March 22, 2021
Serendipity sent me just minutes up the street from Carney Hospital yesterday morning.
Of all the gin joints in the world and the Commonwealth, that was where I had been dispatched: within a short walk from our first house.
Of course I had to take a swoop through our first neighborhood once my task was completed. Even the angles of those streets seem to have changed. Almost every lot has been built up, often stories higher. The corner green lot is gone. The pink house is still, or possibly again, pink. The Eire Pub is still there.
I did not see anyone at Larry and Becky’s house across the street. I thought of their New Year’s Eve open houses, and especially the time when you took my hand and we walked across to their house after I woozily stood from our couch. We walked into their garage, where the guests spilled over, and Larry, surrounded by dozens of animated children, asked, “So, when are you two going to start having kids?”
And you immediately answered, as I did my best not to grow an even more intense shade of Grinch green while you took the beer he handed you: “We were thinking around the second week of August.”
And grinned that grin.
And Larry smiled that smile, and Becky came over and hugged me.
They were more excited than my parents, who for years tried unsuccessfully to suppress their certainty that they were not old enough to be grandparents.
This year, I have thought that if I only I could get vaccinated in time, maybe I will be able to go into the room with my mother and her nurses one more time. Maybe something other than my voice would unlock some other memory to connect her to part of all she has lost. She survived her initial infection, but no longer recognizes herself. She has pictures of you and our sons and daughters in her room. I wonder sometimes if in some corner of her mind she still thinks with a smile that she is not old enough to be the grandmother to all her amazing grandchildren. For a long time she still asked me about you and I pretended you were fine and busy at work because it broke my heart the time I told her you had died years ago, and she was so sad but then forgot within minutes and asked me about you all over again. I thought I could at least keep you alive for her if I no longer told her the truth.
Or so I thought, until the day I told her everyone was fine, but minutes later she asked me if I worked, then asked if I was married. It is possible that the nature of my silence gave everything away, because I long ago perfected silent weeping, and of course she could not see that.
Her intuition outlasted her memories.
Minutes later, when I could breathe again, I called her back, and realized she did not recognize my voice after all. She said she thought she had “made the girl on the phone sad” when she asked about her husband.
It’s been quite a year.
I’m still not strong enough to navigate this without you.
Yesterday I slowed only briefly when I reached the front of our first house, on the middle of our street. It has not changed nearly as much as its surroundings, but it has changed far more than the school up at the top of the hill, which I rounded on the way to and from work at the very same first job to which I returned after you died. The comradery of the place and the work in which I started out, and of all the people I have worked with along the way, has always made work feel like another home.
I have been so lucky in my life, too.
Additions have been built to many of the houses on that street, but not ours. The house is no longer painted in mustardy tan, a shade my subconscious finds impossible to hate, and that I find utterly innocuous—even charming — in an occasional Presidential suit. You had that suit jacket that was only slightly darker, shot through with an almost invisible cedar tweed. Our old house is now painted a lovely deep ash, the color of tastefully weathered Nantucket shingles, or of a beach twenty-five minutes before dawn as the tide comes in.
I have learned quite a bit about color and light, especially at the shoreline, this past decade.
Instead of the black shutters, which I suspect were not hewn of anything found in nature, the house now has a daring new exterior look: the shutters are painted in the deepest rose, almost crimson but not quite, the color you would get if you melted bright pink petals into dark ruby blood.
I did not cry when I went by our house yesterday.
I went to the ocean this morning to look for you.
If it were any other day, except perhaps your birthday, I might not have ventured to the beach this time. I have been particularly achy and dispirited, for many months now.
There was no cloud cover and no incipient color along the wall of blackened blue.
Only a band of orange light, eventually, threaded itself along the horizon. No riot of color. No anthropomorphic clouds.
I might not have bothered.
What would be the point in a nearly black and white shoreline and a monochromatic strip of sky….even if they were rendered in our, and now one of our children’s, school colors?
This day, this month, this past year and then some, does not seem possible. It is not the pandemic that defies imagination—that was of course a matter of timing, and response and duration and how they correlate, and you would have been managing all that for a large community.
The impossible part is that you have not been here with us for a decade, for that enormous a part of our children’s lives.
Before sunrise the mustardy-tan sand is true black before it turns to shades of gray, variegated along the depth of the softened oval footprints of absent travelers. Sometimes, depending on the clarity of the light and the phase of the moon, clusters of bone-white seashells will shimmer underfoot. Driftwood turns from brown to black, into looming, twisting, angled limbs waiting to snag me if I move too quickly and am too focused on the horizon, as is my habit when I see harbingers of an intense sunrise.
I hate to miss the explosion of color into clouds.
I already knew I would not see that this morning.
But I looked and I saw you, and of course it was you I was looking for.
Serene you, not the cacophony of blazing light I usually seek out, especially in the rushed early morning hours before work.
Open, unlayered, honest.
Quiet, contemplative, secure.
No noise or distraction or blinding light.
“Your gentle soul,
Your large and quiet kindness;
Ready to caution and console…”
The poem our daughter read for you, ten years minus four days ago.
We have different sunrises, you and I.
But I noticed something else this morning, when the sun finally rose.
It was no longer all black and white—your favored photography form—below the horizon, and color only above it, even if this time it was subdued into a demure band of clementine.
I saw the marriage of heaven and earth and sea, as I had in the peaceful pastels at the Irish Sea when a shell filled with your ashes fluttered there at daybreak.
Once the day officially arrived, it was no longer made up of my sky and your earth.
Their light and promise was intertwined.
When the sun appeared, a hyphen on the horizon, just enough lemon orange began dancing on the waves and sand that I could look out without having to squint into and steel myself against this calendar day. Instead of the neon pinks I usually gravitate to before dawn, the alchemy of your sunrise left a wash of rose-garnet under my feet as the waves receded from sand that was no longer black.
Soft color mixed into the day ahead as the night seeped out into the light, again, even today.