I journaled for years on paper and I expect to be doing it in some form until my last days. In short summary, I teach mindfulness to parents of kids with challenges; I garden as often and as much as I can in Wisconsin and I am working through the threads of grief six years after my husband’s death. I am very grateful for finding and chasing the joy in this unexpected life.
I wrote this piece for the memoir class I am taking. It is the last of five garden related pieces. I is also where we are today, where I am. And so, I’m putting it here.
I am a gardener.
I notice what goes on in gardens: flowers and vegetables and herbs, perennials, biennials and abundantly blooming annuals that don’t stop until the first frost. I notice trees and bushes, decorative, productive and the volunteers that can be the bane in a gardener’s vision. I notice what the bunnies are eating, what cannot survive without six hours of sun, what the weeds are choking out and what thrives in a microclimate close to a dryer vent on the north side of a house. I know which tulips were planted as bulbs last autumn and which were planted full grown two weeks ago along a walkway with a carefully planned casualness. I admire the window boxes on Beacon Hill—lush, overfull and overflowing, miniature landscapes in harmonies of pinks and creams and lavenders punctuated with trailing greens.
Nothing like falling into a place. And entire world whose comfort is undeniable. How long has it been since this has happened to me?
I credit today to the slow recovery from Covid. Both Julia and I tested negative this morning—she probably would have tested negative days ago. And me too, probably, but I waited. It didn’t matter to wait. We were being very careful—masks and going to very few places. And it was well past our quarantine time.
But anyway, this morning I woke up, still coughing but otherwise restless. It was and is a dreary almost-spring day. 45 degrees, rain with shades of gray above. My upstairs neighbor had planted daffodils around the house that are waving their yellow heads and the Covid fog, which I hadn’t realized I had, is beginning to clear. (I guess it could be late winter foggy head or old lady fogginess but I’m blaming Covid today.)
4:00 a.m. My own witching hour. Up in the dark and out of bed, leaving my VNM sleeping peacefully.
We, Julia, VNM and I, have had Covid this last week. We were all ready to go to the wedding of the daughter of a dear friend, trek to Cleveland to party and see old friends, when I felt ill on Wednesday morning. “Felt ill” lacks the drama of the experience. It was more like getting slammed to the ground and wrestled into stillness. I managed to get Julia up and out, dropped her at Elliot House, drove back home and crawled into bed. I begged out of a class to make Yaprakia and skipped choir rehearsal that evening. I asked Julia’s therapist to pick Julia up, stay out of the house with her and drop her when their session was finished. During the day, I held out hope that I would recover quickly from whatever it was that I had and still get on a plane on Friday; however, by the evening I gave into the inevitable and by Thursday morning, I tested positive for Covid and cancelled all our plans. I was pretty sick—temperature, head ache, body ache, awful cough, loss of smell and taste and a few other symptoms I’d rather not describe. During the next four days, I ran through almost everything, apart from severe breathing problems. I was fortunate to call my doctor in time for a Paxlovid prescription and this morning I took the final dose. Symptoms did not retreat as quickly as they came on but after three doses, I began to feel more myself albeit very tired and still coughing.
VNM fell to the Covid test on Friday, and Julia on Saturday. Julia has had a deep cough and had taken a lot of naps, but otherwise is symptom free.
So, we’ve had a long weekend of naps, soup, cough and cold medication, water and juice and tea and more soup.
“It’s Wisconsin,” Julia said Friday morning as she stepped outside. As if Wisconsin was a season or a a weather description like sunny or cloudy. It was cold yesterday and overnight and this morning it is colder—cold enough to run a bit of water in the kitchen sink to make sure the pipes don’t freeze.
But it is hardly Wisconsin.
And I check myself to see if I miss those brilliant sunny and frigid days in Madison.
Yes, somewhat. What I miss is my people, my community, my chalice circle, my Quest group, Julia’s teachers and therapists and some very good friends.
I do not miss the cold. I could feel nostalgic for every one of those people if temperatures there never once dipped below freezing.
We are a week in the new house. There are fewer piles of boxes in the corners, there is a somewhat comfortable arrangement of furniture in the living room, there are some books on shelves.
Sitting in the small built-in nook beside the fireplace, the same one Julia sat in when we first arrived at the blue house, the day before furniture came from Madison. I snapped a picture of her looking both wistful and content that day. Or is it just that I am feeling that way today and projecting onto an old picture that I only dimly recall?
I have spent the best part of a month packing and with the help of my VNM have moved everything we could possibly carry to the new apartment. This is not like the last move or the one before that when I packed up everything and moved very far away. Right now, those moves feel so much more organized—labels on every box and everything in a box, except for me and Julia and Muta and the cello, a few plants and a carry on bag. This time we carried boxes and plants and plastic bags and clothes on hangers. I labeled a lot but not everything and the piles in the new house are not orderly. Why does it feel like so much bigger a job?
The movers—three very nice guys—have worked hard for the last two hours, emptying the house of what we could not carry. The head of the moving crew, Mark, comments on the moldings and built-ins and wooden archway and we fall into conversation about the empty flat. And I cannot help but start missing this pretty blue house. I get wedded to spaces. They are hard to leave.
This is a time of deep diving into chaos and it is not over yet.
We are leaving the blue victorian house that has held us safe and warm since we left Madison three and a half years ago. It has never been the perfect space but it has served us well through lock down and Covid, through the rough months without services for Julia and through her toughest transitions—the last of which was a bit more than a week ago when she turned 22 and aged out of school-based services.
The end of her transition services program, Community Connections or “CC”, was marked by a pizza party with most of the students and faculty and staff of CC. When her Inclusion Facilitator and I first talked about her party, we thought that something small with a few students would fit her best. Something like going out to get nails done, Asian noodles and a bubble tea with a few people. But Julia knew what she wanted and she wanted a big party with cake she made herself. She invited me and VNM but when we joined the party and I asked if we could sit with her, she preferred sitting with the teachers and aides who have been part of this experience. It was great to see her chatting and holding court. It was great to see her happy.
She misses everyone at CC and especially those staff members who she spent time with. I think she is texting with at least one of them and she wants to go back to visit. Connection has always been so important to Julia and it was good to see that she had made some in this program after those last years of high school which were so isolating and difficult.
On Christmas Eve morning, I wrote: there is a feeling of the jiggling of a snow globe, of not-quite-righted-ness, possible-upsidedown-ness of the day, and also feelings of those shape shifting holidays of the early years after David died when we were untethered from what had come before and striking out, however clumsily, reaching for something that was akin to honest hope.
I had no idea when I wrote that overlong sentence that I had captured this holiday week spot on.
It began on the Thursday evening before the Friday, last day of school which was called off due to the possibility of wind, rain and ice, a storm that never materialized. Friday morning was gray and chilly but only a little rain and a a few gusts of wind. And I put 20 bags of cookies into the freezer, 20 bags that Julia was going to bring into teachers and staff of her transition program that day, 20 bags that I had spent the best part of week baking.
Then came the Christmas plan. Cheshire, Justin and Wilbur were scheduled to travel to Colorado in the early evening of Christmas Eve. Earlier in the day, we celebrated Christmas, opening presents, with a bit of Hanukkah slipped in so we could light candles together. The plan for the rest of the day was simple: after late lunch I dropped the little family at Logan Airport, and Julia and I went to the VNM’s family Christmas Eve celebration. And much later, Julia and I went to church in time for choir rehearsal and the 10:30 pm service.
The plane did not take off at the scheduled 6:30. Instead, they were delayed from hour to hour. I texted with Cheshire around 8:30 and she expected to board any minute. Then, as choir was rehearsing close to 10, their flight was cancelled and Cheshire tried calling and texting me. Unfortunately, my phone was in my coat pocket back in a pew. After we rehearsed, and Julia and I were settling into our seats for service, I took out my phone and saw the texts and phone calls.
Sunday morning we sang Where the Light Begins (music by Susan LaBarr, text by Jan Richardson) (a pretty version to listen to here):
“Perhaps it does not begin, Perhaps it is always. Perhaps it takes a lifetime
“To open our eyes, To learn to see
“The luminous line of the map in the dark, The vigil flame in the house of the heart, The love so searing we can’t keep from singing, from crying out.
“Perhaps this day the light begins, Perhaps this day the light begins in us, We are where the light begins.
“Perhaps it does not begin, Perhaps it is always.”
This is one of those songs, whose melody and words pierce the heart like an arrow. I sang it every day at home last week to learn it. Sometimes it takes me so long to learn music, but singing it every day moved me closer to meaning. And after singing it in choir amidst many voices, I carried around a lump in my throat all day.
I’m up before the alarm, that I turned off last night, would have sounded and ready to . . . back in some old day, I would be . . . um, I wonder how far back I should be going to say what I mean to say today. This is the traditional time of gathering beloved souls together for cooking and eating and hopefully taking a walk before falling asleep in front of some movie on a cushy couch. And this time has been hard won.
I cast the net far enough back to state that my mother’s traditions did not fit me well; and during our East Village days with baby Cheshire in tow, we started to cook for ourselves and our friends. Cooking and talking and laughing and eating. Sometimes too many people crowded into our tiny apartment on First Avenue and sometimes we all went to Park Slope and celebrated in Carolina and David’s sprawling apartment. On a marble topped coffee table with one chip out of the wood frill frame, Carolina served glorious antipasto and David made margaritas. And we got to the turkey much later. Cooking and talking and laughing and eating.
I went up to Cheshire and Justin’s house on Wednesday with the promise of holding Wilbur for an hour or two. Two weeks old and not spending too much time with eyes open. He had a doctor’s appointment earlier in the day and it tired him out. He nestled in my arms, moving his extremities the way a new baby does—random and without purpose. Amazing how dear such movements can be. And I cannot help but remember when his mother was that age and we brought her home to First Avenue in the East Village.
All is well at Wilbur’s house. Baby sleeping in adequate chunks of time; his bodily functions all working at full tilt. When else is farting charming? He has a good suck, fills his diaper regularly and cries in protest every time his little body is without clothes. Mama and Papa are content, and not as exhausted as I remember being.