Yesterday was darkness, overcast and dreary. Then, as if the universe has some semblance of a sense of humor, just as dusk was coming on, it snowed for a while. Winston hated the snow. Given the arthritis and metric ton of metal in his leg, a natural aversion to the cold isn’t exactly shocking.
This morning, on the day after, was as bright and sunny a winter morning as you could hope to see. I won’t pretend that everything is ok or that I’ve even started adjusting to the new reality. There are still moments when loss is a deep, yawning chasm. Even with the rest of us in it, the house feels unnaturally empty for his absence. In the sunshine today, though, there were also moments of glimpsing what’s beyond all that. At least the big, manly, ugly cry sobbing has given way to a more manageable leaking about the eyes.
There’s not one second of the day I haven’t missed Winston’s slobbering, or the ponderous thump of his steps coming down the hall. Hell, I even started making breakfast for him today before catching myself and very nearly coming unglued.
Today I am immensely thankful for the long Anglo-Saxon tradition of quashing all the bad feelings and getting on with it – stiff upper lip and all that. The rest of my now diminished pack needs the best of me and the gods know that just now I need them more than ever.
There’s nothing like the sobering presence of death to help bring your day into focus. That great equalizer of men and kings comes to us all in time. It’s one of the very few common truths that we all share between us – the grand irony of that being that it’s one of the few things we as a culture don’t talk about in anything more than a whisper.
Despite the outward appearance of building briefings and fidgeting with memos all day, what I’ve really been doing is processing; adding new facts to what I think I know about the world and the people in it. What I really came up with is that on balance I’ve been a bad friend to so many who have deserved better.
We grew up together or grew into adults in one another’s company. We met for a time and parted company. We shared secrets deep or dark. We laughed, cried, then laughed again. We took long draughts from the tap in crowded rooms or passed hours in companionable silence.
Life happened. We moved on or moved apart. We had kids or didn’t. Our careers took us around the world or brought us back home to the mountains. We had different politics and wildly diverging interests.
Even though Facebook helped, we did a shit job of keeping in touch and staying engaged. That’s the part that hurts – the ease with which we could have picked up the phone or sent an email, but didn’t because there would be time for that tomorrow or the day after. Maybe we’re all wild eyed optimists believing against all outward evidence that there will always be a tomorrow.
I’m a bad friend. I freely admit it. I’m the first to want to race home from wherever I am and whomever I’m with and slam the garage door shut. I should have done more to keep the lines of communication open and didn’t.
Know this, though, if you were my friend, you are my friend still. Despite years or circumstances I think of you often – and mostly smile or chuckle at the thought. I may occasionally roll my eyes. In my mind we’re all still at some vague age between 17 and 23 and have only been parted for a moment no matter how the years have intervened.
I carry you with me always. In the moment that doesn’t feel like much, but it’s something and occasionally something has to be enough.
I remember their being a line in an Indiana Jones movie where Indy laments reaching the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away. I guess that age comes for all of us eventually, but I was quietly hoping to buy myself a little more time. As it turns out, there’s apparently no bargaining to be done on that score. Time just sneaks up on you and does its thing.
It’s a strange, unnerving thing losing one of the towering figures of your childhood. Even diminished by age and illness, in my head I still thought of my aunt as an elemental force of nature. When I was a kid being with her was like standing in the middle of a hurricane. There was always something going in all directions, but in the center the glassy calm was spectacular. It was really something to see.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days remembering a time when visits to her house meant cousins coming out of the woodwork, my first horseback ride, fossil hunting, learning how to pick crabs like a “flatlander”, and the supreme joy of making a birthday present out of a beautifully wrapped cookie tin full of horse manure. Trust me on that last one. When you’re 7 or 8, it’s possibly the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. The whole time, she was there pulling all the right strings and orchestrating every moment, making sure everything came off just right. Later she taught me that good wine was always worth the money. And I’m almost positive she’s the one that stoked my lust for seeing the world one Caribbean island at a time.
I’m a firm believer of the power of words, but tonight they don’t feel nearly up to the task I’ve set for them. Tonight they look blank and flat and not at all fitting. Tonight feels like looking at the world from an angle that’s inexplicably not quite right. All I’m left with after four days of trying to find the right words is a deep, hollow sadness at what’s been lost and will never be again.
Any serious reader will probably know what I’m talking about here. It’s that moment when you get to the end of a book or a series and realize that you’re going to miss the characters you’ve spent the last few days or weeks with. It doesn’t happen with every book you read, but some of them get inside your head and you devour a hundred pages in a sitting. Before you know it, you’ve read all there is to read. It leaves an inexplicable hole, because even though they only exist on paper – or as electrons in this case – you were invested in these characters; in how their stories turned out, or didn’t. However briefly, you shared extremely intimate moments with them (on the can or before going to sleep for example).
I’m not going to tell you what I’ve spent the last two weeks reading because that would call for the immediate and permanent revocation of my man card. Suffice to say, I’m casting around looking for a new fictitious family to occupy my free time. Thankfully there are a few movies that might help take the edge off my separation anxiety. They won’t be as good as the book, of course, but still it’s better than going cold turkey.
Sure, soon enough I’ll find a biography of Churchill or a tome on the Federalist period to capture my attention, but just now my sense of loss is too raw and bloody to even look seriously at another book. It would feel like I was cheating somehow. So yeah, there’s your unscheduled glimpse of the weirdness that goes on in my head when I don’t think anyone is paying attention.