The Rip Van Wrinkler, Volume XV, Issue 4, November 2011

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Scary Thing #1

In which I finally arrive at the scariest thing I have done since Dan died. Numbers 10 to 2 are in earlier posts.

Sold our house.

Despite all its implications of dismissal and rejection (don’t need you anymore!), despite all the smart financial reasons for staying (I paid off the mortgage and then put that amount into my retirement fund every month), I moved on.

I didn’t expect to. I loved our house. Dan and I had replaced everything, from top (roof) to bottom (septic tank). We had recreated the bathroom, enlarged windows, added a screened porch and deck. By myself, I had the kitchen remodeled. The house stood “finished,” needing only the continual maintenance every house requires.

I loved our pretty, quiet road that didn’t go anywhere. I knew the neighbors, and if they were odd, or imperfect, so are we all, and their presence still provided assurance.

In the field beyond our fence were two posts where our basenjis were buried. On the posts were engraved oval plaques, one commemorating Bambi (“Huntress, Gourmand, Wit”), and one Cooper (“Dignity . . . Always Dignity”). I had mixed a little of Dan’s ashes with Cooper’s, and I hadn’t thought I could leave those graves. But by now the physical remains had blended with the earth, and I could take the plaques with me, tokens of their spirits.


So long, country life . . .

Because the house, its gardens and field, its three acres of woods, were all in the wrong place. Once, I was pleased that Lulu (the remaining basenji) and I could take a two-mile walk without seeing a soul, not even in a passing car. But with Dan gone I grew tired of driving for every single thing I had to do, and I yearned for more human contact. Visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, by myself one August, I walked each night after dinner for an hour or more, on sidewalks, under gentle streetlight. On the second night I saw several of the same people. We recognized each other in the dark with a “good evening!”  and I thought, that’s what I want. To say hello, to pass the time of day.

One night that October I let Lulu out into the yard. She raced around the fenced perimeter, disturbed by something, and wouldn’t come back into the house, so I joined her outdoors. By the light of the harvest moon I could see that my neighbor, who bow-hunted, had got a deer and hung it from a tree limb in his backyard. He stood silhouetted next to the vertical deer, so I waved.


“Good work!” I called.


“Yup!” he said. “Got one.”


“Lulu tipped me off!” 


He chuckled. “Yeah, them dogs, they know.”


And I felt a pang of fear. We had moved here, Dan and I, in part because we wanted to live in a place where everyone wasn’t exactly like us. Where I now wanted to live, I wouldn’t have even one compost pile, and I would never have that conversation.

. . . Hello, city digs!

Was I making a mistake to yearn for a world of sidewalks and streetlights? It was very scary. But that’s the American way, isn’t it: you light out for the territories, and then years later, Mama wants a house in town—a sign, as the poet Frank O’Hara wrote, “that people do not totally regret life.”*

That same October, I dreamed about Dan. We were inside our house, preparing to leave. As we moved to the door, he said, “I’m glad I was here.”

I was glad to be there too. But now I wanted a place where my walks with Lulu weren’t filled with memories so much as new sights. My solo exploration skills were honed. Accustomed to the branch I had found myself perched upon, I was ready to move off it, onto a higher one.


*“Meditations in an Emergency”