IT’S CERTAINLY BEEN A WHILE but I am back and gathering up the threads. Some I’ve tied together, others I’ve let blow away. Still living in the old adobe on the hillside dealing with Her Things—it does go slowly—and then the storage units. Lost at sea though better being in the moment. Sometimes I feel the warm sun on my back and want to sing, I swear, as if the space between me and another life is down to microns.
In some ways what I have to do now is prepare for death. It’ll happen that I let go and move on. But imagine life without a thousand chores, all clean and ready for the trip. Like my sister Teresa was when she was dying of her liver cancer, looking forward to the next adventure. She even told her husband she hoped he’d find another woman who appreciated how meticulous he was. Answering William’s “Would you like some coffee?” with a yes meant waiting while he selected, washed, and dried the cups, cleaned the counter, counted out the beans and ground them, got the water going, and decided a side snack would be nice (and thank you), all the while following the conversation, laughing like he did all bright-eyed hard and loud that made me feel my jokes were helping save the world. By the time he asked me if I wanted cream I sometimes went with black, though. (There may have been a cow outside, who knew?) He did meet someone fairly soon. I don’t know the details but I trust him and I never wondered, really. Played it out myself I did, the Black Hole of Forgotten where surviving brothers-in-law go. Natural compression of the aftermath, I think. Clears the way for love again.
What I have now is a massive opportunity if I can only do it. This little dish, that picture frame. The mirror in the shape of a cat. The piles of family history that isn’t mine and former in-laws never want to see again. So it’ll be me who throws away her father’s baby clothes sewn up by happy aunts because you couldn’t go to Walmart, photos of his father shoeing horses on a rich man’s farm until one kicked him in the head. Pictures of England and Montana. Her great-grandfather’s broken concertina. You think it’s easy until you do it. I have a standard which is basically how long it takes for me to cry.
Her basket of gloves last weekend, for example. I knew every pair. She had smallish hands but then was tiny all around and energetic to the max. How she mastered the piano was a wonder to me, fingers flying up and down, joy bouncing off the walls. Such an astonishing skill. I started going through them, making a pile of throwaways and another of donations. Then I picked up her favorite red leather gloves, the ones she always chose despite the holes, and thought about her hands and fingers once again. Graceful, tapered, elegant in that special way. And then I lost it.
This is all to be expected. Sometimes it’s like I’m in a river and the only thing I have control of is my breathing. Whether my head’s out of the water or I struggle, splash around, and drown. A week ago was almost a year and a half since I stayed up for 34 hours to watch her go. I took a walk because I needed to and sometimes think I hear her then. As I walked I thought about how twisted but essential all my time alone had been, how hard it was to act right coming out of isolation, hurt that all I’d ever wanted was to let our lives play out together and she’s gone. And then it hit me that they had…
I thought about her once again and felt a little happy. Altered and protected, too. Like I was wearing soft, expensive clothes that made me look good if I stood up straight. And then I realized I was still in love with Kathy. All that worrying and overthinking just for nothing. Live my life and wake up happy, that was it, and all she ever wanted. My “girl next door” is buried on the prairie thanks to me (try tearing yourself away from that!) but there’s a more expansive presence now. I felt I’d passed a test. As if the river left the canyon and the rapids and I wasn’t sinking and the angels on the banks could tell where I had been and see where I would go.
Postscript: Thanks to everyone for sticking with me. Special gratitude to all who upgraded to paid subscriptions while I wasn’t even posting! There hasn’t been a tangible reward for that but this is coming. I want to add more photo-essays to the mix. Once this is rolling I’ll paywall some of each a little at a time and see how that goes. $50 a year comes out to just four bucks a month or you can do $5 a month and quit or restart any time. There will be other perks as well. Your free subscriptions always bring you first look at anything I post so never worry. Later,
This grand heart of yours leaves me envious and awestruck. The passion you express through mere words is the greatest of gifts. All of this from a man! My life has been surrounded by stoic masculine men that only express rare glimpses into their feelings. You, John, are different. I have followed you for years and you can bring me to tears with one sentence. Beautiful work, just magnificent.
The vintage baby clothes (unless they are rags) are something someonevmight love, or even a poor mother who can't afford to buy them. Likewise, old photographs. I kmnow it's really hard to part with sacred "stuff," so maybe keep the red gloves.