Roberta F. King

Author site for the memoir, He Plays a Harp and other writing by Roberta F. King

23 September
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September Son

Yesterday, I was riding my bike and thought about you, Noah. There are tiny triggers every day that cause me to pause and remember you. Sometimes it’s seeing a school bus rambling down the road, or I’ll hear a certain song or a spoken word that makes me smile about our life together. Other times the mulling is more intentional. I think of you hard when I’m in your old bedroom. Lately, I’ve been choosing some of your old books to place in our Little Free Library. It’s painful, but feels good to be sharing a part of your life with people who will never know you.

Lake Michigan in the fallThe weather here is just like it was the fall you went to kindergarten and that’s why I thought of you. It’s oddly warm, summerlike. There’s a sporadic southwesterly breeze and the light is abundant, yet diffused, as the sun moves further away.  I remember the September that you started school, it was very warm and sunny, too. I was between jobs and I was happy to not be working. I was a final candidate for two jobs, both of which I wanted, and I felt confident and glorious. I ran every morning after you left for school and then, a few days a week I walked over to your school to read to your class, wading in Lake Michigan on the way home. I loved seeing you and your friends sitting in a circle listening to some of our favorite stories. I’m sure I read McElligot’s Pool and Curious George Makes Pancakes.

So today, as I was riding my bike, I was reminded of that wonderful time in our lives and was thinking about your birthday, too. Did I bring cupcakes to your kindergarten class that day? Was your birthday that year on a school day? I can’t remember for sure. Making cupcakes seems like something a mother might do, but I’m not a maker of beautiful cupcakes, which I would have wanted them to be. But five and six-year-olds are easy to impress with thick frosting and abundant sprinkles.

Had you lived, you’d be 29 years old today. I can’t imagine it. I just can’t visualize you beyond the 17 years that you were alive. Lack of brainpower or lack of will, I’m not sure which it is.Noah Miesch age 15

Maybe that’s why I have to go back to the past, raising up memories and thinking about the happy days of your life—like your birthday. I picture times when you weren’t sick or suffering, I think of your crooked smile, your funny remarks, and your skinny legs. But, as time has passed those memories are fading, like cupcakes in kindergarten, I can’t be sure of anything today—other than how much I love you still.

23 September
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Birthday. Not Birthday.

I wouldn’t want to do the math wrong and make a mistake about how old he’d be today, so I pull up the calculator on my laptop just to make sure. Noah was born on September 23, 1988 so today he would be 28 years old. Without ritual it’s hard for me to remember his exact age. When you take away the cake, singing, presents, dinner out and the old Scooby Doo birthday banner; the marking of another year becomes nebulous.

I’ve lost my ability to imagine what Noah would look like as an adult. I guess he’d still be very thin, tallish and he’d have a good head of sandy curly hair; men from my side hold onto their hair. But that’s as far as I can take that vision.

I have a better mental picture of what his day-to-day life would be like had he lived—it was something we were looking ahead at, preparing for, like gazing down the highway a half mile or so, to see what the traffic is doing. I expect that he’d be living away from us by now, probably in a group home with other young men with disabilities. He would have aged out of educational programming two years ago, so he might have a job somewhere. He worked at Meijer for a bit in high school–he might have stayed on there, slapping circulars in the hands of incoming shoppers. I imagine that we’d still travel together down to the Keys in the winter and maybe he’d drink a beer with us.

Bleeding HeartsAll too infrequently, Noah visits me in my dreams and when he does, he’s never older than he was when he died. He visited once as a fully mobile person and walked right up to me. In that dream, I was awestruck by his ability to move on his own, “Noah, you’re walking!” I said. His gait seemed a little stiff, perhaps from all those years of sitting in his wheelchair. In that dream, he just smiled his crooked smile and then walked away without me.

Maybe I can’t envision him growing older because he isn’t any older, he’s stuck at 17. Today isn’t really his 28th birthday—Noah ceased to age on the day he took his last breath.

Today is, more accurately, the anniversary of his birth-day.

So, it has been 28 years since we first brought him into the world and 10 years, 7 months since he left us. It’s all just time, an ancient measurement system based on the movement of the sun and the moon, and it truly  passes like a white hot flash. Those 28 years, those 10 years are just gone.

What give me the worst sort of ache though, is the sense of drifting from him that I feel. I still miss him every minute of each day, but his presence, which used to be so powerful, is fading and like the passing of time, there’s no way to bring him back.

27 February
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Odd Day, Even Year

noah scans-113

Noah in a hammock with a hibiscus.

Like a birthday, wedding anniversary or any important date, the anniversary of Noah’s death is one we note. It’s on my electronic calendar as a recurring date, The Day Noah Died, as if I really need reminding. It is on our wall photo calendar with a picture of him and the words, Noah’s Day on February 27. He died in 2006, an even year just after the end of the winter Olympics in Torino.

Eight years seems like a long time for him to be gone, I miss him just as much now as I did when his death was fresh and Mike and I were navigating the first days, weeks and months of being Noah-less. This anniversary is a little bit different and perhaps a bit less bitter. With the upcoming publication of my memoir, He Plays a Harp, I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do five years ago: I’ve created a permanent reminder of him and our life. People sometimes ask me if writing his story has been cathartic or healing and until now, I said, “no.” I truly didn’t believe that writing about Noah could heal or fix my hurt. I’ve re-thought that premise and I’ve come to realize that writing about bad experiences can heal and help.  (It also helps to have found a wonderful publishing team in Principia Media). I’ve written and exposed very personal parts of my life, my emotions and my relationships with Noah, Mike and Tasha. I still feel profound grief from his death, but I don’t feel as fragile as I did eight years ago.

The writing has strengthened my relationship with Noah. I never believed that people could have a growing and ongoing relationship with someone who isn’t in this world, but as with using writing to heal, I believe that Noah and I are closer than we were when he was alive.

Today is Noah’s Day and I honor him for helping me write our memoir and giving me seventeen years+eight more years of inspiration.

 

 

05 September
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The Signs

I’ve always been open to signs, you know, like an answer to a meaningful question via the appearance of a rainbow, a bird crossing my path or something else that tells me what I need to know.  Though I’m open to signs, I can’t think of a time when I actually had a meaningful sign.

Until today.

Heart Rock

Heart Rock

I found this rock, or chunk or concrete while I was running. I picked it up and ran home with it in my hand and the moment I spotted it, I thought “Ah! A heart rock for Sally.” Sally is my friend from the Neahtawanta Inn in Traverse City. She collects heart-shaped rocks. Her husband Bob Russell, died August 23 from cancer, which he fought for almost three years. I met Sally and Bob when we stayed at the Inn in 1988. I was pregnant with Noah. While Noah was growing up, we stayed there, too. I like to think that they built the accessible room at the Inn just for us! I’ll bring that rock to Sally, in memory of Bob.

While running, before I found the rock, I was thinking about meetings in the afterlife. When someone dies, I’ll say a little prayer to Noah (since he’s an angel now) and ask him to keep an eye out for whomever might be arriving. I don’t know if Bob was a heaven-believer or not, that isn’t important. What matters is that Noah is looking for him, to welcome him to a new place.

Before I ran this morning I received an e mail that chapter from my memoir that I’ve been working on as a stand alone piece was accepted for web exclusive publication in Brain, Child, a literary journal for mothers. Other authors who’ve been published in it include Jane Smiley and Anne Tyler. The piece I submitted is titled, The Orders and is about when Mike and I chose to sign do not resuscitate orders and allow natural death orders for Noah.

One of my 2013 new year’s resolutions was that come September I’d start sending queries for my memoir to literary agents. I also wanted to see six pieces of it published–that would be another sign it was ready. That time has come, Brain, Child is the sixth. Also, Noah would have been 25 on September 23 of this year and all these numbers seem like a sign to me.

27 February
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Tolerance of Grief

Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of Noah’s death.

I admit, the pain of his loss isn’t as acute as it was seven years ago. But still, when I think of him, I can feel the tightness in my throat and my eyes start to burn.

And I think about him every single day.

That’s the reality of this kind of loss. The grief hangs on and on. It’s become a part of me. As much as I am a writer, a runner, a public relations professional, a wife and a friend, I am a grieving person.  I don’t mind the sadness as much anymore, like running I’ve built up a tolerance to it. Just like going out to run five or ten miles, there’s effort, but not the pain I once knew.

A friend of mine pointed me to a poem by Emily Dickinson, I found the last line of it to be intriguing. It seems hopeful,  aspirational, but impossible.“First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.”

Her word choices describe the early bits of of death very well. I struggle with the letting go part, though. I don’t think letting go is something I’ll ever completely do when it comes to Noah. All that I have left of him are memories. Grief and memories are interconnected and without memories what would I grieve? I grieve as I remember the good times we had with Noah, eating supper, reading books, getting ready for school, the trips we took, celebrating holidays and how he looked, felt and smelled.

As long as I have memories of my son, I’ll have grief in my life. The letting go is something I don’t ever want to do.

Noah on a boat in the Keys

One of my favorite images of Noah, we were boating in the Florida Keys. He was about 15 years old at the time.

 

 

 

30 December
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Poking the Wound

One of my classmates in my online writing class mentioned a book she thought I’d like to read, Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon and I’m pleased that she did.

Noah had a volunteer job at Meijer handing out fliers. He thought it was fun and people would often tell us they’d see him at work.

The book is about parents, children and how their identities are wrapped around one another. His focus is on parents with children who are not “vertical”or similar to their parents. He writes about kids who are deaf, dwarfs, have autism, are prodigies, become killers, are disabled or otherwise very different their parents–kids who are horizontal. Kids who are far from the parental tree. The book is comprehensive, with more than 600 pages (900 including the notes, bibliography and index) and is such interesting reading. He delves deep into the relationship between kids who are different than their parents. He interviews people who are brutally and graphically honest about these differences and how difficult it can be to love a child that is different or to be the child that is different. Solomon and the people he talks with don’t hold back or sugarcoat what life is like when there is difference. The pictures they paint of their kids and the relationships aren’t always what people want to believe happens in life. Even to someone who parented two kids with disabilities, I had to pause and think about the parents (and kids) in his book who faced challenges many times greater than my own. Also, they were saying things about their feelings and their kids that I’ve known to be true about Noah, but avoided altogether as I’ve written my memoir. I’ve come to realize that I’ve been protecting Noah, but not for any good reason. I just didn’t want readers to not love him because he was cognitively impaired. Because Mike and I were around him so much, we understood him, we realized he had a special intelligence that couldn’t be quantified by an IQ test. We knew it, we could see and feel it. But, the reality was, he had a significant intellectual impairment. At present, my memoir circles around this important fact. To tell his story honestly, it can’t just about the wheelchair, it’s about the brain, too.

Ouch.

Poking the wound, pressing where it hurts is what makes writing memorable and real. For my memoir be successful, I need to write about all of Noah. My manuscript will undergo one last revision and in it, I’ll to dig a little deeper and press it where it hurts to draw the readers in and to be true to Noah’s real character.

21 June
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Writer, Reporter or Author?

Earlier this week I took PTO from work and dedicated much to the day to watching a thunderstorm roll in from Lake Michigan and writing/re-writing parts of my memoir.

As it thundered and rained, I thought about being at home to write and how much pleasure having uninterrupted time to write gives me. I’m lucky though, I write for a living in the field of public relations. I write profiles of donors, stories about grantees, speeches, notes for speakers at events, letters to donors, copy for the internet and other professional pieces. I also am a citizen reporter for The Rapidian. In that volunteer role, I report on whatever interests me–running, authors, artists and musicians mostly. It is the most enjoyable volunteer work I can imagine.

When I’m working on my memoir, I am an author. I tried to think of what the difference between writer, reporter and author are. I formulated an idea, ever so slightly based on one idea lifted from Michel Foucault (who is much more thoughtful on this than I ever want to be). As a author, I am creating something new, of lasting value and something that will (hopefully, when published) outlive me. When I look at my PR writing and my reporting, I know that these pieces won’t stand the test of time. They’re good, they’re memorable, but by my criteria (new, lasting value, will outlive me) they are not author pieces.

When I first began writing Noah’s story, I did it, in part, because I wanted a record of his life to exist. After Mike and I are dead, who would remember him unless I told his story?  I want Noah to outlive me, which is pretty much what all parents want for their kids right?

Noah’s death made me an author.