Dreams and Missing You

I’m in Max’s new apartment, hopefully his home, a place I had yet to see and who limps around the corner but Bella. My joy at seeing her does not diminish although I know I am dreaming. I squat down as I did when she was alive, pull her close and feel her fur with my face. Just as in life, any angst is soothed. I am grateful for the dream, for her presence here. My sobbing wakes me. The emotions are right there beneath my veneer, when I allow them.
The morning before adopting Zuko, I write, imploring Bella to guide me to her new form to no avail. Zuko is the polar opposite of Bella. Relentlessly energetic and excessively licky, he is the antithesis of calm. Usually annoying and often needy, he’s also terrified of the small children Bella adored. Those same children were with me when I planted Bella’s mimosa tree in front of our house. A short fence to prevents dogs from peeing on it. A laminated photo of Bella hangs from its wire, a reminder to all who walked their dogs and stopped to visit wih Bella as she lay gathering sun.
The family photographer, I keep the minutes of our family life. The best gift I ever gave to anyone was to Barry. The cover of the book is a photo of us from the weekend after we were married. We look so cool in our shades and leather jackets eating strawberries and drinking champagne. I photoshopped the piece of strawberry on my front tooth away. Much better. Insider the front cover is a photo of the boys. Dylan, as an infant and Max just over three. They are in my bed gazing at each other. Their contentment rises from the page. Upon seeing this photo, Barry bursts into tears. In that moment, before turning another page, he knows what the book is about, “It’s their lives.”
He visits with the book, hedging distraction. The boys will have their turn later. It’s Christmas Day and when my family comes that afternoon to celebrate they will be able to look at the book. One at a time, with clean hands away from the crowd. Memories are sacred.
My photos reach in and hold the emotional content of the moment. If, as with flowers, there is no emotional content, I create it. As with all art your take and mine can be at opposite ends of the spectrum. But emotion present. With everyone having cell phones that take great photos, selling photos is not a great way to make a living. Everyone thinks they can get that same shot. I get that. You won’t catch me buying a photo of the Grand Canyon, I’ll take my own. So we photographers must find interesting ways to present our photos. I print mine on tee shirts and totes. I have an autumn leaf photo that would be spectacular on wood. Every leaf in the photo was hand placed and tweaked to perfection. My lighting made the leaf shapes and autumn colors glow. These would be gorgeous varnished onto wood. A slice of tree trunk, bark still in tact, will act as a natural frame for my autumn leaves.
Using wood for a leaf photo makes sense. Leaves and tree reunited for eternity. This is my first attempt at varnishing a photo to an object and I’m wary of ruining that photo. I had printed two identical Bella photos for her memorial. So, if I mess up this photo, no biggie. Cutting the photo to a round shape, I adhere it to the wood slice using Elmer’s glue. Smoothed out, I let it dry. Next step is to brush varnish over the entire surface. The varnish dries rough and must be sanded with fine paper before applying another coat. Really? Sand paper? Seems like the opposite of what I should do, but I have faith in the folks at Wadler’s and proceed with the instructions. The varnish, Jason told me, does not dry microscopically smooth. Each layer must be sanded in preparation for the next. Varnish. Allow to dry. Sand. Brush away the dust. Repeat until happy with the effect. Bella’s likeness clouds as I sand. I am aware of her there and it gentles my hand. Easy does it.
The dust from sanding is fine and it reminds me of Bella’s ashes, which are on my kitchen counter hidden beneath the long, slender leaves of the 25 year old spider plant named Cousin It. No one else knows she’s there. Barry had put her in the closet but it didn’t feel right to me. This spring I will plant a white birch and add some of her ashes to the hole dug for the root ball. That’s what I would like done with my ashes. I’d like to become part of a tree. One of my final requests will be to have Bella accompany me into the fire. That way I won’t have to go it alone.
We have two dogs now, Sandy and Zuko. Sandy was a gift to Bella because she’s such a good dog. Bella was, as I told my kids, a once-in-a-lifetime dog. “You will never, not when you’re older and get a dog of your own, not when you get a dog for your kids, you will never again have a dog like Bella.” My words were my curse. I love and care for Sandy and Zuko, but they do not hold my heart.
I work downstairs alone. If Bella were alive, she’d be here with me. Quiet company, intuitive and in synch, we had similar energies. Not at all needy or neurotic. Simple needs. What came up in therapy long ago may now seem narcissistic. “What is Bella like?” Sylvia asked. “If Bella were sitting here beside me,” I answer, “You wouldn’t be able to tell us apart.” Sylvia doesn’t miss a beat, “You’re coming back, right?”
It scared me to sand that first layer of varnish. I didn’t want to ruin it. I know mistakes are part of learning but I don’t like waste. Bella’s face clouds over when I gently sand. Self doubt follows closely. “Am I doing this right?” She reappeared with the next coat of varnish. There’s my girl.
Layer upon layer, Bella’s likeness is preserved. I’m getting the hang of it. There’s luster and depth with light penetrating the veneer. The varnish imparts a greater warmth to the photo. Seeing Bella reappear trips the dominos into a cascade of memories, a mark of a successful photo. Looking into the veneer at Bella I exhale into calm. I gently sand again as preparation for the final layer of varnish. There she is again. Pond water forever drips from her coat. The sun on its ascent behind her further softens her edges. The light and rising mist are ethereal. Bella looks right into the camera at me. I feel one thing only: Gratitude. On so many levels, gratitude.