Dear Michael,

I thought I’d greet you with your favorite monosyllable. That’s what you wrote me in our last G-chat. Anyway, it’s one of those days when talking to you is the only thing that will do. As you can see from the photo above, I was outside working today and despite the chill, I got sweaty and had to take my jacket off. Sometimes I feel like keeping the yard and garden up is too much. You know I’ve never been as anal-retentive as you so I kind of whip through the chores, grumbling to myself that you’re not here to do your share. But really, most of the stuff I’m doing is what I’ve always done – I just wish you were still with me. I have all these random things to tell you. So here goes.

First, I’ve been doing some of the autobiographical blog writing I’ve assigned myself since you died. Also trying to get myself to write the final chapter about your last months. That’s a challenge because it’s traumatic to remember, but also because I feel like with the pandemic and the collective stress about the election, only five days away now, maybe I shouldn’t inflict it on the world until the times are a little better. At least I hope they’ll get better. As I was working on the autobiography installment about my junior and senior years of college, I was going through my 1972 journal. I found the above excerpt from November, after we’d been living together for about six months. I suspect that I was being difficult for you as I wrangled with all the psychological damage left over from my relationship with Albert. In any event, those last lines were prescient, 48 years ago.

So, this terrifying election, fraught with voter suppression, interference with the postal service regarding absentee ballots, potential armed right-wing militia units threatening voters at the polls – truly, you can’t imagine the utterly dystopian nature of this Trump presidency and the devolution of the society into two diametrically opposed camps. Feels like civil war is right around the corner. So much has happened since you’ve been gone. Today I was listening to Pandora while pruning shrubs and a cut from the Dead came up. I checked for the song title and saw a vote sticker emblazoned across the bottom of the phone screen. Out of curiosity, I checked my other stations and couldn’t find any other one with the message. Yes, I listen to your band addiction all the time now as part of my regular rotation. So I kind of decided that it was like a coded message from you to me, that you’re nearby in this unsettled time. Because I realized that this is the first presidential election since I’ve been eligible to vote when I haven’t been with you. We were both too young in 1968 when the voting age was still 21. So our first time was in 1972 when we both voted for McGovern, the first of our support for failed candidates. The 2016 election night was so dreadful when we watched the returns as a family and we were all so devastated. And then your health rapidly declined while the specter of Trump loomed over everything, shrouding my grief for these past years. I’ve missed your company, the time we’d spend sifting through all the news together and falling into each other in our safe space, no matter what was happening outside. I’ll get through this. All the same, these little random coincidences like the voting sticker give me comfort, feeling like you’re around.

No surprise to you, but as I slave away outside, I’m thinking away. There’s going to be a significant amount of mental disorders in people that will long outlast this pandemic. We are not a society which accepts limitations like distancing for the good of the community with magnanimity. I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of people panhandling and my radar tells me that there are plenty of unstable folks wandering around as I drive down the streets. For the most part I’m managing okay with my worst issue being the crazy late night schedule I acquired during those months when your circadian rhythms disappeared and mine went with yours. I miss having a schedule of sorts so I give myself assignments to create some order. I read about people staying in pajamas all day and lazing around, forgiving themselves their lethargy because of Covid anxiety. I haven’t done that, not even once. I had one day of doing nothing when I visited Betsy and Randy in Florida back in the beginning of March. That was right after I’d felt so sick in February and was afraid that my exhausting travel day might set me back. But that was the last time. Since I’ve been back from that trip, I get up every day, clean up and put on my clothes. I always wear earrings, different ones every day and my rings and your heart necklace. All dressed up with nowhere to go. I do have somewhat of a circuit. I allow myself a trip to a drive-through for a diet coke, a breakfast sandwich or both. Still no coffee for me. Diet coke is my vice. I sit in the car, listen to the radio and often play all my Scrabble games. Depending on the skies, I drive into the country and take photos of cloud formations and the horizons of fields which remind me of water. With fall here, I cruise around and look for the best colorful trees.

When I head home, I put my headphones in and get some aerobic exercise and tend to the day’s chores. I’ve been keenly aware of the waning warm weather and poke around in the garden for the last of the summer colors. Today, most of the gingko leaves fell from the tree in front of the kids’ house. I found a few stray blooms which will probably be gone by tomorrow as there’s a freeze predicted tonight. Your hated time change is coming this weekend – I’m not looking forward to the early darkness. Intermittently, I see the boys. And Henry’s back in town for awhile which is always a good thing.

I think about a lot of random stuff. Yesterday was your mother’s birthday. Why do I have to remember that? She was so awful to me and you too. Yet I was thinking about how one of her few home cooked meals was beef stroganoff. And your dad who loved to twist words around, always called it strog beefanoff. I can’t think of a single good reason for conjuring up that useless information. I find myself thinking about all the people from my life who’ve died. I recently realized I can’t remember a single thing my grandfather ever said to me. I can see him and remember being in the same place with him, but unlike you, my mom, my grandmother and Fern, who chatter away in my brain all day, from him there’s nothing but silence. Why should I remember your dad’s inanities and nothing from him?

And then recently, I wound up going to see my parents’ grave. All I could think of was my father saying that cemetery visits were a waste of time, that you should show all your love and care when people are alive, not when they’re dead. He in his shroud wearing Elisabeth’s friendship bracelet, my mother in her favorite pink bathrobe. Sigh. He hated the idea of family standing around a grave crying what he called crocodile tears. Well. I wasn’t crying. I just wanted to have a look. I remember when my mom died and Gabriel said, now your parents will be two fossils in love. Funny kid. I find it very odd that the graves in this cemetery are separated into religious denominations. What a strange world. I’m glad your ashes are in our house, waiting to be mixed with mine. Then the kids can put us in our beloved garden and have the rest of us turned into blown glass objects or whatever. I sure hope I don’t outlive you by as many years as my mom outlived my dad.

In the meantime, I’m worried about Violet. She’s approaching her twelfth birthday. She was sick for awhile and I thought I might have to put her down. I didn’t have her groomed because I thought she wouldn’t be around for long. But she’s rebounded slightly and her coat turned into a tangled mess. I took her in yesterday to get her cleaned up and now she’s practically bald. I hope her hair grows in before it’s freezing. Meanwhile, I’m still glad to see my cardinals, Pumpkin and Carmine every day, after luring them closer to the house with new strategically placed feeders.

So, that’s it for today. A little of the profound and a little of the mundane. My life is pretty small right now although my mind still churns away. I miss you all the time although I’m used to managing myself. I often think that if there was really a devil with whom I could make a deal to bring you back in the flesh, there’s no telling what I’d trade. I laughingly tell the kids I’d offer them. But I don’t believe in that so I’ll make do with your mysterious presence and continue to send you these missives with love. Time to sleep, my darling boy. Good night. Love always, Renee

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