Flow my tears
Claire Miller Skriletz
Flow my tears, fall from your springs…
How nice it must be to be able to cry at the right times, instead of sobbing for no apparent reason when life is going well. Or to be able to cry when someone close dies.
Exiled, forever, let me mourn.
Is self-imposed exile the same as being exiled? Claire pondered this as she considered how her relationships with friends and family had changed since she moved two thousand miles across the country four years earlier. She reminded herself again that no matter how hard it had been, it was the right decision. She had grown tired of her life before; even if life since had been hard emotionally, it was still worth it. The most recent visit to her friends and family had been the most difficult yet – her two closest friends didn’t seem so familiar anymore, despite her efforts to keep in touch. For the first time in their friendship, she and her friend Val had spent several hours together with long, uncomfortable pauses in conversation.
This was new, Claire thought sadly, we’ve never had trouble finding things to talk about before. People change and move on with their lives – she certainly had – but all the same it made her sad to think that her best friend and she were no longer on the same page. This was one more thing to mourn – so many losses in the past couple of years – she couldn’t stand too many more.
“Yeah, there have been a lot of sad things happening in the last couple of years,” her partner agreed, “but don’t forget all the good things too.”
She nodded. He was right. She had slowly made some new friends but she still missed the deep connection with her “old” friends, the ones who used to know her best.
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings…
As soon as she closes her eyes, she knows it’s going to be another one of those nights. A night where she’s tired, so tired, and unable to fall asleep. Visions of her dying father, her pain-wracked mother, and her most embarrassing moments scroll behind her eyes. Her father had been dead for almost four years, her mother for a year – shouldn’t that be long enough to dull the pain? Squirming, she dislodges Copernicus, the heavy grey tabby cat from her legs. Her legs ache from being pinned by the mini-beast when she lies on her back, but her back aches when she lies on her left side. Checking the clock, she sees it’s been almost an hour since she turned the light out. Before long, she pushes the covers away and gets out of bed. Now what? Into the office? No, she’ll go downstairs and make herself a cup of herbal tea. The lights in the kitchen are brighter than she expected.
As her eyes adjust, she narrowly misses tripping over her shadow-cat. “Erebus!” she whispers fiercely “Do you want me to trip over you?” “Mrrow” he responds, swishing his tail. “Mroaou?” She relents and puts a bit of dry food in the bowl. As she settles on the couch, she absent-mindedly plays with her long, blond hair as she surveys her options. It’s midnight, she can’t sleep. Read? That would guarantee she’ll be up for a couple of hours. Play with the cat? Nah, she’s comfy and the toys are waaaaay over there. Watch TV? Thinking she should use her time more productively, she feels guilty switching on the TV and watching an episode of “Murder, She Wrote.”
There let me live forlorn.
It was just starting to be spring and the temperature was perfect. Claire sat down at one of the tables, looking around for her friends. She leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes and breathing deeply, enjoying the moment of calm. The past few weeks had been nothing but an emotional roller-coaster, between travelling, the trial, and her mother’s frightening decline. Her drifting thoughts were brought back into focus when she heard her friends approaching. She stood quickly, moving towards them with a warm smile. Embracing both of them she felt more alive than she had in weeks. Maybe months.
After some talk of the holidays the conversation shifted to school. Claire asked how the new seminar was going. The two classmates exchanged glances, sigh and started to tell a sad tale. As her friends talked, Claire felt relief, disappointment, and a touch of glee. In the back of her mind she thought she would be envious, that she would miss studying music. But listening to them describe the unfolding misery, she felt with every fiber of her being that taking a semester off to rethink her career choice was the right thing to do. She heard the disappointment and dissatisfaction barely concealed under the brave, optimistic words of her friends. They would make it through the semester of course, but their optimism would burn a little less brightly afterwards. Was that the purpose of graduate education, Claire wondered cynically, to turn out a bunch of scholars who are already bitter? She knew she was being unfair, but she was still angry at how things had turned out. “Oh, don’t spoil a perfectly lovely day with dreary thoughts!” her inner optimist piped up. Properly chastened, she turned her full attention back to her friends.
Entirely too soon, her friends recollected the existence of time. Then they were saying their goodbyes, filling Claire with a sadness she couldn’t completely account for. And yet, this was the first time since she moved three and a half years ago that Claire felt she really had her own friends now, and was content.
Down vain lights, shine you no more!
Claire untangled herself from the clutches of flannel sheets and heavy comforters of their cozy bed and breakfast, making her way to the bathroom. The floor was cold – even though it was April, it still felt more like winter. Out of habit, she glanced out the window – and was suddenly fully awake. She gazed, enraptured, at the midnight blue-velvet sky full to bursting with stars. She had never seen so many stars in such a small patch of sky before – she was humbled. Never had she felt the size of the universe with such force. She stood by the window for countless moments, literally staring off into space, mesmerized by the sky over the tall Vermont trees. Eventually, she made her way back to bed, following the view through the windows in the bedroom. In the morning she realized that was the best night’s sleep in weeks. Nothing like the awe-inspiring beauty of nature to make one tired, she giggled to herself. When was the last time she’d giggled in the morning?
No nights are dark enough for those / that in despair their lost fortune deplore…
As she felt the tears beginning to gather behind her eyelids, she sternly reminded herself that life is better than the nighttime makes it seem. She listened to the soft snore of her tiny white cat curled up on her pillow and tried to relax. She desperately wanted to roll over to the other side of the bed, wake her partner up and be held.
“It’s a week-night, silly, and he has to get up in a few short hours,” her internal voice chided her “Snuggle the cat instead – she never hesitates to wake you up when she wants attention.”
Claire sighed, acknowledging the truth of what her inner self said. He works so hard, she thought, he deserves a good night’s sleep. She gently put her head on the downy softness of her cat’s back and before she realized it, she was asleep. The cat opened one yellow eye, gave a huge yawn, sleepily licked Claire’s forehead and purred her way back to sleep.
Light doth but shame disclose.
Not long ago, Claire and her partner had a friend over to watch one of the playoff games. This friend, Jordan, is an amiable guy in general. Claire inquired after Jordan’s most recent girlfriend, and as she listened to the answer, she became angry and uncomfortable. According to his assessment, the girlfriend was Crazy because she was having trouble transitioning from one depression medication to another. Claire longed to scream at him, to kick him out of the house for being insensitive. Fear and her normal passive nature prevented that course of action. That didn’t prevent her from being angry, though. She knew what it was like to have a hard time adjusting to a medication; how hard it is to admit to anyone – family or friends – that she had taken medication for three years. As Claire probed her anger, she realized she was angry at society’s attitude towards mentally ill people. Rather than being supported, they experience shame and fear.
Who wants to be considered mentally unstable?
Never may my woes be relieved, since pity is fled;
Claire is standing anxiously by the bed, her mother’s hand clutching hers in a death grip.
“nonono..make it stop..please stop…no..” her mother moaned.
“Just a few more minutes, then the nurses will be done,” Claire said, in her most calming voice.
Claire’s mother turned her brilliant green, tear-filled, scared, eyes toward her daughter, who she recognized less and less as pain slowly stripped away her awareness of the present.
“Make it stop…please”
Claire fought back tears of her own and cradled her mother’s hand to her chest. “Just another minute,” Claire said again, choking on the useless words.
The nurses – it took a team of four of them – finished removing the sticky dressing and Claire finally saw the cavity where her mother’s lower abdomen had once been. In all the phone conversations with the surgeon, Claire couldn’t have imagined this sort of devastation – she could see organs. The urge to pass out was overcome by a gruesome curiosity and the knowledge she needed to stay strong for her mother.
“Can’t you give her anything?” Claire asked the nurses.
The lead nurse responded “We’ve already given her what the doctor ordered; she can’t take more for a couple of hours.”
Claire nodded, accepting that doctors supposedly know better. It wasn’t until later that she began to question that so-called wisdom. How was her mother supposed to heal if pain was sapping all her strength?
Days later, Claire came to appreciate the compassion of her mother’s primary care doctor. (Even though her mother had complained bitterly to her about how unfeeling this doctor was.) The doctor didn’t try to hide the reality of the situation as she explained the basic facts to Claire, facts Claire had mostly picked up on for herself.
“Well, your mother has a number of things going on. First, her abdomen isn’t really healing the way we’d like. And there’s the bedsore, which will require surgery. As Doctor L told you earlier, she’s starting to have more calcified spots on her legs which will have to be surgically removed. Any one of these things would challenge a healthy person, which unfortunately she isn’t. Her immune system can’t handle the multiple infections and to do any more surgery right now would be too risky to her overall state. Plus, there’s the dialysis issue.”
Claire nodded. She’d suspected all of these things, but hearing them was overwhelming.
“Then, she’s not going to get better?” Claire asked quietly.
The doctor hesitated for a moment, wanting to be honest.
“If it weren’t for the kidney failure, she might have a stronger chance. We will of course keep treating her as long as possible, but it’s likely that even after all the surgery she’ll be confined to a wheelchair or bed.”
“But she’s only 64 – it would kill her to spend the rest of her life in a bed. She’s always been so independent.”
Claire had no idea at that moment how many times she would utter those two sentences in the next couple of days. The doctor nodded, knowing it was true.
“I’ll let you think about it. Do you have any other family?” the doctor asked.
Claire shook her head, trying to absorb everything. “My godparents – friends of the family, my mom’s best friend from long ago – live nearby. But no, no other family.” At twenty-eight, she was about to be an orphan.
Finally Claire said, “So what can I do? What are the alternatives?”
That’s when she learned about hospice care. For the next months which turned into years, in the darkest, loneliest part of the night, she would struggle with choosing to take her mother off dialysis, choosing to let her mother’s body fill up with toxins that her 10% functioning kidney couldn’t clear, dulled beyond recognition with morphine.
At least the pain was dulled with morphine. Small blessings.
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days / Of all joys have deprived.
I will not cry, she repeated to herself. I will NOT. She desperately looked around for something to distract her from the incessant mental murmurings. Aha! There’s a litter box in need of scooping, a basket of laundry to do, and a kitchen sink that needs to be cleared of dishes. Pulling her recalcitrant hair back from her face into a braid, she noted with pleasure that her hair was starting to get long again. She moved downstairs, opened the sliding glass door to her backyard, allowing a flood of sunlight and gentle breeze to float through the room. I really should spend more time in here, she thought as she looked around the room. The room housed her father’s baby grand piano, the rich, dark brown wood shown off to perfection against the sea-green wall. Forgetting about the litter box for a moment, Claire sat down on the carpeted floor next to the open door, enjoying the sensation of the sun and breeze on her face. It was a warm, fall day, almost nine months since her mother died. She felt one of the cats head-butt her knee and absently reached out to pet it without opening her eyes.
“I really need to do this more often,” she informed the cats. Her thoughts drifting with the breeze, she thought it wouldn’t be so bad to be reincarnated as a house cat; to curl up in the afternoon sun and take a nap. Enjoy the simple things in life….
Before she realized it, her thoughts had drifted so far that she fell asleep. When she would wake up later, she’d find all three cats sprawled on the floor around her, having decided their human finally came to her senses by following their example.
From the highest spire of contentment / My fortune is thrown
After saying farewell to her friends, Claire walked the few blocks to where her car was parked. She looked at the blue sky thinking that this peaceful interlude wouldn’t last long. Soon she would be home, making sure her phone was at hand for when the doctors called. She knew she would be on a plane headed east again soon, knew she would have to start making decisions. She wished into the sky, whose color mirrored her engagement ring, for her next trip to wait until after her twenty-eighth birthday and third anniversary, and tried to wish away the twinge of guilt that accompanied the thought. Both wish and guilt were washed away in a flood of worry when she recognized the number on her ringing cell phone. Answering as quickly as her shaking hands would allow she said, “Hello? Yes, this is an okay time to talk, Doctor…”
And fear, and grief, and pain for my deserts / Are my hopes, since hope is gone
Having long since put aside her faith, sitting through her mother’s Catholic funeral Mass filled her with mutinous thoughts. She sat there, one part numb, one part seething over how unjust life was. Why would this all- loving God – who, according to the priest, greatly loved and honored her mother – let her die scared, in pain, and after so many traumas? If funeral services are supposed to bring peace to the living, this one failed miserably in its purpose.
Hark! You shadows that in darkness dwell, / Learn to contemn [condemn] light/Happy, happy they that in hell / Feel not the world’s despite
As she eased herself out of bed for what felt like the hundredth night in a row, she wandered into her office. The little white fluff-ball kitty was curled up in her desk chair. Scooping up the cat, she sat down in her glider, gently rocking herself and the cat. As the terrible images once more invaded her mind, she allowed the tears to fall. She cried for the slow suffocation of her father when his lungs refused to work. She cried for her mother’s pain and fear. She cried for herself. She cried that her parents died alone when she had at last gone home to sleep. She cried for having no more family. And when the tears were reduced to a few sniffles and a wet face, she knew that now, now she could sleep.
“Flow My Tears” is Claire Miller Skriletz’s first foray into writing creative non-fiction. Obtaining her Master’s degree in Religious Studies in 2012, Claire began writing independently about religions in the contemporary United States and feminism shortly thereafter. Between 2012 and 2015, Claire presented her research on two religious texts at conferences, published book reviews, and wrote the occasional essay for her blog. Her first published essay, due out late in 2016, examines notions of race and ethnicity in the academic study of Buddhism. While taking a break from academic work, Claire discovered a new passion: writing fiction. She thoroughly enjoyed participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November 2015, and now she alternates working on her first novel with crafting informal personal essays contemplating what it means to be a feminist. Claire is an avid reader and channels some of her writing energies into reviewing fiction. When she’s not reading or writing, Claire enjoys baking, crocheting, and spending time with her partner and their three feline companions.