I am currently going through a separation from my wife. I moved out from our small home in the country and have moved back into my parent’s large home in the suburbs. I am almost forty years old, living again in the room where I experienced my first erection, my first kiss and my first alcoholic beverage. There is even the first pornography magazine from the eighties that I diligently used as a teenager, still stuck in between the mattress and the box spring. My parent’s home sits on top of a solitary hill and is surrounded by century old oak trees, rolling hills, birds and skittish deer. In the backyard there are palm trees (air lifted from Hawaii), a plethora of native flowers and plants, a lot of stones and a large white-bottomed pool.
For six months out of the year my parent’s home is a ghost house. No one lives here. They pack up and go to live in their second home that is situated somewhere in the Idaho mountains. Other than a caretaker who shows up a few times a week to check on things, no one steps into this house. When I moved back in a little over a month and a half ago, I felt like I was moving into a space devoid of life. The furniture was covered in white sheets. The house creaked constantly. I cleaned up cobwebs, killed numerous mosquitoes and turned on the refrigerator and the freezer, both of which had nothing in them. I felt like a middle aged prodigal son coming home to the cruel tricks that time often seems to play on me. What was once my childhood home, filled with life and fervor had become nothing but a four walled remnant of what once used to be. I also could not help but feel like Thoreau returning to his solitary sixty-two acre pond. Except my pond was not a large pond in Concord, Massachusetts- my pond was the pool in my parent’s backyard.
Every morning I would wake up at eleven and rain or shine, the first thing that I would do is go out into the backyard. When I began this minor ritual a little over a month and a half ago I was an emotional mess. I would pull a chair up besides the pool and in the clothes that I had fallen asleep in I would cry. I would cry and cry and feel gut churning sadness for losing the life that I had with a woman whom I deeply loved. I cried for all the grief and suffering that I had caused her. I cried for days on end and after three or four days of continual grief, my grief began to ebb and flow in unpredictable tides. I would be fine one moment and then a thought or something that I noticed reminded me of my wife and I would fall into grief again. I felt like (and still do to a lesser extent) my heart strings were being played by a careless, manic musician.
In my parents backyard the silence is so palpable that I often could not help but to talk to myself. I would console myself out loud, talk to my disappearing wife and push slightly beyond the borders of sanity. Then one afternoon while I was lamenting my fate, a stream of cold chlorinated water sprayed directly into my face. Up until that point I had not noticed the small, amphibious pool sweep that spent its days rummaging around in the pool. With its four wheels, and two long hoses that danced around the pool floor, the pool sweep selflessly had been keeping my parents pool clean for years and I had barley noticed it. With chlorinated pool water stinging my eyes I watched the pool sweep makes its way around the pool, joyfully diving and surfacing, as if my grief meant nothing at all to it. By the end of the day I had forgotten all about the solitary pool sweep and once again was lost in my grief. The following morning while I was sitting besides the pool in what must of looked like a near catatonic state, the pool sweep again sprayed me directly in the face, mixing my tears with chlorine.
I’m not proud of what happened next, but please understand that I was not in my right mind. It is strange how quickly grief can turn into rage and turn a man from sweet to sour. At that moment a rage came over me so strong that I lost all logical reasoning. I was convinced that the pool sweep was mocking me, disrespecting my grief and making a target out of me for its own fun. My rage took over control of my body and caused me to jump head first into the pool, where I proceeded to swim after the pool sweep. But the weeks of grief had weakened and atrophied my muscles and the pool sweep out swam me into the deep end where I was unable to reach. I cursed the pool sweep and told it to stop fucking with me or else I would break its hoses and wheels. I then waded my way out of the water, short of breath and cold. I dried off in the sun- a man defeated by love and the world. A middle-aged man who could not even catch a pool sweep.
I sat there for a while on one of the pool chairs with my wet clothes sticking to my body and watched the pool sweep dance around the bottom of the pool floor. It looked so happy and carefree. It reminded me of distant times where I had felt a similar way. I thought about some of the more meaningful times that my wife and I had shared. The time that we bought our first dog together, the day I proposed to her by a pond in the graveyard, the time we went to an old bathhouse in Spain, the walk on the beach in Australia that was shortened by my fear of the wild dingoes and all the pleasurable times we spent sun bathing in my parents backyard and swimming in the pool. I remembered our days gardening and drinking coconut water in our backyard, the time that I taught her how to ride a bike and the five-course meal that she made for me on New Years Eve. I cried as these memories filled my mind but as I watched the pool sweep make its way around the pool, I felt the thorny edges of a smile crack the rusted sides of my lips. My tears gradually dried and dissipated and I spent the rest of that afternoon falling in love with a pool sweep.
Something about watching the pool sweep made me suddenly feel less alone. I gave it a name as all people do to things that make them feel less alone. I decided to call the pool sweep R2D2 and I even began to anthropomorphize it by asking the R2D2 questions. I told myself that when R2D2 sprayed one time that meant yes, when it sprayed two times that meant no and any more than two sprays meant stupid question. I would ask simple questions, being sensitive to the fact that R2D2 had not had the same opportunities as I for a good education. I would ask questions such as: “would I ever be free of this tormenting grief?” “In the long run are my wife and I doing the right thing by getting a divorce?” and “will we be better off in the future because of all of this?” I specifically asked questions that required more of a heart than a head but I never received much of a reply. Then one morning a few days later while I was sitting by the pool feeling the heat of the early afternoon sun dry my tear agitated eyes, this realization came into my head: Emotion is an energy. It is right to feel pain. Embrace it. Learn. Life is but a blip and time shows the way. I did not need to think about this very much because it immediately made perfect sense to me. Immediately grief seemed to be blocked from colonizing my soul. I felt a sense of unfamiliar calm come over me and when I looked at R2D2 it was resting in the center of the pool staring straight at me. It was then that I realized that my sudden realization had come directly from a pool sweep.
For the first time in months I was overcome with joy. R2D2 communicated to me a wisdom that seemed to patch the holes that were causing love to leak out from my heart. I stood up, walked to the side of the pool and dove head first into the unheated, over chlorinated water. With a smile on my aging face I swam over to R2D2. I lifted R2D2 and held it in my arms. I thanked it profusely for the insight that it had given to me while kissing it from head to hose. Never underestimate the power of a much-needed insight to unite man and machine. Together we swam around the pool until I was not strong enough to swim any more. For the first time in weeks I felt a sense of relief, I felt the possibilities of a new life and the reassurance that my broken heart was not going to kill me. The idea that I could have a new life, the potential to feel good again imbued my body with a detoxifying energy that was slowly bringing me back from the dead. Now looking back on this paradigm-shifting afternoon, I cannot help but attribute it all to my beloved R2D2.
The following day I felt the motivation to begin re-building my life. For the first time since I had moved back into my parents home I did not get out of bed at eleven and go sit out besides the pool for the rest of the afternoon. Instead I would get out of bed at around eight in the morning, do a thirty-minute meditation and then take a long walk. I would go out and get something to eat and then come home and begin looking for a job. I started listening to music again and took daily showers and shaved for the first time in months. Sadness would still come up in me at unpredictable moments but rather than allowing myself to fall into a near catatonic state I simply followed and embraced the energy that was moving through me. Days went by in this semi productive state. I went on a few job interviews, took some yoga classes and went into San Francisco where I began visiting a few friends. I was slowly getting back into a less grief filled life. I was embracing my heartache and learning from it- but while doing all of this I forgot about R2D2.
A few weeks passed by and the bouts of grief were getting less and less. I was smiling more and crying less. I had found a job working as an after school tutor for inner city junior high students and the solitude of my parents home was no longer as frightening as it once was. One morning I awoke early and after my meditation I decided to go sit out by the pool and check on R2D2. I looked forward to visiting with R2D2 and thanking it for healing wisdom it had imparted to me. When I walked out into the backyard the first thing that I noticed was that R2D2 was not moving. I walked over to the side of the pool where ten feet underneath R2D2 sat lifeless. I got down onto my stomach and looked deeply into the water where I noticed that one of R2D2’s hoses was wrapped around its wheels and net. I did not notice any of the usual bubbles that spewed forth from R2D2’s happy head. Immediately I stood up and dove head first into the pool. I do not know if it was the absence of chronic grief in my life and the healing that was resulting or the adrenaline that is released from a person in crisis situations- but I was suddenly strong enough to swim down ten feet to the bottom of the pool, undue the hose from R2D2’s lifeless body and swim back up to the surface with the R2D2 in my arms. I was not hyperventilating or gasping for air but instead I was begging R2D2 not to die, to hold on and to breathe. I swam over into the shallow end where I placed R2D2 on the side of the pool and cleaned out all the leaves that had collected in its net, blocking its air passages. I used both my hands to move its wheels hoping that I could somehow re-simulate life into R2D2. Minutes passed and I felt a few tears begin to fall down the side of my face. I still remember the rhetorical question that ran through my head at that moment: how could God be so unfair as to so cruelly take the life of the one thing that gave me life? I blamed my grief and guilt on a God that not even I believed in. I tried to do everything I could to bring R2D2 back, I even asked this illusive God for help. But the more time that passed the more I realized that R2D2 was never going to swim again.
For those of you who have never fallen in love with a pool sweep before, the ending of my story may sound a bit ridiculous to you. But how can I expect those of you to understand something that you have never experienced before? I understand that I run the risk here of being perceived and judged as a man who has become mentally ill as a result of the grief caused by getting a divorce. I expect some of you to conclude that I am not fit to be functional member of society. But I have always spoken honestly in my writings and I do not want my fear of how you may think of me to get in the way of being brutally honest here at the end of my story. So despite my concerns, I will proceed. After I realized that R2D2 had passed I sat in one of the pool chairs and held R2D2 in my arms. I cried like a child who has just been abandoned by the only two people he knows in the world. I cried out all the grief that could ever exist in the world. I cried so loud that I scared all the birds out of the trees and all the deer out of the surrounding hills. In losing R2D2 I now realize that I was also deeply mourning the loss of my wife. When my wailing seemed to subside, I put R2D2 down on the pool chair and went inside the house and changed out from my wet clothes. I put on black jeans, a black t-shirt and did not have the energy to put on any shoes or socks. I then grabbed a towel from the closet, a shovel from the garage and went back into the backyard. I covered R2D2 in the towel and then I walked into the hills where I began to dig a deep hole underneath an old oak tree. While I was digging my tears fell onto the ground and seemed to moisten the earth, making it less difficult to dig into.
Once I finished digging a hole that would be large enough for me to place R2D2 into I walked back down to where R2D2 lay covered in a towel. I picked R2D2 up into my arms and walked back up into the hills. I placed R2D2 into the dark hole and then stood there for a moment staring at R2D2. My tears momentarily ceased as I thanked R2D2 for its wisdom and friendship. It has never been easy for me to let go of things and people in my life and burying R2D2 felt to me like I was also burying a very important part of my past. I took a few deep breaths and remembered the times that I would watch R2D2 happily and carelessly swim around in the pool. I remembered the time that I tried to chase R2D2 down but it successfully out swam me. I remembered the time that R2D2 gave me a sudden realization and freed me from the shackles of chronic and crippling grief. I felt very grateful for R2D2’s existence in my life and as I took the shovel in my hand and began to bury the R2D2 into the earth I felt at peace with the truth that nothing lasts forever. Once I had completely covered up the whole, I smoothed out the dirt with the shovel and then stuck a large boulder onto of the spot where R2D2 was buried so that I could return to this spot whenever I needed. A few tears leaked out from my eyes as I looked down at my bare feet and toe nails that were covered in dirt. I then looked up through the branches of the old oak tree and stared into the sun that hung in the sky. I closed my eyes for a minute or two and felt the suns warm breath heat up the skin on my face. I could hear the sounds of wind chimes and dried leaves rustling in the light breeze. It was at that moment that I knew that everything would eventually be okay. My wife and myself, eventually time would show us the way. With the shovel in my hand, I avoided looking at the pool and walked back down the hill towards my house. I imagined that it was mid-afternoon and I needed to get dressed for work.