My husband is on his way to Lake Eufala. I wish I was heading east too. But someone has to stay behind to keep our canines corralled, to prevent ‘The Wild West Show’ from galloping across Mesta Park. And this time around, that someone is me, though Annie Oakley I am not.
It’s never easy to say goodbye to Don. Even for today’s overnight visit. One might think I would be quite practiced at this art of well-wishing and putting on a brave front at the point of departure. But maybe saying good-bye is less a fine art than it is a science, for Lord knows, I was never good at science.
The poodles could teach me a thing or two about their science of saying good-bye. It’s the same formula every time, as Max and Maddie–letting their love hang out for all the world to see–run around in aggitated circles until they finally come to terms with the sad news of impending departure. Then, in acceptance, they stand up on their hind legs to catch that final glimpse of their departing loved one, as the car backs out of the driveway. Just like children, the poodles don’t worry about keeping their true feelings on ice. Nor do they mind making the dearly departed feel a little like a heel for leaving them behind.
Sending Don to the lake is my gift to Don and to his Mother. Monday she called, to say that she and Don’s step-dad were taking Micalea to the lake. Micaela is Janice’s only great-granddaughter, and as if that isn’t enough to make her special, Micaela is the living legacy of Janice’s favorite grandson Michael. It’s not fair to have favorites, whether it be children or grandchildren. But favorites sometimes exist, whether or not openly acknowledged. And, quoting all moms everywhere: “who said life was fair?” Or death, for that matter. Especially the kind that took Mike in a horrible car crash four years ago this December.
The news of the crash made the AP wire, as Mike and his best friend Darrell–who then played for the Oakland Raiders–had played football together at USC. The AP reporting and all the other articles that sprang up out of the crash created a big splash at first–but as with all concentric circles created by a big splash, the outward edges have grown faint with the passage of time. But meanwhile, at the dark hole center that swallowed Mike’s life, where those closest to Mike remain to live and love, the wounds of his too early departure are still sharply felt. By some the wounds of loss are endured silently. By others not so.
Yet healing awaits for those who wander away to the lake house, for memories of happier times continue to live at that modest place that sits on a grassy hill overlooking the water. Most of the year it stands empty, waiting to offer a bit of healing to those who come, an innocent kind of magic born from the mixture of happy children and hot summer days. The best childhood memories were born into my children at this place. And I imagine the same was true for Mike, as I recall his happy ten year old face as he skied across the lake twenty-three summers ago. And while she won’t be skiing, I hope Micaela’s ten year old face is also now glowing with happiness that will one day grow into the loveliest of memories.
As my mind wanders back in time, I realize that this is Micaela’s second visit to the lake, though her first came courtesy of her mother’s womb. Don was at the lake that summer too, as Janice was most anxious about Mike marrying at such a young age–for knowing Mike as she did, she feared his plans for a rushed marriage might stem from a sense of duty rather than love–so Don was there to offer his rock-steadying presence. Of course, once the family met Micaela’s mom, and saw how well she fit in and how well she loved Mike, there was a whole lot less to worry about.
A part of Mike’s love rests in Micaela. And eleven years later, a remnant of those who loved Mike surround his daughter, to help her create her own special brand of memories. Somehow, I hope Micaela’s memory-making will transcend the bounds of time to reach out to wherever her father now plays in eternity. Maybe spirits of our past selves wander across the face of the lake and maybe our current selves do too, whether they rest in the now or in the forever more. If so, then I believe Mike and I are gathered at the lake house too, cheering Micaela on as she mixes up a little summer magic, enough that makes us thank God we’re alive in the spirit.