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.
Sweep. Sweep the courtyard. Yell at the big red ants. They are everywhere, traveling again and again into the path of my broom. The mess from the birds, black oil sunflower seed shells, kernel-less now. Bird shit, too, accumulates until the next good rain. Love the birds, I tell myself, accept the mess. But sometimes I yell. “Too many,” I call to the sky after them, when 40 mourning doves take wing, startled. Their wingbeats fan more mess onto the cement, and the ants roam, searching for treasure. I yell at them, too, some days. But other days I just move from spot to spot with the broom, avoiding their pathways. When I’m able to do this, to move again and again in order to sweep an ant-free space, letting go of wanting an unencumbered trajectory and my desire to finish, I can circle back again, and it just works, easy. Today, the ants are fewer, slower, maybe because last night was cooler, our first real touch of desert autumn. Today, I feel tender toward each one. I circle, calm. I even wait more than once toward the end for one ant and then another to move away, patient. When I finish, I’m struck by the beauty of this messy pile. Today, a handful of bright yellow tecoma blossoms amid the shell casings, the feathers, the papery dried bougainvillea blooms, the mound of fine, dark desert dust. And one lone purple Mexican petunia blossom still stuck to the bristles of the broom.
I sweep the courtyard in the morning heat. It is covered with seed casings and feathers and the odd dried bougainvillea blossom. I am sick of the mess. I remind myself I love my birds, that this is a small price to pay. I know this because decades ago I was vacuuming just after my dog Sanji died, and I smelled her warmed fur in the machine. I cried thinking about all the times I resented her hair on the furniture, how much dirt she brought in, how I would so gladly deal with it now if only I could have her back. Still, I am grumpy and resentful of the daily bird mess. The hot, humid air only makes it worse. I am angry with myself for not hosing down the cement, for wanting to wait until I’d be home for a longer stretch to enjoy it, setting up the umbrella, bringing out the pillows. I am angry at myself for wanting it all to be perfect at the same time. I know the daily bird mess would feel less overwhelming if the cement wasn’t so spotted with bird poop, so filthy sweeping seems to make little difference. I think of all the birds partying here when I am gone, living it up all over the courtyard. They don’t do that when I’m home. Still, I am pulled down by my grumpiness. I sweep beside the edge of the cement and look down. There is a small mango nestled in the dirt. It stops me, it’s soft greens and golds, the smoothness of its skin when I pick it up. I rest the mango on my open palm, look at the sturdy little tree who has been so abundant this summer. She has jasmine and a wild vine with trumpet flowers looping about her, but she seems content. I remember how lucky I am, how much I have, how much I am given, always. I look up and see the last quarter moon in the blue sky, another gift. I slough off my discontent. It is heavy, anyway. I let the earth swallow it. I lean the broom against the washing machine, wrap both hands around the mango, chastened. “I promise to savor it,” I tell the tree. I carry the mango inside to the cooler air, grateful.
I blame it on Alexa. She must have set my alarm for the wrong time. I wake up knowing it’s too late to get to the footbridge in time to hear the bells chime the hour. I put my sandals on, muzzy from my nap, and head out into the warm wind of early evening. The water in the creek surprises me each time I see it, and I wonder why I am not walking beside it every day until it’s gone. I talk to a raven on the sand, watch the moving water, stop on the bridge and look down at the falls at the concrete drop, still loud from the snowmelt but no longer thunderous. On the way home I hear a frog begin to croak. “Oh,” I ask him in my head, “are you lonely, too?” The question surprises me like the water surprises me. I stop on the path. Am I lonely? I feel a subtle ache, a kind of longing. A little lonely, yes. This morning I woke up with thoughts about being left out. Maybe that has stayed with me. But I’m glad, too. Content, quieted, grateful. While I stand there sorting it out inside me, other frogs join in, six or seven voices, a companionable chorus. It makes me grin. I cross the street, and a raven wings toward me. Is he the same one I spoke to earlier? He lands beside me in a fan palm, and I stand still in the middle of the road. Between the frogs and this bird, I no longer feel alone. And because I’ve stopped before I turn the corner, I hear the bells, after all, tolling the half hour in the late dusk.
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.”
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.