Monday, January 24, 2022

Conversation with my mother on the 25th anniversary of her death

Good morning, Mama*. I can feel you here, on the couch, a being who is both present and takes up no space or weight. I think in the past you have needed me – or I thought you had needed me – on these death anniversary days. I thought you were an ancestor who was not yet well in spirit.**But perhaps it was more that I was not yet well with you, and with ancestors overall.


Anyway, regardless of who was not well then, here we are now – both well in spirit. It’s sad to me still, that this is how we are able to be together now, but I am grateful. Grateful grief.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Homage to Love and Magic

On December 16, 2021, Dylan and I chose to put our beloved fifteen year old Burmese cat, Drala, to sleep. It was a hard decision, as it always is; even though the doctor made it clear it was the right decision, as his kidney disease had accelerated rapidly to a place of no return. 

Drala was a beloved being, quiet, shy, and easily startled; snuggly, affectionate, and soft. We miss him a great deal.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Split Ends


Bright spring sunlight
pours into bathroom window - 
revealing split ends.**

Last week Wednesday was the one year anniversary of my last live class before moving entirely online, where I continue to teach to this day. 

Today is the thirty-first anniversary of my father's death.

The pandemic anniversary date snuck up on me fairly quickly; of course I've seen North American and European folks* posting about the year anniversary of many aspects of the pandemic in social media. Of course it's come up in personal conversations and in my classes. And yet, I am deeply affected by anniversaries (as regular readers of this blog know) and this one is striking me quite deeply.

Monday, January 25, 2021

This Year

Amaryllis this year, in front of painting by Mom from her early adolescence.

On Friday January 24, 1997, early morning, I stepped out of the Blue Bus STD Clinic on the UW Madison campus, my negative HIV test results in hand. Out of what I thought was relief, I turned quickly to a bush and threw up my freshman dorm breakfast.

I was in an open relationship, my first, with a woman and a man, both of whom had other lovers. I had been unsafe a couple of times, and was convinced I had contracted HIV. Feeling deeply relieved, I took my time getting home, walking in the sunny crisp winter day.

Back at the dorm, my roommate looked at me morosely and told me to call one of my brothers before doing anything else. Just then, the phone rang, and I knew something was up. It was one of my oldest friends, calling to ask if I’d talked to that brother yet. She said to call him then call her right away. Neither the roommate or friend would tell me what it was about.

Ten minutes later, I sat on the floor of my dorm, aghast after a quick exchange with the brother. My mother had died of an aortic aneurysm that morning, just as I was leaving the clinic. I called back the old friend. When I started an ugly, angry cry, she was confused and asked if my test results had been positive. In utter shock, I had forgotten she was waiting to hear the results. 

The roommate left as soon as the old friend appeared with a bowl of requested mac and cheese from the cafeteria. I poked at it as the friend made plans to get me home that evening, Super Bowl weekend, when a bunch of our other  friends from Appleton were headed back anyway.

Once I was back, I wandered around my childhood home, now rendered a brand new place due to my brand new orphan hood. I talked in low voices with my brothers and godmother. I looked at all my mothers plants, a hundred or so, and began wiping them down, paper towels and bowl of warm water, cleaning dust from their leaves. It felt good to help something non-human but living.

When I got to the end of the plants, I found my mothers prized amaryllis, bright red. Every year my mother tried to get it to bloom around Christmas; it was late this year. The last of four blooms had just opened that morning.

Today is January 24, 2021. For a few years now, I have tried, and failed, to get an amaryllis bulb to bloom around this time of the year. They always leaf out, but never with stalks or buds. This year, I bought another one and it took off immediately. On January 20, the first big bloom opened, and every day since, another has opened. Today, the fourth bloom opened.

Mama, we had a hard run of it. But I have grown to miss you and wish you could know my wife, my life. I feel more connected to you now than ever. This is for you - four blooms going, and a second stalk budding, as if to make up for years of bloomlessness. I celebrate you on this 24th anniversary of your death.

As I mourned, and still mourn, those in my community killed too young by the AIDS pandemic - but more dead than should be because of discrimination and negligence - I now mourn those dead from the ignorance and denial of the COVID pandemic. 

When you died, Mama, I didn’t know any other orphans. Now I do. Now I know I am not alone in traumatic loss, whether from oppression or isolation. I am finally feeling out the difference between the trauma from loss, versus garden variety grief. 2020 was a rough year for death, for me and so many. And so it is I need this amaryllis bloom more than ever this year specifically. It is helping me remember to celebrate as I weep.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Letter to Dad on Father's Day

Dear Dad,                                                                                                     Father's Day, 2020

Michael Amos Hall, my father, at work, where he often was, 1987ish .

You have been dead for just over 30 years now, since March 15, 1990. You died ten days before your 53rd birthday. Sometimes, I would hear Mom say "work killed Dad"; it seemed to be a trend in our family to blame outside forces for deaths: I heard Mom say that her mom was "killed by that modern monstrosity the neighbors built next door".

Besides a deep abiding love of puns and an affectionate nature, workaholism is one of the characteristic I inherited from you. I used to find comfort in a the false control overworking can bring me. Over the last fifteen years in particular, as I have practiced and taught Buddhism, alongside writing and photography, I have found the insidious grasp of overworking to help calm any doubts I've had about the worth of my work and myself. But I have also learned to push back and recover from overworking, as best I can, one day at a time.

You were a different generation, and you were male. You grew up in a house with two women; one of whom was able-bodied and single mothering you and her sister, the other woman, with crippling Rheumatoid Arthritis. So certainly, you got a lesson from Alberta, your mom, my grandma, about working hard - it was necessary for survival. Your father, Amos, whom you write about in the few journals of yours I have found, was intensely overbearing, a distant man, 100 miles away who worked (and lived, it seemed) as a judge. You had it modeled from both lines in your family.

My mom didn't work most of her adult life, and the few jobs she had early on in adulthood were adjacent to yours: scanning Fortran cards or filling out paperwork and/or correcting papers with you. By the time us three kids came along, you were living the home-owning, single income, three kids life promised to white middle class families. Except you seemed to believe you still had to prove yourself.