Years ago I came across a stunning piece of writing by a woman married to a State Trooper in Maine. She looked at death unflinchingly and wrote about it exquisitely and I was jealous and moved which is why I decided to buy her book, Here If You Need Me, when I stumbled upon it at the second hand store, and then chose to bring it along on an unexpected trip to Plum Island, to the house of a friend, who offered her home, while she was away in Maine, without her husband, because he too had been killed in car accident, just over a year ago, when he was in the state that I call home.
Gail & I had been friends since college, long before husbands and children and the New England chapter of our lives, back when she could quit her job at the the last minute and surprise me at the airport and we could take off to Europe with backpacks and no reservations.
She messaged me about her empty house because she knows I need the ocean and new places and maybe because I am a writer–writing about an accident that punctured my life long, long ago.
“God does not spill milk,” Kate Braestrom writes. “God did not bash the truck into your father’s car. No where in scripture does it say, ‘God is a car accident’ or ‘God is death.’ God is justice and kindness, mercy, and always–always–love. So if you want to know where God is in this or in anything, look for love.”
I hated God when I was 14. I never forgave that God. But I found lots of love with a capital L in other places. I found God in the music. In becoming Mother. In loosing my mother. In loving the Earth.
Kate’s words also stirred in me a renewed reverence for the bed I’ve shared with one man for the past 30 years, and something else, unexpected–a deeper sense of the heart and days of those who serve as officers of the law.
Drew’s professional life had an intimate physical aspect. He had to do brave and loving things to and with the bodies of others. Take, for example, those he arrested, particularly those who fought back, the ones he would have to wrestle with, the weight of his body pressing them into the ground, his mouth against an ear, shouting instructions (“Give it up! Give it up!”) as he groped beneath a sweaty belly for hands and weapons… Once he took the tiny hand of an abused four-year old girl who led him out back, behind her house, to show him where her father had chopped her puppy to pieces with an ax. Drew held the shape of that small hand in his palm for weeks. There were the bodies of those, on receiving official police notification of a loved one’s death, collapsed against his Kevlar-stiffened chest and wept…
When I was considering careers, my uncle offered to get me a job at DuPont in the event that I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer, but much to the dismay of my extended family, I chose teaching. Now I think of his second wife, just four years ahead of me at the same university, who has worked for DuPont ever since, most recently leading the global Kevlar team, and I feel pride, even if it didn’t save Kate’s husband from the truck that slammed into his cruiser on a bridge in Maine.
Kate ends her book with an email to her brother, the one who can’t believe that she has decided to become a Chaplain (for the Maine Warden’s Service) after her husband’s death.
I think one reason I like working with crisis and death is that all the complicated and complicating tools of our natal tribe–the intellect, rational analysis, the all-pervasive irony–all these are useless. It doesn’t matter how educated, moneyed, or smart you are: when your child’s footprints end at the river’s edge, when the one you love has gone into the woods with a bleak outlook and a loaded gun, when the Chaplain is walking toward you with bad news in her mouth…
Before departing my friend’s place (the one she recently rented after the sale of their home of 20 years)–still filled with unopened boxes and pictures waiting to be hung–my husband went to the hardware store and picked up some wall hangers and filled in the empty spaces on her walls, while my son filled up the tires of the bicycles on the deck, and I filled a note with all my favorite memories of her and me, and left beside it a pint of maple syrup and raspberry jam from our road.