“He’s amazing that he does that,” Deirdre said. We were sitting side by side on the couch covered in blankets, surrounded by four snoring dogs as she wrote and I read. Jim had already chopped wood and lit the fire for us to stay warm by in our post-turkey haze.
“I know. And he really seems to enjoy doing it. He loves this house,” I said as I watched him through the window on the roof, reveling once again in how lucky I felt. I had found someone who loved me, who loved my kids, who loved my quirky old, high-maintenance house as much as I did. I didn’t want to think the words “too good to be true,” but they lurked there under the surface.
The blower eventually quieted and soon he was out with a rake and a garbage pail clearing the whole mess up.
I always have a difficult time on departure day from Vashon, my escape from the real world. I want to continue my simple life of pretending it is 1946 when life was simpler, without social media and iPhones, when the best Saturday entertainment was baking cookies or playing long rounds of Mexican Train or sitting on the couch devouring an entire book. I dread returning to my real life of feeling overwhelmed, being berated by teenagers (though even I know that hiding in 1946 wouldn’t have changed this fact of life) and being chained to the world inside my computer.
I was happy to just sit for another day on the couch, watching the whitecaps against the navy water, the winter sun warming my face. A few times over the weekend, I had taken out the binoculars to get a closer look at what looked like black heads bobbing in the rough water, but that appeared not to drift away despite the powerful waves. Each time, they turned out to be logs, partially submerged, pushed one way on the surface by the waves, while the tide worked in the opposite direction on the length that was beneath the water, which caused them to stay more or less stationary. I watched for several minutes but the logs just stayed where they were.
On this final day, I was very content sitting beside my best friend who after a scary year fighting brain cancer was happily ensconced on my couch writing her experience into a memoir. It was good to see Jim relax as well, inhaling a thick tomb of a Ken Follett novel.
I didn’t notice Jim’s absence until he walked into the living room and gave us his prognosis on our ongoing septic conundrum.
“The pump is working fine,” he said. “The alarm works. The tank is not leaking or overflowing. I have no idea what could be causing the leak on the path,” He said this as he plunked himself into his chair and picked up his book.
Jim and I have had many adventures with the septic system, the most recent involved scooping poopy water out of the tank before realizing we could just lift the pump out and disentangle a root that had been sucked into its intake. We were certain that a tiny trickle on the path to the beach had been the septic’s overflow and it seemed to disappear when we solved the root problem. But this weekend I noticed the trickle had returned. We couldn’t attribute it to rain since the weather was clear and cold.
“Do you think we should dig the pipe up a little to try and see where the water is coming from?” My mind was whirring with possibilities. One of the things I loved doing with Jim was working out engineering problems with him. We bounced ideas off one another until we (he, in most cases) figured out a solution. God knows the Vashon house had many mysteries. He had fixed the 40s era radiant floors that hadn’t worked in years; we had concocted an (unsuccessful) plan to drag heavy steel poles on a makeshift raft; he had devised an elaborate enclosure under the house to keep the otters out.
“I’m not digging up a pipe. I have mission critical chores at home I have to do and I really can’t be taking on huge chores here while stuff at home needs to be done.”
I didn’t know what to say. Did he resent the chores he did on Vashon? Was he wanting to leave now?
“I wasn’t suggesting that we dig up the pipe now,” I said, feeling meek, not sure of what emotions I was feeling. “Are you saying you want to leave now? We can leave now if you want.”
“No, I am happy to linger. I just don’t want to take on a major project when I have other things to do at home.”
His clarification didn’t ease my uncertain emotions. Since I was standing in the middle of the living room, I didn’t know what to do. Resume my place on the couch and read? Or begin the departure chores. I needed to escape and so I headed upstairs to begin packing up. I tried to squash my feelings. I was hurt. Since we had to pack up anyway, I used it as an excuse to keep busy so I wouldn’t have to think or emote.
When I came down with bags, Jim looked up from his book.
“I didn’t mean we have to leave now,” he said. “We could hang for a while and have lunch and then leave after that.”
Now I felt bad that I was making him feel bad which made me feel even worse.
“It’s OK, I said. I’m just getting ready. I went into the kitchen and put the soup on and then began the sweeping. I knew my actions were probably making it clear that I wanted to leave, but I didn’t know what else to do. I now felt Jim’s desire to get back to his house. I wasn’t mad, but I was hurt. Did he resent being on Vashon? I knew he loved it, but I didn’t know what to make of his outburst. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been bothered by it. He sometimes grumbles about his obligations in one place while being in another. It is the peril of his somewhat transitory lifestyle, living between three homes.
So why was I feeling so emotional? I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I just kept sweeping and making soup and packing up. I had to keep busy.
Later, after dropping Jim off at his house, Deirdre (smothered by four dogs in a packed car) asked if I was mad at Jim.
“Did I seem mad?”
“Yeah, you seemed furious at him.”
It was not my intention to seem furious, since furious wasn’t the emotion I was feeling at all, though I still couldn’t pin down exactly what I was feeling. I wanted to burst into tears, and when I was finally alone, I did. But I had no idea why I was so affected.
Later, after taking care of his “mission critical chores” at home, he came over and we talked. Well he talked and I wept. Why is it always so impossible to talk through tears? So frustrating. I still couldn’t articulate my feelings, but I managed to eek out a few possibilities:
1. I was feeling beat up lately by the hostile teenager in my midst while the other barraged me with texts about wishing she was home for Thanksgiving. Jim’s grumpiness came across to me as another hostile affront.
2. I felt guilty for being so grateful for Jim and all the work he did around Vashon when he really needed to be doing that work at his own home. As if I perhaps didn’t deserve him.
Now, as I dissect this in writing, I can see that the guilt weirdly brought me back to my dormant-but-lying-in-wait grief. It seems like there is some correlation between being so damned grateful for something that was once so elusive (a good man in my life) and my feelings of not deserving the great thing that came into my life. But why on earth would I feel like I didn’t deserve Jim and all the wonderful things he does?
Perhaps it comes from those early grief days of having to ask for help with things, something I hated doing. Asking/needing help is such a diminishing place for me. I like my independence. Asking for help feels like a weakness. But the truth is, I’ve come to rely on Jim which feels dangerous. Like his help could go away. He could go away.
So could all this silliness really be because somewhere deep in my subconscious I fear losing Jim? Will this annoying fear of loss ever leave me?
I feel like those black log-heads in the water: being pushed in one direction on the surface, while below an opposite force keeps me from going anywhere.