Monday, February 18, 2019

Big Brother


           I couldn’t open the door fast enough. I had one goal in mind and I needed, desperately, to rip off the sweater that had been choking me for the better half of the day. From my neck to my lower back, the hives were strong and I felt as though I was suffocating underneath its layers. Claire tore inside the house before I could retrieve the keys from the lock. She ran into Ben’s arms while I made a break for the bedroom. 
            No sooner than I heard, “Hey baby,” roll off his tongue from the living room I had fought the battle with the cream, wool abomination and won. I glanced at my bed, where my now most regrettable purchase lay, and noticed my phone was ringing. It was my Dad. I was hesitant to answer it. He had not called in months. I had not heard his voice since late October. It was now December 17th. That’s not because he was absent in my life but because he physically could not speak. Why was Dad calling? 
            “Hello,” I answered.
            All I heard was muffled cries echoing over and over again. My heart sped. Panic. It was Mom. 
             I screamed, “Dad!”
            “No Gracie, Nick. He’s gone. Get here,” she managed.
         I fell numb. The panic dissipated and before the anger began to make its appearance, I felt nothing.
            This is what I had been afraid of since I was 16-years old and had come to understand that my big brother was an alcoholic. There were many nights that I would stay up late listening to his impenetrable sadness. Sadness that had been sewn into him by mystery and terrible luck. 
          He was ten years older than me. He could recite every single line from the opening scene of Aladdin. He was goofy and kind. He had curiously-sorrowful green eyes and long, black eyelashes. He wore embarrassing t-shirts. Some were crisp and ironed before wear. Some were old and wrinkled with faded color. Some you had to squint to make out the letters that spelled, “Take Me Home Tonight?” He loved boxes of cherry cordials. He taught me how to tie my shoes. In the basement at the bottom of the stairs. His laugh could induce secondhand embarrassment but was also incredibly infectious. He was deeply scarred by a series of uncontrollable moments in his life making his only vice the one that took him away from us. Took him long before he took his last breath.
            Ben came running from the other room after he heard my screams.
            “What’s wrong baby,” he whispered as he approached.
            I didn’t recognize the voice that answered back, “He’s dead. Nick is dead.” 
          The drive to Nick’s apartment is a blur. I don’t remember which road we took or if anything was said out loud. Instead, the sight of ambulance lights flashing outside his window is burned inside the memory, and so is his face. Those dark eyelashes of his, I could see clear across the room. I was not brave enough to get close to him. We were allowed to touch the top of his head, give him a kiss if we’d like, but that was it. I saw enough though and wept into my sister’s shoulder, gripping the hardened raincoat she wore. 
            Where are his memories? 
            The question crept into my mind and never left. Were they in a box somewhere that we could never visit? Did they float away into oblivion? Did he take them with him on his way to … somewhere? Can he see me right now? Is he mad? Will he remember me? Will he remember Christmas dinners? Will he remember mispronouncing every word in Italian on our big, European family vacation? Will he remember how much he loved Garth Brooks? Will he remember being at his concert with us, the night before he left us forever? Will he remember how I was so mad at him that I didn’t even turn around to say hello? Or was it just lights out? 
            Where are his memories? I needed to know. 
           I felt as though I was suffocating again. After seeing Nick, his body covered with a white sheet and pajama pants peeking out of its side, I had to get out. The humidity inside of the space made even the furniture seem wilted. It contrasted with the chilling-slicing wind outside and the internal battle I was fighting. The light stench of stale alcohol permeated throughout its corners. The familiarity of that smell made me nauseous. It pulled me right back into those moments of infuriating discomfort – me, his baby sister, packing his boxers and night clothes for a stint in rehab. Bitterness enveloped me. 
         I sprinted out the apartment’s front door. Passed the firemen in the living room and foyer, passed the neighbors’ sparkling-blue wreath, and passed the onlookers from the balcony above. I ran through the parking lot clutching my stomach. I bent over in the grass. Dry heaves mixed with cracked wailing. Silence.
            Where are his memories? 
            Are they tucked away in a corner?
            Does he get to keep them?
            Will I remember?
            Or was it just lights out?

Grace Lynne Fleming
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Sunday, September 9, 2018

February 5th BUY IT!



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Monday, September 3, 2018

Consequences

I'm parked at the cemetery. "Consequences" by Camila Cabello has been running on a loop, unintentionally, for the last fifteen minutes. Something about the words triggered a very raw, emotional reaction. It smells like coffee. My purse, my keyboard, even my hair, it all tends to hold onto the aroma long after I've left my cozy nook. 

I shit the bed. Recently, someone taught me the less-than-eloquent phrase of "shitting the bed," which is perfect in this context. I shit the bed with my choice of life partner, that part is obvious. And for a while after the paperwork was finalized, my thought process about it was skewed. In my head, that was it. I had my shot at marriage. I would never have that kind of love again. No one would ever choose me - they already did and threw me back. The idea that someone else could was unbelievable, scary, daunting, anxiety-inducing even. The loss I was having felt like a death. Until I had to actually deal with death. 

Now, I know there's a possibility that it could happen. Someone could choose me. Someones have chosen me since, and I them, as least for a moment in time. And for one reason or another, I'm sitting in this car, writing all of this down, and thinking about this song. There really are consequences to loving someone, because one way or another it's going to end. Relationships all end. Whether they end in death, argument, silence, when you invest yourself into someone else, there's a consequence to that. The harshest reality of all though is all of those people you love will eventually die, before you or after you. That permanence is heartbreaking. 

I was always scared of this happening. So much so that I was 27-years-old with tears in my eyes saying to my on-the-way-to-becoming ex-husband, "But you're the one that's supposed to be with me if something happens to Mom or Dad."

Through tears he responded, "I can't be that person. I never could have been." 

I can remember being worried about dying as a young child. I was labeled as "gifted" throughout my 2nd-grade year and most of the time that translated into "weird" or "eccentric," as most of my closest friends now describe me. And as I've learned from my gifted peers and friends, there's a healthy amount of us that struggle with worrisome thoughts, especially when it's an "unknown" or something that cannot 100% be explained with proven data or conversation. Death was one of those things for me. Sure, I've had my faith, but being presented with my brother and father in front of me with a body that doesn't "work" anymore offered up unexplainable feelings and questions.

My experiences with death and breakups are now so closely intertwined. A very compact two years left me with mountains I didn't ever wish to climb. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined having to suit up and start the trek so young, so quickly, and feeling so extremely on my own either. I'm purposefully putting myself in front of new obstacles. They're uncomfortable and scary as well. But the good kind. They're the kind where you grow and develop and in the end you may have sweat and cried a lot, but you come out a far better person in the end. 

Has any of this deterred me from diving into new relationships - of any kind? No. Have those consequences made me second guess my vulnerability to others? No. My friends think I'm a little insane. I'm certainly more cautious than I ever have been before. I try to be smarter. But, I'm still giving people the benefit of the doubt even with the tinge of bitterness that has started to come off of my tongue.

These consequences are what scare a lot of people inside of relationships. The inevitable hurt at the end is what makes them run, or leave before being left, or worse, act like a complete asshole because the effort involved isn’t worth the inevitable-ness of it all. And that’s why I’m the insane one. I will take the hurt anyday for the moments of connection or having someone who cares on the receiving line of your life. That’s really the beauty of it all at the end of the day. That I felt so deeply about such a variety of people that when it ended, I hurt. If it wasn’t so beautiful, it wouldn’t have hurt so badly to lose them. 
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sincerely

To the Renaissance Nashville Hotel Family,

I was four years old when I walked into your hotel for the first time. The name outside read Stouffer’s and there were ashtrays in the lobby, filled with sand that had been stamped with the fancy “S” logo. My dad had come to help out, and I was privileged enough to create a home away from home inside its walls.

Mr. John Fleming was my father. A hotel manager by day and a goofy, grinning daddy by night – that’s how his closet was separated too; beautiful suits on one hand and then, on the other, hundreds of white tube socks, vacation shirts, and sweatpants that he wore on his morning trip to grab a newspaper and coffee on the weekends.

Nervous and always on my best behavior, I wanted to make him proud every chance I got to visit you all. I didn’t want to embarrass him. He loved the men and women he worked with, and I wanted to make sure that I made a good first impression, second impression, a lasting impression still to this day because that’s what he did. But now, mostly, I want to make an impression that says, “She is appreciative.”

Dad gave me so much at home. Together with my mom, they offered a life to me that so many people don’t get the opportunity to have. From the intangibles to a room full of everything I could have dreamt of, my siblings and I had it all. Now after sharing such an emotional experience together, I know how much he gave to all of you too.

At the funeral, everyone kept thanking us for sharing Dad with them. What’s amazing is I never felt like I was “sharing” him. He worked long hours, and he would occasionally travel, but he still made everyone in his life feel special. I was never gipped of time with my Dad while he was here. Instead, I gained better insight and advice from him because of the team he had built at the Renaissance – which was all of you. I must confess, though I’m terribly angry that I do feel my time was cut short with him for one reason that keeps swirling around in my head. In fact, it’s how I began the letter I wrote to him – the one I tucked under his sleeve on March 9th, 2018, hoping that he’s able to receive snail mail in heaven.

“I wasn’t done learning from you Daddy,” I printed out on paper from an old journal. I bet a lot of you feel the same way.

Dad, Mom, Nick, and Donna had already traveled and lived around the country before I was even a blip on the radar. I didn’t get to experience living in Mobile, hunkered down at the Riverview during the hurricane, or watching Dad make his mark on The Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Instead, I was given the gift of making Nashville my hometown. I never felt like I missed out on anything that came before 1989 though, no matter how many times Nick or Donna wanted to remind me that I was late to the Fleming party. And that’s because of how Dad’s team made my family feel every time we stepped inside the lobby of the Renaissance, settled on 611 Commerce Street, Nashville, Tennessee.

The chocolate eggs and bunnies showcased near the elevators at Easter, the Kids’ CafĂ© parties that I tried really hard to be excellent at face-painting for (so many children asked me to give them a reindeer and they’d walk away with a very sad cat on their cheek instead), the renovations, the Mother’s Day brunches, there are so many of my childhood and milestone memories locked away in that hotel. I turned 21 there and had my first appletini. And most recently, my high school class and I celebrated our 10-year reunion there – with details so perfect and food so delicious.

As soon as we walked away from Austin and Bell on March 10th, 2018, I felt the need to do what I always do when I’m feeling things that I don’t quite understand. I write. That memory of those ashtrays kept coming to mind, and I knew that no matter how this letter or gobbledygook ran out on paper that I needed to get it to all of you. It’s the best way I know how to say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for being a part of my Dad’s life. Thank you for being a part of my family’s life. Thank you for being a part of my own life. But mostly, thank you for loving my father and thank you for providing a home away from home for him for the past 25 years. He wanted to get back to you. He was sad that he felt like the chance had been taken from him with the latest diagnosis but going back to work, in his words, “wasn’t being taken off the table just yet.” I need you all to know that he wanted to get back to it. He wanted to shake your hands and goof around and be your leader – if only for a little bit longer – and finish his career on his own accord.

Again, thank you for loving my father. And thank you for showing it in a way that he deserved because he deserved it all.

Sincerely and with so much love,

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Clean Slated Summer

Have you ever seen a beetle on its back? Its legs are moving frantically in all directions trying to get back on the ground to scurry away and survive the moment's trauma. Sometimes you put it out of its misery. Sometimes you'll see someone kneel down and use their index finger to flip it over and let it run free. Other times you see its struggle and keep moving past it.

I felt like one of those glossy insects fighting to stay afloat plenty of times within the last two years. And I had people from all nooks of my life pass me by or use their index finger to turn me over. Others just tried to squash me silent. When you're alone and quiet, you see everyone and everything with so much more clarity than you did when you were living under a shiny mask.

I'm turned over now. And my mask came off over 104+ weeks ago. I've learned a lot of lessons since I was 27. One being, you can't plan life. Everyone will have opinions on how you should be living it. Everyone had opinions on how I should handle the divorce. Everyone has opinions on how I should parent Claire. Everyone has opinions on how I should handle grief, and everyone has opinions on how I should have/had/be handling newer, worse heartbreak.

But I cannot make everyone happy. I can make myself happy though. I can make myself excited for life every day. I can become fulfilled in more than someone else's happiness. And if I'm that kind of woman; a woman who is confident in herself, acts on her sense of adventure, and has the courage to use her emotions as strength, that's what Claire will learn. She'll be proud of her mom one day.

I get caught up in sentiment. A calendar date. A name. A note written on a napkin. A song. A symbol. I put meaning to inanimate objects or untouchables. It sticks with me.

November 16. July 17. March 5. December 17. January 19. March 17. February 5. April 12.

These dates give me whiplash.

Obviously, this isn't a trait that only I have, it's all part of being human. A smell, a touch, a photograph ... it can take someone back to the best, the worst and all kinds of memories. But I'd venture to say that I get a bit deeper. I can lock myself inside of it and never budge.

I love James Bay. He used to be on repeat. But now, I can't stomach his voice. It takes me right back. I'm sitting in my Jetta with Chaos and The Calm on repeat, driving to spin class and completely drowned in feelings that I couldn't pinpoint or explain yet. I was still crying in corners and under the covers. I wasn't okay. I was composed and that album was my safety. It helped me sort through the worst, the toughest and the saddest of thoughts and emotions. I prayed to never feel that way again not knowing that it would only get worse. And no matter how much I love James Bay, he's erased now. Because I can't stomach him.

But now, when I hear Garth Brooks, I get weak. I get weak because the last time I saw my brother alive was at his concert. And they played his song at his funeral. And I spent the weeks following his passing listening to his greatest hits CD on replay trying to forgive myself for not doing something else for Nick. 

And that trickles over to a lot of other things as well. I don't want to be stuck on anything or anyone anymore. I'm heading out to Chicago this week to start a summer full of adventure and a clean slate. It includes sentiments that don't matter because they pull me down. It includes bad thoughts about myself. That clean slate includes men too. Relationship jumping isn't healthy. And although the man I thought I loved started anew before I told him to pack his things, at least I know who I am. I know what I want. I know how to get it. And I'm not scared of it.

I love being a sentimental person. It speaks a lot about what's important to me and, even more importantly, who is important to me. But I'm not going to let the bad feelings drown me or have me lying on my back anymore like those beetles that come out in the spring. I don't want anyone looking at me while my arms and legs are trying to hold steady. I welcome them to look at me with a magnifying glass though. I welcome everyone to see the imperfections. I welcome everyone to see the mess ups and the screw-ups and bedroom transgressions. Because all of that is real.
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