The thought of dating had not even crossed my mind yet.
They always say "you, and only you, will know when you are ready."
I was ready. Ready, that is, to sit back and contemplate what this new chapter of my life would bring, as a single person.
I wasn't ready to face winter in my unfinished, wood-heated house. As with dating, the logistics of that had not crossed my mind. Somehow, I had this feeling of trust that I would get the help I needed to get through the winter. Little did I know what trust and an open heart would bring.
I should have known it would be a musician. Music has always been a big part of my life, and in the past couple of years I had met some amazing people at a jam at a little bar in Nickerson. Or, should I say, the bar pretty much IS Nickerson. Located along scenic Highway 23 on the edge of the Nemadji State Forest, Nickerson is the last outpost between my house and Duluth, 30 miles to the northeast.
I had been going to the Tuesday night jam occasionally for about a year and a half, but that evening in May was the first time I had been there in a couple months. School sporting events and international travel had kept me busy, and I was happy to finally have an open Tuesday night. The usual folks were there, along with a guy I didn't know, who played dobro and a Gibson guitar. I played mandolin, and switched to guitar when it was my turn to sing. I don't remember much, except it was the usual fun, good-for-my-soul feeling I always get from playing with other people.
A couple days later I received a Facebook friend request from "John E Fingers". Unusual sounding name, I thought, but we had 8 mutual friends, musicians and others I had met through music. Which is to say, people I trust. "Must be that guy from Nickerson," I thought. I hit "accept".
We didn't have much Facebook contact through the summer. A few likes here, a few comments there, on music related posts. But, he did notice what was going on in my life. A few days after the memorial service, he messaged me. He was putting together a band for an art studio opening near me. If I felt up to playing, he asked, he would like to have me sit in. Did I feel up to playing? Of course! Because, music has always saved me.
The event was wonderful, and he must have approved of my playing and vocals. We chatted during setup and breaks. In the week that followed, we messaged back and forth. He told me how he had lost the love of his life years ago to cancer, and he had lost his dad a few months ago. So he was reaching out to me because he could relate to what I was going through. That blew my mind; in the preceding weeks I had heard all of the expressions of sympathy, the "if you need anything let me know" and such, but since the memorial service I had felt pretty much on my own. Now this one man, whom I barely knew, was genuinely concerned with my well being.
Okay, I did ask myself once or twice if he was hitting on me, but his messages were always so sincere...there was something about them I could not describe. I got the feeling that he needed some healing as well. He told me how, before Sunday's event, he was considering giving up playing music altogether. I told him we needed to get together and work on some songs, and help each other.
That next week, he was headed to Gunflint Lake, on the Minnesota/Canada border, to replace a toilet at a friend's cabin. He's a skilled carpenter, kind of a jack of all trades. So he messaged me, inviting me to drive up if I wanted to, to pick some tunes when the job was done.
I was not ready for that.
Well, yeah, part of me was saying a weekend up at Gunflint would be nice. But, with someone I barely knew, and his friends? That, and my car had a bad wheel bearing. I would hate to drive 200 miles only to be stranded 40 miles from civilization. So, I declined. He gave me the land line phone number up there anyhow, in case I wanted to talk. I gave him my land line... Let the record say, he called first.We talked for an hour. Then Saturday night, two hours.
I did not go looking for love, but I left my heart open and it came rolling in like a wave. Long story short, his friends dropped him and his tools and his Gibson off at my house that Monday night.
I had told him he could sleep in the Airstream that night, and after work the next day I would drive him wherever he needed to be. But, that's when the rain started. It rained 4 inches that night. Going out to the Airstream was not an option; I was actually nervous that we were in for the third 500 year flood in 5 years and Sand Creek would flood my driveway and the Airstream again. So I showed him around my house with the unfinished bathroom and kitchen with the sink still in a box, the maze of wiring and as-yet uninstalled outlets. He took it all in with a carpenter's eye, muttering mental notes like a contractor preparing a bid, complimenting the sturdy post and beam construction. We stayed up well past midnight, even though I had gotten less than four hours of sleep the night before.
The next morning, while I was at work, he messaged me: "I got that kitchen sink dropped down into the counter for you." The sink that had been sitting in the box for five years. I nearly cried. I did not drive him anywhere that night. Or the next. He said there was so much work to be done in my house, so much to do before winter set in, he would stay and work on it as long as I would have him.
It's been nearly four months, and he is still here. To be honest, I don't know what I would have done without him here this winter. The main source of heat in my house is the wood stove, with a propane wall furnace for backup. I guess I always took for granted what an enormous job it is to heat with wood. Not that I would not be up for it, if I had the time, but I work 30 miles from home, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. In the dead of winter I leave before sunrise and come home after dark. I would need to spend every waking moment at home splitting wood, hauling it indoors, and managing the fire (with help from my son, of course). Now I have someone who is more than willing to tend to the hearth, to keep the fire burning warm.
There's a metaphor somewhere in that. And a song waiting to be written and sung, accompanied by a Gibson guitar.