A few months later, I drove from Eden, Utah to Whitefish, Montana to deliver a print of the Dandelion Wasp to Cheri. Cheri’s dad was a pilot who lived in San Francisco during the ‘70s and ‘80s. The pilots would leave their children with other pilots’ families as a means of relaxation and/or accommodating work travel. Both having pilots for fathers, Cheri and Zoë would enjoy free or very cheap travel and became regular travelling companions and life long friends.
On the way to Whitefish, I stayed in a cabin surrounded by nothing but snow-covered wilderness for a 20-mile radius. I wanted to see how it felt to be that one light when you look down at night from an airplane as you fly over an otherwise black landscape.
It reminded me of a story about Zoë and her friend Lyn, who pulled over on the side of the road to look at a rainbow over a cornfield. With giggles and arms waving, Zoë ran towards the rainbow like a child in a fairytale.
My snowfield was her rainbow.
I didn’t know much about Cheri other than I was to be careful around her. I was told that she was a trigger for Zoë and that Cheri was a loose cannon.
Cheri lived with her husband Scott in a two-story house on a large lot caked in snow.
While Cheri was showing me the digital art she’d been creating on her computer, mostly as a distraction to keep her mind off her recently deceased father, Scott came in to announce that his grandson had been diagnosed with autism. Cheri was too engulfed in her work on the computer to give an appropriate reaction, or any reaction really.
Later, as a thank you for their hospitality, I gave them three large bottles of tequila left over from the party in Eden I came from. I would later find out that her husband Scott had been hospitalized for drinking copious amounts of tequila. I didn’t know what to do. Should I have taken the bottles back? Dumped them out? I ended up leaving them there and hoping it wouldn’t start a problem.
One morning, Scott and I went for a snowy walk around the neighborhood where we found ourselves in a serious heart-to-heart conversation despite only knowing each other for all of three hours. Me confessing my failing marriage, and he about his wife and regrettable decisions in life. Maybe that’s what made it easier – telling your deepest darkest secrets to a complete stranger. It was refreshing.
I asked Cheri about Zoë. She had many beautiful stories of her and Zoë traveling the world together and how close she had been with Zoë’s family. But she also had some very dark stories. She would describe herself walking into Zoë’s art room and seeing Zoë leaning over a bucket, cutting her forearms and letting the blood drip into it. I knew Zoë did this but had never seen it for myself. I’d only seen the aftermath, of white bandaged arms and slanted looks from neighbors.
On a trip to get a new router for Cheri and Scott, Cheri told me that she thought my dad killed my mom. I stared at the routers in front of me with a straight face just like I did when Scott announced his grandson was autistic. I eventually thanked her for her candor. In hindsight, I understand her theories. According to Cheri, Zoë was always worried about some girl named Barbrö, who was Dick’s brother’s ex-wife. Shortly after Zoë passing away, Dick married Barbrö.
I didn’t have the words to describe a lifetime of hardship and sacrifice my dad had dedicated to Zoë, but I knew Cheri’s allegation not to be true.
I found a note at the bottom of Zoë’s jewelry box. In typewriter font, it said:
I love you Zoë I want you to get better I don’t care how long that takes I will do anything I can to help this happen I will never leave you I will make whatever changes to myself to make all the above happen Never give up but have patience But most important of all, I love you Zoë (see you soon, Dicki Bird)
When I unfolded the note, a bloodstained razor fell out of it.
Until then, everything about my mother and her thoughts seemed intangible and potentially a figment of my imagination. But picking up that razor made it all feel very real. I had visions of my mom digging it into her forearm while she read the note, maybe crying. I had visions of my dad struggling to know what to do, how to help, and this note being just one of the many ways he tried.
Before I left, I showed Scott and Cheri some slides I had scanned from Zoe’s travels to California. The slides showed Scott and Cheri with Zoë during their high school years doing high school things. Despite the psychological intensity of the last few days, these pictures brought a big calm to it all. As they viewed the pictures, I could feel them breathing life back into what was and what still could be.
Although filled with antics, I really enjoyed my time with Cheri and Scott. Their unedited and vigorous approach to life, love, and tragedy… was refreshing, and reminded me of myself.
It reminded me of Zoë.