Ricardo

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Photo: Christine Beal Alderman

 

On this warm April day when only the most eager of bushes and trees are showing green, I sit by a lake on the yellow, snow-flattened reeds from last summer and I decide that if I ever have to make a bed outside, I will come here, gather the reeds and lie down.

At first I think it’s probable I’ll get shivery from the wind, determined in its constancy, but the cushion of reeds has made me sleepy and the silver sun is pushing closed my eyes.

This morning, I had been thinking about yesterday, at the creek, with the boys, with Betty, and how I said, “Don’t get your shoes wet.”

Ian tossed big stones to make a bridge across the water to the sand bar. It was inevitable that he fall in because he was trying so hard not to. Pook, using an unbendable stick to pole vault his way to the sand island, also touched water, deeply and cooly. Betty pulled taut the 15 foot length of her leash.  Me, I was trying to forget about the house and all its showings, trying to predict the outcome of things. It’s a weakness I have or maybe it’s an arrogance, like when I finish other people’s sentences because they’re not talking fast enough, not getting to the point.  So that’s what I was thinking about this morning, how is it that a person can just live moment to moment? That’s how we get free, right?

But then later today, as I was waiting out the open house, I learned that a high school classmate had died.

Ricardo Accorsi played drums, briefly I remember, in a band with my brother Brian, with my best friend’s brother, Frank, and my boyfriend, Tato. Once we went to Ricardo’s house. I remember it had two kitchens. I remember that there was a poster of Leonardo da Vinci’s man, all symmetry and circle, spreading. I’d never see it before.

Later that school year, I saw Ricardo at a party. It stands to reason I was very drunk, probably high, speed climbing up fool’s hill. We hugged like we were long lost friends until the floor became slippery and the walls swayed and I crashed into the patio door. Did it shatter? I don’t remember.

What I do remember is being at the hospital in a room with my best friend, Susie, and laughing hysterically until my dad walked in.

“You think this is funny?” he said. Yes.

“No.” Yes.

I have a scar from that night, a small horseshoe on my right hand, on the webbing between my fingers.

I don’t know anything else about Ricardo’s life after graduation. I don’t know how he lived. But I do know how he died because my dad died the same way.

I don’t usually think about how ALS makes a person’s muscles go slack, limp and dragging, or how boisterous laughter and uncontrollable sobbing are interchangeable. It’s more specific. It’s about the mouth. Food and speech and song and giving tender kisses are taken away, cruelly, it seems. And, at the last, it takes away your breath.

This is what I am thinking about this moment with the sun flashing on the water, beacons of jumping silver light beckoning me into the heart of this beauty. I am free in this moment. I can’t help but think that that’s where Ricardo is right now, deep in the heart of beauty. And we, like the ducks on this lake, have our heads submerged, tail feathers in the air.

Mom

 

I don’t live in the future and I don’t live in the past. I don’t live in the present either. But I am rooted in time. The hamster wheel of my life keeps spinning and I keep running, the past throwing itself in front of me, the future beckoning, and the present never real. I think this is the only way to live. It is the only way to keep generating light.

My mother fell off the wheel. Or maybe she climbed off, but she got caught in the black abyss of despair and depression. Many of us paused in our frantic running to reach down and shout out, “Come on. Come on back up.We’ll help you.” She never did.

She rests now in a small cemetery in Hutchinson. I haven’t been there since we buried her. Most days I don’t think about her; I don’t miss her. But sometimes, especially at night in the wintertime, when there’s a strong, cold wind and the branches of the trees outside my house creak and crack, I think about her. Especially then, I imagine the thick snow covering her grave, the wind blowing across the dark field, and I remember her loneliness.

 

Harry

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Harry, after the first snow had melted and dried, and the sun was spring-like above you, your back end swayed and your legs gave out on you again. You didn’t even try to get up. Instead, you flopped your long, silky body onto the ground and rolled. You nosed the still awakened grass, snuffed the tingling air, paying homage to our glorious world.You were happy.

But now, less than two weeks later, your happy, dog life has gotten sad. We have to let you go, in a day, a few days.

I remember that you loved to chase those really little dogs when you got the chance. You jumped for tennis balls. You welcomed cats. I remember how you’d push your cold, wet nose against mine. You did that with all of us, even the babies when they were babies, breathing our breath, confirming our lives.

I remember, too, that you left deep gouges in the front door with your long black claws.I remember how you chewed the blinds, ate the butter, tore apart loaves of bread.That was when you were left alone. You didn’t want to be left behind.You didn’t want to be forgotten. And isn’t that what we all want?

Harry, you won’t be forgotten. Even now, while you sleep on the bed behind me, while I am remembering you, my world is a little shinier, a little gentler, and so very sweet.

Tom-Cat

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Tom-cat died this morning, hit by a car. Yeah, I’m used to death, I could say, and wear it like a badge of honor. But that’s not it. You don’t get used to it. It’s like winter. You turn up the heat. You turn on more lights. You don’t even try to break up the frozen ground. Spring will come when she’s ready. But what the heck am I supposed to do with myself now?

I dropped the boys off at school and wondered if I should’ve kept them home because that way there wouldn’t be the chance they’d come up against any hard people. And I kept hearing Dylan sing He ain’t dead. He’s just asleep. I drove home too fast and the car was really heavy.

Our Tom-cat died exactly the same way as our Mannie-cat died. In front of the same house. And I think about the woman three doors down who hated Mannie-cat and once came to the door throwing a curse at us in a shaky voice. Is her hatred responsible for this misfortune? Does the world work that way? If it helps, if it will make this never happen again, I forgive her. And if it is my fault for letting our cats roam, then I forgive myself. Because it isn’t about their lives anymore. It’s about ours.

Louise

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I took care of Louise. We spent many slow hours together. She often said she wished we had known each other before, when she wasn’t stuck in a chair or in a bed. We would’ve had so much fun, she said.

Louise liked food. She liked her hummus and her hubbis and her tabouli. Every holiday she’d ask about the price of lamb.

She liked her morning oatmeal with raisins and bananas, topped with milk to the lip of the bowl.

She liked her Folger’s weak with a dash of cream. She liked me to have a cup, too. We’d have a cheer, clink together our coffee mugs, a “tooka” she called it.

And we’d play Cribbage, slowly like a couple of old women. Once she said, “Either I’m a very good player or…” She beat me all the time, even when she was under the puffy gray cloud of painkillers and I had to tap her hand to remind her it was her play. The last two games we played I won.

Yesterday, I went in to do the gentle cares for her dying body, washing her face, her eyes, rubbing lotion on her right hand, the only other part of her body that didn’t hurt to be touched. And I said, “Well Louise, are you up for a game of Cribbage?” Gallows humor, I know, but she appreciated it and tried to smile. That was the thing, it was so easy to make her laugh. I’ll miss that.

I’m not broken up about this. I’m quiet. But there’s been a shift in the world. I feel the rumbling.