Friday, September 20, 2013

Most Memorable Moment: Ten Years Later

Last night, we went to Bull and Bones Brewhaus and Grill in Blackburg, Virginia (look at that nice alliteration... it's even a poetic location) for karaoke and drinks.  Brandon asked me what moment is most memorable for me from the last ten years together, not counting our wedding day and the births of our children, and I was stumped.  Most memorable?  God.

Maybe singing "Love Shack" with Brandon on the stage of our honeymoon cruise, or the long walk back from nearly drowning my new husband off a Key West beach, sandy flippers and snorkles in hand.

Maybe the day we came home to the house on Leland to find that our dog, Tex, had eaten everything in the kitchen.  The loaf of bread.  The plastic around the loaf of bread.  A candle.  A coffeepot.  A chocolate Easter bunny.  We were stunned.  We were certain he would die, but he didn't!

Maybe the night I brought both pregnancy tests downstairs grinning to Brandon sitting on the couch watching the Indians with Tex stretched out next to him, and he said, "Wow.  Wow."  And I said, "I know!"

Maybe driving all over Akron and Hartville looking at houses under $50,000 feeling downtrodden, rolling over the tip of a hill and seeing a for sale sign on a burned down house, or walking through the house that was sinking at such an angle into the earth that we could barrel roll down the living room floor, until finally we found the house on Ardella, olive green siding and a fenced-in backyard for Tex, enough bedrooms for a bunch of babies.

Maybe the day we expected to find out that we were twelve weeks along only to find out that we had miscarried our first baby, and we stood alone in the parking lot, summer sun bright and hot above us.  "I guess I should go back to work," I sniffled, head low and tears a slow leak, and Brandon put his hands on my face and whispered, "Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go," and we held each other, facing the first intimate grief of marriage together.

Maybe six months later, standing in a restaurant after the boys basketball team won a tournament game in East Liverpool (right? was that where we were?), getting the call that our nephew was born but that he was struggling in the NICU and feeling so helpless there, states away from our brother and sister-in-law, how the parents and basketball team all bowed their heads and prayed for Braden, for Ben and Kelly, for health and miracles and life.

Maybe when we brought Lydia home to that house on Ardella, our two crazy redbone coonhounds ready to meet the new addition.

Maybe "I see a firetruck, a bright red SHINY firetruck!" for Thanksgiving, celebrating Braden's second birthday (was it his second? do you remember? time goes so quickly and it all runs together, and now I don't know, was Lydia there for the firetruck or was that the next year?).

Maybe our trip to Butler, PA, when we felt the push to start looking at seminary, the need to move on to the next big thing.

Maybe the day we realized if I took the job at Ashland, he could quit his job, and we'd still be fine, actually better than fine, and maybe even start seminary.

Maybe walking on the towpath in the valley with Lydia right after Elvis came home from the NICU himself, and Brandon wore our strong, fragile, healthy but so sick before little boy in the Baby Bjorn, and the light danced through the leaves, and we prepared to go house hunting again, and then how every house was like something from Flip This House - the Bacon House, the Flea House, the Power Line House, the Putt Putt House - until we found the house on Morgan, a clean slate of white with so many walls to paint, so many ways to make it ours.

Maybe the day we decided to step out on faith and start to tithe regularly.  Maybe the call later that afternoon asking Brandon to work for ESPN.

Maybe every trip we've taken tagged on to work where we've eaten good meals and drank good drinks and slept in large beds, work as the brackets around relaxation.

Maybe every time I've worshiped next to Brandon in church, our fingers intertwined, or the time at Hudson during the sermon when we watched the bump of Lydia's elbow or knee move across my abdomen, or every time we have held a baby during a praise song, or every time we've walked with Lydia and Elvis to the communion table, the kids eager for bread to fill the empty spaces.

Maybe every time Brandon and the kids have walked over to my office on campus just to stop by.

Maybe every time we have sung, "Jackson" by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.

Maybe every time we've quoted Dumb and Dumber or When Harry Met Sally or The Anchorman or Forget Paris.

Maybe every time we have walked nine holes in the fading fall light.

Maybe every time Henry says, "Juice, Dad, Mom?"

Maybe every family picnic or backyard barbecue with friends.  Maybe every fourth of July picnic.  Every Christmas morning.

Maybe every time we have danced slow or fast, in our kitchen, in our living room, after a Christmas party with Lisa and Zack, at the Boot, at the Dusty Armadillo, at Thirsty Cowboy, at weddings, singing "and we'll remember them!", singing "He stopped loving her today..." and always, always laughing, always smiling, always his rough cheek against mine.

Maybe every time we have forgiven each other.  Maybe every time I have been forgiven.

These, yes, these, and so many, so many other memorable moments that have comprised ten years of laughter, ten years of learning, ten years of growth, ten years of grace, ten years of choosing each other, and yes of course ten years of love, ten years, ten years, ten years.

Favorite memorable moment?  If a moment can stretch across a decade, then, this last one.  This last decade, with my husband.  Every happy second, every difficult season, every grief, every mercy.  Everything.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Full Body Burden - Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

I recently finished Kristen Iversen's book, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, an important and terrifying account of the dangers that lurk in the secrets of our personal and national lives.  It is especially important and worrisome as the Denver area experiences such dramatic flooding, stirring up buried plutonium deposits.

Kristen Iversen accomplishes what Michelle Herman called the “stealth memoir” at the River Teeth conference this spring. Iversen’s personal and family history is woven closely with the history of Rocky Flats in such a way that both story lines magnify each other. Any time that Kristen described Rocky Flats in terms of ground, water, and air contamination, history, health, etc., I immediately felt the weight of this information on Iversen’s family and storyline. And any time Kristen described her family’s activities, relationships, and experiences, the same weight of Rocky Flats pressed down on those scenes.

I’m certain that’s no accident. There are no scenes where I found myself wondering why she shared this information. Everything is critical to the unfolding of the story and contributes to the larger narrative about Rocky Flats. The power in this kind of paired narrative (personal memoir plus literary journalism/reportage) is that each works as a lens in a pair of 3-D glasses. You can see through one by itself, and you can see through the other by itself, but looking through both lenses makes the story pop off of the page. I would have had a much more challenging time digesting the information about Rocky Flats in all its heavy political history, health records, employee names, corporate lingo, and scientific data, but because Iversen has included her own family story, she gives her audience a tangible, accessible handle to grip while we navigate all of that information.

On the other hand, Kristen’s personal narrative (alcoholic father, boyfriend’s death, marriage and divorce and so on) is a plenty compelling tale on its own, but each and every scene she chose is quite literally in the shadow of Rocky Flats. It is a good example of a writer knowing exactly what she needs to hang onto in order to keep the reader going – her primary thread that runs through the narrative is always and importantly Rocky Flats.

It reminds me of what Cheryl Strayed said about Wild, she began every chapter “on the trail,” which seems to me to be a way of rooting the reader in time and space. In Iversen’s case, every one of her personal scenes has to, in some way, serve the story of Rocky Flats, whether directly or indirectly. We find out about friends she grew up with only to discover later their connection with the plant, or diseases they develop, or how their parents were connected. There is no reason to go into great lengths about her marriage and subsequent divorce except to state that it happened, she had two kids, and then jumps right back into Rocky Flats. Years, YEARS have gone by, but I don’t miss any of that information. Too much tangential information and I would have been wondering, “So what? How does this relate to the bigger narrative?”

In this way, Iversen is able to cover a tremendous span of time. With just the right amount of personal information to carry us through, we’re able to understand the arc and scope of Rocky Flats, its impact on the community from a personal level to a national/international level, and the degree of secrecy permeating the community—again, on a personal level and national level.

Another reason I appreciate Iversen’s story line is that without it, I would have felt lost as to when all of the events with Rocky Flats were taking place. Even with Iversen’s personal narrative, I often found myself thinking, “Wait, when did this happen?” It was also challenging for me to keep track of the different names of families and workers, which is often a problem for me in real life let alone in books. There were so many people impacted and so many people to include in the story. And yet, Kristen is able to make many of them into dynamic characters on the page, so that we see their personal stories right alongside her own.

Structurally, I thought Iversen’s technique of separating the Rocky Flats material (history, etc.) from her own personal storyline by white space and clear breaks in tone—the Rocky Flats material is all written in the style of reportage, concise and fact-driven, void of many personal references or first-person narration until she switches gears into her own story. Then, when her personal timeline merges with the Rocky Flats timeline, what we learn about Rocky Flats is naturally woven with what’s going on in her personal life, because Rocky Flats IS her personal life.

Outside of the timeline and names confusion, I found this book to be impressively written and researched. I was captivated (and frankly, horrified) by the level of secrecy, denial, and human error in environmental health as it relates locally in Colorado, nationally, and globally. It’s terrifying and eye-opening. I am grateful for this kind of work by such a strong writer. It is an important book.