Thursday, March 16, 2017

Guinness Isn't Green!

Guinness Isn’t Green!



“I don’t go out on St. Patrick’s Day. That’s when the amateurs come out.” My uncle Tom used to say.

St. Patrick’s Day was once a celebration of Irish heritage. Now, it’s just an excuse to drink green-colored American beer. Well, at least that’s what it is in America, in some places. To me, it was this day where being Irish meant something to the rest of the world. I never bought into the idea that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, any more than everyone is a bunny on Easter Sunday. But, growing up in a household with Irish heritage, it was always a big deal.

Growing up with an Irish last name means that you’re aware of your ancestry from a very young age.

When you ask, “What are we?”  

The answer is always the same, “We’re Irish.”

It was never, “Irish-American,” just, “Irish.”

None of my living relatives have been to Ireland (except one of my nephews from one of my half-sisters). None of us speak Irish (though I knew a few words and phrases). Mom had this thing about corned beef. I’ve read James Joyce (don’t know if we’re related. Knowing would put too much pressure on me) and yet there’s this chain that stretches back to Ireland.

I run the risk of sounding contradictory here. While I’m proud of my heritage, I’ve always had an affinity for Britain. Why not love both islands? I certainly do. I don’t begrudge any race or nation. Though the relations between the two haven’t been stellar over the centuries, I think things have settled down in recent years. Had I been born in Ireland, maybe my views would be different. I could have been fiercely nationalistic. Then again, I may have adopted the pragmatic view of making friends with one’s neighbors, especially if they have a better chocolate.

When I was a teenager, I did some massive research in Irish history, and my family tree. It turns out that there’s this legend about a William De Jorce, who came over the Channel with William The Conqueror. After they took England, De Jorce pushed west into Ireland. He went so far west that he almost fell off the map! He settled in Galway, located on the coast, and then had a massive brood of kids. This then became the ancestral home of the Joyce family.

Centuries later, my paternal grandfather fought at D-Day, the invasion of Normandy. He was either fighting Nazis, or just trying to get back home. The jury is still out on that one. For the record, no on in my family speaks French.

There is also a story about a Richard Joyce, a master metalsmith. With insufficient funds to afford a proper wedding, Joyce went overseas to make his fortune. But before he left, he gave his beloved a very special ring. She was to wear it as an engagement ring until her hubby-to-be returned to the shores of Ireland. There was a bit of a delay on that. Richard was on a ship attacked by pirates. His life hung in the balance, when he convinced the salty seadog captain to spare his life.

His reason, “True love.”

The pirate captain showed empathy, and then took Richard under his wing. In time, Richard himself became a pirate. He made more than enough money to go back to Ireland, and marry his beloved.

Typing it out now I realize that this is the plot The Princess Bride. I have no doubt the pirate was named Roberts, and was indeed dread.

But what about that special ring Richard gave to his girlfriend?

It was a very special design; featuring two hands holding either side of a heart. Above the heart is a crown. Yes, it’s the Claddagh ring. It doesn’t get any more Irish than that. Properly, the crown faces the floor is one is single. It faces toward upward, toward oneself, if spoken for. My mother always wore her ring the wrong way, because she preferred how it looked. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until after my parents’ divorce that she started to wear one.

                        Then of course are the exploits of James Joyce, which I frankly don’t have enough room to recount here. Again, I’m not sure I’m related to any of these guys. I have this funny feeling that when I eventually go to Ireland, people’s eyes will bug out when they hear my last name, after hearing my accent.

            “Wha’ they done ta youse? Ya talk like them Americans!”

            Which brings me to a point that’s always bothered me. How Irish is someone that wasn’t born in Ireland? What claim do I have to say I’m Irish? I know several Italians that weren’t born in Italy, yet they feel just as Italian as I do Irish. This then brings up the whole concept of ethnicity, and how we define it.

            If ethnicity is simply defined as people with a common heritage, language, customs and history…then it’s sort of all over the map. Millions of Irish people emigrated to the Commonwealth nations; Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Of course, there’s millions more that came to America. After that point the waters get a bit muddy. There’s this genetic link, so to speak, but the language and accents change after that point. Not all the Irish immigrants spoke English, but a lot of them did. As for a shared history and heritage…well, the heritage is there. But how many people of Irish descent know the history?

            In this case, does one’s ethnicity hinge entirely on where they were born? Perhaps it hinges on something beyond geography. Maybe it’s where one’s heart lies? The strange thing about America is that everyone who is here came from somewhere else. Or at least their ancestors did. The only true Native Americans were those that descended from the indigenous peoples that were here centuries before Jamestown. In that case, Geronimo is more of an American than I ever will be. I’m just sort of squatting on his turf.

            There’s also the concept of heritage being mixed.

            As we say in Pittsburgh, “You’re a Heinz 57.” But as Bill Murray remarked in Stripes, “There is no dog more lovable, more loyal, than a mutt.”

            I’m of Irish, Welsh, Austrian, Czech, and God-knows-what-else ancestry. Yet, I’ve always identified as Irish. It’s easier to say Irish, than it is to drag out everything. But also, it’s heritage that was always reinforced.


            I wasn’t raised Catholic, so that tends to confuse people as well. You don’t have to be Catholic to be Irish, but it does help. There is certain element of Catholicism I like, and others that I don’t share. I don’t believe I’d raise my children Catholic, if I ever have any. I’m perfectly content to be secular, and yet have a spiritual side. Though, I think to many Irish-Americans (there’s that phrase again) the majority are Catholic-lite. Though at one time you were more likely to see photos of John F. Kennedy in the home, than you were The Pope. My paternal grandparents had both The Last Supper, and a commemorative plate of JFK mounted on their dining room walls. That speaks volumes, I think. Kennedy was our guy, and he still is. You learn that from a young age as well.

            But for me, the real Irish heroes were the people who came before Kennedy. They were the ones that fled from famine with nothing to their names. They went to places they hadn’t been before, and made lives for themselves. That, to me at least, is what makes me Irish. It’s that strong stubbornness to not give up. That goes beyond language, geography, and the ages. A race of people that were dying, refused to die. They fought back, and survived. Their descendants are in every corner of the globe. That’s Biblical, in a way. It’s also proof that a shamrock can grow anywhere.

            Speaking of shamrocks. There’s this plastic sun catcher that belonged to my mother. It’s in decent shape, but a bit old. Yet, I hung it up when I moved into my new place. It hangs in the front window, and is always illuminated during daylight hours. It was hung in our kitchen window, even when it wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day. It will hang in that window no matter what day it is. It only comes down again when I move. It hung it up for a great many reasons; honoring my mother’s memory was one of them. Showing that I survived her death is another.

            So, Charlie Brown. That’s what St. Patrick’s Day means to me.

            Now, cue up some Loreena McKennitt, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, The Pogues, Van Morrison, and House of Pain. U2? Feck no! You put that CD on, and it goes out the bloody window! You still haven’t found what you’re looking for? Well, you’ve had thirty years to find it, Bono, ya pretentious jackeen!

Copyright Riley Joyce 2017




  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hiraeth


Hiraeth

            Leviathan used to be my favorite word. I think that was partly because of how it sounded, but also because it described a sea monster. I first heard the word when I was about eight. That was because of the sci-fi flick of the same title, starring Peter Weller and Ernie Hudson. You can’t beat the pairing of Robocop and a Ghostbuster tackling a sea monster.

            In recent years, I’ve come to know a new favorite word. Perhaps I should just make a list of favorite words, as it difficult to choose just one.

            This word is different. There’s a beauty in the sound of it; as if it should be the name of a fair-haired girl, with blue eyes and a mournful look. It’s a word that speaks of serene landscapes, that are in perpetual overcast dawn. It is a word of mourning, and yet it carries great love.

            Hiraeth.

            It’s a word known by experience, not definition. I felt this word before I knew it’s meaning. It never fully goes away, as the wounds on one’s heart don’t fully heal; they just form emotional scar tissue. It doesn’t mean one can never love again. It just means that one must be careful how they love.

            Hiraeth is a Welsh word, meaning, “The pain of longing, and loss; coupled with homesickness.” It can be homesickness. It can be the feeling of loss of a loved one. It can be both. It also carries nostalgia; which itself means, “pain from an old wound.” Yet, people pay good money for nostalgia these days. Just look at all the old Atari and Nintendo systems on EBay. However, no one has to pay for hiraeth; as it comes for free.

            I first felt this word on the day I flew back from England to the U.S. I’d just visited the U.K. for the first time. I was only able to spend a week, yet I didn’t want to leave. I’d dreamed of the U.K., specifically England, since I was a child. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere. I couldn’t stop smiling when I entered the airport at Birmingham, and saw the Union Flag flying overhead. I couldn’t stop smiling that entire first day. There were so many firsts that day. There were so many things I experienced that week. It rained on the last day, which felt appropriate for a number of reasons. I carrying a longing to return to a place, and its people.

            My mother once said, “Men don’t get attached to places.”

            I disagree. I feel that everyone leaves a part of their essence in a place they love, or that had significance to them. Though some terrible things happened in the house where I grew up, I still felt it was home. Though the last time I saw it, it didn’t feel like home anymore. It seemed foreign to me. It’s as if the place only exists in memory now. I have no desire to return to the actual building. Nor, would I return to the flat where my mother died.

            There are places I do get attached to, and couldn’t picture life without. But, there are also places that I don’t miss, and am ready to move on from, and not experience again.

            Then there are the places I’ve only touched, but not fully explored. Like a lover giving up their secrets, there’s always more to find. You could spend a lifetime searching, and still not know everything. Those are the places I love the most.

            I’m in a period now where I have lost much. Yet, I have not given up hope; as it is all that drives me forward. I find myself in another place where things seemed to be stabilizing, and then became unstable again. There is much uncertainty, and little I can control. Yet, I have not lost hope. Maybe that’s a side of hiraeth that few have explored; the hope of return?

            Hiraeth also carries with it an element of love. We feel hiraeth most toward the ones that we love, because we know time is short. We need to make every moment with them count. I’ve written before that even a hundred years is a blink in the eye of God. As such, we are all on limited time frames on, what Carl Sagan called, “The pale blue dot.” We can’t afford to waste a second.

            So, that is why I sometimes jump the gun in life. I want to take in everything that matters to me, and not let it go. I want to experience this world, and share it with someone. I want them, and everyone else to know that it all mattered, and that my life wasn’t just wasted time. So, I’ve found another aspect of hiraeth; mourning over lost time. Yet, I still look to the future, as I know the lost time can’t be regained. Only the future can be acquired.

            One can feel hiraeth over a person. No matter how many people one loves, that is always someone that gives us a sense of hope, or even a sense of purpose. Perhaps that hope and purpose cannot be lost? Even with all the upsets and confusion that goes on in the heart, those dual senses can still exist. Yes, I speak of someone that I love dearly. Someone who is in pain. Because of that pain, they have drawn away from me. Yet, again, I hold onto the hope they will return. Whether my love for them takes the form of romance (which is the trajectory it’s headed on) or, if it remains something else, I can’t say. I know what I want, and I know what they are ready to experience. It’s just a matter of synchronizing the two. You just can’t experience someone that you feel is part of you, and not feel you belong with them. It’s impossible to look at them, and not see the missing half you’ve searched for your entire life, up to this point. I’ve not given up on this person, even if they are unsure of their future.

That’s another example of hiraeth to me.

The words to She Moved Through the Fair come to mind when I think of this emotion. If there ever was an example of hiraeth over love of a person, it’s in that song. But, I must confess, that my love of place is great. Is it greater than my love for a person? I don’t know. Both carry great opportunities, and many adventures for the future.

That’s it, the future.

Perhaps hope and the future, when concocted, form an antidote to hiraeth. Not, a cure, mind you, but a treatment, that allows one to function, and to love.  
I don’t know, but I intend to find out.


            Text and photo: Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Truth is Out There


The Truth is Out There

            I’ve been revisiting The X-Files lately. With each episode, I am reminded of why I gravitated toward this show in the first place. It wasn’t just the interplay between Mulder and Scully, though that was a big part of it. It was also the concept that one must search for answers.

            As the old adage goes, “People do not seek the truth because it is lost, but because they are lost.”

            Some seek the “truth” through a religious system, and feel they have found it. Others, seek the truth internally. Still, there are others who seek truths by going into the world, and exploring it. I’m into two of those categories. I explore the world, and then I reflect inwards on what it all means. Religious systems brought up more questions than they did answers. The majority seemed to cast the world into shades of black and white; a view that I’ve fought against for ages. Though, I will admit, not all faith-based systems are like that. Still, one must find their own path.

            So, that brings me to the concept of truth, and how we are taught “truths.” There is no “post truth.” Nor, is there “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert used to say. There’s reality, and unreality. What appears to be either depends on what you were taught was the truth.

            This brings me to Mr. Kort, and our discussions about The X-Files.

            Mr. Kort was the traditional eccentric science teacher. He taught biology, and earth and space science. He had a way of smiling at you that suggested great humor, warmth, and a possible eureka moment. I can picture him now in his aviator glasses, and monotone shirts. He kind of looked like Keir Dullea in 2001, if Dr. Bowman weren’t as tall. Mr. Kort had more of a robust build.  

His frequent comment about lichens, “The more you lick’em, the more you like’em,” also comes to mind. 

Somehow, we’d gotten to talk about the The X-Files. I seem to recall that it aired during the infamous “Friday night death slot,” and yet it became a hit, along with Millennium, and the short-lived Brimstone. When the X-Files premiered a few years prior, it was expected to be a flop. Fox had little faith in it, and assumed that the Bruce Campbell-staring show The Adventures of Briscoe Country Jr. would be their big Friday night hit. I like Bruce as much as the next nerd, but Brisco County ran for little less than a season, whereas The X-Files became a cultural landmark.

This was at a time when interest in the paranormal was flourishing. This was largely tied to the New Age movement, which gained it’s second (and last wind) around this time. Shows like the classic In Search Of… (which I also watched) made a comeback, albeit in reruns. As did the eponymous trilogy of shows hosted by Sir Arthur C. Clarke; Mysterious World, Universe, and Strange Powers. This was also during the era of the Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown book series, which I’m still putting together a full set of. Just before The X-Files premiered, a showed called Sightings made its debut. Much like its predecessors, Sightings was a paranormal show, though it was presented in the form of a news magazine, rather than a docudrama. As the title would suggest it focused on UFO sightings, as did I at the time. To me, the idea of life on other planets was incredibly probably at the time. My faith in things such as ghosts, for example, were already on the wane. Though it was still fun to think of such things, though I put little stock in them now.

This commercial ran incessantly late at night. 
It features Julianne Moore before she was famous! 


            The beginning of the skepticism started with my conversations with Mr. Kort. We’d talk about The X-Files either before, or after class. I took the Mulder “pro” side of things, while Mr. Kort took the Scully “con” side of things. We debated such episodes as the one about the giant alligator, the one about the Fluke Man, and yes, the infamous episode titled Home. That requires a stiff drink to talk about now. It’s the one episode that was seldom repeated. I still can’t listen to the Johnny Mathis song Wonderful Wonderful without thinking about that episode. Though my favorite episode is still Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. That’s the one where the Air Force is faking an abduction, right when a real alien abduction happens!

During these conversations, I learned a lot. I learned that while faith isn’t a bad thing, it must be tempered with reason. I don’t mean religious faith, but instead a faith in the world around oneself. It was then that I realized that belief in such things as UFOs or ghosts are cultural phenomena. They are not something one must believe. We are often taught to believe them because the friend of a friend of a cousin, or someone’s brother’s uncle’s nephew’s sister’s aunt swears they saw them! That’s not meant to ridicule anyone that has seen such things, but we must start with the null hypothesis. We must ask, “Did anything actually happen?” Then, we go onto, “What actually occurred?” The X-Files was about the truth, and this is how we get to the truth; investigation, and testing the evidence. In the words of Feynman.

“If a theory doesn’t hold up to experience, or experiment…it’s wrong!”

Speaking of theories…

            This was also the era of the conspiracy theory. Well, that deserves a post unto itself. As it stands now I can’t stand conspiracy theories. The convoluted path they take on one could best be shaved away by Occam’s Razor. The sad thing is that most conspiracy theorists are content to grow beards, or have hairy legs. When you try to gift them shaving cream, they assume you are part of the conspiracy. It was at that time that I began to question all the right-wing rhetoric that I heard at the time. Where these stories about the Clinton’s true? Was there a secret plot to take our guns away? Did a UFO crash land in Roswell, and was the government doing a really piss poor job of covering it up? I mean the fact it was covered in the news meant they failed to keep it a secret, right?

            It was then that I started to think, “Well, did anything crash in Roswell at all?”

            I also found Mr. Kort challenging. At the time, I attended a VERY right-wing church with my father. So, attending a secular science class would inevitably bring up conflict. I wasn’t raised with a religion My father wasn’t opposed to my interest in astronomy when I was a child. But then he went through a conversion experience after the divorce from my mother. That’s another story; one in which my father made one last ditch effort to get my mother back, by pretending to be extremely religious. It failed, as she saw through it. I began to see through it as well. I don’t want to belittle anyone’s faith, but I don’t know anyone who can walk on water, so it’s a longshot that it’s even possible. I think I was content to grow up secular. Being told that I was someone wrong-headed for it, and needed to change, was a bit more than I could handle. This was one of the causes of my depression, which lasted for about seven years. 

            There I was in a biology class, where I learned about evolution. That deserves a blog post unto itself, entitled How I Learned to Stop Fearing Darwin, and Love My Inner Monkey.

            Mr. Kort said, “For some people ‘evolution’ is a dirty word. For me, it just means, ‘change.’”

            He was right.

            It wasn’t until I was at university that evolution finally made sense. I don’t know if that was because I was finally mature enough to understand it, or because it was explained in a way that I could grasp. But I finally understood that one’s environment changes on physically. The Earth influences all its species, just as we influence it. You don’t know what a revelation that was, if you’ll pardon the pun. It meant that whether God made the universe, or not, was beside the point. The point was, we were figured out how the universe works. Evolution is just another mechanism, that’s all it is. So, stop freaking out about evolution, people! Don’t be a baboon about it!

            I will always be well-versed in the paranormal, and the macabre. Though, I will admit, my skepticism is firmly rooted in reason. Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t speculate on some things. I'm still free to believe, or not believe. I believe humans have souls. I believe we all carry a divine spark inside of us. I believe that it’s possible that my mother tried to get some message to me from beyond the veil. It doesn’t mean I’m off my rocker, but it means I’m open to contemplating such things. But, as the saying goes, “It’s good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.” One must guard against that.

            Ultimately, what The X-Files teaches us is to question authority. Don’t just accept the answers we are given. Instead, search for the answers, and follow the evidence wherever it may lead. Then, you will know the truth.  
 
             Yes, the truth is out there…it’s also in all of us.




Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Yesterday

Yesterday


            “I’m too aggressive.” My mother said. “She won’t come out for me.”

           “Let me give it a try.” I said.

            It was May of 2005, and my mother had just brought home our new cat. She came in a vented box, which was designed to look like a house with a red-shingled roof. On the side was written I’m going home. Yet, I hadn’t seen the occupant of the box. She was in hiding under a bed we had in a spare room. Mom had brought her home while I was at work, and so I wouldn’t be able to see her until that evening.

My mother had informed me that, “She looks like Oscar the Grouch.”

To which I replied, “You didn’t bring home a Muppet, did you? She doesn’t have green fur, does she?”

Thankfully, she did not.

I was twenty-five years old at the time, and couldn’t resist getting it on it video. I set up my camera on a tripod, and then knelt in front of the bed. I then reached out with my left hand. I didn’t dare put it under the bed, as I assumed a large clawed paw would strike forth, and pull me under. I had way too many horror films to know that this is a bad idea. The underside of the bed was like a cavern, and a beast lurked within. That must I knew. Whether she be friend or foe was unknown at this point.

“Call to her.” Mom said.

“Yesterday.” I said gently. “Come get my scent.”

Then, I saw a small, flat nose emerge from under the bed. Two golden eyes rested above it, framed by elegant eyelashes. She stepped forward, and was ladylike in her walk. She has a stocky build, and the most beautiful coat—tortoise markings, which were perfectly proportioned. She looked as if she’d been painted that way, or designed in a lab. She reminded me of a teddy bear, or some other plush toy.

My mother said, “She looks like an owl.”

Yesterday walked up to me, and then said, “Mowe.”

She sniffed my fingers, and then I gently petted her back. Yesterday then started to walk circles around me, and rub against me. From that point on, she followed me through the entire house. There wasn’t a moment she wasn’t with me, except when I took a shower. That would have been weird. Though she did seem to enjoy the scent of Lynx. I can’t imagine why.

Those were Yesterday’s first steps into my life. She took her last steps on Sunday, February 12th, 2017. She was my cat for thirteen years, her entire lifespan. Life without her feels both odd, and a little empty. This comes on the heels of my mother’s death in July of 2017. Losing two loved ones so soon was both unexpected, and incredibly painful. I figured she’d live another year or two, seeing as how she was thirteen. For her to die so soon after Mom…it was a bit of a shock.

Pets, especially cats or dogs, become family to us. People who don’t have pets, or have never had them, will not understand. Yesterday was like my kid. Mom used to call her my sister, which I always thought was a bit odd, but that was my mother’s sense of humor. I cared for Yesterday, and all our cats, the way I would for a child. I fed her, bathed her, held her, and played on the living room floor with her. After Mom died, I became her only caregiver. It used to be that I was there to give the cats affection, and Mom was their cook. Then I assumed both roles last year.

Cats aren’t driven by purpose the way we are. We exist to get affection from us, while giving us affection in return. They are the ultimate givers of unconditional love. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

I can’t put Yesterday’s life into a single narrative, so I’ll just give some highlights of it. I should also point out that at one point my mother and I had three cats; Yesterday, July, and Roxanne. Roxanne was the first to pass away in 2015. July is now with the family of a friend, as she was too feral for a smaller apartment (after Mom died I moved around a bit). Yesterday was always my cat, as I was her human. So, she went with me no matter where I lived. The only time I was away from her for an extended period is when I lived in the Bay Area. These past four days are the longest I’ve gone without a cat in my life. Even since childhood I’ve either had cats or dogs. Though, I admit, I do prefer cats. No offense to the bow-wows out there.

Memory Number One: Yesterday Goes to the Morrison Hotel

            The same week we adopted Yesterday, I picked up a 
Morrison Hotel t-shirt. It’s my favorite Doors album. I still have the shirt, which features the album cover for that iconic record. I listen to that album every summer. The only exception was this past summer, when my mother died. Outside of that it’s been a yearly ritual since…well, for a long time. 

            I put on a Morrison Hotel in the living room. Then, something peculiar happened. I was worried the music might freak Yesterday out, and was surprised when it didn’t. Instead, she sat on her haunches at my feet. She had this big grin on her face, like the Cheshire cat. I petted her, and thought, “Was Yesterday a groupie in a previous life?” Wait, she couldn’t have been…nah, not the Lizard King. I think she looks more like a Tudor monarch, given her regal bearing. She could easily have been a member of the Henry VIII’s court. She was build a Tudor.

            My mother poked her head into the living room, and said, “Riley and Yesterday groovin’ to the music.”

            I then had a wicked thought.

            I gave Yesterday some cat nip.

            I held her for a bit, and made sure she had a nice, mellow high. I then put on some Bob Marley music. She crawled into her kitty tube, and laid on her back. She had the biggest Cheshire grin on her furry face. She was high as a kite on Stinson Beach. I turned the music down, and then had some nachos.

            No, I wasn’t stoned.

            Mildly drunk, perhaps, but not stoned. This was my twenties after all.
           
Memory Two: Yesterday’s Chair

            I still have this as well. It was my mother’s favorite chair. But at the time when Yesterday was young, it was a chair I often sat in while watching shows like Kyle XY or Deadwood. Without fail, Yesterday would jump up onto my lap. She’d situate herself, and then start to purr. She’d sit there until either the show was over, or until I got up to use the loo.

            Then, one day, Yesterday jumped up onto the chair without me.
            I swear to God that this part is true.

            I found her sitting upright! Her front paws hung limp like a zombie, and her eyes were closed. Her tongue protruded from the side of her mouth, like Bill the Cat in Bloom County. I eyed her suspiciously, and then wondered, “Is she alright?”

            My mother, who sat on the living room sofa at the time, didn’t seem to notice.

            “Look at Yesterday.” I said.

            Mom looked at her, and then said, “Well, just make sure she’s not dead.”

            This may sound cavalier to you all, but you should understand, my mother had a very dark sense of humor. Now you know where I get it from. Just remind me to tell you about the time we cleared out my grandmother’s shoeboxes. On second thought, don’t ask. It correlates to something that happened after my mother died.
            Yet, I digress.

            So, I did as Mom asked. I very gently roused Yesterday by touching her left shoulder. She instantly woke up. Yesterday looked at me, as if to say, “What’s a matter with you, human? What the hell you wake me up for? Quit looking at me like that.”

            She then cleaned herself as normal, and I backed away slowly.

Memory Three: Claire De Lune

            More than just one of my favorite pieces of music. I used to hold Yesterday, and show her the moon. My parents did that for me when I was an infant, which would explain why I’m a lunatic. I mean, why I’m interested in astronomy. It also explains why the moon plays such a vital role in my life.

            It would always somewhat late at night; eight after nine or ten. Mom would be in her bedroom, watching TV. The rest of the house would be silent. I would then pick up Yesterday, who’d purr loudly. She had the loudest purr of any cat I’ve ever known. It would reverberate inside my chest when I held her. Then I’d walk her to the dining room window, which faced the back of the house. 

            The moonlight outlined her profile, and reflected off her golden eyes. She’d look at it in fascination. Did she wonder, as Newton did, “Why does it not fall from the sky?” Did she have the capacity to wonder about such things?

            I’d then set Yesterday on her window seat, which Mom called, “Her throne.” I’d then make tea.

Memory Four: Cat Dance if You Want to

            Yesterday had this habit of tap dancing. Again, I’m not making this up. When she was practically orgasmic from the petting, she’d tap dance from side to side with her hind legs. Her tail would then wag upright in a jittery fashion. This meant that she was REALLY happy, and couldn’t get any more satisfied than in that moment. She did this often, but had lapsed from it in her later years. I’m not sure why, but it may have had to do with her difficulty walking toward the end of her life.

            You’d have to see her dance to believe it. I think I have video of it somewhere. There are many more memories, but I can't recount them all in one blog post. This will suffice, until more surface. 


            In the end, Yesterday had survived a lot. She an abuse case, that was rehabilitated by a local animal shelter. She was taken in by a grieving mother, and her son, both of whom had lost a cat earlier that summer. She was a companion to both humans; but she adopted me as her favorite. Yesterday was also a loving sister to a tabby (July) and a marmalade (Roxanne), and showed kindness to them both. Though she sparred a bit with them, it was only play fighting. No one ever got hurt, except for the humans that tried to break it up.

            Yesterday also survive watching the death of my mother. She knew something was up when Mom didn’t come home that night. She wasn’t herself after that. She seemed a little less joyful, and purr-full. She also, wasn’t as active. She didn’t play as much, nor, explore the apartment as much. Her death is all the sadder because of the upheaval we’d both gone through because of our mother’s death. I’m still feeling the shockwaves of it. She was a little kitten, even in old age. She missed her mommy, as do I.

            The day Yesterday died, I held her paw. I petted her, and kept her warm. I covered her with a warm track jacket that once belonged to me, and then belonged to my mother. I couldn’t put her to sleep the night before. I had to take her home, so she could die peacefully, and with me next to her. I didn’t want her last memories to be of a pet casualty unit, with smelling blankets covering her.

            I slept next to her the night before. When she still breathed the next morning, I was in shock. The vet thought she would have gone within an hour or two. My little girl wouldn’t give up that easy. She fought one hell of a fight to stay alive. I’m proud of her. She was more like me than I thought.

            I continued to pet her, and talk to her. I told her that I regretted not spending as much time with her as I used to do. I talked to her the way I did my mother, when she was on her deathbed.

            I then said to Yesterday, “I don’t want you to go. But you have to go to Mom now. She’s waiting for you. She’s lonely without you. I’ll be lonely without you too. But she needs you now.”

            Around 3:20 in the afternoon, Yesterday breathed her last. I heard her exhale, and recognized the sound. It was like the one my mother made when she expelled her terminal breath.

            I called some friends, the same ones I did when Mom died. I confessed to one of them, Kethry, that, “I promised Mom I’d take care of her. I think I failed in that.”

            “You did take care of her.” She said. “Now it’s your mother’s turn.”

            I believe she’s with her now.

            I’ve performed three cat funerals now. I knew what to do.

            I wrapped Yesterday in her favorite towel. Much like me, she always knew where her towel was. I bound it gently with the twine she used to play with. I then placed her in a small box, along with a can of cat food, and two of her toy mice. I then placed her in a suitcase, and made the long trek back to her kingdom.

            This may sound morbid to some, but I had to do this for her. I traveled by bus, with Yesterday’s body all boxed up, and in a suitcase. It was our final adventure together. I caught the bus back to our old neighborhood, just in time as well. It was on a Sunday, so the buses run a bit wonky. I then took her to where the old house stood. It was bulldozed a few years ago. In the back woods, under the proverbial cloak of darkness (I was wearing a flight jacket) I dug her grave. The ground was soft enough from a warm up, that I could do it. I said a few words, and then made the long trek back to the city.  

            It doesn’t get easy losing a pet.

            I’m sentimental, as you all know. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. What I am sure of is that I couldn’t have asked for a better cat. No matter how many cats I have in the future, Yesterday will always be the best. She was unique in so many ways.

            There’s a strange postscript to all of this.

            That night, the clouds parted, and I saw the full moon. It was tinted gold, like Yesterday’s eyes. The black clouds parted, and framed the moon in such a way that it looked like the markings on Yesterday’s fur.

            I then said, “Yesterday, I know you’re up there with Mom.”

            The next morning, something interesting also happened.

            I was on my way to class, when I heard Elton John’s Tiny Dancer playing in a local pharmacy. It’s one of my favorites, and was also the first song I’d heard when I first entered San Francisco, about ten years ago. Then, I heard Prince’s 1999 being blasted across the street from a local shop. Mom loved Prince. Then I entered another shop, and heard Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. Mom loved Neil Diamond. I then heard Prince again later that afternoon, as a co-worker was listening to him on her iPhone. The song was again 1999.

            I took all of this as some sort of sign. The dead don’t talk to us with rattling cabinets, or floating objects. They communicate in other, more subtle ways. I took this as meaning that Yesterday was with Mom, and that all was forgiven. I had taken care of her, and now, it truly was Mom’s turn.



            

Copyright Riley Joyce 2017




Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Electric Tube Heart Show



The Electric Tube Heart Show

            "Based on the echo, there seems to be a slight thickening of the heart muscle." My doctor said.

            My pulse quickened.

            "It looked normal on the EKG, and on the results I'd read." I added.

            My doctor's normally buoyant nature was absent, as was the light in her eyes. Instead, her pupils looked black, and her manner was serious. She had commented previously that I was, "Ready for 2016 to be over," and that was true.

            Now, she wanted to make sure I didn't suffer a heart attack, just as my mother did two years ago. While it wasn't the cause of her death, her heart condition certainly didn't help.

            "This is a CYA situation." Doc said. "We have to schedule an MRI just to be sure."

            It was rescheduled for the 30th of December. I was nervous as hell. Just like the EKG in 2015, I was to face it alone.

            The nurse was helpful when she inserted the I.V. tube. She asked if I needed anything first.

            I said, "A bullet to bite down on."

            She laughed, and then said, "Let me see if I can find you anything."

            She was wearing red scrubs, which could either mean one of two things. She'd either be ace at this, like Scotty on Star Trek. Or, she'd be one of the unlucky redshirts that gets cacked in almost every episode. Or, she'd be like the cardinals that I used to admire when I had a backyard. If that was the case, then I'd be in good hands.

            She handed me a syringed filled with saline. It was too wide, even for my mouth, so I opted not to bite it. I didn't need it anyway--I'd grown used to needles from having blood drawn, and all the dental work I've had.

            I felt the usually pinch, and then a sting, and then it was all back to normal. I was concerned I'd leak blood, but then realized that wouldn't be the case. Still, I bent my left arm for a few moments, just to keep it elevated.

            Clad in my Ninja Turtle pajama pants (the last Christmas gift mom gave me) and a hospital gown (facing backwards) I waited for the MRI tech.

           I took one last look at my phone, and the photo that Eleanor sent me for Christmas. I've been worried about losing her ever since I met her, but I overthink everything. I worry too much, and that leads to even more worrying. Still, I looked at her photo, and took comfort in seeing her serene face, and those deep brown eyes. I could get lost in them.

            The MRI tech entered, and I put the phone away.

            She was blonde, and resembled Amy Schumer, just a tad. She was also clad in a red uniform.

            With my boots on, I locked up my backpack, and then followed her to the MRI room.

            "I thought this was an open scanner?" I asked.

            "Oh, it is." The Tech said. "It's considered open, because it 
only covers the top half of you. Are you claustrophobic?"

            "A little." I said. "I have anxiety, so it might be triggered."

            "We'll be talking to you the whole time." She assured me. 

"If you need us to stop, I'll give you a call button."

            It was a gray rubber bulb, like the kind used in enema kits. I just hoped that when I squeezed it, it would summon her, and not...well, you know.

            As I laid back on the scanner bed, she asked me, "What kind of music do you like?"

            "Have you heard of Lindsey Stirling?"

            "Yes! She's very talented."

            The Tech placed headphones on me, the old-school kind. Then I laid back.

            The machine was as large as I expected. The plastic tunnel was a short one, and as she assured me, my head would partially protrude from the other end. It was like a plastic womb in that sense. As I laid back, I started to have thought of seeing my mother laid out. Then I started to imagine her body being moved down a conveyor belt into the fires that consumed her. I started to panic, and then pushed those thoughts out.

            I laid back, and was slowly moved into the tube. It not only covered my chest, but also my head. I closed my eyes, so I'd not have to see the inside of a plastic coffin. At least my legs and arms were free. If I couldn't move my arms, I would have really freaked.

            I thought of Eleanor. I thought of Mom. I thought of England. Then I thought of my chosen family in California.      

            I mouthed, "I love you."

            Then the music started.

            The first song was The Arena, off Lindsey's new album, Brave Enough. It was one of the things that gave me the courage to get through it.

            Granted, I wasn't under the knife, but even remembering this experience gives me a few tears. I wasn't worried about the machine as such--more so by what they may find.

            Would I need medication?

            Was I at risk for a heart attack?

            All the Joyce men died from heart attacks, but in their 80's and 90's. It was my mother's side that had heavy smokers, that died relatively young from conditions like COPD, cancer, and other respiratory ailments. I didn't smoke, so I felt I might be in the clear. My heart should be okay.

            My doctor felt I didn't have anything wrong, but we had to be sure. I wanted to delay any reunion with my Mom for as long as possible.

            There's this pattern of thought I go through on occasion. I wonder, "Will my life have any future?"

            I sometimes get in ruts were my life seems to reach a stalemate, and I need to break free. This was one of those times. I had moved into a new apartment, only to find out it was almost as big a hassle as the previous one. Mold, a noisy flatmate, and other concerns meant that I wasn't completely comfortable there. Concerns about whether I could afford a place of my own, and still afford other things I need, has often come to mind.

            There's always the question of, "Am I the person that people want to be around?" That's an insecurity that floated back to the surface. Couple that with, "Am I scaring away someone I love," and I could have been in full panic mode.

            But inside that tube, I didn't panic. I knew I couldn't have the luxury of a panic attack in there. I had to lie back, and keep still, and endure.

            The device on my chest felt heavy, but I tuned it out. I thought of the heart underneath, and of the images the techs could see. Part of me wished I could see it. I watched when the EKG was being taken. The radiologist even let me listen to my heart for a few moments. It sounded like the recordings inside a mother’s womb.

            Thirty minutes in, and it was time for the contrast dye. Elyssa, the Tech, asked me how I was a doing.
               
                “Fine,” I said. “Though I did have an itch on my face, and couldn’t scratch it.”
               
                 She laughed a little, and then said, “You’re doing great. The dye might give you a cooling sensation though.

                I didn’t feel anything when the dye was injected. However, I did start to nod off a bit toward the end of the procedure, and had some strange dreams. Finally, the MRI ended, and I was ejected from the machine like played CD. The Tech walked me back to the room where I’d changed, and then removed the I.V. unit. It was then that I began to feel light-headed. The contrast dye didn’t make me feel cold, or give a metallic taste to my mouth. Instead, it made me feel drunk. Not a bad side-effect. Though it didn’t come in tropical flavors, or with a tiny umbrella. No twist of lime either.

            I went back to my recently-moved-into flat, and then passed out for a few hours. I had the strangest dreams as I napped, but fortunately, can’t recall any of them. When I woke up, it was late afternoon. New Year’s Eve was to be the next day.

            The end of the procedure was a bit of an anticlimax. However, it was the waiting that bothered me the most. I wanted to know, and wanted to know now if anything was wrong.
           
 I was emailed a link to the results a week later.

            It read, “Left Ventricle Ejection Fraction 58%.”

            I then thought, “What the hell does that mean?”       

            I understood the part about Left Ventricle and ejection. But what does that number mean?

            I texted Kethry’s parents, both of whom are medical professionals. Her father is a doctor that specializes in cardio, and her mother is nurse.

            “Russ says that in normal range.” Cheri told me.

            I was relieved. I thought 58% percent meant I was headed for a lifetime of medication, and fears of a heart attack. All the Joyce men died from heart attacks, except for my Uncle Mickey, who died from cancer. However, all the Joyce men lived to be elderly—late 80’s and 90’s. This was to see if I inherited a disease my mother had, so that’s something else. Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy runs in families. My mother is the first person we’ve known of to have it. Luckily, I only inherited her nose and cheekbones. My heart is clear of any illness.
                I had some good news to start the year off with. However, I’m not taking it for granted that I don’t have a long-term cardiac condition. There were no guarantees, as some people who have the illness can be asymptomatic. Sir David Frost had it, and no one was aware until after his death. I visited his tomb as well, oddly enough.

            Yes, I lead a charmed life. I hang out with dead people while on holiday.

            I was more concerned about the living. I wanted to live to see what my future may bring. I want to return to Britain, see someone I care for deeply, and see a place that I love. I wanted to see my chosen family as well.  Mostly, I didn’t want to join my mother, not now. I must live to continue to tell the story. I’m not finished yet. It’ll be a long time before I am finished.

            I see my doctor again in three months. She’ll keep an eye on me, and we’ll take it from there. 2016 was such a hell storm of a year. It was time that things settled into normality, whatever that is, for a while.

Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Author's Note: Some trivia. The first MRI machine was built in Aberdeen, Scotland.