Chapter 6: Since I Last Saw You
“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
16 February 2012
The funeral is tomorrow . . . is it considered one funeral or two when two people are being eulogized and buried? As if it really matters. My mind seems to conjure up all sorts of silly, inconsequential thoughts and questions like that these days. Then again, everything seems silly and inconsequential without Isaac and Zoe.
I feel humbled, but not surprised, by the number of people who came to the funeral. I expected to see some of the managers from Sterns’ Auto Parts, but so many of the regular employees showed up, too. A lot of them reintroduced themselves to me at the reception and told me how much they appreciated that Isaac ran his company with such integrity.
I recognized people from Skagit Speedway and Skydive Snohomish, too. I don’t know whether they saw the obituary or read about the accident in the paper. Maybe Gwen contacted them?
And all of Zoe’s classmates and many of the teachers from her school showed up. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a ten-year-old to go to a classmate’s funeral.
I’m grateful that so many people came—it was more comforting to see them all than I expected it to be—but I’m glad they’re gone, too. I never would have suspected that being comforted could be so exhausting.
I keep thinking about something farmer Jay said to me yesterday after the funeral. Ha! How funny that I would call him that. I just realized that I don’t know Jay’s last name! Isaac always referred to him as ‘farmer Jay’. He’d say, ‘I feel the need for speed. I’m taking #76 to farmer Jay’s track.’ And off he’d go with his sprint car in tow to work off some stress. Anyway, yesterday Jay pulled me aside to express his sympathy. Then he told me not to worry about #76. He said I had enough to deal with and he’d take care of it. Just as I started to ask him what he was talking about, we got interrupted, and before I knew it, I’d been whisked away to another corner of the room by some friends from work. I never got the chance to talk with Jay again before he left. I guess there will be plenty of time to follow up with him later. It didn’t sound like anything urgent. I’m just curious as to what he could have meant.
I didn’t go to Mass today. I knew there would be so many well-meaning people expressing their sympathy and asking me about the funeral. How do you answer someone who asks you if it was a “nice” service? I wonder what a “bad” funeral service would look like
The house is so quiet now. Everyone has gone home—back to their own lives—lives that haven’t changed as mine has. If only I could go back . . .
I guess I should get out of bed. There are probably things I ought to do—I can’t think what they might be though. Nothing seems important enough to deserve my attention or energy.
I should probably throw out all the dead flowers, but then what to do with all the vases? I don’t have the mental energy to make such decisions.
Principal Brumsickle called today to tell me that Zoe’s classmates have all chipped in to buy a maple tree to plant on the school grounds in her honor. What a lovely thing to do. Zoe loved trees. When she was five years old, she took her dad and me by the hand and walked us all around the yard telling us the names she’d given each tree and bush. I still remember them all.
Mom came over today. She stocked my freezer with meals she made for me. She must have been pretty appalled by the state of my house because she arranged for a housecleaner to come tomorrow. I don’t know how the house gets dirty. Most days I just sit on the couch.
I finally left the house today for something other than groceries. I drove out to Issaquah Commons because we used to love going there as a family, and I miss that. We each had our favorite stores. Isaac practically drooled whenever he went into REI. Wandering through there today, I half expected to find him swooning over the latest ski equipment or trying on a new pair of hiking boots. Instead, I saw a young girl who looked so much like Zoe that for a split second, I thought it was her. My heart nearly stopped. When I realized my mistake, I felt as if I’d been sucker-punched. I sank to my knees in the middle of the footwear aisle and my whole body started to shake. There was a bench a few feet away from me so I pulled myself up onto it and just sat there for the longest time. I was so grateful that no one noticed me. I didn’t want to have to explain myself to anyone. When I was finally able to stand up again, all I wanted to do was go home, curl up on the couch, and hide under the chenille throw. That was around 11 a.m. It’s now 6 p.m. I don’t remember driving home, and I have no idea where those seven hours went.
I was supposed to go back to work today. It didn’t happen. I’m so fortunate to work with such wonderful, caring people. John called from the office last night to ask how I’m doing and what time I expected to be in today. That’s all it took for me to break down. He could hear me sobbing from the other end of the line. I couldn’t even say anything intelligible or coherent. Finally, he found a diplomatic way to say that I’m clearly still a mess and it’s apparently too soon for me to come back to work. I hate the fact that my staff has to pick up the slack and cover for me after so long, but I’m grateful that they are.
Gwen came over again this morning and convinced me to go to church with her. I looked around at all the people in the pews and wondered how it is that they can go on with their lives as if nothing has happened?
I can tell that Gwen is worried about me. I see the concern in her eyes. She says I’m too thin. I stepped on the scale after she left and was shocked to see that I’ve lost ten pounds since the accident. A year ago, that would have been cause for celebration, even though I wasn’t much overweight. Now, my weight seems inconsequential at best.
April Fools’ Day. Zoe used to get such a kick out of coming up with ideas to fool her dad. He always played along, pretending to be caught totally off guard. Sometimes he really was. Last year, Isaac offered to give Zoe a ride to school, which she happily accepted. When they went out to the car, she walked around to the passenger side and said dramatically, “Oh no, Dad, you’ve got a flat tire!” Isaac groaned loudly and walked over to take a look as Zoe giggled and shouted, “April Fool!”
We always laughed a lot, the three of us. I miss the sound of our laughter.
“Come in,” Ali shouted listlessly without getting up from the living room couch.
Gwen opened the door and entered. In place of a greeting, however, she chastised Ali mildly. “You left the door unlocked again?”
“Obviously a rhetorical question.”
Gwen frowned at the all-too-familiar sight of her dear friend curled up on the sofa, dressed in old, oversized sweats that had obviously been Isaac’s. She was concerned about Ali’s continuing lethargy, so she had come today with a plan in mind.
“Get up, change your clothes, and get in the car,” Gwen said. “We’re going for a ride.”
“It was a pretty ugly divorce,” Gwen admitted as they crossed over Lake Washington from Issaquah by way of the I-90 floating bridge. It wasn’t necessarily the most cheerful topic, but Gwen was happy to discuss her own emotional history if it distracted her downcast friend.
“That surprises me,” said Ali. “You’re such a kind and generous spirit—I can’t imagine you in a contentious relationship.”
“I appreciate your flattering analysis of my character, but as my marriage was breaking up, I said and did more than a few things I’m pretty ashamed of now.
“Breaking up,” Gwen continued. “Why do they call it ‘breaking up’? Breaking down is more like it. My marriage broke down.” Ali noted the tinge of muted pain in Gwen’s comment.
It was the kind of crisp, clear April afternoon that all Seattleites treasure—and none take for granted—after abiding the gray, gloomy days of winter. As Gwen drove through the brick-pillared entry gate and onto the narrow, wooded lane leading to Dunn Gardens, she felt the familiar yet always magical sensation of stepping through a looking glass. One minute she was in the city, and the next she was in the country. Over the years she had come to regard the gardens as her own urban oasis. She hoped that Ali would find it a peaceful, personal refuge, too.
Tentatively pulling into the tiny visitor parking lot in her whisper-quiet Nissan Leaf, Gwen knew she would be fortunate to find a spot. As they got out of the car, she was gratified to see Ali looking around appreciatively at the lush, green surroundings. The two hooked arms and Gwen led the way to the E. B. Dunn classroom. Knowing that the gardens were open to guided tours by appointment only, Gwen had called to find out if there were any scheduled that day. As luck would have it, there was, and she was able to persuade the group’s leader to allow her and Ali to join them. Although she probably could have called in a favor to gain permission for a private stroll through the gardens, Gwen thought that having a guide might be a more effective method of distracting Ali from her heartache for a while.
As they were waiting for the tour to begin, Gwen said, “Thanks for letting me vent about my relationship with Steve. You’d think that after eight years, I would have run out of things to say about my marriage and my divorce. Apparently, that’s not the case. How did we get on that subject anyway?”
“I don’t remember,” Ali said, “but it’s not as if you talk about your ex constantly. In fact, in the years I’ve known you, you’ve rarely mentioned Steve. If you need to talk more, though, I don’t mind listening. God knows it takes my mind off my own troubles,” Ali assured her.
“Well, then, that sounds like a win-win proposition. Right now though, let’s concentrate on enjoying the garden tour. The rest of these nice folks probably don’t care to hear my story,” Gwen said, tipping her head toward the others gathering nearby.
After thanking the docent for the enjoyable and informative guided tour, Gwen turned to Ali and asked, “Well, what do you think of Dunn Gardens?”
“They are beyond lovely,” Ali said with genuine enthusiasm. “I can’t believe I didn’t know this place existed! I picked up one of the brochures telling about the history of the grounds and was surprised to find that they were designed by the Olmsted Brothers back in 1915! I’m not a gardening enthusiast, but even I’ve heard of them. I can see why they were so well-regarded.”
Gwen was inwardly pleased that her plan to coax Ali out of her somber mood seemed to be working. “Agreed,” she said. “Every time I drive onto the grounds I’m blown away by the contrast between the towering Douglas firs and the delicate trillium groundcover—not to mention everything in between. And aren’t these rhodies spectacular?”
“They really are. I mean, it’s common to see them practically everywhere in Washington—I guess that’s why it’s the state flower—but I didn’t realize they could grow so large!” Ali said. “How did you hear about this place, anyway?”
The two had been wandering along the woodland trail on the north edge of the property when they came across a bench that seemed to be calling their names. They sat and rested as Gwen recounted her introduction to Dunn Gardens.
“I first heard about the gardens back in 2005, when I was in the thick of my divorce. There was an article in the Seattle Times about a private grant they had received to help restore and renovate the grounds for public enjoyment. On a whim, I signed up for one of their garden classes and just fell in love with the place. I’ve always loved the idea of gardening—I’ve just never had much of a talent for it. So when I saw they needed volunteers, I decided it would be a great distraction from all the drama I was going through. It got me out of the house, made me feel useful, and introduced me to a whole new group of people; it was just what I needed. I’ve been volunteering here as a docent ever since.”
“You work here as a docent? No wonder you know so much about this place and its history. I don’t remember you ever mentioning it before.”
“No, I guess I haven’t. I don’t know why,” Gwen admitted.
She continued, “The Dunn Gardens Trust is a non-profit organization. With the exception of the curators, gardeners and part-time office staff, it depends on volunteers to do everything from organizing tours and fundraisers to running the website. And I’ve got to say, they hold some of the most creative fundraisers I’ve ever seen. This summer, for instance, they’re hosting an event they’re calling ‘Mallets in Wonderland.’ It’s going to be a colossal croquet competition on the great lawn. We should go!”
“That does sound like fun,” Ali agreed. Changing the subject ever so slightly, she said, “Okay, so now I know all about The Dunn Gardens, and I’ve really enjoyed it—thank you very much—but what I don’t know is why you really brought me here today.”
“I just thought you might find it as comforting and peaceful as I do. I realize that my divorce doesn’t come anywhere close to the kind of tragedy you’ve suffered—I don’t mean to insinuate that it does—but it was a real low point in my life and this was a place that helped me regain my sense of self. I can’t say that the gardens will necessarily do that for you, but I want to help you find something or someplace that will.
“I’m not telling you to ‘get over it’—my God, it’s only been a few months! I just want to encourage you to find a new interest, or maybe re-engage with an old one that’ll give you a reason to get off the couch and start to breathe a little more deeply again.”
Ali bowed her head, covered her eyes with her hands and sighed deeply.
“I’m so tired, Gwen. I just feel so incredibly tired all the time.”
Gwen reached over and rubbed her friend’s back. “I know. I know,” she said. “I suppose this was a silly idea. I don’t mean to be offering a Band-Aid when you need a tourniquet.”
“No, no, I know that’s not what you’re doing. You’re a good friend, Gwen—a really good and thoughtful friend. I don’t know what I would have done without you these past months. I’m glad you brought me here; your point’s well made. I’m just not sure I’m there yet. I suspect I still have quite a few more hours to log on my couch before the sunrise.”
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Posted by Alice Kuder, December 21, 2013