An Open Letter To My Poppy on the Occasion of my Sun's 13th Birthday...

My dearest Poppy,

I wanted to write you a letter to tell you some things, and I wanted to write it while you're still here to appreciate it. I didn't want this to be the kind of letter that would be read in the "kind words" section at your Remembrance. And, you're going to be famous again one day, and then all kinds of stories about you will circulate and someone might write The UnAuthorized Biography of the Poppy, and put in all kinds of crazy "tell-alls"... and any time the Professor or I say "Yeah, but it wasn't exactly like that" folks will only think we're in denial.

But it was important for me to say this to you on the occasion of my Sun's 13th birthday. In some cultures, this makes him a young man... and he is, but really right now he's just entering his teens, still a baby with a long way to go, but 13 is a pretty big step.

You were the first family member I told, once I knew officially that the Sun was on his way, and once I had decided I was going to be a mom. I told you first, because I knew you'd be OK with it (even though I wasn't married) and I knew that if YOU were OK with it, any objections anyone else had wouldn't be all that overwhelming, because nobody really argues with Poppy when he's decided on a thing.

But then when I was seven months pregnant, the Professor called me up one morning and told me they had taken you to the hospital, and that it was serious. And it got even more serious as the days wore on and they discovered the tumor in your bladder and your failing kidneys. I was really scared... beyond scared, even. In that place where I just go numb and back out of feeling. I told the Professor she was now the older sister, because I just couldn't carry the weight right then. You know now how difficult my relationship with the Sun's dad was, but back then nobody really knew. Only the people who lived in the same building as me, or the few friends we had in common knew the extent of it. To them, our fights were legendary.... loud, stressful, mean. So the thought of you not being there was a bit more than I could handle.

I remember asking you to fight, to hold on. I told you I really needed you... and the little boy I was growing was going to need you, because at the time I wasn't really sure how it was all going to work out with his dad. You gave every indication that you weren't ready to go anyhow, but the doctors weren't always so sure.

So first off... thank you for sticking around. Later on I know it got a little bit harder and very very painful, and every time they rushed you to the ER I would offer up a silent prayer to the True God that I would let you go if I had to, if you wanted to go I would accept it but please I'm still not grown yet, I'm not ready yet, please let him stay a little while longer... and I am very grateful that you get to see my boy become a man.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time with you. I spent a lot of time with BigBear, too, and I thank her for being an amazing mother, super patient wife and strong woman, and for setting by example the kind of woman I wanted to be... but you and I, we've always had an understanding. You always have the uncanny ability to know exactly what I'm feeling, and will say something to me or ask me a question right at that moment, and cut right to the heart of me. I admit, there have been times when I denied whatever it was you said... but I would smile to myself and later on, when no one was looking allow myself to experience whatever it was I was feeling, and to be OK about it, because Poppy said so.

No one has ever been able to make me feel bad about something the way you could.... and I mean that in a good way. Like, once when I was about 12, you caught me in a lie, and even though I denied it, you knew and I knew you caught me and I was crushed. I could fight BigBear and be recalcitrant and defiant all day long, but you... all you had to do was wriggle your eyebrows at me and I would be reduced to tears. But no one else has ever been able to break me, though several people tried. And damn near succeeded, I admit, but in the end I remain unbroken. Your "eleventh commandment: Neither a doormat nor punching bag shall ye be" gave me permission to take on the world and win without apology.

When the Sun came, it was because of you and BigBear that I was able to walk away from a $90,000 a year gig, because I didn't like what I was becoming, and because I wanted to see my baby boy grow up. Nobody else really understood. But all those walks we took together in Paris; me on your shoulders or riding my red tricycle, and all those times you stopped typing your story to put a radish on a toothpick for me and call it a lollipop, and all those days you said I didn't have to go to school because it stressed me, and all those nights you sat up with me while I struggled to breathe.... all those things gave me permission to do that for my boy. I wasn't always sure his dad was going to be there... and in truth there were times he wasn't, but I knew I was going to be there, no matter what it took.

I remember the nature walks we took in Bull Bay in Jamaica, looking for the hidden and not so hidden wonders of our life... speckled eggs in a sandy nest, washed up shells, the pelicans and there food pouches, how the beach would completely erode after a hurricane, or learning to time the waves so we wouldn't get wet as we passed that rocky wall up near 10 Mile... all those things I remembered when it was time to see the world through my Sun's eyes, to enjoy those little things and triumphs all over again. I was even able to have him grow up next to a beach, the way I did, and with joy I showed him all those things I had seen as a child.

When we had to leave Jamaica, I remember feeling your pain, remember us sitting on the beach and you crying because you hoped we didn't all lose our souls in America. At the time, I had a concept of "the soul" because of all the animals we had seen pass on, and because of all the Old Testament we had read, but it wasn't until the Sun came along, and I had to work at a job I hated and felt that my soul was dying, that I really understood what you meant. I sat in my armchair once, with Boy nursing at my breast and me talking to Uncle C on the phone about creating, crying because I didn't have the time for Boy let alone for creating, and it was like dying. So the morning I woke up and Boss pissed me off one last time and I walked out on that job and that life and never looked back, I could do it because after all, taking that kind of risk on my happiness was more familiar to me than allowing my soul to die in an office cubicle.

Because I had a father I loved and who was there for me, I had the strength to accomplish the extremely difficult task of fighting a man who was trying to break me, yet still allow him to be a father to his son.  I knew both the father and the son needed each other, needed to be in each other's lives, because I always had you in mine. And to say that this was not an easy task is an understatement. You were always kind to him... always patient and hopeful for him, the Sun's dad. And for the most part, he's an awesome Dad. We don't always see eye-to-eye, and sometimes we still want to strangle each other, and we will NEVER be a couple, because someone would die (and not me), but he has turned out to be a pretty cool dad. Although one of the past incidents that still pisses me off is him yelling at you in court... but at the same time, I realize he never had what I had... never even had the freedom to say what he felt to his own dad, so I can actually forgive him that. But it still ticks me off.... because of everyone watching the drama from the outside, you cut him the most slack.

Because you were patient with us, because you taught us to say "NO!" and mean it, because you respected when we said "NO!" and meant it, because you listened to what we had to say, because you gave us the power to make choices and accept the consequences of those choices, when my Sun came along I found myself listening more, giving him the opportunity to make choices for himself, and to accept consequences. This is something the Sun's father and I don't always agree on... but because you let us live our lives by the choices we made, accepting the mistakes we made because of a bad choice and not berating us too much (and there was no need.. after all the mistakes themselves were far better punishment for a bad choice than anything you could have done) even though it sometimes pains me to see my kid make a mistake, I know I can let him.

Because of you, because you told us the story of Nana Jessie over and over and over again, and because I grew up to find her story in census and historical data, I was encouraged to start finding out about BigBear's family. It might have taken me that much longer to be curious if I hadn't already known that Nana Jessie was the unknown and direct descendant of Francis S. Bartow, Colonel of the Confederate Army. That fact alone taught me to not to accept history just because it was written; nowhere was Col. Bartow's illegitimate slave daughter ever acknowledged. But Nana Jessie's facts were provable... and so I learned a very important lesson: ask your own questions. Don't just accept what you are told. I once had a job where the computer system that was in place made absolutely no sense... the main computers were in Washington, D.C, and the "slave terminals" (ironic description) in New York could not save any data locally but were forced to save back in DC. And the network often failed, so that we would frequently have to wait until the systems came back online, or recreate what was lost. The computer manager got annoyed by my constant questioning and asked me one day "Must you ALWAYS question me? Will you ever just accept what you are told?" I said no. And I left that stupid place in less than five months.

There's only one thing I disagree with you on.... you should have made me learn the guitar. I know I fought you tooth and nail to even look at one, and learned some piano and sang a lot in defiance, but you were right.... I should have learned to play, to at least expose myself to another way of thinking musically. And this is why I battle my kid twice a week for violin, and now I'm battling him to learn guitar, because I want him to know there's more than one way to say something with music. He'll probably hate the violin the rest of his life... and will stop playing the minute I'm too tired to fight him.... but he can read music WAY better than I ever could, and he can actually play the thing.

Actually, there's two other things where you were wrong... the first and most important is that I was NEVER going to be like Aunt Sinah. I had too much of BigBear's Indian Blood to be sucked into thinking that science and math and being smart was what I was... I was good at those things but only because I could actually feel them... I got the right answers in math because I could follow the train of thought in my heart, but I never could prove it on paper, nor did I even want to. I loved biology because nature and the Higher Power's creations fascinate me, not because I had a particularly scientific mind. And I always knew I would have a child, I always knew I 'd be a parent... it was drilled into me by BigBear. "When you grow up and have children..."BigBear would always say, and I would always listen to what ever she said after that... that I would need to make a shopping list or cook a meal  for four with five dollars, or whatever. I know that part of your joy at my announcement of the Sun was because you were more than a little afraid he would never come... but I always knew he would. In fact, I held off from conceiving him from the time I was 18, only because there were things I wanted to see and do before he came...

And the last thing I disagree with you on is "doing right because it's right to do right". I remember you saying that humans ONLY do right because they fear the consequences that doing wrong will bring them... but I have learned and seen some evil people in the world, who relish the pain of doing wrong. They thrive on it. So that fear never prevents them from doing wrong, and worse... because they aren't afraid of not doing right, sometimes it even seems they don't suffer at all! There were times, for instance, when I could plot out really awful things for people who had crossed me, and I knew I'd be able to get away with it too... but in the end I didn't ONLY because it was the right thing to do. Sometimes, you do right because it's right to do right...

But other than that... because of you Poppy, I am the woman I am. Yes, I have the greatest sister in the world, and the greatest mom ever... but you gave me freedom from fear. I am not afraid to be strong, I am not afraid to be brown, I am not afraid to be right, I'm not even afraid to be wrong. I'm not afraid to ask questions, or question answers. I'm not afraid to stand up for myself. I'm not afraid to fight tooth and nail, even to kill (God forbid) in defense of my baby, my family, my love. I am not afraid to be kind or gentle. Because, you, my Poppy never made me afraid of anything. OK, I'm no fan of failure... and I've had some pretty spectacular failures, but I'm not afraid to try again or something new just because I failed. But most importantly, I was never afraid to be a mother, even if it meant being a single mother, because I knew you had my back. And because my Sun grew up knowing his mother wasn't afraid, he's very secure... and he's going to be a great man some day. Though sometimes I have to remind him a little bit of fear is a good thing.... and I do remember you always quoting "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..." and I'm reminding myself I need to tell him that more often....

Poppy I'm so happy you're here to see him turn 13. And I look forward to you seeing him graduate from high school, from college. And maybe even you'll get to meet his wife... but I am very very happy that today, this day, I can say thank you Poppy, I love  you. Look at my Sun! He's taller than me now, can you believe it? He looks like his daddy but he looks like us too, isn't that funny? Nana Jessie would like him, and Nana Narcissa too, and he would make Grandpa Wil smile. And great-grandpa Narcisso. I told the Sun the other day about Narcisso in the Irish bar... he thought that funny. I told him we come from a long line of defiant people, so use that to defy evil, to stand up for justice.... and he liked that, too.

Happy 13th Sun Day, Poppy.

I love you.


BigBear said…
so why did you have to make me cry on a Fri am when I'm trying to get my eyebrows threaded? I'm mushy enough about the Boy's birthday, and now this, how it makes me know that whatever our insanity, poppy and I did the right thing, you are a wonderful woman, my friend, my daughter, my mentor, my # 1 daughter ( in the birth order Chinese sense), I think you may even become the 'Older' one again, though the Professor might not like it, LOL. I hope everyone will read this and see that Poppy's accomplishment was as a FATHER and that may be the highest accomplishment any man can achieve. Happy Birthday Boy, I'm so glad you got to know both your grand father and your Great grandfather TKG, go forth and triumph, blow those walls down

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