from The End of Youth
I've been thinking a lot about heaven lately. I've been trying to imagine it. In one version heaven is a garden, not Eden, but a great, big vegetable garden with patches of zucchini and crookneck and summer squash and lots of heavy tomato vines with beefsteak and cherry and yellow tomatoes getting perfectly, perfectly ripe, and zinnias and cosmos and lots of other flowers. There's an old lady in the garden. It's sunny out and she's wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt. She's healthy and tan and stooping down over one of these plants. Lying half asleep in the sun on the path behind her is a cat and they are happy.
In the other version, heaven is a big field near a lake. It's early in the day, before the sun has risen, and the air is brisk and cool and ducks are flying overhead. There's a guy in the field, a tall, strong guy with the healthy clean-smelling sweat of someone walking. He's wearing his duck hunting gear, his waders and corduroy hat and pocketed vest. He's moving toward the water's edge where he'll shoot a couple of birds to bring home to his family.
The lady in the first heaven is my mother, brown-skinned and plump, with a full head of hair, the way she was before she turned into the bald, gray-skinned sack of bones she was the month she died. The guy in the second version is my father, clear-eyed and strong and confident, not the sad and volatile, cloudy-eyed drunk he was for his last forty years. I've been thinking about heaven because ever since my parents died I've wished I believed in some place I could imagine them. I wish I could see the way I did when I was young.