The original timestamp on The Red Umbrella (and the light) is August 13, 2020 which has caused a dip into the well of cognitive dissonance this morning. The post was written forty-eight hours after I'd put my affairs in order and handed two large manila envelopes to my son at the Saugatuck Reservoir. We are wizards of dissociation, me and my children and most assuredly my brother. My first baby held his emotions in check for the three hours it took to work my way through the what and mostly the why. It's a cruel thing to tell a person you love that you're leaving when you actually mean it. Some people tell a loved one they're in trouble and we can only hope that's a wish it wasn't so; this thing we've labeled a 'cry for help' which is nothing of the sort.
What it means, this 'cry for help' is: Please, for the love of Dog, look at me! Please say you can see me because I'm an inch from gone. That rings true, at least to me. 'Cry for help' has an undertone of judgement that might as well push a person over the bridge anyway. File that bit of information somewhere, in the event you're presented with somebody's last will and testament.
I only went to the reservoir to keep a promise I didn't feel very good about in the first place. He'd asked me once, how I could go if he never had a chance to say goodbye and I said, OK, Mike, in the event I decide it's time to go, I will call you. Otherwise, I'd have left the manila envelopes on my desk with the appropriate instructions. Instead, I handed everything over, including the family jewelry, and said, this is it. I'm done.
This is all about timing. If we don't write a thing down it twists and warps in our mind to suit current requirements. In my mind, The Red Umbrella (and the light) would have been written after my visit to Florkow when I'd had the space and peace to be loved for a handful of days before I squared my shoulders and headed back east. A great many things happened in the next two months, strung together like the water droplets on a marsh spider's web. Beautiful in the sunlight, nearly impossible to see under cloud cover.
Four beers, half a pack of his cigarettes, and three hours later, we made our way through the dark forest and back to our cars. I don't remember what I said in the end because he ordered his siblings to gather for dinner in the back yard of thirty-five Madison Avenue. They were instructed to ask nothing and speak carefully because this might very well have been the last goodbye. One of them did NOT take it well at all. Her pain, rage, anger, and God knows what else, splashed through the house and into the back yard. I didn't have the bandwidth to do anything other than let her be once she'd said her words. That's a thing I can understand and forgive, but Lucia? Probably not so much. Maybe that's why I hung in there four more days. Not for her, maybe because of her. Four more days later I called my brother and did the unthinkable; I lost my shit in front of him (this is not a thing I'm much willing to do) and talked for more than two hours as he cancelled meeting after meeting. I didn't know he was crying until close to the end but I did know he was coming and I might find a way to OK.
I went out on the water with Mac the next day and drove straight to Virginia the following morning where I stayed longer than I thought I might have. Jack arrived four days later and then I headed to New Hampshire, a place I hadn't been in about eleven years. On September 9 I drove north to my dad and Sarah where I stayed for eleven days which is another thing I do not do. Too long in someone else's space, too long out of my own bed. In retrospect, the general consensus is I should have never left. But you can't go home, right? You can only stay a little while and then face that black hole by yourself, being a grown ass person and all that. After that, I got myself back to New Hampshire about once every four weeks with one more drive to Vermont before the virus spiked again.
By January I was notably broken. No one understood what sort of broken, just that I couldn't move and apparently wasn't breathing. I hit the wall of stasis one too many times. One February 2 I landed in the ER in the middle of a blizzard. Heart attack symptoms that were driven by tachycardia. I had a resting heartrate of 120 bpm and no way I could have said how long it'd been that way. For the most part I'd stopped breathing and definitely wasn't moving and it wasn't until the middle of February I met Mel who said one or two things and I thought there might be a way out after all.
You can, as it turns out, repair neurological damage. It takes time, effort, and dogged focus, but it can be so.
Go back to the date of the original publication and the content of the post. Now drop the overlay of context across those 595 words and read it again. In that moment I wasn't saying goodbye; I was noticing and documenting the existence of joy.
I noticed a thing. Every time I drove to my aunt in New Hampshire, my heartrate dropped. Eventually it dropped significantly. I could breathe and move again. I could think. We don't recognize the relevance of thinking until it's mostly gone. When I went home, my heartrate went right back up. Mel and I worked on bringing it down one or two beats at a time. I took an entire pack of post-its; I wrote 'Breathe' on every single one and then plastered them all over the house. The thing is, when your brain's under siege, you do stop breathing and those post-its did their job.
I was moving forward, but not fast enough. My brother was frustrated and angry. That sort of anger comes of fear and helplessness and triggers shit I'd rather he'd managed to keep to himself. On the other hand, in my own frustration and anger I decided to just get the hell out. We strategized, me and Elizabeth, and her dad and came up with three plans; three places I could go. The first two were good and the third and last resort, but better than sitting in the swamp I'd created.
I hyperventilated when I called Sarah and could barely speak. I asked and then just cried. She said she expected so and called back a few hours later.
You see, in truth, you can go home. Sometimes. Not always and probably not often. But you can. I wasn't sure but it was my best shot at just walking away. My best shot at sanctuary.
Yesterday, at 4:45 AM, I drove south again. One last trip to clean out what remains in the apartment, hand over the keys, and go home. I didn't expect, maybe I should have expected to walk right back into the fog. Nothing has changed here. The darkness that settled in around me isn't just going to blow away because I walked out the door. The memories, thoughts, feelings, and events are in the walls. They aren't going anywhere until I've washed them off myself. And so I was tired. Not the way you might think. In Vermont I wake at 5:30, like it or not, and by 8:30 I'm asleep. A full day and the exhaustion of the last forty-five cumulative years wears me out. It wears me out in the good sort of way. I get physically stronger every day. I find that I think clearly most times, and sometimes quite well.
For the most part I can think here, just so long as I'm making progress and can see my way out of here Friday morning. I am driving north one more time with the rest of what I'll keep. It will take four car loads. Lucia knows she's coming doesn't know about the carload I'll deliver this week. I don't think she'll mind. We're going to spend the weekend together, just the four of us in a rented house not far from my home. At the end of the weekend they will drive south.
And I will go home.
In my garden is a plant I don't recognize. Florkow yanked a good size clump of garden Pflox as I was leaving last year. I put them in the ground exactly under those purple flowers (which most assuredly were NOT there before) and hoped very hard they'd come back in the spring. Well, they did come back and if you look carefully you can see them making their way toward the sun. Sometimes Pflox falls over and says, NO! And sometimes Pflox takes over your life. If I had to guess, I'd say just a bit of that purple flower was hiding out in the overly abundant pink.
Sometimes you can see a good thing. And sometimes, even better, it's more than expected. Much, much more.