At 24, you honeymoon with Mary on Lake Wallenpaupack, not at the resort with hot tubs but the rustic lodges you can afford. During the days you watch Connors make a Wimbledon run, take slow walks along the dam, visit a local petting zoo, get ice cream whenever it suits you. Each night, you retire to the cabin early, lock the door, and fall into each other. Afterwards, awake and alive, you hear the dock outside rocking gently, click-clacking with the lake water’s slosh, and you’re convinced you’ll never be happier.
At 30, ringless and divorced, you visit the home on Lake Wallenpaupack your brother and his wife, pregnant with their second child, have just purchased. It’s an open house for the family and two dozen crowd the stony beach, circle the fire, lift their drinks, laugh. You listen to the dock and tell no one what it reminds you of.
At 54, your brother and his wife invite you for the tenth summer in a row to return to the lake, and beneath a fleet of cartoon perfect clouds their speed boat skips wave to wave. From the bow, you peer back, follow the taunt tow rope to the inflatable where your two sons bounce and laugh in the sun. In the stern, your wife Beth turns from your sons and catches you smiling widely, raises her chin curious to know what’s behind that pleasant grin.
My wife’s malady is memory now. But in the days after Beth’s affliction has acquired a name, we drive to New Orleans seeking a specialist. While she visits, I occupy our five-month old son in a coffee shop that sells beignets.
Six weeks after giving birth, one morning Beth lacked the strength to lift a hair dryer. Soon tugging a diaper tab spiked piercing pain. Her immune system assaulted her muscles. A drug cocktail restored her somewhat but with cruel side effects. Meanwhile, a book about the disease offered this on page two: “A good carpenter can extend the doorways in your house to accommodate the wheelchair.”
The rheumatologist’s exam is inconclusive, his plan unconventional—weaning Beth off the medication will take months, but only then can he diagnose the true root cause and act.
On I-10 West, our son cries, only settling into exhaustion as we pass Lafayette. Beth falls asleep too, and the silence of that car is sacred, their shared peace a blessing.
I did not know then the miracle awaiting. In the wake of the drugs meant to fight back the plague, Beth made whole, the disease receded like flood waters.
So when I reach our home’s exit, I accelerate past, up over the steep bridge that spans the Sabine Pass, through a refinery town, then onto the 210 loop. Driving, I ponder how long I can remain on that infinite ring with my slumbering child and heroic wife, circling the city, orbiting our ruined future.
Planting for Spring
Slim weeks before my sister passed, I visited Kayte at her rustic home along the Lehigh River. Ashen, she was asleep in a straight-backed cushioned chair, her head drooped onto an airline pillow collared round her neck. Her stomach was distended. The ballooned flesh of her lower legs wept amber sap. Before she breathed, I felt sure she was dead. But she startled to life, pleased to see me, and I bent in for an awkward hug. I asked, “What shall we do with our day?” and she smiled. “Let’s garden.”
I had to bandage her heels before squeezing her feet into Crocs, then maneuver her into a wheelchair in the garage, any hoarder’s delight. Seated, exhausted, she said, “My gloves.” We worked her veiny hands into the smudged rough fabric, and I settled a broad-brimmed hat on her brow. She insisted on holding a rake so she could help.
At the end of her driveway, I parked her by a weedy bed. I tugged crab grass and thistle, dislodged edging stones sunk in the mud. Kayte, from her chair, recalled our legendary adventures. When I was a boy, she drove us to dozens of folk festivals, stole me away to beaches and hippy communes. By campfire, she played guitar and sang deep past midnight.
“Wait!” Kayte cried. “That’s not a weed, you turkey.”
I let the scraggly flower be and went about my work. Later, before spreading mulch, I planted bulbs that she assured me would bloom, come spring.