This is what I see when I look out of my livingroom window in the morning. It's the park across the street from our house. Kids and squirrels and dogs and racoons run around and chase each-other here. Adults sometimes throw a ball, run on the path, but generally walk properly and sit on benches, chat and watch their kids.
We watch the goings on out of our window like cheap t.v. We especially get a kick out of seeing the racoons, back from a night out on the town, bum and tail and hind legs in the air, slowly squeezing themselves down through a grate in the ground until they finally free-fall down into coon town. The squirrels chase eachother up and down trees, sometimes spiralling round and round the great oaks until they reach the top and perch at the end of a thin branch, leaping with all their might to the next tree. And all this just to out-run their playmate.
Kids who obediently and safely walk the streets, suddenly break into a run as they hit the park, screaming, picking up sticks and flailing about -where the wild things are indeed. But I haven't always tuned in to park t.v - nor was I particularly interested in coons and squirrels and their little wild lives.
My friend Catherine, when she was living her last months in late-stage cancer, would often curl up by the fire, chatting with a few of us friends, while she stole looks out into the backyard through the picture window. Often she would interupt conversations to point out what the squirrels were doing in the backyard...I didn't see what she was seeing. Squirrels? why do we care? I tucked this away, and puzzled over it.
Catherine, for the 9 years I was privileged to be her friend, taught me not to be ashamed of, or make excuses for my wild side. I always felt a bit of shame if I fooled around when other people were being adult-like. She had no qualms about that, at all. Ever. I wondered where she learned this.
She was always a wild one, and in her last months, even with deteriorating strength, she would never let that interfere with her mischief. She would blurt out almost anything she felt and thought and fancied, and do anything she felt like: naughtily inhale a forbidden big Mac by a crackling fire, wonder over whether she'd be able to watch Johnny Dep's latest movie from where she'd be perched after she died, make jokes about running away while she wasted away in her hospital bed, attempt to eat party food and tell party stories well after she had much of an appetite, or cognitive capacity. She died facing her living room window, the whole backyard in view, sun on her face, all her cats and family curled around her, her squirrels playing outside.
A month or so after she died, I saw a squirrel, black, sitting on the windowsill, peering inside, and then, looking at me...i froze, and looked back, i tried to be still - hoping it would not scurry away, but it shifted a bit on the sill, settled onto it's haunches, and put its tiny hands up and touched the glass - calmly observing me - my youngest son was observing this behind me, and came closer. He knew about Catherine's attachment to her squirrels. "I guess that's Catherine...trying to tell you something", he said.
Catherine always thought he was a mensch.
Now we take the time to watch squirrels endlessly play in the park, we laugh over the racoon's antics, and delight in what wild things can teach us. When i see those squirrels leaping from branch to branch i imagine one of them is Catherine - no doubt she's found a way to watch Johnny Dep through people's windows, and I bet her nest is party central. I get it now Catherine, i get it.
My last words to Catherine were "thank-you", its all i could get out for the choking. I could see in her clear blue eyes that she knew what was stuck in my throat -
Thankyou, Catherine, for teaching me that wild is what carries you over to the other side.