Before all this, I was a secular humanist. I believed we did our best here on Earth, died, and went back into the soil for new things to grow upon. Science!
Since my husband died, far too many bizarre, unexplainable things have happened for me to feel completely at ease in this belief anymore.
I KNOW. I know humans’ safety has long depended on perceiving patterns. Our brains are wired to try to make sense of unlikely combinations. Maybe our brains are active to a fault: we sometimes recognize patterns where none exist. I can’t reconcile my belief in scientific rigor with things I have seen, things my body knows that my mind hasn’t fully grasped, the synchronicity of certain events. The more I pay attention, the more I see. In human history, some of what used to be seen as magic, or witchcraft, can now be attributed to our deeper understanding of physics. I am willing to admit we don’t yet know everything.
The morning Jeff died was July 17, 2009, the first hot and sunny day after a string of cold and damp. When the funeral home men arrived to take away his cooling body, Jeff’s sister Karen led me out to the garden, murmuring, “We don’t need to see this.”
In the garden, Jeff’s favorite daylily had chosen that moment to burst into blossom. We’d been noting its progress for days – the chartreuse alien pod rising, swelling, revealing yellow lips in their green sheath. This daylily is a Hemerocallis hybrid named ‘Big Bird’. Apropos that my enormously tall, loose-limbed, gangly husband chose that as his favorite flower. This particular plant was a gift I gave Jeff for a wedding anniversary, a house-warming present of sorts. He’d had ‘Big Bird’ growing at our old house, and we had left it behind when we moved. I bought the plant with my employee discount at the first gardening job I ever had – a first tentative step into what is now my new life, the one in which I am no longer married, and I joyfully make my living doing something I’d never imagined when he was here.
So this daylily had begun to bloom on July 17, 2009. Since then it has thrived: grown and spread. Always blooming in July. Usually on July 17. Last year the first blossom opened on July 16. I always make a point of noticing, appreciating it. I bend down to sniff the offered fragrant cup, breathe in the wafting scent of lemon.
July 16: I inhale the lemon scent, note again the clear yellow petals sun-setting into green throat. I admire its structure: the strong green scapes, graceful nodding leaves. The plant grows by the patio I built after he died, where I entertain with ambitious-menu’d cookouts and cocktails, lazy morning coffees, blankets laid down by the fire pit on starlit nights.
July 16: I breathe deep the fragrance of the flower and go about my day. At bedtime, I am restless. My sleep is terrible. When I awake on July 17, there is the smell of lemon in the bedroom. There are no lemons here.
On July 17 I always take the day off. I always want to be with Anna, our grown child, our only. Her father died the summer she was eighteen, midway between high school and college. When he was clearly dying, I mentioned the idea of her taking some time, perhaps deferring college. She replied, “What am I gonna do, sit around here and be sad?” She’s so much like her dad: artistic, practical, dependable, quiet. There’s not a lot of excess verbiage with this young lady. I often hear of her decisions only after she has independently made them, just as her father was wont to do.
Last summer she moved with her beau into his family’s lakefront camp for the season. The anniversary of her father’s death, July 17, would be the first day I’d visit her there, see her new home, jump with her into the lake. I bought our favorite picnic lunch and hit the road.
July 17: Sitting at a traffic light where the road turns north toward the lakes, I muse about this occasion. The lone parent drives to see the grown daughter’s new digs. She lives with the young man who looks at her the same way her father used to look at me. The look is a slightly bemused, faraway smile lifting the corners of his mouth. He appreciates her intelligence, her humor, her goofy brand of beauty; he can’t believe his good fortune to be with her. This look I recognize well.
I am waiting for my light to turn green. I am thinking of her future, our past, the day the daylily bloomed, all tumbling together in my mind. A pickup truck turns left at the light, crosses in front of me. My focus comes away from inward musing, back to the road. I see, in passing, its vanity license plate.
It reads DAYLILY.