I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with my need to clean our attic. It’s been such a mess for years. Running nearly the length of our house, it’s a big space. Every holiday, boxes have been brought down, emptied, and decorations put up around the house. The boxes would then be returned a few weeks later and just left on the floor. In particular during the years that Don was sick, we just didn’t have the emotional space to be able to have any order to the mess that was the attic. It became almost a metaphor for how chaotic life felt.
I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks cleaning the attic. Well, the word “cleaning” is up for interpretation. Organizing is a better word. When I have spoken of my project, some friends have encouraged me to really clean it out. Be ruthless. Get rid of things I don’t need.
But here’s the thing. At this point, I need all of it. I can’t seem to get rid of anything. My life with Don, our kids’ lives, our family – everything is stored in the attic. I’ve bought 30 storage bins (yes, you read that correctly), and have begun to organize boxes and boxes of life. Don’s college essays. Comic books and baseball cards. Our love letters from after college. I’ve come across Don’s scripts from when he was trying to get a job here in California. Letters to agents. Family photos. Our kids’ childhood memories. I even found a box full of what Don called his guilty pleasure, his “mid-life porn” – several years of back issues of “Coastal Living” magazine.
My need for order, for control – in the attic and in life – is palpable. I can feel it as I write out labels for storage bins. I need to know – physically and emotionally – where things are. Labeling is important. Maybe in a year, or two, or five, I’ll be able to go back through these bins and get rid of some things – things that right now feel vital and relevant, necessary to hold on to.
Two weeks ago I found a journal that I recognized immediately. I opened it and on the first page saw my name, Kate Walther. It was the little notebook that Don and I used when we were planning our wedding in 1983, in Alexandria, Virginia. In it were quotes from caterers. The names of florists. A checklist of what to do 3 months out, 1 month out, 2 weeks out. Questions to ask our pastor; thoughts as we wrote our vows. As I turned the pages, I came to a list of photographers. The first name was “Bermingham Studios, Alexandria”. I froze. And then I laughed out loud. Scarlett’s father, Philip Bermingham, was the first photographer I called when we were looking for someone to shoot our wedding. We didn’t use him (he was waaaaaay outside our price range), and we ended up with most likely the worst wedding photos ever (you DO get what you pay for). But what a crazy coincidence. What a small world. Don was all about relationships, and he would have loved this connection. This quirky way our universes could have crossed before either Andrew or Scarlett were even born.
I’ve only dreamed of Don three times in these past 15 months. The first time he was on a ladder outside an open window at our house. The ladder started to tip and I reached my hand through the window and steadied it. (Again, a psychologist would have a field day with that one). The second dream was at our beach house and was so fleeting I barely remember it. I’ve sometimes gone to bed at night and prayed that I would dream about him. That I could just see him.
The third dream was two weeks ago. Don and I were in our attic. I was showing him my cleaning project, and we were talking about our kids. I could touch him, feel him. He was healthy and he was happy. It was so real, and the dream seemed to go on for a long time. But at the same time, I was conscious of the fact that he wasn’t alive. Somehow I knew that was reality. After awhile, he told me that he had to go. It was time. I asked him if we could just walk downstairs first. He looked at me and said, “I don’t walk. I glide.”
I woke up laughing. I had such an intense sense of his well-being. I wondered if his comment was because he didn’t need to walk anymore, or if it was his way of giving me a glimpse of the ease of where he is now. That he is indeed gliding. That he is with his God. Probably both. I woke up happy to have seen and felt and experienced him.
And perhaps the dream taking place in the attic – might be his hint that I really don’t have control over any of this. I can let it go. Control really is just an illusion.
But he can still make me laugh. For that gift, I will always be grateful.
And Happy Birthday Donald.