I found my voice again! Last night, all of a sudden, there it was and I realized something really important, for me anyway. Butts and Ashes, the blog, is done. Butts and Ashes, the book, is ready to be finished. So, I'm finishing my book this year. Wish me luck. Or not. Either way, it's happening!
Oh, and as far as my blogging voice? She's alive and well right here:
So, it's been over three years since I blogged. Oh sure, I'd stop by periodically, type a line or two and then delete it before I knew what happened. But I just didn't have anything to say anymore. I lost my voice after my sister died. I just couldn't write anything worth reading. I tried but it was just too sad and pathetic. It wasn't the me I was used to. It was a dark, scary version of me. I didn't like it. I also didn't know how to fix it. So, I just stopped trying. I stopped writing, stopped being happy. I'm good at faking it when I need to but not in my writing.When I write, the truth usually comes out and I just couldn't let that happen. So I stopped.
A lot has happened over the last three plus years. Some good, some not so good, some really awful. One of the good things that happened, for me anyway, is that I started to hear my voice again. That girl in my head that writes stories all the time, about everything, started speaking to me once more. A lot. I tried ignoring her but she is the sort that won't be ignored for long. She just gets louder. So, here I am.
I've read through Butts and Ashes from beginning to end this last week. It helped remind me how much I enjoy writing, how entertaining I find the girl in my head to be and also how incredibly pitiful I am now and then. Anyway, I decided to give it another go. So, here I am.
It might take me a minute to find my writing legs again but I'm going to try because finally, I think I have something to say again. We'll see.
I am a dumb woman. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not stupid, just dumb. Dumb in the sense that I think I know everything, I think I am in control of everything, I think I am everything. Let me give you a for instance. Six months ago my little sister died. Six months ago I stood in a hospital parking lot in the middle of the night and screamed at God at the top of my lungs,
“YOU TOOK MY BABY SISTER!! YOU TOOK HER FROM ME!! I AM BREAKING UP WITH YOU!!”
As if that would change anything. Like God would look down at me shaking my fat little fists at him and respond with a,
"Oh no! Not that! Here, you can have her back."
For six months, I have avoided church, avoided the bible for the most part, avoided Christians and their Christiany ways. I have avoided me. Six months ago someone who doesn’t even know me but for some strange reason cares about me, sent me a song to listen to. It wasn’t a Christian song, just a secular song about love. They heard it on the radio after reading my self-absorbed, depressing posts about my dead sister and thought of me. I could never listen to it. Until today.
This is the part where I get all Christiany so for those offended by such thoughts, well, too damn bad. I warned you, so stop reading.
The song is by some kid named Gavin DeGraw. It’s obviously about some girl he loves. When I listened to it today however, I heard my heart. My true heart. Towards God. I miss my stupid dead sister desperately. I miss my freakin dead parents. I miss my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who have died. I am still angry they are dead. I am angry there are more in my family who are dying. More who are fighting to live even now. I am angry.
So, I listened to Mr. DeGraw's song.
And I cried my eyes out. I cried because I do miss those I love. I cried because I do want to be where they are. I cried because I know where they are and I have turned my back on getting there. I’ve turned my back in anger towards God; the only one who I know can truly help me. I turned. There are few things in life I am sure of anymore but I am sure of one thing.
I. Need. God.
I didn’t say you need God, so relax. Whether you need Him or not is completely up to you and the truth is, it’s not my problem. I can barely live my own life. How am I going to live everyone else’s? I love you with or without Christ. I hope you will do the same for me, that’s all. But even if you don’t, it’s all good. I need God more than I need you. More than I need my pain, my happiness, my suffering or joy. I need Him. That’s right, I am a needy person looking for a crutch. I’m good with it.
So, I’m choosing again. I’m choosing my relationship with God over my pain. I’m choosing to not break-up because that’s just stupid. And like I said, I might be dumb but I am not stupid.
Meta and Loren Thorndyke lived on a ranch of approximately 140 acres in the hills of Cayucos, California. Those beautiful rolling hills were always covered with three things: the delicious smell of sage and anise, bellowing brown Swiss steers and people. Ours was a large family and Aunt Meta and Uncle Loren’s ranch was where everyone from every side of the family wanted to be. It’s where we brought our friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, and eventually the next generation of children. It was the center of the family. If our grandparents had lived to ripe old ages, I imagine their ranch would have been where the family would have converged. Since John and Corina Walter had died fairly young leaving such a large brood, Aunt Meta had become the unofficial mother and grandmother for us all. She wasn’t the oldest daughter but that didn’t matter. Meta was everyone’s mother, no matter who they were. Once you walked in that back door, you were family.
Meta Thorndyke was the richest woman I have ever met. She
had no money so to speak. What she had was worth far more than dollars and
cents. What Meta had was priceless. My Aunt Meta was one of my mother’s older
sisters. There were fourteen children in all meaning older was usually measured
in months versus years. My grandmother, Corina Gada Walter died at only
forty-two years of age. My understanding is her death was caused from twisted
bowels from all those births so close together. Of course, in my family, the
stories themselves get more twisted each time they are told, so who knows what actually
killed her. Still, it makes for good conversation when we’re all together
trying to outdo one another with our inside knowledge of all the family’s
Meta married in her twenties. His name was Jimmie McCauley
and he would remain the love of her life until the day she died. They were
married a short time by the standards of that era, however, long enough to
bring two daughters into this world. My cousins, Maureen and Mickey were only two
and three when their father died. He was a veteran of World War II and had
suffered physical trauma which eventually took his life. It was the late
forties. Being a single mother of two small girls back then cannot compare to
the young women on the same path today. Regardless of the circumstances of how
Meta ended up a single mother at such a young age, she lived in a small town
with limited opportunities. Her life could not have been easy nor people always kind.
She soon married a local rancher, Loren Thorndyke and moved her children into
his parent’s farmhouse in Cayucos, California. Cayucos, the city she was born
and raised in, the city she would die in, buried near her parents and siblings
in the local cemetery.
I asked my aunt one afternoon, while drinking coffee in that
same farmhouse kitchen, why she had married Uncle Loren. Had she known him her
whole life? Was she in love with him? Was she happy? I can’t recall all of her
answers but one, I will always remember. She talked about loving Jimmie
McCauley and missing him even then, as an old woman. She spoke of loving my
Uncle Loren but more like a brother and yes, she was happy. I thought about
that conversation for many years because it seemed sad to me, to lose the love
of your life and marry someone you loved like a brother. Then, when I was
older, I realized the aunt that I loved, adored really, had planted a very
important seed in my heart. It would stay there for many years, seemingly dead.
Until, at the very moment I needed it most, watered by my own bitter tears, it
would grow and produce the most beautiful answers to some of the most painful
questions. My aunt had taken the bitterness of life and used it to grow
something wonderful for herself and her daughters. Bitterness, much like compost,
can have a lot of death and rottenness about it. My aunt taught me the value of
not discarding life or its lessons, no matter how difficult it gets. She taught
me to keep turning the ugliness over, watering it with tears when necessary and
eventually, miraculously really, it turns into something wonderful and
unexpected. It’s rich and beautiful and organic with a smell of the earth that
goes deep into your very soul if you let it. My aunt taught me that while
drinking coffee at a kitchen table in an old farmhouse. I’m pretty sure she had
no idea what an incredible gift she had given me that day.
Life as I have known it for most of my adult, married life
has drastically changed over the last two years and all I can think about
lately is Meta Thorndyke. I have spent my life trying to do right. I have
worried about money and bills, my husband and children, being a good daughter,
sister, wife, friend and citizen. I have worried. A lot. Like almost every day,
all day, a lot. For the most part, all that worry has produced little to nothing of value. It has robbed me
of sleep, peace, joy and freedom. I can see that now. So, where do my memories
of Aunt Meta fit into all of this? That puzzle called my life is being pieced
together even now.
My life as a child and as an adult was and continues to be
tethered to Aunt Meta and her ranch. They are both gone now and yet they both
are more alive to me now than ever. There are framed photos scattered
throughout my home of my days on the ranch. Days filled with calves sucking our
fingers, lambs chasing us on the back patio, picking wild blackberries behind
the old creamery and swinging off a rope in the barn only to drop into the
sweet smelling hay below us. Nights filled with old mason jars full of tadpoles
we had scooped out of the old cement water troughs in the dark, hoping to see
them morph into big fat toads in the morning. Then there were the puppies and
kittens. The barn cats provided us with kittens on a regular basis and my Uncle
Loren’s sidekick, Pepina, would produce a few puppies now and then. After the
house was dark with every adult soundly sleeping, we kids would sneak out into
the quiet of the countryside night, skies filled with a million stars and head
to the old shed where all our soon to be contraband slept. It was thought they
would be safe from coyotes there, they were definitely not safe from marauding
children. We would each grab a favorite and scamper back into our beds where we
snuggled down into those wonderfully worn, handmade wool blankets and slept
with our furry treasures. Life was good.
Lest I forget, my aunt also had a monkey named Willa Mae.
She had been purchased by my cousin Mickey while at college. Mickey soon
realized a monkey and college were not a perfect fit so Willa Mae was sent to
the ranch. My Aunt Meta loved that monkey as did most of the rest of us. Willa
Mae wore diapers and little preemie sized baby dresses. She looked and smelled
like a monkey because she was a monkey but she was also the perfect size to
play baby with. It was never hard to find her. She was always in someone’s
arms, usually my Aunt Meta’s. But the times we kids could convince her to leave
the safety of Meta’s arms, convince meaning pleading with a piece of fruit, she
was ours if even for a short time, to dress up and push in a baby carriage. We
loved her and cried giant, hot tears when she was buried under the old fig tree
years later. I still miss that monkey.
My aunts love of nature, her amazing ability to grow
humongous gardens behind the old barn, her lack of care for fashion or finer
things, her gnarled hands from years of hard work, her love of family meaning
anyone who walked in her door, her love and care of animals, her outspokenness
on all subjects, her complete lack of political correctness coupled with her
love of all people helped make me who I am today.
I remember looking at my mother’s hands many times and
comparing them to my Aunt Meta’s. My mother was the baby of the family and one
of the best women I have ever met in my entire life. She shared many of the
same qualities that made her sister Meta so great. One difference however was
my mother was much more of a city girl than my aunt. My mother had her nails
and hair done weekly, she did hard work but of a different nature than Meta.
She was also outspoken and an animal and people lover. They were two versions
of the same person really. The city mouse and the country mouse.Often, as a child and as an adult, I would
hold my mother’s hand, stroking it with love, burning the image of her
manicured fingers and diamond rings into my memory. Even then, I knew I would
need to remember someday, her hands, when she was gone. It would aggravate her
though because I would always say, “Someday, I want hands that look just like
“Why in the world do you say that? My poor sister’s hands
are a mess from all that mans work she does. Why would you want hands like
“Because mom, Aunt Meta’s hands are beautiful. You can see
her life in them and I can see my life in them.”
It’s true. My life has been in my Aunt Meta’s hands all
these years. I have done what I thought I should do, what I needed to do, what
was right to do. But through it all, I have seen her hands reaching out to me,
drawing me in, offering me more, beckoning me to do what I was meant to do. So
now, finally, the journey begins. Again. I get no credit for the coming
changes. I have actually fought against what is coming. Thankfully, God, life
and probably my Aunt Meta have now forced the fork in the road upon me in such
a way that I can no longer ignore it. I get to choose which way to go, to the
left or to the right but choose I must and so I am choosing. I am choosing to
leave behind thirty-five years of fear, worry and doubt. I don’t need them
anymore. I am choosing to live the life I was meant to live.
My Aunt Meta was truly the richest person I have ever met.
She didn’t have money or famous friends but her house was always full of food
she raised and grew herself, fed to people from every walk of life who loved
her. She didn’t have new clothes or fancy fragrances. She wore pants and
blouses worn out from hard work and her perfume was an honest day’s sweat.
There were no new cars just my dear Uncle Loren’s old pickup truck, battered
and bruised from ranch life. She didn’t drive because she was blind from the
age of twenty-eight due to glaucoma. Life had often given her manure, scraps
and what looked to be worthlessness on more than one occasion and she took
every bit of it and turned it faithfully, often watered with tears, into a
deeply hued compost and grew the richest, most beautiful life ever.
I won’t be writing to you anymore. I know that’s a really
shitty way to break up with you but I figured I might as well get right to the
point, so there it is. You’re dead and I’m not so it’s over between us. I have
thought a lot about this dead sister/barely living sister relationship we have
had for the last four months. I thought a lot about it especially in the last
two weeks. Some pretty horrible things have brought my attention to our strange
relationship. Things like two massive tornados, the last of which I spent four
hours running from only to realize I had driven straight into it’s path. There
was something about hiding in a Wal Mart bathroom with a bunch of crying strangers
that made me realize, I really do want to live. As if the two weeks of twisters
wasn’t eye-opening enough, I have been watching from a distance as two people I
love and adore have been anticipating the delivery of their beautiful baby
girl, knowing they will be preparing her for burial shortly after her birth.
How can I go on with this stupid feeling sorry for myself because I have a dead
sister thing when so many are suffering through much worse than one dead
sister? I can’t. I won’t. I choose not to anymore.
Listen Kel, I will never forget you and I will never stop
wishing you were here. I just can’t keep waiting to wake up from this hoping it
was all a bad dream. The truth is, this is my new normal. You’re gone and I’m
sad and crying more than I want to but you’re not coming back. No matter how
much I beg you too. No matter how many promises I make to God. It’s over. As of
February 5th, 2013 there was no more us. There is just me now. I
have to be okay with that. Maybe not today but someday, soon, I have to be okay
I love you Kelly Jeanne Casas! With everything in me, I love
you, and I will never forget you. I will never forget us. I’m making some plans,
Kel. Life changing plans. I’m taking your advice, you know, where you told me
to stop worrying so much all the time and to just follow my passion. Well, I’m doing it,
following my passion. I’m scared and I may fail. But what if I don’t? What if
you were right all along and I actually end up living happily ever after? I
hope you’re watching and praying for me.
Well, that’s about it. Bye Kel. I love you. Always have.
I’m sure by now you are aware that Seth committed suicide
last week. Have you seen him? If not, please go find him and ask why he would
do such a thing when so many loved and cared about him. I just don’t
understand. I don’t know if I ever will. I’ve thought about suicide on and off
throughout the years especially knowing people who have made that choice. I’ve
always had the same two thoughts: Sometimes it would definitely be easier than
what I am going through. I could never do that to my family.
By the way, Char thinks we killed you. She thinks all the
morphine and whatever else they had us pumping into you those last few days is
what actually did you in.
“No Marla, I really
think we killed her with all those drugs. That’s why she’s mad at me and not talking
“Char! First of all,
she was always mad at you because that was Kelly and she is not talking to you
because she is dead, you idiot. Secondly, she was dying from effin cancer
eating her alive so even if we did give her so much morphine it killed her,
well, so what? Would you rather she would have had two extra hours of
horrendous suffering without all the drugs? I definitely do not want you in
charge when my time comes. Please, just let my kids pour a bottle of pills in me,
wash it down with a beer and then go have a party. Seriously!”
“We need to go see the
Long Island Medium. I need to hear from Kelly.”
“Wait, I think I just
got a message from her for you. “Charrrrr…..you are an idiotttttt.” There, now
give me fifty bucks for my services.”
Ever since you died, Char has been hell-bent on going to
Long Island to see that gal on TV. We are not going. First, if God wanted us to
talk to dead people would he really charge us for it? Secondly, I talk to you every
day and I am pretty sure you have talked back to me through dreams and such.
Maybe it’s not actually you, maybe its God just trying to get through to me or
maybe it’s my incredibly vivid imagination or maybe it’s all the drinking I
have been doing lately. I have no flippin idea. All I do know is this: I aint
payin to talk to dead people!
I am thinking, however, of paying for some counseling. I am isolating
myself more and more from people and the things that use to be important to me.
I find myself crying more not less and not caring about much. When I’m at work
or with people, nobody knows because I am good at faking it. I laugh, joke
around, and act pretty much like I always did. I think. It’s when I’m alone
that I notice the difference. My thoughts are so dark. I cry. A lot. My eating
is out of control again and I am putting on weight. I don’t want to see anyone
or go anywhere. I don’t answer phone calls, emails or letters. I just want to
be left alone.
I have people in my life whom I love very much that are
going through absolutely hellacious things right now. Things that no person
should ever have to face. Things that bring me to my knees crying, “Really God?
Really!” I watch as they also cry out to Him but with hope and faith that there
is a purpose in all this suffering and I feel ashamed. One lousy dead sister
and I crumble and cave and doubt. One stupid dead sister and I stop breathing.
Stop living. Stop trying or caring. You might have been right all along, Kel.
Maybe there really is something wrong with me.
Please tell Mom I said Happy Mother’s Day. Tell her I miss
her and I wish she was here more than ever. It doesn’t feel quite fair to have
to give up my mother and my little sister. But like Mom always said, who said
life is fair? Who indeed!
I've been thinking all morning about a few of the other things Mom use to say to me all the time and I started to smile because I realized you said them to me too. All. The. Time.
"For heaven's sake! Look at yourself. Go put some makeup on."
"Marla! Really! What will people think?"
"Stop being so dramatic. Have you lost your mind?"
"Just because you feel that way, do you have to let the world know?"
I woke up at 5:27 am this morning thinking about your first
brain surgery. Is there any way you could leave me alone for just one day? We
both know the answer to that. When have you ever left me alone, dead or alive?
I wonder if you remember things from here like your
surgeries. I have read so much throughout the years regarding death and dying
and you know I am a bible-thumper and yet, still so many questions. Maybe there
just aren’t any answers this side of eternity. Who knows?
Sometimes I feel really bad because people say and write the
nicest things to me about you being dead and my heart says, “How sweet”, but my
head says, “Um…….are ya sure about that?” You know me though Kel, always the
snarkiest shark in the tank. Someday I’ll change and be a sweet, demure, truly
awesome human being. I know, makes me laugh too. Who are we kidding, right?
Anyway, next time I hear you are at peace with the angels, I promise to do my
best to believe it instead of picturing you arguing with the apostles over
their lack of style and need for a personal trainer.
So, back to your first brain surgery. Can you believe it
will be fifteen years this June? Seriously, how crazy is that? It still seems
so fresh in my head, as if it was just a few years ago but then how could that
be when I think back on all the gazillions of surgeries that followed. I
remember so well the morning of. Do you remember me sitting in the back seat of
your Jag, teaching myself to crochet as Ron drove us to Hogue Hospital? It was
5am and he was listening to Howard Stern and as usual, you two were arguing.
“Ron, turn that off. You know Marla hates Howard Stern.”
“Well, sorry Mar, I think he’s funny.”
“Ron, listen to Kelly before you end up in hell. What kind
of Catholic are you anyway. Sheesh!”
Of course, Ron and I always thought we were so funny
because, well, we are. You, on the other hand, were always annoyed with both of
us, individually and as a tag team. Not shocking that you two ended up
divorced. I was just always thankful you couldn’t divorce me because I am
pretty sure papers would have been filed. You have to admit, Ron and I did make
the six weeks I stayed with you memorable if nothing else.
I still have the card you wrote to me, thanking me for
taking care of you. You handed it to me the morning Ron drove me to the
airport. I still remember you crying, thanking me for being there and telling
me not to open the card until I got home. Of course, as soon as I was on the plane,
I opened it. I never told you this but I cried when I saw all the money. It was
ridiculous how much cash was in that card. All I wanted was your voice. It made
me sad that you thought you owed me anything else. I was your damn sister, not
a hired caregiver. I didn’t know what to say then I thought about it and
realized, you were just like dad. Giving cash and gifts was the way you showed
love just like wiping butts and cleaning up puke was the way I showed mine. I
had no cash to give and you had no butts you’d ever be willing to wipe so it
all worked out the way it was suppose to, I guess. We both had our avenues we
were comfortable traveling on.
It’s funny now to think about all the times we fought over
stupid things. Like the way you never let me take care of you without buying me
a thousand gifts. Now all I can think about is how there will be no more
unexpected packages showing up at my door. No more things I don’t need but you
need to give me. No more calling you to tell you to stop wasting your money. No
more you telling me to get rid of the crap I have and have some style. No.
No, I am not a smoker although I have given it consideration during times of great stress. I was bemoaning to a friend one day that my life seemed to come down to two things, butts and ashes. Having somehow been elected the family caregiver for most of my life, I can assure you, I have seen a great deal of both.
So, this blog is about just that.....life and loving the people in it.....from end to end.