The Serenity of Passing
As I sit on my rocking chair and look out into my yard from the porch, I realize that the yard is much different from when my wife and I moved in. The physical dimensions are the same, but the memories that go along with the visual things are so much different. The porch extends the length of the house with a center staircase leading to a stone walk, which I put in after my wife became pregnant with our first child. I thought it would be better if she had a solid surface to walk on, especially when it was raining and muddy. I remember her laughing at me when I first suggested it, her eyes flooded with happy tears as she giggled. When she realized I was serious, her expression changed. Her eyes opened wider and she smiled as she touched my cheek. I worked on that walk for a month and a half before I got it just right, finally reaching the sidewalk twenty feet away. She never slipped or fell, or even lost her balance. All the stones are still in place, though she never walks on them anymore.
At the end of the stone work, it meets the sidewalk. Shrubs line the front lawn and extend out about thirty feet in each direction. In the center is a white wooden picketed gate. Next to the gate on the left side is the mailbox. Its glossy red surface shines in the afternoon sun. My daughter wanted to paint it red when she found the can of paint in the basement. She thought it would be cool to have a red mailbox, so I let her paint it; although I made sure she didn’t paint over the name plate on the side.
I remember when we first hung that nameplate. We had just moved in. My wife and I stood on the sidewalk and looked at our new home. We just smiled at each other, both of us with this almost stupid grin. She pulled out the metal nameplate from the paper bag she was holding. She hung it on the hooks that came with it after we had screwed them into the side. Then she kissed me. I remember the exact words she said to me.
“My dream home is wherever you are.”
Funny how much a mailbox can make you think of things. My daughter first painted it, but I have painted it red every season since then.
The backyard, though, is where the emotions are; memories built on memories. My original memory of the backyard is a pale shadow compared to what I think of now. As I stand on the back deck, I see my son’s tree house directly in front of me at the back end of the yard, in the big oak, on the edge of the tree line. He built that tree house when he was 12. That was decades ago, I can hardly believe that it still stands.
In the right corner of the backyard sits my brick grill. We used to have cookouts every summer holiday. We’d invite neighbors and family over and enjoy sitting out on the patio right next to the grill. The parties would last all day long. When all the kids had fallen asleep and our friends went home, my wife and I would sit in the hammock, drink wine, and admire how much of the night sky we could see from our own corner of the galaxy. She would show me the different constellations and tell me the stories behind them. I always loved her stories, her soft voice blended with the evening breeze, almost as if it were part of the air itself. But we don’t stare up at the night sky anymore, although, on occasion I will glance up for a second and remember those peaceful nights.
I am so at home here. I can navigate with my eyes closed. I know every inch. In between the tree house and the grill sits a birdbath. It’s three feet high and made of marble. All along the bowl’s outer surface there are Greek-like characters carved into the stone. The men and women are lounging on beds, naked, enjoying the warm rays of a stone-carved sun. They hold hands, comfortable in each other’s company. We got that birdbath after my wife and I came back from our vacation to Australia. She became fascinated with the birds in that far off land down at the bottom of the world and said that it would be nice to have birds visit us at our own home. I agreed with her, overwhelmed at her ability to see beauty and comfort in things most people overlook. She loved to watch those birds flutter about, coming and going. She said she admired their freedom and grace. That’s one of the reasons my love for her has always been so strong. The bowl, as I like to call it, leans now to the right. Its edges are cracked and there are chips all along the rim, but birds still come, and they sing.
Behind the birdbath there is a path that leads back into the woods. My children would go back and play for hours on end. I would hold my wife’s hand as we would walk down that well-traveled lane. Now, as I travel alone along that path, I feel as if I’m floating. I see my necklace on the ground. Distinctly aware that I am reliving a memory I pick it up. It is a golden key, attached to a thin chain. She had one of a heart with a key-shaped hole cut out of the side. I remember mine lay on the ground because my wife had ripped it off of me in a fit of anger. There was a time in my life when I had foolishly forgotten the value of what was important.
My wife had felt the sting of my foolishness and refused to accept my limited view. Her anger and that key helped me to see what her pleading could not. I had become distant, distracted, more obsessed with earning money and prestige than focusing on why being successful at work was important in the first place. My life with her was the important thing. For a time I chose to ignore that, but she wouldn’t let me be so blind. That key, so small, shined in the brilliant sun. In my hands I felt the coldness of the metal and realized that it was a physical metaphor for what I had done to my wife. I had broken her heart, and I was as cold to her as my key was to her charm. The sun’s reflection on the key’s surface acted as a beacon, guiding me back on the path to my wife’s love. From that day forward I never forgot the lesson she taught me, never taking the key from my neck. It’s weathered and dull now, but it shines forever in my eyes. Her heart now rests in a box safe from the elements and things that would break it. My grief weighs on me though, and her absence is a presence unto itself. For all of my precious memories and love, it lurks and haunts me in my loneliness. I do not welcome its company.
I feel an urge to continue down the path on my simple journey and I become somewhat disoriented. The familiar surroundings that I have known for years change. I don’t feel threatened by this new experience though. It is as if I’m having a memory of some place I have never been to. I feel comfortable in the midst of disorientation as the path leads to a lake. It is clear and cool and extends far off into the distance. There are mountains in the background, whose image reflects onto the water. The sun shines overhead making the water glisten and look as if flecks of gold float on the surface. The forest covers the land on either side totally secluding it from any other person but myself. I feel as if I have been here before. This is the place where I first made love to my wife. On the shore of this mythical lake we shared our bodies and minds. In my heart and my soul, I was totally at peace, as I knew she was. Our minds, bodies, and spirits were as one, the way I had always envisioned our love. I wished to stay and relive all our loves in this sweet majestic place, but a feeling compelled me to move further.
I float across the shore of the lake, deep into the forest of blazingly green trees. I suddenly come to a small wall, no more than three feet high. Made of cobblestones, it’s old and parts have crumbled. Moss grows where it is damp and little forest animals have made homes in the crevasses. I feel a desire to climb over and use the fallen stones as a staircase;, easily crossing over to the other side. My weary old body ceases to bother me. I feel alive as if I had never been before. Across the wall few trees give way to a great field of grass. The ever-brilliant sun beams its rays upon my face; the warmth is comforting in a way I have never felt before.
In the distance, I see a figure standing next to a solitary tree on the hill. I continue on effortlessly making my way to the person. As I come closer, I see that it is my love. She has been waiting for me. And my journey is over. I know now, I left my past behind, my old life is done. But she is waiting. She is as beautiful as the day I met her and fell in love. She smiles back at me and as I hold her in my arms and kiss her gentle red lips, I feel all of our love coalesce and merge into one. And I know I will be with my love forever.