A few months after Vernon died, his sister Vanessa booked airline tickets for her family to visit California. They planned for an entire year, and just two weeks ago, they came out for nine lovely days. There were five in the Corbin clan: Vanessa, Paul, her sons, Aaron and Lewis, and Aaron’s girlfriend, Kayleigh. They were thrown into the culture shock of driving (and parking) a massive Chevy Tahoe on the wrong-to-them side of the road with the chaos of wild freeway drivers speeding by on either side of the lane without ever indicating. One realizes how strange their own world when guests from another country are visiting.
The weather was fantastic, an early springtime. We did lots of shopping and sightseeing and eating out. Paul treated us all to a day at Disneyland. It was lots of fun. But the most significant day was when we went to Joshua Tree National Park on a day when my kids were in school. Vanessa wanted to see the place we’d scattered Vernon’s ashes.
It had been 15 months since we’d gone out as a group of friends to lay the ashes, and I hadn’t been back. I wasn’t sure I could find the exact spot, and even as Paul drove further and further into the park, I kept saying; “Keep driving, I don’t recognize it yet.” Then: “Wait, turn around, I think we passed it.” And sure enough, we’d found the small group of boulders. I could hardly believe it myself.
We only had an hour because we had to get back on the road before the traffic got bad, but I could tell everyone enjoyed the strange landscape. Disneyland was a mere preparation. I took a photo of Vanessa in the inner sanctuary of the rock pile and saw this wonderful light behind her, the shape of a large lightening bolt. We all took a moment to recognize the spot, and I told them what had happened that day with our close friends and chaplain.
I wish we could have stayed longer. It’s a magical place, more so now than it was before. We dropped by the antique store in Yucca Valley. Every time I’ve gone to Joshua Tree, I’ve bought something there. This time, I bought an $8 wooden bracelet and told the ladies behind the counter about the significance of our visit. They were anglophiles and may have gotten more excited about Vanessa’s English accent, but we had a moment, and hugs were given. “This place is magical,” she said. “I could tell you stories to prove it over and over.”
Sometimes, you just need a witness.
The last time we had professional family photos done was about a year before Vernon was hit. I am so happy we have those, especially now. But that was a different family in so many ways, and we didn’t have anything to capture who we are now. I ran into Johanna, a photographer friend (who I already had in mind to take our pictures if we ever got around to it) at a coffee shop a few weeks ago and she agreed to trade services: I’ll photograph her family and she’d photograph mine. I wanted to get them in time to send prints back to England with Vernon’s visiting sister. Johanna was great and has already sent them back. It was challenging for me to be on that side of the camera, I admit—I have more understanding of what my own clients go through. And of course the kids knew exactly what to do! So here we are, as we are now. I love them…only wish we’d done this sooner.
I wrote this entry two weeks ago, and only had the heart to post it today. I’ve been writing more again lately, but not sharing as much. The urgency of blogging changed a lot when Vernon died, but I’ve been writing more again lately, just not sharing quite as often. Anyway, here’s is this…
The Mini Cooper was towed away this morning. I watched from the window as the truck drove down my street, two crushed cars and that cute little Mini on it’s back. I had my back turned inside the entire time, the man was moving it from the driveway to the rig, but I could hear the noises: the happy hum of the unsuspecting engine, the platform gears, the clank of chains.
It’s past time, really, to let this car go. I’ve been chewing on the decision for months, if not longer. It started costing a lot, but I’d have it fixed anyway. Then something else expensive would go wrong. Everyone has their limits though. I found mine last Thursday when my mechanic told me the shocking figures for necessary repairs. I’ve been shocked before, but I changed my mind and had those things fixed anyway, believing I couldn’t sell it without them. And then I would decide to keep it. I’ll admit it was a slightly dysfunctional cycle. This time before I had time to change my mind, I called a Donation for Charity center, asked to donate it toward Brain Injury Research, and awaited the day of pickup. At least I’ll get a tax write-off. I’d reached my limit at last. This car was costing me much more than it was giving me.
But the symbolism of that car goes deep for me. First of all, I bought it to go back and forth to Vernon’s care home in Costa Mesa when the other car was having too many problems of its own. Remember? It had the same markings as his helmet, and I liked how the family felt small and close in it. One year, we drove it all the way to San Francisco, packed like sardines.
When it started having problems, though, something else started to happen. I don’t know if I was attaching myself to the car, but I felt the same part of me that used to invest in Vernon’s care starting to get tugged on—a fraction yes, but still part of the same energy that was used to cheer Vernon (and myself) on. “It’s only one more surgery, you can do this. This will make things better. Oh, now we need another one? Ok, yes, of course we will do it.” Trying to make that little engine could. The finish line is a series of finish lines.
And so last week, when I finally realized I couldn’t afford to keep this car going anymore, and it wasn’t going to make it, another part of me was tugged upon. That part that was told Vernon wasn’t going to make it after all that work and all that hope and all that time had been put into keeping him going. I know its not the same thing, but the tenderness of my heart about this stupid car the past few days has reminded me of something similar, albeit far worse, as its going through right now.
Letting go—doing it once doesn’t mean you’ve learned how. You have to learn to do it every single time. The finish line is merely a long series of finish lines that spread out for the rest of your life.
You may remember a post I wrote about my good friend, artist Ty Clark, earlier last year. Well, he’s showing up here again now because I want to share a really great interview with him, in which he discusses his creative process. In this podcast, he also discusses the impact that Vernon’s story had on his artwork that fateful August. It was a a delightful surprise to listen to him tell the story again, to hear it with ears further out from the event than I was before. I admit it brought tears. But despite all that, its a really great listen. Prepare to go a bit deeper with this one. Here’s the podcast link: http://www.makersandmystics.com/makersandmystics/2018/1/11/s3-e7-cosmos-in-the-chaos-with-abstract-artist-ty-nathan-clark
Social Security Administration 12/19/17
I’m writing from a chair in the waiting room of the Social Security offices in Mission Viejo, CA. Its the kind of space that brings laundromats and ferry rides to mind. Wide windows and white walls separate us from the outside world: a parking lot and an efficiently landscaped planter. Except for the visitors who are still standing, we are packed into rows of four seats each, knee to knee—trying not to pay too much attention to each other. But the collective energy of the room makes me think we all have some heightened sense of curiously about why the others are here…as well as what we are about to find out about our own status. The clerks behind the windows are the messengers, the tiding-bearers of the great government oracle. My ticket number is A41.
I remember this feeling in myself, this feeling in the air. This place, and so many like it, are layered in my memories. Like anyone else, I only visit government agencies when there is a identification problem I need to fix. If you are in a government office, you are looking for change or at least an important signature. You are possibly at a stressful crossroads in your life and checking the boxes on official forms feels like life or death mistakes can be made…or perhaps something important has been overlooked till now. Regardless, you’ll soon find out where you stand…and whether there is a deeper paper-trail to journey down.
My mind goes to other waiting rooms in the past and the memories that come with them—the various life-changes we were in the midst of. Sometimes it seems my life is an ever-folding piece of origami paper, it’s shape redefined with every crease, every big event or decision, folded in or away from the last one, never the same animal for long.
The lights on the board at the front of the room now say ticket A36 is up.
There were those days, weeks, months in the past focused on immigration. Did I fill out the right forms, get the timing right? The months of pouring over expat forums, making sure we jumped through the correct hoops. A visit to the USCIS office in Los Angeles that would validate my spousal visa. The stress of the timing when our marriage license didn’t arrive before we moved. Waiting 6 months to work; the waiting that focused on his coming home to me at the end of the day.
Later, there were those entire days planned around the American Embassy in London: my Settlement status, and all the testing that went with that. I learned so much about the history and social makeup of the UK, and then forgot most of the information immediately afterwards. After Justine was born, we took her to the Embassy to register her as a citizen of two countries. But the biggest ordeal was when we decided to move the family to the US. The application process for Green Cards took ten months. Ten months of worrying about paperwork, making London appointments by train and by mail, visiting the embassy, getting shots, shaking in our boots.Though we’d done nothing wrong…there was still a feeling that it would all fall apart due to something we hadn’t done right. The pressure of that time stings my mind now.
They are calling A39.
And then we were back here. This is probably the fifth time I’ve visited this office in the past five years.
From ordering social security cards for the kids to applying for Medi-Care for Vernon. I suppose that’s what I was doing the last time I was here. The memories come like a film in my mind. I sit with the agent and explain our situation, why my foreigner husband should be allowed on to my Social Security in order to get better medical care. At the time, I was focusing on my eligibility as if it was the real reason he was allowed to have it. But the provisions run ahead of me like subtitles on this film:
You may also be eligible for Medicare Part B enrollment before 65 if you have end-stage renal disease or ALS.
Thinking on it now, another reality hits me. Where I pictured myself a sort of hero of the day, the reason he was allowed to tap into my Social Security was only partly because I was his wife. The main reason is this; on paper, he was dying, and through my desperation (or was it hope?) I couldn’t see it. END-STAGE is the loudest word in the statement. A death sentence in a sentence. Of course they give Medi-Care to people with End Stage kidney failure…they need expensive dialysis or an organ transplant in order to live a few extra years, but rest assured, they won’t be on the system for long.
How strange to realize this now. I had no idea when I was last sitting at a cubby-holed desk in this very building that the reason I was able to apply on his behalf would be his actual cause of death. I saw it as a chance for him to get better or at least get better care. But already there have been too many stacking memories to process in one sitting.
The sign is blinking: A40. I re-check that my papers are all in one place. I gather my coat and purse. I’m next.