Adagio for String Theory
It is of course snowing again.
The thought that keeps me going is that the spring will be extra green for it. If there is ever a spring.
But that's not what I want to talk about.
No. Instead let me tell you about an amazing person. My second-cousin-and-Godmother.
The family historian. The genealogist. Full of life, full of love for her family and friends. Boundless acceptance of me for who I am. A fellow heathen, even. My Godmother. Elizabeth. Liz.
Because of her, 92 of my mother's relations and their families and friends are sailing off the coast of Miami right now. Almost my entire maternal family.
I still remember how Liz told me about her plans for this family reunion almost five years ago, the night before her son's wedding. She was laughing, putting her arms around me, talking about how the ship was still under construction, how it was going to be the largest passenger vessel in the world, and that even though it wouldn't be ready for another four years and who knows what can happen in that time, she said, her hands on my pregnant belly, we should plan for it now – her travel agent could already start booking us all on a voyage from Miami in '07.
My mom called me earlier today from her room's balcony before her cell phone signal faded.
Here's the ship's emergency number, she said. Your father and I are going to go look for something to eat now. The reunion is underway. I wish you were here.
I do too.
Liz and my mom are the Namesake cousins. Their mothers were sisters, close, and each named their first-born daughter after the other. Even after my grandmother moved from Fairfield, Iowa to Illinois, she sent my mom back, alone on the train, to spend her summers with them.
The last time I was in Fairfield I was with Liz and her younger sister Margaret, and my mom. It was a Bradbury-esque, Dandelion Wine meets Steel Magnolias sort of weekend. Between quilt shops, Liz and I were the only ones brave enough to leave the convertible and explore the Maharishi grounds, M&M watching us and cowering in the car, sure they were about to be kidnapped and brainwashed.
Now what? I asked, laughing and winded from running back to the car.
You guys! my mother rolled her eyes.
To the graveyard! shouted Liz.
Their stones were covered with vines, so we pulled them off. I knew the names but not the stories. Liz told one after the other as we tended the family graves.
Remember them, she told me. This is your family. Bring the boyos here someday. But bring them on the cruise first! There's still time to book.
Maybe they'll have little cousins to play with by then, I said.
It was Liz's turn to roll her eyes. I doubt it, she said. Though I wish they would.
The next summer, in '05, I was in DizneeWhirled with Des Moines Girl on a business (ha!) trip. I was standing on the balcony that time, in the midst of Tropical Storm Elaine, talking to my mom. She told me the latest news about Liz's sudden illness, how her doctor still didn't know what was wrong, and she wouldn't be leaving the hospital anytime soon. I bought my Godmother a Fairy Godmother pin, planned to send it to my mom who was getting ready to visit Liz in Des Moines.
She rallied. We knew she'd make it. It was Liz, after all.
Then one day I was cleaning out the nightstands in anticipation of our new furniture, and I found the only letter my grandmother Elizabeth ever sent me after I was married. I looked at the bluebird on the front of the card. And I knew. Liz wasn't going to make it. And this was my grandmother's way of telling me that she was near, ready to help Liz when the time came. Because she was the Namesake.
I stood in the bedroom, holding that card, crying, wondering how I was supposed to tell my mom. And wondering if the bluebird was my grandmother's, or Liz's, bird.
I didn't tell her. I couldn't. I told O instead.
It wasn't long after. A few days. My mom called in shock, and said it was only a matter of time. The phone rang again. Something called The Dove Foundation came up on caller ID. We didn't answer it. And a minute later, the third call. The news.
Two days later I was in Des Moines. I slipped the Fairy Godmother pin into Liz's coffin. And I promised I'd tend her grave, and remember her stories.
Des Moines Girl picked me up from the hotel the next morning and made life bearable until I flew home the following day. (Thank you, my dear, for helping me across the ice.)
I'll go to bed soon, both crying and smiling, and here is why.
Had we gone on the cruise, the boyos would not have had little cousins to play with. But they will. I just got the news. Liz's daughter is pregnant. Her due date? July 20th. More importantly, the day before Liz's death.
And Des Moines Girl is due around then too. Go congratulate her.
I don't know what it means, all of it. If it's predestination, if it's poetic chance, or if it's those universal dancing partners, chaos and order, falling into each other forever, leaving their fractal footprints for us to decipher.
But it's beautiful, isn't it? Even through tears, it's all beautiful.