on loss and ghosts that linger

I had completely forgotten how much firewood one needs when it is one’s only source of (external) heat. And suddenly I’m carried back to childhood “contests” of who-can-collect-the-most-firewood. Never fun. Always important in a way that I, selfish being, never understood or perhaps refused to appreciate. So many sticks are needed. So many logs. Just to keep a small cabin warm through even a relatively mild autumn night.

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I packed the car with everything I needed (and many things I likely didn’t) for the cottage. I tried to start it. Nothing. I was able to flag someone down who helped me jump the battery. I drove it for twenty minutes to give it a good charge, then ended my trip at Canadian Tire. I tried to restart it. Nothing.

 

$20 for a battery test to learn that the battery is deader than dead (I didn’t dispute the metaphysics, taking the point to be emphatic). New battery: $129.99 + $79.99 for installation + $20.00 to dispose of the old battery. I asked if I could watch the installation process, to learn how to do it for myself. For liability reasons, no. I tried to watch from the window. I was invited to come through.

Dead battery caused something in the car’s brain to be wiped clean. Odometer and speedometer ceased functioning. “They should come back on as you drive,” said the mechanic. (They didn’t). It also meant that the stereo’s anti-theft device kicked in, requiring a code to be entered in order to use the radio. For a solo road trip without a cell phone, the loss of radio was a blow. But then I remembered that my dad had written the code somewhere unlabeled in the car’s manual, for exactly this reason. I flipped it open, and, sure enough, there, tucked in the last pages, was a non-descript post-it note containing a scribble (where something had been written and then crossed out), and then four digits: 3-0-5-2. A calm hand of support, a reassuring smile, on a post-it note at the back of the owner’s manual. These kinds of living archives are sometimes all that remains of my father. And they aren’t enough – they aren’t nearly enough – but they are so, so much.

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I type this in a cottage heated by a wood fire where I am staying in the futile hope that my cats, who ran away now almost 6 weeks ago, will return – will smell the fire, or hear my voice and my (hopefully idiosyncratic) disturbances, and come home. Because home isn’t home without them, and because I want them to be part of whatever new home I build.

I have been thinking a lot about the Stoics, lately. (They who professed and prescribed a stiff upper-lip in the face of personal losses, but who, tellingly, softened their positions when faced with the circumstances to receive their own advice.) Is that how one should live? Defiant of the blows of circumstance? How can I live fully, feelingly, without losing myself in the loss of those things that matter most?

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