Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To Jeffrey, on His Birthday

In spring, the longing becomes a little sharper - I think of you every time I dig my fingers into the earth to bury the roots of a new perennial flower or vine. I don't plant annuals, with their inevitable deaths by frost in autumn, preferring the magic of bright green shooting from the ground each spring, defying the bitter cold and dormancy of these long Michigan winters. You, with your love of palm trees, flowers, and plants, are kneeling next to me in the grass this spring, when I dig a hole for creeping phlox, and find a thatched and fuzzy nest, from which glares a single, angry bumblebee. I imagine you laughing at me when I jump back, startled by how one fat bee sounded like a hive of wasps.

We have your ancient ponytail palm tree from college in our sunroom. There are scars on the trunk from a cat we owned temporarily. All of the fronds fell or were torn off, and we anxiously watered and watched, until it finally started to recover, more than a year later. I can't bear to lose anything that was yours, and my home is full of the things you gave or bartered to me. I saw my own belongings in photos of your last apartment, and that gives me some comfort. The vintage mod-era pendant lamp in my son's space-themed bedroom once hung in your Miami living room above the sofa. The small sunburst convex mirror I always admired is on the wall in our sunroom above my collection of succulent plants in vintage planters, some of them yours. The orange plexiglas Kartell fixture in our kitchen was a gift from you and the sister to the turquoise one you owned. We stood outside the Kartell showroom window, Petunia and Ava on leashes, and we imagined those lights suspended in our little homes.

There is a small Dia de Los Muertos box on a shelf in my kids' playroom that you brought back from Mexico. You tried to talk us into selling our house to move to the Yucatan and buy a hacienda with you. I could have horses, you said, and we'd rent rooms to tourists and drink margaritas and live like queens. Sometimes I can picture us all there, my sun-browned children running around, our dogs, the horses, and the blinding sunlight in the courtyard. Would it have changed everything? Would we all still be there, together, alive? Or would you have left us, mercurial as you were, and still ended up alone, in that apartment in L.A.?

I like to think there are alternate realities, and one of them includes you alive, out there in the world somewhere. Maybe you're in Mexico, mixing a pitcher of your signature margaritas, my daughter on your hip, saturated in color. Or in Indiana, restoring an old mansion, honky-tonk music blaring, and thinking of running for local office. Your dreams were my dreams for you. Now I think maybe you're beside me, telling me to do something that I've dreamed of, telling me not to wait, telling me it's true that life is short, and it is heart-breaking, devastating, and oh-so-sweetly beautiful.