For Kathy

JHF at Ute Mountain

Opening the heart

“Oh Lord,” I yelped as I came around the bend. The road was nearly blocked by half-buried rocks the size of watermelons. I hit the brakes, pulled the Dakota into low, and did the best I could climbing over big black chunks of lava from the Pleistocene. The constant pitching left and right had already caused the shoulder strap to saw into my neck and I’d unhooked it. The 20-year-old truck had honker six-ply tires but I still went slow enough to stop if I heard scraping and we made it through unscathed. By “we” I mean the Dodge and me. My honey was represented by a gorgeous scarf I’d hung behind my seat, her red beret, a wooden Day of the Dead skeleton ornament, and a Japanese tea can with a portion of her ashes. When I’d finally driven as far up the mountain as I dared, I turned the truck around to face the sun, lowered the window, and killed the engine. I grabbed the can, stepped out, and tossed some powder in the breeze. “I love you, Kathy,” I said, looking to the sky with open arms, and turned to dust in four directions. Several times I did this, breaking into sobs (which I did not expect), then climbed back in and ate my lunch washed down with hot sweet coffee. There might have been a little Kathy on my tuna sandwich.

This was the terminus of my backroads quest, partway up the lower slopes of the extinct volcano where the junipers and piñons start, 8,300 feet above sea level. I could see the tall straight trunks of ponderosa pines in a near-vertical canyon high above me. It was 45°F and sunny. Crazy cirrus feathers splashed across the blue. Coming up I’d seen a flock of several dozen bluebirds, moving just ahead along the road where hardly anybody ever goes. This was only my second time but I had never come this far. No wonder on the one hand, how could we not now, on the other. After I finished my lunch, I got out again and walked a little way to take some pictures. I could see the twisting canyon of the Rio Grande far below. As far as I could make out, there was not a sign of human habitation but the rocky road, and I was overcome with joy. “Can you see this, honey?” I asked, knowing full well that she could, and cried again. The oscillation of emotion was exhausting and a validation, like the bridging of two worlds. I stood there in suspension till the wind began to blow and made me cold. There’s just something about mountains, you can tell that they’re alive. Kathy would have understood and had a hand in this. There was not the slightest doubt.

I’d come up with the idea to drive out to Ute Mountain as a way to celebrate the Solstice, since I wasn’t doing Christmas this year. It doesn’t feel at all like Christmas anyway with Kathy gone. For all our time together, in truth it was really just us each December. When our parents were alive and far away, we always traveled, usually by road trip. The journey was the main event, the days in Iowa or Arizona interludes along the way. During our years in Maryland, Kathy had Christmas concerts to rehearse and play and there were parties with our friends. Then everyone we knew would disappear, cocooning with their families. We’d shoot out of town at high speed heading west and have insane adventures, dodging semis in the blizzards on the way to find a motel room in Indiana. No internet or cell phones, no way to check the weather at your destination or look up lodging on a website. We grabbed a local paper when we stopped for gas and checked the printed weather maps and prayed. I kept a scrap of paper in my wallet with phone numbers from the year before so I could call ahead if there were vacant pay phones at the rest stops, otherwise we winged it. Pulling into Des Moines to stay with Kathy’s folks was always a relief with certain protocols and reassuring sameness. Like re-entering 1956, perhaps, with overheated houses in the snow and happy female chatter in the kitchen. Pecan “tassies,” lemon curd, extra money for the paper boy, endless football on TV or radio in the little den that used to be her room while I gamed our getaway between the storms.

Basically though, she and I were all the family we really needed, especially after we moved to Taos and the lights went out in Iowa. (Arizona lay under boycott.) Five or six years ago I left a note for her one evening where she’d find it in the morning when she made her tea. This was after yet another depressing real estate experience where we’d visited a house for sale, come back to the old adobe, looked each other in the eye, and both said “no.” Written boldly on an index card and initialed with a flourish, it read:

Wherever you are
Wherever you and I are together
That is my home

The note disappeared before I got up. I knew she’d seen it, but I soon moved on and never thought of it again. A week after I closed her eyes at Holy Cross, I found it in her dresser in a drawer she opened every day…

A week or so before I “decided” to drive out here, I’d been through a terrible time, unable to write for more than a month, making progress with my art but feeling old and left behind. I was worried about my health as well with heart rates well below alleged normal. I consulted with my doctor, who didn’t seem concerned and said my heart was slow but otherwise okay. (“The highest reading I have on file for you is 60!”) He ordered up some blood work1 and sent me on my way. But for me the main thing was the grieving. Who knew I’d feel so bad some eight months later? The loneliness and loss of intimacy had staggered me. I felt like I was sliding down into a hole I’d never climb back out of and just die. It happens. After seeing Dr. White, however, it occurred to me that I should also talk to Kathy. Hang on.

It wouldn’t be the first time. The voice is very quiet and sounds like her. While I hear it in my head, spatially I’d say it comes from near my heart inside my chest. There’s better “reception” out of doors sometimes. Maybe it’s the sky, or sun, or birds. Who knows. I started off by telling her I loved her, missed her so damn much, and just how fucking lost I was. None of this was easy, but before I’d even finished, I heard clearly:

Be proud of yourself. Share the beauty and the joy.

Those are not my words. As a strategy for coping, I never would have thought to tell someone to “share the beauty and the joy.”2 I mentioned this on Twitter and a psychotherapist in Santa Fe (@shrinkthinks) shot back, “You’d better listen!” I made a little joke about how simple it was. “It is brilliant advice!” she said. Since then “share the beauty and the joy” has been a mantra for me and a demon killer. The point is not to ANSWER anything but TRUST… The heart again! You see?

The power of the place I was.

The bridging of two worlds by letting go.


[NOTE: A free subscription to my Substack newsletter (see below) will bring you this post and all other JHFARR.COM posts with larger inline photographs and different formatting you may find easier to read. The complete posts are also delivered directly to your email if you subscribe to GODDAMN BUFFALO at Substack and look better on your phones. You are most welcome to continue reading everything right here, of course! I always publish first at Substack, however, because the writing interface is simple and fast, so there is usually a short delay before I get around to reposting here but the content is identical. JHFARR.COM is also the complete searchable web archive of all my online writing and goes back years. There’s nothing comparable at Substack. – JHF]

Reading Angel Minds

geranium

Bitter, blessed, and hopeful

It’s been so long, I hardly know how to write. I often feel ashamed of grieving now, imagining the world has had enough of me or wondering if I’m insane. From time to time I feel all right and even hopeful. There’s a hint of some excitement in the photographs I’m taking with my iPhone 13 Pro Max. I like editing images on the M1 iMac I bought myself. I’ve lost 20 pounds and built up my old man arms by lifting heavy dumbbells. Most days I walk a quick two miles. I finally cleaned out Kathy’s studio. Her childhood piano is safely stored. That assignment I completed only yesterday.

This morning I felt happy that all I had to do to today was go to Albertson’s for groceries. But afterwards, as I made the left turn from the highway and up the hill on the narrow road that runs beside the 400-year-old chapel where I’ve been driving up and down for nearly 20 years, it hit me once again and I was sobbing, hot tears running down my face: Kathy, Kathy, oh my Kathy, baby doll, my one and only love forever. I have no wife. I’m old and this is it, there’ll never be another you. I love you so much honey and I always will, forever till the end of time. My only one, my everything, my Kathy. I know you had to go and you’re all right but how I miss you…


Last week I went to have my teeth cleaned. The best, most qualified dental hygienist I’ve ever had in all my life had moved away to Albuquerque. Of course she did. Unless you live for skiing, why would anyone stay here?1 Kathy used to call the dental office the “Taj Mahal” because of the nice fake leather sofas, high ceilings, beautiful paintings, and how much it cost. They go through hygienists (and dentists!) so fast, you almost never have the same one twice. Seems they mostly hire them green and then before you know it, poof, they’re gone. The dentists stay a while until they move away to set up their own practices in bigger towns. I’ve had the same young guy for almost two years now and that’s a record. The business just hired a friend of his from Wisconsin and of course the bio mentions skiing.

What the hell am I here for?

My new hygienist was another very competent Latina. (They all are and I feel so privileged.) Since I’m eating differently these days, my teeth need little cleaning. She poked around, did some scraping, told me everything looked healthy and was probably more relieved than I was. Chatty, too. At one point she asked me if I was looking forward to the holidays and you can guess where that led. This is how I know I’m still in mourning, not the sudden storms that shake me when I least expect it but the rush to tell a perfect stranger how I feel. She took it very well. I said she didn’t need to know this, she said no that’s fine, go on, and I began, “The thing about being with someone for over 40 years and then they’re gone is…” at which point I got choked up and couldn’t talk, but she encouraged me and I continued with a cracking voice, “What happens then is, you don’t know who you are…”

Without a moment’s hesitation, she grasped both my hands and quietly recited a long and beautiful prayer. I’m sure it came from church. Not being Catholic, I wouldn’t know just what to call it but it was oh so sweet and spoken quickly like a running stream. I was very touched and told her how grateful I was. My instant loving sister from another world delivering a blessing I had never heard. So lucky. What a gift.

Maybe this is what I’m here for. I was there for Kathy, after all.

Bit by bit I’m learning to be kinder to myself because I see how badly wrecked I’ve been. If I push too hard, my mind breaks and my memory’s affected. Maybe I’m getting senile, too. I misplace things a lot. The other day I left my truck keys in the mailbox lock—they stayed there a full 24 hours, waving in the breeze. Recognizing negativity and fear is helpful. If I see them, I can let them go, like worrying about not writing or my languishing NFT project. But worrying of any kind is deadly now. I simply can’t afford it. Nothing could be worse than losing Kathy except throwing what I have away for stupid reasons. She’d be so upset as well. Calm down! Every now and then I do.

I don’t see how I can remain in Taos. It hurts too much just driving down the road. Yet who knows what I’m calling toward me? What if I had a hot rod and a ranch? I’ve never been to Argentina, either. Kathy always said, “You can do anything you want…” If it was okay then, it must be okay now. Winter’s on the way though and I need to pay attention. I’m too damaged to carry on as usual guilty and untrusting.

Late last night, something deep unclenched. I wanted to take a day trip for the first time since the plague years started and my honey died. Over the pass to Eagle Nest and on to Cimarron, I thought. Out past Philmont Scout Ranch, shoot some photos of the pronghorns where the foothills meet the plains. If the beasts are hiding, Cimarron is full of terrifying truth. The first time we drove around the place, Kathy had to shake off primal childhood fears from darkest Iowa. Small town poverty and deprivation, dreams deferred forever. But drive a couple miles to where the wind blows all the way to the horizon and the raptors soar. In the old days you could maybe see the Comanches come in time to send the brown girls home and hide your horses in the mountains…

There have been other signs. Almost as if I’m being fitted for a new integrity. This could be her doing, I don’t know. When it’s bad, it’s worse than anyone imagines. On the other hand I want new clothes, not a common indicator of the end.

After sharing a life with Kathy for most of my time on Earth, including 18 years here in this old adobe, arranging the household as weirdly as I want is oddly comforting. Some things that we always kept in cupboards sit out now in plain view. My great-grandmother’s solid 19th century utensils are so much better than the stainless steel ware from Pier One. (She was using the old knives and forks all this time in her studio!) I’ve moved lamps and paintings, taken some away and added new ones. While half the house is still a tragic mess of piled-up clothes and deferred maintenance, the half that isn’t is an affirmation. I can leave my laptop wherever I want. Play loud music at 3:00 a.m. She always said I could, but I was too afraid to take her at her word.

I’ll drive to Iowa in the spring to bury the ashes. Our grave marker is already there beside her parents. I have a strong feeling I won’t be here by summer. Something will be very different then, I know that. Bigger too, I think. Wilder, joyous.

Like you always wanted, sweetheart. Like you always saw in me.

Allowing Everything

Colorado Rt. 10

Catching Up With Truth

The time of greatest danger may be past. Even so, I broke down twice this morning. Not long but solid, aching face and all. I’ve learned to let it hit me like a breaker at the beach. Sometimes I get murdered as I’m walking past her English “gram’s” cherry dresser, the one we carried back from Iowa to Maryland in my ‘65 VW bus along with all the fancy hats from never married great-aunt Emily. It’s chest-high with a Chimayó weaving, the perfect height for me to sob on by the Japanese jewelry chest and music box that holds her pearls and rhinestone concert necklace. She always knew to dress up right for her performances and I was so damn proud.

I haven’t been able to write for weeks. I felt like I had nothing left to live for, not depression so much as conviction. It was simply logical. There will never be another Katie Jane and I’m too old to find one. The loneliness is crushing. I wanted to grow old together, not be left here all alone. It hits me at the oddest moments. What the fuck, you know? What happened?!? Everything I had was Kathy. That was way more than enough and now it’s gone, like old cartoons with someone hanging in the air.


Five days before 9-11 (2001).Temporary housing in the guesthouse in Arroyo Seco after a promised rental fell through. Everyone we knew was still immortal.

“Death will fuck you up and set you up 💀💀💀❤️❤️☯︎☯︎☯︎,” I tweeted recently. It’s true. A couple people I respect went out of their way to tell me how amazed they were that I was dealing with all this and couldn’t imagine what they’d do themselves. Well yes, I guess I have been. Not my first time watching someone die, though this was utterly beyond the pale and changed me for all time. I did the things, they burned her up and put her ashes in a box. I sold her grand piano. Working entirely through texts and emails, I designed a grave marker, ordered the pink granite stone, and arranged the installation in the dark brown dirt of eastern Iowa where her parents and the lady with the cherry dresser rest. That hasn’t happened yet but soon. And in the interim, I found the perfect urn. I’m so relieved because I know she’d like it.

You’d never guess where I acquired this. Heavy cast brass (five pounds) from India, lacquered, with a screw-on top. I wanted that because of needing to add things as I thought of them. A note, perhaps, or jewelry, or magic charms, wildflowers I pick along the road to Iowa in the spring. Yes, spring. I was going to head up to Keota this month but everything’s delayed and the weather can turn brutal in November. The same for April, frankly.

The subject is already too macabre or insane. However, what I think I’ll do is transfer the ashes to the urn packaged in a sturdy plastic bag for neatness’ sake (minus some to scatter in a favorite spot), set it on the counter or a coffee table, and talk to her all winter. It’s been done, believe me. Whenever I do take off, the urn is riding safely strapped down in the passenger seat like old times. My sister-in-law suggested I buy one for myself while I was at it—brilliant, if you ask me—so a red one just like this is coming in on Wednesday. The plan, if you’re still with me here, is to have my urn sitting on my desk for however many years to kick me in the head so I make Kathy proud. I never needed thoughts like these before and wish I didn’t now, but people say I’m good at this. Perhaps I am.


Kathy from the Rift Valley Trail at Taos Valley Overlook in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Live like this every day, we’re not here long.

It’s never over, is it. You see the OpenSea links (click on captioned photos). That’s my new game, with the photos and the writing. I know I’m skilled beyond the dead wife chores that give me strength to be her man the way I always was. I’m spending money on the things I want.


(She shouts)

There’s a brand-new yellow M1 iMac on my desk to edit images, videos, audio, and lay out books. A gold iPhone 13 Pro Max is on the way. I put new tires on the car. I have a golden keyboard. If only that were all we needed. One can still screw up, of course.

It’s cold. Fear of the unknown, wreckage everywhere. The last six weeks have been the worst of all, so bad I’d go to bed afraid that I was dying of my broken heart. That’s why I couldn’t write and wouldn’t read a thing that wasn’t on a screen. Stayed up till 4:00 a.m. like a goddamn human moth stuck onto the Twitter feed. Four hours of sleep and stagger through the morning, though I did try taking care of business while the sun was up. Visited her studio, measured the other piano that I mean to keep, talked to movers, threw out old tax returns and such. I’ve made a start and also done some crazy shit. So scared of catching COVID on the Iowa trip I figured I’d be taking in October, I drove to Colorado and lied at Walmart to get my third Moderna shot. “Is this your first?” Why, yes. No one else was getting vaccinated, either! The pharmacy had Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, just walk right in, no waiting or appointments. (Here in the Land of Enchantment, you still can’t get Moderna boosters.) They gave me a flu shot, too.

My sister Mary from Tucson visited for a few days. She’s coming out of retirement to go back to her nursing job in Texas and we talked about real things. She was excited about taking control again a year and a half after her divorce. Dare to hope and feel, you know. It was rough for me the first day. The second day I loosened up a bit. By the time she left, I felt better than I had in weeks.


Kathy on the deck in Ranchos. The GODDAMN BUFFALO collection at OpenSea is dedicated to her love & courage. How I miss her. Oh my love.

Apparently I breathe. The blood still pumps, the gift of life remains.

It does? But why—oh, God! I don’t have to die because my Kathy did. If this doesn’t cross a barrier, she and I have both hiked right up to it. I couldn’t save her, but I didn’t kill her. For all the shame I’ve felt for being such a baggage-laden piece of work while she was still alive, she doesn’t blame me now and never did!

Not once. Not ever.

Fear of nothing!

Punishment is self-delivered.

We aren’t what we think we are.

Everything’s all right.

After the Emptiness

dashboard

Picnic of the Dead

I probably never cried so much as all of August, my own birthday month. As if the world had gone and left me which it had. I couldn’t write. I did lose weight. The mountains and the sky were beautiful when I walked. I didn’t go out anywhere except a couple times to buy more groceries. I lived online and studied NFTs, drank apple cider vinegar in water, let the sleeping and the the rising have their way with me. Every now and then I felt all right. All was still, no obvious emergency. Like I was standing by the blackboard and the room was quiet and the chalk was in my hand.

Well before I found myself alone, what passed for Taos social life had atrophied as thoughts turned mostly inward. Getting ready, I suppose. The pandemic locked the door, but neither of us was lonely. After Kathy died and the immediate turmoil dissipated, the truth of where and what I was sank in. I’d simply never been like this. For most of my adult life, I also must have never known what “isolated” really meant. The tasks I faced seemed insurmountable (and still do). There was no one to share my deepest feelings with, and did I even want to? All there was to talk about was “it.” Hard enough with my own siblings, and the in-laws had their shields up like I raised when Teresa died.1 I felt like I was dissolving into nothing. I tried to narrate a video clip and couldn’t even talk. It sounded like I was drunk.

By Labor Day weekend I was scary. Grim and bitter at the world. Angry at my fate, pissed I hadn’t sold the NFTs, furious at anti-vaxxers, jealous of any happy people young enough to feel immortal. A writhing ball of pain-snakes. Over the hill without a roadmap. Deeply, truly lost. I felt so bad I worried I would die, as if the angels on the other side might just give up and reel me in. Long-married surviving spouses often check out early. The very kind person who told me that suggested I get a dog to keep me company because our hearts get used to sensing other heartbeats nearby. “A little one,” he said, “because they’re easier to care for.” Even my poor crazy mother had a damn chihuahua and a couple cats, and she lived longer than anyone expected. On a human level this made sense to me. I could see having a dog again but preferred a German shepherd, and I wasn’t ready anyway.

Then out of the blue, I remembered picnics. Oh. Most Memorial Days and Labor Days, that’s exactly what we used to do. Over a stretch of years in Maryland, we often motored up the Chester River in the old crabbing skiff a friend had given me2 and cooked hot dogs on a sandy beach. Here in Taos we’d find a picnic table in the canyon by the Rio Grande or go way up in the mountains to Agua Piedra if it wasn’t going to be too cold. The latter plan appealed to me as I lay awake in bed early Sunday afternoon. Too depressed to sleep, I’d stayed up late the night before but there was lots of time. I was so damn mad, I’d do the thing for Kathy if not for myself.

At least the route was gorgeous, I knew that. From here to the pass on U.S. Hill meant climbing almost 2,000 feet through forested steep canyons, then dropping down into another one to climb some more. There was a river, the Rio Pueblo,3 the size of what Montana people call a creek, but it was cold and clear and maybe that would help me. There wasn’t really a “picnic area,” more like an open mountain meadow with a couple widely-separated tables—if unoccupied, all very private. The spot I had in mind was also the last place I remember eating out-of-doors with Kathy. She loved it there and I was still a wreck and there was danger in the air. Switchbacks, bears, and broken guardrails. Maybe this was it.

Still angry but determined, I packed a lunch and hit the road. Thank God I’m a car guy and like driving. The 2007 Pontiac Vibe has brand new tires I bought for my upcoming trip to Iowa to bury Kathy’s ashes. One of the best cars we ever owned, the re-bodied Toyota Matrix is a joy to drive with the 5-speed manual, even in the mountains. I can keep the revs up in the torque and power ranges so you’d never know there’s only the Corolla engine. I run full synthetic oil and average 35 miles per gallon. The fat steering wheel is easy to grip, the seat is firm and all-day comfortable, the transmission’s smooth, it handles better than anything this plebeian has any right to do. Driving with new tires is like jogging with new running gear. I especially like the dashboard [above], a critical selling point for me because you’re looking at it all the time. Here’s a picture from a few years back. Her car, actually. (I had to change the registration to my name.)
c

Unless you’ve been there, you’d be surprised how much deep grieving pulls you down. For the first time in weeks I felt a little life because the driving smoothed me out and I’d finally busted loose to do a thing I wanted. It felt like I was on a mission, too.

To my great relief, the road was almost empty. (New Mexico, duh.) The air felt ten degrees cooler at 8,000 feet and probably was. It’s always greener in the mountains and that soothed me. There was no one else at Agua Piedra (“water with rocks in it”), not a soul. The rio was loud, a few cars came by every five minutes or so, the wind blew like it always does up high. “Our table” was still there, all nice and clean without a speck of trash. I felt a little shaky as I spread the tablecloth we always used but I was starving. That focuses the mind. I sat down facing the water and gratefully ate everything I’d brought. All alone, remember, just like weeks and months already back in town. The solitude in such a place was even deeper and a little spooky. Just me, the water, grasses waving in the breeze, the tall, tall pines and spruces, but I felt the tension building as I polished off my Voodoo Ranger and decided it was time.

As soon as I stood up to zip the cooler, there it came, a staggering jolt of pain and grief. This was her place too, but where the hell was Katie Jane? I wailed and blew my nose. A path beside the stream led off into the trees. We’d been there, right. I walked it with the memory of her striding out in front of me and cried the whole damn way. It can’t can’t be true, I thought the way one does, and yet it was. The emptiness was cosmic. She’s dead you fool and isn’t here! Of course I knew she wouldn’t be. That’s not the point.

I packed things up and put them in the car and stood there listening. For a moment I thought there was something of her spirit in the daisies blowing in the wind and picked a few, but I could hardly bear the sadness. It wasn’t just her, either. What if every blossom, every blade of grass, was waving for a different soul? By then the air was roaring like a billion angels blasting off. You can hear it in the video below:

The thing is, see, it’s not just that she’s gone but that we shared a life for over 40 years. I won’t live long enough to ever have it be like that again. The end of her is like the end of me. The me that was, at least. What happens now?

I miss her so damn much. It hurts and makes me want to join her right away, but that is not the plan she gifted me, and I am not supposed to suffer any more any more than what it takes to understand. You know what else? Sometimes I worry that she’ll get impatient and won’t be there when I die. Go ahead and laugh. You probably need to. That’s the thing that gets me, though, I swear to God. It would be just like her and it’s happened plenty times before!

Whew. I made it back.

Be well.

Homing in

If you see sweet Kathy
bring her home to me
if she feels like waitin’
best let her be
does she know I’m comin’
will she wait for me
do we live forever
is it meant to be

Something prompted me to make this video last week. The soundtrack is an instrumental version of a song I wrote a while back played on my resophonic bouzouki, making me a lucky man right there and fixing the length of the clip. All I have is the one verse but you can feel where the words go. The scene is a hiking trail at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, New Mexico. This might be November, 2005, after Kathy had been living in Dubuque a while to help take care of Fielda* and had just come home for good. I flew up to Iowa and drove us back to Taos in her father’s old Dodge after the moving van left. That was one of the best trips of my life. Back together with no interruptions, at last. We were so happy.

Immediately after we rolled into Taos, we took off for Ghost Ranch and ZoukFest, a Celtic music festival organized by friends of mine in Taos. I’d designed the website and took my pay in free accommodations for the week. As I told someone the other day, I have so many photos of Kathy like this one because she always walked faster than I did and still does. She also liked to hold her arms out like that on hilltops, her way of merging with the universe, I figured. Like a dancer.

One of her old friends from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa sent me a card with a long handwritten note inside. The sentiments and card were beautiful. I read the words and fell apart again—one of these days that won’t happen all the time, but we ain’t there yet—the gist of it was that she’d been thinking a lot about Kathy lately though they hadn’t communicated in over 50 years, went online for clues, and found the obituary! I’ve had several letters from people like that. Without exception the writers emphasize what an extraordinary person Kathy was, how talented, loving, and vivacious, and how shocked they are to learn that she has died. My initial reaction is usually to stagger around the house howling and wailing and blowing my nose. Everyone knew what I had.

As I’ve said many times, from the first moment I was alone with Kathy, all I ever wanted was to just be in her presence. That first time she had me over for dinner at her place, I sat in the kitchen at that L.L. Bean folding camp table she used because her first husband got away with all the furniture when they divorced. (She ended up with nothing but her grand piano—the fastest way out.) Have you ever seen one of those? Yellow it was, made of Masonite with metal trim, wobbly and cramped with little benches on two sides like a picnic table. Heavy, too, and pinched your fingers when you set it up. Anyway, there I was in that kitchen while she cooked, nowhere to sit but at the little yellow table, and that was it. I was done. Not that I realized at the time, but life as I’d known it was over… In many ways I’d be a rough ride for her, but from that moment on it was Kathy and John forever. She was light-years ahead of me.

There’s a clean direct arc from that night to the moment she died. Alone together and private at both ends. I see it now. It happened. We did it. And now there’s just me, all alone and stupid. She used to say, “How old are you, John?” and then let me have it—I was such a piece of work. Her cocktail hour toast was always, “To us!” I’d say, “You and me, babe,” and now she’s gone. The plan’s all used up. I should be dead except there are no boundaries now.

Over the last month I’ve found more evidence of just how ill she was, how lost and broken she’d become. Signs from going through her private notes (the things she tried to write were worst), memories I’d pushed away that floated back to haunt me. The thing is though, it wasn’t her. The way she came apart at the end had nothing to do with all our years together. I carried both these truths at once. My private mandate was to cause no stress. Impossible, but I surrendered. Months of covid isolation had already reinforced a life of us against the world and made it easier. We drifted into an ever more intimate state of magical reality, loving and affectionate as always. I felt the walls dissolving. As long as I had no will there was no panic, even when she had her stroke. That was her Plan A, of course. The blood clot they discovered was Plan B.

I know everything about this. Let’s be clear on that. What you do is love and manage until the Mystery explodes. Otherwise you put your faith in advertising, live in fear, and pay to give away your dreams. She was never going to do that. The way this came about was pure desire in a doe’s heart by a mountain stream a thousand years ago. The sun is coming up. I hear the water. She does too and bends to drink. Get real.

Over and over I watch the video. I love the strange seared colors of November in New Mexico, the sound of my bouzouki. I wait because I know what’s coming. As soon as I see her on the hill, my spirit leaps. My chest swells. Oh babe I am so lucky and so proud. I love you so damn much. I know exactly where this fades to white. It cuts me every time, so many feelings all at once. Push and pull, the love and wanting. A giant flash and then she’s off!

My sweet Kathy had to go. I was the perfect one to hurt.


Post haircut portrait, Jan. 7, 2006

* My mother-in-law. I never heard her raise her voice in anger. Her maiden name was Loving. Fielda Loving. I mean, come on.

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