Making a List and Keeping it Right

Pittock Mansion Christmas2011 007

I start to feel almost domestic around the holidays. This is no small thing, as my talents and interests do not include a burning desire to cook or decorate, sew or craft. But I experience a longing to do so at this time, and I find simple ways to compensate. This year, since I am not currently working, I got into the holiday mood before we even consumed platters of turkey, mounds of vegetables, and four delicious pies. It wasn’t about the preparation and sharing of great food; Marc, my spouse, does the bulk of that. I happily weigh in while he plans: perhaps yams instead of sweet potatoes without gooey marshmallows, stuffing without chestnuts this year, and every pie possible–that sort of thing. My usual contributions are getting the drinks and slicing the sausages and cheeses, getting them all nicely arranged with water and wheat and rice crackers on my special glass platter, the one with the graceful swans gliding on water. I also look forward to setting out the blue, rose, and clear glass candy dishes, the best ones my mother gave me. Mixed nuts, chocolates and peppermints fill them and I think of her, and how her table looked: elegant and welcoming.

I start envisioning how my table will be when everything is arranged on holiday tablecloths–usually a yellow for Thanksgiving and a red for Christmas. I look for the best deal on brilliant fall bouquets and spend a long while arranging the flowers and green sprigs in tall vases. I buy softly scented pine or cinnamon-spice candles for odd spots in the apartment, and plain tapers for the dining room table. Generally a fragrant green something adorns the front door. People shall feel cheerful entering this domain.

CaneDoor_lg

After Thanksgiving the adult children choose names for gift-giving. That rings the start bell for me. I begin to scan the online shopping sites or the neighborhood stores and wait for whatever calls to me. I ask for their short lists even now, in the hope of finding something they really would enjoy or need. But the truth is, I always think of many things I want to give them. They have varied interests: skateboarding and snowboarding, art and music, fashion, food, reading everything from anthropology to religion to the natural world, all genres of fiction, poetry, and so on and on. I am cautioned by my husband to not get too enthralled, but it is hard to resist the tantalizing call of all the wonderful things–not generally expensive–I want to share with them. They are my children, after all. Then there are my grandchildren, who need surprises. Marc reminds me we have twelve to buy for at the least, often more. And I am not working this year. I get that. But I have ways to manage on any budget.

Zoolights and misc. 12-2011 011

Next I study the events that are happening about Portland. There is the ScanFair which we enjoy despite not being Scandinavian and the Grotto’s glorious Festival of Lights which is a tradition for the whole family even in the rain (an alomost sure thing). The Pittock Mansion displays all her grande dame finery. The Zoo Lights are an awesome experience for children of all ages and Peacock Lane is a whole brightly lit block of fun for the younger ones.

And the music that surrounds the holidays! We will start with a Trinity Christmas Concert, Bach for the Holidays. Follow it up with the Advent Procession of Lessons and Carols later in the month. There is The Nutcracker which we have seen a few times; I remain enchanted. There is a Singing Christmas Tree which has not yet been experienced. The symphony always has a rousing program or two. This list will grow, as music is an embodiment of what I most appreciate about this time of year.

Pittock Mansion Christmas2011 022(Pittock Mansion)

I am making my list as I write, but wondering how we will find the time to enjoy it all,  how we will get together all the kids and their kids, too. The unadorned truth is, we won’t. Three children live near us, and two do not. Four grandchildren live here, but one does not.

Between the cost of travel and the time their work duties require, the two daughters far away will not be here this year. One is a chaplain needed by many; her son is in college and working. Another is a college professor and an artist whose art works require a lot of money and time to create and exhibit. Our youngest daughter is in graduate school in a city two hours away but will be here a few days, then return home again for more work and study. How fortunate that our only son will be here as well as a fourth daughter, both with their families.

But, oh, how I long to have all my children gathered together at one time in this home, the dozen white candles I set around the living and dining rooms pulsing with light inside the soft shadows, the tree gleaming in all its decorative beauty. I want them here talking, dozing, singing, eating, being quiet as they look around them. I want them to stop and really see one another fully as I do: deeply. See their kind eyes so reflective of souls lit from secret places. To hear what I hear: a symphony of laughter and smart ideas delivered readily. To know what I know: their great, good courage, for they each have undergone painful trials and twists of fate. Their talents of imagination,  empathy,  adventure and insight. And their unique imperfections, for who can say what they–we–would be without the rough edges of personality, those cantankerous thorny parts that make us think twice and then reconfigure things? Deficits teach us compassion; may they never forget.

I want them to have one another not just this season but every season of life to come.

Christmas Eve and Day 2011 009

These grown up children: three were birthed by me; two were shared with me to raise. Each one has been a surprise in my life, a flurry of energy and needs, hands wide open, hands circling the breadth and depth of life. They have been bright lamps upon my winding path, made my wild heart tamer and stronger. When I make lists for the holidays, prepare for feasting and music and light shows, I am mindful of these things. How can I give enough to those whose lives have given me far more? Who I am is this aging mother-vessel filled with complicated human love. I have been mended, redefined, transformed by this life, both with and without them. Without a lot of hope of having the necessary skills to mother back in the beginning, I have learned by doing, have been taught by the giving and receiving that has happened.

In the end, what we do this season and the ones to come reflect who and what we most value in our lives. And there is another who is always welcome in my home. Long ago, two parents had a child in Bethlehem under a holy star. Jesus was embraced by them with such joy. He grew up to be a rule-breaking, radically minded revolutionary, all for the sake of perfect Love. He offered and still offers us healing, grace, mercy. May I keep my door open. Let the light shine on me, on you, the family of humankind.

Christmas Day 2011 024

The Group as Lifeboat

In the back of the nondescript rectangular room is a small circle of chairs, enough to seat eight. The lights are mostly turned off. It is a twilit, quieting space. This is the second story, and the picture windows overlook a neighborhood street. Rain cascades over cars and drums buses as they swish and rumble on their way to other places. The west hills are veiled in darkness and punctuated with yellow blooms of light.

It is dinnertime for many. For those that enter and take these seats, it is time to get honest.

The women stream through the door I have unlocked; most of them greet each other and me with easy familiarity. As they settle, I fan out the meditation cards and stand in the center, stopping by each person as she chooses the card she likes. The colors are key to their choices; they are bright and textured with designs that attract the eye. It is misleading. The words relay ideas that require thought and ask hard questions.

The check in goes smoothly. After months of weekly group, the old-timers know it by heart, and the new ones catch on: name, drug of choice, sober/clean date, why here in addictions treatment, number of sober support meetings, and good or not-good events the past week. And then they begin, first with meditation cards, then with their own stories.

D. reads her card. What is the passion of her life and how can she give it a higher place? She turns the card over in her hands, looks closer, as though to discern the answer within hues and letters.

“I don’t know. Maybe someone else wants this card?” She laughs but no one reaches for it. “All I want is to get a job and quit couch-surfing, you know?  I don’t sit around and ask myself what is my passion. Okay, weed, heroin. Alcohol. Those have been my passions for about as long as I can remember. I’m thirty-nine.” She grabs a strand of dark hair in her fingers and twirls it unconsiously. “But that was three months ago. Today, I guess my passion is to…stay clean. Usually.”

K. asks, “How? I didn’t see you at the AA meeting you said you were going to. I told you I’d even pick you up if you called.”

D. casually tosses the card and I catch it.

“I was busy with my boyfriend. He needed help with something, the ducks. We feed them every Saturday at the pond. That’s good for me, too. A little walk there and then we hang out.”

K. bites her lip and the other women look hard at D., then away. Except one, M., who says only, “But he was high. And you used to sell weed there.”

D. shrugs but her eyes water. “Well, he has to quit. He goes to court next week. Who knows when I will see him again? Prison is a long time away. Another country away. First me, now him.”

I wait and let silence fill the room. D. grabs a tissue and presses it against her eyes. They are large and grey-green in the dim light. I notice she has worn different clothing lately, a t-shirt rather than a low-cut sequined top. D. looks small as she sits there, younger than her age despite the lines on her forehead and around her eyes.

“He’s been with me since way back, since I was twenty-five, since I first got into trouble dealing. You know, he’s got my back, I’ve got his.”

A small hiss of sound is emitted from the other side of the circle. R. looks straight at D. “But where are you both now? Almost the same place as back then. I think you need to cut him loose.”

I can see D. close the door,  step back into safety where words and reality sting less, are sometimes not even heard. I speak.

“I see you doing that thing where you disappear. If you disappear when you hear something hard you might do the same old thing as before. Same ole tape will play out. Your passions will remain the man and the drugs. You could forget about this new way.”

Nothing.

“Where are you now?”

She draws herself up tight in the chair, pulls her knees to her chest, and her face changes from empty to hard to as soft as I have ever seen it. Her voice is small like her. “I used to dance. I mean, before I was a dancer, at the clubs. You know, leotards and tights and sweet little ballet shoes. Recitals and stuff. That’s what I thought about when I read the card. Passion. I had it for dancing. So long ago. But by the time I was eighteen I did something else with it. For money. Drugs. Attention.  Whatever else came along with it. I stopped caring. At least on the outside.” Her eyes blink, close.

I lean in to the circle, towards her more fully. “I’m sorry it was like that. You did what you thought had to be done then. There is such sadness coming up now that you’re clean and sober… But you can choose to create a different life as long as you don’t use.”

Tears trickle down her face as her eyes open.”Stay clean, talk. Listen, too. But hell, it isn’t easy.”

A murmur ripples across the group. I see heads nodding. They give her encouragement, suggest that she start dancing for fun. In a safe way.

“Forget the overfed ducks, come to an AA dance next week-end, ” someone suggests.

“Turn on the music in the living room and let it go,” says another.

“If I had one of my own,” D. tartly reminds them.

“Well, damn! Dance in the rain if you want–with us,” says another and they laugh and shimmy a little in their seats, snap their fingers.

And so it continues. One thought leads to another as each woman takes her turn. I sit, keep watch. Guide the group as unobtrusively as possible, a navigator in a sturdy boat travelling into deeper waters, feeling the change in winds, sensing the balance shifts, staying aware of any danger signals.

It is a powerful current, this giving and taking, as it passes from person to person. It changes the space into a refuge, and the women undergo subtle alterations as they participate in the healing. Permission is given: they can say what they need to here. They can speak the truth.

This is an ancient way but I may be the only one in the room who knows this right now. It has occurred everywhere, across cultures. How many aeons have women gathered like this, spoken from the heart? Yet many have forgotten the formidable force of authenticity when shared with others who care.

Even now the new woman tries to keep emotion from her face. But there it is: frozen grief. Heat that looks like ice. Pain that has been turned so far inward that it looks like meanness. It is one of the looks women wear when they have been brutalized emotionally and physically and cannot find their way back to wholeness. The wounds leave a legacy of self-hate  and a pessimism that is so deep it refuses kindness out of utter disbelief.

And yet. They open their mouths and tentative truth emerges. They start to reach beyond the impenetrable walls. Nothing bad happens here.

So the women take turns, sharing about their lives, children they want back, the health they are working on. They talk about figuring out how to be calm in the midst of stress and strong when they feel weak. They pass on information, like how to start college, how to get housing and dental care.

They tell each other they don’t know if love exists, yet love is all they want. Love for their real selves (“whoever I am now that I’m sober”). To feel deserving of it. They speak of self-forgiveness and by doing so, they also forgive each other of the crimes against life, and themselves, that they may have committed.

The new member fidgets in her chair and looks at the clock. She wishes she wasn’t here. She wants to talk on her phone, get something to eat, get high with her lover or drunk at her favorite bar. A crazy bunch of women: what on earth can they do for her?

I ask her what she thinks. She raises an eyebrow and fixes on a spot just past my head, outside. The city.

“I never liked women. Can’t trust them. Never know what they will do. I’m not too sure I want to stay in this group.”

D. says. “I never liked women, either. But, then, I never liked myself. Come back next week.”

The hour and a half comes to a close. The room is warm but it isn’t the weather or the thermostat. It is the energy generated by a group of women who are some of our best renewable resources. They are coming alive.

They help me put up the chairs and say good-bye. They trail out in pairs, talking, laughing. The new woman straggles behind until D. catches her by the arm, encourages her just enough.

The February evening reveals its beauty as the lights are turned out. The rain sings in the distance. I shut the door softly behind me.

(Written for my Tuesday night Women’s Recovery group. You have been the one of the best parts of the job I have just  left. I am on to other work with other courageous women but will not forget you.)

Why I write–and live–despite the odds

I have been home from work since eight-thirty, for an hour and half, and I have eaten dinner at the desk while typing. There is a writing contest submission deadline I am trying to meet. 

Rita, my protagonist, hopes to steal away from Maggie’s tea cups and chat and make her way to the upstairs medicine cabinet. There is a bottle of pills there, and Rita wants them. Needs them. She hadn’t exactly intended on stealing them, but there they are and here she sits. Nerves on fire, stomach jumpy, sweat rising at the base of her neck. She knows she has little to complain about–a good man and home,  excellent career. But she  needs those pills to supplement her own. To get through the next few days.  Maggie, her neighbor, an older woman whose ill husband rests nearby, won’t miss them. Will she? She’s just going to borrow them. Or is she? Can she do that to Maggie? Is Rita really a thief and an addict? Or is she a woman ready for change?

I keep writing, glance at the clock. Close to midnight. I have to get up in the morning and go to work. I figure I have three more nights to work on the short story, get it down to 3500 words and submit it by midnight 9/1/11.  The story is saved and I head to bed. The next night and the next I labor, eyelids heavy, mind weary but bursting with ideas and characters. I awaken in the night and keep company with Rita and her worried, stalwart husband, Wade, as well as kind Maggie and her failing spouse, Jonathan. The story nags at me at work each day. Is it good enough yet? What needs revising? What are the real odds of it being published in a big glossy magazine? Maybe I should just scrap it and start over. But there is no more time.

The night it is due to be emailed to the magazine, I go over it a last time, but as I decide it is worth submitting I am struck with a frightening thought: the midnight deadline is likely not Pacific Time. I look at my watch. It is nine fifteen.  I check the submission rules. The time is Eastern Standard Time. I am too late.

The first reaction is to toss the notebook I fill with first lines, titles and ideas as I say things I hope the neighbor can’t hear. Then it dawns on me: I have spent two weeks working on a short story that will not have a chance in a contest that meant something to me because I was too stressed about getting it done. I somehow neglected to get the time right. I am overcome with disappointment in myself; tears reduce me to wordlessness. Well, it probably wouldn’t have gotten chosen, anyway, I think, as self-pity threatens.

The contest theme was to write about something that reflects an aspect of women’s lives today. One thing I know affects women’s lives and can write about is addiction, since I make a living helping those who struggle with it. And I also have known something of it’s dazzling magic, its nefarious lure and damage.  Having survived experiences that can scatter and destroy a woman’s will and dreams, I have been an intimate of those detours beyond the known road, the netherworlds. More was given at great cost to a substance dependency that was accidental, even avoidable, than I can accurately tally. It dragged me through my youth and demanded my life more times than I like to recall. At age twenty I cut a deal with God: help me out and I would do the same for others. In time, the promises came to pass. I am one of the fortunate. I have had at least three lives and the one I live now has only grown happier, richer, broader. Standing on some rubble affords a decent view.

There are millions of alcoholics and addicts in this country. A significant portion of them are women who are often unseen and unheard. Many of those substance dependencies begin with a prescription or two for legitimate reasons, then become an illusory panacea for many other ills.  Or perhaps two or three glasses of wine after dinner each night to quell loneliness or fear become a couple of bottles or more in order to feel normal, to get by.

I just meant to get out the message once more: there is freedom from that bondage. There can be a voluptuous renewal after a ruinous life. With help, the healing can make one warrior-strong at the innermost core. Writing is one way I may be able to offer hope.

The women and men, youth and children I write about, then, often emerge in complex patterns from the warp and woof of my own life. There are also innumerable others who cross my path without so much as a nod in my direction, yet I see them and wonder. I pay attention to learn more.  But all the other characters arise from unknown origins with something they want to say and do, and they offer small or great gifts from their imagined, powerful lives on paper.  They resemble newly incarnate creatures as the story is crafted word by word, line by line. For writing to me is a kind of holy thing, a lifeline, a bridge to distant realms as well as a magnifier of Divine Love. It sweeps me up, breaks opens my mind. It resists pessimism, discovers fascinating company and endures all manner of false moves and then surprises me with a revelation. And through the sometimes tedious process a peace is fashioned that endures and a joy that succeeds even in the midst of gloom or uncertain times. Writing, in the end, asks me to freely give part of my heart and soul to others, and in so doing, the well is replenished for more giving in the non-writing life.

So, I missed that deadline.  I am still displeased with my failure to read all the fine print. Rita and Wade, Maggie and Jonathan–they wait in the file. I may have to revise the pages a few times–maybe that’s why it wasn’t submitted this time. Or maybe they need a bigger story. It could be that it was just a lesson once more about what matters most to me and how I need to give it more attention, respect and time. After all, if I care enough to write the stories, I have to care enough to give all I possibly can to every single word, each new beginning.  That is how I have learned to live–and write–despite the odds.

Playing Today: Addiction v. Recovery

The night was deeper than the far side of the woods, which Damien peered into every now and then. He could feel it cover his hands and sneakered feet, his rather forgettable face and ragged thoughts.  He stuck his hands into his jeans pockets and leaned against the van. It was ten o’clock when he’d pulled off the road and parked at the end of the fire lane. He’d waited twenty-five minutes. Either Tanner was up to his neck in deals or something was wrong. They had been friends since middle school and they had an understanding. When one of them needed something, the other came. Or at least called.

He needed oxycodone and had called. He hadn’t needed it for sixteen months but that was before. Before Jeanine grew impatient with him and left. Before his hours were cut from forty to twenty at the store. Before he hurt his back again lifting a box of car parts, cars that gleamed in the sunlight like the deluxe machines they were. Unlike the vehicle he owned.

Gravel spit and jumped and Damien jerked to attention. It was the driveway by the corner, Old Burl’s place.  All he needed was someone to stop and ask what he was up to on a Friday night, parked on this road. He hurried behind the van and waited for the old Cadillac to slowly pass. Only when the tail lights became pinpricks did he step out again, forehead damp, mouth dry.

It had come to this again. The waiting. The wanting that drove every other thought out of mind. Now, every shadow slunk around him, every small noise caused alarm. He should have gone to the city where he would have been lost among a hundred others on the street. That’s where he belonged. That’s what he understood. Wasn’t it?

There had been a time when he had raced down the road to glory. A college scholarship for track which he cared less about than leaving this town.  Three years being on the Dean’s List and the expectation of law school. He had always lived a life made incrementally more attractive by the number of challenges surmounted. It had been hard when he was a kid, mom ill with cancer, then taken down when he was ten; father consumed by that woman he’d married when Damien was fourteen. But he’d made it out alive and found the magic door: education.

Then there was the ridiculous accident the summer before his senior year at State. He’d come home for a month to visit and had been helping his father scrape paint from the house. He’d backed down a few rungs on the ladder to get an icy bottle of water in the cooler below. They’d been catching up. His father was happy with him, his only kid making good, had a girlfriend, Jeanine. The talk had been expansive and warm so that Damien had opened up for the first time in years.  Working together was just the thing.

Damien swiped his brow with his forearm to catch the sweat. “What’d you just say?”

“Oh, get me one of those while you’re at it–I’m dying up here. How can August heat up more?”

And Damien had gotten the bottles, stuffed one between his shorts’ waist and his sweaty back, then held the other one in his left hand. His skin shivered from the cold, damp plastic. He took each step carefully but when he was six rungs from the top, he felt the bottle squeezing against his back, then leaking chilled water, a shock to buttocks and legs. The surprise of it threw him off. Or maybe he had been too relaxed, too confident that day. But his left foot lost contact with the next rung for a split second and he fell back, a flight that felt endless until he hit the ground like a one hundred sixty pound sack of cement. The fortuitous future morphed into a nightmare. Then he blacked out.

That’s when it had started. A back surgery. The pain requiring potent  pills. Rehabilitation, more pills as the months turned into a year. Ten, then twenty a day. Living with his father and stepmother as though he was a boy rather than the man he needed to be. The lurking phantom of pain even when he walked well enough and then looked for work. In one year, his law school chance had slipped away. In two, the addiction had settled right, an unwanted roommate that Damien couldn’t dispense with. He ate them or snorted them, and sometimes shot them, whatever was handy or worked best that  minute. It was either that or withdrawal, the sweats, the vomiting and intestinal hell. Agony in every fiber. Feeling crazy, skin aching, head askew. Being high was a thing of the past; now he just wanted to get through the days and nights. He left, took to the streets of a neighboring city and found more than he bargained for. He changed and although it felt worn, he acquiesced for the sake of Oxy. OC. Killer.

But eventually he’d had enough. He got tired of the no-win hustle that kept him running day and night, a game never over. Damien longed to snatch his life back, make it right. One morning he drove to a detoxification center  and they made him better than he thought possible.

It was an uneasy and uneven return to health once more, but it was like his blood ran pure again and his mind started to follow, to even make sense. Still, it took a long while to get twenty-two months clean. There had been countless bad days.

And there had been more of those again the past couple months. Damien had held out as long as he could. He just wanted out of his head awhile, to feel nothing for one night, to not think. To not feel worthless: Damien Harper, part-time auto parts worker, ex-junkie (“Once a junkie, always a junkie”), still at his parents’ or couch surfing. What a damned tragedy that guy is and so on and on. Lost it all. Well, he couldn’t stand it. He didn’t even have to be anything fabulous, anymore. He just wanted respect. Some peace.

A  sports car downshifted; the lights went out. It had been six  years since that fateful summer. Tanner had been there for him after the doctors stopped writing prescriptions. He got out and unfolded himself, then stretched and yawned. It was as though he had been on a leisure ride and had just stopped for a break.

“So,” he said when he leaned against the van next to Damien. “Ready to come back to the fold?”

Damien tried to laugh but it came out like a grunt. “What do you have for me?”

Tanner shrugged. “That depends. I might want something this time.”

A frisson of anxiety, almost like a thrill, ran through him. “Such as?”

Tanner took out a cigarette from a crumpled pack and ran a thumbnail over the head of a kitchen match, a flare resulting. His face looked a dirty reddish-yellow in the match light and he smiled at his old schoolmate. The smile more a grimace. He blew it out; the darkness felt cooler than before.

“I have a job. Delivery. It’s your old stomping grounds, the college. I  don’t really have the time tonight, bud, and you know the area well. How about it?”

Damien stared at him, the cigarette that dangled between his lips. Bartering, one thing for another. He remembered his old dorm at Hill and Ash, the union with the stone benches and fountain where they hung out and watched the girls. The cherry trees in the spring and the snow blanketing the massive steps of the administration building. He remembered his younger self: excited, maybe too fearless, but carving out a life he hoped to feel better about. Feeling stronger each time he got over the next hurdle. What mattered now? 

“Tanner. Really? You want me to be your delivery boy?”

He stepped way from the van and Tanner did the same.

“A very small  price. You get fifty pills. I get a job done. Not bad. Or do you want money? Of course not. You don’t want to be a drug dealer. That’s my job. You only want the drug, cheap. It’s a good trade, my friend. Time’s wasting’.” He slouched toward his car, looked at his watch, cigarette tip glowing.

Damien listened to the night. The frogs were singing in the distance.  A bird called out, then there was a flutter of wings from one tree to another. A car was trundling down the road and Damien knew Tanner was itchy, ready to roll. He felt his throat constrict, heart thump.

“Hey! You’re in the wrong place, man!”

Tanner shouted an obscenity, got in his car and roared off.

The voice boomed across the road. “Is that Damien Harper’s sorry van? What’re you up to, son?”

It was Old Burl. The town drunk for forty years, sober for about ten, he’d heard. Had finally gotten married, too. Good woman, Marie; met her in AA. He hadn’t seen the man since spring, at the parts store. Damien heard him gun the engine a little so he walked up to the vintage powder blue Cadillac. They shook hands.

Old Burl spoke first. “That was Tanner.” 

“Yeah.”

The old man cleared his throat and leaned his head out the window to better see him. “Well, why don’t you come by for a cup of coffee?”

“I don’t know–at this time of night?”

“This is as good a time as any, from what I can tell.”

Old Burl nodded at him and started down the road. Damien stood and looked around, then up. A capricious wind spread clouds across the inscrutable face of the night. Before too long, it would be autumn with a gorgeous harvest moon. Then winter again. So much time was going by. Damien had been so certain once that he would never get to twenty, then thirty. He could live as though he meant it or let life drift through his fingers. All that he had to do tonight was stay clean. Hang on and get through it.

Damien walked over to his rattling van and got in. Then he pulled up behind Old Burl nice and easy so stray rocks wouldn’t mar the Caddy.

Becoming Coyote

Slanted shadows from the fence made a striped pattern across the pages Eva was reading. She looked up. The skyline faintly gleamed in the pallor of the lowering sun. She could see much of city center from her spot under the magnolia tree, and for a moment the view provoked the familiar ache in her chest.  There were hospitable places down there, filling up with smartly dressed patrons leaving work, or women who had just gotten herbal-wrapped and manicured, or young men and their dates spending slim earnings on a perfect meal at an organic sushi spot.

Not Eva. Not now, maybe not ever again for all she knew. It’d be a book in the back yard and a night of t.v., or some soothing music and a long soak. Or, if she got lucky, maybe someone would return her call and she could meet up with a new friend in a church basement, where they would hear stories of addiction and recovery that made her own seem more bearable. But she wouldn’t be down there in the beautiful city, laughing and chatting at a crowded table, holding aloft another attractive drink before she downed it in a few long gulps. There might be sushi, but there wouldn’t be the beguiling warmth of vodka or rum wooing her until she fully surrendered and the world, as it was, disappeared.

Eva tossed the paperback and stretched her legs, toes flexing. She ran her tongue over her lips: salty. She had jogged for forty-five sweaty minutes after class, and had put off the obligatory shower. Tonight no one would notice if she showered or not. Some days it felt better to do less than more. It worried her. But as long as she didn’t get lazy, as long as she didn’t let her true priorities slip, didn’t succumb to that terrible desire for a drink, she would manage. She would stay sober and that meant she would be free to fully live each day, good, bad, indifferent. She would be conscious, not semi-conscious or unconscious as she had been for so much of her life already. So she was told, over and over.

The sun dropped lower and lingered there just long enough that a mirrored skyscraper and a rose-gold tower broadcast their dominance with a luxurious glow. Eva put her hand to her throat and took a breath that hurt on its way in and out. She so longed to go down there and join the gathering crowds. But she shrugged, leaned against the tree, counted each inhalation and exhalation slowly just as she had been taught. It didn’t really help.

There was a small movement to her left. Eva turned to see what it was. Nothing. She cocked her head and held her breath. It might be that runny-nosed kid from the second floor apartment again, trying to scare her. If it was, he’d go away if she ignored him. She had to learn to relax, that was all. Her AA sponsor had told her it might be like this for months, post acute withdrawal stretching and inflaming her nerves, making her both uneasy and lethargic, then injecting her with a surge of energy at three a.m. that set her reeling, afraid.

There it was again. A few feet away, the bushes swayed the slightest bit. Eva peered at them–she had seen a rabbit off and on, a gopher at work, even a rat once. She looked over her shoulder and checked the garbage; the lid was on tight. When she looked at the bushes again, her back tingled and she pressed her lips together to keep silent.

The coyote stepped out from the shadowy leaves as though from the darkened wing of a stage. He stood tall, large ears pricked and adjusted  to all he heard. He glanced at her and then away. Eva was still, but not as still as the coyote as he rested on strong, lithe legs. His brown and black coat was thick and full, tail bushy and low. The coyote lowered his head, sniffed the grass and air, then loked up. He took a  step toward her and halted. His almond, golden eyes sought hers. The fine head and bearing were dignified, calm, alert. Coyote held her gaze until she feared she would blink but if she did, she was certain he would leave, so she widened her eyes to better see his absolute beauty. Then his head bobbed slightly: a nod, a question, a signal.

He streaked across the yard, down the hill, and into the incipient dusk. Eva got up and tried to pursue him through the grass, long legs and bare feet flying, arms swinging. She wanted to call out despite the foolishness of it. She wanted to follow and see where this coyote was going–and why–more than she had wanted to know anything in weeks, months, maybe years.

At the bottom of the hill were blackberry brambles. Surely he didn’t race through those, she thought, but when she looked beyond them to the small water reservoir, she saw him loping around the fenced area. Eva watched him descend a second hill and a third, and from the trees and bushes, out of the air itself, was another coyote, then another and another until there were five trotting toward, then with, him. They gathered speed and as the sun covered itself with a now-electrified city, they vanished.

It was as though they were never there.

Eva stood and looked out over the glittering tableau and the mountain foothills behind it. They might live near her and be back. Or they might live in the hills and forest, forage miles away tomorrow. It was possible that her path might cross one of their’s. For now, this was it. Her meeting with coyotes on a June night. She had one other time seen coyotes in the desert, but never in her own back yard. She knew they were smart and wily and hearty. Monogamous and as at ease alone as in a pack. That they were great adapters. They endured in part because they cooperated intelligently with one another, and so they insured their survival.  Coyotes, the Navajo said, are God’s dogs and have much to teach us.

Eva raised her arms to the sky, now gone soft with darkness, stitched with a few stars that still outshone the city. She had plenty of sky to observe tonight. Tomorrow she would scavenge for any curious things she could find–fanciful cloud formations, new blooms in the garden, a song, maybe a conversation with someone in the cafe down the street. Or maybe she would hang out in a used book store or go for a run in the woods. Make a call to a sober woman. But one way or another she would survive these times because she was stronger each day; she was discovering and creating new ways to live.  Eva was just beginning to construct a real life, if she was honest.

It was, she told herself, a journey worth taking if she just kept on with it.

Coyote stopped and sang to her a moment. Eva heard him, or believed she did, which was good enough.