Something odd keeps happening to me. It is unexpected, feels a bit unreal, almost dreamlike. Again and again in recent weeks I am visited by sadness—swift, keen, quick to pass. I am washing dishes. Or I am walking to the bus stop, scarf over my bent head, concentrating just to move through the hard heat of a July afternoon in this desert town. It isn’t even as if something else sparks a thought of you, the more ordinary path. And I can’t tell if this might have begun because my book, this story about the two of us, is close to being finished, this third time a charm. (Touch wood.) Or if it might be only that the time has come all by itself, a natural ending, a kind of completion of big loss, even a final letting go. I know I began to write this book much too soon, have said this before. In what is happening now there is this flicker of feeling, this sense that now is when I might have more properly begun this book. Only now. Or maybe a little bit of time from now, when this time, too, has passed. What I do know is this sudden sadness comes, piercing, bittersweet, as though I am only just now losing you for good after all these years. It makes me want to buckle at the knees, fall to the sidewalk, cement hot against my shins, quick sword thrust of sharp grief. But at the same time, in a way that makes no sense to me but that my body seems to understand, the grief is fleeting, even quiet, softened, like the regrets of our youth at the end of a long and happy life, riches beyond deserving.
I daydream about the two of us playing this greeting game. I begin because of the new big cup I bought for drinking my morning tea. I don’t start thinking about you, but you are evoked. Cocked head moment while these thoughts move through me and the mountains go orange with that first light of the sun. House finch, bougainvillea, the sliding glass door wide open. “Good morning, gorgeous,” I say. I read it from the side of my new cup. The birds are loud. I say it again and again, experimenting with the delivery. I say it like a dreamy 1930s MGM male lead and giggle. I am having fun more often, make myself laugh out loud. Somewhere in this reverie you arise, softened as I am toward you because of my book. I imagine the sleepy-voiced man who is still calling be gorgeous after decades together, like it’s all lovely and automatic. Darn the writing. Darn you.
My mother’s going to walk Auntie Gardi out to her car. It’s late, late afternoon when the air begins to chill. She’s standing on the walkway waiting for Auntie Gardi and I to say goodbye. She’s wearing her brown fuzzy coat. It’s the coat that speaks to me without my knowing. It tells me she’s better now, this clear evidence of her taking care of herself. And so when she comes back inside the house I rant at her, that kind of angry outpouring that comes to some of us after danger has passed, when we are no longer holding fear at bay, after we know our loved one is going to be okay. I’m rinsing out the kitchen sink, and even before I’m done venting I am overcome by self hatred. I feel like I can’t contain it. I don’t know what to do, so I go for a walk. I can’t breathe for the welling up of venom against me. I walk downhill. “May I hold this feeling with kindness,” I say. I can’t imagine being able to, but I ask anyway, over and over. When I get to Ocean View, I sit on the curb and cry. Then there is enough room to breathe again even though the self hatred is still pushing up against the inside of my skin, red angry waves of it. I climb back up the hill, look over my shoulder. And there through the branches of the pine trees below me are Venus and the waxing crescent moon. Something softens inside me when I see them together in the late dusk sky. Another voice wonders: how do I deserve these greetings again and again, these tender signposts? Later, I think: I can’t remember the last time I felt that volume of hatred toward myself. Am I going backward? And then I realize what was different here. Yes, I was overcome. I didn’t know how to hold it. It was so big. But it was only feeling. It didn’t have a voice, no words. I wasn’t telling myself what a horrible person I was for yelling at my mother. I felt like I didn’t know how to hold the feeling, but I wasn’t aiming it at myself. I wasn’t attacking. I wasn’t being mean to me. So, no. Not going backward after all. This was something new.
Take me, I want to say. I am the drug. Choose me. Not pancakes. Not T.V. Not empty flirtations with women you have no real interest in. Take me. I can get you high. We can make each other stoned. No fuzzy head. No hangover. Only rich, juicy currents down through our toes. Only loud bursts of laughter, warm chests, always reaching for the other. Old souls, familiar and still glad in our depths. Never boring. Never bored. Two only children playing, quiet in the corner. Whole worlds we used to make. Now we can play together in this one, savor everything. The bee buzzing the pomegranate. You hold one bright red seed between your teeth, grinning at me. The quick shared glimpse of the swallow’s tail. The way the wind comes in the fan palms, how we can hear it begin three blocks away before it arrives in our courtyard and chases us inside. Take me. I am the drug. Choose me. Make me stoned on you. “Choose you?” you say, one eyebrow raised. “I thought I already had.” You did, yes. Do it again. We choose over and over. Choose me now. Or I’ll choose you.
[Editor’s note: Another Two Sylvias Press advent calendar prompt, to begin with the Salvador Dali quote, “Take me, I am the drug . . .” and to use two titles of his paintings.]
You come to me in a dream and hand me an old shoe. I raise an eyebrow. You grin at me. What does this mean? Why have you brought me an old shoe? I don’t ask. There is something endearing in the gesture, I think, even though it baffles me. A favorite dog, maybe, bringing their most prized possession to their beloved human. Me. You love me, even after all these years. Even though you know me and all my ugliness. When you first hand me the shoe, I think about St. Nicholas Day. Do I fill the shoe for you with presents like my German mother did for me? But it’s too late, I think. St. Nicholas Day was more than a week ago. So what does this mean? Why have you brought me an old shoe? I hold it flat on both open palms and study it. It’s an old tennis shoe, dirty white, worn almost through at the toe. And then I know. This is the shoe you were wearing all those years ago on the day I asked you if you thought you could fall in love with me. You scuffed this shoe against the white linoleum like a kid. “Like that,” you said. I look up from the shoe, and you are still grinning at me. I grin back. You see on my face that I’ve figured it out. This old shoe is my anniversary present.
If Celery Girl had been a cat or a dog instead of a bike, I would never have gone out one week later to get a new one. I thought about waiting, entertained a mourning period. I thought, too, I should wait to see if she was recovered, but it didn’t “feel” like she was coming back. And it just seemed too hard. It’s still too hot for walking in the middle of the day and too much to be schlepping home bird seed and watermelons on foot. So I just went and did it, bought a new bike one week to the day when she was stolen. When Marylou and Richard found out Celery Girl was gone, they called me right away, tears still fresh in their voices. It makes my own tears try to come, remembering how loved they made me feel. “Maybe you can get Carrot Boy next time,” Marylou says. We all laugh together on the phone. But it turns out she was right. My new bike is a bright, shiny orange. “I think your name is Carrot Girl,” I whisper to her, patting her seat. (She is a girl’s bike, after all.) I tell her about the phone conversation, about Marylou’s precognition. I am growing fond of her already. Colleen called me, too, when she heard about Celery Girl. Their calls make me feel glad, and they make me feel a little funny, too. People love me. They really love me.
I make people feel bad. I’ve lost friends over it, again and again through the decades. Over the last year or so I’ve begun to be able to admit this, to see it with more clarity, to begin to face it. Even as I move my pen across the page I am braced for the self-loathing, but it doesn’t come, not the way it used to. Sometimes it comes still in one big wave, trying to swamp me, making me clench in rage, wanting to die, like that last time Sable wouldn’t come inside, and I yelled at him from the doorway. He sat hunched over in the courtyard staring at me with his big green eyes. I felt it all then, how much I hated myself for what I was doing to him. It was the last time I yelled at him, something I’ve clung to in my grief. Thank god I stopped yelling at him in those last months before he died. Other things still trigger that wave, but the feelings are momentary now, and it doesn’t sink me anymore, doesn’t tumble me around underwater, sand in my mouth, unable to breathe. It doesn’t get all of me anymore. I think enough of me stays separate, watches from somewhere further up the shoreline, refuses to relinquish herself, my feet in dry sand now. I think little by little I’ve healed enough to not be taken over by my self-hatred, and that healing has let me begin to face the fact that I am mean to the people I love. I can turn toward that now, maybe even say it out loud, look at it in daylight. I can do this now without being pulled down by that dark, terrifying wall of water. May I keep learning to be tender to myself, so I can be more tender to all the beings in my life. May I let go of my remorse, all that damage, all that time lost, too. May I forgive myself. May I learn now how to make the ones I love feel good.