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.
Today we cruised around Lake Mendota in honor of Maureen’s 75th birthday – an aquatic circumambulation of the 26 mile shoreline on the sturdy and comfy Betty Lou, steered by Captain Jeremy and served by First Mate Tara. The weather blessed Maureen’s celebration with nothing less than perfect skies and breezes. Trouble could not find any of us, out there on the lake. We were going too slow to catch, and camouflaged too well to be recognized, in our floppy sun hats and shades.
In the three hours, I did not hear any stories of situations that will get better. Nor did I tell even one tale from my own life that I thought would turn out. Even when our trouble recedes, we know some day it will return – no matter how this particular tale resolves. Return better armed, or maybe swifter and more stealthy – slipping underneath us like black ice we mistake for only rain on the pavement.
What answer can I give, except to agree that this afternoon was perfect in every possible way – from the Swedish meatballs and glimmers of champagne, to deep stands of cat tails rustling against the shore?
And to know that we share the same hope, as we glide past waterfront oaks and islands of thick waterlily pads: to be called on to love and to listen to each other tell the story again. Next time.
Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time. – Georgia O’Keefe
My late afternoon nap yesterday turned into about 16 hours of sleep. I slept through dinner, I slept through all my little nightly things, I slept through waking up at 2 am and 4 am. My dreams needed to catch up with everything that is happening. I dreamed the landlady’s cousin was in my room, clucking her disapproval of my things. And in my dream, I used some profanity that felt really, really good.
I heard your story, and I understand you are finding things out, from somewhere in the middle of your own good time. Every word broke the surface tension, and there you were – my kind and very dear friend, who lets me fling one-liners around like free money, just to make myself laugh. Who – as long as we’ve known each other – has always put honesty at the top of the list. Except about my one-liners. Because you always laugh no matter how terrible they are – and of course, I know better.
Who are those untroubled people with no harrowing stories to tell? I don’t know any of them – and whoever they are, I probably couldn’t fall in love with them.
I just want you to feel good, – and know we can talk whenever you want.
I still think of you on Sunday mornings and even though that was never our story, it is still the truest one that I have ever told – if only so I can sleep at night.
The light expands like lungs and air, pressing me into your ghost, before you disappear. I skim our surface. My body needs time to trust the feeling: wanted. And even more time to admit: want.
You took back your tender mouthfuls of I-love-you and morsels of tongue-tied lips, but I stayed. Stranded here, with only everything I imagined. Telling myself stories, conjuring my little song.
This change – whatever I do to respond to it – is upending my life. The impact is just beginning to swell against the hard edges of dollars and sense. Because to be a single, middle aged woman without career or financial achievement is to know how flimsy the guardrails are. The margins of my day to day were so, so thin and I lived within them by the grace of eggs and cheese and coffee with cream – and being a housemate.
I can’t live like that anymore, and I am too mad to go down a road that only leads to more waiting. There is no getting away from the heart-palpitating truth that these ends will not meet. But it feels like there is nothing else to do, except risk what I have to keep moving forward, and hope the ancestors can see a path that has not become clear to me yet.
These are bad days. Friday was especially bad. I cried so hard, so so hard, because I am so scared. I understand my mother’s panic attacks now. All her real reasons to be afraid, multiplied by haunting regrets that clamored for her attention – a sum of worries that would not let her rest no matter how hard she ignored them. Laboring against the quicksand of powerlessness that comes with real age, how could her heart not try to fly out of her body, seeking someplace to actually rest? Fear and rage battling for her body’s attention – and nothing to do but keep going.
Last May was really bad, but I was only heartbroken and lonely. Now I am terrified for where I will be able to live. All I can do is gamble on myself, and try to carve out what I want from what I know will be not good choices.
I would never want anyone else to think their journey was all for nothing. If only for the sake of other people who share this same fear, and worse – I am reminding myself that there can be meaning, and relief in the future as yet unknown.
Everything went from getting better to totally precarious in a 5 minute conversation with my roommate who told me I have 60 days to move out so her cousin can move in to my room and they can decide if they get along well enough to pool their money and buy a house together. Because housing is so expensive where I live. Because on their own, they can’t afford to buy the kind of place they want to live.
See how funny that is? How their situation is so similar to mine? How I also can’t afford the kind of place I would like to live in on my own? I mean – I know exactly how that Feels. That’s why I’ve lived here with someone I didn’t know so I could make it on my salary. That’s why I spent the pandemic in one room and nowhere else, except to cook my meals. Why my heart got broken in the same chair where I eat my meals, three feet away from where I had to sit to work – and where I lay down to sleep.
Gee, that really sucks. Not to be able to afford to live where you want. To have to make the best of something that isn’t exactly what you pictured for yourself. I really, really get it.
Please don’t leave me any “It’s all for the best, it will all work out,” messages. Because I don’t need any positivity right now. I need to cry. I need you to know how scared I am. And I just need to start packing.
I should be writing every day – but I’m not. Instead, I’m counting the time in flowers. Waiting for Saturday to come like a pardon, and lift the veil between myself and something I want. Something I don’t have to kiss goodbye or keep to myself. No riddle to live with, beyond the mercurial and mysterious light and lens, and the infinite up and down of the contrast curve
And though this is a purely solitary activity, I feel I’m just finishing the work that other gardeners started for me – and carried on much better than I ever could. A handful of lisianthus and celosia and snaps – the last she had to cut, the farmer told me, for a few more weeks. “The weather has been so weird this summer,” she said, diagnosing the lull in her cutting garden. As tan as a walnut, her girth supported on rigidly braced ankles, she was selling out of her $7 posies just a few minutes past 7 am. Next time, it will be sunflowers and dahlias – but that’s a few weeks away.
And the rudbeckia, and bee-balm and larkspur hiding just out of the frame, that grew effortlessly along the back-40 border at Ann’s house. It’s almost as if the bees and the plants know what they are doing, and can be left to carry on without too much human interference. Of course, Ann just makes it look that way – for which I am so very grateful.
To hold the true and not true together in the same heart, though – especially when it is your own – this does take a net written in longhand, so that the line can trace back to yourself with every loop and garland. Otherwise, you are bound to get lost and think you have found your way without even trying to read the map.