Daily I walk the woods alone, past the massive sycamore. Last night, a windstorm. Today the sycamore’s hundreds of silver limbs lie across the valley, reminding me of the tangled tresses of Queen Isis cut off to mourn the slain king, her beloved Osiris, who lay in a golden coffin hidden in the hollow of a tree trunk. A squirrel searches bewildered, for its stockpile of acorns stored inside the sycamore. It stands silenced over the valley filled with grief no one wants to come close to. A week of black veils, a month of ripped black ribbon, a handful of walks in the woods with the widow. Enough.
It’s been five full moons now. My phone doesn’t ring anymore. Sound of the wind last night cracked me open. Against all advice from well-meaning friends, I opened my husband’s spiral dream journal again, to the same page as the first time, though no scrap of paper or folded corner marked the spot where he dreamed a tumor five years before its tendril roots appeared inside his brain and branched out so fast even the tearing night winds couldn’t keep up.
This time I read further than the first time. In the dream our motherly friend Frances did the MRI of Steven’s head even though he had gone in for a problem with his gallbladder. Also in the dream, or was it in his waking life, a squirrel entered the office through a crack in the wall and re-emerged soon after. The sneaking-in agitated him, the re-emergence saddened him; he writes he was sad for the squirrel. And for himself he wept and threw his body on the ground and felt afraid. In his dream I am not there to comfort him. I am not there to see the squirrel or the tumor breaking and entering.
In the backyard between our home and office, each May before the tumor, we watched for the one we called the upside down squirrel that found a way to chomp on the thistle and niger seed from our bird feeder that hung from the star dogwood; no matter how we hung it, high, low, on thin wire or thick, on long or short rope the squirrel found a way to hang on, to eat. Last year we spray-painted its tail blue to check if it was the same squirrel returning day after day, through spring and summer, year after year, to keep us contentedly complaining.
This year we didn’t check for the upside down squirrel’s return nor did we speak of the mass shaped like two florets of a cauliflower lying sideways, stems touching like lovers’ feet. Weekly we went to the movies. In the last month of his life, at the last movie of his life, Steven sat between me and a stranger, a plump woman with thick thighs, who, midway through the film said, Sir, I think your leg has fallen asleep on my leg. I apologized, pulled his leg away, held it for the next hour as Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet worked out a happy ending.
As the credits rolled, I asked Steven, Can you walk? He said, I think so, but maybe not tomorrow. He didn’t look at me, didn’t weep or tear at the air, just rose slowly, and walked crooked and limpy, sat down on a bench outside the theater while I ran up five levels of painted yellow medial strip that divided the up-ramp from the down- ramp in the parking garage because I am afraid of elevators and because I needed some time to go crazy. To a man who needs to stay calm and needs his wife to stay equally calm, to a man who values equanimity, who needs hope that says his tree can withstand these hundred mile an hour winds, any snapping branches made him feel broken. To help him feel safe, I kept silent, nodded yes when he said he needed hope. Until it was time to say, I have not lost hope but now I hope for different things. An easy death, a conscious death, a nothing-more-to-say death.
Our son, who had come home for a month or was it two, fed him teaspoons of hot vegetable broth and chicken soup ice cubes, bent deep into his knees before lifting his father from the rented hospital bed into the king sized bed and back again, asked his father if he thought he’d be able to make a connection from the other world. Steven said, Yes. Our son said, Me too.
Most days I manage to keep out of the dream journal. Spring helps; yellow and purple crocuses, blue forget-me-nots, chipmunks, and dogs chasing chipmunks. Spring challenges; the garden without the man who planted everything here, the man who wept for the squirrel and for himself in the dream, the man who woke me only once to ask for comfort, the man who walked down the street in his too short pants, the pants that were never too short when he was well and loved to do his own wash, always on delicate, dried outdoors on the line by the star dogwood, the man who said his illness had cured him of his shame, the man who said, Even death can be a healing, the man who kept the winds from blowing too hard on me.