In July 1945 the first detonation of a nuclear weapon happened in the New Mexico desert. It happened at a place called the Trinity Site. Until just a few months ago, a large part of the modern world had forgotten, didn’t know, or didn’t really care about that fact.
The movie Oppenheimer has brought the story behind the evolution of the atomic bomb back to the mainstream, making it both hashtag-able and trending.
I have conflicting feelings about that.
You see, that horrible, fantastic, historic moment in New Mexico also sparked something important inside my father. A young man of 14 at the time and living in South Bend, Indiana, after the events of that first test of the atomic bomb, my father was enamored with and fascinated by the science and mechanics of both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.
My dad was born smack dab in the middle of eight children. He and his brother Bob were so-called “Irish Twins,” born eleven months apart and inseparable. My dad, named Tom, was small because he had been sickly as a child, and he was awkward. His brother Bob was big and convivial. They were quite a duo. Both smart and funny and full of life. Abbott and Costello of the Midwest.
Tom was not that good in school, mostly likely due to undiagnosed dyslexia, but he had an aptitude for math. After high school, he got a technical certification from DeVry in Chicago. In 1957 he was recruited as an electronic technician by Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
You’ve probably heard of the infamous laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. If you saw the Oppenheimer movie, you may have learned about it there. Oppenheimer’s work built that research lab and he also served as the Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory from 1943 to 1945.
But there is another National Laboratory in New Mexico, and that lab was also engaged in the research and science behind nuclear weapons. Sandia National Laboratory is a larger lab than Los Alamos and is located in Albuquerque.
In the late 1950s, at Sandia, my dad had found his way to the heart of the work being done in nuclear research during the early days of the Cold War.
It was work he would embrace and love doing for more than forty years.
My dad was a complete nerd. Glasses, pocket protector, pants too short with white socks. All of that, right to the stereotype.
He was also smart, socially awkward, but gregarious enough. People liked ol’ Tom and he liked people.
In the Fall of 1958, while working at Sandia he met a pretty young secretary (back when that was still the job title). She had moved from Oregon to New Mexico at first to help her brother take care of his kids, and later she was also hired on to work for Sandia.
In Albuquerque in the 1950s, Sandia was a really good employer. Still is, actually.
My mother was young, single, and worked at a job that was located on an air force base. What I mean to say is that she was surrounded by young and available men.
My mom dated a bit and she and her roommates had their youthful fun. Then my beautiful mom met my nerdy dad, and so began their story.
After that first nuclear test happened at the Trinity Site, in the years that followed, there were plenty more tests of nuclear weapons. My joke has always been that those years were about, “Hey, let’s blow this up to see what happens,” but all of those tests were nothing to joke about. They really were testing multiple forms of weaponry to better understand the power and capabilities.
Two places where nuclear weapons testing occurred for decades are a group of small islands in the Pacific Ocean and in the desert in a dry lake bed between Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada.
It was in 1958 that my dad found himself out on an island called Bikini Atoll, doing telemetry for several tests of thermonuclear explosions.
After returning home, he then found himself sent out to the Salton Sea, where ballistics tests were being carried out. Family scrapbooks contain really goofy and incredibly embarrassing love letters from my dad to my mom, quick missives sent during the time while they were dating but not yet married. Letters postmarked from the Salton Sea in California.
Once my parents were married and after the birth of my brother, my dad went back to school at the University of New Mexico to complete his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He had been told if he wanted to continue to grow in his career at Sandia, he’d need a full degree. So he worked and went to school. My mom worked and took care of her firstborn.
Later, he got a job opportunity to go to Los Alamos with the hope of improving his career by working on a particle accelerator. He moved his wife and son and began work up the hill and the small but mighty lab. Los Alamos was considered more prestigious.
My mom was also able to get a job at the lab in Los Alamos, and they lived and worked and really enjoyed living there. This was the mid 1960’s and things were hopping. Soon enough, my sister was born.
Then came a job opportunity through a good friend that promised even better career advancement if my dad would move over to the Nevada Test Site, which back then was called the Tonopah Test Range.
While working at the Nevada Test Site, my dad worked in an area of the site called Area 52. You know… just next door to Area 51*?
And it was there in Tonopah that I enter the story. My folks had only really planned for two kids, but oops. I guess I had something to say.
Not long after I was born, the family then moved back to Albuquerque and Sandia National Laboratory, and that is where I was raised. I have only vague memories of Nevada, I was really too young to remember anything.
New Mexico is where I’m from and who I am. Something I remain proud of and always will.
Growing up I loved going through my family’s photo albums. My mom was an avid scrapbooker and so I would spend hours poring over all of the bits of bobs of her history.
My dad also kept plenty of photos. He would get unclassified photos from many of the projects he worked on and keep them as mementos.
I guess back then I never thought it was weird that our family photo albums contained images of mushroom clouds. Not just one or two, a bunch. My dad avidly collected images and details of the site and what was tested.
Black and white photos of various equipment were also to be found in those scrapbooks. And brochures and technical manuals. My dad spent a career fascinated with and dedicated to the development of nuclear weapons and later, nuclear energy.
Growing up during the Cold War in New Mexico was maybe a little different than it was for kids in other states. A lot of our playground chatter was about whether or not the Russians would drop a bomb on New Mexico if the so often threatened nuclear war began.
We’d debate the merits of running toward ground zero or running away from it. Was it better to be immediately vaporized, a shadow on a wall like those horrific photos from Hiroshima? Or better to be alive but deal with radiation sickness? Real fun playground talk like that.
These were the topics of debate on the minds of Cold War kids in the 1980s. I think we’ve collectively forgotten that feeling. That fear. I grew up in a town with a big military base and a National Laboratory. I grew up in a state that in the 1990s often showed up in various ways in the stories told on the X-Files television show.
Both of my parents held security clearances, so it wasn’t unusual to walk home from school and see government men in dark suits (so called “G-men”) who were interviewing our neighbors because one or the other of their security clearances was up for renewal. And we answered the door for the G-men because our neighbors worked at the Lab too.
It’s always been strange to me when people think what my dad did or that time in history was cool. It was never cool to me. My dad was obsessed with this stuff and would torment us kids for hours and hours telling the stories. Over and over. It was exhausting.
He’d talk about being out there on the island, and it was time for a test and he put his hands over his eyes and the light from the explosion was so bright he could see the bones in his hand. I always thought that was probably a bunch of bullshit, but over the years I’ve talked to others who were there and they said the same.
He’d talk about weapons and telemetry and words I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. He’d talk even when I didn’t want to hear. He would tell the stories and go on and on and on.
Then for many years, there was a whole lot of backlash about the development of nuclear weapons. For a long time, I didn’t tell people what my dad did for a living because more than one person had given me a long lecture about why what he did was bad and how I should be ashamed.
I was never ashamed. I was just tired of his obsession and being forced to listen to his stories again and again. Those photos of mushroom clouds and everything that went with the continuing development of Oppenheimer’s deadly toy were forced on me, an unwelcome part of my childhood, and now it seems I can’t escape it even well into my adulthood.
My father was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis in 2002. He was given three to five years to live. It took a while for him to reconcile himself to this diagnosis and with time, we came to understand that the irreparable scarring in his lungs was most likely due to the inhalation of beryllium.
Which is to say, it was a side effect of the work he had done for all of those years.
He had also been exposed to a whole lot of radiation, back when they didn’t always know what all of those bombs and all of that radiation would do.He had absorbed so much that my mom said she counted fingers and toes when each of her kids were born because she just wasn’t sure how we’d turn out.
Given all the radiation, one might think that it would be cancer finding its way to my father. In some ways, the pulmonary fibrosis was worse. The ever-lessening lung function took his oxygen and his ability to tell long-winded stories. It robbed him of his voice. The voice used to torment and bore and prattle on for decades. The disease forced him to go silent in order to breathe.
What a strange and cruel irony.
I remember one hospital stay when we’d thought it was the end of his life, but he rallied. When he was sitting up in bed and recovering, I asked him if he wanted us to file a claim along with a group of people who were seeking compensation for their beryllium exposure from doing the same kind of work he had done.
While the United States government would never admit fault, they would admit that maybe there had not been enough safety measures in place over the years. Beryllium is one of the more nasty elements on the periodic table.
My dad said no, he didn’t want us to file. He was proud of the work he did and he accepted the consequences. He said he was proud to have served his country both in the military and with the National Laboratories.
His illness was a price he was willing to pay.
It’s a little odd and dislocating to see the word Oppenheimer as a trending topic on Twitter. To hear younger people talking excitedly about going to see the movie and learning about the odd little man who created something so immense and awful.
What was so nerdy and goofy and embarrassing about my dad is suddenly… cool? I did not see that one coming.
I recently heard that there is a waiting list of people who want to go tour the Trinity Site when it opens again in October (it’s only open twice a year in April and October).
My dad used to lead tours at the Trinity Site. He could go and tell all of his old stories to groups of people who hadn’t heard them before.
In retirement, he also was a docent for the National Atomic Museum which is now called the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. I always felt a little sorry for those school kids who went to visit the museum on a field trip and got my dad to lead their tour. Oh god, those poor kids had to listen to him drone on. He loved every minute of it.
I’ve had a few people ask me if I am going to go see the Oppenheimer movie and I usually say no with a quick vigor that raises an eyebrow. If I know the person well enough, I’ll explain that it would be like sitting through three hours of all those stories my dad tortured me and my siblings with throughout our childhoods. If I don’t know the person that well, I’ll just demur and say I think the movie is a little too long and I might catch it on streaming.
The truth is, I am not sure that I want to see it. You see, that story doesn’t hold the mythic sway for me that it might hold for others.
I asked my mom, now nearing the age of 89, if she was going to see the movie. She was a lot closer to all of the action than I ever was. She said that she had hoped to see some of the old buildings in Los Alamos in the movie, but once she heard they’d built a set and didn’t film in the actual buildings, she was less interested too.
She told me how she remembered back in the 1940s and hearing about the test at the Trinity Site. Then later how scared she was when the atomic bomb was used in Japan. She would lay awake at night in terror for what it meant for the fate of the world.She said how awful it was that the atomic bomb was used. And how awful World War II had been before the atomic bomb was used. It was all just awful.
Once in the 1980s when I was feeling my teenage oats I asked my mom how she could possibly work at a place that made nuclear weapons. Her reply is something I have remembered for many years. She told me that she didn’t like nuclear weapons either, but other countries had them. Countries that were not friendly to the US. She was able to reconcile it in her mind because, she said, the US needed to be able to defend itself.
I think about what she said quite often. I can both agree and disagree if I think about it long enough.
For months it seems that all I see are either photos of bubblegum pink Margot Robbie or black and white emaciated Cillian Murphy.The amount of money spent on PR for these films must be staggering.
I suppose it has paid off, both broke box office records on their opening weekend and spawned a thousand think pieces. Exploration of the history of both a plastic doll and nuclear war. Both are valid, I think. Both have meaning.
Neither is on my list of movies to see.**
I see promotional photos of the actor Josh Hartnett who plays Ernest O. Lawrence in the film. Lawrence was another important figure in the development of nuclear weapons.
Here’s a fun fact: my grandmother grew up in South Dakota and her brothers were in the same class and friends with Ernest Lawrence. My dad used to ask her a thousand questions about what she remembered about the man she called “Ernie.”
So I guess this story, my American tale of a Nuclear Family, began early, back when the key players were just kids and the Great Depression hadn’t even happened.
My father passed away in 2005 and I think if he had been alive today he would have wanted to see the Oppenheimer movie, but he would have scoffed at all the ways they got the story wrong, I’m sure.
I’m kind of sad that my enormous nerd of a dad didn’t get his moment in the zeitgeist. He didn’t get to see his lifelong obsession at the center of public discourse, if only for a little while.
I’m sure soon enough, as public interest moves along in Internet time, something new will emerge and the recent interest in Oppenheimer and his work will again wane.
I’ve long thought about writing about my dad and his history, I just honestly never thought anyone would care. Right now, for a little moment in time, my strange, awkward, atomic-obsessed dad and all of those mushroom cloud photos in our family archives are actually at the very height of trendy.
And no one is more surprised than me.
*While not quite what this story is about, I did ask my dad more than once about Area 51. I’d asked him what he knew, what he saw. I wanted the inside scoop on the whole alien myth. My dad held a significant security clearance for all of his career and in response to my questions, he pointedly told me that there was nothing he could say.
I’ll never know if he knew anything about Area 51. I suspect not. But then again……
**Though once upon a time I was entirely all about my Barbie Dream House with the working elevator.
This post was originally published on Medium and more of my work can be found over there @karenfayeth.
I was born with a troubling affliction. It’s been difficult to manage my whole life, and is embarrassing to discuss. Today I feel is the time to go public with my ailment.
I am affected by a disorder known colloquially as walnut bladder. Yes, it’s true. I so much as look at a glass of water and I have to pee.
In such times that my walnut bladder-itis impacts the life of my husband, he refers to me as a frog. “You know, you pick up a frog and it piddles in your hand?”
As a child I presented quite a challenge to my folks who liked to take road trips. You see, I had the kind of dad who refused to stop once we were on the road. “Gotta make good time,” he’d say.
The average child has to pee frequently but I was even more prone than normal. It was a problem.
We used to spend summers in a small town in Eastern New Mexico. The drive from our home in Albuquerque took about three hours, plus or minus. Even as an adult, three hours is just too long for me without a pit stop.
This vexed my mother terribly as she had to manage both my bladder and my straight-through-without-stopping father. Once she threatened to use a clothespin to clamp off my leaky plumbing.
Well that got my attention.
From that day forward I planned well ahead for any family road trip. My plan was to cease intake of liquids at least a day in advance of the trip and steadfastly refuse to drink any liquid until we arrived and a toilet was in sight.
In hindsight, not having much liquid while living in the high desert probably wasn’t the best idea, but it worked, thus avoiding any clothespin type of situations.
In my adult life I manage my ailment by working a path between my desk at work and the restroom. At home I get up a minimum of once a night to pee.
There was a recent situation where I again recognized the utter torture of a completely full bladder and no good plan to empty it out.
It was a typical afternoon at work and I was, as usual, drinking lots of good fresh water. Stay hydrated, right? That means ol’ Walnutta has to be actively managed.
Before a work meeting I will use the restroom right before heading into the conference room to help ensure I can get through the hour stretch.
On this day, I was so busy with work and in other meetings that I bumped right up to the top of the hour when my next meeting was due to start. I did an internal gut check and then a clock check and thought, “Yeah, I’m ok.”
Silly, silly me.
At about twenty minutes into the hour and a half long meeting, a job interview with a prospective candidate no less, I had that first twinge of “oh…hmm, I’m going to need to pee here pretty soon.”
As the seconds on the clock ticked by with molasses speed, and the candidate droned on and on and on, things started to get bad.
I began to go through the stages of grief:
First, denial: “Pfft! I’m fine. No big deal. I can make it.”
Then bargaining: “Ok, well, if I can make it just ten more minutes, maybe I can excuse myself and take care of this. Please please bladder don’t let me pee my pants.”
Anger: “Dangblamit why did I drink so much water today! And why is my bladder so tiny? And why can’t I just distract myself and make this feeling go away!?!”
Depression: “Dude, you are such a loser. Look at everyone else at the table, they can hold their liquids. What is wrong with you?”
Acceptance: “It’s going to be ok. I’m going to make it. I’m not going to pee my pants. And if I do, it will be fine, right?”
Over the course of an hour and a half I moved up and down and back and forth through all of those stages while squirming mightily in my chair.
Look, my attention span isn’t that long to begin with, add in a full to bursting bladder and I don’t hear what anybody has to say on any topic.
It was horrible. At one point I thought I might even cry, I had to pee so badly.
And finally! Finally at the hour and forty five minute mark that damn candidate stopped talking and I was free to go use the restroom all the way over on the other side of the building.
Then it becomes that age old question of walking or running in the rain.
Do I walk to the bathroom thus taking longer and upping my odds for peeing my pants?
Or do I run thus jangling my bladder and making it more likely I’ll pee my pants?
I chose the middle road: a sort of tight-legged shuffle which worked and I made it safely to the bathroom stall.
Once in the safe zone my whole world looked a little brighter. A little happier. A little more at peace.
I know everyone has gone through the ballad of the full bladder at one point or another. When you have a walnut bladder it happens a little more often than I’d like.
For any reader who might have questions about my affliction: it’s been this way since I was a kid, I have discussed it with more than one doctor, and it just happens to be a feature (not a bug) of the big Karen machine.
“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., from the book A Man Without a Country
Last night I ran across these bon mots from the author Kurt Vonnegut. This is not the first time I’ve seen the quote, it’s fairly well known, but for some reason this quote had a little more resonance than usual.
Miles of text have been written by people like me about their feelings on this quote and on Vonnegut himself. To be fully candid, I am not a devotee of Vonnegut only because I haven’t actually read any of his books.
I know, I know. Who didn’t get Slaughterhouse Five in High School? Me along with all my fellow students in the Albuquerque Public Schools. Saaaaalute.
My beloved is a fan of Vonnegut’s work, and has read most or all of his published writing. Let’s be honest, he had a better public education than I did. But let’s set that aside for now.
Vonnegut seems to be quite quotable. I mean who can ignore this brilliance of words like this:
I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
Can’t argue with that. But back to the quote at the top, about taking the effort to notice those moments where the prevailing winds are happy.
That sentiment is a little bit different from prevalent mindset to be found online and in the media. There is a real drive to getting mad about just about anything and staying mad about it. About taking the maximum offense as often as possible. About grinding out misery. I guess perpetuating the agony keeps the eyeballs coming back, and eyeballs = ad revenue.
I really do get it.
But I just can’t thrive with that anymore. In the real world, not online, beautiful things happen every day. Happy moments exist and it’s not only good to notice them, it may be a matter of survival.
For example: There is a quirky scrub jay that inhabits my yard. I put out a bowl of peanuts and the bird picks through them like the pickiest toddler in the history of food, tossing aside the items that don’t meet exacting standards. It’s a funny moment of joy when I scold an unscoldable bird to “just take that one and stop being so picky!” The scrub jay never listens.
There’s the unscoldable rascal!
Today at work I did a nice thing for a coworker that really wasn’t that difficult, was right in my wheelhouse for the work I’ve spent a career doing, and helped my coworker out of a jam. They were so surprised and delighted I felt like I’d performed magic.
This morning I woke up next to the most wonderful man in the world. Tonight, I get to come home from work and hug him again.
See? If all of that is not nice, then I don’t know what is.
Feels good just to notice. Makes me want to keep noticing. Makes me want to pause a little when my own outrage seems to take the lead in my response to anything I read or hear or see.
Maybe I’m running too hard, reading too fast, reacting too soon.
Maybe I need to fart around a little more.
Maybe I can just remember it’s never as bad as it seems. Nor is it as good as it can be. But everything is always just a little bit better than I give it credit for. Leaning more toward the side of doing okay rather than not.
On Friday morning I had what could best be referred to as one of them déjà vu kinda deals. Wikipedia says that’s “the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before.” Close enough, let’s go with it.
I ended the stressful workweek with a fairly intense morning meeting. It was a good meeting, but it was intense. When it was done, mentally beat up and a little worse for the wear, I left the building to walk to my car to move on to the next part of the workday.
Whether the heat, the quality of light, the alignment of clouds in the sky, a smell, or something entirely more woo-woo, as I walked to my car I had this overwhelming desire to lay down on the warm concrete sidewalk, just like I used to do when I was a kid. Follow with me here.
Growing up, I loved to go swimming at a public pool that was less than a mile from the house. Very walkable across a lovely green park and over to the pool. Once there I took to the water like it was my second home. Splashing around, spinning into summersaults, trying to see how long I could stay under, doing handstands, all of it. I’d stay in there for hours then when it was time to take a break, I’d breach the surface like a sea lion and flop onto the sun warmed concrete. Teeth chattering, I’d lay with my body straight out with arms tucked underneath.
The hot concrete warmed up my skin while the New Mexico sun baked the other side of me toasty brown.
There was a certain smell, the hot wet concrete and chlorine mixing with the cut grass smell from the park just over the fence. So much better, even, than laying in a pile of towels fresh out of the dryer, and that is pretty damn good.
This past Friday, I didn’t just think about this memory, I actively wanted to live it again by laying down and hugging the concrete. I had to use the grown-up voice inside of me to say, “don’t you do it or so help me…”
That feeling didn’t go away for a long while, long past when I’d climbed into my car and drove off, landing back at the office and back at work. The feeling still resonated with me and throughout the day, I had such a yearning, an overwhelming need to feel that feeling again.
Later, after work, over a glass of something lovely and chilled and delicious, I pondered why exactly I had such a strong memory and overwhelming desire to lay on warm pavement.
Was it nostalgia for the simple summers of childhood? Easy days not spent inside negotiating with recalcitrant suppliers. Days where could idle by the pool.
Was it the sense of warming comfort I’d get from hugging the concrete? A deep satisfying down to the bones warmth, like a comforting hug from the sun.
Was it simply a synaptic misfire in an already overwrought brain? Do I smell toast? Hell, I really don’t know.
Even as I write this a few days later, I can still feel that yearning somewhere inside. I don’t really need to do anything to remedy this, like go seek out a swimming pool and hot concrete. I just know that this out of nowhere memory stays really strong with me. A feeling of having lived through it and a desire to feel that again.
To compensate, I spent much of the past weekend out on the back deck soaking up a little California summer sun, but not so much that my fair skin burned. I sat out there watching the world go by and pondered my own life enough that I’m now tired of thinking about it.
I do still wonder, though, where the hell that memory came from. And why.
Then again, maybe thinking about it too much takes away the magic off the memory. A good reminder to myself to just, you know, let it be.
And oldie but a goodie from my Flickr archives, the swimming pool at Filoli Gardens
It is a full moon Spring night and I am on the back patio of a home I know so well. Not my home, but the home where I live sometimes in my dreams. A storehouse for that part of me that exists back in my homestate while I live a bit farther out West.
The decision to leave New Mexico was made a long time ago, and with time I can see many of the reasons were wrong and many were also quite right. That audit can only occur looking backwards.
Tonight, time pauses because I am back home. I am where I belong with people who care about me. I am in a place so familiar I don’t even have to think hard about it, I just need to be.
It’s not always so easy just being me. It has been a bit of struggle lately. A tug of war inside my mind, but tonight is a welcome cease fire. I get to let my guard down a little, a lot, quite a bit.
“I was drunk…the day my mom…got out of prison,” we sing in full, robust, well-fed, and drunk voices. “And I went..to pick her up…in the rain.” We’re all in time but off key, which makes the sound that much more perfect. Our voices blending into a harmonic patchwork quilt.
This is a celebration of birthdays for four people. One of the four is me, and the other three are people who matter a whole lot to me. We eat, tell stories, drink a little more and remember the past. The past and the present merge until it is just us and now and then. Tomorrow is something to think about later. It will come back, but we don’t think about that now. The Wayback Machine is running at full capacity.
More dried bark and wood chips go into the firepit, making flames leap up. We keep the unseasonably cold desert wind at bay with flame and firewater.
An iPhone, an Apple music account, and a Bluetooth speaker keep the old songs rolling. Current technology pushes the old, old songs back to our ears. Patsy Cline, Jim Horton, George Strait, Foster and Lloyd, the Mavericks, Johnny Rodriguez. That’s only an appetizer plate of the ten course musical meal we serve. The music is like seeing old friends, and we sing. And we drink. And we dance.
I’m dancing around the brickwork patio with my best friend’s husband and I find myself looking down. I’ve known him for thirty years, so there are few secrets left between us. I say “It’s been so long since I danced, I have to look at my feet to make sure I still remember how.”
“Karen, you don’t have to look at your feet, it’s like riding a bike.”
I raise my head and look him in the eye. He’s right, of course.
“Besides you always were light on your feet.” I smile. It’s an awful nice compliment.
As the final notes of “Heard it in a Love Song” wrap up, he spins me around. In the centrifugal force I feel just like I did back when we danced to the same songs at Corbett Center or at Cowboys bar. We laugh a little, and then we hug. It’s good and right and fun. We’re both a little older, but it feels just like the good old days, dancing together and singing along with the music while we do.
I find my seat, my drink, the next song on the playlist. We all go “yeah! This one!” or “Haven’t heard this song in so long!” or “What else do you have on the playlist?”
It’s easy. The simpatico of friends who are family. We have a new friend in our midst, and she sings the songs as loud as any of us. She’s instantly our family, folded in like she was always here.
“We have to howl at the moon,” she says and we all howl like a mangy half-drunk (full drunk?) wolfpack. She makes each of us howl in turn, giving constructive critique, the director of our backyard opera. When we all meet her exacting criteria, we’re asked to howl together once more, and we do. And it feels good.
The songs keep rolling and the stories told a thousand times before seem fresh again. We laugh and laugh. Everything is funny. No mean words or contentious topics are exchanged. No need for that. We are in our groove, where we know who we are and what we are and we have nowhere to be other than right here with each other. We’ve laid our burdens down by the fire. They will be there for us in the morning.
I look up at the full moon between the branches of a mulberry tree. I look over at my best friend and her husband dancing together, looking like they did so long ago. Back when they first met and love was new and we knew then like we know now that they were simply meant to be.
It’s good. It’s right. It’s a balm on my wounds, mostly self-inflicted, invisible but quite real.
A moment where time has stopped. We’re together. We’re happy. And we dance.