I am here and Dennis is not.
Right after I typed this I leaned back and my eyes went to the large orange Club dutch oven above the stove. KA-BAM! This was a phrase he used with such enthusiasm it sometimes made me jump. Suddenly he was at my side.
Some years ago we were planning a Christmas feast in our new house, expecting 30+ friends and family, and none of our pots were big enough for the deer meat sauerbraten that was the main event. I said, “let’s look on eBay!” and leaned over him at his computer to pull up the auction site. This was a new world for Dennis. We found a 10-quart dutch oven in a perfect fiery orange-red to sit beside our yellow and turquoise roasters, creating a graduated row of pots like Russian nesting dolls.
I do not know if everyone gets auction fever, but having more than once won a bid on something I immediately regretted, I have learned to enjoy the auction high, but set a price before-hand that I do not exceed. Well, not by much. I explained auction fever to Dennis, and how we had to decide what we were willing to spend, and then stop bidding at that point.
We logged in. The auction was ending in an hour, there had not been much action, and we placed our $20.00 bid. Most of the six bidders soon dropped out, and it quickly became just two, “CenturyCool,” and us. When there were ten minutes left we were ten dollars above our max. I had let Dennis’ last “raise bid” slide. “Time to stop!” I said. But I saw that gleam. I knew it well. Watch out, eBay! He grabbed me and pulled me onto his lap in the big leather swivel desk chair. I squirmed but became riveted on the screen.
Adrenalin began to flow. Dennis held the cursor over the “increase your bid” button, ready to beat any counter bid from CenturyCool. I would have stopped, but became wrapped up in Dennis’ single-minded determination to get that pot. We did. Dennis was unstoppable, and pretty quick with the cursor for a beginner.
We paid three times what we had planned. But we were jubilant, flushed with victory, and had no regrets. We have used that pot many times, and each time Dennis would say, “Aren’t you glad we got it?” And yes, I was.
When Dennis died on November 29, 2021, so too did Dennis and Karen, a pretty awesome couple. I have been releasing Dennis’ ashes for the past six months, traveling to places we had gone together. I carry the brochures with his obituary, photos, and quotes which we had at his service. Sometimes I am alone, sometimes I meet people, and sometimes I am joined by someone who wants to be there with me. I welcome those who want to see his ashes drift off, but also have no sense of need, and do not want anyone to feel obligated to do this. I am adding new memories to shared memories, and find this helps as I tiptoe into life without Dennis.
He is now, besides everywhere, in the raspberry patch he tended so lovingly. He is drifting down the Narraguagus River, and heading upstream with alewives in Damariscotta. His ashes are on the gravelly beach at Pemaquid where we each scooped up sand for our wedding ceremony. We mingled his quickly gathered grains, with my tiny, inspected and chosen, bits of sand. We loved sunrises, and a pumpkin-yellow October sunrise saw him gently blowing off Otter Cliffs. Soon ashes will be released in a village on Terceira in the Azores where he talked fish with local fishermen until I dragged him away to our waiting table to eat barnacles. There will be traces of Dennis on Squaw Mountain, now Big Moose Mountain, where long before I met him he was a fierce and crazy glade skier. He tried to make a skier of me, but knew we shared other things, and we did not need to spend any more time with him dusting the snow off my suit.
Dennis is on a golf course, silver-gray flecks buried deep in the grass. I was not sure of protocol so slipped in at dusk and crept to a hole where he once made a winning and challenging putt for his team. I did not golf with him either, but for years I would bike 20 miles every Wednesday in season to meet him in Southwest Harbor at The Causeway Club. He golfed there, as well as at Northeast Harbor where he once watched a bullfrog eat a chickadee, and wanted to stop it but chose to not interfere. There were so many reasons to love this man. His detailed description of the scene was vivid, the bullfrog gripping the tail of the bird, and pushing its head under the water of the stream, the bird’s frantic calls, the silence when it drowned, and the leisurely consumption of the chickadee by the frog. Dennis was a master storyteller. I still feel as though I watched this scene unfold myself, but I only know it from Dennis sharing it with me.
We shared stories, and awe of the world. Winter was a time for getting out and exploring, not huddling in a house. Nearby Jordan Pond channeled arctic weather and was a favorite spot for donning suits and goggles and feeling the exhilaration of single digits and snowdrifts. One time, along the edge of Jordan, we saw some slightly blown-over tracks from a snowshoe hare. We followed through the brush, because we loved following tracks. The wind was hurling frozen chips of snow at our faces. Then, ten feet in front of us was the hare itself, nipping on some alder and unaware of us. We stopped in unison and, motionless, watched this animal with no suit or goggles calmly eating its meal.
So many shared memories. I walk that path at Jordan and recall the day we saw a hare in a storm. My sunrise walks remind me of those Dennis and I shared. The orange dutch oven high on a shelf brings back Dennis’ first eBay auction.
Now I am alone, retracing steps, reliving stories, remaking life. Dennis is not here—but he is everywhere.
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