By Faith Shearin
The last day of my old life, the one in which I knew my own identity, was Halloween 2018. I was out walking our dog, Wookiee, a small, flat-faced shih tzu with an underbite, through the streets of our Massachusetts neighborhood, when I felt the presence of my husband, Tom, though he was away, on a business trip in Colorado. It was evening and I was flanked by children wearing masks, capes, and wings, all of them carrying paper sacks of candy. I paused beneath a maple tree decorated with cloth ghosts, near a lawn littered with fake tombstones, and the dog sniffed the air where my husband’s apparition formed. I saw Tom materialize for a moment and he was young again: slender and dark, his hair a mass of black curls; he was opening the window of his dorm room at Princeton; I felt as if he was trying to show me something; I was aware of a rush of velvet air and the full intensity of his love before he vanished again, into the blowing leaves, and pumpkins, and the sounds of children knocking on doors. I was expecting him to fly home in a few hours and thought perhaps he had fallen asleep on a plane and begun dreaming of me; he sometimes came to me in dreams. But when I checked my phone I found no text; instead, there were a series of phone calls from a number I didn’t recognize, which turned out to be a hospital in Colorado, the last from a chaplain who said: your husband has had a heart attack and is being prepared for emergency surgery. I do not know if Tom was awake or under anesthesia when his ghost found me; I don’t know if he was fully alive or if his spirit was already seeping away. All night his Australian colleagues held vigil in the hospital, sending texts while fashioning boomerangs from coffee stirrers. By the following day, Tom’s sisters and mother and I converged in a waiting room, along with his friend Bob, who had flown home to Virginia from the Denver conference, then back again, when he heard Tom was in surgery.
It was here, in windowless, wintry corridors which seemed to persist at some unbreathable altitude, that I first understood I would be a widow instead of a wife. The doctor said your husband cannot leave the hospital like this and I did not realize at first that this meant he would die; I thought I could save him if I could only push his bed into an elevator and through the lobby, past the receptionists and nurses, into a forest beside a river.
I try, sometimes, to locate the moment when my new, unmoored life began. For instance, maybe my widow life started when I made the phone call to tell our daughter, Mavis, that her father would not survive; I called from a bathroom where I stood in front of a row of sinks, wearing a name tag that read: Hello! My name is Faith. As I spoke, I ripped off the tag, tore it in half, and threw it in the trash. Mavis was in her dorm room, in the early hours of the morning, getting ready for class. I had waited as long as I could, hoping the news might change. I did not call at midnight though it was clear by then that he would not make it. I’d spent the wee hours of the morning with a chaplain, wrapped in a hospital blanket, surrounded by juice boxes, trying to decide when to unplug life support. These were the kinds of decisions I would make as a widow: when but not if the horrible thing would happen. I had called one of Tom’s friends, Dan, who boarded a plane from Minneapolis, and was due to arrive in a few hours, and the chaplain agreed to deliver the message to the doctors that I wanted to wait until Dan had seen Tom. Mostly, I wanted to wait. I thought if we left him alone among the humming machines and dripping IV fluids that he might spontaneously heal himself; if I did not call to tell people he was dying then maybe it would not happen.
In my previous life, as a wife, I had been noted for my clear-eyed gaze, nearly scientific in its desire for clarity; but in my widow life I would believe in magic and ghosts, in omens, and portents, and unseen forces. I became a widow when I told our daughter her father would never wake up again and heard the catch in her voice. Afterward, I called my sister, Dana, to ask if she could fly to my daughter’s college campus so Mavis wouldn’t be alone. I was already a widow at the conference table, with a basket of fruit at the center, where the doctors pressured me to unplug the machines that tethered Tom to this world. There, where Dan and I pulled the flesh from oranges, and left behind hostile piles of seeds, I found myself full of some new anger and exhaustion. Or maybe the beginning of my widow life came later, in the submerged room where Tom’s mother, and sisters, and Dan, and Bob, and I gathered around his bedside while the machines were silenced and his breathing ceased. As we huddled around him—his long eyelashes dark against his cheeks, his black hair neatly trimmed, the seam where his chest had been opened exposed—his phone, which I’d been keeping in my pocket, began to ring, and someone in an administrative office was calling to discuss medical bills. I was a widow when I threw the phone across the room, pleased by its arc in the air, then watched it slide beneath a chair, its screen shattered. My husband loved his phone; it was carefully organized and usually in his hand. But I had never been good with phones and now, I realized, his phone belonged to me. He died, and the glass had broken; I had broken the glass. I was frightened. A nurse brought me the things Tom had carried with him on his last terrestrial day and these might have been artifacts from some lost, glittering city: his backpack and computer, his glasses which he had folded before being etherized; his fear was palpable inside the green storage case with his name printed on one side. I wanted to open the glasses and see what he had seen in his last conscious moments; I wanted to go back and sit beside him, to hold his hand. The hospital returned a notebook in which he had been sketching tiny homes, places where he meant to live on some soft hillside of the future. I was a widow when I stood for a moment in the hospital corridor, looking in at his body for the last time, and I was a widow when I left him behind; I was a widow in the hotel, at dusk, when Dan and Bob and I tried to fashion a message for Tom’s Facebook page; I worried that Mavis had already glimpsed posts written by people who attended the conference with him, had already seen those last photos of him smiling through pain, his face flushed.
I was a widow the next morning, after a sleepless night, when my father advised me to take some cash out of my joint bank account in case the account was frozen after Tom’s death was reported, and Dan helped me pour all the medications Tom was taking the last week of his life down a drain; we threw away the Lexapro, and Metformin, his statin for cholesterol, all the pills swirling together before seeping into the underworld. I was a widow at the airport where the moving walkway may as well have been The River Styx, and my luggage seemed to belong to a stranger and, again, in front of my apartment where my neighbor hunched over the glow of his cigarette, watching me gather fruit baskets and floral arrangements; the first snow of the season had fallen while I was away, and Tom’s Jeep, which I’d parked in the street, had been towed. It would take days, and three phone calls, and hundreds of dollars to bring it back. I felt like a cursed character in a fairy tale; I remembered how Demeter’s grief became winter each time Persephone descended to the land of the dead. I was reminded of the dissociative fugue states I’d read about, the ones in which people wandered out of the lives they had known, often traveling great distances and forgetting their own biography: for example a reporter for the Tacoma News Tribune, Jody Roberts, who disappeared in 1985 and emerged more than a decade later in a trailer in Alaska unable to recognize her own parents, her name changed, the mother of twins. Or a teacher from Oregon, Hannah Upp, who disappeared from her home and was later rescued from New York Harbor: Hannah who was prone to forgetting and remembering herself near bodies of water. Or Agatha Christie, who discovered her husband was having an affair and drove away, abandoning her car, and forgetting her own identity for more than a week: Agatha who checked into a spa under her husband’s lover’s name. I was like the town of Seagull on my childhood island which had been abandoned, then swallowed by sand dunes which eased themselves over the cottages, and schoolhouse, and church, until the whole village was suffocated and nearly forgotten; sometimes, though, when the wind blew from the east, tourists found fragments of what was once a thriving seaside town: a rooftop or door, a silent staircase, the pews of a church haunted by ghost crabs.
I was 49 years old when I lost my way. Without a husband I was no longer a housewife who sometimes wrote books of poetry; I was, strictly speaking, unemployed; I was no longer a mother who drove her daughter to piano lessons or art classes because, just that fall, Mavis had started college. I no longer lived in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia among bears that opened my car door to eat seat cushions or nap in the trunk; that summer, Tom and I had decided to sell the cabin and move back to Massachusetts where our married life had begun twenty-four years before; we had rented an apartment in my college town while we searched for a more permanent cottage on Cape Cod. In my old life I’d had borders, and territories, and agency, but in my new life I was surrounded by a deep impenetrable fog, the sort I had known on coasts and in mountains, the kind that erased details and made it possible to get lost in your own front yard. I thought of blizzards and whiteouts, of midnight, of Gretel abandoned in a towering forest with her pocket full of bread crumbs. I thought of early explorers who were so disoriented they were often wrong about where they had landed: Columbus who returned from Cuba convinced he had visited the coast of China, John Cabot who thought Nova Scotia was Asia. I was lost in the apartment where I lived alone, and in the network of streets where I walked the dog, peering into the luminous windows of my middle-aged neighbors who had mortgages, retirement accounts, tenure. I was lost at the library where my concentration was so terrible I read the same paragraph again and again, unable to extract any real meaning; I was lost at the YMCA where I could not keep track of the pool schedule and found myself swimming laps among toddlers.
All around me the people of the world moved with precision and purpose: the schoolchildren who wore backpacks and waited for school buses knew they were schoolchildren; they called to one another with the wild, high voices of children; at the coffee shop the businessmen knew they were businessmen; they had short haircuts and wing-tipped shoes and touched their cell phones while they waited for coffee; the new mothers knew they were mothers and they pushed their strollers through the park, stopping sometimes to adjust a blanket. I assumed there were still vast dust storms over Mars, and million-pound clouds in the sky, and eight-foot-tall corpse flowers blooming every forty years, but I was shapeless, vague, unknowable.
There was the original loss of Tom, then there were the other losses that followed in quick succession; there seemed to be no landscape where I fit in. I was strange among other widows who were often older than my mother, their lives nearly over, family photos crowding their mantels. My 92-year-old grandmother was the other recent widow in the family but her widowhood was different from mine; she remembered the past, and endured the seasons that remained, but she was not expected to reinvent herself, to start over again in the middle of perimenopause without a proper career or permanent address. Just as my body was erupting in hot flashes, and confused menstrual periods that drenched bed sheets then vanished for months, I added the symptoms of grief: anxiety, insomnia, an inability to eat; I took most of my meals over the sink, in the kitchen, refusing to sit down. I ate cans of tuna or fruit; I ate rice cakes that tasted like despair. Many of my old friendships felt suddenly impossible. At the banquet after Tom’s funeral one friend regarded me with such pity that my face reddened. Another fashioned gifts from photographs of Tom in the last weeks of his life: on an Australian beach, swollen and hot, under a leather hat, looking increasingly like a man about to have a fatal heart attack.
“It’s like looking at photos of someone about to walk off a cliff,” Mavis said as we shoved the terrible, well-intentioned albums and memorial trinkets in an armoire in the living room where we would not have to look. My sister helped me put other things in there as well, things that were too heartbreaking to contemplate: Tom’s black raincoat, his coffee mug, his favorite book of Merwin poems, The Lice, his backpack and hiking boots.
Old friends came to visit in family clusters and I felt my aloneness more acutely; I found I could not use the proper pronouns; I said “we” when I told stories, then blushed and reverted to “I.” These friends stole glances at their watches, sandwiching me between errands. My life had grown slow and small but everyone else was still in a tremendous hurry; I half-remembered that kind of hurry but now felt speed was pointless; I found I was unable to reenter the world of normal, productive adults; I could not seem to take any of it seriously: the deadlines and dinner parties, the dull work of replying to emails and keeping up appearances. Friends called, or texted in the middle of the night, or took me to dinner and wanted to know the gory hospital details; Did he have symptoms? I was sometimes asked. Some wanted me to help them with their own grief. There was a swarm of interest in my situation when it first unfolded as a sensational tabloid tragedy on Facebook, but less interest during the dull, icy months that followed. Plenty of friends did heroic things—traveled great distances, talked to me in the wee hours of the night—but all slights and failures felt heavy those first months. I was in pain when I saw fathers with their tiny daughters on their shoulders, in pain when I saw fathers helping their daughters learn to swim at the pool, in pain when people sent photos of their full, happy families on beach holidays; I was in pain each time I reached into the mailbox and found another itemized bill from the hospital detailing the horrible things that had happened to Tom’s body before he died: the surgeries and pacemaker, the helicopter ride from one surgery to another.
“The hospital shouldn’t be allowed to bill you if you die,” Mavis said when
she saw the envelopes accumulating on our coffee table.
A chasm formed between my widow self and many of the people I’d known during my married life; I was, among other things, a cautionary tale. One friend told me how she and her husband were writing up living wills after hearing my story; I didn’t know how to tell her that my misery could not have been fixed by thoughtful paperwork. After all, there was no way to prevent the pain of grief if you lost someone you loved. I did not know how to tell friends that no amount of planning, or testing, or safety precautions would prevent misfortune, that all the things we’d been told about making good choices were myths; what you needed for a happy, prosperous, long, healthy life was luck.
Exactly one week after Tom died all the fire alarms in my apartment went off though there was no fire. My brother stood on a chair in the middle of the night, pulling out batteries and disconnecting wires. This was the beginning of my life as a full-time widow who delivered death certificates to car dealerships, and Internet providers, and tried to guess the passwords to get into credit card accounts, and phone accounts, and Netflix accounts. Each time I submitted a death certificate I frightened the men who sat in cubicles, behind desks.
“How old was your husband?” the man in the car dealership asked when I returned the car we had not quite finished buying; I watched him run a hand over his own chest when I said 48. Another, in a phone store, dabbed his forehead.
I visited the Smith College Art Museum during my wanderings around town and found myself in front of Mourning Picture by Edwin Romanzo Elmer. Until I read the title I did not know why the young girl in the striped dress stood with a sheep and cat in the foreground while, above her, clouds cracked, and, behind her, a valley beckoned. I did not immediately guess why she had abandoned her doll in a perambulator or why her hat had fallen in the grass. But after reading the title, I could not stop looking at the parents dressed in black in the middle distance: the father’s newspaper folded and unread, the mother’s knitting limp in her lap. Behind them, the windows of their house darkened. I returned a half dozen times during those first weeks to look at the dead daughter standing among animals from the other world, the one beyond language. I was comforted by the valley and by the company of those two-dimensional grieving parents who were too stunned to continue their labors.
We held the funeral in northern Michigan, on the campus of Interlochen: a school for the arts where Tom and I were once high school students and where his family still lived. At 14, Tom and I had met in his father’s algebra class where, in my imagination, we went on solving for x. Moving between dorms buried in snow, and through the low, stone academic buildings, I kept feeling I’d caught a glimpse of him, young again, turning a corner in his long coat, or walking among snow drifts, leaned against the wind, carrying his cello.
Afterward, Mavis and Wookiee and I were delayed in Chicago, in a snowstorm, our flight rerouted to Albany. Wookiee was good-natured but as tired and confused as we were; she refused her kibble and bowed her head each time a stranger reached to touch her ears. By the time we boarded our plane it was past midnight and we were seated beside a businessman who liked Wookiee, and offered to hide her under his suit jacket so she didn’t have to spend the flight hyperventilating in a cage under my seat. After liftoff the flight attendant served the businessman a drink, and she mistook me for his wife, and Mavis became his daughter, and none of us corrected her. Mavis and I didn’t tell this friendly stranger that we had just come from my husband’s funeral; it was a few days after Thanksgiving and we pretended we were returning from an ordinary family holiday. When we reached cruising altitude, and the man pulled a document from his briefcase, Mavis and I slept soundly for the first time in days. From this distance, I can see that we felt like ourselves again: as if we were part of a family of three. Mavis leaned her head against a window, and I put my head on her shoulder, and Wookiee, wrapped safely in the stranger’s jacket, grew heavy in my lap.
It was winter when Mavis and I returned to New England and, after she endured a few weeks of classes, we found ourselves in the full misery of the holiday season. Snow fell heavily, and lights were hung, and the days narrowed. I could not bring myself to tell my new neighbors that my husband was dead; they had met us together briefly, when we first moved in, and did not ask questions. Mavis and I began to wish for the obvious mourning customs of the Victorians—the Widow’s Weeds, grief rings, stopped clocks, and bombazine cloaks—some costume that would convey our condition without words. In the confusion of those first days my sister tried to teach me to say, I have been recently widowed, a phrase I practiced but could not call forth when I needed it. A nurse asked for my marital status when I went to a clinic to get a prescription for blood pressure medicine and I told her I was single; then, I walked out of the waiting room into the cold afternoon, my breath ethereal, without ever seeing a doctor. I was given a form at the veterinarian’s office, where Wookiee was supposed to receive her annual vaccines, and found myself writing down all of Tom’s information in the column labeled spouse, then crossing it all out again and writing the word dead in the margin, the final form an illegible, inky mess. I began to dread forms of all kinds since they focused on everything I was sad, or frightened, or embarrassed about; the forms were created for ordinary people: the sort who knew who they were, and what they did for work, and where they lived, and whether or not they were married. People were supposed to be able to answer questions like these. I felt related to babies, who had recently slipped out of the salty darkness and had not yet learned their own names; I was related to Alice when she fell down the White Rabbit’s hole into a world where she was the wrong size; I was like Winnie-the-Pooh when he got stuck in Rabbit’s door after too much honey and could not go home. When I slept I dreamed that I was looking for home, but each time I returned to the houses where Tom and I once lived together there were new rooms I’d never seen: additional staircases, hundreds of strange, locked doors. I dreamed of my childhood island where hurricanes sometimes filled our streets with water so we traveled by canoe instead of by car, our mailbox filling with fish. I dreamed of walking the beaches after storms, of seeing the places where cottages had fallen into the sea, and finding the wreckage that washed ashore: pill bottles, a pair of wet bedroom slippers in the beach grass; once: a staircase that had lost its cottage so it seemed to lean against the sky.
Mavis and I decided not to buy a tree or gifts. Instead, we brought home a Festivus Pole from a novelty shop: a silver, bare thing from a Seinfeld episode Tom had loved; Festivus was a fictional holiday celebrated by one of the characters on the show, George Costanza, and his family, which involved eating red foods, trading insults, and performing feats of strength. It was, Mavis and I decided, the right holiday for grieving atheists. My father flew in and we watched Northern Exposure on a DVD player, lying on a futon without a frame, until New Year’s Eve had passed and 2019, the first year Tom would not live to see, arrived. I liked watching the opening credits of the show when an awkward, long-legged moose wandered through the abandoned streets of Cicely, Alaska; I liked that I had been young when Northern Exposure was made, that I had not been a mess when I first watched it, and I was comforted by the characters who traded dreams, or spoke to ghosts, or danced on their own graves, or stood under the shifting veil of northern lights, or encountered their unborn children while doing laundry. This was the beginning of my affection for old movies and television, for the feeling of turning out the lights and entering another story, another place, both familiar and distant, in which I was an observer, not a protagonist: alone and unseen in the dark.
Months later I floated in the lazy river of an indoor swimming pool, at the center of a ski lodge in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont; I had entered an arctic landscape just across the border from Montreal and, all around me, families spoke to one another in French. I drifted on an inflatable raft, urged by currents, and, when I lay on my back, I looked into a glass dome ceiling where I watched the snow collect. Though it was April, the snow here was continuous and deep; but inside this glass universe full of echoes, amid the screams of children, I slipped through a false summer: umbrellas, chaise lounges, colorful frozen drinks, beach towels. Just a few years before, Tom and Mavis and I had visited an indoor beach like this and I had drifted among housewives and children while he sat beneath a tiki hut, at a bar. Now I was singular, and unmoored, and I had not spoken French since college so I could not quite decipher the passing conversations. This was one of my first excursions outside the oppressive acres of my apartment’s living room where, each afternoon, I watched the shadow of a branch slip across my wall; the branch reminded me of a thin arm and, when the wind blew, the arm conducted an unseen orchestra. I had been alone for months, watching my daughter’s burgundy fish blow a bubble nest in the corner of his tank, alone watching her hermit crabs change their shells, or climb the driftwood in their aquarium; I was alone watching the dog sigh and settle her head on a pillow. I lived among animals, without language, like the dead girl in the mourning portrait. Sometimes I searched for a bit of cash to buy a drink or a piece of fruit from the market a few blocks away and I was confronted with the contents of my coat pockets: Pepto-Bismol, Lactaid, coins encased in melted chocolate, lip balm, blood pressure medication which I swallowed twice a day, searching for calm. Sometimes I unearthed the crumpled pamphlets of alternative healers I had been gathering around town: acupuncturists, reflexologists and homeopaths who promised to restore my body’s equilibrium. I spent more than one evening naked in front of a full-length mirror, after a shower, trying to see myself. Once, I was yelled at by a woman who said I was parking my
car in her husband’s parking space. This was on the street, where anyone could park anywhere, and I was driving Tom’s car. I did not ask her if there was a better parking space for the car a husband could not drive in the afterlife. It had begun to snow and I blinked into the light of a streetlamp. No matter how I went to sleep with the facts of my new life, I had to remind myself that my husband was dead when I woke up in the morning; I found this so disorienting that I lay there for an hour or more, listening to the downstairs neighbor talk to his daughter on the phone, the smell of his toast rising. I watched a galaxy of dust rotate in a shaft of light. I read about tribes that spoke languages without the past tense; I read about the people of Madagascar who felt the future was behind them whereas the past was before them: visible, known. My apartment had no washer and dryer and I carried sacks of laundry down my fire escape, loading them in my Jeep with squeaky brakes, then watched them agitate and tumble at the laundromat.
When my friend Tucker called to ask if I might like to go on a weekend ski trip I said yes at once, though I had no idea what I would do with the dog, and I had forgotten how to pack. In the end, Mavis came home for the weekend and I dropped a torrent of clothing in a suitcase—long underwear, bathing suit, boots, flannel pajamas—snapped it shut, and took a long drive with Tucker for the first time in thirty years. In college, Tucker and I liked long walks on the hiking trails near our college; we wandered in forests and cemeteries, opened picnic blankets beside streams. We had liked aimless drives, or drives to Princeton, where he visited his girlfriend while I visited Tom. In the past, Tucker had been the driver, and I was his passenger, so we settled in again and time fell away. Tucker had already visited me once after Tom died, summoned by a letter I’d sent to his mother’s house. Now, he drove me out of Northampton, the rain turning to snow as we made our way north. Soon, the snowflakes fattened, and our highway cut through exposed rock, glittering with icicles; wind blew snow across the road where it became ghostly. The snow fell hard, then harder, some cars stopping or spinning slowly into ditches while Tucker and I continued steadily, without incident.
“Swedish tires,” he explained.
Deep in the rippling blizzard he found the parking lot of a brewery and we were blown inside, among wooden tables, to a bar where we breathed the yeasty smell of beer. In my old life, as a wife, I did not drink, but in my new widow life I asked Tucker to bring me a beer and we hunched over a plate of olives and cheese, the sound of a crowd murmuring around us. I liked the numbing effect of the beer, the space between myself and my feelings. Tucker and I talked easily; he seemed unafraid of my death credentials, having acquired a few of his own during our thirty years apart; his older brother, with whom he had been close, had committed suicide after a long depression; his father had recently died of a heart attack. Like me, Tucker knew the cold air of sudden bad news; he had wandered the hallways of a frigid cardiac ward, among the same indifferent, hissing machines.
We left the brewery and continued into the twilight, searching for our Airbnb; it had become hard to tell the difference between the fields and roads; the white trees grew taller. Tucker stopped to clear snow from mailboxes so we could find the address of the cabin where a schoolteacher rented out her basement. By the time we arrived, the entire landscape undulated, and the teacher flung open her door, and her small, stout dog hurried to greet us, making grunting noises like a pig. I was giddy from the ride, thrilled to see that the world could change so dramatically in a few hours. Tucker and I spent that first night in front of a broken woodstove, drinking the sort of cheap red wine that stained our teeth, and telling stories about the years we had been apart; we watched the blizzard deepen outside our window.
The next morning, after dawn, we drove into the sun’s pink light, past houses that seemed to have drowned in snow, the white landscape shifting, rearranging itself, like the sand on my childhood island, and we caught sight of a pair of ermine with sharp, dark heads crossing an open field; we passed collapsing barns, spotted cows, and restaurants winding our way up the mountain of Jay Peak where Tucker found me a couch in the ski lodge; I watched him disappear through a rotating door, and cross a windy parking lot, and, after stopping for a croissant in the lobby, I unpacked my bathing suit and went directly to the pool. The ski lodge improved my mood because, in it, I felt as if I had discovered a portal to my old life. The lodge smelled like my old life: like wind, chlorine, and cologne; it seemed to me as if I might climb a flight of stairs and find it all again: Mavis, age 12 with her hair tied up in a ponytail, knitting a hat, and Tom bent over a book of short stories or poems. I had worn my wedding ring on this trip and, wherever I went, strangers mistook me for a wife.
“Your husband out on the slopes?” a silver-haired man asked when I stepped out of the pool and settled myself in a lounge chair with a magazine.
“Yes,” I said. And suddenly my dead husband wore his warmest blue jacket and stepped onto a lift.
Later, trying to open a door to the exercise room, I was assisted by a man whose wife and children followed behind him, snow falling from their pants.
“Did your husband run off with the key?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, and, for a moment, I was loved, and I had insurance, and a mortgage, and a name, and married friends, and a child who liked physics, and spiders, and Latin, and atoms; I was knowable and particular. I could have filled out any form.
Downstairs, reading, I listened to couples in the lobby disagreeing about checkout time, or negotiating about who should load the car and who should help the kids put on their boots, and I remembered what it was like to push the luggage cart through long corridors and be a family packed up and headed home after a holiday: listening to Harry Potter books, and passing around a bag of cookies, while Tom drove, and Mavis sketched, or held the dog in her lap in the backseat.
That night, Tucker and I shared a salmon and a beer at the bar and we drove back to our cabin and, when we arrived, the stars were so bright we lifted our heads. Our breath was visible as we walked up a hill in the moonlight where he showed me the constellations: Canis Major, Aquila, Lupus, Andromeda.
“Why can we see them so clearly?” I asked.
“Because it’s so cold,” he said.
It would turn out that Tucker and I were more than friends, that he would buy twenty-four acres in the Northeast Kingdom, and a whole life waited for me in this place where winter deepened; I would become someone I did not know yet, someone who walked on snowshoes and watched silent movies, someone with blurry vision who left her reading glasses all over the house, someone who liked Viking Chess and picnics while listening to Beethoven at Tanglewood. Still, on our way home, watching the snow recede as we drove farther south, I noticed how the land revealed itself.
Faith Shearin’s seven books of poetry include: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Telling the Bees, Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Poetry Prize), Darwin’s Daughter, and Lost Language. She has received awards from Yaddo, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Shearin also won the 2021 Global Fiction Prize for two of her YA novels: Lost River, 1918 and Horse Latitudes, which are forthcoming from Leapfrog/Can of Worms Press.