I put in twelve hours in Cut Bank today. Despite my exhaustion, I was singing along to one of Pseudo Sister’s fabulous “driving CDs” all the way home, my spirits completely lifted by the spectacular sunset I was driving into, and the plethora of calves and foals lining the fences of Highway 464/Duck Lake Road. My thoughts turned to my baby brother, Howard, about whom I have written much, and yet so little, on this blog. And for once, my ruminations on How were upbeat, and not downtrodden. Just as I leaned the Tahoe-ho into “the ninety” on 464, the light shifted. My vehicle lit up with rainbows, careening off the mirrors, refracting through the many cracks in my windshield, bathing Buck and I in a spectrum of vivid color.
And I knew Howard was with me.
I don’t know what happens when we die. There are some days when my faith in God, god, Buddha, A Greater Power, is a tangible thing, pulsing through my veins and instilling me with greater courage than I had before, to face the day. I suppose that is Faith. But I have been nothing if not honest in my blogging, and I cannot say that my faith is a tangible thing all the time. Though I am often jealous of the peace that others’ Faith seems to give to them, I am filled with doubt that everything happens for a reason, and religious sympathy cards weary me.
That said, I know Howard is with me when I see a rainbow. And I suppose that makes Howard my faith in God. That Howard shows himself to me is my faith that there is life after death, that a benevolent God will reunite us with those to whom we did not get to say an earthly goodbye, safe travels, I love you.
The day Howard died, Sissy immediately flew from St. Simons to be with us. I’ve never asked her much about her flight, with just she and the pilot, but I imagine it was similar to what I guess Brother Dear’s flight home from Texas was like, what my solo drive home from law school was like, where I passed four hours bargaining with God at each turn of Highway 460, I-77, and U.S. 58. The icy wretchedness. The black furor. The crushing despair. Like being pushed from an airplane and yanking frantically on a parachute that won’t inflate. Later, Sissy told me that she saw a stunning rainbow from the window of the tiny plane, and knew that Howard was with her.
I’ve seen a lot of rainbows since August 27, 2004.
In July 2006, my family threw the first “Hillstock/Hillhouseapalooza,” at Hillhouse, the home we purchased in Howard’s honor near Babb, just east of Glacier National Park. Friends came from near and far to celebrate Howard’s life with us, bringing with them their dogs, their tents, and their memories of Howard, which they graciously shared. A gaggle of us hiked up to Shangri-la, in the Many Glacier Valley, a place Howard loved, and the last trail I shared with him. When we returned to Hillhouse, some of us more exhausted than others, a rain shower freshened up the yard during dinner, and then an ebullient rainbow appeared, directly over Hillhouse.
But even so, for a while after Howard’s death, I thought that I would never return to Montana, though my original plans had called for attaining my JD and becoming a member of the Montana Bar. I did not think that I had enough courage left in me to once more move across the country and start again, 2600 miles away from my family. If there was any so-called silver lining to Howard’s death, it was that my bonds to my family, and particularly my brother, were cemented to my soul in a way that they had not been before his death. But, as I’ve said before, time passed. We survived each black anniversary of Christmas, Easter, Howard’s date of birth, Howard’s date of death, and Mother’s Day, which for some reason has struck me since Howard’s death as unnaturally cruel in many respects, though by that I don’t mean that fathers suffer any less than do mothers.
By law school’s end, I was ready to resume my dream. And so March 2007 found me house hunting near Missoula, Montana, with Brother Dear and a then-boyfriend who has since become a treasured friend. Though I thought I was prepared to buy a home in Missoula County, my emotions about leaving the South and beginning again continued to trill up and down, like a flute player screeching through her first scales. It didn’t help that real estate was reaching its peak, and I couldn’t afford anything grander than an Absolute Dump. But at the end of the very first day of house hunting, a Montana-sized rainbow arched gracefully over the Bitterroot Valley, and I knew Howard was giving me his blessing to leave the South behind.
That next September, I drove from Missoula up to West Glacier, to meet my parents for a drink in honor of Howard’s birthday. Approaching the spot on Highway 2 where the mountains part and you get your first glimpse into the heart of Glacier National Park, a triple rainbow poured out of the clouds, literally marking the entrance to Glacier, where my parents waited for me.
And this past July, the morning after I joyfully married Honeydew, Howard congratulated us:
Thanks, Lil How. You continue to give me faith in a lot of things, including that somewhere, over the rainbow.
Photo credits to Frank Cavuoto and Marta Farmer.
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