I saw my next-door neighbors yesterday.
The wife called me to tell me there were wild turkeys in the backyard.
I asked her what she was smoking.
She laughed and said she was taking her grandson out to see them. They had been running around. Really, she said. Come look.
My boys were in school yesterday, late. Ridiculous state mandated tests. They’ll be sorry they missed the enormous birds pecking and scratching at the lawn.
I love my neighbors. They are the kind of people you send your kid over to get a cup of sugar or an egg from and they stay and hang out. The wife calls and says, I have Jake here. Did you need something?
We don’t have to tell our kids to say hello and wave; they do on their own.
I’m going to [neighbor’s] house, Mom, Jake often tells me. He runs over to hang out. Watch the Wiggles.
They are grandparents and their oldest grandson is a year younger than Jake. They are also only a little older than me. They are my peers and yet old enough to be my parents.
They were smart enough to have four children while young. Really young.
We shovel each other’s walks in winter and stop to lean on our rakes in the fall to chat. They are thoughtful, smart, funny people. You want to stop and talk for a while. When I told them I quit my job last fall, he smiled.
Good. I miss seeing you.
No judgment, no hesitation. He nodded seriously and gave me calm I never knew from any father figure.
It happens, he said, quietly. Great jobs sometimes don’t work out.
I just learned he has a brain tumor. Cancer. Sixty years old and dying.
I guess we won’t be growing old together, she said to me the other day, tears brimming her eyes.
I was stunned. He’s so healthy, out running three or four times a week. Kayaks in their backyard and a Harley he rides in the warm weather.
As we stood watching the turkeys peck at the ground, I put my arm around my neighbor and said nothing. His grandson was stomping in the puddle in front of us. I looked at him and smiled.
I wanted to say something profound. Something kind. Something. I couldn’t. We just smiled at each other and nodded heads.
The turkeys gobbled loudly and made the grandson jump.
Why’d they do that? He asked his grandfather.
They heard a siren, he calmly answered. Think we can get them so do it again?
I walked over with the grandson closer to the birds, and tried some siren noises. We laughed at the birds’ complete disregard for our antics.
Life is so fragile. The thought of not growing old with Jeanine is impossible for me. I have been angry with her, frustrated with her lack of emotional availability, and desperate for her acknowledgement.
And yet I cannot imagine her not being by my side. That doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to kick her from my side. Scream at her.
I’m reminded of a quote from Rita Mae Brown:
"One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory."
Not just my bad memory but Jeanine’s. It’s about letting go of all the old places we’ve been that hurt. We’ve both been at fault. There is no an award for being the most wronged.
We might wake up one day and the choice will be gone. How old will we grow together?
As we stood together, I could not think of anything to say. I realize it’s not about words. It’s about actions. I can best honor him by rolling up my sleeves and working hard at my marriage. Being easy on myself when it comes to mistakes, putting the energy into healing and moving forward instead of hating myself.
By breathing in all the life around me. Celebrating friends. Reading about Foxes and Boxes with my son. Laughing about Depends, moss and escalators to the roof. Giving flowers, bottles of champagne or Nancy Pearl action hero dolls to friends, acknowledging an excellent radio interview or a child’s milestone or a simple moment shared over a love of books.
Taking time to throw rocks in a puddle.
And watch wild turkeys in the backyard.