loss

On Wednesday, I learned of the death of a dear friend from college. I hadn’t been in touch with him for many years but hearing about his passing has left me absolutely devastated. He was the type of person who exuded an aura of thoughtfulness, strength, and intelligence and made the world a better place just by being in it.

I met him when I was a baby college freshman at the University of Michigan. I came from a small, conservative, primarily white town, and had lived, by all accounts, a very sheltered life. Coming to Ann Arbor, living in East Quad, which was without doubt the most liberal, flamboyant, artistic place on campus, was absolutely mind-blowing and numbing. I went to college thinking that it would be crewneck sweaters, football games, beer drinking, frat parties, and late-night study sessions in cute pajamas with my hair in curlers. It instead turned out to be complete chaos, depression, and confusion, struggling to make friends with people of all ethnicities and social backgrounds, people who were frank about their sexuality and gender-bending and didn’t view it to be a shameful secret; people who didn’t think jokes about minorities or gays were funny (not that I did, either; I’d just come from a place in which they were part of the social language). The highly liberal and artistic environment of EQ attracted many talented and amazing people and also a fair amount of drug abuse, instability, and mental health issues. In addition, my roommate suffered from terrible depression and by the end of the year, had come to grips with sexual abuse in her past that left her, many days, sobbing on the floor of our dorm room.

I had never given any thought to issues like race, gender, our government, what was happening in the Persian Gulf at the time. I had never lived outside the bubble of the world that I knew. In short, I was shocked and numbed and completely unprepared for the social experience, which was a thousand times more important than the educational experience.

At first glance, C. was a somewhat intimidating young Black man with a lot of muscles and a cool, insolent stare under his ball caps. At first, it seemed odd that he was living in EQ, instead of in South or West, where a lot of the athletic sports-loving types lived. He listened to NWA and Public Enemy in his dorm room and came and went as he pleased; people said he was a townie, and we assumed that he went back home a lot. In truth, he was probably just wandering. Over the year, he gravitated to our dorm room a lot and began dating my roommate, and thus began a friendship that lasted for a long time. Then I understood why he lived with us instead of somewhere else – he had no tolerance for anything without deeper meaning, just for the sake of being around people who looked or acted more like him. He was one of the most educated and intellectual people I’d ever met – his mother was a university professor at a nearby school, he spoke fluent French and was a star student in the Residential College’s immersion language program, he spent summers in Manhattan with his older brother. He had survived Hodgkins lymphoma in junior high and high school, and that experience gave him a wisdom that not many people our age possessed. He seemed to live as an observer much of the time, in his own head behind his eyes, conducting an internal dialogue with himself about what he saw; sometimes he shared that dialogue but more often he didn’t, keeping it private. He was a private person.

He laughed at me a lot, at my style of dress and my turn of phrase, and I know there were a lot of times that he thought I was a bit of a cracker, but he was exceptionally kind and protective – his presence was very reassuring and always made me feel safe and contented. Through him I learned what it was like to have a dear friendship that looked past the external and focused only on the people that we were inside. I learned a lot from him and felt proud that he was my friend.

C. went on to obtain a PHD in philosophy and he became a university professor himself, teaching Black studies and doing ethnographic research in high school classes. He spent time in Haiti studying transnational racism, education, and justice. He married a woman from the Dominican Republic, and they had a son.

In July, he was diagnosed with cancer, and by November, it had spread to his lungs. He was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve and he died in the early hours of December 27. His son is five years old and there are no words for how tragic and unfair it is that he will never remember more than bits and pieces of his father, who was such an extraordinary person.

14938213_10154128938433214_3356285166304131131_n

 

making room

There are a lot of terrible things about getting divorced. Although I am very lucky to be part of a positive, consciously uncoupled, respectful and friendly co-parenting situation that we have both worked hard to develop and maintain, there are still a lot of things to get used to. From the word go, the thought of not having Miss L for days in a row was absolutely devastating. I dreaded that separation and imagined long, lonely days in an empty house, so I stockpiled lots of projects to keep me busy.

This now seems a little funny. Nothing is as traumatic as it seemed like it would be. Miss L is an example and an inspiration – she is happy and excited to go to her dad’s house and seeing her so positive and well-adjusted, and knowing that she just loves spending time with both of us in different ways, has been the biggest relief. I barely have time to do the housework and laundry, the yard work, grocery shopping and meal prep, much less complex knitting projects, half marathon training, furniture restoration, learning to swim or writing that novel. I try to do a lot of chores on the days that Miss L is with her daddy so that when she’s with me, I have everything organized and more time to relax and have fun. But I usually end up working longer hours to make up for the days when I dash out early to beat commuter traffic to pick her up; I come home feeling drained. I do more sleeping and staying in pajamas and crash out for naps at the drop of a hat. I’m not sure if this is psychological or physical or if I just need to kick my own butt. I’m hoping this is a passing phase that will correct itself as I get used to the schedule, but right now I’m just rolling with it.

I have a four-bedroom house and for the last couple of years the two back bedrooms have been a staging area for GB’s things and other stuff that we just don’t know what to do with or haven’t gotten around to recycling or tossing. This weekend, when Miss L was with GB, I finally roused myself sufficiently to start cleaning out one of the rooms. I’m relieved to have a workable spare bedroom again. The room itself is in terrible shape and needs a complete makeover – wallpaper stripped, repainting, floors refinished, baseboards and toe boards redone, new closet doors, window treatments – but I start getting tired whenever I think about that. Having it clean and organized with a comfy made-up bed feels like a major accomplishment, even though my upstairs hall is now filled with trash bags and piles of boxes. It feels like I am moving into a new place, as though I never fully occupied this space before now, even though my name has been on the mortgage for almost eight years.

As I combed through the bookshelf and the closet, it felt like going through a museum of my life. I went through my knitting stash, photographs and scrapbooks. I took books down from the shelves and made piles for Goodwill and it was funny to set things aside. The books about law school prep, Australia travel and restaurant guides, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum depression – those were all huge phases of my life and those books are well-thumbed and now I don’t need them any more and never will again. Now replaced with books about surviving divorce, finances for the single woman, creating happy homes at mom’s house and dad’s house. The knitting books and running books went to higher shelves, still to be used, but not as often as they once were. There is room on the shelves for new books now, and I am excited to see what they will be. Raising a teenager, dating as a single mom, maybe biking or mountain climbing, who knows. Right now all I have the energy for is a hot bath and a nap!

IMG_20140606_191624

For a day that started out so peacefully, with breakfast on the patio with Miss L, yesterday ended up kind of a big deal around here.

IMG_20140607_092723

One of the downfalls of being a small framed person is a distinct lack of upper body strength, which translates into the embarrassing problem of not being able to pull the starter on a lawn mower with any degree of success. One of the side effects of the overall life transition that has been occurring around here lately is an increased responsibility for yard work and the mower issue was very frustrating for me. I pondered alternatives that all seemed to point to splashing out for a new mower (not something I wanted to spend the money on at this point) until I had a big AH-HAH moment. A little Internet research + quick trip to Home Depot + a strawberry lemonade to keep Miss L happy with this extremely boring-for-her errand + $100 = solution.

IMG_20140607_172224I had remembered my mom using one of these when I was a kid, only it wasn’t a nice shiny new one with sharp blades, it was an old rusty antique one that I think had been salvaged out of the shed behind our circa-1800’s farm house. Who knew they still make them?

It’s definitely a different solution than a gas mower. It’s quiet, I can use it whenever I want. It isn’t a perfect cut and there needs to be some weed-whacking afterwards, and raking. It jams up with twigs and sticks, which was extremely annoying around our old shedding tulip tree. But I really enjoyed it. It’s a great workout and maybe after using it all summer I will have the arm and shoulder muscles to pull the starter on the other mower. It’s a convenient, cheap, green alternative and my lawn got mowed yesterday. Problem solved.

Saving the best for last…

As I mowed and trimmed our crazy rosebush, Mommy duck was angrier than usual, hissing and fanning out her tail every time I came even remotely close to her. Usually she just keeps quiet unless I’m sticking my face right near her nest. However, mid-afternoon I learned the reason for her increased agitation.

IMG_20140607_160524WE HAVE DUCKLINGS!

The eggs hatched yesterday and by evening, there were at least five little fluff ducklings rolling around the nest and poking their little beaks out from under her sheltering wings. I tried to get closer to take more pictures, but it just made them so upset, it wasn’t worth it. She would hiss and like good little babies, they would freeze where they were. I haven’t been out this morning to check on them, but hopefully they had a good first night and will stick around for a little while before decamping to a water source. Well done Mommy duck!!

The perfect Saturday ended with Miss L. and I enjoying burgers on the grill, a fire in the backyard, and smores. Emmett was furious at being left out and climbed up into the kitchen window precariously to add to the conversation with the occasional indignant yowl (he must have a Siamese back in the family tree somewhere). Life, my friends, does not get much better than that.

IMG_20140607_215311