It is hard for me to name fresh, new times when I felt like I belonged because I have written about most of them already, the ones that stand out. That pile of young women on Vicki’s living room floor, laughing. Girl Scout camp, Camp River Glen, singing in the dining hall or beside the fire at night—all of me engaged, connected, joyous. For me more often is the sense of being in a group but not of it, a rigidity in my body, an inability to rest with these people who seem so at ease together. I don’t know what the common thread is, aside from myself, me as the thread. Often I just haven’t experienced what they describe—I feel different, set apart, as if they all truly come from common roots, and I am the strange flower carried far from the others, flown here by birds.
I seem to always be becoming someone new. For decades now my life has turned toward becoming whole, becoming more and more of who I want to be, becoming well, becoming comfortable in my skin. I have small rushes of time when I can feel it burgeoning in me, swept up in some big gateway. Sometimes I feel aware of being in the heart of one big transition. Other times I can sense a series of transitions, moving toward the me I want, the life I long for. Stepping in more fully, feet planted in the earth, joy flying, humble and grateful. Not arriving, or only for a moment, but always becoming.
[Editor’s note: This was a short, timed writing from our daylong Zoom retreat on June 22nd. It is lightly edited here.]
I lean over, rub lotion into my calves, my shins. I am behind on my sleep, tight from too many hours on my laptop. I dangle from my waist in the small bathroom, feel my spine lengthen. My body is stiff, foreign. I abandoned my yoga in January, maybe even before I got sick, and I have yet to return to it. As I come to standing, I think, I’ll have to plan to do my yoga through the next pandemic. (As if I have to wait until the next one to begin again. As if I can’t begin today or tomorrow. As if the idea of the next one is an everyday thought. As if anyone but me would think this is funny.) I look at myself in the mirror and grin.
The desert is funny, you know, the way it is summer in late winter, not desert summer thank goodness but ordinary summer like in normal places, so we can leave the doors open and feel the warm air in the early dark and really what can be better than warm nights, completely delightful, not hot nights of course, not like summer nights here which are dreadful, awful, so sometimes even on these silky nights in late winter it is a bit troubling really, thinking of the summer nights when it can be 111 degrees at 10:30 at night and so then it can be hard to truly relish these early warm nights because I just want it to be cool as long as it can be knowing what is coming and staying and living here those six brutal months of summer.
[This is a bit of the piece I wrote for my class. I’m imitating Gertrude Stein from a selection of her letters in The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thorton Wilder.]
Ever since the friend who agreed to watch my cat Trair when I was away never went to feed her in my Oakland flat in 1987, I have set out a bowl or two of extra water for my cats when I’m out of town, my “talisman” water. I’ve kept this ritual up over the years since my last two cats died. I have a big round mug now, red crayon colors, wild yellow flowers, black rim. It lives beside the fridge. This morning I replenish the water. I rinse the mug, fill it close to the brim. I wipe the water from the bottom, the sides, and lower it with care to the floor in its exact spot, silent prayers for protection. Crouching beside the fresh talisman water, I catch myself in the mirror on the wall above it. I am struck by something in my face I haven’t seen of late. “Oh, there you are,” I say to my mirror self. “You’re coming back.” And with this pleased glimpse, this relief and welcome, comes grief, too, almost as if I had abandoned myself, and loneliness, as if I’d been alone all this time since I’d become sick, as if I’d left myself for lost.
I wake to a feeling in the air, an almost smell, a difference. Then I hear it through the open windows, quiet patters on my neighbor’s awning, soft rain falling. I lie on my back, early morning light, cloud light, tasting the rain, savoring, thanking. Then comes the voice in me who always wants more, who wants to hold things longer than their time. “If only it could rain all day,” it says, sotto voce. “If only I could stay home and enjoy it instead of being stuck inside the library all day, missing it.” But today I have more sense. “Shush,” I whisper back. “Hush, now,” I say. And I return to savoring, to thanking, to dancing inside to the song of this morning rain, this unlooked for gift, this happy surprise.
I cry brief tears in bed this morning, grateful for our home, the people who love me, my birds, trees, crickets, daddy long legs, squirrels, yard, the exquisite beauty and safe haven here. And I cry because I have lost touch with this, my deep gratitude, since I’ve been sick. It seems sometimes as though I am always recovering, or trying to, from grief or trauma, from illness or too much work. As though I am always trying to come back to myself in some way, to my life, to my dreams of writing and thriving. Being sick seems a little different, but in truth each kind of becoming well, or returning, comes in its own time. We can try to help the process, but we can’t orchestrate an end date. Still, I wonder how many people feel the way I do, so often trying to come home to myself. Do other people have some steady, solid, open-hearted, even-keeled way of moving through their lives? This morning, I suspect they do.