People talk about their spirit animals. Or about which animal they’d be if there was really reincarnation. My mind has glanced over that topic more than once in my life. I used to think that if I wasn’t human, I’d be a dolphin. I like their big brains. I like that they hang around in groups and are strong communicators. And they’re helpful, seemingly altruistic. All of those traits appeal to me. As I’ve matured and looked at myself differently than I did years ago, I realized that my personality has shifted, along with my interest in nature. A bird girl when I was little, I’ve grown more interested in them in more recent years. I’m a skywatcher, a cloudchaser. I still love water. What could be a better spirit animal for me than an albatross? They’re gliders. They can fly for thousands of miles, never touching land, feeding from the sea. The majority of them mate for life. I mean, seriously, is this me or what?
So you might think the quarantine has pushed me over the edge. Not really. I’ve just been a little raw lately. Unlike the brave health workers who go to their hospitals daily, experiencing horror and death, I’ve been able to have the luxury of distance from that harsh reality for some time. This month will mark the third anniversary of Michael’s death. I was at his side, holding his hand, in our own home. An event so unlike these tragedies I read about, when people drop their loved ones at emergency rooms and never see them again. How unbearable, as is so much in the news cycle. Since March, I’ve experienced three deaths. One was my dear friend, Julie, an expected loss, but the end of a 50 year relationship. Last week, I heard of another friend’s death, this one a more casual friend, the kind with whom you can have a nice chat when you run into each other. She died from Covid19 at only sixty-one. This week, it was a man I’d known since he was very young, a musician who worked in my husband’s music store, and was part of a circle of people who moved in and around the periphery of my world for four decades. Michael and I were invited to his first wedding, an alternative and off-beat affair. I watched him perform in his bands until eventually the 10 year gap between us, meant that I was chasing children around while he was still doing gigs. In the past few years, we’d reestablished contact and exchanged thoughts and music over social media. His death was by suicide at age 59. This tough month of May also contains the birthday of my best friend from childhood, another suicide who I still grieve after 32 years. Everything suddenly felt like too much. So I headed out to chase the clouds on a beautiful sunny day, trying to climb over the mounting pain from each end of life.
The endless changing cloud formations never bore me. Instead they make me feel more centered and conscious of my place in the world. After driving around for an hour, I headed back home to push a little further into my never ending list of things to do. I started with the garden, checking out the latest blooms and the ones getting ready to open. I always have some anxiety every spring as I know there will be losses due to who knows what. And then there’s the satisfaction of the reliable, familiar ones who come back each year. Now, given the always surprising Illinois weather, a polar vortex has been served up for tonight, with frost expected. I admired what plants already arrived, hoping they’d survive this night. The ones in pots, hanging baskets and raised beds cost me an hour of bundling them up as best I could, trying to make sure they have their best shot at seeing another day.
I was really happy that I’d restrained myself from repotting and putting my tropical miracle from last year outside to weather the elements. Last year, a friend of mine gave me a gorgeous plant called a Duranta Sapphire tree for my birthday, also this month. I showered it with care, pretty certain I’d kill it in this unpredictable environment. But it hung on. So I kept watering it until suddenly, it was November and still it survived. I thought that any plant that wanted to live so much deserved a chance, so I brought it into my house. It’s still alive and soon I’ll repot it and bring it to the garden where I hope it will enjoy another glorious summer.
Next I crossed the street to see how my kids’ new chickens were doing. The older hens had them boxed into a corner, making them perfect targets for a few photos.
After that, I went back home to work in the garage for a bit. I’ve made progress in there, finding some things that were easy to toss out and others that I’ll be keeping for a long time. A while back I wrote a blog called “The Soul of a Garage,” basically a commentary on how Michael’s presence was so palpable in there. I’m carving out my own space now, although his hobbies and projects still emerge from the corners. Today was no exception. Michael was one of those guys who could do almost anything. In the old days before cars were so heavily computerized, he was always fixing carburetors, doing brakes, dealing with oil pans and lots of other stuff I can’t begin to name. So how great was it when I found his creeper and his coveralls? After wiping away some grime, the oak sheen of the creeper came shining through, along with the name of the company which produced it. I looked it up, The Anderson’s and found that it finally closed its doors in 2017. Because Michael was 6’4,” his auto mechanic coveralls were so long I could barely hang them up. But I used a garden tool and finally reached a hook. Those will stay in the garage.
I found one of his baseball bats. His glove is in the house. When he played softball for years with the High and Mighty team, his nickname was “Stick,” because he was such a reliable hitter. He loved that game, but years of swinging gave him a string of herniated disks and one back surgery. I also found his tackle box still filled with lures, reels, filleting knives and other gear. Every summer for many years, he and three buddies headed up to Nelson’s Resort In Minnesota, near the boundary waters, where they fished for walleye and northern pike. At night they played bridge. I always missed him when he was gone but they always had a great time and brought their trophies back for a fish fry.
I was feeling pretty good after hanging around in the garage. I’d cleaned, discarded old junk, found things worth keeping which brought good memories, and had gotten a bit over the top of a sad day. I decided to continue my newly recovered baking skills and went inside to do a banana bread. As I got my ingredients together, I cracked my first egg and got a double yolk. My mom always used to tell me that was a sign of good luck. I assembled everything, put the bread in the oven and reflected on how my day’s choices were positive and had smoothed the rough edges off my sadness. By this time it was nearing dusk and I went back outside to snap a few shots of the lovely sky. When I came back inside, the bread was a warm golden brown and the house smelled and felt warm and homey. After dinner, I popped the computer open to catch up on social media and the news.
On a mutual friend’s Facebook page, there was commentary on the man who’d committed suicide. Someone I didn’t know had written the question, “So is anyone else from the Record Service(my husband’s former business,) dead besides Nick and Michael? I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. This stranger couldn’t have known that I was a person who might read that line. I’m sure she didn’t know that the anniversary of Michael’s death is bearing down on me and my family. Reading her dispassionate, gossipy question threw a big bucket of cold water on my improved mood. I couldn’t imagine asking a question like that in a public forum because to me, it’s remarkably insensitive. And so is a lot of the world. Within seconds, I was back in my albatross dream. I am gliding away from any land mass, following the water. I hear no human voices saying thoughtless things. I can go for miles and miles with nothing but sky and clouds ahead and ocean below. Eventually I’ll get back to my mate, my mate for life. And beyond. Sounds like a plan to me.