Tim doesn’t text anymore. He’s around, but he doesn’t text. Tonight his sister, Laura, texted both of us by responding to a thread the three of us were included on from some months past. Someone else has his number, though. We were both a little shell shocked by the result. Tim’s number, and Tim’s smiling face in the photo beside the words- which were definitely not Timlike.
(In loss, I have never felt so loved.)
We were raised by our Mothers, and they by theirs, to be good people who are good to people.
We were raised with others like us, those we’ve known for as long as we’ve breathed, and others we left Putnam County to find.
When I read what you’ve written to me, and not only to me but to others, I remember when Mom said there was no one more lucky than we are lucky- to have each other, and each of our others.
You are so present.
You are at once so grounded and unafraid of flight.
There is no one more lucky than me, to have who I came with and who I collected, and to see you daily through the interconnect.
I love you and I love how you love me and I love how you love each other.
If we looked in on love like this, at like-minded like-hearted neighbors, we would ask each other
how could they exist?
How could they be so authentic and kind.
And how could they be us.
I wasn’t there when the wild thing got her. I knew it like you know things in dreams, without knowing how or why– but knowing, with a certainty unrivaled in the walking-around-world.
I didn’t know her, though. I didn’t know who she was, or her name, or how she came to be mauled by a wild beast in the middle of northern Missouri. Still, I somehow recognized her 80 year old self as an unknown other rolled her, in her wheelchair, into church.
Mom and I were seated a few pews back from the front. The lady entered, and terrified, I ushered Mom to the far end of the row. I scanned the entrance for a sign that the wild thing had re-found his victim and followed her inside. I readied for a threat that never came. As hard as I watched, it was only the lady, and once safely seated she smiled and nodded her relief. Mom and I made our way back to the opposite end. We were close enough now that I could see Joan just ahead, and very near the lady. We fastened eyes and the fear faded enough that we could all sit down. We settled back in our seats a little, but I kept one arm linked together with Mom’s, and the other extended, aisle-side, to ward off whatever wrong thing might come.
Mom took note of this new arrangement and said You’re still trying to protect me, aren’t you, kid? And I said Yeah, Mom. I’m trying my best, and I stayed there like that until morning, positioned between her and whatever harm might want to find her, but day broke and the sun burned through and I opened my eyes to find she was gone again anyway.
We are not the kind of people who have lumpectomies. We are the kind of people who sail through a summer with Carole King blasting, luring handsome Kansas boys from 17th street for a dance and a drink.
We are not the kind of people whose parents die. We are the kind of people whose Dad’s take us fishing, whose Mom’s take us swimming, for picnics at the creek.
We are not the kind of people
We are not the kind of
We are not the kind of people and we are
the kind of people who
are not the kind of people
we are not.
Even in Kyoto/I hear the cuckoo sing/and long for Kyoto. ~Basho
The car coasted to a stop on the gravel between the graves.
You comin’, Dad?
Nah. I’ll just wait here.
I let the car door close behind me and started down the nearest row. I’d only taken a few steps when he called me back.
Listen. You tell Mom I’m not drinkin’ again, I just don’t feel good.
I’ll tell her, Dad. But she knows that already.
I checked my watch and wondered if he was close to needing insulin. I walked past Uncle Charlie, Aunt Ruth, Cousin Casey, and the other townspeople who’d gone on before us. I stopped when I got to Dad’s folks, and, as he’d asked, tried to tell them what they knew already.
It was the lilacs, I think, carried on the summer breeze, that caught the words in my throat. I looked back toward the car, catching sight of the Thompson stone. I thought of Alice, in another season, talking about the snow on Bethel’s grave. She cried with no excuses. It was winter then, and there were no lilacs to blame.
I couldn’t see them, but they were thick in the pure village air. They grew in common at our house on the hill and by the old barn in Grandma’s back yard. I’d sat there with Sean one day, our backs against the wooden door and our heels in the rich, black dirt. I told him the Basho haiku that embodied Lucerne for me.
Well, that doesn’t make sense. He’s in Kyoto, hears a bird sing, and longs for Kyoto, even though he’s in Kyoto?
It makes perfect sense. It would be like saying, “Even in Lucerne, I smell the scent of Lilacs, and long for Lucerne”. I’m in Lucerne, longing for the perfect Lucerne I knew– the ideal or idyllic Lucerne, which can’t exist anymore, because some of us are missing.
The sun signaled time to meet Mom for lunch.
I said goodbye to George and Myrtle and walked back to the car and their waiting son.
Did you tell her what I told you to?
Yeah, Dad, I did. And she said to tell you you’re not too big for a spanking.
His laugh filled the lilac’d air around us and we were in an old Lucerne, in a different time, and a different place, where everything was fine again for just a little while.
We boarded and headed upstairs for lunch. Something Phil said. We were all laughing, big and loud. There was no wine yet, and we hadn’t left shore, but the pleasure of being together had taken us some happy where else. No one was thinking about headstones to order, or test results pending.
It went on like that with the laughing, into the next day, when something about something had me saying Mom would have sure liked that, and I remembered they were gone. Matt. Mom. Dad. In nearly one fell swoop.
They were gone, and me with the laughing.
I felt something on my lip and excused myself. The tissue turned a sticky red, and the bleed continued for the next 30 minutes. A crimson April shower. No way of mistaking the blood on my hands.
We docked somewhere the next day. I felt on the verge of a cold. We saw something and made it back to the ship with moments to spare. The next day, I was burning alive with fever. Tonya sent medicine, but I wasn’t ready to feel better. I went to sleep in a frenzied fire.
There was my Mom. I couldn’t get to her. Large thorns from a foreign tree held me tight. I asked her to help pull me free, and she did– she on one arm and Mary and George on the other. I went down hard when the thorns gave way. I noticed I was wearing pajamas. Soren was there, running loose. I caught up to her and discovered a large gash on her head. She was covered in blood. And there was flooding to contend with, from the rain that wouldn’t stop. I would have to hike to my car, but suddenly Mary’s was there and already filled with the things I needed to carry. And there was Anggie saying something about a book overdue. She motioned me over, but I wouldn’t go over there again for nothing. The young man from the ship appeared, and became my Irishman from before the hostage taking and police involvement and deportation. It was difficult to break free from him and the heat and the rain.
Morning came. I was still on vacation. Matt and Mom and Dad, still gone. My fever burned, my throat was on fire, I couldn’t breathe or even see straight.
I was miserable at last, and that made me feel a whole lot better.