On Memory, Mourning & Museums

I’ve been raised on books.

Said another way, I raised myself on books.

Just a few weeks ago, I thought that I could travel home to Minnesota, to my father’s house, and store favorite titles in my bedroom, shaped when I was sixteen–my aesthetic was still developing then, with its love for light wood and bright colors, and after a near-decade away, ultimately little has changed. Given the size of NYC apartments, and an oft-transitory way of life espoused by the city, this has been the Weronika habit.

Tonight, this week, these last few weeks, it has become no more.

Tonight, I pull books from shelves, and sort them by category.

Tonight, I prepare to let some books go, so as to not move with them.

My first copy of Lemony Snicket, a paperback box set. Two copies of The Shadow of the Wind, one which must be given away–a mental note to get it into the hands of a dream reader. The full Harry Potter series, of different editions, purchased by a trio over years. Bibles in multiple languages, and three-dozen dictionary and thesaurus sets, from parents for whom English was always new. Adam Mickiewicz and Henryk Sienkiewicz and stacks of Polish poetry, to get beneath the skin. Polish cookbooks, some so old that I’ve no doubt a great-grandmother would have run her fingers over the pages, to smooth creases. I can’t forget the Gillian Flynn collection, or those hardcover thrillers picked up for free at the library giveaway; to recycle now or to keep, ’tis the question.

Oh, what a life story I can tell through the books I’ve consumed.

Oh, the shelves filled and, roomless, dusty stacks built.

In the weeks to come, our family home shall be placed on the market, and for the first time in our lives, my brothers and I have to learn to shed layers of skin and history and memory, to find the right balance between photos kept in their scrapbooks versus scanned and electronically filed (all coded–year, location, across our Canadian days, Wisconsin days, Minnesotan days, days post-home into college and workforce eras); between the traditions of our forefathers and the American melting pot within which we have become who we are, between the English language that has become primary and that original language which added to our brains neural patterns, which I still speak without an accent, which my brothers have Americanized; between that Polish community which has known us on Saturdays, and Sundays, and that American style which has poured its ink over our beings, like a tattoo.

“I feel more Polish than anything else,” I have always said, given my parents’ language, given the strict no-English rule they maintained at home and in the Polish circles within which I was raised and have ever-walked; given Polish-styled cutlets and sauerkraut served over dinners; given the entire reality of their country and their faith burned into my mind and heart, a living ferocity of substance and culture, thick like glue.

Tonight I feel different, matured-by-circumstance in a way I have never tasted. Three weeks, and reality feels different.

Different, empty; filled in a new way.

Different, still, restless; I am unable to imagine the next step, yet sure of the mystery, of the mystery-turned-concrete as answers to questions unfold, doors open, pieces shift, things change.

A walk through this home now is a walk through a museum–stacked photos of my parents married on Polish pilgrimage, in homage to the faith within which their courage and strength was bred; elementary and middle school report cards; copies of Polish and Canadian passport applications, atop confirmations of annual visa renewals, which called for travel to the borders, and an annual shot through Detroit streets, before we became permanent residents and then citizens indeed; china and linens from ages past, some pieces embroidered by my grandmothers’ hands; books, in Polish and English and French, pulled from shelves, filtered, an odd but true blend of my whole person, formation, background, and history; vases, for the love of flowers, and wine glasses mixed across sets; and more.

Sunlight shines through the house in a different way, and I do not write of or with sentiment. Given that my relationship with my father was a complex, difficult one–a living receptacle to generational trauma and the contours of world wars, which bombed their way into the minutiae of Polish days and scarred generations–there was, without question, a disorder to a life lived parallel to one another when we shared time on Minnesotan soil.

We spoke little. I learned from him little. I strayed and stayed from his path, and left as little space as possible for ruffles and raised voices and collateral damage, though collateral was never fully avoided. Yet I loved him, for he birthed me, and raised me, and supported me, and condemned the weak in me–and I am no other man’s daughter.

Given the need now to think deeply about the next steps, and three orphaned lives lived into the future, weddings without parents, grandkids without grandparents, discernments without their wisdom or opinion, tears without their shoulders, silence without their humor, our dinner table feels almost more full–a paradox, perhaps, but the opportunity to ask these questions and to seek their answers now with a greater desire, spontaneity, and necessity soothes what otherwise might have been the darkness of the loss of my mother, which brought me to my knees for years, over and over, in a living agony.

They say grief comes in stages, and that all grieve in their own way. I have learned, so profoundly, that there is nothing that one can do to jump past the stage that is mourning visceral–that moment in which the child inside realizes she stands, indeed, alone over questions and realities she thought she had a lifetime to acknowledge (oh, fate!), and that moment in which the sheer overwhelming implosion hits hard and brutal; that moment in which body and emotion and mind are as if one, but yet not, for one bears the weight of the others, and what the heart feels the body releases.

I have learned again that deep love grieves, for what is love if not unity, that thirst for oneness and forever; I have learned that the depth of grief, of implosion, is proportionate to the love which precedes it, as grief responds to the object it has lost.

I have, simply, learned and known trauma and grief, and hope only that the lesson of their reality, unique and deep, continues to do its work–in the desire for good books, for imagination strengthened; for good friends, for more memories made, and traditions fostered; for the spirit of creativity, so that, finally, as I have long-dreamt, this walk may make its way into a novel of my own, borne in the same furnace as that of my clients, whose patience and generosity of spirit in this time has stunned and healed me.

Thank you, to all of you. Be so very well–and more soon!

R.I.P., Tata (Juliusz Janczuk)

In Memoriam: Bożena (1954-2011) & Juliusz (1952-2019) Janczuk

When I lost my mom in 2011, I was nineteen years old, on leave from my second semester at NYU after a phone call at the library: “Come home. The doctors aren’t sure how much longer I have to live.” Ovarian cancer ravages: bones en-fragiled, weight disappeared, wigs employed to cover hair lost.

The fog, then, that began the loss of six months of my life: mailing out boxes from my dorm; purchasing a one-way plane ticket; pulling my carry-on behind me down the Union Square region streets, still adjusting to the publicity of NYC travel, hating its grit and the unevenness of its cement.

I don’t remember the last month of my mom’s suffering–April to May, spring tucking itself around the trees in our front yard–beyond the faint recollection that, as she spent twenty hours in her bed, aching, peaceful and uncomplaining, I lay in my own, numb. We lost her unexpectedly, in the sense that I remember my dad speaking, hurriedly, when her collapse began: internal bleeding, turned coma, turned death, no last words exchanged; machines beeping, breathing, holding her physical frame.

There are no words for the loss of the attachment you have to life–the one who understands and sees you; the one who has raised and protected you; the one whose wisdom has shaped you, deep inside, to fight for the good and the best. I don’t remember the memorial service, the Mass to pray for her, the completion of homework to satisfy the classroom requirements left behind; I don’t remember the summer, the cyclical movements of grief, and shock, and a rage so deep that it doesn’t really move in you but just sits, hard as rock. I remember the trauma of our own form of poverty–funeral expenses, and flight expenses, and Polish consulate expenses added up, as my dad traveled with her ashes to Poland alone, leaving three of us infantilized at home, as if we didn’t need our closure over the Olsztyn cemetery, candles lit, a step from cobblestones and bakeries with bread fresh. I was done with a year of university, and the younger two barely had their minds wrapped around high school.

The last time I really looked at him, he sat in the kitchen corner, working on two laptops at a time–the computer given him by work, IT programmer genie that he was, and the computer he brought up for Polish news outlets, soccer games, and U2 music videos.

I think of this duo now–one returned, property of the MN state government it was, the other in the pile of items about which decisions must be made–and it’s hard to wrap my mind around sixty-seven years of his identity evolving: Polish-born; a self-learned programmer, so intelligent that it hurt; a refugee to Germany, giving up his Polish passport and its marker of empty, communism-imposed stores and wait lines for food; a sponsored immigrant to Canada, when hundreds of Polish couples and families fled, and took jobs with car auctions and restaurants; a husband, who waited seven years for me, the eldest; a father of three, who never quite figured out how to speak; a home-owner, who liked to keep shoeboxes of archives, organized and messy at once.

When I looked, he sat bent over, a limp in his right leg, suffering out the infection that he thought was related to the leg, to leave-raking and yard maintenance that he managed alone.

Sat solitary, that same way he sat solitary his entire life–he who spent time drinking with university friends, and who converted to a form of reason when he encountered my mother; he who layered his sweatshirts with cigarette smoke, as he smoked his mother’s militarism out, and spent hours bunched over in the garage, a Żywiec can a night.

When it came time for surgeons to go in on Wednesday, last week (11/6), this infection in the leg apparently involved the entire graft that doctors had placed within him two years prior during an artery bypass surgery, which took him out for an entire month; his colon and liver; his interiority–which then bled, even as platelets and donated blood couldn’t re-fill it.

One of my brothers and I took the call at home–“come, for he doesn’t have much longer”–and headed to the hospital. He was gone three hours later, after a surgery that was supposed to ease pain in his leg.

The shock is like a needle in the heart. The re-orienting now, mentally and emotionally, of our entire lives–hard. Where we had some kind of stable point of contact with him, some kind of regularity, we don’t anymore.

He, too, will be cremated and buried with my mom abroad, dust on the very earth which birthed him–and so life runs. I think of Anastasia, and life as an orphan as it begins now; I think of death, and the place that relationship has–only the greatest intimacy is worth living for, for everything else gets stolen, and you’re left with a yearning in the heart, for time better spent.

[Excerpt]

Śpieszmy się | Let us hasten
Ks. (Fr.) Jan Twardowski

Śpieszmy się kochać ludzi tak szybko odchodzą

i ci co nie odchodzą nie zawsze powrócą

i nigdy nie wiadomo mówiąc o miłości

czy pierwsza jest ostatnia czy ostatnia pierwsza.

#

Let us hasten to love others so quickly they depart

and those who depart will not always return

and one does not always know speaking of love

whether the first one is last or the last first.

Budka Suflera is a Polish musician/band, one of my dad’s favorites.

I love you, tata. Thank you for all things.


I’ll be back to work tomorrow/Friday.

“The Court of the Land”

That one time I broke another poem, because I was thinking about the Supreme Court in the hospital, and am thinking about the Court again, given impeachment moves. #whenwthinks

a perfect oddity of numbers–

nine, black-robed;

backs bent over papers typed,

typefaces archaic,

stacks never-ending–

a law built to honor,

to protect that person,

which they also are:

persons first, to citizens be, to judges become,

legalities so made,

to remember the first,

to always be.

A Quick Public Note RE: Medical Leave

Dear Friends,

I spent five weeks on medical leave (8/5-8/20, and again 8/22-9/12) without any real access to my phone or computer, and thus my email, following a freak accident. Think a period of disassociation, amnesia, and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, where there actually wasn’t one. There exists a short time period from which I remember little to nothing–some things have left significant and severe memory gaps; I don’t remember most of what happened in the days that led up to these hospitalizations.

I’m working through a backlog of emails and other correspondence in order to put puzzle pieces together, but this included the pre-emptive announcement of some good things (including the now-formalized announcement of moves for Gearbreakers film realities–updated 10/7) and some public confusion over others. All was non-intentional (I know there have been some questions!); our brain has the capacity to do weird things, and mine sort of defected neurologically for a short bit.

Given that I’m one who lives very deeply intentionally oriented to health, across all dimensions (spiritual, emotional, and intellectual-mental), these events were totally out of the ordinary for me, and ultimately not indicative of me–a one-off, of a kind that’s hard to explain!

Where there is some degree of emotional maturity and intelligence, this does not impair any kind of authentic, honest, and hard-working relationship, work- or personal-wise, and I was gladly discharged from the hospital on Thursday with a total green light to return to work!

I don’t anticipate there being any additional medical problems, but I did want to note this in public, in case you notice any shifts here that have come about as a result of the medical leave, including work now with my own literary agency, founded to respond to a greater freedom in strategic planning and an eye towards the kind of non-fiction list that I want to build.

I look forward to reviewing queries and manuscripts submitted, and hope to respond to absolutely everything that remains in my inbox.

It’s a total and utter joy to be back, with the goal of building a stable and healthy list of fiction and non-fiction. From this perspective, nothing changes–the same wishlist remains.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out: weronika@lightningbugspub.com.

I’m happy to answer any/all questions, and get on the phone with anyone who may have any more of them.

Warm wishes, and until soon,

Weronika