Letter of Recommendation: Barton Springs after the Eclipse

On Tuesday, my mother sent a text that said “Vickie passed away, no details yet.”

My great aunt had died in a nursing home in Milwaukee, a block from a funeral home I used to work at. Vickie used to introduce me as an “embalmist” to the other residents she played cards with when I would drop by the senior living center to donate overflow flower arrangements after a funeral. I read the text, sat at my desk and indulged in many memories of a woman who was always old and always cheerful; who had embraced her upcoming death for 30 years, so much so that if we didn’t speak about it each time we visited it felt like something was very wrong.

On Monday, my office celebrated the solar eclipse with a themed party in the parking lot. They distributed protective eyewear and handed out Milky Ways. As is with most office parties, the performance outweighed the occasion and I stopped looking at the bitsy crescent crossing the sun after just a minute. I wondered about showing up for a ceremony that acknowledged total darkness happening somewhere else. I searched for, but did not feel, a change in temperature.

Later in the afternoon on Tuesday, I went to Barton Springs. I had planned to meet a friend there to dip in the chilly water once before the summer ended. Though I credit this place as a reason I moved to Austin 10 years ago, I had left it alone in the last couple of years, assuming others were enjoying it more than I would. That day, I expected it to be less crowded now that school had started and the work week was on a roll, and I wasn’t wrong, but I still felt confused about why more people didn’t show up that afternoon. The day was perfect. The sun did not feel harsh on my skin, the air felt warm but not heavy.

I crawled onto my towel next to my friend and explained to her that my great aunt had died and I was feeling bad about it. She died alone and in advanced dementia that made her very agitated, so much so that it upset my mother, who had stopped making regular visits about a year before.

I said this after we had both jumped feet first into the turquoise springs, cold enough to suck the air out of your lungs and just as beautiful.

Skin still cool, sun still up, my friend told me about her grandfather who is currently suffering out the same fate from a nursing home in Montana.

“He is beyond humoring anyone who visits him,” she explained. “He doesn’t have the energy for that”. Which is why her aunt and her sister, the primary caretakers, were on vacations right now. Why her father decided against going to visit him this summer. “If they need to take care of themselves right now, it’s ok.”

I extended my pale, chubby legs in front of me and thought about how agonizing it is to be unable to give others what they want, to have to rely on a divine logic that all will be well if we give up control. The hillside we lay on was still comfortably dotted with couples and groups dewy with spring water illuminated by the fading sunlight. Dusk was slowly approaching, as it does in the summer, drawing out its promise of relief from the heat and brightness.

The pool still offered its sharp cooling tactics, available to anyone willing to leap in the air.
“Are you going to go in again?” My friend asked.

“Nah,” I said. I’d just as soon wait for the moon to show up.