Five and a half years after the first.
My friend and I walk through a spice shop. We pull corks from jars and hold them up to our noses, gasping with delight, recoiling in alarm. Paprika, ginger, barbeque rub. The woody sawdust of galangal. Tarragon’s foresty tang.
She tells me about last weekend’s terrible date. The fellow kept fishing for a flirt and grabbing at her hand. She didn’t push the hand away. Didn’t tell him no. She is young. She is still worried about being alone forever.
I wonder when she’ll figure out that fear of the unknown far outstrips the actual miseries we meet? That the ways we guard ourselves becomes our true devastation?
I wonder when I will figure it out?
Cinnamon ribs. Cocoa ash. Adolescent me pads across the divide. The aroma draws her into the waking day. Even here in this market of marvels, she’s wrapped in the drama of her moment. She can’t make out the shape of this stranger, her own future, standing so close. A single lady graying at the roots, mama to a boy who’s reached her same age (and one equally undone by toast and chocolate). Condo in the suburbs. Garden growing wild on the deck. On this side of the threshold, Saturday began with basil and pocked slabs of parmesan whirling into pesto to last through winter. This woman right here with the whang of garlic still clinging to her fingers.
How can she possibly imagine this? And if she can, does the smell of it make her recoil?
She is as unlikely to hear my advice as she is to believe that her forty-something self is still scratching pen across crumpled paper dug up from the bottom of her bag, still trying to give shape to it all.
Which events blip once and blink out? Which burn into beacons? She can’t know any of this.
Hell, I still don’t know.
Months ago, I made a decision. Yet here I am. Starting yet another day on the front side of what I’ve chosen but failed to execute. The transition stretches on. Centuries. Epochs. A desperate confusion shadows me. Even passing through narrow aisles of wooden shelves, it jostles, threatening to destroy precious things. Smash the cardamom pods. Uncork and upend the saffron threads.
People keep reminding me that this in-between moment is a period of change. It has boundaries. A beginning and an end. The tremor will recede.
In the meantime, I fake balance.
The me from three decades ago, she notices only a glint across the shop. A sundog, a trick of light. She stays back as we make our way out into day. My friend folds her sack of spices and we walk together to her car. She pulls from the trunk the canvas she’s finished, its blue blush whorls evoking scallop, locule, tessellation.
Many months from now, she will still be single. She will spend New Year’s Eve painting. Her fears realized, she will make art and somehow evade misery for one more night.
We hug our goodbyes and I circle back home to my kitchen. Soon, roasting tomatoes bubble up to black. A blade parts the bright meat of a sweet potato. Cumin powder crusts the skillet and raw carrot snaps against my teeth. At my knees, the dog licks the sheen of oil from a spatula in the dishwasher. She fixes me with her sidelong glance, bracing for the moment I clap and send her scooting.
I sweep clear the littered counter and try to make out the shape of the stranger leaning against the kitchen doorframe. She’s been lingering there for a while. Watching. Not quite crossing the threshold.
This future self, so unruffled, keeping her eye on me. Into the unresolved contours of her-me-you, I ask all the asking:
How did you make your next move when you had so little evidence to go on? At least this here is tangible. I can hold this in my hands. Its pain takes a familiar shape. The blister on the pad of my hand, the way the knife handle sits right up against the raw place.
How much longer do I – did you – stay put? Stay safe? How protracted is this stretch of wrongness? When do I – did you – finally figure out that the risk of entrapment is the true devastation?
I am waiting for your permission. When I feel that nod of assent, that go. When I fly off the rope towards the shadow of you, these feet clearing the bank. Even with no guarantee from anyone anywhere that I’ll land at all, even not knowing if you’ll be there.
Will you make sure that at least some of what’s needed is waiting? Can you prepare it for habitation, that place I will alight, that place I finally meet you?
Do you hear all of this asking?
It’s possible I am starting to hear you.
Traces of your voice coax me closer to the verge. Invite me to clear the in-between.
Into all the dissolving contours of me, you answer:
You still cling to the notion that if you pack all the gear and map each imagined mile, you’ll be prepared for the flight. Don’t underestimate the power of improvisation. What’s waiting for you isn’t even waiting yet.
Can you live with that? Can you try to welcome the unsettling notion that I need your volition to set providence into motion? That only what you plant can birth me?
In the meantime, compose your workable plan. Go on with your blueprint. Set a goal. Design the roof you fancy you’ll erect over your head.
Know this: a good half of what you are preparing is really just yourself. You’re psyching yourself up. Bracing for the launch. For the moment I clap and send you flying. So be it. You need it. But your very own experience tells you what you’ve suspected all along: You’ll never know all of what you think you need to know.
You will grow lonely. You will reach for people who cannot fill you but you will stuff them in anyway. The world around you will jump its tracks and you will stumble too, grabbing for the closest bough. Whatever takes your weight. But you’ll know, because you already do, that the equilibrium never lasts. All things tend towards entropy.
Trust your senses, though not any one of them alone. Only trust all of them when they work towards common cause. Because they will betray one another, triangulating, trying to get you to believe that one is the mouthpiece for the whole. You’ll learn to know better. You’ll learn that powder whispering against glass rarely captures the scent, and the most luscious colors are the ones that burn your eyes to tears.
Keep moving, dear one. Keep yourself open to whatever falls in your path, whether you invited it or not. Return to sense rising from the earthy stretch of you. The snap of a dwarf pepper warm from the sun, the crack of your teeth breaking through its fat, wet cells. See if you can differentiate nerve ending from taste bud, aural cilia from olfactory. Seek always to nourish yourself on what starts as seed, rises from root, and emerges at the place in you that most needs to bloom.
Image: Ihor Mikula, Painting Fate. Uprising Knight