Red-tailed Hawk and a Fractured Valentine

I recently got an email from Dan, an old friend of my ex-husband,
who now lives in England. He inquired about John’s whereabouts.
I wrote him back with the news.
Fence whimsy, Orcas Island, WA

Dear Dan:  Thank you for your kind note about John. I’ll pass it on to our sons, Mark, 35 and Mike, 24. I know they’ll appreciate your remembrance. They’ve taken the loss of their father hard and they’re still getting over it. They were relatively young to lose their Dad and have been rudderless since, as I’ve been for the past few years. John was always so big and robust, wherever he went he filled the room. It’s still hard to believe a mere virus could diminish him, take him away.

John and I had a challenging relationship, as you know, and we were not living together when he died. He died alone by choice and it was a month before his body was discovered. I regret the way he died and miss him very much. He was my biggest supporter and we all wish we had been there for him. But, in the end, big and gruff, he chased everyone away in his bitterness.

As you may have gathered, I’m a writer and have worked as a reporter for many years. My work has often taken me to remote locations. John was always there for the boys and they easily went back and forth between us. He was proud of my work and in many ways made it possible for me to do it. I now live in Sacramento and work as a writer and photographer specializing in environmental issues. After Mike graduated from high school, I began to take creative writing classes — short stories, poetry — and I began a novel, Adrift in the Sound, published in 2012, that includes several characters modeled after John.

I worked my day job and worked on the novel nights and weekends. It’s set in Seattle in 1973, it’s about what happened after the “Free Love 60s” ended and a new era began — end of the Vietnam War, Watergate Scandal, Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion, launching of the war on drugs, the Arab Oil Embargo, etc. The story is about Lizette, an addled street artist who hooks up with the Franklin Street Dogs, a ragtag tavern softball team, it’s about the gritty drug scene and the pristine beauty of Orcas Island, it’s about John and me and the only thing that really matters. But, remember, it’s fiction.

I struggled to find an ending for the story, but it eluded me. One night I had a dream, vivid and powerful. John and I were in bed on a sunny morning. We were young. In the dream, he went to take a bath and I went along to keep him company. In the dream every hurt, resentment, tension, grievance between us was resolved and in that moment only comfort, love and acceptance washed between us.

It was as if John came to me in person. It was 2 a.m. and by 6 a.m. the end of the novel was written, the story complete. I had a strong urge to call John, check in, see how he was doing, but put it off. As best the San Francisco Coroner can figure, he died the day I finished the novel. I believe the end of my story was his final gift to me, the gift of feeling his complete, untarnished love, and a gentle, resolved ending to a grating story. Sorry, but I can’t go on telling. It makes me cry.

Gerald and Buff Corsi ©
California Academy of Sciences

At John’s funeral, we had lots of chocolate and roses and friends from John’s days in San Francisco’s Haight Asbury. When it was over, I went outside and a huge red-tailed hawk swooped low and ruffled my hair then perched on a cornice of the building. You would think this an exaggeration, but I have witnesses.

The hawk was vigilant, as if guarding. It was still there after everyone left and I was alone with this magnificent bird, standing in front of an ornate and historic mausoleum. I hated to leave him there and my brother had to drag me away. We sprinkled some of John’s ashes in the Panhandle at Golden Gate Park where he played baseball as a kid. I have kept the rest.

Find Adrift in the Sound here.

Published by Kate Campbell

Writer, editor, photographer, novelist, short story writer, poet.

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