(I wrote this yesterday.)
This lakehouse is everything to me, and I haven’t been here in eight years.
Grammy died on January 24th, but I’ve known all my life that when she died, we were to all bring her ashes up to the lake house and spread them under a tree we plant just for her. When she died, we were expecting it, but I don’t think any of us thought about the finality of it. That’s it. It’s done.
So we waited a while to spread her ashes. Another delay of the inevitable. But in the last few weeks, Papa was getting restless. “I really think it’s time we go up there and do this”, he said one night, crunching on my mom’s cabbage salad. We all agreed.
I’ve had crippling anxiety for a large portion of my life, and it’s the reason I wasn’t able to come up here. I constantly wished I was able to just go to the lake and be okay, but I wasn’t. I would have had a miserable time.
How awful that I’m only able to come up here after Grammy’s been dead for seven months.
I took the train after lunch from work. I wasn’t nervous at all, partly because I really like riding the train. It’s nice to be able to just relax and not worry about driving. However, a group of about 40 yuppies clogged the train with ascots and boat shoes, devastated they couldn’t all sit together on the way to the racetrack. I gritted my teeth as some slimeball in a checked blazer stood in the middle of the aisle and blocked anyone else from finding a seat. As the train took off down the track, a few of them started Skyping another friend and walking around the train shouting and filming.
So I nearly clocked ‘em.
Grammy would have approved.
The train ride was two hours. More and more people got off, very few people got on. I laid down on the sideways seats and fell asleep for a little bit in between working on my laptop and staring out the window at the dwindling architecture and growing fields of wheat and corn. Mom and her fiancé Tracy picked me up in Harvard, and we hopped the border back up to Wisconsin, to this small town that I’ve known since the womb.
We walked the downtown area for a while. I was thrilled to see that nothing much had changed. A few new stores had popped up and taken over old fronts, but the brick roads and family restaurant remained virginal in their appearance. The afternoon sun hurt my skin as temperatures rose past 90 degrees, so we packed it into Tracy’s GMC and headed to the house.
How perfect. Absolutely nothing had changed in my absence. The rooms smelled the same. The soft well water tasted slightly coppery, and every antique nook and cranny felt like it did growing up. All I wanted to do was lay on the floor and breathe deeply, but I knew I had far more important things to do. I had to catch up before I was ready to let her go.
I bundled up despite the dripping heat so I could go for a hike in the woods. The paths I’d once traveled were now overgrown with brush and thorns. I did my best to make it through the dense, deep forest as what felt like thousands of mosquitoes furiously tried to land on my flesh. I couldn’t get far, but I did make it far enough to find what can only be described as a raccoon graveyard. It was quite beautiful, really.
I went back into the house and took a shower to get all the Off! off while mom and Tracy got dinner ready. Papa made it back from town and we sat and chatted for a while about life and what we’d been up to lately. Mom and Tracy prepared dinner.
“Well, when should we do…this?”
We looked up at Papa.
“Now. Now would be good, I think.”
We unscrewed the box and took a measuring cup and dog food scooper to Grammy’s tree in back. Doug’s tree stood tall beside hers.
“I only have one thing to say.”
We stood silent and waited for Papa to speak.
“The last trip you grandmother and I took was to Egypt. While touring the tombs, I was captivated by the level of intricacy in which the Egyptians prepared to send off their royalty, filling their tombs with gems and things they might need in the afterlife. So, we bury these with you, so the path to the afterlife is that much smoother.”
Papa pulled out a cigarette and a tiny bottle of Skyy vodka. I put a poem I’d written just for her in the cigarette box.
I knelt under the tree as mom and I slowly spread the ashes in the circular trench Tracy had dug. We covered the Marlboro pack and vodka with her, then carefully packed the dirt on top of the trench. She was sealed. She was secure. Nothing flew away or escaped. The ashes gently settled into the dirt, knowing their home well.
I didn’t cry. It didn’t feel complete.
We ate dinner mostly in silence, not out of melancholy, but simply because there was nothing to say.
Exhausted, I lay on the sun room floor and stared at the ceiling. The trees shook outside and rapped against the windows.
“Guys, come outside, come check out the lightning!” mom called to me. Papa and I left the sun room and stood on the back porch. The sun had set, leaving us in pitch black. I walked out to Grammy’s tree and sat beside her.
Grammy loved watching storms at the lake. She’d turn off all the lights and sit with the dogs, gazing out at the neon flashes of white and blue that graced the water and lit up the deep, humid sky. She always called mom or papa when she and I were up during a storm. Sometimes, we’d have ice cream and sit out in the sun room, just talking about school and family and shopping.
I sat next to her, a pile of soft dust, and meditated. I spoke to her, telling her that we would all be okay now, that she would be at the lake forever with the storms, the snow, the sunlight.
And the storm broke.
Lightnight fractured the clouds.
Thunder reverberated through the soil.
Raindrops occasionally landed on the tip of my nose.
I wept. I stared at the sky and watched Grammy dance across the cosmos, light and graceful and athletic, the way we all would remember her.
I dug my hands into her soil and rubbed my palms in her ashes, letting her softly melt into my skin. I smelled my hands; they smelled of sandalwood and pine.
The harder I cried, the faster the wind whipped the tears off my face and into the dirt. The leaves from Grammy’s tree landed on my shoulders and back, hugging me.
Yes. My Grammy was the storm.
I believe this. I have no doubt in my mind that she was the storm surrounding our house, saying goodbye to us in the most physical and conspicuous way she could think of. No subtlety.
I went back to the porch and sat with my family until it began to pour. The water dampened her soil and tucked her in
And as I sit on this crowded train back to Chicago, I don’t feel I’ve left her behind. Simply, I helped reignite her spirit and watched her race the cosmic giants in moments nearly too quick for the human eye.
There is never an end to life, merely a transfer of immeasurable energy.