my husband and i just bought a house. and for the first time since living in my childhood home i have my very own yard. since it is winter we don’t spend much time outside yet but i still love walking around the yard, breathing in the sharp smell of grass and looking at the bare branches. even before we moved in i was searching for the perfect spot to plant one of my most prized possessions: a stone frog sitting on a mushroom playing a guitar.
her name is freida and i found her in michigan.
as a kid i spent my summers at our family cottage on lake michigan. the house has been in my family since the 1930s when my great grandparents built it. i have bittersweet childhood memories of my time at the lake. as a young girl i remember being there, surrounded by my close family – both of my parents, my little sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. after my dad’s suicide when i was 13, the cottage was transformed from a home full of life and laughter to an empty house with too many people missing. in my mid-twenties i stopped going altogether and until last summer i hadn’t been back in seven years.
during my time away from the cottage two of our dearest friends, who lived on lake michigan just up the beach from us, died. one after the other – rob then evie. they were a hilarious and lovable duo. as far back as i could remember, rob was wrinkly and seemed as old as the hills. he smoked a pipe and had crooked, tobacco-stained teeth. he cracked jokes with a twinkle in his eye. evie was his other half, his soul mate. she had a nasal maine accent and a dry sense of humor to match rob’s. my great-grandparents has been friends with rob’s parents – we went way back.
they lived in a stone cottage that rob’s father build in the 1930s, on a bluff overlooking lake michigan. rob, along with his father and brother, handmade each of the concrete steps leading up the dune to their patio – and laid the bricks themselves. we used to stand up there and watch the storms roll in, then run run run like crazy back inside, trying to beat the sheets of driving rain and the whipping wind. their house was so cozy – it had a stone fireplace, a stone patio, a stone kitchen. i felt like i had been transported into a hobbit home every time i stepped inside.
i hated going to lake michigan in the summers following my dad’s death. i felt his absence even more strongly than i did back home in virginia. at least once a day i would walk across the beach and climb the steep, sandy steps up to their cottage. after a few minutes of talking with evie i felt the panic loosen up in my chest and i started to laugh at rob’s jokes. we would sit on the porch, eating nuts and drinking for hours – i slurped on cokes while they had vodka tonics. sometimes our families would go out to dinner, and other times we would hunt for special stones on the beach. no matter what we were doing i got a break. i could catch my breath. life got a little bit lighter and the next day felt a little bit more manageable – thanks to dear rob and evie.
by the time i went back to the lake last summer they had been gone for at least five years. knowing that they had died was part of the reason why i stayed away. as a young person i lost so many of my close relatives, starting with my dad. i often felt that i just couldn’t take too many more losses. for a while it felt safer to keep my distance from the lake. from my memories. from the reality that things, in fact, do change. i had to turn away.
i didn’t let myself think too much about rob and evie for most of my week-long trip to the lake. i didn’t plan how to say goodbye to them. but on the last day, i felt that it was time. i slipped out of the cottage and began the familiar walk. with every step i felt the sadness rising up inside of me, and as i climbed the last few stairs it spilled over. there it was – a dark, empty stone house. my tears began to fall as i stumbled towards the yard. i couldn’t help but cry out loud – the pain went so deep inside of me that i had to let it out. i ran my hands over the bumpy walls, clawed onto the screened-in porch and peered into each of the darkened windows. nobody lived there anymore. they were gone, long gone.
i saved the hardest part for last. as a little girl, i would stand with evie on the edge of her small frog pond, looking close for any signs of movement and listening for a ribbit. through the years of our friendship we gave her frog gifts – they were her favorite animal. now, the pond was just as dark as the house and covered with a thick film of algae. i wanted nothing more than to see a frog but that seemed like an impossibility. i turned around to leave but something told me: stay a little longer. look a little closer. i squinted and looked hard at the surface of the pond. still nothing. then i started to look around the edges. no luck. wait, i told myself. stay here and turn towards it.
something caught my eye in the ivy, right next to the pond. it was a little knob of cement that seemed out of place. i walked over and tried to pull it up, but it was buried deep. i clawed through the dirt with my fingers, trying to loosen whatever it was that i had found. i gave it a good yank and fell back onto my rear, showering dirt and ivy leaves all around me. i truly couldn’t believe what i was holding in my hands: an ancient lawn statue – a frog sitting on a mushroom playing a guitar.
it was one of those moments i will never forget for as long as i live. i sat there and cried, cradling the frog in my arms. it felt that she had been left there just for me to find. that she had been overlooked and buried in the years following evie’s death. i could picture rob and evie rolling with laughter at this saucy young friend of theirs, stealing their lawn ornaments in the name of love.
perhaps i stole the frog from the real estate company that now owned rob and evie’s house. if i did, i’m not sorry. i felt, deep down to my core, that i was supposed to find her. that i had turned towards the pain and loss and been brave enough to say goodbye – and that this frog would be a reminder of that courage. a reminder about the importance of patience. of listening. of persistence. that as much as it hurts, sometimes we need to turn towards the pain in order for healing to turn towards us.
you, i said, are coming with me. you are coming with me.
both the frog and i were covered in dirt and tears. i dusted her off, hoisted her up and carried her back to my cottage. one day later i loaded her in the car and brought her home to virginia. and two weeks ago i planted her in my garden. today, when i went outside to say hello, i found that she was surrounded with beautiful lilies of the valley that had bloomed in this unseasonably warm winter weather. a new life for an old friend.
freida the frog. i found her. or did she find me?