Blackberries

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Chuck and me. August 2017

Blackberries don’t grow in Thailand. It’s something I miss about late summer in the Pacific Northwest.  My family will tell you about the ritual torture of blackberry picking “excursions” which involved Tupperware containers and long sleeves ending in at least one of us needing to be disentangled from thorny tentacles. The end result?  A freezer full of blackberries to make jam, pie and cobbler for the rest of the year.  I miss this seasonal tradition.

But, unexpectedly, here I am.  Back in Washington state.  I’m not in Thailand.  Instead, I’m standing in my brother-in-law, Chuck’s, backyard staring at the incredibly ripe, dusty scented blackberries on his bush.  I’m not an idiot. So, I grab a Tupperware and start picking.  Seize the moment.  

And it’s a lovely moment.  Warm sun on my back.  Scout and Sandy giving me dog grins and running around the yard.  That familiar blackberry smell that feeds my thoughts:  “Fair’s just around the corner.  So is school.  Watch out for dog poop.  What’s that sound in the bush?  Oh, a squirrel. That’s why the dogs are barking. Wonder if Chuck likes cobbler?  Well, we will find out.”  I fill the Tupperware and head to the kitchen.

Unfamiliar kitchens can be challenging, but my nephew, Mitch, walks in just in time. He explains the oven, locates a pan and I’m set.  I haven’t spent much time alone with Mitch since he was a little boy.  Now 18, he has become a wonderful young man.  We talk and joke around until he goes to work.  

As the smell of the blackberries start to envelope the house, one of Chuck’s sisters, Janet, asks, “Are you cooking something?” I react. “Oh shoot!  Yes.  Cobbler.  I couldn’t figure out the timer!”  She bursts out laughing.  I’ve never had the reputation as a solid cook in this family so no one is really surprised by this.  But there is considerable surprise when I pull it out of the oven.  It’s gorgeous and the smell is incredible.

It even gets Chuck’s attention. “Did you make that?” He asks with a little disbelief.  “Jeez, Chuck. Yes, I made that.  Don’t act so startled.”  He slowly grins.  I’m so glad to see him smile.  

When his pain is bad, I try to sit nearby and not talk.  When he’s doing better, we watch TV and joke about whatever.  I make chicken salad sandwiches and vacuum a little.  I try an edible (it’s legal in Washington) and Chuck thinks that’s funny.  In fact, a few of us try the edibles and  it is especially funny when another one of  his sisters dishes her salad right on top of her spaghetti noodles.  That gets a belly laugh!

It’s just a few days before I need to return to Thailand and my job.  I’m sitting next to Chuck and we’re watching Grace and Frankie, my new favorite sitcom.  Staring straight ahead, Chuck takes my hand and says, “It means the world to me that you are here.”  We sit and cry quietly together.  Finally, I say, “I love you Chuck.” And he turns to me and says, I love you too.”  I know it is true.  And it means the world to me.

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Alone

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Me and Hickory

About 30 years ago, I was on the city bus in Seattle.  Coming or going to work, I don’t remember.  I do remember the woman who sat next to me that day.  I remember when she got on the bus and she was looking for a seat – our eyes met, and I must have smiled or something because she walked past several empty seats to sit next to me.  And, as she got closer, it was clear that something was wrong.  

Within a matter of minutes she had introduced herself and explained that she liked to ride the bus, to nowhere in particular really.  She said she often rode the bus for hours each day and said it was the only real relief she had found since her husband had died almost a year before.  She talked about his clothes, his habits, their routines as a couple.  Her eyes would quickly well up with tears, and just as quickly sparkle with pleasant emotions from remembering.  And then, she was gone.  Hurriedly getting up and getting off the bus with purpose-driven energy.

After 33 years of marriage, Rick and I have never spent more than a few weeks apart from one another.  And, today he flew back to the U.S. for a month.  As I write this, it seems so silly for me to be feeling the strong emotions I have.  Embarrassed that at age 54 I have never really been on my own.  Embarrassed to be overwhelmed by the prospect of 30 days without him.  Like the woman on the bus, I think about our habits and routines that are as comfortable as an old shoe.  Our unspoken language and experiences known only by the two of us.  Our natural ebb and flow; give and take. Our shared silence and quiet smiles.  Living life with my best friend and lover.  I am haunted by the prospect that if this is what it feels like for him to simply leave for a month, what will it be like for the one who remains when the first one dies?  Because it will happen.  

Today I am alone.  I have decided to sit with my emotions and feel them.  To allow myself to dive into the ocean by myself.  To sit in the bathroom stall at work and cry; to sleep at 4pm; to ache; to smile.

Today, I am alone. 

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Dinner for one.