Category Archives: Sandy

Wonder Wheel

Every year at about this time, our local church puts on a big celebration for the Feast of Saint Rocco. There are carnival rides, and live music, and Italian food. In years past, we’ve always missed it, but last year, we managed to get there for one afternoon. Nate rode a couple of kiddie rides, but most of the rides were for big kids. Nate was five-almost-six and too little to go on them. Truth be told, he didn’t really want to go on them. He’s always a bit… apprehensive about trying new things. Sandy and I tried to get him on the Caterpillar Coaster, or maybe the Ferris wheel, but he knew darn well that it was just too scary. We were a little disappointed, because we wanted to ride the Ferris wheel ourselves. But so it goes.

This year, he is six-almost-seven. This year, we ran into a couple of friends of his, Michael and Matt, who are in his Cub Scout den. They are all in the same grade, but Nate is the youngest kid in his class, so these boys are a bit older than him. As soon as we finished stuffing our faces, they headed right for Pharaoh’s Fury, a Big Kid carnival ride for sure. And Nate was not interested in going on that ride, no way, no how.

Michael’s older sister, Amy, is eleven years old. She wasn’t too keen on Pharaoh’s Fury either. She immediately took Nate under her wing and asked if he would go on the Caterpillar Coaster with her.

Amazingly, he would.

Nate and Amy on a roller coaster

They went on lots of rides together, and Nate had a wonderful time. We had a wonderful time watching him.

When it came time for the Ferris wheel, Nate took his place in line next to Amy. Sandy and I fell in line behind them. As the wheel spun, and the ground fell away from us, we laughed with the sheer joy of it. We could hear Nate and Amy laughing from the next car. And when our car got to the very top, the ride stopped for a moment. We could see for miles, and the new moon was low on the horizon. I put my arm around Sandy, leaned over, and kissed her, carefully. I knew we’d get up here eventually.

A day in your celebration

Last year, Sandy was a bit taken aback by the sudden appearance of a birthday cake on Sarah’s birthday. This year, I made sure to ask her permission in advance. She said yes, and she also said that she was glad I had asked her first.

So last Saturday we ate chocolate cake, and thought about Sarah. I wasn’t going to sing “Happy Birthday,” but Nate knows you can’t eat the cake until you sing the song.

Our situation is hard for Sandy, sometimes. She is living in Sarah’s house, raising Sarah’s son, and in love with Sarah’s husband. Sandy celebrating Sarah’s birthday is weird, but at least you get cake.

When Sarah died, Nate was only two years old. He doesn’t remember her at all. There are a thousand stories I want to tell him about his mom; her favorite places, her favorite things. But Sandy is here now; she is here now, right now, sleeping next to me in our big warm bed. She has a thousand stories of her own to tell us, and the three of us have a thousand thousand new memories to make.

Someone here is gettin’ old

Scene: A picnic table at Kimball Farm. It is Nate’s sixth birthday. Nate is eating a giant dish of chocolate ice cream. Sandy is eating a giant dish of lemon sherbet. Dad has gone in search of a dessert that does not contain lactose.

Dad enters, carrying a giant chocolate chip cookie.

Nate: Can I try some?

Dad: No way. This is my dessert.

Nate looks disconsolate.

Dad: That is your dessert. This is my dessert.

Dad winks at Sandy.

Dad: “This is my rifle, this is my gun…”

Nate: This is my Slinky.

Slinky

A little family

When I was in college, the theatre department put on a production of Six Characters in Search of an Author. The script called for a very young girl to play the part of The Child. Luckily, we had one handy. James, the auditorium manager, and Professor Jane, the costume designer, had three beautiful children: two boys and a girl. The girl, Nia, was six years old at the time, or thereabouts, and she was perfect.

I was in my early 20s at that time, and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I did not want children of my own.

I don’t remember having anything to do with Six Characters. I probably worked on the electrics crew or something. But I happened to catch the tail end of an evening dress rehearsal one night. James was there too, waiting to pick up his daughter. When the stage manager dismissed the actors, Nia spotted her father. She jumped off the stage and went tearing up the aisle, screaming, “Daddeeeeee!” She leaped into his arms and he spun her around into a big hug, The Child’s ghostly white dress fluttering behind her.

That instant of pure joy stabbed me right in the heart. That was the first moment in my life when I thought, “Maybe having kids wouldn’t be so bad.”

When Sarah and I started dating, we were in our late 20s. Sarah let me know early on that she wanted kids, and I knew that if I wanted to keep her around, I would have to get on board with that. When I met her nieces, all my resistance crumbled. I fell in love with them immediately. Watching Sarah with them, watching myself with them, I finally admitted that we would be good parents.

Taking care of a newborn is exhausting work. Being a single parent is exhausting work. Being Nate’s dad is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but there are a lot of nights when I am just tired, and I have a hard time being the sparky, energetic father he deserves. Some nights, when I go to pick him up at school, he is delighted to see me, but I am too tired and cranky to appreciate it fully. And other nights, when I am delighted to see him, he is busy playing or coloring and would really prefer if I just went away. Sometimes, he knows he’s been naughty at school, and is dreading my arrival. But in the back of my mind, I remember Nia and James, and I know that one of these days we will both be happy to see each other at the same time.

Sandy’s lease is up tomorrow. She packed up her apartment and moved in with me and Nate on Wednesday. She drove in to work with me on Thursday and spent the day cleaning the old apartment. We drove home together, and together we went to pick up Nate at school.

And Nate saw us across the crowded room.

And his face lit up, and he ran across the room, and he ran right by me and threw himself into Sandy’s arms, hugging her with all his might.

And I thought, Oh—that’s what I’ve been waiting for.

Welcome home, Sandy.

Behind the clouds, the sun is shining

In the sweltering heat of July, our star magnolia tree has its mind on the future. A tiny little bud appears at the tip of each branch, hidden by the green leaves. As summer draws to a close and fall begins, it drops just a few leaves and unveils the buds, slightly larger now. When the frost comes, the buds grow little fuzzy jackets, to keep them warm through the long, cold winter. Nate and I check on them every night when we get home from school. Fuzzy jackets? Check. Can I pet them? Sure. He gently strokes one with a fingertip, and smiles. He knows what’s coming next.

Winter will be here soon, with the shoveling and the shoveling and the shoveling. But as we always have before, we will wear our fuzzy jackets and keep ourselves warm. And as the last of the snow melts away, the fuzzy jackets begin to unzip, just a little. Nate is right on top of it: “Spring is almost here, the jackets are opening!” Every day, a little more, until finally KABOOM! the tree explodes in a riot of giant pink flowers. The fragrance is intoxicating, and there’s no mistaking it: spring is here again.

It’s such a basic life lesson: change is the only constant. Five little words—”we think you have cancer”—and everything changed for us. When Sarah died, it was March, the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It was strange to see the icicles melting and the world coming back to life all around me, when in my heart, it was winter. I kept my fuzzy jacket zipped up tightly.

I was cold for a long time.

But my magnolia tree is a living reminder: winter doesn’t last forever. As 2007 was winding down, and the weather grew colder, my heart began to thaw out. I met a girl, and I asked her to dinner. I introduced her to Nate. And as we all decorated the Christmas tree together, I realized that we weren’t just celebrating our second Christmas without Sarah. We were celebrating our first Christmas with Sandy.

I’ve always known that I do my best writing when I’m miserable. So if you’ve wondered why I haven’t been posting as often, now you know. It’s not just that we’ve been busy, with the road trips, and the vacations, and the fireworks on the Vineyard. It’s the falling in love. I’m happy. We’re happy. And even though I’ll never stop missing Sarah—even though the leaves are falling off the magnolia tree—there are big, pink flowers in my heart.

Breakfast at the Black Dog Tavern