Nostalgia is the killer of dreams. Fortunately I have dreams that fight back.
When I close my eyes, now that the ruckus has subsided from splitting my life onto two continents, I see my garden. The beautiful trees I called Diva’s, the three curving terraces that gave the garden it’s lyricism, the carefully manicured Leland hedge dubbed the Werwolf of London, a reference to the Warren Zevon tune because like the hairy beast in that song, it’s ‘hair’ was perfectly combed. My mind’s eye is everywhere, checking-in, loving, planning. I miss it.
‘It was running your life, Térè’ I hear Sandy say, and he was right. It was our second move, fourth flight, last signing or what the hell ever as I stood looking at my garden, my raison d’être that had now been sold. I am not having the reaction I thought I would. No tears. No sadness. Something closer to relief. I suppose it was not unlike losing my beloved father. His last years were not kind to him, the effort it took to keep him alive was substantial, and his passing released the family. I loved him, I miss him, but the situation was not sustainable.
As spring approaches I now feel like I have Stockholm syndrome, missing my garden captor, my Borg who assimilated and harnessed me. I was having all the signs that told me my creator-destroyer nature had done all the projects it wanted to do and wasn’t that interested in moving into the role of sustainer. But still. I loved it, I miss it, and the situation was not sustainable.
Then I had a dream. I was moving back to the little house I had with Madison on Sunset Hills in Seattle. I lived there for 12 years through part of the 90’s. I was ecstatic. I walked in and went straight through the kitchen and out the back door into the yard. To my surprise and utter delight, in the years I was gone someone had put in a pool and expanded the simple garden I began years ago. Roses, roses, roses. It was glorious. I could not believe my good fortune. I was going back to a time that felt like home.
I returned inside, up to the attic I had converted into a sleeping nook. It crossed my mind that the mattress I had left behind might still be there because of the railing I built around the staircase, and ewe. I hoped it was gone.
That question was never answered as water began seeping through the rafters to the kitchen below. As I ran down the stairs, the floor started rotting and giving way to the basement. My elation turned to aversion and all I wanted was to Get. Out. Now. Then I woke up.
Nostalgia is defined as ‘a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time,’ and I would add, which conveniently leaves out all the hard stuff. In what surely is a manufacturer’s mistake, I am a creator-destroyer who came with a nostalgia widget installed. It’s wrong. And mean. How am I supposed to navigate these polar opposites that live in my psyche? My dreams. They intercede on my behalf. (See ‘Landing in Lucca, The Day to Day’, for the last dream that came to my aid.)
I’m a huge believer that organization and chaos rule the universe, which goes hand in hand with my creator-destroyer complex. Things happen because they happen according to some mystical algorithm to which we humans are not privy. Random occurs when the grid goes down, which is often. Our actions are factored in to the Great Abacus of the gods, and although occasionally it may look as though we have been smiled upon, it’s actually just luck. However, we get to interpret the events in our lives and on my last day in Edmonds, I got some help from the infinite in the fight against sentimentality when the cosmos showed me to the proverbial door.
It is Saturday morning, the same morning as The Watch episode (‘Landing in Lucca, Landed.’) We had cleared out the Edmonds home the night before and stayed in Seattle for dinner, watching the wind whip through downtown. The new owners were scheduled for a walk through the next day, Sunday, and would take possession on Monday.
Sandy was an hour from leaving for California and I was scheduled to leave in the early evening. Madison had cancelled our afternoon lunch because kids do that and we had settled on a morning video chat. I now had an unexpected free day in front of me when Sandy said:
‘There was a major storm in Edmonds last night. I saw it on Facebook.’
Those trees whipping around in downtown Seattle had not set off my alarm bells. Seriously? When you live under 14 100+ foot tall Douglas firs with a husband who has one foot out the door anytime the trees sway, after you have seen many downed widow-makers branches, which I called widower-makers because it was me who was going to get whacked, you start to take note when anything more than a breeze comes your way.
Although we had signed, although we had vacated the house, and although I had left a ‘Welcome to Your New Home’ package complete with my favorite Cava for the new owners the day before, we still owned the house, the trees, and any damage they did for the next two days.
‘I’ll contact Jack.’
If you are a lucky soul, you will have a neighbor like Jack at some point in your life. He is an adult Eagle Scout: devoted, loyal and true, and he is a top contender for my all time favorite neighbor. He lived just down the street. I texted him and he replied within minutes.
‘Yes, we had gusts up to 60 miles an hour.’
My nightmare storm had come to Edmonds and we had missed it by an hour. We were in our hotel in Seattle, watching the city trees sway while eating dinner.
‘You have branches down but nothing major. Here are some photos.’
Photos always tell the truth, and photos always lie. Ever seen a photo of someone on a dating site and when they show up you think, ‘yes, that’s the person and that was a current photo. But that was definitely a flattering shot’? That’s what I’m taking about and what happens when you smoosh three dimensions into two.
I looked the photos over. They showed the front of the house. A mess to be sure but no trees down and not a single Brutus laying anywhere: In a sign of respect, much like the tradition of naming hurricanes, I gave a name to every major branch that was destined for the top of my head. It was now clear how I needed to spend my afternoon.
The situation looked manageable but not straightforward. We had sold both cars two days before as part of downsizing. All I had for clothing was two pairs of pants, a t-shirt, a coat and dress shoes.
First order of business: Secure working shoes. My friend Erin has two teenage boys and lives in Edmonds. She had just the ticket. An old pair of tennis shoes with a hole in them taped over with electrical tape, a pair of socks, and they could all be thrown away when I finished. ‘Want me to leave them on the front porch?’ Yes please.
Second order of business: Get back up to Edmonds. Easy. That’s what Uber is for and with the money we were saving from having sold the cars, part of the overall plan.
Third order of business: Tell my favorite Eagle Scout I’m coming up. Jack said he’d meet me in a hour.
The Uber driver zigzagged and looked for alternate routes as we approached Edmonds. Fallen trees and branches littered the road. As we hit Olympic View Drive, although wide-eyed, I was still fairly calm. I knew what I was headed for, right? I had seen photos.
When we finally arrived I got out of the car and surveyed the mess. Something began to sink in. Jack had only sent photos of the front. What about the back? At that point a sense of panic began to overtake me and was reflected in the sound of my foot steps and the ‘holy shit’ that started to reverberate in my head. As I rounded the corner into the far end of the garden, nothing prepared me for the calamity in front of me. Those photos that lulled me into accepting a ‘date at the bar’ now reminded me that two dimensions do not translate well into reality, especially when it’s green on green.
The shear volume of debris the fir trees had dumped was staggering. The 20 foot snag that had hung in the trees for years had finally wiggled free. Hundreds of pine cones littered the yard, piles of catkins from the sequoia’s fall ‘cleaning’ lay at its base and 10 feet beyond. Scores of mid-sized branches 5-10 feet long were strewn across the deck, paths, the entire length of the 100 foot lawn, first, second AND third terraces of the garden. And like the cherry on a Shit Storm Sunday sat Brutus 2.0, right on top of the house, wrapped around the chimney, just missing the skylight.
I was awestruck and not in the good kind of way. If you took every storm we had cleaned up over the last five years and put them together, they wouldn’t hold a candle to what lay before me now. It must have been a terrifying night on Olympic View Drive, I narrowly missed it, but it was my job now to clean it up.
This is actually a story about how well things can go. There is no poor me here. The timing couldn’t have been better. I had a one day window and was still in town with unexpected free time. All my gardening supplies and tools were at the house because I had left them for the new owners. What a fine ‘how do you do’ it would have been for them if this happened a day later. They would have arrived to a heartbreaking scene. I had the know-how, time, and friends, more of whom came to my aid once I saw the disaster. We could do this, and we could make it better than I had left it the day before. And we did. Three hours later, after some healthy, pre-nine hour flight exercise, I sat in Cliff’s car, my crack realtor and the gift that keeps giving, on my way back to Seattle.
I may have missed the worst storm on OVD in years but got the message loud and clear. Theresa Elliott, this can and did happen. You worried about a major storm all the time. The only thing missing here is Brutus Galore, an entire tree on the house. You don’t ever have to worry about this happening again.
There’s the door, my nostalgia nemesis. Out you go.
When you strip away my nostalgia, I come face to face with grief over letting go of my garden. Unlike nostalgia, grief is pure. It has no story wrapped around it, it hasn’t been curated over the years. Grief has no agenda and nothing to gain.
Anticipating Harry’s death I thought my world would be rocked off its foundations. Yet it wasn’t. I had no what-if stories with my father. No unspoken love, no hurts to resolve in absentia, all fuel on the fires of regret, the dark side of nostalgia. There was immediate acceptance and the simple sorrow that came.
As I sit in The Mother Ship, the name I have given our new condo in downtown Seattle, I am elated with our new digs. Sandy and our fur buddies are back in my Italian life complete with engaging new friends. Yet every time I see photos of the garden I want to cry; grief has its own timing. I feel like the guy whose wife died in labor, but he got a beautiful baby out of the deal.
This is now, truly, the final entry to the Landing in Lucca series. Thanks for reading the P.S.
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