Of course, I have been mired in quandry– as have most who are part of the extended family. And some numbness. I can’t begin to sort out all my thoughts and emotions regarding this determination after her being in hospice care a short time. I have been trying to make it somehow align with my view of living and dying in my confused brain for a couple of weeks; it was to have happened in July. Then the date was changed. Suddenly last week on the way home from our beach trip I was informed I had to soon say goodbye to her. Yet another family member.
There has been no time to “prepare” myself. How does one do that in this circumstance, really? How do we ever prepare for death of those that have taken up time and space in our days and nights, our hearts? There are many sorts of death, and have been mourning a few of them– in this country and abroad. And now at home. What do I do with the plunge into the depths of it?
I breathe fully as I awaken another day, and meditate, pray and walk, listen to music, write, reach out. Everyday things can reshape so much. Another human being can soften the blows some.
She–Skyler– will be the eighth person to die in a few years. Many of you know we lost a granddaughter only last spring. My family is shrinking each year, to the point where I almost wonder when another must leave us…It happens usually in the spring. Beauty arrives; death follows. It is a river of grief and I float in it more than I think I can manage, but it is a most human thing. We all must do it; we learn how to do it.
I don’t make any judgment of her choice, even if I understand almost nothing of it and I don’t like it. I can note that Skyler is in her eighties, has been ill and in pain for many years with many ups and downs. I believe she has thought of this long and hard and believes this is best. But it still doesn’t seem simple. It doesn’t add up right now in some meaningful way I can grasp or feel fine about. Perhaps one day, perhaps never. But it is just not my life or death. I have cared about the woman my sister has loved. I will miss her and cherish the good memories shared. But right now I am confounded as well as feeling the sadness creep in as I anticipate a very hard day tomorrow. And the others after.
I am much more focused on my sister, her impending gigantic loss and compounded sorrows. It’s a grief she has tried to fend off… even if she has also worked on accepting such a possibility for years. I will spend alot of time with her for a long while to come, driving across the city whenever she wants me there. I imagine packing lunches and sitting outdoors in the sunshine with her. Telling her stories and hearing hers. Walking her dog through lush grass. Crying, crying, and holding her. (Waiting for her laugh, triggering it. She has the best gutsy laughter. But that will come again later and not for a long time.)
The thing is, I soon gain medical power of attorney for the rest of Allanya’s life because she has dementia. I am five years younger than Allanya and yet I am now helping manage her life more and more. She was a powerhouse and I still feel that in her, her strength and intelligence. She is lucid and present and cheerful–until just lately–if also increasingly lacking decent short term memory. I will be needed in ways I cannot even anticipate, though she is living in a good assisted living residence.
I cannot know how she is truly experiencing this. We are as close as sisters can be, the very best friends. But still her mind and feelings are not mine; her life has changed in essential ways and will be more altered so soon. I cannot understand this wholly. We will weep and weep more. But I seek ways to build better bridges to her heart and mind so I may continue to walk with her during the coming years.
What this all means to me and our family goes far beyond this clumsy language. But I wanted to share this much; I know I am not the only person in these situations. We are called to be expansively loving and courageous and also strong when family members–or, yes, others–need us more and more. And so I will do my best to answer that call again.
If I don’t post here for awhile you now know why. I will write and post as I can. I have truly missed being here regularly, as well as reading more of your great blogs this spring.
I sure hope you seek and find the illuminating, small wonders, and grab and share every good moment with those you love, and just keep on keeping on. It is a such mammoth mess of a world…we need to survive heartaches the best we can and discover more ways to love life even more. To do good work and cherish what matters most.
At least, that is what I aim to keep doing, moment by moment. Tears are not the worst part. Not honoring life with compassionate presence and curious attentiveness may be the worst, I think.
Hello all, just a note before the story written today.
I have thought it over and yesterday decided to take a break from Wednesday’s Words posts. It has been over a decade of writing longform as well as posting photos and poetry. I greatly enjoy writing short stories and creative nonfiction as much as any genre. But this is the one posting that requires 6 to 8 hours or more of writing and revising–(and still I miss simple errors). Though usually I am quite up to writing such intenisve periods of time, there have been recent challenges to overcome. The knee injury in January has caused prolonged pain, interruption of usual routines. Now corrective surgery is at last on the horizon. I expect the procedure will restore me to health but it takes time to accomplish that. I have been tested. Despite several health hurdles in my life, the removal of daily power walks and long week-end hikes and explorations has emphasized my limitations and, many times, a lack of power to overcome them well.One learns how to surrender, even if it is not a critical thing like the heart disease diagnosis at 51–the heart attack during a hike. It worked for me, giving way to rest and recouperation, long before now so I will relearn to relent and accept.Then I get to regroup and start anew in any way I can.
Perhaps this is a good time, then, for more reflection regarding the direction I want to take this blog, as well. I have been pondering that a long time–as well as attending to a resurfacing desire to work on projects for submission and possible publication. I like changing up goals, pushing myself creatively; perhaps I have become overly content here, a tad complacent. A whole new blog or a podcast might also be an option while or after my knee mends. I will refocus my energies effectively, I hope.
I will for now continue to post on Mondays and Fridays, and occasionally on Wednesday if/when that feels good and right. I have much material gathered over the years for “Monday’s Meander” posts and won’t be off my feet for so terribly long! So I hope you stick around to further peruse what offerings I share. My mission remains the same: to highlight the active presence of beauty and renewal in this rough-and/or- ready world, to seek strength, compassion and wisdom of Divine Light, and to share my small journey as I discover more ways to still live with verve and peace as I grow older. I am a survivor of much but a student of all that is useful and ultimately healing, hopeful and invigorating for body, spirit and mind.
But if you don’t stick around, I understand, we all have priorities and agendas. All the best to you and yours. Happy Spring to you readers, to all you fine creative folks!
Everyone in Marionville soon knew who he was. They’d pass him and crane their necks for a closer look; take a seat nearer to his table at the cafe to hear what he might have to say; look toward his mother’s house in the hills when he wasn’t seen in awhile. If Heaven Steele accompanied him on errands they’d be stopped, people making inane conversation on the pretext of having business with her. The younger ones hardly dared look at him up close. People asked for his autograph right in the middle of the street, slowing their cars and hailing him. Walden Steele would study the ground or store shelves after offering a brief dazzling smile, perhaps a handshake if the neighbor (or intruder, he’d grumble as they went on) was introduced and seemed congenial.
Of course it was the women and girls who were most flabberghasted when he arrived. First of all, no one had realized that this famous man was the son of the eccentric artist who had moved there from Chicago, leaving her high-powered career ten years prior. Some asserted she might be psychic (per reports of those who’d had enlightening conversations with Heaven). Her name itself was irritating; not everyone was thrilled with her year around residency, rather than only a summer folk. It was impressive she was well known in the rariefied art world. But there remained those who viewed her as a stubborn wrinkle in the smooth fabric of the kingdom of Marionville, their northern Michigan town.
Well, if a patchwork of random pieces could be called smooth fabric… Marionville had never attracted a blameless or fully adaptable population–a murder had happened decades ago, and there were scandalous occurences of this and that, and attitudes that might be considered gauche elsewhere. But it tried to be a better community, worked at setting its sights higher each year. A more generous view held that Heaven was worthy and appreciated for her interest in everyone’s well being, besides which large paintings and renowned glass chimes drew more toutists. So it was admitted that Walden Steele, her offspring, was at the least a welcome distraction. And though he resembled his mother, they admitted that he must take more after his father, her ex-husband, who no one knew.
Second of all–after being Heaven’s secret son–he could not be missed if you tried your hardest to turn a blind eye. If you read magazines of the fashion type, you knew at first glance. He was a world-famous model and sometimes, more recently, actor. That walnut brown thick hair, long enough to pull into a stubby ponytail; the wide grey eyes densely lashed (someone said, “Steel grey, right? Steele, Like his mother’s–whose two eyes are completely different colors, by the way!” and people smirked); the generous masculine mouth; high cheekbones every one envied; his six feet, two inches of taut slimness. Beinn quite expressive added to his aura. When he moved or spoke he exhibited a rare engagement with his own body, as well as keen awareness of surroundings, and of others.
Walden Steele was a man who knew his power as he traversed the wilds of life and had no need to stake a claim to his space; he already owned it. Much like his mother–who was not as immediately forceful with her mellower presence. A sighting of Walden Steele shortly inspired the madness of first love in the youngest; daydreams of hopefulness in older ones and wistful sighs in the oldest. Most wanted to touch his sleeve, at least–and even throw their arms about him. Perhaps some men looked more than twice, too. Who wouldn’t, except the jealous ones? Of which there were quite a few.
But: he was silent most of the time, even a bit aloof, and carried a slight, shifting air of melancholy if anyone cared to study him long enough to slip past his beauty. Maybe it was because of the world class status with the ubiqiuity of his image, his being pestered and followed. He’d cultivated boundaries, of course. He avoided looking at people full in the face, as if living life in real time and making eye contact was harder than living behind a camera. He covered his face with a repositioned hat brim, sunglasses, and even loose a neck scarf if there was a camera poised.
Something important had brought him to everyday Marionville. More than a visit to his mother’s. At least that’s what Charles “Camp” Davies thought, and he’d become something of an expert in people watching over forty-odd years of running a bar at lakeside.
Walden came into the bar one late afternoon mid-week. Theree were few patrons, just a couple aging alkies bent over a table in the corner, telling bad jokes with fake laughs.
“Afternoon,” he said, “whatdya have today?” Camp knew it was Walden–he was so clean, well dressed, very good looking– but decided to see if the young man would introduce himself.
“A beer, any beer as long as its sweaty cold,” the young man answered and swivelled on his bar stool, taking in the emptiness of the place. Visibly relaxing, he bent over his phone, then put it face down as the beer slid his way. He ran his hand down its length, wiped the moisture on his jeans and nodded at the bartender. Then he sipped it–no rush, eyes closed, turning on the stool as he did so, until he ended up facing the picture window that looked out on Lake Wenatchee.
Camp, glancing past Walden’s wide shoulders at the shimmering water, busied himself with tasks. If a person didn’t want to talk you should respect their quietness, unless there was cause to worry or you knew for sure the customer was wanting more. This newcomer did not. He sipped and took in the sparkling lake, a glowing sapphire lit by spring’s exuberant sunshine, then swivelled back to glance at a mirror behind Camp. He shook his head once at himself, then watched Camp. It seemed Walden might say something, so the bartender leaned back against a counter and waited a few, arms folded over his barrel chest.
“Good spot here on the lake,” Walden noted, offering a friendlier look.
“Best there is, keeps my pockets full enough, too.”
“I always wanted to visit my mother here–Heaven Steele?–but never had enough time. Very nice place you have. I’m Walden.” He held out his hand.
Camp shook it firmly in response. “Name’s Camp Davies.” He waited for the usual k=joke about his first name but none came. “Sure, we all know Heaven, good customer and friend. Welcome. Relax and enjoy.”
Walden smiled more easily, face softening some, eyes lit up as he sought the view once more. He wanted to be more alone, Camp felt, so he kept on with his business.
A couple men sauntered in after work, pulled out chairs from a round wooden table, threw their caps down as grimy hands smoothed back unruly hair. They were bone-tired after working in the forests, felling trees. When they caught sight of Walden, the red-haired one pointed, leaned over to whisper in his buddy’s ear. They gawked a moment, the older shaking his head, letting go a guffaw.
Walden had a good or bad effect, depending on who was looking. “Pretty boy” had been tossed at him plenty but as most concurred, he’d laughed his way to the bank. (And he wasn’t gay though if he was, it was his own business, others shrugged.)
Camp went to them. “Long day, aye? Heating up out there. The usual, boys?”
Walden slipped out the door. Camp had wanted to ask him if he wanted a burger on the house, a one time offer for Heaven’s son. But maybe men that put together didn’t like bar food; maybe they ate truffles and caviar. Still, Camp hoped he’d stop by again. There was something deeper in him, he felt, despite the shiny outer wrappings. He felt a protective impulse coming on. A tendency of his was to sense to much and want to respond. People! Bars weren’t all about drink; in fact, they were really about people.
And the guy wasn’t really a drinker–he’d left his bottle half-full.
After a week, the stares and comments settled some, or perhaps they became surreptitious, the admirers embarrassed by their own open adulation. Walden Steele had appeared on countless worldwide billboards flaunting the latest fashion with perfect face and body; he had been in three movies, if bit parts, and was a recurrent guest actor on a soap opera. And social media content was frequent if always mysterious, as he tended to show up alone, with little commentary and many shots of places he worked or vacationed. It was rumored his long time partner was elsewhere, but who knew? Photos from around the globe garnered front pages. How could interested readers break their gaze?–it was that sort of spell. Plus, he was a multimillionaire but lived more like a hermit–who knew where– except for fashion shoots, required appearances.
Which made him even more alluring. A small glimpse of a magnetic presence made you hungry for more. And he was right there in the flesh. In mostly dull Marionville.
On the hill across the road from Heaven’s house, Jasper Dye caught wind of the gossip and thought it a bunch of hogwash. A man was a man, no matter what shape or color or fast-held opinions. Everyone had the right to privacy. After all, Jasper was alone now and he’d also craved the peace that came with it, even before he’d had so much of it. Though some might say he was a loner even in a crowd. Except for Marv, his dog.
“My son is coming for a visit, Jasper,” Heaven had told him one day when they cleaned up plant debris from her back patio after a thunderstorm.
“That right? He travel all the time, still?”
“He does, but for now he isn’t.” She tossed a small pine branch over the tall cedar fence. “He’s taking a break.” heaven sighed deeply.
“Been awhile, yeah? I know you’ve visited him at least every year, wherever he might be.”
“Yes–but it’s been almost 2 years now. That last time was in Madrid. He models, remember–clothes and stuff for ads? He’s an actor… of sorts. But he’s feeling the need to try a long pause.”
Jasper knew that meant something more, but she’d tell him if she wanted. The main thing was that Walden was coming and she was glad of it. He’d never been to her home in Marionville. It all had to be huge in her thoughts.
“Well, I’m pleased for ya but hey, we’ll need good clippers to get rid of some of this, maybe even an ax– or I’ll get my tools.” Though Jasper didn’t really want to climb up the hill again. They’d been out there near an hour and he needed a recharge, coffee and a snack, and he knew she’d offer it–after work was done. Maybe Walden could help her out some when he had a few days off to sleep in. His own aging body felt overused lately despite the fact that he’d sold his land with his small farm. He believed his tiredness might be spilling over into retirement, unfairly, but he managed, anyway.
“I’ve got it, just a minute.” She went to the shed to get clippers but turned back to him, her differently colored eyes peering at him. He never tired of those blue and brown eyes; but it was her kindness, not the eyes. “He’s not like…anyone here, you know. But I hope you like him.”
Jasper frowned. “Why not? I like you, don’t I?”
She surprised him with a quick hug. Soon they quietly worked in tandem again, old farmer and younger, sophisticated artist. An odd and steady friendship.
When they met, Walden and Jasper were uneasy but they had a fine BBQ, hung out on Heaven’s patio around the fire pit. The place looked like the refuge it was, with fountain and fire and multi-strings of fairy lights glowing against trees and sky. They soon got on well enough. Her son was a man nearing his peak, with lots of worldy experience if few simple pleasures and insights. He looked peaked and worn out. It seemed like he could sit there forever, awash in the warming glow of firelight, his striking features less pinched as evening grew softer, talk slowed. The visit would be good for him. Anyone who couldn’t feel better in this territory had serious blocks to happiness.
“I can’t get over how peaceful it is here. I’ve been countless wodnerful places but– I don’t know, all this…” He gestured with long arms sweeping about. “How cozy–is that too quaint a word?–but lovely your home is, Mom, it’s so you…I waited far too long to come.”
Heaven was pleased, just smiled to herself. She felt almost a dream that he had finally come, and didn’t think more words added anything.
Her son loosened more in a relaxed state as he gazed at the attractive, modest ranch house, the fire crackling away, the majestic trees. Then at his mother, whom he loved but from a distance his whole adult life. The glass chimes she’d made and hung everywhere released bright music as a breeze swept trhough irregular, vivid shapes, and he sighed in relief. Heaven touched his hand; he took heres and held on a long moment. Though her eyes closed, her tightening lips were telling, beset with worry that she’d tried to smile away so as to seize the night’s goodness.
Jasper Dye hoped for the best for mother and son. But he guessed her son was famous and Walden would have to get by gossip and false starts, the eyes of everyone in Marionville. He clearly needed space from his worldly affairs—tromping the woods, lazing on a small fishing boat, dozing by the fire.
As he trudged home, Jasper mused that he’d never had trouble with too many girls about. But he’d only wanted one and they’d been togther until she’d left this world for the next. He’d been lucky. Still, how fortunate Walden came to be with his family; his mother would help him get righted, along with Mother Nature. Of course, he’d be around as needed. Not much else to do these days.
It was late as Camp Davies cleaned the last surface, flicking his towel a last time against the counter, and then put away all the booze and glasses, ready to lock up. A moving shadow outside caught his eye. Someone walked by the picture window, casting a shadow across the yellow pool of light from a security lamp. Lots of random people and stray creatures came to the park at night, you never knew. He sure hoped no one had thoughts of topping the last one off in his bar. He was done and gone. It was Thursday, and Friday night would be hectic with a couple customers’ birthdays. But there came no knock or shout and he finished up.
As he pulled all doors shut and locked up out back, he rounded a corner and stood looking over the lake. The moon looked about as big as a silver dollar pasted in the heavens –as his father had said–but he thought it of it as pure magic, not cash. His parents had teased that he had a little poet hidden inside; they might have been right. But Camp liked the night. And he didn’t get home until late as three in the morning. He liked how it smmothed the edges of things, and dimmed human noise so you could hear any living thing that rustled or squeaked or howled. Nature felt like a second nature to him; he’d been raised within the family business, Mike and Mo Davies’ Campground, and that meant being at home outside, knowing nature’s ways. He’d balked at living indoors, hence the nickname.
He started toward his truck, backpack slung over a shoulder, then sat behind the wheel checking his cell phone for his wife’s nightly messages.
Along the lakefront there was little sound, as most were home or soon to be. A couple of night birds called out in the opaque darkness, the plaintive whoo whoo whoot of the barn owl a comfort. But there went one man, tentatively making his way to a public dock, the moon illuminating enough to help him find each footstep. Walden wobbled to the end, its well-aged creakiness a surprise as he went along. Then he managed to sit down. A bottle of wine he’d been drinking from was put down; he leaned back on flattened palms, head tilted back to depths of night.
Walden had held back discouragement and sorrow a long while. If he’d let his mother know much, her worry would creep into everything. And she’d ask for information or she’d discern it too fast and he didn’t have it in him to tell her, no, he wouldn’t speak of it, not yet. She’d need then to accept him as he was, accomodating and shiny bright on the outside, a deep well–or was it a a gaping hole?–on the inside. Of course she knew he was exhausted, that he couldn’t deny. He really was after travelling ten or more months a year for fifteen years, after pushing himself, taking on acting jobs in hopes of another career. The fact was, he was worn away from the weight of constant hard work with the barrage of cities and hotels, the pressures of success and demands of a public who never had enough. He had to smile or gaze dispassionately, with antic delight or with sensual prowess. Be charming, look immaculately fabulous, and speak out and shut up as others commanded.
To forget what he needed and who he was.
He’d not asked to have this face, this manner. It was genetics, not so much him, after all. Well, he was a fast learner, too. When it all began to happen for him, he’d been appalled by the fast craziness of the life, but there was money and admiration…he was greedy and young. His mother had warned him but by then he lived with his father. Who thought it a marvelous opportunity for his son, for himself. It all accelerated; in less than a year he was “It.”
Well, he’d had enough. Even before Mirabel left him in the middle of the night during their Icelandic getaway. He couldn’t stop her. She hired a private plane and a pilot. Just like that, three years erased with exciting, tender, intense days and nights. All he could do was stare into an immense, blameless sky and let the weeping come. And then he had another job in Berlin so, quick change artist that he was, he got right back to it.
Not that he blamed Mirabel. She was riding her own flashy star. It’s just that she needed it, she loved it, while he no longer did. He’d hoped when he saw how they fit together they’d be forever–and why not? couldn’t he have that, too?–but it began to ground to a halt when he told her he was thinking of leaving the industry. Creating another life before he would not or could not move on, anymore.
Walden could smell the urgent earthiness of spring, of water swaying just beyond and beneath him. He took off his shoes and dangled his feet in shockingly cold water. It was only May; it’d be July or August before it got warmer though he didn’t care. The lake lapped around ankles and toes with rhythmic gentleness. The owl called to him and he wondered if it was close by, watching over all, or hiding in tree branches intent on its own business. A more distant owl called back. All creatures had mates sooner or later yet he sat alone. Pushing thirty-five, old by some standards in his world. He wanted more but what? He sought solace, that was the one thing he knew was right.
Her name tasted like sweetgrass smoke in his mouth, sweet and bitter, and syllables floated like dandelion fluff over water into the greater realm of darkness. Her name had always sounded like music to him, but now it seemed like an eerie song from long ago, dissonant and peculiar if beloved. His cheeks grew wet as her name was spoken over and over, and he drank the wine, kicked his feet at the surface below.He dreamed backwards in time and forward into a perplexing present–but the future? He saw nothing.
He took a longer draught off the bottle, then it was empty. His head felt cottony, askew, and his body languid, even sleepy. Walden wasn’t a drinker if he could help it all those years out there. He couldn’t afford to be if he wanted top dollar, to look excellent every early morning call for modelling, for acting. That was one of his secrets–he stayed apart from partying scenes as much as possible. No longer meaningful to him, the old rules dissipated with each drink. Fine wine pilfered from his mother’s cabinet–as if he was a kid! was that how he acted when he wasn’t his own man for so long?– as she slept. It had tasted right for his mood. A hint of sweetness that went slowly sour, warming to belly and mind.
He scanned the black water, eyes widening, pupils large as they strained for the undulating swath of moonlight. It trembled and then shushed him. He was alone, blessedly alone. He would swim all the way to the other side if it was daytime. But maybe he’d just float. He’d mastered that when he’d had lessons at six.
Walden bent at the waist over the water and barely pulled back in time, contemplating. How cold was it, really? He’d noticed people on the lake most days but they’d been in boats, usually, fishing or enjoying races and rides. He’d like to own a boat…maybe he’d live on a houseboat…
Camp Davies got off the phone with his wife who worked night shift at the hospital one town over. Stretched thoroughly. Casting a glance around the area a last time, admiring the silver orb above, he saw something down by the dock. Coyote, an unlikely but possible bear, some deer? No, not those. A figure of–? He got out of his truck quietly then registered that a person swayed back and forth on the end of the dock. Camp broke into a dead run.
Walden tried to keep upright as he peered into water so like a black pit, yet how inviting. In a haze of wine, it seemed a place of comfort and ease; he could float a long while… all the way to Canada. Was that a song? How far was it from here, north or south? Oh, but no, a river took you places, a lake… it just held you.
He fell forward, but it felt like forever before he plunged into the expanse. It stung, he found no bottom, only a yawning abyss of water, a cold and alien tunnel, an aqueous journey to another side not yet known but beckoning. Why was he here? He fell or let himself fall. He held gulped breath; terror suddenly struck as he tried to move upward, upward as he was dragged down by his weight, his fear, diminished oxygen seeping away. He idiotically tried to push water out of the way with both arms again and again, lungs starting to burn, lips loosening.
Camp Davies ran the length of dock in a couple seconds, stripping off jacket, shirt, kicking off boots, then jumping. The sharp razor of cold sliced at him, but he thought he knew who it was before the man was submerged.
“Walden! Hold on, come here boy!” he yelled as he dove twice, came back up. It might be too late but Camp fought against that possibility.
There, he saw him. Walden surfaced near his straining hands. Flailing but weakly, bobbing above water only a few feet away. Camp powered his stocky body with all his resolve and might toward him, who sputtered and coughed and spewed water, trying to float his body over the surface. But Walden no longer felt cold, only numb, too tired. His legs and trunk dipped under the water.
Camp grabbed him around his chest, pulling, tugging at him up and above the lake surface, until he managed to get him to the dock where he held on to it, breathing hard enough for them both.
“Walden, you breathing?” Fear snatched away his hope.
Before he could figure out how to get Walden onto shore and save himself, too. His breath got so small in the cold and wet, his own body started to slow, when a big hand grabbed his shirt sleeve and yanked hard. A dog barked repeatedly.
Jasper Dye and his half-lame dog, Marv, were at the edge of the dock. The older man lay down so he could get better purchase and pulled with a burst of energy until Camp grasped him better. Jasper huffed, strained and yanked him around the length of the dock to shallower water by the bank, then dragged him up enough onto it so they were safe. Marv sank his teeth into Walden’s leather coat sleeve to help pull, shook his furry head back and forth. Jasper sprinted to his van for blankets as Camp turned Walden over and looked at him, pushed on his chest though the man was breathing with difficulty. The young man coughed harder, emitted rasping breaths, painful ones, but he was taking in gulps of night air. And shivering terribly, body twitching. Camp wasn’t warm, himself, slapped his hands and arms about himself, and then realized what had happened, felt panic spiral and rise, then fall. Before long, Jasper’s old wool Army blankets were about them both, and the whine of sirens created a jagged alarm in the night.
Walden whispered, “We–we make it? Am I alive?”
Japser and Camp put their hands on his shoulders, and Jasper replied, “Yes, you’re with us, you can rest. Not sure what sent you over but glad oyu’re here.”
Camp asked Jasper why he was even out there in the middle of night.
“Oh you know, old men ramble when they can’t sleep. Marv likes to sniff around the lake, do his business. I like the solitude and we see the world in different ways. Hobo hearts, us two, I guess…”
“You’re a kind of funny angel, Jasper. You, too, Marv.”
Everyone knew about it before morning, of course. The two men were checked and Camp was sent home with the advice that if he felt worse after a hour’s warm bath, hot tea and blankets to call 911. Walden was taken to the hospital fifteen miles away for hypothermia and observation. Blood alcohol was too high for swimming in any temperature. Camp’s wife, at work when the ambulance arrived, was apprised of all. She talked to her husband, then insisted on looking after the patient. He was questioned, tended to, finally deemed drunk but sane enough and ultimately recovered enough to leave. Out in a little over twenty four hours, Walden was eager to get back to his mother’s.
There were some cars waiting and cameras readied, ppointing his way. He scrunched down until they sped past then took random, frequent turns. A gravel road was the final evasion.
She drove while he remained drawn into himself.
“You might have talked to me, Walden. About things. I am always here, on your side.”
“Yeah. I know, but some things are hard to put into words.” He looked at her with those eyes that everyone said would steal hearts and they had, hers first. “Like heartache. And disillusionment…”
“Okay. But you almost…”
She pulled to the side of the back road, overwhelmed..
“No, Mom, really–I got good and drunk for once. You know I’ve long avoided alcohol though I smoke weed sometimes…but I was acting foolish. I have been ignorant a long time. Or in denial about what I need. Me, the real me, whoever that may be, has little wisdom.” He felt and saw her pain. “But it wasn’t deliberate.” And he believed that now. Last night, as he struggled with blurred consciousness and shock in the emergency room, he wasnt that clear.
He leaned his head back, eyes closed and sat listening to the rumble of the idling engine. He knew his mother was wating for more. Staring at him, her son, trying to not cry, again. The car windows were open: perfume of wildflowers in a field of fecund earth, the drone of laboring bees and cross currents of birdsong came at him like gifts of unexpected kindness.
“Good, then what do you need right now?” she asked in her low voice, soft with weariness.
“This,” he said, pointing at the scene beyond, and opening hands to her. “You, Mom. Myself. Life at a slow pace, lived with care.” He laughed and added, “I’d like my surface to get mussed up, live like a regular guy in the woods–can’t I do that?–and my mind to get healthier. Being on stage, being noticed for my appearance was useful but distracting, then a miserable thing. It’s just the surface of things, as you know, and I want to be done with all that.”
He realized she knew some of what they felt like, with one lovely blue and one brown eye, and her prematurely silvery hair and many charming mannerisms.
She chuckled, happy he had come to this conclusion, though how he could not be so attractive was unimaginable; his father’s genes had determined the best parts. “Easier said than done… this town is so nosy. But it must be doable. First you need a steaming mug of my home brewed herbal tea, something good to eat, sleep. Time.”
And that was all that was shared between them. She understood the parts that were subterranean, in any case. He knew she could see through his walls and so many others’. They drove off, her foot pressed hard to the pedal on a sunny country road as they emerged from the forest again.
It might come to be that he would draw again, his table set up in her studio as spring and summer turned into autumn and winter. They both let this happy thought unscroll within their relief. But at least they were granted this day, a new start. How astonishing it was. They rolled down all the windows, and let their free hands flap in the wind, hair flying wild in the healing spring light.
To imagine a world without books is impossibly hard. As I look around my home I can see I never intend to do so. I haven’t once bothered–or dared–to count them. I have sorted, passed on and re-sold physical books numerous times, have bought new volumes (and read a few online). I often buy books for gifts and rarely turn down a good freebie in a streetside Little Free Library or languishing in a cardboard box by trash receptacles. It’s not that I will read anything at all…we do have our preferences…but, then again, if there was nothing at hand but an ancient census report, I would gladly read that. And read it again. I am definitely one of those who reads fine print on packaging, randomly peruses dictionaries and reads every sign that catches my fancy on a road trip. So one might conclude it is the basic act of noting letters, then reading them that “rings my bell”. Perhaps that’s partly true–it lights up that language portion of human brain instantly–but only a small part of the story.
I like to learn about almost anything. To be gathered into another’s life or informed of another culture or to ride the wave of an epic tale. I like to find the path in storyland and follow it with mind and arms open, whether fact or fiction. Books, books, books. They are friends and teachers, distractors and challengers, quiet partners in my life.
And I write of this as it is National Library Week in the USA; School Librarian Day was April 4th. And April 16 is National Librarian Day. A time to consider how fortunate we are to have books at our fingertips–or not far away. Library books are a blessing shared by the community with ever changing and diverse residents. Hopefully, this week even more people, young and older, will take advantage of it.
I have much to consider when I consider how books have helped shape and even transform my life. Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, R.N. kept me up late with my flashlight as a 9 year old. I devoured books for fun, but I was also reading because I also was writing my own stories and plays and poems by then…I was learning by osmosis, perhaps. But later I read a variety of works by poets Denise Levertov, ee cummings, Theodore Roethke, William Wordsworth and Kahlil Gibran– as well as wide ranging writers as Hermann Hesse, Dag Hammarskjold, or Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck, for a few examples. They each strongly impacted me both as a young writer and spiritual seeeker. Books and their libraries were good escapes, yet also a deeper balm for the troubled youth I was. Reading provided me with greater perspective and stimulated more hope. More than a few times, what I sought and discovered helped me keep my head above water. They still can have the same power for children and youth.
I read as a hungry creature grazes in a field of delectable offerings, often and with excitement. I most often read not what any class reading lists recommended… and have not ever been in a book club. But I’ve made it a weekly, even daily, habit to study multiple book reviews or simply wandered through libraries and bookstores, on the lookout for the next fitting volume.
Recommendations, anyone? Let’s talk it over–I’d give it good thought. I do enjoy swapping personal preferences, such as with my neighbor today.
Public and school libraries have been particularly important because they require only a library card and my time and respect. They are ubiquitous in this country–and free! I like them so much that when we travel, Marc and I often seek out local libraries. And any ole bokstore, of course. To see what there is on offer, to experience the electric yet cocooning, amiable energy the presence of books in hands perpetuates. I’ve visited tiny, dusty libraries that have perhaps not purchased new books for years yet offer many gems. And light-dappled, multi-storied, shiny buildings I could move into with sleeping bag to spend a year or more. (The stalled novel I wrote features a country library in several scenes, so that tells me something.)
In elementary school I anticipated library hour as much or more than most other things in the school week. I lingered as long as feasible, content with browsing then slipping a book from its cozy place within the company of like-minded books. The librarians–rarely stern ones, the mythical library policers of the stacks– were eager to help aid me. And they seemed to know everything, or could find out in a flash. Best yet, I was often pointed toward resources to find out my own answers. Patient and appreciative of young, inquisitive minds, librarians were congenial and supportive watchers over children as we strove to enlargen our minds, stoke imaginations. On the way home, I hugged my “find” close, eager to get reading if only between other activites until bedtime. –It is this way even now.
I grew up in a city that was fortunate to have wonderful arts, sciences and other educational facilities. Our public library was one designed by Alden B. Dow, a protege of Frank Loyd Wright. It opened in 1955 and was contemporary by common standards, with its angularity and stark elegance and turquoise trim (or perhaps a wide flashing) right below the roof edge. It had floor to ceiling windows that overlooked lush landscaping. It had a big study space that was open to a second floor mezzanine with more rooms: more books. The smells and colors and shapes… I was transported being there.
As a kid, I made myself comfortable in the children’s ample room with a pile at my feet. Later on, I sat huddled over books read for academic needs or pleasure, soaking up the hush of a place that harbored readers and those who researched. The wooden drawers of card catalogs held more than I could begin to think of; I took my time thumbing through them, as one thing led to another. Among the aisles between tall shelving I found nonfiction sections as fascinating as fiction or poetry sections. How could there be that much to investigate? Awe, perplexity, and pleasure flooded my being.
It was a pleasure to enter the high-ceilinged two-story building and so difficult to leave. Time evaprotated. A visit might also be a ruse for meeting friends (or a boyfriend), during which we’d surround oursleves with tomes then whisper intently back and forth or write furious notes. But more often visiting the library meant a treasure trove to delve into, plus a pause from life’s ordeals and uncertainties. I felt at home in the grand but often undefined scheme of things more than in most places. The library: sanctuary, a repository of wide-ranging wisdom, a safe place for bookish entertainment, a haven for those who thirsted after curious places and peoples which lay beyond those sturdy walls.
Of course, there were magazines as well, and music, then movies and over the years surprising things (we can check out all sorts of odd and useful items at our present library). Most of which I don’t utilize, I’m afraid. My priority has remained simple book hunting.
The greatest feature: all the public is welcome. Everyone can be sparked by the thrill of learning, nourished by engaging or challenging tales. Or a quiet nook with a comfy chair within which one may doze, reading material in hand. The word library means simply a collection of books or bookshop; in Old English etymology it is a “book hoard.” Makes sense to me.
When Covid-19 roared into our lives and many public places became inacessible, I turned to online offerings of local libraries (and virtual bookstores). Though I greatly missed prowling the stacks of our smaller city branch, I was glad to browse and put “on hold” many titles to later pick up. In fact, I chose more books than I might have otherwise; it became a meditative experience to search and find. I read a wider variety as there was more time than ever. (I also read more and differently to further inspire my own writing; the more I read the more I always learn.) But I also enjoyed lining up with other people to get the choices in hand. We began to converse as we waited for the librarian to bring out our orders to an outdoor shelving unit. It was a pleasant ritual in otherwise worrisome months… then more months.
When our actual library doors opened again, only 5 people were allowed in fifteen minutes at a time. But what surprising happiness! I could see it in everyone as they browsed and fingered books and other items: a sense of contented relief, just for a brief spell. I am certain that those who visited libraries online or in person have felt that this has been a favored event. Perhaps it was even a lifesaver, emotionally. When all else was fraught with fear or loneliness, health issues–that loss of bearings in society at large–we could still, thank goodness, generously welcome books into our ives.
I recall once during that time that I searched for a certain novel, reportedly available, within my fifteen minutes. To no avail. So I asked a librarian if she knew the author and if the book was misplaced. She did; the author was a respected, long deceased one not often checked out, anymore. She searched further. Failing to locate the one I wanted, she announced she’d purchase the book–and two more by that author–so that I and others could have access to his work. This was said with a triumphant smile. I was flabberghasted. She was, as she noted, “here to support our patrons and provide great materials whenever I can.” And she did, and she always has done so.
So, here is to libraries and librarians. Here’s to the hours of work put in for us (work we often do not see or think about), and to their patient, knowledgeable and kindly assistance. The countless books and other materials kept track of and then offed to us have given me, for one, more freedom to roam far reaches of mind, heart and soul, to critically consider diverse notions and gather quite useful information. Books give good medicine as well as good direction more often than not.
“If you can’t have what you want, then you’d better learn to want what you have.”
Her mother, Maude, had tossed those words at her like a hard ball, and by instinct, she caught them with only a passing sting in her chest. She was used to her saying things like that, her life whittled down by farm work, days of tedium and nights defined by what she did not get enough of; sleep eluded her more and more, Leanne noted the purple shadows under her mother’s bleary eyes. Her father was decent enough, he just had no talent for love. Maude once told her, when Leanne was set on getting married, that a man might set her heart alight but that fire had to grow and it took a lot of tending. Leanne didn’t know if her father ever made her mother’s heart light up; by the time she was born, three others had caused trouble enough and her parents just seemed tired out, if accepting of their lot.
Leanne leaned against the fence post. The deep meadow was thick with windswept, pale grasses waiting to be overtaken by fresh green blades. Further on was the woods, where deer hid out sooner or later and whre Randy hunted, then usually came back empty-handed. She suspected it was because he dozed in the blind or didn’t want to kill anything since leaving the Army. He said it was because they were few and wily. She was happy her eyes could scan the grasses, trees and sky– everywhere she looked. It gave her relief from the sense of being caged. But it was what she’d called home most of her life.
And she was back when she’d thought she was gone for good.
This good land she and Randy owned: ten acres with a cabin they were fixing up. It was bought a shortly after they wed, thanks to an inheritence from his grandfather. Sometimes it was like overseeing their own country out there, and ten miles from her parents. But at times it also felt like one she’d been exiled to, and protesting a life they chose was worse than useless. As restless as the day she was born bawling and beating the air, she right then wanted to row a boat downriver or take a horseback ride to a whole other state. Reall, much farther. It had gotten to a point that when she was grading papers, she saw not words or numbers but those Rockies of Colorado where they had met. Or the cities they’d visited–Denver, Albuquerque, Sante Fe. It stirred her up, those thrilling memories, that landscape of heat and red and grey rocks and high open sky. The surprise ot it all. It made her long for things she didn’t have.
What did she have to complain about? He was now a full-time forester; she taught fifth and sixth graders. They treated each other well, better than most if she thought about the sad little town, the old friends who opined that her husband was the cutest-sweetest-smartest guy around and wasn;t Leanne so lucky. Well, that was true. But he also wasn’t from there; he was from Wyoming and so this was new to him. Why he’d actually wanted to be Michigan, she didn’t understand–she had so taken to Colorado. They’d met at the state university. But neither could find decent employment there after graduation. A teaching job for Leanne became available in northern Michigan; her family–still Michiganders, still stuck– encouraged a return. And when two people meet and see something special in each other, you do what seems timely and good to build a life. It’s becomes the right way to do things–reasonable actions undertaken for each other. And when he got there, he loved the greeness, its open land bounded by forest, “A little open like the West but much more interesting–lush.” And they needed her job until he found one.
Leanne leaned forward. In the distance a deer wandered to woods’ edge, lifted nose in the breeze, disappeared again. She slowly stood, alert, and fought an urge to follow it, to enter the sheltering crowd of trees and vanish, too. If she’d had her backpack, she might have done it. For awhile. Then what? Hitch hike to Colorado? Send Randy a postcard: I left but please come…? He’d guess why: she never wanted to return here. It was the fishbowl effect of a rural town, the certainty that her parents would draw a circle around them as they had her siblings. Pull it so tight about her. She wanted her own life–their own lives. But it was convenient, it was the first job when income was crucial as he continued to look for work. She had always thought they’d go back to Colorado.. But then he found his job in soil conservation and land and forest management. He was content.
The early March wind came up, lifted her ponytail off her back, swung it about. Leanne better secured her oilskin baseball cap. Redwing blackbirds were making a sweet song of bird talk further down the fence and nearby circled two vultures, looking to stave off hunger pangs. Was that what she was doing? Looking for more nourishment?
Still, she had a knack for teaching. Her students overall appreciated her– when they weren’t complaining about the work. Randy was good at his work. He was a man given to clear action, not talk, but he was also companionable, Steadfast. And he got on well enough with her parents, a miracle–much better than she did. It was the land that tied them, the potential as well as its history and how they could maximimze its bounties, Leanne mused. She had missed out on that family gene; her siblings owned lots of land, made it work for them well. She didn’t experience land lust, that fierce pride of ownership that drove people to sdo all sorts of things good and bad. She didn’t want or need to own it. Just to love it and admire it, treat it with respect no matter what it offered– and wherever she roamed. The desire to travel and see the world dogged her night and day.
When the vultures moved on and an eagle soared beyond the treeline, she wandered to the river that was a ribbon unfurled across rolling meadow. Her legs were embraced by rustling grass as she passed, a feeling evocative of childhood when she ran around barefoot, bare legged. She sat on the damp bank, knees pulled to her chin, designs of shadow and dappled light decorating her skin and the earth.
“It’s Todd Markham, that’s the problem,” she said aloud; she talked to herself when outdoors and secluded. “He had to take over Mrs. Helman’s class right across my classroom, then proceeed to tease and torment me with tales about off-road trips, snowboarding and camping in the Rockies. He knows I loved it there and miss it–as he does despite putting on a good front. He knows Randy loves it here and now we own a piece of land and a cabin in the grip of major renovation. We’re stuck here. Todd is single…so he might be here a couple of years then move on, he admitted last week–he has nothing to lose. he can do as he pleases…”
She picked up a twig and combed her hair with it, dug in the dirt with its sharp point, got a worm wrapped around it and tossed it to a safer spot. The river talked back to her with generous and soothing song, nothing complicated, nothing foreign. This was a river she knew all her life, wide and fast in spring and narrower and gentler in summer and in winter or the remnants of winter when it was often given to an icy slab or sparkly bits. But always it sang of mysteries and wildness she could taste, see, smell, hear. It carried with it the past and moved to an unknown.
She closed her eyes. This spot was sacred. But her mind wouldn’t stay calmed.
The first time Todd had looked at her she’d looked away. It was reflexive; she was married, and his clear baby blues held a searching look. The second time she’d acknowledged him to be courteous. The third time they’d lunch together in the teachers’ kitchen and lounge, getting to know one another a little in between comments from others, bites of sandwiches. Then it was lunch three or four days of the week, and some days Sandy or Thomas joined them. But it was Todd and Leanne who conversed smoothly as maple syrup on tap, to her surprise.
Sandy admonished, “You’d better make it clear to this one who you are and what your boundaries are.”
“Oh my gosh, we’re work friends like you and Thomas and the rest of us,” she’d protested.
Sandy raised an eyebrow and shook her head but left it alone. He was only being congenial, they had a a couple of things in common–like a love of Colorado, his home state. But when she anticipated seeing him she felt a slight flutter in her stomach, as if nervous. Yes, she liked his brash descriptions of his adventures. Todd’s obvious comittment to his students best interests, especially challenging ones, impressed her. His goal was to teach at a wilderness school but an ideal job hadn’t come his way. He said she was born to teach. And he understood her interest in travelling, expanding her life. He’d been to Europe twice, why didn’t she plan to enjoy Venice and Paris, Dublin and Berlin, too?
But she was with Randy, of course; she might or might not ever leave this continent for another. It was his choice, too, not just Leanne’s.
A week before, after a parent-teacher’s conference, Todd had walked her to her car . A purplish twilight began to fall. She was tired but satisfied with her teaching results, and they chatted about experiences with the parents. Then he asked abruptly if she was “happily married, you know, are you and Randy good totgether, are you glad about how things turned out?” The question jarred her. It felt unnnecessary and misguided. She got into her car, rolled down the window and looked at him with narrowed eyes.
“Todd, you need to get out there, date more, you know that? We’re friendly co-workers. If you need more than a pleasant friendship, look elsewhere.”
And she drove off too fast without looking back to see what he made of it. How dare he question her marriage? What did he think she was capable of here? But she felt the discomfit of guilt rising from the time spent with Todd Markham. It had not been, after all, a right choice; they could not be easy friends but friends who might skip over that line, it seemed. At least he imagined so. What a foolish idea, and how selfish she had been to want even that with a single man, new to town. All she needed was for gossip to come above ground and sully life.
The following day he avoided her; the next day he barely nodded at her in a meeting. They didn’t share lunch hour the following days. Sure, his spirit and its reflection of Colorado life had been fun and intriguing. Leanne’s uncertainty about living once more in Michigan, the uneasiness over what she and Randy were going to build together had shaken her up, made her vulnerable to wishful thinking. But it had never been about Todd Markham but a broader wistfulness. A naive daydream, a wanderlust.
On the other side of the river there was a blur of motion, and Leanne looked up in time to see the deer’s ears rise above bushes and brush between tree trunks. A lovely ear flicked, perhaps at a bug. She held her breath and stared hard, looking for its eyes, one of which barely shimmered in a golden slash of sunlight. The head came up into full view. When their eyes met for a split second her whole being tingled with delight. The white tailed doe scampered off with barely a sound. All was still except for a woodpecker, and the distant screech of a jay.
“I am crazy about this land,” she whispered, throat tightening with emotion. “I just want more…adventures with Randy before years pass in a blur, before life takes more than we can spare. Before we ever come close to forgetting how much we love each other. I do not ever want to end up in a rut, worn out like my parents seem to be as they get old…”
The river listened. It always bore her words patiently. It knew this was a young one with heart but also ignorance and simply saved by sincerity, curiosity. It gave her nothing but songs of beauty, constancy, clarity. All she had to do was live with honor, live by her spirit’s deeper wisdom.
She was ready to go home; she more than anything wanted to hold her husband. Work with him diligently on their cabin at the edge of the welcoming woods. Make their place much more of a home, a happy refuge, welcoming others into their lives. Maybe for five or ten years–maybe for a lifetime.
And they lived close to sprawling Canada; they could travel there as she had as a kid twice. Randy hadn’t even been there yet so it might seem like a whole new destination as they explored together.
She ran up five steps to their broad porch, thinking of the chicken stew with dumplings she wanted to make for dinner and if they had any brownies left for her quick snack.
Her mother met her at the door as she burst in, face scrunched in worry.
“Leanne, where have you been? We tried to call and call but there was no service! You’ve been gone for hours–it’s Randy!”
“I was at the river–what do you mean, it’s Randy?” Panic engulfed her.
“He got hurt, honey!”
Her mother’s words cut as she was yanked into their bedroom, heart pounding. Her father sat beside a supine Randy, his hooded eyes watching over him. When she crouched close to her husband she saw the blurry outline of blood seepage on a thick swath of protective bandage taped about it. His wounded hand–and fingers?–looked gigantic as it rested on his chest. Randy’s reddened face was lined with pain, sweaty below the wascoth that served to cool him. He breathed in slow breaths, eyes half-closed as he barely gazed up at her.
“Whatever happened?… Randy?”
“My Leelee…damned chainsaw kicked, not good….” he said, slurring his words. “Accident, guess my turn…”
Maude said, “Stitched his hand up at ER in Petoskey, saved his thumb for now but barely, another finger hurt. It may not heal right, honey….we have to make sure it’s cleaned, he takes all antibiotics–“
“He can live without a thumb if he has to, better than a whole hand. Galen Gilliam got his leg ripped up bad, might lose it… Randy here tried to help and got hurt, too,” her father said quietly. He patted his son-in-law on the shoulder and vacated the chair.
“Oh, Galen..and Randy’s body?” she asked.
“Luckily okay, just a hand.”
“He’s all drugged up, he’ll rest better, start his healing,” her mother added extraneously, then left the room as did her father, closing the door behind them.
Leanne’s mind emptied of thoughts; her body was stripped of a sense of balance as she sank into the chair, cradling her face in both hands until the spinning slowed. Her heart was melded with his. Fear was followed by dread, then it drained away as she looked him over. His wide forehead, sandy colored hair long at ordinary ears; his neat reddish beard was shaggier. She touched it wiriness with one finger, then his chapped lips. Kissed him. His eyelids didn’t flutter; he was asleep already. He’d trusted emergency interventions just as he trusted the earth and his friends and her–with faith in an essential goodness, a courage that was rooted deep from all she had seen in just three years. Now he rested. Her own breath evened, and her stomach unclenched as relief flowed through her. It was only a damaged hand, maybe loss of a thumb, maybe nerve damage but they’d figure things out. They could live with that much harm. She could attend to his regret or anger, even depression if that was what it was to be. But Randy was a born optimist, just as she was a born wanderer. And yet she’d not leave his side, just as he’d not give up.
His work shirt had been changed, maybe cut off by a nurse or her mother. The navy T-shirt he wore was clean and “Colorado Dreaming” was stamped across it with pine green letters strewn against jagged mountain peaks and bright blue sky. His muscled arms were strong but now slack, defenseless atop the bed clothes. She put her head on the patchwork quilt-covered bed and let tears flow, and all she longed for was him, husband and best friend. Randy, Randy, oh Lord. A fervent prayer for healing spilled into their room.
All she understood at that moment was that they’d arrived alone and vulnerable in the world, and then they’d found one another. But how much more helpless they could be made in an instant. They had to hold each other up, and be–or act–brave, come what may. They had to stand and face life together and when things got too much, they’d be wise to kneel together, too. It was how a life shared was created: moment by moment. Within peace and abundance, surely, but also with difficulty or uncertainty yapping at their heels. They had to handle the bad times, and use them, too, when linking together wants and needs, plans changed with sudden surprises to make room for greater dreams. Who knew where they’d end up? Maybe the Rocky Mountains were just a moment they had shared; they were older now, moving on. For the foreseeable future, Leanne was staying right there, in the middle of their home. Her hand on his free hand, her breath matching his as needed, as ready as she could be for what came next.
So she thought better of it when she joined the art class that was free and online. It was to pass the time; time was like sludge, it built up into a gloppy mass: you got up, faced another bothersome, even gruesome day on the job and crawled back home. That about covered it. Escapism–television, streaming movies, music faves, books teetering in three piles– had become a thing she was so intimate with that it grated on her like a slow toothache. So when she saw the ad for five free lessons–why not only one, why not a half dozen, she wondered–it was a knee jerk reaction. A new way to pass the minutes and hours in the resoundingly empty studio apartment. Let her not be thought unadventurous; it used to be her middle name. Now it was “blech” or whatever mononsyllabic noise she managed upon awakening.
She ordered the few items needed and noted it on the calendar like she was soon going to a real class and meeting fascinating people, having fun. She knew that was silly but still nursed the illusion for all it was worth. The shiny new things looked like delicate tools for somebody singularly important. To feel a tiny bit important in her slumbering life–a nice perk. The unecessary expenditure for those tools hung over her, but swallowed the niggling fear as she opened a window partway. There was such sunshine on the morning of class. A bright blue jay flew past her. It seemed an omen. But one never knew these days–good omen or bad?
That first class Dylan Dennison greeted all as if there was an overflowing classroom, such a big smile. He had longish curly hair with glasses atop his head which he was always putting on and taking off. But he got right into the tool box of brushes, sponges, paints and paper types– who knew there was so many necessities to daub and splash paint about? And water use, big or small useage: it made a difference. She got to place color on different papers, squeezing a few tidy watercolor and acrylic tubes–from ends only. The paints looked like little mounds of stage makeup sitting there. Lifeless until slathered on. And then the class was over.
She imagined the next class might be somewhat more exciting, but it didn’t matter. She had nothing else to do on Friday at 5:30 pm. Meanwhile, her small and large papers with rich color splotches glowed a bit as she lay them to dry on her table. She left them there to look at off and on. The evening seemed to slip into darkness and that felt good. She ran a steamy bath scented with eucalytus, soaked awhile thinking of paint color names. When she got out she felt her body humming as she setttled in bed, so closed her eyes. Slept in an instant.
The next Friday class was, in fact, more exciting: there were techniques to learn. They were not easy to grasp and when she clutched the brushes they were cumbersome implements. The simple free-style scenario she coinjured and painted turned into muddied rises and gulleys. That’s what they were–rain-flooded mud sinkholes trying to be rainbows of beauty. Fat chance. She tossed them immediately as cheery Dylan applauded them all. The twenty students were faceless, barely named and far away from his contemporary, light-drenched studio where he painted profitable pictures; it supported his life in paradise. Or so she imagined. His luminous watercolor paintings hung everyhwere. To intimidate? To trick her into paying for the next set of classes? To show off? To illustrate, perhaps, what might happen if they were unrelanting in their pursuit of art, plus had loads of talent? She thought him a good teacher if she no longer appreciated his cheeriness. But that was not a requirement. She had a few more classes for free, to pass the time, to have a memo on her calendar.
She soon enough reconsidered and thought about quitting near the end of the second class. Controlling the effect of paint splotches on paper was like trying to control hamsters with messy feet let loose all over a clean floor. Impact looked terrible. But who’d know or care if she disappeared? Shut her comuter and done. Yet she hung on, watched, mimiced.
By the middle of the third class she was letting go of expectations. When pigments suddenly bloomed on a page she became, dab by dab, attuned to an interior stillness. Strokes of a brush, soft or bold, filled a welcome blankness as it began to change the space. Dylan talked about fine details, about the tempermental properties of watercolor and fast-drying acrylic tendencies. His reedy voice skimmed over her as the idea of painting began to plant a tentative root in her center. The fourth class she forgot the time, utilized lots of paper and paint, and had to replenish water every few minutes. She was alert, almost fully alive. At bedtime she stared into the soft darkness, painting with ghost brushes upon the popcorn ceiling, a carnival of bright forms.
The rest of the week she kept looking at the calendar, waiting for the last class. When it arrived she was at the table twenty minutes ahead of time, having cancelled a dinner date at Telly’s Tacos food cart with Hank. Of course, Hank didn’t know of her class; no one did. She kept it a secret as she kept al tender happiness secret, anymore–so many were apt to stick a pin into any delights she scavenged. This time it was a deliberate thing, a self-made pleasure. He’d never understand the allure of a painbrush; she barely understood its function or her interest.
At the end of the fifth class when Dylan asked to hold their paintings up to be shared. Though it felt like kindergarten show and tell, she did so, slowly.
“Delilah?” Dylan said.
She frowned from behind her painting, wishing she hadn’t revealed it at all. “Yeah?”
“Well, then, I hope everyone can see what you’ve discovered in 5 weeks. It’s a matter of taking a chance, being surprised…and it’s also a matter of practice.”
He went on in his verbose fashion, switching to salesman-speak to persuade students to pay for more classes. But she had stopped listening. She studied her uneven but flowing painting–at the very least basic and awkward to a trained eye. And yet Dylan had been encouraging. Kindly so. The colors and shapes that she’d created hyponotized, then she lifted hands up in the air and let out a very quiet, “Whoop!”
When Delilah logged off, she hung up her last class painting with clothespins next to the others on a taut twine she’d strung across a sunny corner. She didn’t study the picture; it was done. She sat down once more at the table and situated a white sheet of paper, got a huge glass of rinse water, uncapped herself an icy ginger ale that tingled on her tongue. And she soon swept across glowing blankness with a new spectrum of colors–vermilion, lemon, cerulean. Her life lit up.
An imperturbable demeanor comes from perfect patience. Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace like a clock during a thunderstorm.—Robert Louis Stevenson
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