Monday morning I say prayers for the spirits of Syrians killed by poisonous gas and for the people who love them. I pick dead blossoms from the three big pots of pansies and pull soft, fuzzy, pale green weeds nestled among them. (I’ve decided to do one task each morning toward a clean courtyard.) I break off a pansy bud by mistake. I set it in water, place the small glass beside my bed. The deep purple against the white wood and the soft curve of the tiny stem makes me cry. I cook brown rice, pack pears and peanuts for my snack between writing group and sangha. I still want to do my sitting practice and a tiny bit of yoga before I have to leave, so I keep my writing short. I cry more often these days, small things like the bread and butter or the pansy life stopped short. Big things like dead bodies in Syria, like being afraid about my health or feeling like a failure. But they are brief, quick moments only, and I tend to be kind to myself when they arise. I count to 29 to blend my garlic lemon drink for my liver, and I remember seeing Amma in the grocery store last night, how much better she looked. The memory makes me glad for her, grateful for her Tibetan doctor. And in the same breath, still counting seconds while the blender fills the room with its loud machine noise, I recognize again the part of me who still believes nothing I do will ever be enough. The tears come, but so does a deep certainty that I am healing (louder than that other voice? louder than the blender?) and a wash of dearness for myself and my good efforts.
I lie on my left side for four hours in excruciating pain. I think I may be passing a gallstone. In between I go to the bathroom and vomit. At one point, the pain drops lower in my belly, and I become afraid it might be my appendix. I debate going to the hospital. I am angry that money factors into the decision, that our healthcare system is so messed up in this country. Marylou and Richard come get me, take me to the emergency room, tend to me with sweetness even though I don’t seem to be able to be nice. At least seven people work with me there. One doctor who does the ultrasound is both present and kind. Another man who brings me back from my CT covers me with a heated blanket and tucks it around my feet. The gesture makes me want to cry. In the end, there is no diagnosis. I go home and sleep, restless. The pain eases by morning, all but disappears by the afternoon. I’m sorry now I went to the hospital, but I’m alert for the silver lining(s) to be revealed over time. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be a better advocate for myself, that I didn’t insist they do an ultrasound on my gallbladder. (Though I know I could be wrong about that.) But it was all I could do to handle the pain. I’m glad no one wanted to take out any organs, and that the experience wasn’t terrifying. I imagined it would be. But I’m more disappointed than ever in the way our system works. May my first trip to the hospital be my last. And thank you, Marylou and Richard, now and always. What would I do without you? Oh, and the orchids you brought me are exquisite.
I am standing in front of the automatic doors when the train arrives at the station. My mother is sitting on a cement bench beside the track watching the train pull in. She is six feet away. When the doors don’t open, I pound on the window. She looks up. I have some crazy unformed idea she might call out to a conductor outside the train, tell them her daughter is stuck in the last car. Instead I run upstairs. “No! No!” I yell. And, “Wait!” When I find the conductor in the next car, the train is just beginning to pull away. He won’t do anything to stop it. “This isn’t an emergency,” he says. I scream at him and apologize in the same breath. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t reach my mother on her cell phone, and I can’t calm down. An hour and a half later I am at her house in the foothills, but my heart is still pounding. That night I play those moments over in my head, the shock of watching her outside while I’m trapped on the train. Why did this happen? Maybe because this was not about me. It wasn’t personal. I got to watch my body dump crazed amounts of adrenaline into my system. I remember when I was 24 and my stepfather had a seizure in the middle of the night. I was incoherent when I dialed 911. And even though this is not me yelling at the bus driver, even though this is not me yelling at the notary public, there is something reassuring about the idea of all that adrenaline messing with my mind, as if, just maybe, it’s not completely my fault. Something cracks open in me, a small fissure, a glint—the beginning, I hope, of acceptance.
I am on the phone with my friend Richard. He is talking about rereading a mindfulness book, about the idea that all we need to do is shine a light on a problem. We don’t need to do anything, only shine the light. I am grumpy with him, get an icky tone in my voice. I’m annoyed—angry, really—because I have been shining a light for years on all kinds of problems, and it hasn’t done any good. (Well, not any good, of course, but the problems persist.) After we hang up, I think about this for days. I try to understand why it makes me angry, why I am so bent out of shape by this claim, so twisted up inside. Then it comes to me. This only works if you accept whatever it is you are shining the light on. This doesn’t work unless we accept ourselves or the situation. There is a letting go in it, an opened palm. I know I am not there yet. But maybe I am inching my way toward it?
In one week in October I cause seven scenes. I rant in a public email in my new job, take an exasperated stand against a colleague I never liked in a public email at my old job. The first turns out to be a mistake—I jumped the gun. The second makes me feel mean, even though I think she had it coming, even though people are glad I said what I said. I end up having to send another public email to apologize. I should have sent a private note, I say. In the real world, I storm out of a mail center after trying to get a form notarized. “I’ve never had a good experience here,” I say in a loud voice as I push my way out the door. The city bus I’m on pulls up at the bus stop directly behind my transfer bus, and I hurry toward it. The driver pulls away as I approach. “No!” I yell. And then, “Fuck! Fuck!” I can’t believe this is happening. No one says a word, and I hate that I am spewing this ugliness out into the world. I now have six blocks to walk with my heavy bags to catch my Amtrak bus downtown. At Mami’s, the universe gives me lots of practice, endless chances to respond with composure and grace. I fail again and again and again. As the weeks unfold this pairing of opportunity and shocking failure presents itself so often there is no time to dwell on my shortcomings. I can only exclaim, only keep trying. A friend at sangha tells me his zen teacher says we do this until we wear ourselves out, until we are exhausted. I wonder when that will happen to me. And what might happen next?
I wake to a world washed clean in the night, dark patches of wet in the road, fleeting evidence. I sweep while water heats for my tea and for the hummingbird’s sugar water to replace the rain-diluted batch hanging in the courtyard. I squeeze grapefruits my friend Bob brings me from his tree, four halves with the yellow plastic hand juicer I bought when I lived in Ajijic. I phone Mami, and we talk about the rain. I tell her how my friend Richard wanted it to rain at night. (I am a fan of daytime rain though I think drifting in and out of sleep to the sounds of falling rain is one of the best things in the world.) “He got what he wanted,” I say. My words echo another’s earlier this month and make me wince. I shy away from that memory, but for one flicker I wonder if my comment holds that same resentment. I hope not. But now I am alert to the phrase, curious to know if it always evokes the other one who did not get what she wanted, if it is always stained in that way by a little bit of ugly.
Hank shook his head and muttered under his breath. Then he shook his head again. He wished Sally was here. She’d know what to do, what to say to his leftie child, this daughter of theirs. Her daughter maybe more than his, but he loved her like there was no tomorrow. He just couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her sometimes. This living with them again wasn’t something he saw coming, but here she was, rearranging the kitchen cupboards, hiding his ashtray. Hell, yesterday he even found a full box of his Frosted Flakes in the outside garbage can. What was she thinking? And now she was on to his politics, chastising him for not trying harder, for not being willing to camp out with her in protest at the community center. He was too damn old to sleep on pavement in the middle of December. And she was too damn old to be living with her parents. When was Sally going to get back, anyway? How long could it take to get her toenails done, for Christ’s sake? Since when did she even have her toenails done? He muttered again, opening the can of dolphin-safe tuna Alexa had bought for the cat. It was probably her idea, the toe painting deal. His wife had been perfectly content with doing her own toenails all these decades, and now when she should have been here helping him deal with her damn daughter, she was off getting her toenails doo-dawed instead.
[Editor’s note: written from a prompt from Creative Writing Prompts.]