|Sunday snow in the backyard|
This week I attended a memorial service for Mike, the younger brother of my best friend in high school. He fought a battle with cancer he could not win.
When I was thirteen, I was friends with his sister, and their life on the other side of town seemed a lot more like a family should be. I lived in a tiny duplex apartment with a divorced, frequently worn-out working mom; all the wounds of our family's detonation were freshly bandaged but still sore. They lived in a house just a short block from the cemetery and easy walking distance to our junior high school. While they were also a family who had divorced and remarried, they seemed to have all the representative parts-- mom, dad, house, yard, dog-- that constituted "normal" in those days, and to me their house seemed like a reprieve from all the not-normal that my own life contained, with its hand-me-down clothing from older cousins and a diet that often relied heavily on 10lb bags of potatoes.
While my friendship was with his sister, Mike was the tag-along little brother to our new-to-teenhood adventures. He was Norwegian blonde with ruddy cheeks and a bit of the devil in his blues eyes. His sister and I would walk through the cemetery after dusk, to have a private, quiet place to talk about the seriousness of our thoughts about boys, our mothers, our plans for life. Mike would follow, lurking behind headstones, leaping out to to scare the living bejabbers out of us, running away laughing. We would make rice krispie bars in the kitchen after school; Mike would be in and out, snitching marshmallows out of the bag, later making off with large slabs of the finished product. We would go ice skating down at the park, and Mike would be there, making many expert, speeding loops around the ice to my wobbly beginner one, coming to a dramatic hockey stop again and again, spraying ice chips everywhere.
Now that I'm past middle-age, the friendship with his sister is no longer, over years ago because of hurts we couldn't work through. While I'd been in touch with Mike now and then over the past decade, it was mostly to share that he too, was estranged from her. She did not attend the memorial service for her brother. That "normal" that I had seen and so coveted when I was a kid was just an angle, a trick of light in the form of ice skates and rice krispy bars. They had their struggles too, as all families do. The details aren't my story to tell. But it took the perspective of the fully adult me to realize it, and to deeply feel the gratitude I have for the family that gave me those memories, despite whatever troubles were housed within their walls.
Today is Sunday, and it is snowing. It is an enchanting snow, but it is February. I am no longer as capable of enchantment as I was in, say, December. But I live in Iowa, and complaining about the weather is futile. This is what February in Iowa looks like. The fifty-three-year-old me is also not capable of enchantment with "normal" as I was at thirteen, and indeed I wonder why I even wanted it, now. But that is the way of growing older. This is what 53 looks like. What remains are the gestures of half-grown children from long ago. Mike still skates smoothly away under a street lamp in the park, snow falling from dark skies on his impossibly beautiful blonde lashes. He smiles, and pants out bursts of frosty breath.