Tuesday, June 7, 2011


June 7, 2011       

Dear Andrea,

         The evening sun is making intricate  rectangle cut patterns on the living room wall.  Sadie is laying under the desk, her back across my feet.  Stella sits on the foyer bench, her chin resting on the window sill.  She watches the chestnut backed chickadee mother and father fly in and out of the white steeple birdhouse on the other side of the window.  I can see them from where I sit as they come and go.  My house looks like a crime investigation scene—yellow caution tape cordoning off the walkway and the front door inside and out.  Even so I have sneaked a peak or two at the three babies.  I didn’t really see the babies themselves.  I just saw three beaks wide open waiting for food to be dropped in. 
Damn it.  Every time I click over to Facebook there ‘s your ghost again wanting me to “friend you.” Then the memories begin crowding their way on stage like a bunch of giddy 3rd graders at a Christmas Pageant.  I try to tell them,  “Wait”.  Reassure them they will each get their time in the spotlight with all the audience they need.  I promise to be attentive.  And to bring Kleenex.  Keep my sniffling to minimum.  To not disturb those around me.
I try to focus again on the chickadees.  I Google “chestnut backed chickadee” and find out they use mostly fur to line their nest.  They eat bugs and seed from trees.  I am tempted to log into Nest Watch and report their location, but I feel like an informer if I do.  The bird family needs its privacy. 
It is June and time for graduations.  Your senior year of high school I took you to Western Washington University in Bellingham.  To the University of Washington campus.  To Central Washington University.  The Evergreen College in Olympia.  I wanted you to have the dorm room, girlfriend, college life I never had a chance at.  You showed no interest in applying anywhere.  Now I think--I should have filled the applications out for you.  But then, it was important for me to let you find your own way.  To follow whatever dream you had, rather than dreams I had for you. 
You wanted to live at sea.  To captain a ship.
I settled into wanting you to live a productive life and to be happy.
You did live at sea, on many seas, on oceans.  Stern wheeled up and down the Mississippi River, the Columbia.  Stood at the helm of a ship as it made its way through the Suez Canal.  Stood watch for pirates off the coast of Africa.  I am certain you would have captained a ship if you had lived longer.  If you had not spent the last four years of your life fighting a disease nobody fully understands, and therefore, most doctors would not acknowledge .
My daughter the  lusty pirate queen that loved to cradle babies in her arms .  You loved the  Pirates of the Caribbean pirates, but not real pirates and what they did.  It was the romanticized notion you fell in love with, we all fall in love with. 
  I remember when you started selling tours for the Victoria Clipper.  I’d come up to Seattle to meet you after work.  There you would be, jumping from the dock onto the ship and back onto the dock again grinning so hard I thought the corners of your lips would meet in the back of your head.  Then, working your way up from cocktail waitress on the American Queen out of New Orleans, to ship’s photographer on that same riverboat.  After that, you got a job at Lindblad cleaning cabins on small cruise ships that made their way up and down Alaska’s Inside Passage in summer, around the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.  Your calls from Glacier Bay talking excitedly about breaching whales and calving icebergs.  Desert hikes on the Baja Peninsula, how I’d love La Paz and that I’d have to stay at Los Arcos but be sure to rent a cabana then walk along the promenade and get a fish taco from a street vendor and ice cream to “die for” at a little place halfway out of town.  Then the job with Military Sealift Command.  At every port, Dubai, Shanghai, Chania, Catonia, the Seychelle Islands –and ports with names I have forgotten--you called me from the docks as soon as you could leave the ship.  “Mom, you’d love it here.” 
If I tune out every noise around me, close my eyes, plant both feet on the floor, let my arms drop and hold very still , sometimes I can hear you telling me that now. 
You thought you disappointed me not going to college. 
You did not disappoint me.   How could you--following your dream?
I am proud of everything you did. 
On Friday I will be sitting in a metal folding chair.  Watching Steve and his daughter graduate from Evergreen.   Seeing a shadow of you and I as we walked across red square , me encouraging you to do your learning in a classroom.  You knowing there was a whole world you wanted to learn.  You did not want a cap and gown.  I had to honor that.
It is dark now.  Except for the lamp on my desk and the screen of the computer.  Sadie has gone to bed upstairs.  Stella is curled up on the blanket at my feet purring.  I hope the chickadee mom and dad are asleep in the nest with their babies.
I am proud of who you were Andrea. 
I am proud of who you were. 
I wish I would have told you that more.
On Friday, as I watch Steve and Steffie cross the stage and accept their respective degrees, I will not be able to hold back the tears.  They will think they are tears of joy for them.  In part they will be.  Tears for Steve’s loss of his wife, Steffie’s loss of her mother who would have loved to see her daughter graduate from college. 
Mostly though, my tears will be for me.