Ever since the friend who agreed to watch my cat Trair when I was away never went to feed her in my Oakland flat in 1987, I have set out a bowl or two of extra water for my cats when I’m out of town, my “talisman” water. I’ve kept this ritual up over the years since my last two cats died. I have a big round mug now, red crayon colors, wild yellow flowers, black rim. It lives beside the fridge. This morning I replenish the water. I rinse the mug, fill it close to the brim. I wipe the water from the bottom, the sides, and lower it with care to the floor in its exact spot, silent prayers for protection. Crouching beside the fresh talisman water, I catch myself in the mirror on the wall above it. I am struck by something in my face I haven’t seen of late. “Oh, there you are,” I say to my mirror self. “You’re coming back.” And with this pleased glimpse, this relief and welcome, comes grief, too, almost as if I had abandoned myself, and loneliness, as if I’d been alone all this time since I’d become sick, as if I’d left myself for lost.
6:10pm. I am resisting prepping for my class that begins tomorrow. I just don’t want to do the work. But of course I have to. It needs to be done by 8am tomorrow, and it will be. I just don’t want to do it now. So, I wash the dishes, rinse out the sink, wipe down the counters. I decide to let myself read a little first. I feel like dessert, I think. I find a forgotten Lara bar, Pecan Pie, in the door of the fridge. I take it back to bed with me, spearmint tea steeping on the table beside me. I eat the bar all at once, sucking the sweetness into me, this unexpected gift to myself tenderizing me. Halfway through the bar, I begin to cry. I’ve always thought I would do whatever it took to keep my loved ones safe, well, happy. Now I am coming to understand it can’t be quite so limitless, so no holds barred, that I may need to save something of myself for me. So I cry, and I chew, the sweetness of dates, the earthiness of pecans. I grieve for this inner ideal I’ve carried with me for decades, of what it means to love someone fully, a delusion, I think now, that would have left me husk only. Part of me is glad to think I may find my way to giving much but not everything, not viscera, not bone. To think I may have something left when things are done. Even so, the taste of dates and pecans still in my mouth, even sensing that this idea of giving everything was cloudy seeing, I grieve to feel the dream of it crumbling inside me, to feel it slip away.
We hike to the oasis across the road, small groupings of fan palms. I walk with a cluster of their dark berries dangling in my hand, savoring their sweetness, spitting seeds. When I have had my fill, I lay the berries down with care on a rock, gift for the coyote.
[29 of 30 in November, re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]
Yes, I goofed, so I am posting my last three on this last day of November!
I gesture wildly so my mother can spot me, pressed up against the upstairs window of the train. We throw kisses, wave like little kids, not stopping until the train pulls away. After, a pool of sadness sits in me, and the image of her small waving form on the platform.
[13 of 30 in November, re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]
I wake up weird. A deep sadness I can’t touch with my finger, my fist. Did I dream? I remember Iola. I didn’t know she was dying, but I was sad all morning the day she died, this same inexplicable sadness. I ride my bike to get my hair cut. There’s another woman there waiting. We talk about el día de los muertos. I describe a piece I read once, this endearing dialog. Two spirits, excited, visiting the day of the dead altar their family created. Oh, look, she remembered the pozole. And, I wonder where Isabel is? She always makes the best calaveras. We marvel over the sense of affection, how dear it is to celebrate our loved ones who’ve died, this connection between the worlds. I wave at the woman on my way out, wild hands, happy like a kid. I am buoyed, so sure we’ve both liked each other so much. I ride home, work, do laundry, cook broccoli. I am still sad, tender, wobbly. While I eat, a hummingbird flies in. He whirs back and forth across the length of the room four times. For a moment I worry he’s lost track of how to leave, but then he flies straight out the opened louvers, and I know he must only have wanted to make sure I was paying attention. I wake up in the act of loving him, and I decide he’s telling me to care about others. So I put my bowl down to go check on my neighbor, find out what the doctor said about his one eye that isn’t doing well after cataract surgery. Later, my heart savors the two small, pale squash sitting in sunlight on the arm of the couch. I take a picture with my phone. The sun sinks behind the mountains. I read Lab Girl, do more work. The vulnerability is still with me. I watch a house finch crack open sunflower seeds on the wooden fence. I breathe in the scent of tecoma blossoms. Sadness is still here, but so is stillness. So is peace.
I walk back down my gravel driveway after taking out the trash. I see a lone guayaba on the ground, bend to pick it up, turn it over. It’s beautiful, ripe and unmarred, untouched by bird or desert rat. The very last one, I suspect. I’d thought the two I ate three days ago would be the end of them. I stand cradling the small perfect fruit in my palm, this sweet surprise. I thank my guayaba tree, kiss a patch of smooth dark trunk between the lovely peeling bark skin. I feel lucky and grateful. Then I move, gentle, through the big palm fronds that brush my trailer, and I feel my sadness. Is it because of my family? Maybe. Maybe it is that. And maybe it is touched by autumn, too, the changing light, the ending in this, the movement toward the new. I love the changing of the seasons, the anticipation in that coming to be. But it’s a time of letting go, too. When I was young I always felt a kind of longing in the fall. I called it “autumn aches.” Maybe what I feel today is that. And maybe I feel the earth’s sorrow, as well. I open my wooden gate, careful of the guayaba I am holding. The Mexican petunias are a wild splash of purple in the center of the courtyard, a volunteer sunflower, big new bloom, beside them. I stop inside the gate, press the guayaba to my lips, breathe the scent of it. The sparrows lift back into the bougainvillea, soft movement, brushstroke on paper. The sadness, I tuck away. I’ll carry it with me, let it live, quiet, just beneath this joy.
How can I describe it? We have a short stretch of hot days. It tops out at 122 degrees. One afternoon I hear birdsong. I follow it to the bathroom, peek around the green towel hanging on the shower rod. There is an old, weathered female house finch singing on the open louvers in the little window above the bathtub. I am charmed but baffled until I realize she is coming for the air, both the swamp cooler and the A/C on, all the windows wide open because I can’t live with them closed. I am used to the hummingbirds coming to rest on the one set of louvers without a screen, but this is new. The next day there are four house finch in the bathroom window. One is eating sunflower seeds. Later, I am working on my laptop in the living room, and I hear them on the louvers not two feet from where I sit typing. They are hidden behind the purple curtains, maybe seven of them. How do I say what it’s like to have them so near? They are almost inside my home, a magical visitation, but practical and smart of them, too. It is a dearness to know they are so close to me on the couch, their songs, chirps, their tender small selves, all feathers and air, all sweetness and light, like tiny angels calling, like crossings from another world, like family. It is like nothing I’ve ever known before. When they leave, I wonder if they were a dream.