I’m not really sure what a soul is – the dictionary defines it as the spiritual or immaterial part of an animal or human, regarded as immortal. Or, the embodiment of something else, like being the soul of discretion.
For a lot of my life, soul was about music, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, James Brown, Van Morrison and too many others to name. But as I’m kind of science-y and am interested in the brain and the tenets I learned about matter and energy being converted rather than being destroyed, I’ve come to think that soul is endless possibility and whatever people perceive it to be. And that perception varies widely from person to person.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garage. That’s mostly due to my bad knees which are overdue for intervention that exceeds the palliative kind. I deferred dealing with them while Michael was sick over those many years, always worried that he might need me while I might be unable to help if I was recovering from surgery. That turned out to be true. Although, in truth, he would always look at me, bemused, knowing that me volunteering for surgery was as likely as me volunteering to be shot out of a cannon. Yeah. I don’t like medical stuff, at least in relation to myself.
Last year when he died, I finally caved and went to see the orthopedic surgeon. Imagine my surprise when he told me I’d have to wait for knee replacement because studies showed that grieving people don’t respond well to that procedure. A surgeon who wouldn’t cut. Amazing. So I tried some different injections, but bone on bone knees just really need to be fixed. I’ve gotten used to the pain and the creaking. To cope, I’m chock full of self-help ideas that keep me active. One of my best ones was deciding that potting plants while seated in a place where dirt doesn’t matter much, would solve some of my problems. Hence the garage. I sit in there, working from a chair and it’s turned out to be a good choice.
But the garage was always Michael’s domain. I had some gardening stuff stored in it and because he was orderly, I always had room to park my car inside. But aside from going out there to chat with him or help when he needed an extra pair of hands for a project, I really wasn’t part of that space.
As these spring weeks have gone by, I’ve been in there for a couple of hours every day. And I started looking around. So many tools and gadgets and boxes and unfinished projects. After awhile, I started feeling inexplicable sensations that would just suddenly appear, washing over me or surging up in me. And I would be left with incredible emotions, sometimes sadness, sometimes elation, sometimes anger and often, frustration. Just so random and unpredictable.
But I’ve started figuring this out. I’m thinking that although we don’t normally attribute spiritual qualities to inanimate objects, it appears to me that I’m absorbing the remnants of Michael that are apparently embodied in the garage.
He loved being out there. Throughout our 40 years in the same home, I casually accepted and grew to depend on Michael’s multiple interests and talents that he employed to keep our big old farmhouse in mostly one piece. He taught himself carpentry and was a decent auto mechanic. Over the years he acquired lots of tools for both inside chores and yard and garden work. While living together I never really stopped to marvel at the fact that he never found a challenge that he didn’t meet with an idea. He just did stuff.
Things weren’t always tame or smooth. When he was frustrated, his famous temper would rear up and even in the house, you could hear things being heaved around out there, accompanied by a string of expletives which mostly made me and my kids laugh.
He’d be out there pounding away, sawing, measuring and using his ridiculous collection of clamps that ranged from teeny to enormous.
All our shelves were built in that garage. The ones for books, the spice racks, the CDs and the vinyl ones. His display cases for his hot sauce collection and his buttons and music memorabilia. The long coat rack in our back hallway was built there.
Boxes of keys, doorknobs and cellphones are on the workbenches, saved for the myriad of projects he wanted to build for use in his classroom. His fishing gear, slalom water ski and his beloved bicycle are sitting in their places. His ancient backpack, sleeping bag and our camping gear are there. An unfinished cornhole game for our grandchildren leans against a work table. The bolts are so big I think it’ll last a hundred years.
All his canning supplies are there for his annual tomato, salsa and pesto creations. Then there was pickle making, corn relish, cucumber salad and who knows what else as he varied the vegetable and herb gardens every year.
And there are branches that he’d cut. I have no idea what the plan was for those. Our daughter’s first little rocking chair is up in the rafters-I know he intended to refinish that one day. Then there’s the wood. Wood in all shapes, lengths and sizes. The love of wood was a real thing for him. He made a beautiful drafting table that he used for drawing his abstract pictures. A few hours in a lumber yard was a favorite pastime.
So what does all this mean? I’ve come to believe that the garage is holding parts of Michael in its walls, in the tools, in the varied sports gear and the hobbies evident there. When I sit there, the essence of him is in there with me. The garage has soul. Last year I was too raw to notice anything out there. I’d feel Michael’s presence in our house. The sensation of what that is defies all my words. When we moved in here, we both felt that good things had happened in this space. And now the spirit of him and us and our family has joined what came before us. I wondered if going through the end of his life and his death in this our safe cocoon might change the way I felt about being here. But that didn’t happen. This is still the place with all the good vibes.
And the garage has them too. As some of the haze of grief recedes and my sharpness asserts itself, instead of feeling less of Michael, I feel him more. My awareness of the breadth of his skills and talents is often breathtaking. I admire him more than ever. He wasn’t just about teaching or public service or even being a loving husband, father and friend. Some people lead tiny lives. His was big and adventurous and the essence of him has rippled out and still occupies physical space.
My garage has a soul. Being in it is being immersed in my life partner. What an unexpected gift. I add it to my pile of treasures from our shared life.