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Maria Alexander

(s)Word Slinger

Tag: obituary

The King of Shadows is Dead

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Ludovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso”

When my mother died, I had recurring nightmares that she had been buried alive. She spoke to me; I heard her voice muffled under the dirt or in empty dream houses, echoing in dark corridors. As I accepted her death, the dreams faded.

And now my father has passed away. Since he had been The King of Shadows, I expected him to haunt my dreams in frightening ways. Instead, I’ve been dreaming about building things. I’ve twice dreamed that I was building a shinkendo dojo with sensei. I’ve also been dreaming that I am an Imagineer building new dining experiences and attractions at Disneyworld. I built things in my dreams last night, too, but I don’t remember what they were. A tent? A skyscraper? It was shelter of some sort.

My father was a diplomat to Greece for the State Department. He went on to become an investigator for the Franchise Tax Board for many tumultuous years until he took an early retirement.I suspect that my subconscious is busy building because of all the damage my father did to my life and those around him. He hurt animals. Children. Everyone close to him. His death brought crises because of his ill planning and even more ill mental state. (I’m still exhausted from dealing with said crises after his death.) More Grendel than Augustus, he raided and destroyed the cities of my life. For years, I tried to rebuild what he had crushed in his meaty hands. Sometimes the cities lasted a while. Many perished. I eventually learned skills that helped me withstand his assaults. But when I stepped into his house after his death, I watched with alarm as my memories tore everything down.

These last two weeks I sometimes sink into despair, wishing that he’d been a different person, wishing he’d been the father who sat beside me, encouraging and loving, instead of the strange, dangerous creature that he was. But as I acknowledged all those years ago in my story “The King of Shadows,” he was the one who opened my imagination.

He would sit by my bed at night, telling me stories. Fairytales. Ghost stories. Tales of sorcery and horror. He’d motion toward the shadows, demanding that they stop their movement toward my bed. And they would, too. Like children with gentle fathers, I did not fear monsters at night when my father commanded them to be still. My father was the King of Shadows. They – like me – fled from his outstretched hand.

Professor Katherine Hohlwein, one of my English professors in college, once said that the way to make a poet was to take a sensitive person and hurt her. I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for my father. I wouldn’t be a musician, either, as he was both a composer and performer. When I was six, my parents bought me one of those baby pianos with a color-coded strip of paper to place over the keys so I could plunk out pieces in a correspondingly coded music book. I very soon tired of it because I hated the high-pitched plink-plink of the keys. I wanted to play Daddy’s piano — the wooden Chickering & Sons cathedral in the living room that made rapturous sounds. Whenever Daddy played, resonant notes would thunder through the apartment: joyous, passionate, sorrowful. So I climbed up onto the enormous, hard piano bench and placed the color-coded strip over the piano keys. The narrow colored strips didn’t match the much bigger keys, but I figured it out soon enough.

I played and wrote music for many years with his help and encouragement, but some cruel streak in him decided that neither music nor writing were to be my future. He took drastic steps to ensure that I couldn’t study music — or anything else — in college, even though I was an honors student and acclaimed musician in high school. If it weren’t for my mother and my own subterfuge, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college at all.

And that’s when I heard them. Wild things, deep things, dark things. Squeaking and howling, cursing the light. They strutted, pranced, and gyred in their abysmal procession toward the sarcophagus.

As a grownup, I’ve taken the shriveled seeds that he gave me and nurtured them until they flourished into gardens of belladonna blossoms, lily of the valley, nightshades and blood roses. Deadly thorns and fragrant blooms. My creative life thrives in moonlight and monsoons. In heatwaves and sandstorms. I make mirages shimmer and chase clouds across the sky. Mountains lift me on their shoulders and vast ocean waves carry me like a princess on a silvery palanquin.

I am the daughter of The King of Shadows. I have inherited his legerdemain of the foulest fairy wood, the power to command the shadows…

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”, 1868

And now I sit on the throne, but I rule with a different heart and hand.

My throne is not twisted and ugly. It glimmers with starlight, ensconced in gnarled tree roots, canopied in jasmine flowers, draped in azure silks. I invite the unholy, the bruised, the bankrupt of spirit, the heartbroken and monstrous to rest at court until I find stories for them so they can sweep into the night skies and commit terrors. Those creatures of pitch and craft are mine now. They are all he left me.

I’m blind with tears. For his death. For his life. For how much of him is in me.

But it’s time to build cities of forever.

It’s going to be beautiful.

Sleeping Beauty Gustave Dore

The Woman Who Worshipped a Pirate Goddess is Gone

Rebekah_OwenWhen Rebekah Owen was 13 years old in 1976, her father murdered her mother with a revolver as Rebekah and her younger siblings played next door. This totally devastating incident helped shaped one of the most compassionate and optimistic people I’ve ever known. Yes, she went “wild” for a long time after that — drinking too much, sleeping with all the wrong men. She married three times to men who only hurt her. When she finally met her fourth husband, Mike, a couple of years ago, she confided in me that she didn’t want to get married again because she was “a three-time loser,” afraid that marriage would doom her relationship with this sweet and wonderful man — a man who finally truly loved her.

And now, at 49 years old, she’s dead from brain cancer.

We’d been friends for almost 20 years, having met in 1995 at a nonprofit we were both involved with in San Jose, CA. While I liked her instantly when we met, she later changed my life one day with a simple gesture of kindness. (This day is memorialized in my unpublished memoir. A handful of agents are reading it as I type.) We remained steadfast friends over the years. She kept my life’s biggest secret close to her heart and loved me through the hardest times of my life, always offering words of wisdom, love and compassion. And she helped me move out of the house when I divorced. (“No one should go through that alone! Been there, done that!” she said.) She liked to answer the phone by saying “Hi cutie!” and end the conversation with, “Love ya!” I loved her, too. And told her so whenever I could.

I kept the few secrets she had and always will. But it was no secret how deeply her father had wounded her life.

“Life easing up is called death.” — An email to me on August 4, 2008

In late 2008, she moved from San Jose, CA to Dallas, TX. She was a real estate broker and The Crash had hit her hard. Dallas seemed like a good alternative. She was learning to work with short sales and foreclosures. Ultimately, Dallas didn’t work out. Among other issues, it proved too religious for her, too conservative and cultish. To make matters worse, her dog, Rebel, died just before she returned to California in 2010. Rebel’s death crushed her heart. “That dog loves me more than any guy I’ve ever been with,” she once told me. “Tell me: why do I need a man, again?”

rebeldog

Rebekah believed in Jesus and considered herself a Christian, but her beliefs were far more nuanced. Her liquid spirituality enabled her to be flexible, accepting and resilient…

Now my god is not some assyrian 20 something with surfer dude hair. My god is a girl. 

She’s a cartoony, kinda chunky, pirate-y gal with a great twinkly laugh and a strong presence – she’s not menacing but you just know you can’t take her down. 

June 19, 2012 Tumor Humor blog

As I re-read a chapter she sent me of the memoir she was writing, it’s clear her father suffered PTSD. He’d been in the air force for many years, serving in the Middle East in the early 1970s. When he came home for good, the violence and mood swings escalated to the point of catastrophe. After he shot his wife, he walked into the dining room and laid down the bi-centennial .357 Smith & Wesson where Rebekah’s cereal bowl had sat the morning before. The gun was red-hot with a round left in it when he called the cops to turn himself in. At that moment, Rebekah had to become The Mom to her three younger siblings; none of whom could totally fathom what had just happened.

But Rebekah shouldn’t be remembered for her wounds. Rather, she should be remembered for her compelling strength. How she rose above the cruelty and insanity of life to love others selflessly — not as a saint but as a fiery woman who loved sex, margaritas, hard rock and good friends.

I first heard she was sick in an email last June 2012. A brain tumor. I called her immediately. She told me about her memory lapses and how she’d been with a group of friends a few weeks earlier at El Torito when it came to a crisis. As they waited in the lobby for their party to get a table, Rebekah was “blanking.” Weird clumsiness, nausea and dizzy spells had been plaguing her for weeks. She didn’t go to the doctor because she didn’t have any money or health insurance. When the server said, “Follow me this way,” Rebekah replied, “Wait — where are we going?”

Instead of partying, her friends took her straight to the hospital.

“Honey, I am worried,” her boyfriend said.

“What are you worried about, baby?” she replied.

“I was told that any woman with half a brain wouldn’t date me.”

May 5, 2012 Tumor Humor blog

rebekahpirate

Aaarrgh!

In July 2012, she helped me with a horror story about a real estate broker. Her realism improved the story ten fold. I knew it was hard for her to read. I didn’t think she’d be up for it, but she was thrilled to help. She was always thrilled to help. I relied on her input for over a decade of my writing career because she was honest and articulate without being abrasive.

The last time I spoke to her was in — September? October? She had a blog I didn’t know about (or maybe had lost track of). She had a new dog named Shadow that she loved. Mike was her rock. I thought she was #winning. I’m kicking myself so hard right now. I was so wrapped up in my bullshit that I didn’t go see her. I wanted to go see her so badly. But instead I succumbed to self-involvement instead of flying up for a weekend to see my beloved friend who was sick — little does it matter whether or not she was #winning. Who fucking cares?

It was brain cancer. Goddamned fucking BRAIN CANCER.

I had had another friend who’d licked a brain tumor just prior Rebekah’s diagnosis. I guess I took it for granted that Rebekah would make it, too. She was healthy, a vegetarian, a biker and runner. There was no history of cancer in her family. (Although, she did use a Blue Tooth. She’d asked her oncologist if there was a causal relationship between the fact that the tumor was on the side of her head that she wore the Blue Tooth, and he responded that there wasn’t evidence to support it.) Anyway, all these things increased her chances of beating cancer.

But she didn’t.

I’m trying to celebrate her life, but the grief is burning my chest like a spent shotgun shell falling into my dress top. She’d told me once about how her father taught her how to shoot a .22 rifle, but when that shell dropped into her dress and singed the delicate white skin of her chest, she swore she was done with guns. Maybe someday I’ll be done with grief.

What’s adding to my grief is that her Facebook and Twitter accounts have been shut down. Her words and photographs have been taken away when what I want more than anything is to see and hear her again. I’m instead combing through emails and her blog to stop the hemorrhage of loss. I’m sure it’s painful for her family to see those things, but they’re invaluable to her legacy as a human being. She never had children, as much as she wanted them. Her fallopian tubes were severely blocked. IVF was not an option. And even if she’d had children, her words would mean everything to me. They’re the next best thing to hearing her voice.

I didn’t find out about her death until late last night. I’d called and left her a voicemail back in June. When I didn’t hear back, I assumed she was busy. (Question: Why the hell is her voicemail still working seven months later?) We usually went months without phone calls. It was no big. But then I started to worry. I emailed her on Saturday. No response. By Sunday night, my spider senses were tingling. I was obsessively Googling her name, trying to get an idea of what was going on via her online life. As I just mentioned, her Facebook and Twitter accounts had been shut down. I knew something was up.

And then I found this last entry of her blog. It’s titled, “Beating the Odds,” but the entry seems to indicate that she’s not. That’s when I Googled on my iPhone the phrase “Rebekah Owen died” and found a Facebook page called “Remembering Rebekah.” Her memorial was December 19, 2012. Since I wasn’t part of any of her regular social groups up north, no one told me.

I handed the iPhone to Bret and started shaking. After a moment, the tears started and wouldn’t stop.

Truthfully, if I’d learned of her death back in December, I probably would have collapsed. My hands were still badly injured, I’d just lost Ophelia on December 2 and I was rear-ended in a car accident December 3 that left me with whiplash. I was suffering under a brutish, abusive, incompetent manager at work (who was later fired) and I thought I was going to fall apart entirely as it was. If I had known then, I might not have handled it as well as I am today, as deeply as it hurts.

I had nightmares last night about my mother’s death. Rebekah was the first person I had called when I’d gotten the news about my mom. I knew she would understand. Rebekah’s own death has hammered my core. I can only imagine how it must have been for Mike and the rest of her family.

I’ll leave off with a prayer that she and I had often said together:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Love ya back, lady.

 

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