Sunday, August 26, 2018

My family in Buffalo, N.Y. visiting my cousin, Alan, and his parents. That's Mom, Ricky, me, and Peter, with Robert, the tall teenager, in the back.

Two Weeks and Three Days Later

Ah, Peter. My housemate, my best friend, my brother, died of a vicious metastatic cancer on August 9th, 2018. I drove him to the oncologist on July 17th for his biopsy results and his doctor gently told him that he couldn’t cure his cancer; it had metastasized to his liver and Peter calmly opted for hospice care. The doctor approved his decision. Having seen how Peter had suffered in the weeks leading up to this appointment, and having seen how my brother struggled to make the trip across town with me and sit in the waiting room and the doctor’s office with dignity and grace, I understood that his days of leaving the house for medical attention should come to a stop. I drove us home as carefully as I could, but seemed incapable of smooth braking and we both winced every time the car jerked again. He tried to comfort me.

So then there was a bit of time. His close friends came by with homemade soups and smoothies, yoga music, essential oils, and a foot massage (Sandy and Lisa), a wonderful Saturday night dinner (Katrina and Roger) from one of his favorite restaurants, with extra soup offerings from our Chinese place, (he loved the egg drop soup and Katrina brought some by every few days after that as long as he could eat) flowers, love and comfort. And he told his friend Victor, who has a house-painting business, to paint the house white. He’d have a big white tombstone, he said, because he wasn’t going anywhere. (Peter hasn’t. His ashes are here and if I ever leave this house, I’ll bury them under his bedroom window.) Christine, the hospice nurse was so good, so kind. Thank you, Covenant, for sending her to us. My brother Robert was here for Peter’s last week in his body. Robert left Philadelphia for Florida sooner than he’d planned and came as soon as I said “we need you now.”

Peter and I, eighteen months apart, grew up together in northern New Jersey, in a town called Ramsey. Robert was the oldest and Ric, who died in 2008, the youngest. We lived for the first 10 years there in a G.I. neighborhood. Two to six kids in every house in our development, fathers who commuted to NYC for their jobs, and in almost every house a mother who stayed home. Some of my most vivid memories of Peter are of playing in the woods, skating on the pond, practicing for circuses and parades around the neighborhood. Peter was the director and producer, ringleader of the circuses, inventor of new adventures. He’d usually take a backstage role and give his friend Cormac the Tarzan part or whatever, and I either played Jane, or, my favorite, the monkey. I could write a book about my brother, and maybe someday I will, but the pain of missing him is acute right now and I think I’ll close this down now.

First, though, I need to thank you. For comforting Peter with your cards, calls, and visits, and for holding me up during the worst of the last three weeks before he left us, and for your wonderful support since. I was so sure I’d go first, you see. Peter was the one who knew how to take care of things, do things. I cooked, collected stray cats, read, and wrote poetry. But my brother Robert, my cousins, neighbors, all of you that I haven’t met except online, but feel that I know well, and my dear friends will help me. I’m learning to ask. Later today, a Sunday, Phyllis and Paul will pick me up for dinner at Richard and Sandy’s. Lynne cooked me a delicious dinner on Thursday and listened while I talked and talked and talked, Chris took me shopping for a rug for my dog yesterday, and a  neighbor cut down a branch that had fallen too close to our fence. Soon, I’ll get back to the Unitarian services I love and maybe find I can begin giving back, eh? One line of poetry, by Czlaw Milosz, has nestled in my thoughts again: “There is no one between me and you.”

Saturday, January 13, 2018

This is in my book, To See Who's There. I'm a descendant of immigrants, too.

Strength & Luck

       There’s no food in Ireland for Patrick Kennedy. He slogs with the other starving over the wintry road to Kingston port, hands the man his bit of coin earned working with the lordship’s horses. And up the gangway to ride the groaning bucking ship across the Irish Sea. Near to frozen in the open air he hears screams from the freezing below decks. A rotten beam has cracked, shattered, broken the back of a mother. The damn ship docks in Liverpool’s crazed harbor with sloppy, exhausted triumph.
       So Patrick’s in amid the shoving, bellowing, crying mass of countrymen lost in the dirty alleys snaking from wharf to dark city. A churchwoman offers bread and weak ale, saving him, he supposes—he’s that hungry. To sleep then, in a heap where he stumbles. The night brings him a dream of his father, still lively and digging up stones. Morning and an English pulls him by the arm back to the docks, signs him on and so he’s a stevedore—him, a boy whose life had been stallions, mares, and colts. Liverpool smothers in coal ash and fear’s roiling anger.
       When Patrick’s had enough of the place and the place has had enough of him, he scrimps the fare (gone low it has for the thousands and for the shipping lines wanting to carry them) and boards a steamship bound for New York City. At least that’s what they tell him—he can’t read the paper ticket, but he’s paid for it and takes his chances.
       The crossing is hell plain and simple, the only good being the end of it— a hundred or so poor souls with typhus ferried to hospital on Ward’s Island. His luck with him or so he thinks, he’s in the mass of them crowding down the gangplank. A cursing bastard in uniform grabs him by the neck, pushes him onto a cart. By sunrise he’s in uniform himself.  Patrick’s a private in the Union Army. Whatever the hell it is, whatever the hell the fight is about, he holds a rifle and boots too big for him are on his feet—he is in it now.
       Because Patrick Kennedy survived the potato famine, the refugee frenzy in Liverpool, the rats aboard the City of Manchester, and the American Civil War to raise a family with Catherine, née McCarthy, I am here to write these things down about my great-great grandfather, born in Dunganstown, Wexford County, Ireland, 1836, dead in Richmond County, Staten Island, New York, 1888.