Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bittersweet Harvest

Justin, Ben, and Harry in Mexico.  I met them shortly after this trip.

The house in Las Vegas, New Mexico that I moved into after I split up with my husband was next to a compound inhabited by three men:  Harry, Ben, and Justin, and I became very close to all of them.  In fact, Justin eventually became my partner and the father of my fourth child.  Harry was in his mid-sixties when I met him, but had the health and energy level of someone much younger.  He was a forest firefighter and a pilot, and had lived in many places and done many things.  At one point in his life he was a successful stock broker.  He was wise, funny, strong, and a great cook, famous for his amazing pots of beans. 

Two days before Eliana was born, he got up that morning, and something wasn't right.  We all thought he was drunk at first, but soon realized he had had a stroke.  We brought him to the hospital where he stayed for several days.  He and I were in there at the same time, I giving birth, and he beginning a slow process of death.

When he was released, he wasn't much better than when he went in.  The stroke had completely transformed him, he had turned into an old man overnight.  He was disoriented and couldn't do simple things for himself.  I would go visit him, and he'd have his glasses on upside down, or his shirt on inside out.  A few days after his return home, he reached into his woodstove and grabbed a smouldering log with his bare hand, severely burning it.  I became the tender of that wound, changing the dressing twice a day.  I was simultaneously caring for a newborn and a wounded old man, and it was hard.

Harry eventually got a little better in terms of greater clarity and ability to do for himself, but never again returned to the man he had been.  

I eventually left Las Vegas and did so with great relief to be ending a dark period of my life.  I had gone through a couple of years in which I suffered a major identity crisis, and allowed myself to be drawn into a downward spiral of reckless behavior.  This resulted in the loss of several friends, and even after I began rebuilding my life in a healthier direction, the views of certain people about me were set, so that I found myself trapped in the mirror, so to speak.  So after I left Las Vegas, I never looked back, I blocked it out of my consciousness as much as possible, and didn't go back to visit Harry or anyone else.

Last Wednesday, Harry killed himself with a rifle.  It had gotten to the point where there was discussion about putting him in a home.  That just wasn't going to happen.  I don't blame him, but it doesn't make it any easier.  It didn't make it easier to go to Las Vegas, or to walk in the room where it happened.  It didn't make it easier to clean brains off the wall, or to deal with the flood of memories that overtook me when I saw the white electric heater he had in there, that used to be my daughter's and was covered in exuberantly adolescent graffiti-like phrases she had written in black Sharpie.

Going to Las Vegas the other day was an intense opening to many things that I have been so closed to, so numb against.  Things related to my relationship with Justin, things that happened with my children while I was there, all the good and bad memories of living there, of who I was then.  And I realized to my shame that after Harry had his stroke, I detached from him because it was too hard to see how he'd changed, to suffer the loss of the amazing man he was.  I was always afraid I would betray the dismay I felt around him.  And honestly, after I left, it was as though I'd already written him off.  I kept expecting to hear that he'd died and I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did.  For a man like Harry, living in dependency on friends, doctors, pills, was no life at all.

I want to remember him as he was before the stroke, his gruff voice with that slight Texas drawl, the way he'd call you darlin'.  I see him driving down the road in his big black and red rescue Jeep, wearing one of those crisp white shirts he loved.  I remember how despite his ability to lead a team of firefighters, he was afraid of bugs.  How he mentored June Amber, my oldest daughter, during a difficult time for her.  But I also want to remember who he was after the stroke, and honor that person too.  Because he hung in there, he fought the good fight until the end. 

Today is Lammas, the pagan celebration of the first harvest, the harvest of the grain.  According to, it is a festival of regrets and farewells, and this is very fitting for me today, because I am experiencing a true regret, that I let my emotional difficulties  prevent me from staying in relationship with someone who was very dear to me and is now gone.

And yet, my overriding feeling is one of gratitude, that Harry lived and that he's free, that I have been brought full-circle to face and integrate my Las Vegas life and its people, to soften my heart and open to love in a place that has been cold and dark within me for several years.  To forgive myself and others.  To say a fond farewell - to Harry, to my regret, to past mistakes, both mine and others.'

One of the traditions associated with Lammas is baking bread, making good use of that which has been harvested.  So today, as I consider all that I am now reaping from my relationship with Harry, from my life in Las Vegas and all that I did there, all that I can now make good use of instead of regret, I will bake a loaf of bread in honor of Harry's life, and bring it to Las Vegas when I go for his memorial next weekend, to share with others who were connected to his life, and to mine.

Harry, Eliana, Justin, me, and June Amber in California, Summer '08


  1. Rather wrenching to read. Wow. May Harry rest now in peace and may your memorial to him next weekend be healing for all.

  2. You gave us a portrait here of Harry as a complete man, both in his strength and in his weakness. Now we can honour him as well. And you too, for the telling and for the journey you've made.

  3. Oh. I was not prepared for that turn of events. I'm so sorry. But freedom? I'm so very glad that he's free and it's given you a bit of it too.

  4. here's a man who convinced me to bring evertything i owned to the flea market and sell it...i'll remember him in his boots driving the rescue jeep, how he said booofey, his cake on the counter and his kindness- yes those were somewhat dark times, but there were sparks!

  5. It is a special invitation to be invited to hear of one's personal tragedy into and out of life's turns. Thank you for sharing your story. I pray for your forgiveness to others and to yourself, for your softened heart and growth into a more peaceful existence.

  6. A fine eulogy to a colorful personality. Don't feel bad, Polly. Have no regrets. That feeling of gratitude you've got is the finest feeling you could have regarding Harry, and I'm sure it's the one he'd be gladdest about. Don't have any regrets about the darkness in your own life, either, for as much as you may have lost, you've gained a wealth of experience and precious knowlege about life and its workings. It's always inspiring to hear that you've faced up to your fears and worries and put them to rest.

    That bread will taste good.

  7. This is a beautiful tribute to your friend, made more meaningful by its honesty. Will you read it (or at least part of it) at the memorial service? I think your healing words would help Harry's other friends deal with their loss, too.
    You will be in my thoughts this weekend.

  8. I'm so sorry for your loss, Polli, but delighted to hear how with every set-back you only grow stronger. You're such a great role model for your kids.

    I hope the weekend goes well, grief can be such a positive emotion.

    May Harry rest in peace.

  9. I am blessed by this post, your life, harry's and the others who have spoken here. Life is messy and I am grateful to share in the full "booofey" with you and Harry.

  10. Wow. What an amazing post. Polly, you don't stay on the surface, you dive deep. For those of us who like the depths, it doesn't seem possible to "just" dive down into "positive" depths. We follow the water dragon down to the bottom of every ocean.

    I'm sorry to read this sad story. May Harry rest in peace at least.

    I'm glad though to learn more about you. You are powerful, capable, strong, and brave. And true. Believe me.

    Thank you for this.

  11. What a great post, Polli. How much I can relate to it... On so many levels.

    Thank you for all that is written here, for what it does to you, and to each of your readers.

    Blessings on you and all that you do. Blessings on your memories, on those you love and have loved. Blessings on who you were and who you are now.

    love, claire



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