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Catching wind

When I was eight I locked the wind in a box.

It didn’t weigh much, made no noise if I shook the box, and looked rather a lot like a handful of dandelion fluff. I’d toss a pinch into the air and a breeze would whisper secrets in my ear. Other kids had soccer trophies and name-brand Keds; I had the wind in a box. It made me feel powerful, strong, magical. Special.

I don’t know what happened to that box, but the wind remembers me, I swear it.

Do you know that feeling, when you walk out your front door and there’s no traffic, there are no people, there’s only you and the sky and the trees and you wonder, where is everyone? What do they know that I don’t? That’s when the wind speaks to me. Sometimes the wind is that lover who rents out an entire restaurant just so you can have a quiet conversation.

In Burlington, Vermont, the wind cuts across Lake Champlain bringing cold air and snow from the Great Lakes region into the valley. That never stopped us from spending New Year’s Eve on Church Street. We’d duck into bar and restaurant and cafe, one after the other, to listen to music – and to escape the bitter cold – until finally, our noses and ears aching, our fingers painfully numb, we’d hurry home to our apartment and the pot of mulled wine on the stove. Sometimes the wind is the voice of reason, the good friend that pulls no punches when she says, this relationship is no good for you; it’s time to leave.

The very first night I spent in Michigan, I dreamed of tornadoes: great, towering funnels of malignant air that chased me across broken staircases and swallowed up the people I loved. I’m not one to believe in signs, exactly, but I like to think the wind was giving me a hint. I don’t want to hurt you, it said, but this isn’t the place for you. As though the flat landscape and flatter stares hadn’t already given that away.

This time of year, the wind comes howling out of the Columbia River Gorge and lodges itself in the great Douglas fir in our backyard, scratching at our windows and shaking branches like fists until the pine cones rain across the roof. It sounds like someone trying to break in, and I understand why my kids can’t sleep.

It’s just the wind, I tell them. It’s telling us we’re safe inside.

They want me to make it stop, but I’m not strong enough for that. I only listen to the wind, I don’t control it, not anymore. If I could, though, I’d catch the wind, put it in a box for them. I’d tell them to keep it secret, to take it out only when no-one is watching. At night, I’d say, if you tuck it under your pillow, the wind will tell you things.


How to plan a funeral

Message your family first. Call your wife. Tell them, she’s gone.

Sit vigil by her bedside until your brother arrives. Her brother brings espresso; her sister brings a cake. They had promised her something with flavor, near the end. Her brother touches a cup to her lips.

Go to her house. Start to assess what needs to be done: estate sale, house cleaning, realtor. Spend an hour or two catching her cats.

Collect her ashes from the funeral home.

Go to dinner with your family. She would have liked that. Order tequila shots all around; she would have liked that, too.

“She didn’t want a funeral,” her sister says. Try not to hate yourself for being relieved.

Swallow your tequila. Start planning something else: a vacation, maybe, to scatter her ashes somewhere she loved.


The boys next door

The knock at the door came at a bad time.

I’d driven for two days straight with a car full of things from my dead mom’s house–on the anniversary of her death, no less. One kid was in the bath, the other was clamoring for dinner. The neighbors were having a Sunday evening backyard party despite the drizzle and we had to shut the kitchen window because it was so noisy. The Kavanaugh debacle was still fresh in my mind and I was still angry. All I wanted was a glass of wine and to shake the knots out of my shoulders.

“It might be someone we know,” my wife said, and so I stomped to the door, ready to snip at whoever was there, and yanked it open.

“Hi,” said the rather good-looking young man on our porch. He was barefoot and held a can of beer in his hand. “We really need someone to take a group picture.”

I wasn’t exactly dressed for a party in my yoga pants and over-sized elementary school sweatshirt. I wasn’t even wearing a bra. Still. “Let me get my shoes,” I said.

The boys next door had strung up lights. Food was laid out on a red tablecloth, and music was playing. Fifteen or so early 30-somethings crowded the small backyard, trying not to step on each others’ toes in the damp grass. Jake and Patrick wore matching Hawaiian shirts; Patrick had their dog, Girlfriend, in his arms. A cheer went up when I came through the gate.

A blonde girl in a red dress handed me her iPhone and scampered off to join the group.

“Dude, did you knock on the neighbor’s door?” somebody muttered.

“I mighta,” said the barefoot beer-drinker.

“Hold on, I’m gonna take a bunch,” I said. “Hopefully one of these will turn out.”

I snapped five or six shots, hoping that everyone’s eyes were open in at least one of them. Girlfriend barked the whole time. The blonde girl came for her phone and squealed at the photos, so I guess I did okay.

“Is there an occasion?” I asked, mostly out of politeness. “Somebody’s birthday?”

“They got married!” someone called out.

In the midst of social chaos, when white supremacists and Nazis speak freely and without repercussion, where passports are being revoked and protections reversed, halfway through the reign of Donald Trump, Jake and Patrick got married. In their backyard on a Sunday night, surrounded by their closest friends, their chosen family. It was a surprise wedding, somebody told me. Everyone thought it was just a barbecue.

“You guys,” I said. “I’m gonna cry.”

“It’s okay,” said the blonde girl. “We all did.”


How to have a Sunday

It starts with sleeping late, only not too late, or you’ll miss out. Wait until you hear tires crunching on the driveway’s crackled pavement to hop in the shower. Be quick; the hot water only lasts so long, and your father will be back any minute now.

Go into the kitchen. By now your father is waiting there with the Sunday paper, a box of Entenmann’s donuts, and real coffee in a paper cup. He had to go all the way to Trumbull to get it, a ten-minute drive. The donuts are a treat, but not a surprise. You like plain and powdered; your brother likes cinnamon. With four of each, everyone gets what they want. You can even have two.

Make yourself a cup of coffee: two tablespoons of Taster’s Choice, a spoonful of sugar, and blend with milk until the color matches your skin. Someday you’ll learn what real coffee is; for now, just feel grown-up.

Snag the comics and the Parade magazine, quick, before your brother finishes his donuts. He can start with the sports page instead. You don’t know what your Dad reads, so hand him the rest of the paper: the news, the classifieds, the obituaries, and all those circulars. He’ll sort through them, recycle the stuff no-one wants. He’ll save the coupons for your mother.

If it’s cold, spread the paper out on the living room carpet. Lie on your belly, kick your feet up. Try not to touch the paper; you hate the feel of newsprint on your hands. But if it’s warm and the morning is bright, take the paper out to table on the back deck. That’s the best way.

Break your powdered donut in half and in half again. Take small bites, tapping the excess sugar onto your plate. Repeat with the plain donut, using the broken ends to blot up the white powder, and when the donuts are gone, lick your finger and use that instead. Leave no crumb behind.

Sip your grown-up coffee; listen to the birds and the wind in the trees. Let the sun dry your hair. Hand the comics to your father when you’re done reading.


Monsters and what they teach us

When I was nine I was afraid of ghosts. Monsters. E.T. I slept with my hands tucked firmly inside the edges of my mattress and with my closet door shut. I was afraid of the shadows cast by moonlight on my closet door: Mother Mary come to judge me in the night. Continue reading