I’m just very sad, you see. Everything is okay, except for all the scary things I can’t do anything about. I suppose those worries have me tied up in knots somehow, but that is where denial comes in handy. Not that you aren’t affected by the monsters looming in the everyday. You are, of course. But you believe your own pretending – so that’s alright. You can keep going in your lopsided, circuitous way, wearing avoidance-colored glasses.
But this loneliness is a silence that’s been there a very, very long time. And for a minute, I really thought I heard a voice, another voice – so close, I felt the breath warm my ear and send goose bumps through every limb. I was wrong, as it happens – but the echo is like a sonar that has detected the depth of the silence that was there all along. Which is something I have to reckon on my own – a fact that in itself reflects the situation I’m in.
So, Flowers on Sunday – I’m just very sad, you see.
Well, I am just especially thankful for every listening ear that has even tried to understand. I didn’t realize until lately how much I wasn’t telling – because I didn’t know myself how much I had turned away from the life inside. And I don’t try to tell everyone. And I have told a few people and it wasn’t for them – and really, that’s fine. I’ve been in those shoes, too.
My heart still feels broken, and I think it will have to mend into a different shape – a shape it didn’t have before I tumbled into love and kept falling. That sadness is so deep, and very, very old. Much older than me. Older even than Marv and Barbara. I doubt I will ever know where it started.
And yet, how can I even say how fortunate I feel? To know that beyond this loneliness, a web of loving voices – connected and strong – knows the way I am, already. To have the winter light, and roses to give it form and purpose. To search for a way the unknown heart can begin her life anew.
Jarrell and Louis delivered my mattress yesterday. That’s not the name of an exclusive mattress brand you haven’t heard of yet. It’s the two young men who pulled their delivery truck up at my curb at exactly 10:15, and took just about 15 minutes to set up a brand new place for me to sleep.
Louis set up the frame, while Jarrell brought the box spring in by himself. He remarked on the paintings in the hallway. “Did you paint them?” he asked, looking at the canvas outside my door. It’s kind of a crazy painting, with collaged lips floating over a pear made out of a few too many colors. “No,” I answered, and then I asked, “Are you an artist?” I always ask people this question if they mention something about art to me. Because people who notice art usually have an artist somewhere inside. And artists like it when you notice.
Jarrell looked a little shy. “Well, yeah. I used to draw, and paint. But I guess I kind of haven’t in a while.”
“You should get out your pencil and draw something today.” I said. “Make some art.” He brightened up. “Yeah. Maybe I will. I haven’t had much time lately.” I wanted to let him off the hook, because I know it is hard to start again, when you lose touch with something you really like. “Well, it’s true – you do need 5 minutes to yourself!” I said. Jarrell laughed, and went back to the truck to get the mattress.
In the afternoon, my friend treated me to a house warming gift. New sheets – the deluxe kind I wouldn’t usually buy for myself. A gorgeous copper color and silky thread count. I got in bed at 8 pm and fell asleep listening to some old radio shows.
The bed feels so good, it’s like heaven. I couldn’t help but be happy.
November is here; a month the color of ghosts. Vibrant gold ginko leaves, silver strands of grass, the improbable red of ornamental maples, as incandescent as maraschino cherries. All these remnants of life lived this summer, the sum of preceding summers brought forward in thick roots and pulsing inner channels – sap, bark and woody pulp. Not empty husks, these ghosts – but brilliant infernos of nourishment and light that have ebbed away.
I have to start something over, just when all the world is drawing in on itself to rest. Start over with home. Start over with love. Start from up here in the windiest branches, clinging like a leaf that wouldn’t shake loose, where another species of ghosts blow frosty, invisible currents. These slender limbs are connected to the roots – but those anchors feel very far away.
You understand, don’t you? I let myself hope for things I know are beyond my grasp. For love and desire. For a home. Hope even for those things, together. All those brilliant colors, the last remnants of what I wanted to find, something I mislaid summers and summers ago. But you can’t add the leaves back to the trees, and you can’t cling to the wind-lashed branches, waiting to fly. You have to climb down. Go deeper into the woods. Gather kindling, and light a fire – and start to sing the song the ghosts taught you, calling your companions.
Take a bowl of sunflowers, for instance. Easier to imagine than to see. Seeing asks so many tedious questions of what is and what isn’t. Imagination has no such concerns – and rightly so. Somewhere in the dark of uncertainty, seeing and imagination haggle out a third reality that neither quite anticipated. And you might not know the deal has been struck until much later. You won’t always recognize it when it happens.
I seem to be on more solid ground – but barely so. My sad little one is right here at my elbow, and we won’t insist on too much cheerfulness or optimism. But we won’t ask too many questions, either, about the quiet peace that arrived with Sunday night, clearing all the flowers away and fixing supper.
We’ll just say, “Phew. That was really something, wasn’t it? You did your best. I’m proud of you.” And see what comes tomorrow.
As it happened, my friend stopped by unexpectedly to see how the couch looked in the kitchen. It looks very sweet, you know. I put a rough patchwork quilt over the tasteful oatmeal upholstery, so now it is covered in practical bits and pieces that are somehow entirely lovely together. “I’m in the best spot,” she said as she settled in. This couch is a hand me down from the estate of another friend, and now a warm, familiar place to continue the conversation.
I put out bowls of the dark, brothy zharkoye, and arranged the pumpernickel I bought for you on a plate with butter and cheddar and pears. I made tea, and drank enough white wine to find myself telling a story I had been keeping to myself so as not to worry this friend. I described the garbage disposal clogged with rice; the race to buy a mop and plunger at 10:00 pm on a Saturday night; the rusted out cast iron pipe leaking from water from both drains; the Monday Miracle of the plumber fixing it all. And by now, to my relief, we both thought the entire escapade was pretty funny.
I’ve been crying all week, and I’m wrung out. I was crying even this morning. You’ve never been more absent and missed than you are now – and yet, somehow, still here. It was a mitzvah that she came over, one of my Chicago girls – to eat dark brown bread and drink a little booze, and understand that nothing is sweeter than the tenderness of beef and onions, in a warm, bright kitchen, and someone to laugh with when the garbage disposal breaks.
Things can’t be only good or bad, and everyone knows that. But I find the injuries pile up because they are mine to live with, alone. For me, that has been the most vulnerable loneliness of adulthood. You’ll never want for voices willing to give you advice. But in my life, there’s no one to say, “Ooof. That didn’t go as planned.” And wait with me until I laugh or cry at myself enough to stretch around the disappointments and failures, and see that their price has been strictly limited to nothing that really matters. And in that moment of encouragement, be the bit of cosmic dust that balances the scales, miraculously embodied in the companionship of ordinary love and loss.
No one really to know the places where the lines leak, and the connections are frayed, except me. And I am not always the best mechanic.
Putting things away – that’s what you do after you move, right? For once, I am face to face with every little thing. The dozens, if not hundreds, of old patchwork blocks – fans and gardens and four squares, pieced together just like life, turning leftovers into pleasure, with time and thread. The piles of printed pages, containing words as objects: spellers and dictionaries and my dearest loves, the used exercise books filled with answers handwritten in large, imperfect letters that struggle to wrap themselves around the unfamiliar task of translating into lines and shapes what you can so easily say instead. Wallpaper sample books from the 1930s. Ladies magazines from the 1860s. And letters. So many boxes of letters.
And all the dear little objects that lubricate my imagination – silver coffee pot salt and pepper, bonsai made of pink and green glass, little dancers, a falling nun. If it can fit in a shoebox, it will have to stay there for a while. I can’t, after all, even find my work shoes.
But – amid the butterscotch veneer kitchen cupboards and the honey-gold oak floors – I don’t know where to put you.
I thought for a minute you would go on the pillow next to me, under the quilt Pammy and Mom and me sewed with the other weekend volunteers at the Historical Society – a survivor of nearly 50 years, as cozy as it is unfashionable in 1970s primary red, butter yellow and dark, cobalt blue – snoozing between the bouquet-covered sheets, like a drowsy gardener watching the grass grow.
Do you belong in the past? Is that where I should put you? The future? Or the Never Was? And where have you put me? That answer might be too hard. I guess I still don’t want to know.
I kind of like doing the dishes. I like the warm water, furry layers of suds and the contrast between their crisp voices as they pop, and the slurp of the water in the dish tub. I like to see the tools restored and ready, my hands saying thank you for a job nicely done as the cutlery clatters back into its trays, and the pottery slides confidently into its stack. Of course, if I had a dishwasher, I’d use it. But I don’t anymore – so I may as well enjoy myself.
I can’t describe what I’ve been through – physically and emotionally – to satisfy a demand that upended my life for someone else’s convenience. Yet, the hardest part was this weekend, in my new home. Because somehow I thought that a place of my own might be a start – just a sliver of possible light – for me and you. And I guess it was good that I thought that because the mirage of heartbreakingly real hope tempered my despair and fear – and kept the fuel lines open so I could get where I needed to go, burning something deeper and more meaningful than anger. Something meaningful to my very core.
These rooms are a paradise of light and air and nothing I have to keep for anyone else if I don’t want to. I have no idea who I will find here – but her voice will be my own.
It almost doesn’t matter what we do next.
Because even though 1982 me is looking straight at her incredibly gifted friend and actual photographer, Myrosha Dziuk (www.myrosha.com), it took the next 38 years for the image on the left to be true inside.
And you should not doubt that you made it true before I believed it. And it was because you believed it, I finally decided to find out for myself if I could see it, too.
There were so many things 1982 me had to hide from, lest her intrinsic unworthiness be revealed.
Now that I am grey and bald and portly, though – nothing inside is hidden. Those thick petal wings unfold and unfold, as I listen to you make up a little ditty that rhymes with “I like You,” while you rummage for something you need Over There. Surrounded by your wide, beaming smile, it is easy not to worry – even though I am nervous, too. Because I trust you wholeheartedly, and risk is what makes trust so sweet.
It is absolutely too late to undo the beautiful thing that’s become of me, since I got to know you.