Reading Angel Minds
Bitter, Blessed, and Hopeful
IT’S BEEN SO LONG, I hardly know how to write. I often feel ashamed of grieving now, imagining the world has had enough of me or wondering if I’m insane. From time to time I feel all right and even hopeful. There’s a hint of some excitement in the photographs I’m taking with my iPhone 13 Pro Max. I like editing images on the M1 iMac I bought myself. I’ve lost 20 pounds and built up my old man arms by lifting heavy dumbbells. Most days I walk a quick two miles. I finally cleaned out Kathy’s studio. Her childhood piano is safely stored. That assignment I completed only yesterday.
This morning I felt happy that all I had to do to today was go to Albertson’s for groceries. But afterwards, as I made the left turn from the highway and up the hill on the narrow road that runs beside the 400-year-old chapel where I’ve been driving up and down for nearly 20 years, it hit me once again and I was sobbing, hot tears running down my face: Kathy, Kathy, oh my Kathy, baby doll, my one and only love forever. I have no wife. I’m old and this is it, there’ll never be another you. I love you so much honey and I always will, forever till the end of time. My only one, my everything, my Kathy. I know you had to go and you’re all right but how I miss you…
Last week I went to have my teeth cleaned. The best, most qualified dental hygienist I’ve ever had in all my life had moved away to Albuquerque. Of course she did. Unless you live for skiing, why would anyone stay here?1 Kathy used to call the dental office the “Taj Mahal” because of the nice fake leather sofas, high ceilings, beautiful paintings, and how much it cost. They go through hygienists (and dentists!) so fast, you almost never have the same one twice. Seems they mostly hire them green and then before you know it, poof, they’re gone. The dentists stay a while until they move away to set up their own practices in bigger towns. I’ve had the same young guy for almost two years now and that’s a record. The business just hired a friend of his from Wisconsin and of course the bio mentions skiing.
What the hell am I here for?
My new hygienist was another very competent Latina. (They all are and I feel so privileged.) Since I’m eating differently these days, my teeth need little cleaning. She poked around, did some scraping, told me everything looked healthy and was probably more relieved than I was. Chatty, too. At one point she asked me if I was looking forward to the holidays and you can guess where that led. This is how I know I’m still in mourning, not the sudden storms that shake me when I least expect it but the rush to tell a perfect stranger how I feel. She took it very well. I said she didn’t need to know this, she said no that’s fine, go on, and I began, “The thing about being with someone for over 40 years and then they’re gone is…” at which point I got choked up and couldn’t talk, but she encouraged me and I continued with a cracking voice, “What happens then is, you don’t know who you are...”
Without a moment’s hesitation, she grasped both my hands and quietly recited a long and beautiful prayer. I’m sure it came from church. Not being Catholic, I wouldn’t know just what to call it but it was oh so sweet and spoken quickly like a running stream. I was very touched and told her how grateful I was. My instant loving sister from another world delivering a blessing I had never heard. So lucky. What a gift.
Maybe this is what I’m here for. I was there for Kathy, after all.
Bit by bit I’m learning to be kinder to myself because I see how badly wrecked I’ve been. If I push too hard, my mind breaks and my memory’s affected. Maybe I’m getting senile, too. I misplace things a lot. The other day I left my truck keys in the mailbox lock—they stayed there a full 24 hours, waving in the breeze. Recognizing negativity and fear is helpful. If I see them, I can let them go, like worrying about not writing or my languishing NFT project. But worrying of any kind is deadly now. I simply can’t afford it. Nothing could be worse than losing Kathy except throwing what I have away for stupid reasons. She’d be so upset as well. Calm down! Every now and then I do.
I don’t see how I can remain in Taos. It hurts too much just driving down the road. Yet who knows what I’m calling toward me? What if I had a hot rod and a ranch? I’ve never been to Argentina, either. Kathy always said, “You can do anything you want...” If it was okay then, it must be okay now. Winter’s on the way though and I need to pay attention. I’m too damaged to carry on as usual guilty and untrusting.
Late last night, something deep unclenched. I wanted to take a day trip for the first time since the plague years started and my honey died. Over the pass to Eagle Nest and on to Cimarron, I thought. Out past Philmont Scout Ranch, shoot some photos of the pronghorns where the foothills meet the plains. If the beasts are hiding, Cimarron is full of terrifying truth. The first time we drove around the place, Kathy had to shake off primal childhood fears from darkest Iowa. Small town poverty and deprivation, dreams deferred forever. But drive a couple miles to where the wind blows all the way to the horizon and the raptors soar. In the old days you could maybe see the Comanches come in time to send the brown girls home and hide your horses in the mountains…
There have been other signs. Almost as if I’m being fitted for a new integrity. This could be her doing, I don’t know. When it’s bad, it’s worse than anyone imagines. On the other hand I want new clothes, not a common indicator of the end.
After sharing a life with Kathy for most of my time on Earth, including 18 years here in this old adobe, arranging the household as weirdly as I want is oddly comforting. Some things that we always kept in cupboards sit out now in plain view. My great-grandmother’s solid 19th century utensils are so much better than the stainless steel ware from Pier One. (She was using the old knives and forks all this time in her studio!) I’ve moved lamps and paintings, taken some away and added new ones. While half the house is still a tragic mess of piled-up clothes and deferred maintenance, the half that isn’t is an affirmation. I can leave my laptop wherever I want. Play loud music at 3:00 a.m. She always said I could,2 but I was too afraid to take her at her word.
I’ll drive to Iowa in the spring to bury the ashes. Our grave marker is already there beside her parents. I have a strong feeling I won’t be here by summer. Something will be very different then, I know that. Bigger too, I think. Wilder, joyous.
Like you always wanted, sweetheart. Like you always saw in me.
Many reasons, obviously. But I have a friend I haven’t seen in years who may be dead—I hope he’s not!—who told me once while urging us to seek out greener pastures, “John, all we have here are the mountains...”
“I’m a musician! It doesn’t bother me! And I have earplugs…”