May Days

On April 27th, I get a call from work. My position has been eliminated. It’s a shock, but not a surprise. The business wasn’t in great shape when I started the job, a few weeks earlier. Like many things, Covid ran down the clock on the business at an accelerated speed.

My first emotion, after the shock, is a weird relief. I don’t have to pretend any more to people I don’t know that well that things will be ok. I don’t have to squabble or fight or cajole to get the bare minimum done. The rising-up, eye-of-the-tiger feeling I had just a few weeks before had gone, and all I had left was another day to get through without despondence.

But I had worked hard to get that job, and worked hard for that short time in it. I mourn the effort. I mourn what could have been. I mourn the me that didn’t get to do the things I thought I could do there. I mourn the chance. I mourn the opportunity. I mourn the business.

But it’s May now. And who can resist May?

On a run, I discover a pool of wood frogs making more wood frogs. It’s not exactly hard; they are very noisy. I thought they were turkeys. When we come upon them, Edward is enchanted. Stacked on top of each other, they stop croaking, and merely look at us, vaguely curious about what we might want, but not curious enough to stop doing what needs to be done. Around them, the vernal pond is festooned with clouds of gooey white spawn. We go and visit it every day, waiting for the tadpoles to explode. I don’t have a job any more. I have nothing better to do.

But then, it snows in May. The spawn turns a frozen grey. The tadpoles are not to be, at least not in that pond.

Every day, new birds show up. They feel hopeful. Away from my computer, I am disconnected from the world. I stop paying such close attention, through Rob still does. He fills me in with things that make my heart stop with dread. And then I go to sleep. I sleep like I haven’t in ages. But the birds? They don’t care. They will come, no matter what.

On Mother’s Day, I buy myself an elevated garden box and plant tomatoes in it.

In the evenings, when it is not frigid, we take the boat out and follow a juvenile bald eagle across and around. We hear a loon crying in the mist. The geese arrive in numbers to invade. Our own personal Luftwaffe, dropping copious amounts of excrement. We chase them off and make a game of it, which turns serious, when one morning, a boat pulls up into front of a pair we’ve scattered, and shoots them directly in front of our house. We are horrified. Edward cries all day. What life is this? What world?

We perambulate and perambulate and perambulate. Out of a groundhog burrow, at the edge of the field, tumble fox kits. One, two, three, four. One of them is bold, and watches us out in the open, until its mother shoos it home. We love them. They are beautiful and wild. At night, we hear the mother scream, an unholy sound in the dark.

We make huge bubbles with a bubble kit, and to William, they are magic. He runs after them as they drift skyward, wobble-bobbling in the air. He turns two. There is no party. There is a cake and a zoom call, and we sing to him. He is golden in the late afternoon light, and cheerful. He lights our hearts but doesn’t eat cake.

I have to figure out what I am going to do with myself. What will my job be now that there is no job? What matters? What matters to me? Because isn’t that all that matters any more? Couldn’t this be a chance? The chance? When else in my life will I have it? Before I’m dead? Because that too is an unfortunate option. So I must embrace my luck and my health, mustn’t I? Do I want to die a Vice President of Marketing? I think, perhaps not. But do I like to earn a good living? I think, perhaps yes.

One of my oldest friends emails me to say he is reading PD James. This is a good idea. I start reading PD James. I take out a mystery I’ve been working on for years. Suddenly I have a direction (but no computer.) I take the leap. I buy myself a computer. Even though I have no job. It’s an investment of a sort, I suppose. For the next ten weeks, I only read PD James. But I also write.

It is warm! It is spring! There are buds! And then blossoms! Although, the hyacinth never really deigns to appear, stymied by the late snow. But the lilac makes up for it. I walk around all day with a pair of clippers, filling all the rooms I can with vases of downy drifts of purple, pink, lavender, and white. I am reckless with it. The moment a branch droops, I cut more and more and more and more. There can’t be too much of it. It is glorious and fragrant and life giving, and so very temporary. I need more.

Now the frogs are out in earnest. Edward and I walk to the swamp on the road. He has a net. I hold a tank. We dip it in the swampy water. Tadpoles swirl around at the bottom. Everywhere he goes, he scoops up frogs. We examine them, and discuss them, and then let them go. There’s one big green frog- maybe it’s a bullfrog- that lets us catch him nearly every day. He lives in a puddle near a storm drain. I can see him sigh when we approach. The kid is back. He puts up the beginning of a struggle.

Things are not normal, not even close. But they have settled. Going for groceries is not the terror it was a few weeks ago. People have got the drill down. I still have no desire to cook; the joy and creativity it takes for me to plan a beautiful meal has sunk into the background. I can only be present lucky moment by lucky moment. Planning has failed. It’s over. At the end of the month, on an unseasonably warm day, Edward finds a baby turtle in the lake. We keep it in a tank for a few days, and feed it tadpoles. It is beautiful and tiny, about the size of a silver dollar, but it rips the heads off tadpoles with a viciousness that is startling to behold. We let it go back to the lake after a few days, near a log. We go and visit the log, though Floatie declines to come and say hello.

The baby fox grow bolder and bolder. We find robins wings and squirrels tails in the grass. In the blueberry field, we stumble on something that we can’t identify at all, but we can smell. They are very clear with us; this is their place. We have the house. They have the woods and the fields.

The numbers are coming down. Does our life still exist? For Memorial Day, we decided to return to the city for a few days. Walking in the front door of our home is a panacea. Our things. Our stuff. Our ideas. The kids go beserk, playing with every toy they own. At seven o’clock, we cheer our hearts out. We could stay here, if we didn’t have to go outside.

What is the city like? Are we ready? It is grim and grey and warm. We see loved ones, but there is nothing on the street but the ghosts. Many more ghosts now. We want to get take out from our favorite places, but they are all closed. Everyone is cagey. Are you alive? Or a zombie? Our friends tell us to go. There is nothing here, not right now.

The time is not right. We are back in the country. We miss our home. We are so lucky. We miss our home. We are so lucky. It is spring.