It’s a perfect kind of night for a funeral. It’s dark and quiet, no wind. A chill in the air, but nothing a car coat won’t stave off.
My husband, son, and I make our way a mile down the hill and the bluff stairs, back through a quiet neighborhood along a canal, under a bridge into a wooded area my children are now calling Chu’s Crick. With us: our dog, cheerfully taking his favorite walk of the day. Our kitty Herbert Pocket, whisking alongside, and then ahead. Brave and proud. Nels carries a flashlight; my husband, a shovel. I follow last with a cigar box. Inside: a nubbly bit of soft cotton fabric swaddling four tiny babies, their little mouths peeking open to nurse, which they never will. Lucky, who was born without breath. Sardine, who passed soon after. Chu and Anchovy. Anchovy was the strongest. The little blonde head I held close, and so carefully.
They are silent, and hold no warmth, but they are still soft, their limbs loose. Their weight in the little box is somber. They are sharing sleep.
The night lights are orange, burning in the midnight deep, a senseless flame. The woods are foreboding enough I would not venture there without company. On the path, with my family, I am safe. The earth is soft with spring promise. Water trickles through the loden banks, icy and careless of my feelings.
Nels finds us a sturdy tree. It is good soil. My husband digs deep, very deep. I read a small eulogy.
It is harder than I make it sound.
It only takes a moment to fill the grave. My son collects his hands in a prayer, summoning us to be silent. Then he walks into the wood and finds a green leafy branch, plants it in the earth. “There,” he says grimly. I put my arms around him. What a birthday present!
We are walking back. A funeral in the night, it is good for being alone with your thoughts.
I feel terrible leaving those littles in the cold earth. There is no comfort for me as I climb the mute steps back up the hill.
The children were outside playing a game, after a swim date and a full spread of party fare and a special birthday cake, when we discovered Trout had delivered her kittens.
She came to us Tuesday, as a foster. She was a very ill, beat up, stressed out pregnant kitty – very young, herself. She’d been fending her way and she’d sustained an attack or two – facial injuries and a nasty cold, with thick ropy discharge coming from her mouth and nose. We took her to the clinic on Thursday where a very kind veterinarian gave her a thorough examination. He said her injuries were healing, and she had feline rhinotracheitis. He said she might get over her cold before her kittens were born, which would be a stroke of luck. He told us she smelled so horrid because she’d been too stressed to groom herself properly.
We brought her home, and I knew we’d care for her very well.
Yesterday she was already feeling better. Her eyes were bright and she would purr and stretch out while I pet her.
No one told me, nor did I think on it, that she might deliver her babies catastrophically early.
One was dead soon after birth (if not before); the other died in my hands.
Two remain, and Nels and I check on them every two hours and give them care as per veterinary instruction. We give Trout some love as well. She vacillates between calm and loving – then protective and stressed. She is, however, finally grooming herself – and her appetite is better. Even as her younglings die, she is recovering.
I don’t know what’s worse. To be up tonight on this vigil, or to think of relieving my shift – waking my husband – and sleeping, only to wake to bad news.
I step out onto the sidewalk where my son holds our dog and I see Nels has been crying. He throws his head back and howls in utter remorse for the joke he’d made a few seconds before I’d disappeared into the shop. The witticism wasn’t an especially good one (it involved a naughty pun on the word “cock”) and I’d frowned. Apparently my son was stricken after having a few moments alone with his thoughts while I took care of some business. Now, reunited, he cries. Hot tears flow down his cheeks and he tells me he embarrassed and ashamed and he vows to never go to a certain website again.
I hold his hand and we cross the street. I ask him, “Why do you need me to like all the things you like?” and he cries some more, says something muffled. I realize he’s probably hungry and I say, “Can we talk about it more over lunch honey?” His tears dry up, but his face bears the indelible marks of weeping in cold weather.
This summer while waiting for a friend I sat in a sunny living room and talked with a young man and his mother. The young man was a little more interested in my conversation than his mother seemed. He was watching a documentary I’d seen not two weeks before and had really enjoyed. He and I had a brief but interesting discussion and I thought how pleasant it was to talk with someone who had such a spark and such an intelligent mind.
Today that young man committed suicide in that same home I sat in a few months ago.
I know the family. They are friends. If I sit here and feel stunned and think maybe there could have been something, some clue, something I could have done, I can only imagine what his close friends and family must feel. As a mother it is painful to consider the implications of today.
We are all, each of us, such crystal-clear and breathtakingly beautiful phenomenon. The idea that someone can suffer so much as to end such a living breathing unique manifestation is quite sobering to comprehend.
Today, the 27th, is the monthly date anniversary for sobriety. I had forgotten until I saw the date in a book. My friend gave me a little gift. Afterwards I took my children to the Y to go swimming and, while they cavorted, attended a Board meeting for the local Buddhist group where I was indoctrinated into service. I picked up lunch for the children and met another friend back at the Y and we ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company.
Today is a day for holding tight that which we value.
I’m not sure at what point my day, and my mind, asploded. I worked hard in the home and on an art project, much to my satisfaction. I had a tense discussion this morning with my husband, but that seemed to resolve okay. (Other peoples’) kids came and went through my house and we fed one or two and kicked another one out to have a meal, just the four of us. Friends were over, another friend canceled a dinner date with us. I helped at a Recovery function and paid for a couple plates of spaghetti and salad for those who might not have the suggested donation.
I met a few new people today too, including a man who reminded me of my father so much it hit me like a physical blow, he had the same earring and trained into electronics in the military, in Vietnam, and I listened to him talk and stared and thought of my father, too tired to even feel the sting of missing him. I met a few new people today, including a man who cried talking about the people who surrounded and loved him and got him help when he needed it most, this was over ten years ago and he still had tears in evidence. I met a few new people today, including a nice young man recently released from incarceration and (more shockingly to my provincial mind) who related his experiences divorcing from in-house White Power groups (I talked to him a bit later, as he’s newly a mechanic of a type I could use).
At some point I guess I started to feel some kind of intense spiritual or emotional or mental fatigue, although I didn’t recognize it until later during volunteer work. Maybe my brain went *click* into exhaustion hearing the fourth young person say, “I’m _________, heroin addict,” and so on. Or maybe it was investing myself in yet another story filled with more hate and sorrow and abuse and neglect, stories so incredibly personal yet now stunningly familiar, and yes there’s triumph and courage and tremendous love and affection and salvation and gratitude, but still I have the visceral image of a young man left to cry himself to sleep night after night in the back of a car while his parents went into the bar to drink, a boy then a teen then a man who learned to never let those feelings show for many many years but now they’re coming up. More tears.
Even surrounded by all sorts of this kind of stuff I can’t entirely say I’m depressed or brought down. Humbled is a better word. I used to feel separate from these concerns or maybe I had no idea how much suffering there was, right where I could reach out and touch it, or maybe I would have considered some people “really sick” or thinking I was, essentially, better, or better off at least, than they. But today there is nothing that separates me at all from all of this, and I feel floored as if an ant with a large boot to crush me to Nothing, because in fact we have all the same affliction, and at the risk of starting controversy it doesn’t have much to do with the use or non-use of chemicals and if you can’t see it you’re just not seeing what I’m seeing.
Tangentially I have also discovered all the aspects of my best alcoholic behaviors, well I have them today in sobriety and they are some of the qualities that make me a rather terrific parent. Example: we have $11 in the bank and out of nowhere this afternoon I tell the kids, “Let’s get a tree!” and of course I mean one supporting our locals at the Market, not the cheapest tree at all. And when we get there they are just closing up but a nice older man lets us tree-shop and we find a brilliant noble fir, I’d never noticed how pretty they are. And the nice fellow helping us out, I see he’s also a Santa-for-hire (there’s a flyer) and I say, “Oh you’re Santa,” then after he tells me a bit I laugh, “We’re a no Santa household,” and he says, “Well okay!” Ralph “ropes” the tree to the top of my car and in the parking lot we see a lone purple ornament rolling around and we pick it up to hang on our tree.
And the kids are One Hundred Thousand Percent so happy to see Ralph bring in the fragrant greenery. “That is a beautiful tree, mom. Good job!” my oldest tells me. The kids get to decorating it and I’m happy to see the tree develop in the way it was in my family of origin, not an Avon-perfect or shopping mall tree but the ornaments handmade, many of them gifts from others, handstitched and glued and pasted and lovely, and the kids and the cats are simply delighted. The children go about their painting and drawing and reading and when they ask for my attention I turn and give it to them as best I can,
as fierce I can.
I come home and bathe and wrap myself in a blanket and sit quietly by the family, who likely have no idea how much it hurts sometimes. My daughter told me she stared at me today, and she says “because you’re so beautiful”. And I think I know what she means and today, that’s pretty good.