Lily and her friends have formed a band called Your Mom’s Ashes, but spell it in a way that bastardizes the your and ignores the possessive for the mom’s. The four of them circle our property looking creatively blocked, needing a space to work. They pause at the chicken coop and agree “we could clean it up and it would be cute,” then something about tapestries. Dawn and her mom disapprove of the name, but I’m all for it. It’s not for you, I say. It’s punk rock.
It’s a rare day now I can sit outside with a beer and a book, bundled up, wincing in the cool wet air. The clean, stripped-down feeling of fall and the hollowing out that is winter, the gutting of the season. We go from feeling full to a feeling of being emptied whole.
In the mornings I grapple with what day it is when I wake. They no longer have the same features when you’re unemployed. The cat field-dressed something and left the remains in a coil on the patio. I hit it with the leaf blower to get the guts to lift and roll into a garden bed. Later I found a beetle sniffing around the same spot, still pink.
Both the dog and cat keep pissing in the house in different places for different reasons we try to troubleshoot with the vet. But after doing her routine checks, the vet comes back with bad news, the cat has a heart arrhythmia: an ‘irregularly irregular’ arrhythmia, the worst kind. She describes possible scenarios. I say she’s lived a full life already, and immediately feel bad saying that.
On the drive home I think about other cats I’ve had, one I had to put down. I let Roxy out and watch her scratch the wooden border around a garden bed, thinking how moments like these make up a whole life, the micro moments. Like Lily and me in the car at the bus stop, her playing a song or two while we wait. How life is strung together by times like these. I stood in the back yard looking at the place where we had the tree taken out and the new light that now fills the space and felt it pour through me in equal parts, the love and loss. It fills, and empties you.
After being away from work so long it was hard to tell if I’d begun actively killing time, or if I’d finally just learned how to take my time. And if there was even a difference between the two. How being a contractor, everything comes down to your time and bill rate. How much I felt defined by that, either working a gig or waiting to start the next one, not knowing when it would come.
I made plans to hike a section of the PCT I’ve never done but got out so early the sun was still a ways away, the mountains just dark shapes. So cold I had to worry about going numb on my hands and face. Big, old trees toppled over on their sides, cut into lengths. A talus field with a thin layer of frost on the rocks. Views south to a trail crisscrossing a brown, bald hill. My beard so thick now it collects ice. No other cars in the parking lot on my way out.
I fill my days the same, getting the kids off to school and then doing house or yard work, followed by an afternoon beer, book, or nap. I blow leaves for the sense of control it affords. Funny to think that we need to “fill” our days: are they empty from the start?
In the car on the way to the bus stop Lily asks can we talk, says she’s been thinking lately about life and death and what comes after.
I say time is funny and moves at different speeds at different times in our lives. For example, for me it started to move faster when I got to my 40s. And odd to think that time doesn’t exist even, it’s just a stand-in for things we can’t really comprehend or explain, a crude form of measurement.
Now all the red leaves have gathered at the base of a bush out back like New Year’s confetti. Ghosts hang and flail from the neighbor’s trees. A greasy-looking bird balances on the branch of a shrub and picks at the berries, peeping and squawking at no one in particular, maybe just itself.
But for the bell announcing her arrival and the tags jiggling from her neck, Roxy could creep up on that bird silent as Death itself. It’s only a matter of time until she does.