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.
Maybe akin to the sweetness of recognizing our wholesome acts are small moments when we stop, and gratitude seeps in. Each time an ant I think has drowned beside my sink comes to life when I dab him up with a little wad of tissue. Just past our last full moon when I wake to see her shining in the clerestory window, and the planet paired with her that night is framed in the next window over, small, solid, wish-worthy star. At the kitchen sink in my mother’s house I pour chamomile tea for my gallbladder into two Gerolsteiner bottles, and it fits just exactly right. Ian drops me off after sangha, and we wave to each other when he drives away. I sit on the edge of my bed between packing to savor my alfalfa and oatstraw tea while it’s still hot. The woman who calls to interview me for my unemployment claim takes the time to reassure me, her words strong and warm. I trip for the second time over the same uneven sidewalk on my way to Ralph’s, but this time I don’t fall. I am angled back to trim a small branch on my guayaba tree in the afternoon, and so I get to see the waning crescent moon between its leaves. I tell Amie after writing group how much difference her belief in me made in the beginning when things were so hard there. I hear a raven making that soft round sound I love so much and look around to see two of them sitting in a tall fan palm a short block away. I feel good talking to Barbara after sangha even though it’s only for a minute. I roll over in bed after I see the moon and the star and feel their light bathing my back. In the morning I see them again in the lightening sky before the star fades and the moon sinks behind the mountain. “Good journey,” I whisper just before she sets. “Good journey.” Good wishes. Good times.
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.