Friday, December 18, 2009

a melancholy walk

Kismet must be walked, come rain or wind or sleet or snow...all of which we are getting tonight. So before it got too bad, I slung him into the car and we went down to the historical area. The snow surprised me when I walked out of the building. It was the fat white fluffy flakes, the kind that melt. Kizzy looked a little nervous at first, glancing up shocked at the stuff falling out of the sky. By the time we got downtown it had switched to the small, half melted sleety snow. Sticking to the grass and buildings, the first time I've seen Williamsburg sheathed in snow.

Today is my grandmother's ninety-fifth birthday. Her last. All day I've had a feeling, something jerking me from behind, something needing my attention. So when we got out of the car--familiar houses swathed in cold sticky snow--I called home. Aunt Bettie answered and told me the news. Platitudes about no more pain and being in a better place. I agreed. Could you ask my parents to call me when they got home from the hospital. Heaven. Walking without pain. Reunion. When I hung up the phone, I doubled over like I'd been disembowled. Screaming in tears would have wrecked the peaceful night, so I gasped for breath instead like I'd just been pulled out of the bottom of the ocean. My hood turned into a cowl sheltering my face, hiding it from people walking by (do they think I have a stitch in my side?) so that all I could see was marl, snow, and a happy beagle, tail wagging. He looks out at the historical area, nose twitching at the promise of sippets from Chowning's, treats from interpreters, fat, inattentive squirrels...

So we walked. Him, back and forth like always, me straight ahead, mechanical. Feet are two little iceblocks inside totally impractical shoes. Kismet loves the snow. I am getting a hold on myself. What now? What plans? What's next? I shouldn't be here walking Kismet, I should be-- But beagles must be walked. Hail, snow, sleet, death.

We come to Market Square. In the summer, I pretend to be in a militia here. Now it is a field of white, reflecting those snow-pink clouds, making it seem warmer than it is. Turning to go past the Randolph house a sudden snatch of song finds its way into my ear. "...Christ the Saviour is born...Christ the Saviour is born." A choir is singing "Silent Night." They repeat the first verse, faint across the green. Cressets are set up, blazing away, and a crowd is gathered. I don't wait for the path, but plunge across the virgin inch of snow to the courthouse, where a choir is singing from the steps. (imported from England. 1772. my brain reminds me) By the time I reach them, they have moved on to "I Saw Three Ships" and I am calmer. I am reminded that life goes on. My life goes on. I am not disembowled, I am freezing. I move closer to a cresset and feel warmth on my face.

The music follows us down the street. People stop me and fawn over my beagle like they always do. At Chowning's, Kizzy gets two treats to keep him warm. People are friendly. The music is hovering like a warm vapor rising from a cup of cider, keeping people content in the cold. I am very sad. But it is the sadness of acceptance, of laying down a burden too great for any person to bear. I suppose I prayed as I walked, although if I did there weren't any words. I stop to compliment the choir--they are from a Methodist church--and they invite me to service on Christmas Eve.

I wonder if there will ever be another Christmas that isn't tinged with melancholy. Some of the best secular songs have it--that dose of melancholy that evens out the unabated joy. "I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams." "Through the years, we all will be together...if the Fates allow." If I'll ever join another family gathering without making a mental list of who is not with us. It hurts almost as much knowing that my children won't get to meet her, know her like I did. But that's me being selfish again. Maybe this is what growing up is. Now I am the adult, it is my turn to buy the presents and bake cookies. To leave the receiving and frosting to the kids. Now that I am the adult I have to walk the dog, no matter what.

Here's hoping everyone is staying warm.

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant, tender and mild.

Sleep in heavenly peace...sleep in heavenly peace.

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