before he got sick, I thought to myself, when he goes, I’ll be able to go wherever I want without getting lectured about being a bad daughter. If only I could bitch slap the face of my old self now. Oh, how stupid I was, and so willing to take for granted that he’d always be there. Sometimes desire can be a truly terrible thing; can make us think of things we should never think of.

 Nevertheless, I have the freedom now. I can go wherever I want–New Zealand, Europe, California–and I’ve chosen to go home. Back to the place I came from. I’ve chosen instead of running away to some glorious faroff place to return to the tiny island that spat me out all those years ago.

 There are some who think that I’m using my father’s death as an excuse to make a foolish and un-thought-out decision. That I’m going to drop out of school and be absorbed by the island, transformed instantaneously into a lazy, pot-smoking Island-duh, and that I’ll never leave again, never get anything accomplished.

 It couldn’t be much farther from the truth.

 For the first time since I left home in 1997, when I was 18, I realize what made my parents move there and raise a child in the first place. Although my father later became embittered with the forces that were acting upon our tiny island and left it, he could never say that the magic was completely gone. There is a community aspect of living in so small and isolated a place that’s hard to achieve anywhere else. And not only are the people on the island familiar and isolated, they’re smart (most of them, anyway). And they’re artistic.

I’m not going home to hide out, or to escape my demons. I’m going home in search of something I think I may only find there–solace. I’m going for the trees and the ocean, and the deep dark of the winter night sky. I’m going for friendly games of wine-infused Scrabble, and heaping pots of homemade chili. I’m going for the fresh-baked smell of pastries in coffee shops, and the knowledge that every door I walk through will reveal a face that I know. I’m going for free concerts by local musicians, and dinner parties that happen every week, and people who will band together with or without your consent and throw a benefit concert when your dad dies suddenly and you can’t afford to pay for a memorial service for him.

The things are mine, much as I wish I could trade them in for another day with my Dad. And they, too, mean freedom. Wheels to take me anywhere, if I want to go. A house to live in if I ever need a roof, or a rest. Something to show the bank when I want to buy my own home that I’m good for it. And a little money to help me along the way.

I want to believe that my father would have approved of my decision to move home. I’ve almost convinced myself that he would. What I do know for sure is that he would have believed I had the right to make my own decisions, and that if I’d taken the time to think them out, they were probably the right ones. The only time he ever told me not to move somewhere, my destination was Texas. He told me the whole 8 months that I was there that I had to pack up my duffel bags and get back on the bus and go back the way that I came–and he was right.

I’m not exercising excuses, I’m exercising freedom. And I’m using my freedom to stay nearby, and look for a quiet life instead of adventure. Dad, I hope you understand. Nobody else’s opinion even matters.

 I miss you, but if I can’t have you back, I’m grateful for the freedom.

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The Words Won’t Come, Either.

I am trying to write my father’s obituary, and I just can’t do it. I’m a writer, I should be able to do this sort of thing. I know more about my father than anyone else still living does, but I can’t seem to formulate it into something cohesive that doesn’t sound…wrong. I guess that’s probably because the phrase, “John Evans Holmes Jr. died,” sounds so wrong to me that I can’t go any further than that.

Also, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that my father did, made, and accomplished. He was a welder, a truck driver, a boat builder, a carpenter, a woodworker, a mechanic, a fisherman, a master at the art of fried chicken, and a dedicated and self-sacrificing (though impatient) father. He built a tug boat, several barges, a pump-out boat, hot rods, a race car, his mother’s house, his own workshop. He helped to restore the Flying Horses Carousel, and took care of its machinery for years. He built sign hangers and railings and decorative iron work for the rich and famous. He restored a 1953 GMC semi truck, and it sits in his garage in near-mint condition. He worked 16 hours a day throughout my childhood and still managed to singlehandedly raise a daughter who’s a pretty decent human being.

He was a collector of information, a sponge in which chunks of American history were absorbed. He was fascinated by the transportation industry–boats, trucks, trains–and traveled around the country to see the important sites in its history.

He was an impeccable craftsman, able to achieve the same precision in a 10-inch model as he could in a multi-ton barge.

He was a great storyteller, a willing ear, and a loyal and caring friend. He was a more loving father than any child could ever hope for. He had a great sense of humor, and kind, dancing blue eyes, and he gave the best hugs in the world. He was my protector, my hero, my champion, and one of my best friends, and I miss him more than words can ever express.

And I can’t find the words to tell the world that he’s gone–I don’t think any amount of words will ever be enough. I am heartbroken, gutted, and speechless.

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The Unbearable Numbness of Grieving

My father died yesterday. My father who was my closest family member–I am an only child and my mother passed when I was 12–and one of my best friends. He was only 60 years old, and until March, he’d been in very good health. Recently he was doing well, although his strength was depleted due to his fight with liver disease, but he was waiting for a transplant and hopeful. On Friday night, I received a panicked call from him that he was very sick, and I left work and went to West Wareham to his house and called an ambulance to take him to the hospital. I stayed up all night with him, and in the morning, we had him transferred to Boston, where his doctors were. Once we were there, I wanted to sleep, so I told my father I’d just go home for a few hours and then come visit him. When I returned, he’d been sedated and intubated–to preserve his strength, not because he wasn’t breathing on his own. The doctors told me he had an infection, and the infection had turned septic–and that his chances weren’t good, but they’d do their best. Days went by, and he stayed asleep, sedated, responding less and less to both voices and medication. Finally, he didn’t respond at all to voices. The doctors told me that the medication and the machines were what was keeping my dad alive, and had been for days. I begun to face and accept the inevitable, and I wept to the point that I thought I would vomit. After numerous painful conferences, I told the doctors it was time to take him off life support.

That was not even 36 hours ago. The proverbial bottom has dropped out of my world, and I find myself nearly incapable of crying.

I cried a lot this week, while Dad was in the hospital. I cried when decisions were made, and right before and right after–but I’ve barely shed a tear since, and I don’t understand why. I feel like I betrayed my father’s memory by laughing today; by enjoying Thanksgiving. Though I’ve kept three photographs of him in the pocket of my leather jacket since he passed, and pulled them out and looked at them often, I cannot even find tears then–even though the sight of his face makes my throat feel like it’s closing.

I’m actually looking forward to going back to work. I’m so far behind in school that I’m not looking forward to that, but I’m looking forward to work. I have a million things to do, and I’m completely overwhelmed, and I don’t want to be productive, or calm, or laughing. I want to lock myself in a room and sob until I’m convulsing, and scream, and kick holes in the walls. But I know the tears won’t come. They’re waiting, and I wish I knew what they were waiting for.