Finding a Smithereen of Soul

We lose each other, my wife and I. This woman and I spent our first five years in an extended honeymoon, but it’s hard to continue our feral love-play when the kids constantly vie for our attention. The thrown-together siblings want their Mimi (their biological grandmother) for attention, permission, and cuddling. They narc on each other to me (the grandpa with boobs). They take our reserves and leave us with nothing—not for ourselves, not for each other. My writing sucks right now, and there’s nothing for it but to keep at it and trust, in time, something will break free.

Kev (I guess you could call him my son-in-law—not in fact, but in relative relationship) used to mow the yard, back and front, so his son could play in it. This good man could not sit still, always needed something to work on, and our backyard was a joy to him. Since Kevin’s death in November, I hadn’t needed to mow—not really, just enough to run the gasoline out of the mower before winter. But spring eased in through the cold and, damn, if summer isn’t coming–the grass was knee high, in late May, before I could make myself drag the mower out. The hedges are overgrown. Weeds everywhere. Rats have been digging under our air conditioner.

Fucking Kevin, you damned dead junkie, how will I fill your shoes around this place?

But the grass is mowed finally. And the boy loves it.

Our daughter doesn’t quite know what to do with herself—I don’t know if it’s the awkwardness of puberty or something else, but Gail and I sit on a bench swing and watch the sky roll over our heads, unable to decide if we’re going to do anything about the invading duckweed other than mow it, while Miss M sits in a swing with her knees above her elbows trying to get the boy to play some game he’s not interested in.

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A day or two later, feeling cut off from myself (I’ve all but dropped out of my creative community, read lately more than written, scribbled journals more than drafted manuscripts), I dropped November’s addition to our family—Kevin’s son, a charming, tax-your-limits, four-year-old boy—at daycare and, rather than rush home to the endless list of what must be done before we rattle apart, I wheeled over to Montrose Harbor to be alone. Lately, the little guy’s been punching the rest of us without provocation and throwing a kind of tantrum I’ve never witnessed before, not even in Kmart. But he’s out of the car and it’s a relief to have him off my hands.

My wife and I used to throw peanuts-in-the-shell for crows. We’d get up before her nursing shift and, while waiting for the daycare to open (I tend to be insanely early for everything, as if lateness causes death), toodle up and down the park, feeding squirrels and crows. Even our daughter, who is now might-live-to-be-thirteen (yes, that’s a real age), remembers when a half dozen surrounded the car at a time, snatching a peanut or two and winging a short way off to peck, eat, and brag raucously. This is back when she was in the same daycare where we’re now taking the young boy. This was back before my wife’s head injury, when she was still a working RN. Back when there were enough crows to wrestle space from the insanely greedy gulls. I didn’t find any crows this time, and I missed them.

I ended up staring at the water’s chop. I’m ashamed to say the flash of shadow and light reminded my blunted mind of television static. I caught the thought as it flit through, numb and sad, and pulled out of my parking spot in hopes of shifting into a better mindset and rolled into the turn-around to listen to sailboat rigging clang in the wind.

Before reaching the end of the long arm sheltering the harbor, I came upon a goose family spread into a couple clumps in the grass swath between the main drag and the dockside parking lot. Two adults with five still-fuzzy goslings just shy of the size of grown mallards. After a three-minute rest, the geese rose to peck in the grass, their fuzzy miniatures following with similar movements (so orderly and cooperative!), then one parent walked across to the water’s edge and one gosling climbed on the sidewalk, too, while the rest lined up against the curb and the rearguard adult joined them there for a lie-down. The way the light played on their fuzz suggested how heart-meltingly soft they would be to pet, not that I’d brave adult geese to touch them. A flock of adult geese lingered across the road, but apparently only one pair had young just now.

No doubt, the kids would have loved to see them, but I chose not to share this with them, not, at least until I’d brought my sweet. The next day Gail and I found them at the east end of the harbor, near where we sometimes find a rabbit or two, and call out, “Shank!” when we do. They made their slow walk through dappled shade and sun, and it was peaceful to watch. A mother, father, and their young daughter in hot purple strolled along the harbor walk, until the father pulled the daughter with him, running, arms wide, chasing the goslings.

“I hope that goose pecks him in the balls,” Gail said, and I wished it, too.

“He doesn’t think, does he, of how he’d feel if something bigger came along and chased his daughter,” I said.

But then the people were past and the goose family collected again, goslings pecking as their parents kept their heads high, watching after the interlopers, wary of the sidewalk.

That evening, we took the kids, grabbed some Long John Silvers, and headed for the Skokie Forest Preserve.

At Long John Silvers, under a low, wide shrub, a young rabbit, no more than a handful of fur, edged into the grass eating clover. If anyone approached, it dove under the greenery, but once they were out of range, right back out it came, undaunted. Somehow young creatures—well, young animals, anyway—have a renewing effect children don’t always have. I suspect it is because young animals act in accordance with expectation, they share instincts with their parents. Human children are much more up for grabs, especially those whose home situations have landed them with relatives.

At the forest preserve we picnicked and threw the leftovers to the raccoons.

Though he showed an interest in potty-training at eighteen months, we have had to wean the little guy out of Pull-Ups (trust me, cloth training pants work better) since November, and he’s mostly got it down, but this evening the boy wet himself rather than tell us he needed to go, so we cut the stay short. Reinforcement. Luckily the fit he pitched was small, straight-forward.

And so, we’ve begun returning to our drives through Montrose Harbor and up the park toward Foster Beach and back, and to the forest preserve. There’s not much to it. If there was, we’d find it beyond our scraping-the-bottom capabilities. We linger to watch animals, take stock of changes in the landscape—the beaches are coming inland, and the forest preserve staff have cut out the underbrush, giving the trees a nakedness not there before. We don’t know if we’re disturbed by these changes.

Eventually, we showed the goslings to the kids, too, as I knew we would. My proprietary secrecy was because I had wanted to share it with my mate first, to put us first for a change.

Gail has asked what I saw in her idiosyncrasies—in her fierce, biting kisses, in the way she craved my scent—and I chalk it up to us knowing we are animals—clever animals with opposable thumbs, but animals just the same. I don’t know if this is the only reason, but one way back to ourselves lies in the out-of-doors, in whatever nature we can find, first just us, then maybe with the kids.

Someday, I will figure out how to tell these nothing drives so you see, too, how they help the soul.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Finding a Smithereen of Soul

  1. Aww, Deb. You still got it, baby.

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