I raked more leaves on Sunday and cut back another garden bed. Leaves from the biggest trees are finally falling and I collected a few huge piles. Another two sessions of raking and another bed and a half to clean and I should be done with garden chores until spring.
Putting the garden to bed. Julia is thrilled by the frost. She asked about it -- the sparkles on the leaves -- last week. Wednesday? Thursday? As if she was seeing it for the first time. How many more wonders will she see for the first time? When Julia first came home, she was so hyper-vigilant that she could not notice much of the world around her. That she could notice her parents, the dog (which she treated shamefully in fear), the food in front of her and discovered dinosaurs seemed like a miracle. The vigilance has been tamed to such an extent that it is not a noticeable part of her demeanor, and yet I wonder if it still controls her to some extent. If she is still not able to fully take in her world. I don’t know how vigilance interfaces with cognitive delays. If one if the cause or contributing factor of the other. I don’t know if I will ever know. The term -- developmental delay -- seems to imply the desire to catch up to those peers who are developmentally typical. This is what I long for, for Julia, for me as her mother. But there is a certain gift in seeing frost for the first time when you are 10 -- “Look Mommy, it lines the leaves.” A child of 3 may notice frost, may touch it and even try to eat it, but a child of 10, even a child with delays, and a child with an artist’s eye, brings a certain measure of her knowledge of her world to noticing such beauty.
Somewhat likewise to my gardening chores, I started cleaning the basement. Taking off plastic sheets, sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping the floor around the edges of the room. For all the protection of plastic, everything is filthy with dust and the pile of boxes, cabinets, etc, in the middle of the room needs dismantling and cleaning probably before, during and after unpacking. The contents of the kitchen are in the middle of that pile and I would like to be able to get to it when the kitchen is ready to unpack. Two weeks, maybe three. So, there is sorting of box types before then.
These basement piles. What is left of all the debris of our lives -- this personal history and the physical evidence that I have partially culled and sorted. My way of moving.
Moving on. Or is it moving. I hear about, read about, moving on after the death of a beloved. I did not leave this Madison house, but the renovation has forced me to pack up all of our/my belongings as if I was moving. This may have been my grand moving on, done and accomplished in the name of renovation but serving as some grand makeover, therapy, processing of grief and loss. I will be unpacking and sorting and throwing out and storing carefully throughout the winter. It is perfect work for the winter. The grand chronological file of our lives will be brought upstairs again and more will be filed according to year or special topics. I will find again David’s writing class lectures that I will put aside to read and learn from. I will sort through pictures to send to friends or relatives who might value them more than I do. I hope to arrive at spring and the beginning of day light savings time and the beginning of garden work with a lighter load. My load. The load that I will be very willing to carry with me for awhile. Maybe for the rest of my life.
And the house will be mine. I will have reclaimed the corners and fought the mountains the papers. I will have tamed the chaos. Although David would have been loathed to admit to it, he allowed his collections of papers -- some vital, some convenient, some absolute worthless -- to get far out of hand. Was it his fading energy? Did we not see how his life force was dwindling? It was not possible to examine living in that way as it is lived, but looking back I see clues, I see the labyrinthian journey to the July Monday when he died.
This work of creating order and shedding the unnecessary, does not chase David’s memory away but I will be aware of what I hold of his and him and why I do it. It will be for me and for the girls. It will just not be for him. Didion writes about being unwilling to give away her husband’s shoes, writing that he might need them when he came back. Magical thinking to be sure. It is not easy to shift from sorting for David to sorting for Cheshire and Julia and I. It is the change in perspective, the letting go of the idea that he might want his notes to come back to. David will never teach Film and the First Amendment again. The change in perspective breaks my heart but puts me on the path I need to be on. The change is my survival.
My mother and grandmother did nothing to change their lives after their partners died. Granted both were much older than I am and both had been married more than 20 years longer than I was, but when partners died, the survivors’ lives stopped. Stopping. Holding your breath and wishing to go back to life before it fell apart is more than understandable. How many months I spent in that state. How many years could I spend at that. Maybe if Julia did not demand so much of my heart and energy. Maybe if I was older or ailing. Maybe if I could no longer dream or wish or want. I am not my mother or grandmother. What is true of so much of their lives as it has influenced me -- they offer me no guidance, no inspiration by example. This survival, this rest of my life depends on my finding my own heros and then making my own way.