Before the election, I turn from my mailbox to see my neighbor Ted and his dog Buster walking toward me. They look happy. “I just got a letter from Mike Bloomberg,” I say. Ted teases me about how Mike and I can’t keep our relationship secret much longer, and I fall in step with them on their slow walk home. We talk politics, about who we are voting for in the primaries, about how much we both like Elizabeth Warren. We fix the world, talk about the environment. That gets me going about banning Roundup, and we talk about how people would have to be willing to tolerate some weeds or actually pull some weeds, give up a little on the pristine. We talk about edible weeds, my fondness for dandelions and their greens. (Right now another neighbor has some nice big ones behind his trailer I am quietly harvesting.) At my gate we stop. “Well, I have to get going,” I say.
“Oh, sorry,” Ted says. “I’ll get off my soapbox.”
“No,” I say. “It’s always a pleasure.” But I am instantly sorry I said I had to go. Something under my skin bubbling up, the need to finish prepping my class before I leave. But I could have been happy standing there a few more minutes, fixing the world together. I wish I had.
When did I last feel this way? Saturated, as if I can’t absorb one iota more, almost goofy with it, punch-drunk. But I don’t pull myself away from the discussion, don’t want to miss the moment, drawn to these people, swimming in this rich, lively human broth together.
I am early for sangha, for sitting practice and sharing, so I choose one of my favorite benches outside the dog park. It’s hot, 110 degrees, but I am shaded by a trio of young, beautiful trees, three small still-blooming palo verdes. I eat my little meal slowly, savor the crisp cabbage with guacamole, the sharp radishes with salt, the small cup of macadamias, walnuts, pistachios. It’s good to do things slowly when it’s 110 degrees, and I seem to be learning this. Small moment by small moment, I notice there is no one in the dog park, and even the birds are missing, hiding out from the heat. No one is here except me and one small verdin in the tree to my left. His presence comforts me. “Just the two of us,” I say. He moves from tree to tree within this triangle, nibbling on the tiny leaves, I think. Or maybe he is finding tiny bugs. When he flies away, I miss him. It’s just me now. But I am still content, take in the trees, the quiet, the peace. I don’t remember things going quite so still in the afternoon. I wonder if I wasn’t paying attention. The delight is our summer was delayed this year. Maybe it’s taking everyone by surprise, shocking us all into silence.
On the walk back to the train station, I stop beneath a liquid amber and listen to a raven make his luscious, rounded talking sounds. I stand there for a long time listening, watching him in the fork of the tree, all shiny black, proud, strong beak. When he flies away, I listen to his wings beat against the air until I can’t hear them anymore. Waiting by the train tracks, after, I remember the lucky penny I found on my trip here twenty days ago. I left it behind this morning with a note, transferring the luck. Because of the penny, I scan the ground. I see a dead hawk lying beside the track. She is on her back, one wing splayed open, a richness of underfeathers open to the sky, striped ones, tufts of pure white ones that flutter in the breeze. A Cooper’s hawk, I’m almost certain. I kneel beside her. Every cell in me wants to cradle her still form in my arms, hold her against me, carry her somewhere softer, safer, prettier. Tuck flowers around her. But my train is due any moment. I hear the train even now, kneeling beside her. I can’t stop crying. I ask blessings for her, shoulder my backpack, turn toward the train. I am still crying when I find my seat upstairs, leaving the hawk, leaving everything behind, it seems. I look out the window, and everything blurs. Her mountains are behind me now, too, I think. But even now, I marvel. How did she and I manage to go from where we were to where we are now in such short a time? How did we soften, still so near the nightmare of those first weeks? How did we so swiftly come full circle, all the way back to sweetness, back to love?
Early Sunday morning I am on my way home. I am early for my train, so I wander down the semi-residential street, hoping for a latte. I stand for a long time beneath one of my favorite trees, pink and rose blossoms like starfish. It is full of tight buds, amazing autumn bloom. There are ravens everywhere in the quiet street, the only ones out here with me at this hour. I follow them, drink a decaf soymilk latte on a bench, savor every hot, creamy sip. I see her mountains in the distance, feel an ache to be leaving. Yesterday when we said goodnight there was sweetness between us, and again this morning when I woke her to say goodbye. The night before I had a tantrum in self-hatred, couldn’t decide when to leave, wanted flat, pan-fried noodles but couldn’t bring myself to go get them, settled on making brown rice pasta in green salad for the two of us, settled on leaving Sunday. Then we settled in together with dinner, our closest thing to peace in weeks. I look away from the mountains now, feel again the ache of separation. I glance at my coffee cup, see my name on the label. It is spelled right, even though she didn’t ask me how to spell it. It is such a small thing, but it feels like a gift. Seeing my name reaches into me, softens me somehow, makes me cry. It brings me back to myself. I’ve seen myself in the bathroom mirror a handful of times in the past two days, really seen myself, the first in all this time. I rub my thumb over the label on my cup, and I think, as hard as I tried to take care of myself, maybe I mostly disappeared.
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.