My mood is laden as the sky, brittle as its air. How, in this endless season, do I endure the cold, the hurt, the disappointment of life, the anything?

But I make myself content by doing simple things like visiting Calvin’s school where I see the students’ wonderful art tacked to its walls—paintings of ruffled flowers bursting in purple, green, yellow and red illuminating a place seemingly frozen in the dead of winter.

At home, the sun streams through the kitchen window begging me to get out into it. It's still below freezing and I can see that the wind is slight. Calvin is upstairs having a bath. I clip Rudy on his leash, put on my wool peacoat over my down vest, tuck in my scarf and pull on my wool hat and polypropylene gloves. I stop at Woody’s to ask if he wants to join us for a walk, but he declines, so I invite myself back for a drink later.

At the end of the block, the early evening sun casting its long shadows on the crust of filthy, decaying snow, I see Jerry and Nico and cross to join them. Her shins are bare down to her ballet-type slipper-shoes in defiance of the icy weather. I hardly see Jerry anymore, the woman who has witnessed our deep despair, at least during the first several sorry years of Calvin's life. She’s brought us dinners in the hospital, embraced me as I sobbed at a birthday party meant for all of the March babies, which should have included Calvin if he hadn’t come six weeks early. She’s brought me flowers and often appears to have a tinge of melancholy when regarding me, not a look of pity so much as a helplessness about our situation, perhaps.

Mike, Woody’s neighbor, approaches in his all-black uniform of sorts. He’s ninety-one or two and tall, reminds me a little of the Winter Warlock—melted-heart version—and I tease him as much as I can muster. He talks about the neighborhood and how it used to be, how he used to know more people and how he never sees any of the new “ones” who have moved in on all sides. He elbows me and says, “Now, all I know is the girl who walks her dog,” and when I hear him refer to me as I girl I tell him I ought to come around more often. We all laugh and, regrettably, Jerry drives off before I have a chance to really catch up.

Rudy and I amble down the lane to the athletic fields. I can smell Bob’s pipe, then I see him moseying along in his driveway and I'm surprised at how many folks are out in the cold. It must be the sun, I think to myself. “Where’s your hat?” I ask, and he tells me he never really wears one. I joke, “That’s because you’ve got hair ... probably more than I do,” having just told Jerry mine is thinning with age. Bob is in his late eighties, and we walk together a short distance just past the mailboxes, just past a young, naked oak growing at the back of his fence. The sun is on our faces, his clear blue eyes tearing in the sharp wind, and as he wipes them away I breathe in the warm, sweet smoke of his pipe. I ask him how long he’s smoked. “A long time. But I don’t swallow it,” he adds, and I smile. He asks if I know how he met Nan, and I tell him that I knew he stole her away from California when she was just nineteen. He says she’d been born in Hawaii then had moved to California when her father began teaching at Stanford. They'd met while her father was teaching a semester here, back when Bob was a student. I remark on how much she must have loved him to have left sunny California to live in Maine where in spring it's below freezing for days on end and looks like December until May. “I got lucky,” he says, and I tell him that she’d gotten lucky, too. "I hope so," he replies, then we say our goodbyes and I head off back up the street.

At Woody’s, I wipe the sand off of my boots and step inside to a warm blanket of air. Rudy follows and the cats scatter, but not as far as usual. Woody has bought some Wild Turkey with me in mind and we sit in front of the gas fire again. We complain about the weather and about the approaching storm. I mention that we’re losing Calvin’s nurse and how much I like her. We discuss the universe(s), the existence of God, of which neither of us are so sure, of the stories man has perhaps invented to keep folks in line or to explain the inexplicable. I mention the earthquake in Haiti, which has eroded into a cholera epidemic, and how some extremists said it was an act of God, a form of punishment. "If there is a God, he wouldn't take sides," I say, and we muse on the idea that our energy, our soul or spirit or whatever you want to call it, probably doesn't go away, just changes, like boiling water into steam. In a moment of thoughtful silence we sip our drinks and I think of my dad whose ashes are still somewhere reflecting the sun's light.

After the pause, I gently ask Woody about his son, and he tells me all of it and I listen and we cry and we hug for a long time and I tell him that I love him and he says it back and he tells me that I’m a good person and I mention how much I am glad we’ve met and he says how he looks forward to my visits and I tell him so do I and he says it’s just because of the chocolates and then he adds that it’s for the bourbon too and I don’t deny it and we laugh and cry some more.

We have another splash from the bottle before I leave and I promise him the next time it’ll be at my place, and we both agree that Michael won’t mind, whether he’s home or not, because that's what love and friendship are about. Then I say goodnight and I walk three houses down and open the door to greet a nurse that I love and a boy that I love even more.

photo by Michael Kolster

1 comment:

  1. What a heart-warming, human story!!! Thank you...you've lit up my life...again.