When they planted my palo verde before we moved into our new home, I prayed to know her name if she had one. Days later when I was weeding near her base I saw her name in my head. It was typed on thick white paper with pink and blue fibers woven through it. The lines were single-spaced, like part of a letter written on an old manual typewriter. Serena. Really? Serena? It wasn’t something I would have chosen. Then I heard it in my head, spoken with a Spanish accent, the long letter “A” sounds, the furred, rolled “R.” I liked it. She was in full bloom when they brought her, and she grew fast. The first fierce wind we had knocked her over, and I became hysterical. I’d never had my own tree planted in the ground before, only Christmas trees who lived in pots. Gus came and righted her, tied her up, but he said she was still too top-heavy. After, I bought a saw. I’ve been removing her limbs little by little, feeling like I’m cutting off my own arms, terror alive in me each time. The last time I had the wrong angle on the cut, had to go in again from the side, made a big gouge in her main trunk I haven’t forgiven myself for. I pray she’ll be okay, that her roots will grow deep and wide now, her remaining limbs thick and strong. I can see her tall and broad, our shelter from the summer afternoon, her branches filled with birds sitting quiet in the early evening. The first morning we lived here, a little yellow bird came to sit in her, tasting her tiny leaves (or maybe eating bugs I couldn’t see). “Ah,” I said. “You are nibbling on my companion.” It felt like a good omen, that visit. Yesterday I looked up and there were more than half a dozen goldfinch perched in her, their little calls and yellow bellies music on a winter day. My palo verde. My Serena. May you be blessed for long, luxurious decades. May you never lack for water, for company, for blue sky, for love.
I planted violas and marigolds beside my fence along the road. I say violas because that’s what it said on their six packs. I thought they were miniature pansies when I bought them. Planting is my favorite part, when the earth is clean and moist, the flower starts fresh and full of promise, full of hope. In those first days, I am drawn back again and again to feast my fill of them. On Thursday I was in my courtyard taking pictures of the evening sky, when I heard the jingle of a dog collar. People like to walk their dogs along our little road, in the habit, I think, from when the open field still lived on the other side of it. I heard a man’s voice ask if those were new flowers, a woman say something in reply. I stood still then, camera in hand, listening. There was a pause as they walked by, then the man’s voice again. “Are they real?” he asked. I didn’t know whether to be amused or offended. The woman who lived here before me had fake red tulips hanging off the front of the trailer. I shook my head, went back to capturing the changing clouds. The next morning, watering can in hand, I decide to take his question as a compliment. He must have wondered if they were real because their colors are so vivid, because they look so perfect, I tell myself. I pour water on them and shake my head again, amused now by both of us.
It’s the small things that stop me, give me breath. The unbelievable yellow of the new kitchen cloth from Trader Joe’s lying in a bright wet clump on the edge of the sink, the fleeting perfection of its spotlessness. The messy lumps of peeled mango piled inside the red glass bowl, waiting for me to finish writing and open a chilled bottle of Topo Chico to go with them. The surprising thunder of the cicadas in the neighbor’s tree, filling our courtyard garden, growing louder and louder as dusk darkens to night, their wild crescendo crashing through the open windows, the abrupt silence at full dark. I still find myself rubbing my fingers against each other sometimes, evidence of my hidden anxiety. But tonight I listen to the now-quiet air and feel the kind of peace I’ve been longing for.
[Editor's note: This was originally written shortly after "The Thinning Veil." As I work to return to my blog, there will no doubt be a mix of things past and present, maybe off season--this was in the heart of the summer--and so on. But here I am!]
I am so sorry to have disappeared on you again. I really miss feeling like a writer, and I am hopeful I’ll be returning to regular postings here very soon. Part of me has been tempted to give up this year’s blog, and part of me thinks I need to begin posting every day now to catch up. It tends to be one extreme or the other with me, you know. ;-)
Instead, I have been reviewing some of the blog entries I’ve written in the intervening time but never posted and adding to my lists of ideas, even scribbling a couple of new entries in the last week or so. In short, I am not pushing myself. I’m going to see how this unfolds, and try not to beat myself up if I don’t meet this year’s goal of 55 posts while I’m 55. (But, of course, I’m still hoping I will return so fully to being a writer that I’ll magically meet my original commitment without pressuring myself!)
So, thank you for not giving up on me, and if I end up showering you with posts in the near future (!!!) I will hope it won’t be overwhelming or annoying.
Happy pagan new year, too!
Here is to the turning of the wheel. . . .
This waiting to feel like myself again is mysterious, elusive. There are times when I forget I’m not yet normal, laughing on the phone with Colleen or glancing up from the computer to see the mountains spread before me, my fondness for our new home springing up. But other moments I feel flat, separate, behaving like the me I know but not feeling like her. There is still wonder everywhere. I know this. The big grasshopper on the sunflower, the mourning doves pecking at the fallen seed below the tray feeder, the roadrunner caught in the corner of my eye when I am working, the hummingbird alighting on the guava tree outside the window–gemstone through glass. A veil between us, I think, a muting of wonder. Unbelievably thin, subtle. Even the coyote watching me with his mouth full of raven, gossamer fluttering between us.
I am baffled by this thing of getting better, of becoming myself again. How do I get there? Will I know it, recognize me when I do? I am just past the simple laying down of small acts now, trusting they will become a path. But my premise remains the same. Do these four things every day: my morning writing, yoga, qi gong, some kind of exercise. Still a layering of small acts but more focused now. I used to do these things, believed in them. If I return to them, I am thinking, they’ll take me to myself again. Renewed vows based on faith, on hope, on prayer. Lead me home, I ask. At the same time, I know it’s unlikely I’ll be who I was when I find myself on the other side of this. How could I be? Sometimes I’m afraid there is no getting to the other side. Will these four things work their magic? Or am I only grasping at straws, their plastic weak, bending under my thumbs? I shake my head, as if I can knock doubt out my ears. One more sun salute, I tell myself, and I’ll be finished with today’s four things. I grab faith in my fists and bow forward.
Saturday I cry washing dishes because I never got to say goodbye to Ken all those years ago when he was dying in an Oakland hospital. Standing at the sink I remember decades before standing beside him in the driveway in Newport Beach, the two of us watching them drive away with my stepfather’s body. I don’t remember if we spoke, only our silent bond, witnesses to that final leave-taking. When we walked back into the kitchen, Judy and Mary Ann were sweeping things off the counters, quick manic movements, black framed glasses and Bic cigarette lighters and all the little bits of him landing in cardboard boxes. I made myself a tomato and red onion sandwich and sat in the midst of the chaos chewing and swallowing. It could have been different, I think now, my hands full of soap and a slippery blue bowl. It could have been different if we’d all sat down. Maybe Ken and I would have talked about what Jarv meant to us. Maybe Mary Ann and Judy would have joined in, stopped hiding the evidence. It could have been a long slow day of shared grief, even a deep peace at the end of it. Instead, I sat on the barstool licking mayonnaise from my thumb and feeling like an alien.