Happy Birthday, Sweetheart (3)

Dear Dan,

I was planning to write to you later in the day, but the train went by as I was waking up, and something about train horns in the dark makes me feel lonely. So I’ll write my birthday letter now, while it’s still too dark outside to run.

We’re doing a lot of work around the house. A new water heater, some new furniture, and just a lot of organizing and throwing away of junk. I’ve been putting mounds of old stuff out on the curb, and most of it gets taken by neighbors. The basement is beautiful: I bought about ten plastic storage shelves, and put everything in plastic bins and XXL flexible totes. When it floods now, there won’t be a bunch of wood, cardboard and paper holding onto the humidity. As long as the sump pump keeps working, the annual floods won’t be such a problem.

This is all stuff we would have done together before. Really, mostly you. In the hours it took to put together the new front room furniture, I was thinking how you could have put it all together in the time it took me to eat lunch.

But I’m learning. I found a store on Willy Street you would have loved, called Howe Brothers Plumbing. You go in and tell them your problem, and they tell you how to fix it and sell you the stuff you need to do it. Okay, for me so far this has involved getting in touch with Tony the fix-it guy and letting him do the work. But when I move on to the simpler problems, I’m hoping to go the DIY route. I’m sure they would have had you installing a water heater on your own, but that seemed a bit much for me.

You’d be proud of me, though: I’m taking a series of bike repair classes next month, put on by We Are All Mechanics, a group that teaches women how to fix their bikes. How Madison is that, right? Meeting at–where else?–Revolution Cycles.

You’d be horrified by what I’m doing in the workshop. I’ve been going through your toolbox and getting rid of anything I can’t identify. Hammers, drill, saws, screwdrivers, bike pump–all safe. But we’ll have to do without the metal thing shaped like a hook on a stick with a leveling tube attached, and those little elbows of copper pipe, and the thing shaped like a cross with a point at the end (for slaying vampires, maybe?) I hope the neighbors get good use out of them.

Sam will be moving into your room in a few weeks; I hope you don’t mind. Since you’ve been gone, it’s been kind of a memorial room. Lots of pictures, a couple shelves full of the weird stuff you used to find when you went out metal detecting, collections of everything from old coins to the cards I saved from your memorial service. But it doesn’t make any sense to have Sam in the smallest room in the house when two bigger rooms are empty, so I’m painting this weekend, then re-rearranging furniture. I’m buying him a new bed for his birthday, so that’s when he’ll actually move.

I feel good about it, but a little bad too. I liked going in that room and just looking around: the picture of your parents’ wedding, the rusty metal bear collection, the little plastic Scotty so imbalanced he looks like he’s about to fall on his phaser, the partial set of ancient encyclopedias you rescued from a dumpster, the photo collage of my mom they made after she died. I’d look at the picture of you from when you were about eleven or so, and wonder if you’d had your first drink yet. Probably so; since you grew up in country taverns, I bet they were handing you watered-down beer as soon as you could walk.

No more train horns, now it’s thunder, and still dark. Maybe I’ll stay in and move more furniture around, or maybe I’ll go out and run in the rain. It feels like it’s going to be one of those days when the morning never lightens. If you were here, I’d be in your room with two cups of coffee. We’d each take a sip or two, but the coffee would get cold before we’d have a chance to finish. And it would have been your sixty-first birthday.

I will love you always.

Cathy

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