My new piece doesn’t win the Fish Flash Fiction contest. I am stunned. I thought I was going to win. I thought “The Second Flood” was that good. (Did I know I thought I would win? Have I ever thought I would win before?) I scan the short list and then the long list. My piece is not on either one. If I needed to right now, I would be unable to speak, to push out words that make sense. I scan the short list and the long list two more times in case I missed my name. It is not there. There were more than 900 entries, but I can’t believe my story wasn’t even in the top ten percent. I plunge. I wonder how I could have been so delusional. How could I think my piece was any good at all? I know I am a terrible writer. I am underwater, deep in the cold sea where no light lives. I don’t know how long I stay submerged. Maybe work drags me back up, makes be break the surface, breathe air, answer helpdesk questions, grade summaries. Days pass. I am lying on my back in the courtyard in chavasanah. I dream up ways my livelihood might move even more toward my writing. I picture percussive instruments at my writing retreat, and my feet bounce on the yoga mat. I think of a new way of structuring, “When I Was a Dog.” My fingers itch for the pen. “Commit more deeply to your No. 1 focus,” this week’s horoscope says, “and throw yourself into the daring adventure of it.” I leap. This water is warm, strewn with sunlight. I roll over and float on my back, let the tide take me. I remember I can swim.
My book manuscript sits on the stool, clean new printout, spiral bound. Now and then I pick it up, rub the clear plastic cover with one hand the way I used to stroke my cats. I cradle it against my chest with both arms, rocking side to side. I am in love with its fresh newness. I am in love with its story. I am in love with its existence after all these years. I am eager to make my final pass or two through its pages. But I am not doing it. I think that’s okay. I trust I’ll pick it up at the right time. I wonder if I’m avoiding, resisting, afraid to finish. And if I am, is it because I don’t want it to be over? Because I don’t want to have to grieve? Or is it because I am afraid of what comes next? Maybe all of it is true. But I am comforted to see it waiting for me on the stool. That feels like a good sign. “Soon,” I murmur. “Soon.”
At night 120 miles away my solar Christmas lights
glow and arc in the bougainvillea
silent and dear without me.
Day 17 I begin to feel bad I wasn’t more patient. The nightmare of the first ten days has paled, holds less definition now. So the voice comes to tell me I should have been more kind, to tell me I shouldn’t have yelled at her, altered as she was by the drug. How could I have so lost sight of that? The voice says I should have been able to fend off the anger better, to have been able to remember it was the medication. But I keep thinking this drug did not invent things that weren’t already there, only exaggerated them. So, where is the choice? I am blurry, confused. Warmth and engagement, even laughter with others. Is that choice? Or only conditioning, habit, not willed? Regardless, the voice wants to tell me I should have been better, been more. But today I don’t want to listen. I am still too raw. I don’t want blinders, either. I know I failed again and again in this. “But humans fail,” I say. “And you like being human.” I do. I like being human, being a being in a body on this wide, glorious, suffering planet of ours. I cry a little then, softened toward myself, my failings. May I believe I am doing my best. May I recognize my victories, all those times I was soft-voiced, tried to explain, even reassure. Linda says I am heroic to have even tried. I am pretty sure this is much more than I deserve, but I repeat it to myself anyway.
“Two blocks,” she yells. “Two blocks to the vet.” It is more like eight or ten blocks, but that is not the point, I think. Most accidents happen close to home. If she shouldn’t be behind the wheel right now because of the medication, then she shouldn’t be behind the wheel. But who am I to judge? Her doubt haunts me. I know she is not yet fully herself. The drug is still affecting her even though she didn’t take a pill today. Do I give up and let her drive because it is almost unbearable to endure her constant railing against it, against me? Do I wait until tomorrow after the blinker is fixed, from the day last week when I misjudged and let her drive, and she broke it backing up in the parking garage? I am inside my writing, sitting at the table in the back yard, when she comes to the sliding glass door. “Two blocks,” she yells. I don’t say anything. But I am angry again, and I know it is hurting me to be angry. My liver. My gallbladder. My gut. I am drained, exhausted by the onslaught, but not able to sleep. I wake in the night spinning over everything. I can’t wait to go home. Later in the afternoon, she takes the car and leaves without telling me. I am so angry I want to be gone before she gets home. I have to wrestle with myself to stay, to not respond in kind. The end in sight now, I want this to be over.
Day 11 I feel like living proof we are only given what we can bear. I am not pointing to biblical references, only the proverbial sayings, and I don’t even know if I believe this is true. I think sometimes we break, and then if we are lucky we mend. But today she wakes better, more like herself. The angry attacks come less often. And the change feels calibrated to just before my tipping point. I could not have endured it much longer, but I only know this because it has lessened. I sense the full strain of it only now when there is some relief. Today in chavasana I fill with gratitude and leave two small puddles of tears on my green yoga mat when I am done. I marvel at the timing, this pushing me to the edge but not over. I’ve never been so aware of it, this intricate tuning. I bet it has happened before, many times. But today I am awake to it. I feel how big the gift.
Day 10 I lie in chavasana and know how tender I am, how vulnerable, how beaten up I feel by all her anger. Every nerve is raw, taut, humming, waiting for the next assault. I am afraid every moment. What will be next? The sliding glass door opens behind my head. I keep my eyes closed, but I cringe, waiting for the blow. “I’m afraid of you,” she says. She hurls the words at me, accusation not confession, and closes the sliding glass door with a thud. It is said to wound. She said it earlier, and the best I can gather is it is because I am so “strict.” She takes to calling me Hitler, says “Yes, ma’am” with such derision I yell at her to stop. So ugly. Today I lie here, my fear vibrating, and recognize the echo of childhood fear alive, too. I keep my eyes closed and breathe. May we both be safe and free from harm. May I know I am enough just as I am right now.