I found this photo (shot by my sister-in-law’s talented father, Gary) last night. September 18, 2010 – my 39th birthday, four years ago. Walter’s birthday is September 30th – today – so we were celebrating both. Grey and his band had turned our backyard into a tiny 80s progrock concert hall. It took something that awesome to bring that day to an end like this. But when I look at this photo I just see everything I was holding back.
At the beginning of this concert, Walter and I weren’t speaking to each other. Aslan was seven months old; Elspeth, three. I looked okay, but inside – physically and emotionally – I was a mess. And what Walter witnessed our midwives do the day Aslan was born – let’s just say some people should never, ever play with scissors (or anything that’s alive or otherwise important, for that matter) – had freaked him out. He had PTSD, no question. He wouldn’t start opening up to me again for two more months, when I finally cornered him and asked, “You’re grossed out … aren’t you?” He didn’t answer. At least I had an answer, then. Or the start of one.
It’s not like we weren’t trying to fix things. Couple’s therapy, all kinds of physical therapy for me, then repair surgery. Two years after this photo was taken, we were finally, finally starting to find our way back into the sun – I remember a precious flirty smile at breakfast with the kids at Natalia’s in Camas (me realizing, “Damn this guy is hot … and awesome with these kids … and he’s still here. After all this, he’s still here.”), a sunny late-summer day at Mt. Hood (me realizing, “I don’t even remember how to have fun anymore”), my birthday at Tad’s Chicken and Dumplings. The romance was coming back. Still, I was holding back.
And then, his birthday – his last birthday. I messed up. I could give all sorts of valid, good reasons – busy with the kids, my not-yet-fully-returned health, my return to work, our growing photography business – we were like ships passing in the night. But in the end, I talked about how much I loved him, but on his birthdays (and too many other times) I didn’t show him, and he finally told me how much that hurt.
Less than two months later he was dead.
About nine months after he died, I finally learned what I had been missing.
I was let go from my job on a Friday. My artist neighbor gave me the most amazing pep talk about making it as a photographer that Saturday. And on Sunday, church met at the Heberlings, where the elders had just installed, of all things, a zipline. Something inside me knew I was supposed to ride that thing. And for the first time in my life, as my kids watched (so I HAD to make it look good), I experienced firsthand that I can take what I feel in my heart (abject terror), and let Jesus forcefully turn it around for good (total exuberance). I did it to look good for the kids. Inside me, it did so much more.
At first, I thought the point of that zipline was to teach me how to let go and fly as a photographer. Now, I think it was also to teach me how to love: Feelings follow actions. I’d heard it, but I’d never learned how to do it. I can be a good gift-buyer. I can be a good party host, a good … lots of (much more important) things. Feelings follow actions. Jesus can do a lot with actions. But excuses? Not much good follows excuses.
I love you Walter. Happy birthday, my sexy postal pirate angel.