In Memoriam

Leonard Cohen wrote the anthem we need


Leonard Cohen (1934-2016), rest in peace. 



The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.
I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.
Ring the bells that still can ring ...
You can

Zoë Killed Herself


Today was my niece’s funeral. Her former band teacher gave the eulogy. His words were lovely, the passages fitting. I sat behind my stepsister and her husband and their children. My six-year-old on my lap, so someone else could have a seat I told her, but because I needed to feel her body, alive and warm.

The concert band from Zoë’s school played three pieces. The third, near the finish had a mournful note drawn out so long I was breathless by its end. A final gathering of notes trailed off, driven out by the grief of that one. The band director was motionless for a moment before he broke, his sobs uncontrollable for a few seconds. This day, that song, the reason. He quieted, but those few seconds were too much for the band composed of children, playing music for their dead friend. They sat in their chairs, or stood behind their instruments, alone but all together, except one.

The band director gave instructions. Some kids moved chairs to the side where family and friends were gathered. Some kids reconfigured the arrangement on the side where the band played. Zoë lay between, in a pine box, polished and perfect in its simplicity.

My nephew Evan, stood, waiting for this part to end. He tucked his shirt again and held his hands still in front of him. He was handsome, like a man too soon. His face betrayed an attempt at stoicism, every emotion shown, breaking my heart. He spoke clearly. “The last time I saw Zoë was a Thursday night.” He told us they’d argued and said awful things to each other, but had made up before the night ended. “I told her I loved her, and she said she loved me, too.” Then he was in his father’s arms, crying for us all.

The seats on the other side of the grave were occupied by a string ensemble after that. They played pieces of which I remember nothing but that they seemed the perfect soundtrack for the grief of my stepsister’s family, incomplete in front of me, the rest of my family behind me, all the strangers to me who knew Zoë, and for myself, waiting for it to end.

Her  father spoke. “I thought I had a lot to say.” I was amazed he could speak words at all, could function in the world. “From there to here,” he pointed to the hearse, “was the longest walk of my life.” How was he standing upright, breathing? “Thank you for coming.”

I wanted everyone to leave. I wanted to sit there with my family and watch my niece be lowered into the ground. That’s not what was planned. The ensemble played as we all watched Zoë pass into the earth together.

A man from the funeral home announced the location of the wake. People dispersed. I collected my daughter, who’d gone to stand with her grandfather. I said goodbye to my stepsister, told her I wasn’t attending the wake, but to let me know if she needed anything from me. I said goodbye to my sister and my aunt and my stepfather and other faces. I cut the line of kids waiting to talk to the band director and thanked him for what he did and what he said.

I took my daughter’s hand and asked if she was hungry and what she wanted for lunch. Would she like to go out? No, she wanted to go home with me and have peanut butter and jelly before I brought her back to her dad’s house. I buckled her into her seat, and we drove through the cemetery gates, back into our lives.

Remembering My Friend, Vladimir Reid a.k.a. Volodiya a.k.a. WAYNE!


(Originally posted on Opinions for Nothing.)

I don't remember the first time I met Volodiya, but it was sometime in the first few months after I transferred to University of Alaska Fairbanks, so it would have been in the late Winter or early Spring of 1994. He was an RA in another dorm, but was friends with some of the girls in my dorm. He and I were friendly, but we didn't become friends until the Fall semester, when I became an RA and we worked in the same dorm.

Volodiya and I got into the habit of watching Letterman together. We'd order a Supreme pizza and hot wings from Pizza Hut, then go down to the little store in the lobby of the dorm complex to buy a couple Fruitopias while we waited for the pizza to arrive.

V spent a semester in France. He was either forgetful about the time difference or a very inconsiderate friend. Either way, I'd occasionally get a 5 AM call from him. He'd tell me about the boys he'd met and I'd catch him up on the gossip.

One year, for Spring Break, we stayed at a lovely cabin in the woods where V was housesitting for a professor. There was drinking, and inappropriate behavior amongst all of our friends, and it was so much fun.

One of our favorite bars to hang out in was the Captain Bartlett Inn. Volodiya would give me tarot readings there and tried to teach me the meanings of the cards. I have a terrible memory for things like that so I usually reverted to making things up based on the pictures when I would give him readings.

We graduated from college in 1997. Our class voted for Volodiya to be the graduation speaker. His speech was fun and nostalgic, like an internet meme. He talked about roller skates and parachute pants and Madonna.

Some time after graduation, when I was back in California, V was living with his boyfriend in Seattle. I visited them for a weekend. It was my first time there. I loved his urban life. Seattle was like Alaska Light. A lot of my college friends settled there.

The last time I saw Volodiya in person was about nine years ago. I went to Seattle for a visit and stayed with my best friend, Joanne. We spent one of the evenings with V and some others, hanging out like old times.

After that, we kept up through phone calls, but mostly online, through MySpace, then Facebook. A few months ago, when I posted a new picture of my slimming self on Facebook, he commented, accusing me of getting a facelift and saying he'd scratch my eyes out if I had.

Last week, I saw fake tarot readings in a sitcom and it prompted me to post that memory of us on Facebook. I tagged him in it and I am glad I did. Because of that post, one of his friends reached out to me today to let me know that Volodiya died yesterday, after a long bout of pneumonia. When he was living in Seattle, he contracted HIV, so the manner of his death does not come as a complete surprise. I did not expect it to come so soon, though.

I'll miss my friend dearly. He was the type of friend I could pick up with after many months without contact and everything would be just as it always was.

My Dad

My parents' wedding day

(Originally published on Opinions for Nothing.)

My dad was 19 years old when he married my mom. She was 16 years old, and three months pregnant with me. My parents separated when I was five years old, and divorced when I was nine years old.

My dad wasn't known for his lawful behavior. He didn't make court-ordered child support payments. He infrequently took advantage of court-allowed visitations with his children. He did not adhere to laws prohibiting the possession, use, and sale of illegal drugs. Two of the three things on that list caused him to be in and out of jail for much of my childhood.

My dad was book smart without a college degree. After he left the Air Force, he was an engineering technician until the recession of the late-'80s and early-'90s. After that, he drifted from odd job to odd job, preferring those that paid cash so he wouldn't have to make child support payments. It's unfortunate that he never grew up.

When I was in college, I made peace with the fact that my dad was never going to change and never going to be the kind of dad I needed. He was family and I still loved him, but as long as I expected him to act like a father, I would be disappointed. I resolved to treat him like an uncle -- not even a favorite uncle. After that, we had a much better relationship.

Eventually, my dad paid off the back child support with an extended jail term. I was well into my 20s by then. When he was released, he moved to New Mexico to live with my retired grandmother. He had a steady job and had been promoted to a supervisory position when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Eighteen months later, at the age of 50, he was dead. Today would have been his 57th birthday.

An Obituary for My Mother


(Originally published on Opinions for Nothing.)

Priscilla Jewell died Tuesday, May 18, 2010 suddenly and tragically in a car accident in Camarillo, California.

She was born Priscilla Elaine Buchanan on March 28, 1957 to Stanley and Pauline Buchanan in Oak Harbor, Washington. Priscilla moved with her parents and her four older sisters to Point Mugu in 1959 and to Camarillo in 1962, to a brand new subdivision on Edgemont Drive, which was then surrounded by lima bean fields. She remembered walking home with her sisters one day and losing a shoe in a mud puddle in one of those fields, which is now the Camarillo Community Center on Carmen Drive.

Priscilla graduated from Adolpho Camarillo High School a year early in 1974. She married her high school sweetheart, Joseph Lino LeBlanc, Jr. and gave birth to her first daughter, Michelle, in 1974 in Colorado. Priscilla returned to California briefly and then moved with her husband and her baby to Las Vegas, Nevada, where her husband was stationed with the United States Air Force. In 1977, she gave birth to her second daughter, Marie. Priscilla returned to Camarillo with her two daughters in 1980.

In 1988, Priscilla met Roger Jewell at Harley’s Camarillo Bowl, where he was the manager. They were in high school together and had friends in common then and when they became reacquainted so many years later. Roger and Priscilla fell in love soon after they started dating. After a long engagement, Priscilla married the love of her life in 1997.

There is nothing Priscilla loved more than spending time with her family. She enjoyed the large family gatherings held at her childhood home on Edgemont Drive and later, at her own house, playing games at the dining room table, and watching her grandchildren and nieces and nephews play in the pool. She cherished the quiet moments, too; time spent shopping with her daughters, playing with her grandchildren, chatting with her sisters, visiting with her step-son Chris, and her step-daughter Jennifer.

In the thirty years of her banking career, all of it spent with local banks, Priscilla worked with so many coworkers and customers throughout Ventura County. Earlier this year, Priscilla was promoted to Sr. Vice President at California Oaks State Bank, in Thousand Oaks. Recently, she studied diligently for, and was proud of earning, the designation of Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager. Priscilla was a conscientious, meticulous employee who never left a question unanswered or a detail undocumented.

Priscilla was loved dearly by her family, friends, and coworkers. She was the glue that held her family together and her loss leaves a hole that can never be filled. She was smart, loving, generous, kind, and thoughtful. She would have gladly given her life for her children and her grandchildren, and they are heartbroken to have seen it taken from her. Priscilla was a daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife, a grandmother, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend. This beautiful woman will be remembered and missed be everyone who knew her.

Priscilla Jewell is survived by her husband, Roger Jewell; her two daughters, Michelle LeBlanc Magoffin and Marie LeBlanc Molina; her step-children, Christopher Jewell and Jennifer Colegrove; her four sisters, Patricia Robinson, Peggy Buchanan, Penny White, and Pamela Geisler; her seven grandchildren, Kenna, Olivia, Molly, Liam, Curtis, Zoe, and Evan; and her aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, grand-nephews, mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, and sons-in-law. She is preceded in death by her father, Stanley Buchanan, and her mother, Pauline Buchanan, as well as her grandparents.

A funeral mass will be held for Priscilla on Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 10 AM at St. Mary Magdalen Church on Las Posas Road in Camarillo. All are welcome to attend the mass. Her ashes will be interred a few days later in a private ceremony at Conejo Mountain Memorial Park. Arrangements are being made through Griffin Family Mortuary in Camarillo.